“I’m just saying, if he knows that about himself, he should try to do something about it.”
I clenched my fork tighter as I bit back my anger. “You know, people with low self-esteem are the way they are because somewhere along the way, someone told them they were not worthy.” I was two seconds away from pointing the fork at her, because she was that someone to me.
I recently clicked on an article entitled “7 Signs You Grew Up With A Toxic Parent” because everyone likes to think their parents screwed them up in some way. Nothing in it was particularly revealing, as the law of confirmation bias goes, I’m sure most people can claim that their parents fit the bill on one occasion or another if you stretched things far enough. But the most interesting revelation to me was that they all usually resulted in the child having low self-esteem.
I never thought of myself as having low self-esteem, but that’s because I never realized it could come in the form of eagerness to prove one’s ability, in the inability to accept failure, in immediate need to assign blame or the lack of capacity to receive praise. All this, stems from a place of deep rejection that we spend the rest of our lives atoning for, even though it wasn’t our fault.
Sadly, we do feel it’s our fault. Was it something we’ve done? Were we not enough? Were we not worthy of their love?
One of my best friends had her father up and leave her family for another one. Another friend was sexually harassed by a family member only to have her mother berate her saying, “How could you let that happen?” I am well aware of the unfortunate ubiquity of this story, every family has a version of their own, but I was angriest and saddest about the fact that they were all hurt by the very people who were supposed to be their protectors, their God-given shields and nurses.
It feels like a betrayal that the injured have to live with, an unjust quandary where revenge would only hurt the perpetrator more. Even in acceptance, they may realize their needs will never be met but it doesn’t stop them from needing. Even in revenge, their needs will still not be met and a severed relationship would only hurt the avenger. There is no winning or way out.
But this is not meant to be a dour story, because instead of choosing to hate or drown in self-pity, these people were the first to forgive even when they never received an apology. After years of self-excoriating, they emerged not only absolving themselves but also the other party by seeing that those people who hurt them were hurt as well. Look a little closer, and you’ll find that our less-than-perfect parents probably had toxic parents of their own, and often, the inability to be considerate of your feelings is just a sign of that. So they’ve failed you, but now the power is in your hands whether to perpetuate it or make like Elsa, and let it go.