I won’t stay stuck here forever. It’s a dark and suffocating place.
All of us have areas of our life that make us feel unworthy and unloved. Some of those areas go back to a time when our esteem was first forming. For some of us, we were stunted by abuse or neglect and now are left trying to pick up the pieces that were not given to us. This is extremely hard work. I wanted to write this piece because we collectively can benefit from hearing other people’s pain to learn that we truly are not alone.
There is no shame in acknowledging that certain tools were left, often unintentionally, out of our toolbox. Many of us struggling, to no fault of our own, did not have a solid foundation in our formative years. At times, our needs may have been overlooked resulting in poor coping mechanism and difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries.
As a result of a difficult past, I developed a host of ineffective coping strategies I utilized to try and to get my needs met. I feel that those who have hurt me, often did so unintentionally, often without awareness of their own issues or mine. Perhaps they would have been more empathetic, had I been coping more effectively at the time and communicated my needs in less abrasive ways. Those who harmed me with intention often had their own issues of self worth. I feel sharing has the power to set us free from the patterns that have become deeply entrenched in our minds and thus reflected in our behavioral patterns. Often these patterns of behavior mirror back to us what we believe about ourselves and further imprison us, committing us to an false identity that leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy of failure, resulting in low self esteem.
Clearing a path for your authentic self to emerge is difficult work that is cumbersome, requiring courage and persistence. A lot of this work is not linear, and it can not be completed in a vacuum. Meaning as you heal you often are still in the same environment and around the same people who will challenge the healing process, skeptical of the changes you are making. This may even mean you have to distance yourself from certain people who are not willing to accept the person you are becoming. Often, healing is brutally messy and even painful. But, it is a process that I believe to be worth the endeavor, despite the chaos that can ensue for a few years while things adjust.
This has been an excruitiatingly painful year for me. In this year, I have faced discrimination in the workplace and lost my job. I also cut ties and went “No Contact” with my Narcissistic after having a very tumultuous and abusive relationship with him for a decade. And, lastly, it is the year that I was scapegoated by my family and blamed for the turmoil and divisiveness that was stemming from my sister’s struggle with addiction. All of these invalidating experiences, where I was gaslighted, devalued, and discarded, resulted in a very unstable time for me. I relapsed with my Bipolar illness and became suicidal for the majority of the year. I was very hurt and enraged and spent the year fighting with my Mom and sister trying to salvage the relationship, but also determined to defend my reality in the process. This pain lead me to time spent questioning my reality, my motives, and my intentions. This process lead me to links in my past, shedding light on places of hurt that had stunted my growth, causing self-doubt and despair. Being so vulnerable and sharing openly, I feel, only will serve to diminish the power these myths have over me that claim: “I am not good or worthy”. And it is possible that my reflections will resonate with someone along the path of healing, and together we will heal.
In my formative years, there were some remarkable events that caused me significant pain, influencing my world view and challenging my self esteem. One of these events being when my biological father released his rights to me, not wanting to know me or have me as part of his life. I won’t get into the rationale as to why this occurred. I was too young to remember the event, but do recall the years in my life of wishing I had an affectionate father who made me feel safe, secure, and valued. This one event had impact on my self esteem and worth that followed me throughout my life.
At age four, I was molested which left me feeling powerless, invisible, and ashamed. I was not considered in that event, just a little girl whose only purpose was to provide pleasure for the perpetrator. My voice was muted and I was devalued. I absorbed the shame through this event and when I was much older, in my teen years, I felt very ashamed and guilty for having normal thoughts and feelings about boys. I was heavy for many years in order to remain invisible to men and feel safe in my skin. This event impacted me greatly and as a result later in life, I married a gay man to avoid feeling violated. I did not know for certain he was gay prior to marrying him, I just knew that I did not feel threatened by him in any way. When I lost my weight after being divorced, I became involved with a man who was a narcissist and the relationship seemed like a parallel to my molestation. I felt used, devalued, and invisible in the relationship and it took years to finally reclaim my self worth and separate from him.
