We all have something in common. We either look at ourselves in the mirror when we wash or dress. Or if we can’t stand the way we look, then we can witness our own reflection in passing windows. But, we all build up a picture of ourselves based on how we are described or recognised by others. These views can become so deeply ingrained that they are shaped into facts about how the rest of the world sees us. Furthermore, it also measures our own self-worth and how we see ourselves.
Self-esteem is related to depression
Self-esteem is a close relative of depression and anxiety. Yet, all of their causes can have different origins. For this blog I want to consider and discuss how self-esteem is created and how it creates the people we are. I want to discuss how it draws us into a range of problems based on our decisions and how we value who we are.
Generally, people with low self-esteem are at risk, of not fulfilling their true potential. In an earlier blog entitled; Adults Who Bully ,I drew an important comparison with a girl I knew from school. I discussed how, due her experience of being bullied it had an impact on her adult decisions. She believed what she had been told by others during the period of bullying and concluded that they must have been right. Her self-opinion was low and therefore, her self-esteem was poor.
The relationship between low self-esteem and depression is linked by having to hide your true feelings. In; How To Hide Depression, I exposed how people with depression have learnt to develop self-protection techniques. People with low self-esteem may consider that the choices they have made have been based on poor judgement. But how can it be? Poor outcomes could be based on what you think you are worth.
My family and other animals
Everyone deserves a loving family. In my case my adopted family were pretending to be the perfect example. My adopted father had a regular and reasonably well-paid job. My adopted mother played the perfect housewife. The house was always clean and well maintained. To top it all, this church going family were also seen as charitable by taking in a child (me) through adoption. It played into their hands of respectability of which (my adopted mother mainly) played a full part.
I grew to accept poor treatment from family and partners. My childhood was plagued with inconsistencies and questionable parenting abilities. I was made to feel grateful for the smallest offerings of parenting responsibilities from people who should have known better. As you may recall I was adopted at an early age and I was made to consider that my adopted parent had done me a great favour. Therefore, I had to earn any form of love or acceptance. To further compound the issue, I was always compared to the wonderment of their natural daughter. I had been adopted because they thought they couldn’t have children – a year after the adoption my adopted mother became pregnant. By being compared to their daughter I always played second best but was set up to fail because their artificial standards were set too high for the young child that I was.
My low self-esteem carried on into my adulthood. Only now I can consider, and perhaps realise, that it had interfered with my ability to lead a fulfilling, healthy life. I consider that I have never really reached what would have been my full potential. Although I have attended University, it was only as an adult. I was never encouraged to apply for Grammer School, or congratulated for the smallest of achievements at school. I also consider that my low self-esteem shaped my poor self-worth and set the foundations for depression.
Physical punishment was the norm when it came to chastisement. I recall being kept off school due to the obvious bruising on my body. Yet I liked to go to school because I was safe from the harm I suffered at home. My adopted mother (who did most of the discipline) failed to recognise where she was going wrong. And so, all the excessive punishment I received was valid in her eyes. From her point of view, I was a naughty child. As a young adult, I raised this contradiction with her but yet she still failed to acknowledge her shortcomings. As a result, I gave in and walked away. I have not spoken to them since.
These exposures left me with a feeling of inferiority. It was almost like a ‘Cinderella’ effect, whereby the sister had it all and I was worth of nothing. This poor self-value created poor self-esteem as a growing adult leading into full adulthood.
A smack or a slap was the usual chastisement for me as a child (I cannot ever recall their daughter getting punished in any form). I was made to feel that I had deserved this action and so I needed to address the ills of my ways. In effect I was forced to be grateful that my adopted parents had acknowledged the problems before I got deeper into trouble. But it was wrong. The punishment was excessive and it was unequal within a sibling relationship. I took the slap, their daughter was put onto a pedestal.
Without doubt I became drawn to a certain kind of partner. Let me be clear here, not all of my partners had been abusive. But by being abused by a partner was, in my eyes, an acceptable form of love. If I was with someone who wasn’t abusive, I questioned their love for me because it was abnormal (in my eyes).
I carry a lot of guilt for past choices. I have a lot of guilt for getting things wrong as I grew up. As a father, I could have done a lot better. Whilst working, I could have worked those extra few hours. Having suffered with depression, I could have made it stop earlier and saved myself from years of negativity.
I now see this as I write these comments down. But to justify doing nothing, what could I have done? As a child, I would have been seen as ungrateful for the charity I had received. I could have tackled my depression years ago, but I didn’t recognise that I had it until I was much older. Wanting to tackle my low self-esteem was impossible because I knew nothing else about my personality. And so the cycle continued.
When you get used to feeling, thinking and talking about yourself in a particular way, it becomes a habit. The only example I can give is like riding a bicycle. When you learn how to ride one it becomes second habit and you do it without thinking. I am adamant that thoughts and feelings actually work in the same way. As I have so often been made to feel worthless or inferior that it became a part of me. I came to accept second best because that was all I was worth and so I came to accept abuse in a relationship because another alternative was difficult to recognise.
When I accepted that I had depression I knew that I needed to get some help and support. However, I was equally combative because I wanted to deny that I had a problem – I was being a blokey bloke. Now at the age of 45 I hold no such convictions.
I have found writing to be more than therapeutic than I would have initially gave it credit for. It has been a revelation. I have forced myself to answer the questions that I have held back for all of my life.
Following my open revelations about what has happened – especially the abusive relationship. I have been afforded some of the best help I could have ever imagined. It’s ok to accept it all. But it is even better to share my thoughts with others. It’s almost like having a big family that I never knew existed.
I do have low self-esteem, but I can deal with that as much as I acknowledge that I have depression. It won’t instantly heal itself but it can be managed – slowly, but it will.