Self-esteem. How do you build self-esteem when you don’t have any because long-term trauma has removed your sense of identity?
Pretty tough to do eh?
When my GP Counsellor first started to help me, she gave me this worksheet for homework. It was a worksheet apparently designed for children – it has happy bouncing graphics with jumping kids, rosettes and stars.
These are the questions and my original answers:
I was really happy when … I thought I was somebody’s lady and that he really cared about me.
Something my friends like about me is … I don’t know. I cannot answer this question.
I’m proud of … my sons.
My family was happy when I … Not sure. I don’t think I make them happy.
In school, I’m good at … (I crossed out the word “school”) Learning new skills for work, but I get bored easily and don’t use them
Something that makes me unique is … Hard question. Everyone is unique.
See a pattern there? Not a very promising start is it?
Initially, it sent me on a hunt for identity. I could see nothing worthy or of value in myself. I knew I could learn things. I knew I could be good at “doing” things, but I had no clear idea of what “being” of worth or value was. “Doing” and “being” are entirely separate things in my black and white mind.
I began to obsess about the question, “Who am I?” and it started to drag me further down a hole as I could find no answer. I was failing. I was falling. This needed to change.
So I changed the question (thanks to a remarkable BPD support group) to “Who do I want to become?” Thought about it and decided to try and build my own identity? One that I liked.
My black and white can be judgemental. I know what I class as good qualities and what I class as bad in a person. Clear delineation can be helpful at times.
Where to start became the problem, but my answer lay here https://bpdnomore.com/bpd-no-more-blog/2018/1/9/how-do-you-build-self-esteem with a constructive article from a fellow BPD blogger who is helping others on the road to recovery.
As I started to think about who I wanted to be, I began to find bits of me that are actually there. I am a real person and some of the things that I “do” are actually a part of “being.” Which means they are a part of a real person which is me.
These are building blocks.
I started with things I like doing and realised the things I enjoy doing are things I am quite good at. I made a conscious effort to discard every negative thought that came to mind, e.g. “I’m ok at that, but need to be better.” Or “People may not like me if I say I like doing that/am good at that.” Or “I shouldn’t pursue this because although I like it, it is a waste of time, money and effort and I will never be rewarded.”
It is not easy to fight those negative thoughts. I have a long way to go, but I am trying. I am trying because I want to be a person. Not just any person. I want to be a better person. An alive person. I want to feel of value. I want to feel like I am contributing something. I would like for people to think I am ok just for being me and not what I have to turn myself into; I wish to be accepted despite my quirks. Because I will always have quirks. I am an individual. I am unique.
As I change the wording on these phrases, things begin to feel better:
“I want to be a better person” becomes, “I am becoming a better person.”
“I want to be of value” becomes, “I am of value.”
“I want to feel like I am contributing something” becomes, “I am contributing something. I am writing this blog.”
“I would like to be strong one day” becomes “I am getting stronger each day.”
“I love so much it hurts, it’s a curse” becomes, “If I can love this much, then I am good.”
As I practice these words, I can build upon them. I can build upon the skills I have that give me pleasure. I can see when they give something to others, no matter how small.
Then I hold on to that and build, build, build.
It is not going to happen overnight, but I can at least see a work in progress.
And everyone, everywhere should always be a work in progress.
I tell myself that is “normal”, then tell myself that if that is the case, I too can feel “normal.”
As I grow, I can tell myself that “I believe in me.”