Though I have journeyed through etomophobia (fear of vomiting), general anxiety, depression, and codependency I think I have found the root of my issues. As I traveled through each of these conditions and learned about how and why they manifest themselves in my mind and body, I found a theme.
I visited my inner child. I faced my shame issues head on. I try very hard to take a neutral perspective and to shed the old beliefs that maintain my outlook. I have arrived at my core issue and it is self-esteem.
Maybe you can relate. I think we all have a degree of self-esteem issues as we struggle not to judge ourselves nor play the victim to our own self-abuse and the perceived (or real) abuse of others. Why are we often our own worst enemies? I don’t know, but I can summarize what I’ve learned about myself.
I definitely believe it starts in childhood. I think we enter life as innocent experiencers and learn to internalize the world to varying degrees. I internalized the shit out of my world, becoming my own best friend and advisor. Unfortunately, an 8-year-old doesn’t often give the best advice and I carry much of this around in me today.
In my family I learned to be quiet, not have any negative feelings, maintain an even keel, and help others maintain a peaceful atmosphere. I didn’t see my dad much and my mom sort of did this for him and us kids. Nothing bad was spoken about, nor anything meaningful, really. No one got upset and, if they did, they were ignored or shunned as rocking the boat. I don’t remember specific interactions but I remember specific feelings about my role: Do well in school, don’t complain, and accept the consequences of your actions.
That last one is the big one. Paraphrased, my dad also used to say “walk the talk”. I learned quickly that my actions affected people, including myself, so I needed to make absolutely sure that I carefully considered my actions and all of the potential consequences before I did anything. Yeah, I took a fairly simple mantra to the extreme – that’s who I am and I’m sure my parents didn’t know.
But this led me to analysis paralysis, a place I still spend a lot of time.
Because I learned that my actions affected others I became hyper aware of all of my actions. I was scared to upset people. I agonized over my actions and how they would affect other people to the point that I was constantly making assumptions about how other people felt. Eventually, I realize now, I became so arrogant to actually believe that A) I could tell what people were feeling, and B) manipulate their feelings through my actions. I know, I know, crazy. But I think a lot of us do it.
Psychologists call it mind reading. I don’t know when I assumed I could do it, I now realize I can’t, but I struggle to shake the mindset that thinks I can.
Moreover, my esteem, in large part, came from being able to make people happy. It set me up for a lot of disappointment. You can probably relate. I felt something happening. Someone was getting upset or not getting what they want. A whirlwind of thoughts spin in my head to figure out how to prevent the upset or to correct it. I became quite good at humorous quips to distract. But this was a constant buzzing noise in my head: scanning my environment to assess people’s’ conditions. It was exhausting.
And the worst part was that it rarely worked. Because I can’t accurately understand how people feel, nor can I manipulate it, I consistently failed to prevent disappointment and conflict in my environment. Sure, sometimes my quips made people laugh or delayed conflict, but it came up eventually because that’s life.
So the combination of constantly paying attention to people around me and continually failing to avoid conflict left me in a state of, you guessed it, anxiety. I was exhausted and unable to meet my own needs. Eventually, I forgot what they were.
My reaction to the anxiety was to try harder. I gave more of myself to my world to try to be better and avoiding conflict. And, of course, the harder I tried the more I failed. It’s an impossible situation. As we know, I can’t make people feel happy – that’s up to them. I didn’t get that for a long time. And now that I do, I don’t know what to do with it.
See, a big part of my identity is tied to ‘making people happy’, or being the caregiver, or maintaining the peace. I still seek the rewards of fulfilling the role I perceive myself as my purpose. I can’t shake it. I don’t know any other way.
But I am trying. I have accepted that the symptoms of anxiety and depression were essentially results of not being able to adequately esteem myself. I have therefore focused on the core issue of finding out how to do that. I understand that I need to learn about and accept that I am a good, unique person deserving of love and that my role is not to make people happy. I am learning what my needs are and how to ensure that they are met.
Gary Van Warmerdam through his work at pathwaytohappiness.com uses the term ‘old beliefs’ to describe how we cling to old habits. His book MindWorks
A Practical Guide for Changing Thoughts, Beliefs, and Emotional Reactions stands out to me as making the most sense about how to address issues related to anxiety, depression, and others. Gary uses archetypes to describe how we treat ourself through our negative self-talk. The judge, victim, hero, and angel archetypes maintain our old belief systems related to our self-worth and affect how we esteem ourselves.
For me, I judge myself as being not good enough. I attribute much of this to rarely being able to fulfill my presumed purpose of pleasing people and avoiding conflict. Because I am continually failing in that role, I continually judge myself as a failure. This triggers the victim mentality where I feel sorry for myself for always failing because my life is so hard. In the middle is the idea that I am some sort of hero that has the super human ability to please people, diminish conflict, and control how people feel and act. Related to these is the princess who is so special that she deserves special treatment from the world. Gary’s book is very insightful. He describes familiar concepts (don’t all self-help guides?) but in a way that speaks to me.
Gary’s advice, then, is to catch yourself when you are falling into one of the archetypes and to remind yourself that this is an old belief, something you want to change, and really has no value in your life any longer. What follows is how to develop healthier tactics to get through life. But I’m still working on understanding the relationship to my old beliefs and how I feel.
Learning to love ourselves is hard. It’s hard for me to admit that my issues are primarily related to self-worth and self-esteem. I understand that everything in my life stems from my self worth. If I can just shake this one aspect of my personality, redefine my role in my family and society more accurately, and reduce the amount of time I spend listening to my old beliefs well, all the rest will probably take care of itself.