Low Self Esteem Killed the Quality of my Relationship

July 31, 2008

(this is a personal account of what we went through and still striving to achieve as a couple)

I want to start off by resonating with a silent echo that’s been around for generations; i.e. A “healthy self esteem” is the most sought after emotional state for every person aiming to be self confident. Some have successfully achieved authentic self esteem through painful life experiences; some through wise parental guidance but most folks still stand tall on false bottoms – a false sense of self esteem. Unfortunately, a false sense of self esteem spares no one, neither the rich nor the successful. It’s known to be prevalent in CEOs, actors, rap stars, narcissists and even psychologists themselves. It is clearly prevalent in drug addicts, addicts in general, criminals, abusers and the like.

My story spans thirty years during which my emotional baggage got heavier and I constantly duct taped together a false bottom. My wife, a victim of suppressive parenting, was no exception to this psychological handicap. For eight years in our marriage I found on many occasions I bickered, blamed & regretted. I caused her a lot of guilt and shame for not being what I wanted her to be. We couldn’t even be honest and respectful in a relationship. She could not accept constructive criticism and neither could I. Eventually anything she would do was never good enough for me and nothing I did was enough to make her happy. For every step she took, no matter which direction, I guess I ended up saying “you suck!”.  I called her parents suppressive and here I was no different.

It took a devastating turn in my life to notice my junk emotional baggage. I had an extra marital affair in 2006 followed by an attempted divorce. But on the advice of a very good friend and a failing marriage I attempted therapy. She tried it too.

The first thing the therapist signed me up for was self esteem in group therapy. As I walked out of her office, I told myself that I don’t need this and that I have great self esteem. This was my male ego reassuring that the false bottom could withstand an 8.0 earthquake! During my first session, they circulated study material on self esteem. I was taken aback when I found some of the symptoms of low self esteem were the symptoms I had (outlined some of it below). It took a while but when I finally accepted it, I asked my wife to experience this paradigm shift.  She didn’t understand it and preferred her existing way of life. Even though I didn’t see the end of the tunnel for us, I didn’t want to give up. But first I needed to fix myself. I immediately understood that if I had great self esteem I would not have cheated.

Here are some of the symptoms of Low Self Esteem that I had:
I noticed that I was a perfectionist with low tolerance for anything less. (This was only towards people I can take for granted, like my wife).
I would be embarrassed about the color of my skin or the natural discoloration in my teeth. But if you like my skin color, I like it too!
I had very defensive behavior and used to take everything personally (seriously insecure).
I felt a void and I wanted someone to fill it in for me – extra marital affair.
I wanted a hot looking wife to feel important, a little trophy. I didn’t realize I used them.  Many a times (thanks to my culture), I saw them as objects for my own happiness instead of human beings with emotions of their own.
I always wanted to please others at the cost of my own time or money in return for compliments & appreciation.
I wanted everyone to like me and I tried to please everyone. Many a times I ignored the people that mattered because they weren’t that important to my social appearance.
I treated everyone special and lied to them about how great they were so they don’t think any low of me. It was about me, not about them.
At times, I would settle for second best or nothing at all because I thought I didn’t deserve the best and that it was a ‘sacrifice’ well worth it.
I remained a workaholic to prove to everyone how good I was.
I was unable to easily forgive or forget.
I had a superficial outlook.
I wanted to dress well & drive an expensive car to impress others.
I could not say the word “I” with confidence. I would say “we”  or use third person reference while trying to refer to myself.
I was always defensive and in denial.

Initial conclusion:
During my search for answers, I concluded that I had low self esteem. To my surprise and from various sources, I realized that even criminals, alcohol abusers, drug abusers, gamblers, every form of addiction – sex offenders, video game addiction, internet chat addicts, internet addicts, blog addicts, bullies and even something as common as depression source from low self esteem. I’ve read that dysfunctional families (like mine) lacked social integrity. They too lacked self esteem. This explains how the examples they (parents) set for me became an integral part of my life. I’m reluctant to say this (might be taken out of context) but most of the families I know are dysfunctional and there have been very few that I can commend.

Helping my Wife – Low to healthy self esteem:
Over the years I fixed myself pretty good and am finally seeing the end of the tunnel for my wife. I had to take the help of a story to find the patience and endurance to make it work for her.  Check this out. It really helped me!

And with my wife, I watched the false bottom she stood on give away. It took much longer than I expected but I stood below it to cushion her. Therapy didn’t help her at all. There were times I tried to break the false bottom myself, but it just caused us more pain with no result.

Then one fine day she woke up depressed and said, “I’ve lost all my confidence.” This happened right after she discovered that most of her “friends” were using her. They never really liked her to begin with. All that false praise and pretense faded away leaving her emotionally vulnerable.

“I lost my friends & lost my confidence Evans. Am I that bad a person?”  She went on.
I listened as she poured her heart out and then calmly replied, “I’m glad you lost those so called friends. I’m even happier that you lost that confidence.”

Stunned as she was, I continued. “What kind of confidence is it when it comes with your friends and leaves with them? I’d rather you start fresh and build it from within. Look at yourself today. You can achieve anything anywhere anyhow and no one can take that away from you. The real confidence comes from knowing that you are very capable if you choose to. Don’t let others remote control how you feel.” And this is where we are today.

Here’s a few epiphanies I’ve encountered the hard way:
I have realized that being a good listener is the same as making it half way across the bridge.
Clarity, kindness and reassurance in communication is the next most important piece.
I always mention intent when things go wrong. i.e.  “My intent was good, but I couldn’t control the outcome. I’m sorry.”
Its a marathon; building higher tolerance, patience and strength to withstand emotional trauma. I had to push constantly to have her do things for herself.
I realized that I have to fix and finish the job her parents left half way, and that’s a marriage.

Here’s why we ended up the way we were!
We had lack of constant encouragement and support from parents.
We were children not being loved or accepted unconditionally either at home, at school or in the community.
We were always or occasionally compared to other kids.
Our parents were a product of a dysfunctional family themselves where new ideas were not expressed and authoritative behaviors glorified.
One of us came from workaholic parents who were absolutely unaware of its effects.
We were in an environment where feelings were not openly expressed, experienced, or welcome.
We had to deal with fearful or anxiety driven parents who tend to suppress the freedom of growth and expression

Since Recovery Process isn’t easy:
Coming out of low self esteem in an adult life is a lot of work. See link.
If this is important to your life you will need to take the trouble to Google or Yahoo seach “low self esteem”, “self esteem issues” etc. One of the best books I found was ‘The Transformative Power of Crisis‘ by the Alter Family. I highly recommend a copy of it (its out of print, I bought a used copy!).

Good Luck & Peace.

Article where scientists highlight the effects of low self esteem on a consumer
For those who want to help their spouses with low self esteem, hope this story (http://www.lightyourfire.com/my-girlfriend-has-low-self-esteem.htm)  enlightens you.

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