I've done a lot of thinking about self-esteem lately. Ever since Jen announced her Self-Esteem Carnival, in fact.
I thought about it the day I read her post. I thought about it when I went into the hospital last week with newly discovered pregnancy and diabetes. I even wrote a post chronicling events of my life that led to my difficulty with my own self-esteem. It's still in my drafts folder, not quite expressing my thoughts quite right.
Hmm, that's interesting. I said I had thought about self-esteem, but really what happened is that I would start to think about it, then shove the thoughts away. It was as if I really didn't know what to think about it. Or my subconscious did, and didn't want me to go there.
So much is in our media about the need for us as women to take time for ourselves, focusing more on what we want out of life. I agree that making time for myself is important, but I've always felt that there's more to having a positive self-esteem than just getting regular facials or attending yoga classes. Painting my toes does make me feel pretty now and then, but the feeling never lasts as long as I wish it would.
Positive self-esteem is more important to me now than ever, because I have a three-year-old daughter. She practically hero-worships me at this point. She's so much like I was as a child, enthralled with princesses, babies, pink, dancing, and dresses. I don't even want to think about her getting older and having the challenge of developing a positive self-esteem in this world. I'm concerned about my sons too, but let's face it--our culture is more obsessed with women being perfect in every way than ever before.
I feel the pressure to have it figured out so that I can help her all I can. After all, if her mother doesn't have a positive self-esteem, what does that say to her?
One of the last days I was in the hospital, I made myself think about self-esteem, more specifically, mine. Not just barely think, but really dig deep down. I learned a few things.
The times in my life where I have had good self-esteem was, paradoxically, when I was not thinking about myself. The time of my life just before I met my husband was probably the most positive self-esteem I have ever had. I had gotten over an ended relationship, and learned to be true to myself. I went out with the sister missionaries in my church, and taught the gospel. I read my scriptures, prayed, and decided that other people's opinions didn't matter as much to me as my Heavenly Father's opinion. I found a new job, went to dances and spent time with my friends. I served where I could. The most important people in my life were my family. I decided that I was going to be me, and if other people, namely men, didn't like it that was too bad. I figured that as long as I was asking the Lord's guidance on my life, that I was satisfied with it and at peace with myself.
On the other hand, the lowest points of self-esteem in my life were when I have been focusing on myself. How fat I looked, how tired I was, how messy my house was, what a crappy wife, mother, church teacher, etc that I was. It was all focused inward on me, me, me.
Why, I asked myself, would I have a poor self-esteem when I'm serving now more than I ever had before? When I know I'm doing what God wants me to? When I'm sacrificing myself for my family, each and every day? The answer lies in this key fact: I can wash dishes, do laundry, cook, and clean toilets while being entirely engrossed in myself.
It wasn't until I realized this that things are slowly changing for me. It's entirely possible to focus on myself when washing dishes (WHY do they dirty so many, I'm not the maid...), do laundry (I have nothing better to do than get stains out of clothes, a robot could do this...), cook (I spend this long cooking and it's gone in a flash, no one appreciates me...), and clean toilets (Is it impossible for them to get it all in the toilet? Really?)
How could I develop a positive self-esteem with all of these negative thoughts running through my day?
When I started replacing these thoughts with others, my happiness and self-worth began changing. I still struggle with negative thinking. However, I'm discovering that it is possible to focus on others, and in the process, lift myself. Positive self-esteem is found in doing mindless, mundane tasks when I remember who I'm doing them for. When I focus on laundry for example, I can choose to be thankful that we have clothing and that my children are healthy and growing.
In the last while I have also learned something else critical for developing a positive self-esteem. Forgiveness. I am finally learning to forgive myself.
It started in the months leading up to when I'd turn thirty. The big 3-0. That was on October 30th. Golden birthday, double whammy.
The thought of turning thirty was really hard on me. It wasn't the number so much as for what it stood for. I had wanted to have it all together by that time. I didn't want to leave my twenties fat, or with a messy house, I wanted to have achieved something, a personal goal. I felt like a failure.
Then, a few weeks before the big day, I began changing. Maybe you get some magical wisdom by turning thirty, I don't know. But I began to look at my upcoming age in a different way--instead of an ending and a failure, it became a chance for starting new and fresh. I started becoming eager to leave my twenties behind and become an older, hopefully wiser, me. And when I did this, I started learning to forgive myself.
Forgiveness is different than making excuses. Forgiveness means telling yourself "Yeah, this did happen. Own the problem and accept it. Then you can move on."
I forgave myself for all the self-loathing I have done over my body. I know now that there was so much more going on than just gaining weight, both emotionally and physiologically. It doesn't mean I have to like it or love the fat rolls, but a little kindness is better than hatred. Hatred does nothing but anchor them more firmly.
I forgave myself for the times I've gotten upset with my children. It does no good to beat myself up constantly for my mistakes. Those keep me in the past. I can't fix them. The only things I can do is make better choices every second, every minute, every hour, every day; and say I'm sorry when I make a mistake.
I forgave myself for having a messy, unorganized house. I know think it's a miracle that I functioned as well as I did before knowing was making me feel bad. Feeling overwhelmed can be physically crippling.
I forgave myself for not being in the kind of physical shape I wanted to be in. All I can do is take care of myself and try my best. Beating myself up over it never accomplished anything, and worked against me.
I forgave myself for not putting enough trust in the Lord. He knows me. He knows what I can handle, even when I don't think I can.
We women sabotage ourselves in so many ways--our looks, our clothes, what men think, what other moms think, what well-put-together women think, our houses, our religions, our service, our parents, our houses, our hobbies, our total happiness. All I can say to this, is STOP DOING THAT.
The way to positive self-esteem is loving ourselves if for no other reason that we are daughters of God. The way to positive self-esteem is forgiveness and acceptance. The way to positive self-esteem is struggling past our own hurts and pain to lift up someone else.
So, what will I tell my daughter to help her feel she has value?
That I love her, unconditionally.
That she's a daughter of God.
To find joy and feel God's love by serving others.
To forgive herself for making mistakes. God does, so should she.
And once in a while, take a bubble bath with a good book.