A Slave to My Self-Destruction: The Role Self-Esteem Plays in Our Toxic Behaviors

“Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, and so they don’t find themselves at all.” -Rollo May (Man’s Search for Himself)

All Roads Lead to Self-Esteem

If you’ve been consistently reading my blog, a pattern is likely to have emerged for you. Whether an article relates to imposter syndrome, preventing oneself from accepting love, jealousy, being trapped in one’s imagination, self-sabotage, need and neediness, or the intolerance of uncertainty, it, fundamentally, touches on self-worth.

Much of the outlandish shit we do, we do to protect ourselves, or as Alen would say, “protect our egos from being hurt.” Sometimes, we run away and absorb ourselves in fantasy, and at others, we throw tantrums as we unjustifiably accuse our partners of betraying our trust: the stories we weave can protect us or consume us, debilitating our ability to reason if the latter.

In some sense, all of us are fragile and susceptible to emotional harm. Try as we might, we’ll never fully get over feeling like imposters or not being good enough. But that, in itself, can be a step toward liberation, in simply knowing that we’re in it together. When we try to understand why we pull the sort of stuff we do, we begin to look inwardly to the core of our major difficulties. Guess what we find…

So What Do I Do Now?

Therapy is a hard road for most people because of the effort and pain that it entails, but it tends to be the only way out of one’s own self-imposed prison. Interestingly, we think of being alone with our thoughts as a form of punishment; yet, the real prison is our incessant need to use avoidant strategies. We’re always busying ourselves with this and that because we can’t bear the thought of having to bear our own thoughts. Thus, we run far away from therapy.

On a related note, I love reading books because they’re safe portals into myself, through which I was able to enter treatment in the first place. (For, it’s easy viewing yourself at a distance, especially when you think it’s someone else.) With their help, I discovered important parts of who I was and what I was avoiding. I also learned that our avoidant behavior stems from a pervasive misconception of ourselves as, somehow, being deformed, or damaged, and terribly unique. Fortunately, we aren’t, or if we are, then we all are!

But we remain afraid of what, or who, we’ll find. Stripped away from our defenses, therapy begs us to examine the core beliefs of the individuals found within.

Living Automatically

I hesitate to use the term unconscious because it’s often mistaken to mean some little guy in your brain who controls your actions, so I’ll instead use the word automatic in noting how we automatically live our lives. Whether good or bad, most of our actions are performed on this level, since we don’t have much energy, time, or the patience to explore why we do what we do or think how we do.

The rage, the anger, the accusations, the passive-agressive bullshit… all of it is hurled without much forethought. And we rigidly believe in the stories we weave, which comes easily to those who live in sheer terror of staring deeply into shattered mirrors. Our fates are, thus, determined by our dread as we become our own captives.

Freedom

So, what does it mean to be free? Empathy, which stemmed from my discovery of the other seemingly shattered selves, taught me that I was like everyone else, also chained to my insecurities. In turn, I allowed myself to see myself, and to ask why I didn’t think I was enough. Even though, I can’t yet say that I fully love and accept myself, I do so enough to feel good enough about the person staring at me in the mirror.

So, freedom, in this respect, is the willingness to be alone with one’s own thoughts: to allow oneself to self-reflect. My past jealousy, hurt, and anger all stemmed from the lack of self-love that I projected onto others. They may have really not loved me, but the projection was certainly a perfect fit.

It’s a myth to think that I can someday free myself of others’ conceptions of me, but objectivity is far from being an elusive goal. If you can learn to see yourself as you are, with every flaw and strength included, you’ll be able to see others similarly, and vise versa. The world is more nuanced than we believe. We can cheat on people we love out of fear, we can say hurtful things that we don’t mean, and we can spread our love among multiple individuals, all of which is to say that others’ mistakes, or lapses in attention, aren’t in themselves proofs of our inadequacy.

In essence, freedom is knowing who you are and, as significantly, knowing who we are. But, objectivity, is only possible through courage. Fortunately for us, the mirrors quite often offer us beautiful reflections.

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