What is self esteem?
It is the measure of self-worth or personal value.
Back in University I took several mandatory courses on self-esteem. My prof. was Eva Roche. I learned a lot from her. One class she invited all of us (40 ish?) to her home for breakfast. Her house was perched on Strathearn Drive overlooking the valley and downtown Edmonton. She shared this home with Senator Doug Roche. It was a strange but lovely bohemian home with the living quarters upstairs to take advantage of the views. All the walls were lined with book cases filled with books from floor to ceiling, except the living room. It had two chairs in front of a large picture window and a sofa with a soft yellow throw. I have no idea why I remember this home in such vivid detail, but I do.
Eva asked us to bring a lemon. There was food laid out on the long farmer’s table. We only had to bring a lemon. So I did. We ate, toured her home, visited with each other and finally she asked us to join her in the library. It was the largest room about 15′ x 15 ‘ square but there were no chairs in this room. We stood around the perimeter and she asked us to place the lemon on the floor. We were to think of the lemon as ourselves and place it where we felt we fit within the group. I was asked to go first. I placed it left of the centre. I didn’t not see myself as the centre of the group.
What followed shocked me. People were placing the lemons around me so by the end I was in the centre. I always felt invisible. I never was the centre of attention but I always had a kind word for people. I also would notice when someone was felling left out or alone, I would approach them so they would feel connection. The feed back I received was I was confident, compassionate and kind. True, I did see myself like that. I wasn’t the most popular but I was the reliable, kind person of the group. The most interesting part of this social experiment was the most popular person was on the outside. She didn’t feel connected. She arranged all the fun stuff to do and people loved having this social director of the group, but she never felt connected. Never being a popular person, I never thought about how it must feel. She did all those things to gain a connection and she never felt worthy of it. This shocked me to my core. After that day, I made more of an effort to connect with her. We finished out the program as best pals until she moved back to Nova Scotia.
My self-esteem took a hit living with a man who mentality and emotionally abused me. He would say things like ‘your mother doesn’t love you.’ or ‘if it wasn’t for me, you would have no one.’ He separated me from my friends and family. I was alone and disconnected. I broke up with him once, only to be sucked back in by his ability to manipulate my family. One day he said, I don’t want to have children with you because you would insist on giving them self-esteem. He spat it out as if it was a bad thing. I looked at him and it was if a glass wall shattered. I saw the sad boy on the outside wanting to connect with someone. Making me like him was his way of connecting. That was the day I began plotting my exit. I tried a few times to leave but escape is hard when you can’t articulate to friends and family why you need to leave. I didn’t fully understand myself until years later after endless journal entries and visits to my therapist.
It took a long time to get back to understanding my self-worth and personal value. I can still see people who are looking to connect. I sometimes try to connect but I get easily pulled into their emotional turmoil so I have set strong boundaries. It took years to get here, so I am cautious who I let into my circle because I want to avoid being sucked under again. But mostly it feels good to be comfortable in my own skin.
Stay healthy friends!