Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On Self-esteem

“Children don't belong to us. They are little strangers who arrive in our lives and give us the pleasure and duty of caring for them – but we don't own them. We help them become who they are.” Gloria Steinem remembers her mother saying this in her wonderful Revolution from Within where she talks about self esteem, its roots and the many champions and detractors who shape how we think about ourselves and this world.

Steinem talks about how amazingly hard it must have been for her mother to break the pattern of her own upbringing and give her children this unconditional acceptance. For her mother, her children weren't “bad girls” if they did something she didn't like, nor were they “good” girls if they obeyed. 

They were loved regardless, and she constantly made an effort to distinguish between the child and her behavior.

Steinem talks about how this kind of unconditional love creates a “core” sense of self – a fundamental self esteem that no one and nothing can shake easily. But without having this experience of intrinsic value, “it's hard for children to survive the process of failing and trying again that precedes any accomplishment.”

Surviving the process of failing and trying again - isn't that what many of us are struggling with? It's not the vision that we lack, but the emotional wherewithal to make mistakes without falling apart. 

Most of us have had experiences in our life where our being was only accepted conditionally. We go on looking for external validation, not realizing that getting it won't solve our problems. What we are looking for is unconditional acceptance, a home that will shelter us when the world gets too much.  

As a woman who spent most of her 20s in a corporate job feeling lost and as if she couldn't breathe, I know what it means to not have the internal permission to risk and make mistakes. I also know that self esteem is something that we can nurture and build brick by brick through our own actions. 

But it doesn't last forever. Every day, it either grows or diminishes because of the risks we take or don't take. It's not something that we can have and be done with. And we all need to find our own champions, who can love us when our own self-love is in short supply, who can encourage us to start our journey of becoming more of who we are.

As I take more small steps in becoming who I am, I think of myself as a plant taking root. I think of the task for this season, and it is to take up space, make room for my own self to expand and grow. And as a woman from a culture where babies are almost expected and who is approaching her mid-30s, I think the real answer is that we all have our own season for doing things. 

I used to think that I am out of step when I didn't check the same major life transitions when others did. But checking things off isn't the point.

I am on my journey. I am a writer. I am an artiste.  

I am someone, with or without a child. I am someone with a creative youngster inside her, who is learning to parent that child and letting her become all that she is capable of being.   

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