My family environment was also turbulent as well. My step-father was intimidating and abusive at times, shaking and pulling my hair and throwing things. It wasn’t an every day occurrence and there were times he did try in his own way. Our family has many good memories and my parent both have accounted and apologized for the past. Still yet, I lived in fear and tried to be as perfect as possible. My sister and step-father butted heads and it made for a very scary and not so pleasant upbringing. My sister left me a lot alone with my step-dad as my mother worked, and I was terrified and often felt abandoned. I wasn’t allowed to express anger or really have a voice. This caused me to stuff lot of my anger and ultimately I never really learned how to express anger in healthy ways. I still struggle with this today.
Throughout my life, I have been misunderstood and treated differently as a result of suffering with two disorders: ADHD and Bipolar I. As a small child attending kindergarten, I often was berated by the teacher for having ADHD. I was different from the other children and was asked often if I had “ants in my pants”? I didn’t understand why I was getting into trouble all the time. In my adult years, I loathed myself even more when I became sick with Bipolar illness. I had friends who laughed in my face when I told them I had gone into a psychiatric hospital for care. One friend told me she did not believe in mental health problems and that I needed to “buck up & get over myself”. These sentiments were later expressed in subsequent years by employers when I attempted to get accommodations in place during an episode, so I could remain working. I was discriminated against and let go or it became so uncomfortable that if I did stay, I eventually left on my own accord. I’ve experienced years of frustration, often being misunderstood by friends, family, or coworkers who feel my illness is just an excuse I make up for bad behavior. It is dehumanizing and extremely hard to not only have an illness and suffer greatly from it, but then have your credibility questioned as a result.
Lastly, My sister has struggled with addiction for years and it has caused immense strife in our family. I confront while others often enable, defend, lie, and hide. I would have let things go, but she had five children, all of which are young adults now, and I’ve had to watch them struggle along with their own stories of addiction. Not one of them walked across the stage to graduate and two of them do not even hold GEDs. Their potential was robbed without their awareness. I longed for a better life for all of them, including my sister. This situation has truly been difficult to navigate and I am often devalued in the process. It has caused me to question my reality and whether or not I am a good person. It has truly been trying, at times, and I have often lost my patience in rage and despair.
Even with all the strife in past and present relationships, I have always tried relentlessly to reconcile things. I struggle with letting people go, even if they are not good for me. I’ve lost a lot of trust in humanity and in others because of the way I have been treated by those close to me. I admit all my wrongdoings and I still long for the day when I feel accepted and loved completely.
I often feel like a scared kid, just hoping someone picks me up, holds me, and helps me walk through this pain in my life.
I’ve decided that someone has to be me. We all must manage our own pain, develop better boundaries, and love ourselves. We must forgive ourselves. Sadly, I can forgive everyone who has hurt me, but I have the most difficulty forgiving myself. I often desperately continue to return to those individuals in my life that are not truly open to loving me, or even themselves. I become angry when they devalue me and my reactions become the rationale for why they leave. And so, I must go through the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding, learning to let people in slowly, with stronger boundaries in place. I also have to disengage from those increasing the intensity in my life which often leads to relapses with my Bipolar illness. This is a balancing act. I hope sharing helps others out there who are also navigating several tough situations at one, they are not alone. It’s messy, it’s hard, but it’s possible.
And this is my toughest lesson to learn and my greatest challenge in my lifetime: To love myself enough to develop boundaries and slowly let those people in that will enrich my life and foster my growth and maturity. I believe they are out there. I truly am in the middle of this metamorphosis and I hope to one day look back on my life and see that I did it, I changed. I forgave myself, loved myself, and let go of those who are unwilling or unable to join me on this journey. No one said love would be easy, but I do believe it is worth it. And if you are struggling with self worth, I will say to you: WE ARE WORTH IT. Every human being is worth the journey towards healing and wholeness.
I’m using this piece as a series and am going to follow up with posts of thoughts and progress regarding my healing process. It helps me feel not so alone. Happy healing! Thanks for reading!