By Chuck Jackson
Self-esteem as defined by Wikipedia is “…a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude towards the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame… Self-esteem is attractive as a social psychological construct because researchers have conceptualized it as an influential predictor of certain outcomes, such as academic achievement, happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, and criminal behavior…”
After reading this and following a ton of links on the subject, I thought, what can I convey to relate my self-esteem or lack thereof, to how it influenced my life. I have many childhood memories that convey sorrow as well as anger. I am going to share one that I feel is pertinent to my struggles with self-esteem.
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I was born in Washington D.C. to an unmarried mother. The first few months of my life, I was essentially abandoned, and lived in an orphanage ran by Catholic nuns. I needed a home with parental love and finally after 14 months, I was adopted.
I always knew my parents adopted me. Mother would especially tell me repeatedly how I was abandoned and in need of a loving family. She told me my dad wanted a son that would make him proud. She always ended her oration with telling me how lucky I was that I had such loving parents who did all these things for me because they wanted me to grow up to be a good man. She would obtain her objective and I would wonder what was wrong with me.
From my earliest memory, I was an overly sensitive boy. I grew up constantly trying to gain my parents’ love and approval. Why was I so different? What could I do to please them? I never understood why I felt like a stranger within my home. Why was my family different from my friends’ families? What did I do?
Growing up, verbal and physical disciplines were always a central interaction with my parents. I had no difficulty outside the home, yet, problems within escalated. Their displeasure with me seemed insurmountable and the punishment became more severe over time.
When I was in sixth grade, my parents thought my behavior was out of control. My dad told me I was beyond redemption. Mother’s response was to accuse me of being ungrateful for all they did. I would hang my head in shame.
One Saturday morning, Mother woke me early, and informed me Dad was taking me to Boy’s Town. Although I pleaded and promised I would do better, it was of no avail. She helped me pack a suitcase; all the time telling me this was my fault.
Boys Town was in Omaha, Nebraska about 100 miles south of our home in Iowa. Boys town was a combination of orphanage, juvenile detention, and home for rebellious boys. During the trip down, I was heartbroken; feeling my parents were discarding me as if I were garbage.
Dad barely spoke and told me to sit in the back seat so he did not have to look at me. Once we arrived, I waited in the lobby of an administrative building while Dad met with a priest. When Dad came out, he walked past me saying nothing. He went out the door, and drove off. My heart sank; there was no denying, my parents had actually dumped me. I remember crying so hard it hurt.
The receptionist came over with a box of tissues and tried to console me. I waited for what seemed like hours before the same priest requested I follow him to his office. As we sat at his desk, he lectured me on how to be obedient, and respectful to my parents and other adults. He concluded by telling me if I had showed respect to my parents and did as I was told, I would not be here. He then sent me out to the lobby telling me someone would be coming to take me to my dorm.
I sat for the rest of the afternoon, and after the receptionist had left for the day, the same priest came and sat down next to me. He told me he had just received a phone call and my parents wanted to give me a second chance. Again, I was lectured about being obedient and respectful. Then with a prayer and a blessing, he sent me outside to wait on my dad locking the door as I exited.
After over an hour, I spotted Dad’s car as he turned into the parking lot. I put my suitcase in the trunk and got in the back seat; it was obvious he was angry. Sometime during the trip back, Dad stated it was not his idea to bring me home. He would have left me there if my mother had not pleaded to give me another chance.
When we arrived home, most of the lights were out and I was instructed to go directly to bed. From my bedroom, I could hear my parents argue.
The argument continued with each blaming the other for the failure of their plan. Dad was yelling it was her plan to send me to Boys Town and he should not have listened to her. He wanted to send me to my uncle’s farm. What was clear, neither wanted me to stay home. Then, it got into a shouting match as to whose fault it was for my behavior. When my mother’s crying began, the room went quiet.
The next morning, I woke with Dad announcing that breakfast was ready. I put on my robe and slippers and went downstairs to the kitchen. Mother warmly greeted me, while dad sitting at the table reading the paper said nothing.
After breakfast, we got ready and attended church. When we came home, the rest of the day was like any other Sunday. Dad sat watching some type of sports on TV, while Mother prepared Sunday dinner. I went out and played with the neighborhood boys. Not once that day or any other time afterwards, did anyone ever mentioned that horrible Saturday. It was if it never happened.
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This was one of many, childhood abusive incidents. Although I was scared of my dad, I was always trying to please him. He never verbally told me he was pleased or proud of me. He never said how he felt other than being negative or abusive. My mother never stopped being manipulating and controlling.
During my adolescence and as a young adult, I battled over my acceptance of being gay. When I was 32, suffering from a serious depression, my psychotherapists helped me go through the process of ‘coming out’. I was married with a young daughter and had a progressive career. When it came to disclosing my sexual orientation to my family, my wife felt I was abandoning my daughter and her. She slipped into a deep depression and subsequently committed suicide.
My parents were not supportive and accepting. Their response was to go to the courts and take custody of my daughter from me. With custody, they also forbid me from seeing her. I fought my parents and the courts for visitation rights. When my daughter turned 18, I was finally able to regain a relationship with her.
Even being estranged with my parents and all my anger towards them, I still sought their approval. I thought if they would just accept me, all could be forgiven and I could find happiness that was eluding me. I spent years dealing with self-anger, depression, guilt, and low self-esteem. I had problems with authority in my career, always feeling paranoid. I was a perfectionist with my work and found it intolerable when my staff did not perform at the same level. I had problems with my relationship with my partner. I felt guilty and undeserving of his love and affection.
It was after years of psychotherapy, I was finally able to accept and forgive myself. I had carried the guilt of my wife suicide and felt if I had stayed ‘in the closet’, my daughter would had been raised by both of her loving parents. In the process of forgiving myself, I spent long periods in prayer to overcome the anger and hatred I had for my parents. Finally, with God’s help, I was able to put those destructive emotions aside and forgive them.
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My husband and I have been together for 33 years. He watched and supported me through those dark years. Even with his love and support, I was the one who had to break those debilitating ties to my past. Break them I did. I finally found that self-happiness that had eluded me my entire life.
I am now retired and live a vigorous lifestyle. I am active with my Church where I serve on the Vestry and the Treasurer. Although I wish my daughter lived closer, we have a beautiful relationship and she often states she has two loving fathers. In August of this year, my grandson was born.
Although, my parents were contributing factors that I suffered with low self-esteem, ultimately it was my choice to suffer for as long as I did. Once I convinced myself, I did not have live with these burdens, the process of healing began.