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fear, loathing and self esteem

fear, loathing and self esteem

I laid in bed last night thinking not about the usual things like money and death and how much I want a cigarette. I was thinking about my self-image, which goes hand in hand with self-esteem.

Do you ever wonder how people see you? If what you see when you look in the mirror is what everyone else sees? If what you see when you look in your soul is at all in tune with how others see that part of you?

We are reflections of so many things; how we dress, how we talk, our family, our schooling, our jobs, our accents, the car we drive, the music we listen to. We are lumped and categorized and labeled until perhaps we happen to believe the label ourselves, no matter if somewhere inside, we know it is the wrong one. We become what others imagine us to be.

Esteem and image are such arbitrary things. You can have a great self-worth one day, and then an offhand comment meant as a joke can send you reeling to a place where it is hard to get up from. People pick away at the skin of your image and they don't even realize they are doing it. What some people view as jest or humor can be deadly blows to the esteem of people with fragile egos.

It's easy to come off as if you have a big ego. As if your self-image and esteem are intact and running high. A few well-chosen words or outfits and you can almost feel for that moment as if you are not living a lie. Who will know that when you go home and are in the privacy of your dark bedroom that you loathe yourself and your body and your very own soul? It's easy to ride the crest of high self worth when one hundred people tell you that you are beautiful, but when that one person you admire points out one of your flaws, all those compliments cannot hold you up as you falter.

Our egos and self identities are fragile systems. They are held together with tape and glue and string and all it takes is for one person to comment on your dress, your hair, your project or your attitude in general - just one person, one tiny comment - and it all breaks apart so easily. Then you stand in front of the mirror, stripped naked and sobbing, wondering what it is that people see in you anyhow. Wondering if anyone really sees what's in there or if they are just scratching your surface and being content with that. Wondering if you can keep up with the image others have set for you, knowing full well that most of that image is kept up with smoke and mirrors and something up your sleeve.

You really have no way of knowing what lies deep inside of a person's heart. You don't know what thoughts are behind the ones they actually speak, what past actions guide their present words, what they really honestly see when they look at themselves. You don't reallly know unless you ask. Unless you take a friendship or a relationship and go beyond the skin and into the soul to find out. Do you think anyone is really the exact way that you see them? Do you think that everyone you know who comes off as strong and capable and smart and sexy really thinks that about themselves? Or do they go home at night and think about that one slight, that one remark, that will make them feel worthless and empty?

It takes years to build up your image and esteem to the point where the your inner sense of worth meets your outer sense. Where what people see and what you actually are form into one, where you are so comfortable in your own skin that you can't imagine wearing anything else. And all it takes is one instance, one phrase, one time being told you aren't good enough/pretty enough/thin enough/smart enough. One time to erode a lifetime worth of praise.

Don't be one of those image-crushing people. Don't be the kind of person who never stops to think about the consequences of their words. Or worse, the kind of person who doesn't care. I understand some people trample on the egos of others to make themselves feel bigger and stronger and better. And no matter how low I get, no matter how far my self image sinks, I would rather be me than be the person who broke me. I can live with myself. Can you?


Uh, yeah, mostly I can live with myself. But then, I'm not given to making catty remarks. And I wonder if guys have less self-esteem tied up in their appearances - we think we look better than we actually do, women think they look worse than they actually do. (uh, I think I just posted this somewhere else...)

Sing it, girlfriend.
Proud of you.

I just have one little piece of advice concerning the people who make a joke, or an offhand comment or anything that makes you feel bad - you have to immediately recognize them for what they are - an idiotic piece of shit with nothing better to do than tear other people down. They don't know you from Adam, so they really don't know what the fuck they're talking about.

You can't validate them, Michele. The minute you give it a second thought, you're letting them win.

I know it's easier said than done, as is anything, but practice makes perfect. Or sometimes, visualization works better for people. Visualize wearing body armor and an insult just bouncing right off of you.

Just an idea. If you do it enough times, it really does start to work.

I think most men have much less of their self esteem (SE) tied into their looks. I enjoy looking nice, but in point of fact, I really don't care how I look (hair dressers are always asking me how I want my hair cut - after decades it's still, "I don't know, I just want it shorter"). Even if someone were to insult my looks, I tend to localize it (it's just that person who doesn't like this shirt, I like it, and I know that someone somewhere would like it, besides, even if I'm wrong and the 4th law of thermodynamics states that this is truly a bad shirt, I can simply change it.)

Graduate school in the sciences has been an exercise in building self-esteem. Every week is an exercise in standing up in front of a group of smart people and having them attack your ideas and your work, and of course, that means you have to defend your ideas - in public - on the fly. Repeat for 5 or 10 years. And beleive me, there's no abundance of social tact in the sciences.

If I still find myself with low SE, I try to think objectively about the 3 lb mass within my skull (the brain). It is capable of creating any reality, changing any perception, reacting to or creating any situation. Thus I think about my accomplishments, and the beauty of individual expression, regardless of the opinion of present company. If I'm on the right path, what does it matter what others think? Does anyone remember how Simone De Beauvoir used to dress? Or that Gandhi used to walk around in the equivalent of a giant Huggies diaper? I think of what I have in common with people throughout history. That they were individuals on their own path, with a commitment to some form of truth that made sense to them, part of which also makes sense to me. People have been belittling each other since people existed - but that's not what matters. Think of your path, how it relates to your value system, and of your accomplishments.

2 things I know about you: You're building everyone's future by having and raising your kids (an incredible accomplishment), you express yourself in writing better than 98% of the human population, and probably most of your peers (which puts you in good company with lots of dead people - but at least everyone thinks highly of them [famous dead people could express themselves]). Thems is no small potatoes.

You have no idea how much this rings true these days.

"I can live with myself. Can you?"

Yeah, I think I could live with you. I don't think Tracy or Justin would appreciate it though.... ;)

My flaw when it comes to other people is, I play a little rough with people I shouldn't. I don't think that I am until it's too late. ...

My theory about people who make snide comments is, they have a million reasons they do the things they do. The chances that it's really about me at all are quite small.

I'm more irritated when people make flat observations like, "You cut your hair." Especially when the 12th person in a day does it. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say. Sometimes I say "yes." Sometimes I say "thank you." Neither seems right. Both are passive-aggressive.

I simultaneously don't care about my appearance and fear that my looks are gone. My weight seems exactly the same to me [over some rather large fluctuations through the years], but my clothes shrink and expand inexplicably.

People generally seem to think more of me than I think of myself, and I try to take their word for it. It's not that I think I'm awful. I just don't see the good things they see sometimes.

I pray for mindfulness about the kinds of things you're talking about when it comes to others. "Just let me see that I have choices, and I'll try to choose well." I think I usually do.

That was an awesome entry. I am in total agreement.

Also, I agree with the statement in this thread that men are very, very fragile. Not all men, mind you, but I have found it to be very true lately.

Thanks for such a great post... :)

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