article and the one that will follow celebrates the multi-faceted wonder
that is self-esteem. Self-esteem is a slippery, complex creature that
I've come to think of as an octopus. An Esteem Octopus, I guess. Beyond
my bulging file notes, handouts, and a dizzying number of research studies
on the topic, Esteem Octopi manage to stretch and entwine their tentacles
into places I never before could have fathomed possible. Many powerful,
centrally controlled branches bear so many unexpected benefits. Its
evolving influence is both humbling and remarkable. I've managed to
catalogue a few of these branches throughout my journey, friends: I've
managed to snag the occasional wriggly bit for further examination.
No doubt my list isn't even close to being exhaustive; my Octopus continues
to grow, and I continue to discover delightful new portions of it around
fresh corners. Consider this an "update from the front", then,
if you will -
For years my perceptiveness allowed me to see injustices and my disinhibition
allowed me to voice them, but my low self-esteem prevented me
from trusting my viewpoint. At the slightest hint of discord
I would back down, assuming that when I was TOLD I was wrong, I was.
I simply could not tolerate an upset situation - my fragile self-worth
needed consoling at any cost and so I would distribute unwarranted apologies
to anyone I needed to in order to fix the situation. It is a very novel
concept for me to think that someone else might have fault in a situation,
or to think that discord may be an indication that I was exactly right
in my position. By introducing this component, my octopus has supplemented
my recipe and made it a much more winning flavour now: I am not swayed
by exasperated sighs of 'it's all in your head', and will instead stand
tall and assert, "No. It's not."
This newfound assertiveness leads to fewer hassles in life.
Many times my senses would tell me that a person was misleading me,
but without the gumption to intervene I would allow myself to get short-changed,
taken advantage of, or sent to the wrong line. I would buy the wrong
part, take the poor advice, waste my time using the wrong procedure,
and then ferment in "I knew it". No more. Now if I know it
I say it, and by doing so sometimes save considerable time, money and
I am comfortable in confronting people now, or responding
in a way that would not necessarily endear me to those people. Being
free of insecurity permits me to respond based simply on the actions
taken towards me. For this reason, if the person is then angry with
or at me, or thinks or says inaccurate things about me, I have the strength
to bear it. I no longer interpret it as much of a personal commentary
at all - instead, it is an indicant of how well the person knows him
or herself and how responsible (s)he is in being accountable for him/herself.
Being liked, I've come to realize, is not necessary equivalent to being
a person that you can feel proud of and like. In fact, some of my proudest
moments in recent history have been times at which the actions I took
or things I said I KNEW that I was pissing someone off royally. Don't
get me wrong: it wasn't engendering the anger reaction that satisfied
me. Rather, it was the knowledge that I was willing to bring about and
endure a negative experience because I was standing up for what I believed
in. And with your Esteem Octopus by your side, you are never left alone
in times like that.
Working so hard for approval, it never really occurred to me
to be selective. I never stopped to think: do I even LIKE this
person? Does it matter if I have their approval? I began to distinguish
the relationships that I grew and benefited from, from those that were
unhealthy for me. My octopus has helped me break the latter ties, and
put some play in the line of others.
I used to perseverate on things that people said or did that wronged
me; trapped to the point of fury. With genuine self-comfort
comes an assuredness that I AM OK. Things said or done to me really
have no way of influencing that. They are merely reflections
of the other person - it has very little to do with me at all, and therefore
prompts little emotion now. Without emotion there is no arousal, and
without arousal OCD's hold is slippery at best. There is no getting
"stuck", and there is no sweating the small stuff. Suddenly,
and blessedly, people can inflict enormously unfair things on me with
little effect. With such little threat to MY image of myself, these
things become much easier to live with. I guess I'm trying to say that
my head has never been so………QUIET. I allowed to issues of others to
become my own for far, far too long. No longer.
With a quieter internal life, I am increasingly free to live
much more externally. I am able to be much more observant now.
Noticing more around me enables me to make more, and faster, connections
between things (geographical road directions, for example). My social
skills and social maturity have leapt forward. Before, I could never
ascertain when or why something was going to blow up in my face: politics
and social games eluded me. Now I know, but if the expectations of that
individual or circumstance are not compatible with my own internal code
or moral standards, I will not play ball. Hence, things can still (and
often do) blow up in my face, but now it is because of personal choice
and personal convictions and not because of my obliviousness.
another token, needs that used to be pursued externally are now internal.
To feel special, in the past I needed to be special to someone else.
Accordingly, I imposed criteria on others for demonstrating my distinctiveness
to them. Their not meeting these unrealistic standards would crush me,
and end relationships. My worth was further drawn from the work I did,
and so nothing could be permitted to interfere or imperil it, and nothing
short of perfection was tolerable. Suggestions, revisions, opposing
ideas, delegation, offers of help…these would all be taken personally
as people unsuspectingly made commentary on my self-worth. Not now.
As a result, I now make healthier decisions around what my priorities
are and will be. I am neither the person I date nor the work
that I do, and so I've begun factoring myself into the equation. For
example, saying no to an unreasonable or an exploitive request. In the
B.O. (Before Octopus) years I would accommodate anything, no matter
the size, hour, or level of inconsideration. You see, I wasn't as important
as these tasks were, and the people I did them for. The ensuing stress
due to lack of sleep, tight timelines and, eventually, the birth of
the knowledge that I was allowing myself to be used, interfered with
my ability to be happy, well-balanced, and enjoy my relationships. It
would also have led me to early burnout - I vividly recall an individual
in the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada once telling me he did
not believe that I would still be involved 5 years from now. He viewed
me as a shooting star that would inevitably fizzle. At the time, he
was probably right. And while my productivity in the short term may
not be what it once was, it is a fair trade-off for longevity.
conclude next time…
B. Duncan McKinlay, Ph.D.