Monday, 16 December 2013

Series: What Do You Do When You Never Feel Good Enough? (Part Two)

Read part one here.

The Context
When I asked the questions that I did in part one, it was to highlight possible root causes for low self-esteem (LSE). A lot of times we don't think too much about the influence our upbringing and environment had/have over us but they do shape our thinking, our attitudes and our perception of what is right, normal and acceptable.

Let's explore some of those questions again and try to see them through the eyes of one who has had to live through such dysfunction...

  • Have you lost one or both parents? 
If you lose your mum, it's likely your father  will remarry and vice versa; as a child you have no say in the matter. When one parent ends up with someone other than your mum or dad, you end up with a step-parent. I've heard horror stories about step-parents who turn the home into a battlefield and pitch father/mother against their kids. The result is a child who lives with his parents yet feels like an outsider. This sense of insecurity is heightened when the step-kids arrive and steal all the love. Because childhood is supposed to be a nurturing period, the neglect and in some cases, abuse, fuels a deep sense of inadequacy. You feel like to get and keep attention, you have to become something other than what you already are.

The orphan is of course worse off, especially as a child because more often than not, he/she ends up with relatives, friends, a foster home or on the streets. While there are heartwarming stories about orphans who find love and care outside their immediate family, the indices aren't so good. In any of the scenarios described above, the orphan is but secondary in the scheme of things. The relative or friend would have immediate concerns with the orphan being more often than not, an unwelcome burden. As with the child who loses one parent, the orphan has to deal with the realization that life and how he's going to live it has been irrevocably altered.

  • Are you from a broken home? 
I've seen children who blame themselves for their parents divorce. They sincerely believe things would have been different if they did things differently. Due to this belief, some children try to step into the 'missing' parent's shoes. The boy tries to be a father, the girl tries to be a mum. More often than not, they don't do a good job and this fuels their sense of not being enough; forgetting the fact that they are still quite frankly children who should have no business trying to be adults. Also, the absence of a mother/father figure leaves a yearning so deep in the child, he transfers it to his adult relationships...

  • Are you from a polygamous family? 
Some religions encourage polygamy and the women within those cultures have found a way to deal with the arrangement. But the polygamous environment is a highly competitive one. Wives curry their husband's attention and favour. Children strive to be daddy's favourite and failing to do so, feel jealous of the favoured and underserving of the attention they so desperately seek.

  • Did your parents favour one or more of your siblings above you or use him/her/them as a standard for good behaviour?
If you answered yes to this question, then you understand how utterly frustrating trying to be someone else is. Even twins have different personalities the same way individuals are wired differently but because as a child you had been presented with a benchmark, you never try to explore other options. I was at an event the other day where the MC talked about failing in school. He read so hard but the most he could do was end up in the 22nd position in a class of 24 people; if you dig deeper, you'll find that he might have excelled at some things but didn't 'cos he spent all his time trying to do what he didn't have aptitude for.

  • Did you grow up experiencing lack? 
The lady who sells garri down the street has sworn not to sell to your mother on credit because she takes forever to pay back...Its a given that every term, you'll be sent home for your school live in a house where 20 other people share the same toilet...You get the picture? Lack fuels low self-esteem because you know life can be better, you see how other classmates are dressed and what the richer kids wear to church. While you eat Okin buscuit you have to endure the aroma of hot Jollof rice wafting from your classmates lunch box and the experience can be painful. 

  • Did you suffer some form of abuse?
A hallmark of abused people, I have found, is low self-esteem. A woman I know had been in an abusive marriage for a long time. It got so bad her life was in danger.  A group of friends who wanted to help asked her what she wanted, she looked at them for a while and said calmy 'I want my husband to give me money to start a business.' While they felt mortified that she could still see a future in a relationship where the man had threatened to kill her, it's actually quite understandable. Her self-esteem was so low she couldn't see life without her husband...

  • Are you disabled or do you see yourself as handicapped in some way? 
In a perception, perfection driven world, it must be a nightmare for handicapped people. The society is already biased in their treatment of the handicapped. It takes twice the effort for handicapped people to do the things others take for granted and for a lot of them, the effort is too much to ask.

  • Did you drop out of school?
It doesn't matter the reason or at what level, very few people who drop out of school exude complete self-confidence. We value certificates more than actual skills in this part of the world, so no matter how talented you are, if you do not have certification to prove it, it may be an uphill task to find employment. So for most, the need to go to school has more to do with the need for acceptance, conformity and validation than for learning. I was at a conference recently, the main speaker happened to be a billionaire in dollars. During an interactive session with the audience, he apologized for not being a good role model where education is concerned. He actually apologized. His apology highlighted the inadequacy he must feel deep inside despite his billions...

To be continued...
©Naomi Lucas

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