Friday, January 23, 2009

Self Esteem Myths

Low self esteem is a term I find to be unhelpful. To me, it implies one can do something or have something done for him/her to raise self esteem from low to high. Though it tortures me to say, I cannot help my son who despises himself. After living his entire 13 years on earth with us, he still clings to the rejection he experienced from his birth parents and holds me in particular responsible and at bay. If he were a fancy tea cup, I could keep filling him with praise of his many accomplishments and talents, but his delicate broken vessel leaks like a sieve.

Why? Self esteem has always and will forever come from within. No outside source can provide it. No counselor, mom, dad, friend, relative, pastor, boss, enemy delivers self esteem to the inside of another person. It's either there, or it isn't. There nothing more difficult than watching a child not being able to heal.

My son spends his day spreading chaos and doesn't have the slightest idea how to stop himself. Here's one way he wreaks havoc: he incessantly chatters and interrupts anyone in a ten foot range about how very important he is to every conversation and situation. He's searching desperately for the affirmation he does not possess inside. This empty self-important talk frustrates and inflames those close to the source, especially his brothers and sister. He's the king of one-up-manship. My days at home with him are spent keeping the boy at bay from building conflict with others. However, he perceives himself to “be in trouble” when I ask him to stay in the same room with me or go to his room to deescalate an intense situation he's ignited.

Those outside our family tend to feel sorry for him, because he must not “get what he needs from home” to have such sob stories. He outright tells people he just met, “I'm 13 and my mom and dad never let me fill in the blank,but they let my brothers do it all the time.” Buck and I are made out to be Cinderella's wicked step parents in his untrusting brain.

After the death of his friend in October, our son suddenly stopped the chatter and chaos for two entire months. He became peaceful, centered, serious about trusting me. I felt like finally he'd come to understand he did not have to self-protect but could be completely open to our family's love. I could breathe deeply that his life would take the turn we all needed it to for the better.

Then one day in mid-December, my oldest son, Peace, came home totally stressed from an injustice at school during finals week. Peace began nipping and biting everyone at home with his misplaced frustration, and I began clumsily grasping at straws to reign in all his bad karma. For two days I did something I have been endeavoring to abstain from since July- I argued with Peace. In retrospect, I shoulda let the consequences play out from his stinky choices, but instead I let my lower self take over and pronounced, “You are a fool and an idiot if you think...” Immediately, my other son with no self esteem reacted with, “If you are going to call names of Peace like fool and idiot then I certainly will not ever trust you again.” And he hasn't. He instantly flew back in full swing self-important chatter and bedlam. I hoped it was a bump in the road, and I all out apologized in front of him to Peace. It wasn't a bump- it's back to the self protective lifestyle for over a month now.

Last week, my son came to me and said, “I need to call my counselor,” after compiling a list of the all the things he felt I was doing wrong. No worries for me about this- these counselors know me, faults and all, and have all our best interests in mind. The counselor gave my son a teddy bear this summer and asked him to care for it as if it were his little self. The counselor suggested on the phone that my boy might be too hard on his little self and might want to tell his bear so. Such a good shame removal tool- as I said before, the child despises his self.

Since his call last week, I've seen my son white knuckling his way through the day, trying to do what is right. The grace he found after his friend's death is gone, and he's trying to will good behavior from himself. It's like watching an addict trying to stay away from crack in an opened bag on the kitchen counter. He'll start a conflict and back away saying, “Why are you mad at me?” Truthfully, it has been irritating to watch him “not getting it...still and again.”

He called his counselors again this week and told them he was doing a great job staying on course. I gave an invisible internal “oh, brother” eye roll as I listened to him talk. When they asked me if I also noticed him doing a great job I asked, “How do I honor the effort when I see him failing?” They encouraged me to press in and connect as much as I can with him. He'll work with me sometimes when they ask. He let me hold him, look into his eyes, lead him in listening prayer.

I didn't understand his huge backslide until my friend clarified it for me. After all, the initial conflict that shut our relationship down in December had been between his brother Peace and I and had absolutely nothing to do with him- except that he was listening. My friend explained, “Your son takes ownership of every.single. problem. in your home. He thinks he's the cause of everything. He is incapable of separating his issues out.” So, the boy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and it must be heavy. How sad. Her words ignited compassion I've been lacking since his re-eruption.

So how to patch up the holes in his leaking cup? That's a long road, less taken. And we are on it.
I'll keep reminding myself that correcting low self esteem is impossible, and that accepting my son and all his mess is key to his own self acceptance.


Hope said...

Your posts on this topic always make me teary because your mother heart is beautiful and courageous. You're right. Self esteem is an inside job. I don't know how it happens that a crack in all the negative self talk in our heads opens up enough to let the light in but it is possible. I'm proof of that.

truevyne said...

Your name tells me you let the light in. Thanks for your kind words.

Christine said...

Wow - we really are sharing experiences!