It always surprises me how capable I am.
It really should be obvious by now, because I work so well in community-minded teams. Time and time again, I have thrived and inspired others. Effortlessly I can fit in to new groups and gain as much respect as I show. But I still have these barriers of worthlessness to deal with most days.
A lifetime of abuse, neglect and alienation can do that to you. When you have to constantly hear other people’s problems (in the constant whining tone of a frustrated idiot), your self-identity is worn down. You have no space to become your own person. It is hard to shape yourself when it is besieged by other people’s emotions, other people’s expectations, or literally disrupted by unwanted sounds. For vulnerable children, these intrusive elements are especially damaging.
Eventually, your self-esteem hits a nadir, and it is in these moments you become most vulnerable. Wounds that are struck in this time, with no psychic defences, leave the deepest mark. Feeling powerless is the way to depression, feeling weak to anxiety. Over the years it grinds into you, becoming a kind of ‘default setting’.
I have these feelings deep inside. Childhood abuse and humiliation, unacknowledged or underplayed, has left its scars on my self-esteem. The lack of a single proper relationship has meant I had to cope as a lone wolf for so many years. The brutality of school, caught between savagely stupid bullies and horrible teachers has made it hard for me to trust the world. The grinding alienation of the capitalist world, with its ghettos and shopping malls, inspired inaction and depression. It is a lot to bear.
And sometimes the load gets too much. It is not as if the abuse is stuck in the past. Those who commit abuse and do not make real steps to change are prone to repeat their actions. Sometimes the sight of them alone triggers discomfort and anxiety, disgust and anger.
Lack of self-worth is thus passed down like a family legacy. It always made me wonder how a family could destroy its own chances, undermining its own and leaving itself in a worse position. Why would an abuser create mentally crippled children and risk destitution? Why would people who always compete with the Joneses damage their own chances of being more successful? Perhaps it is a form of self-hatred. Perhaps it is overwhelming ignorance.
My wings have certainly been clipped. This article is not an exercise in ‘woe-is-me’. It is an exercise in what I have to push through to be what I truly want to be.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to remind myself: I am worth something! Having a web of friends who always show love and appreciation help me feel special. Self-worth comes from my creations, which were generated precisely because of my lack of any good emotions. And with self-reflection comes self-worth, for if I truly know myself, I can but love what is there. That very act of trying to know myself is to show that I am something separate from what others try to shape me into; an attempt at dignity.
Self-worth is hard. My lack of esteem is the cause of always seeing this year’s dream woman as being my emotional saviour, or the other town as a utopia, or a small job opening as the path to fame and wealth. These flights of fancy are not a healthy way to live, and further entrench lack of self-worth. What I need is acceptance of the past without a feeling of rage, but paradoxically, ambition enough to transcend the present condition and its myriad risks.
Do I have self-worth? Yes, I must do. If I didn’t I would not be angry at having been underestimated and ground down; I wouldn’t have an image of what I could be; I wouldn’t be crawling painfully toward something better; I wouldn’t be seeing a psychotherapist and treating my body well. Yes, I have self-worth.
But next door ugly voices are grating, chattering endlessly, intruding on my psychic space, and it is a challenge to stay afloat.