Tag Archives: self-esteem

God-trust-vulnerability

The truth will set you free

The House of Mirrors at the Michigan State Fair fascinated me as a child. I loved how the slightest movement could cause great distortion. I could go from tall and skinny to short and fat with just one step.

In a way, these distortions reflected my everyday life, which could shift from peaceful to chaotic in a moment. Except, I was not the one creating the chaos; I just had to live in it and learn to keep silent about it.

So I lived on two planes—my interior life, where I knew the truth of my life, and my outer life where I pretended not to.

Of course, holding tight to secrets caused me a great deal of anxiety and shame. I worried that someone would realize I was a fraud—that the life I projected outwardly was nothing like the life I actually lived.

I felt trapped within walls of lies and deceptions.

I have had more than one conversation with Jesus about how knowing the truth would set me free (John 8:32), because that was not my experience. I knew the truth, and I was not free.

Only recently have I come to understand that I need one more step to be free—I need to speak my truth in order to be truly free.God-trust-vulnerabilityI have been experimenting with speaking my truth through this blog, continually revealing more and more of who I am and what I have experienced. It has been very freeing and has given me the confidence to continue to reveal my story.

My hope is to get to a place past shame, where childhood secrets have no hold on me, where I can see myself as God sees me and accept myself without judgment. Step by step, story by story.God-trust-vulnerabilityI have also realized that it is not only traumatic events that I have kept secret. Recently, I shared a story of a Good Samaritan who helped me after a car accident. When I get to the part of the story where this man paid for my car to be towed, I am overcome with emotion and tears fill my eyes.

Why would I cry in recalling an act of great kindness? And why have I not talked about this incident before?

I think my sense of unworthiness prevented me from telling it. I kept it secret because I felt unworthy to be so richly blessed, as if someone would challenge me—who are you to be treated so well? I knew I was not worthy and so I kept quiet.

But, in truth, my whole life has been filled with great blessings, with incidents of God’s abundant love being poured out on me.

I have only recently begun to share openly the good things God has done for me and the amazing way God has cared for me, and in doing so, am undoing my negative self-image.

I want to know my truth, to speak it and to be set free.

 

 

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vulnerability-faith-hope

Finding my voice

When I approached the presenter at the cancer caregivers workshop to share my reaction to her words about hope, she responded, “I wish you would have said that at the mic.”

At the end of each presentation, we were invited to come to the mic and ask questions or share reflections.

But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.

Ironically, I love public speaking and have done a fair amount of it for my nonprofit work. But there is a difference between telling other people’s stories and sharing my personal stories. Other people’s, ok. My own, not so much.

As a child, I was told that what happened in our house stayed in our house. We also did not talk inside our house about anything that happened. I felt invisible, as if no one cared what I was going through—or even noticed that I was there. I didn’t seem to matter.
vulnerability-faith-hopeBy my late twenties, I was an emotional mess and started going to therapy to help me process growing up in a chaotic house and to reconcile my past.

However, growing up in a home where I was told never to talk about what happened made sharing extremely stressful. Every time words formed about an experience or feeling, an alarm would sound inside my head. Do not say that!vulnerability-faith-hopeI was incapable of identifying what I was feeling, much less talking about it.

Early on in therapy, I shared one of my earliest memories.

I was four years old, playing in my back yard, when I found a dime. What luck! Even at that young age, I knew a dime could buy me something special. I remember how shiny it was and how fortunate I felt. And then my older brother saw what I had and claimed it was his. “No!” I shouted. “It’s mine!” He tried to take it from me, and I knew he would triumph, so I swallowed it.

My therapist commented, “And you have been swallowing every challenge since them.”

I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr talk about our shadow side, and he described it as a sack where we stuff all the negative things from our lives. The image that popped into my mind was of something like Santa’s bag—this huge sack, dragging behind me. I could feel the weight of it pulling me back.

My shadow bag was filled with twenty-eight years of negative experiences that I had swallowed and tamped down deeper and deeper.

As I began to unpack my shadow bag in therapy and at retreats, and look at my history, I started to realize that surviving those experiences had made me who I was; they had made me strong and resilient. Learning to talk about it—especially at the mic—is still a work in progress.vulnerability-faith-hope

 

 

god-blessings-transformation

You are worth more than gold

Last weekend, I returned to Philadelphia for a friend’s thirtieth birthday celebration. Last weekend also marked the fifth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death, and I commemorated that occasion with Mass and dinner with friends.

I had lived in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years and have friends there who have known me for most of my adult life.

One friend asked me if I had come to see any upside to the time of Jim’s illness and death. I reminded her that I believe every curse has a blessing, and I recounted some of the blessings from that difficult time.god-blessings-transformationJim used to tell me to “take it in” whenever someone paid me a compliment.

Low self-esteem had plagued me from an early age, and I didn’t really believed the positive things people said to me. Each time Jim told me to take it in I knew I was minimizing or dismissing a compliment—a habit so deeply ingrained that I was unaware I was doing it. He never seemed to tire of reminding me that people appreciated me, even though I was blind to my own gifts and talents.god-blessings-transformationBut in the process of caring for Jim, a switch got tripped, and I started to be able to take it in. I began to believe the compliments.

While Jim was received radiation, we met weekly with his radiologist and I would report on Jim’s reaction to the treatment. During one of these meetings, the radiologist said to me, “You are an accurate report.” “I am,” I thought.

I had realized during Jim’s illness that I can deal with most anything as long as I know what is happening. My reports were accurate, and I was able to take in the radiologist’s affirmation.

“You are doing the best you can for Jim,” the radiology receptionist said to me one day when I was particularly emotional and weepy. I took in her affirmation, too. I was doing the best I could, and Jim not only lived months beyond original expectations, but his life was good.god-blessings-transformationAbout six months into Jim’s illness, his neurosurgeon said, “If I was just looking at your scans, I would be deeply concerned. But talking to you and looking at you, you seem to be doing quite well.” “Thank you,” I said, and I meant it. I had come to realize that Jim was doing well at least in part because of the care I was giving him.

These little experiences began to add up, and I started to see myself differently. My self-esteem was being bolstered during this very difficult time. I was actually functioning fairly well, and I was doing the best I could for Jim.

While Jim’s brain cells were being destroyed by cancer, my negative self-image was also being destroyed and my brain cells were being reorganized into a more accurate report.

“You are gold,” Jim said to me one day. “Thank you,” I replied, as I took in his compliment and believed him.god-blessings-transformation

Becoming visible

“I bought it because it made me more visible,” I overheard a young woman say. She was talking about her new car and went on to explain that she had test-driven this car in different colors until she found the one she believed people would notice.

I thought back to when I was her age and bought my first new car. I chose one that was the most efficient for the least amount of money. It had a manual transmission and no extras, not even air conditioning—luxuries were for others, I believed—not for me. I never thought that it could help me be visible.

I am a second-born child. A Google search on my birth order brings up articles using phrases like “fighting for attention.” I’ve always wondered if the person who created the slogan for Avis rental cars was a second-born child—We try harder.

After all the excitement over the first-born, the second can seem rather ho-hum and been there/done that. A second-born child can easily feel lost in the shadow of the first-born.

I grew up believing that I was invisible, and it was not until my mid-thirties that I got a clue to the contrary. It was during a transition time, and I was flitting back and forth from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Michigan and back again to Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where I wanted to live.

“You can’t keep coming and going like that,” a Philadelphia friend declared, with tears in her eyes and her voice full of emotion. She explained how difficult it was for her to say good-bye and grieve my leaving, only to have me come back a few months later—and then leave again after another few months.

“You noticed that I left?” I asked her, incredulous that my leaving even registered on her radar. Until then, I believed that I had zero impact on anyone; it did not occur to me that my actions were seen, let alone impactful.

I took her words to heart, though, and started paying attention to how others saw me. Once I realized I was not invisible, I reviewed my life and could see a trail of hurt in my wake—a divorce, ended friendships and more inappropriate relationships that I cared to remember.

Being invisible had equaled not taking responsibility for my actions. I was like the tree falling in the woods that no one is present to hear—if no one saw me, how could my actions have consequences?

Knowing that I was visible produced a sea change in my self-understanding and my behavior. Over time, I came to understand that not only was I visible, but that I am actually quite a strong personality. Who knew?

Believing in my visibility took a long time, and I am grateful to that Philadelphia friend for opening my eyes.

The young woman who bought the car with the highest visibility rating? She was the baby in her family and accustomed to being seen.

 

 

No More Fun House Mirrors

I started running when I was thirty years old. I wanted to be an FBI agent and one of the qualifications was to run two miles in under sixteen minutes.

Starting slowly, I eventually worked up to three miles, and then I entered a one-mile run to see if I could do an eight-minute mile. I could.

After that, I settled into a running routine of three miles every morning. Outside of some minor running-related injuries, I kept up that routine for twenty years, until a stress fracture forced me to stop running and switch to walking.

I did not particularly like the running part of running; it was more of a chore that I had to get out of the way before I could start my day. What I did like about running, though, was watching my shadow as I ran.

I have body image issues, and have had them for as long as I can remember. I always saw myself as a large person, “big-boned” was a description I often heard growing up. I used to say I was born a size 12 and grew from there. Big bones, big feet, too tall. Even my hair gets bigger when I let it grow out—thick and frizzy, quite like Janis Joplin’s.

I am not scientifically oriented, and shadows (like radio waves and gravity) were a mystery to me.

When I ran, my shadow was a thin person’s shadow. It was some kind of magic, like the house of mirrors where the reflection is distorted. I did not understand how it worked, but I loved it. I was fat, but my shadow was thin.

When running with a friend one time, I commented, “Look at how your shadow reflects you but mine is thinner than I am.” He chuckled, as if I had made a joke, but I was not kidding. I actually believed that his shadow was an accurate reflection of his body and mine was not.

How could that be? I didn’t know, but I knew it was true. I knew I was fat, much fatter than my thin shadow.

Maybe it is age, or the wisdom of age, but I now have a much more realistic image of my body, of myself really. I can hear what other people say about me, how they see me, and I trust it. Not just my physical body, but who I am, my self.

It is a new reality and I sometimes still have to work at letting go of old images. “No more fun house mirrors,” my spiritual director suggested the other day. “No more fun house mirrors,” I concurred.