Self Improvement Base: A Starter Guide

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Well, I’m on a self-pity kick. Most of my posts here have been rather political in nature with a little religion and philosophy thrown in on the side. But I did state in my explanation of this site that it would also cover some of my mental health issues. And since that’s what’s bothering me the most right now, I’m taking the liberty to pour some of it out on-screen.

I found a new site that has some inspiration and advice to offer and thought I would share some of it here. The site is called “Self Improvement Base”

A Starter Guide To Self Improvement is one of the latest posts and prompted me to think about my life.

The author recommends several things to watch out for if you have self-esteem issues:

  1. A Negative Work Environment
  2. Other People’s Behaviour
  3. A Changing Environment
  4. Past Experience
  5. Negative World View
  6. Determination Theory

Of course some of these are impossible to avoid completely, with a little work anyway. But others we are able to get by without dealing with them on a regular basis. And I suppose a couple require that we overcome years of learned behaviour. I want to examine each one. I’m not going to regurgitate what I read, but what I say may not differ from the source. It’s just my musings and opinions on the subject.

#1:  A Negative Work Environment

If where you work is overly stressful, it’s time to find a new workplace–no matter how much you feel like you have no choice. And of course, don’t fall into the trap of indulging in the bad atmosphere and trying to win the competition for most negative. Instead of competing for the bottom of the emotional ladder, look for a new work situation.

#2:  Other People’s Behaviour

People who show us bad behaviour have usually lost their own self-esteem and are more than willing to take yours with them. Of course it won’t do them any good either, but they will try to take it. It may help them at the time, but in the long-run everyone involved will be damaged by it–including them. If you have someone like this as a friend, they aren’t your friend–you are their friend, but the feelings won’t be returned.

#3:  A Changing Environment

This one cannot be avoided. Being alive means things are changing. We can mitigate it though. Learning to accept changes that are inevitable isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Fighting change that must come is more stressful than the change itself.

#4:  Past Experience

We have to learn from the past in order to avoid it, but we shouldn’t dwell on it until the end of our days. A painful memory, an injustice, a loss, all need our attention for a time. We need to allow them to fade from our thoughts over time. Longing for revenge or blaming a past event for current shortcomings holds us back.

#5:  Negative World View

This one is hard to avoid too. The negative events in the world happen all around us. We just need to learn to look for the good ones alongside of them. I think this one is also something we are exposed to at different levels because of #4–our past experiences. Mitigation will be harder for some than others because of our past life, but if we learn to see the good and beautiful, we will make the most of our situation.

#6:  Determination Theory

Nature or nurture? or both? Or can we overcome our genes and our past experiences? Many people seem to do it, but we see the connections in so many others. For this one, we need to learn not only from our own mistakes, but from those of others like our parents. I have to admit, this one is probably the one I have the most trouble dealing with.

All of these suggestions are good ones. I try to follow them as much as I can. I even “know” that they are true. But the difference between knowing and feeling is too great for me to act that way. When I’m down, the failures of my past seem to be the road map of my future. The pain of my losses as a child seem to be the shell that shapes my lack of assurance.

I was never struck as a child. I was never neglected. I was never deprived of physical comforts or needs. I was actually indulged some times. But I grew up without self-esteem. Nothing I did seemed to be good enough. My mom seemed to never be happy with what I did. It wasn’t the hard work I did both at home and at Grandma’s farm. That was one of the good things. But even though I had to work hard, I was forbidden to do somethings. Mom wouldn’t let me mow the grass because she wanted to protect me from the dangerous lawn mower. I could dry dishes but not wash them–she had to make sure they were clean. I wasn’t even allowed to wash  my own hair until I was a senior in high school.

And her disapproval seemed universal. If I shut the gate and tied the rope “wrong” (i.e. not the way she would have done it) she’d make sure I knew the “right” way. But the next day when I did it that way, it would still be wrong! And of course, I couldn’t defend myself by saying that’s the way she told me because she would deny it with no room for the possibility that she had. I never knew what would be wrong–even when supposedly I had learned the right way.

She always praised my academic achievement, but only if I never made mistakes, like adding numbers wrong because I was impatient. Because even though she wasn’t as smart as me, she would NEVER make that type of mistake.

Plus, I was too loud, too active, too independent, not girlish enough. I was always being shushed and told how I embarrassed her by not sitting quietly right by here side when we were away from home. She wanted me to act just like she remembered herself to act as a child. The way I acted naturally, was not good enough. Only when I forced myself into the shell of her shaping was I OK, but she kept changing the shape of the shell.

I learned that math was the subject for me to take as my own–only one answer could be correct. If the calculations were done correctly, only one answer could result. No opinions allowed. I learned to avoid any activity that put me in front of others–plays, singing, speaking, reading, speech, sports. I was terrified of allowing people to see how awful I was to watch because I internalized the orders to be quiet and polite.

I enjoyed art. I think I even enjoyed writing. But I never thought of those things as skills I could pursue. I feared failure too much. I have learned much in my life, but if I had felt better about myself I’m sure I would have been able to learn even more. I was good at math, but I now think that I should not have devoted so many years to it. Subjective studies would have really been more fitting for my personality. But I was scared away from them.

So, I feel like a beaten down victim of my nurture. Like I said, no one ever struck me, but mental whacks leave their own scars. I’m not sure what I could have accomplished based on my nature, however. I wasn’t little and cute like the “popular” girls. I wasn’t athletic. I was strong, but I was definitely a clutz. My voice carries to the back pews with little amplification needed, but the best thing ever said about my singing was that I was enthusiastic. I get bored easy and once I learn something, I’m almost always ready to move on to something new.

On top of that, I have a mental illness. My emotions betrayed me over and over. I think I cried every day in school after my father died until I graduated. In high school it wasn’t so bad, but in elementary school it made me that much easier to pick on. And since we didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t get all of the “cool” stuff like others. I know that’s not bad either, but if you’re taller than all the boys, out weight them, your voice carries to the next school district, you’re a clutz, and a nerd, you don’t need your mom to dress you funny on top of it!

I have successfully overcome my stage fright. I will speak in front of any size group–the bigger the better as a matter of fact. In the last 10 years, I’ve learned to embrace my artistic nature. And I’ve ditched all the negativity of work places–I don’t work for anyone else any more. I think I’ve avoided all the other negative people who were never my friends. I never worried about changes too much–unless they require me to carry a lot of crap from one place to another! I’m the change others probably need to avoid! And I know good things exist in the world even if my personal interior (in my head) world is misery so much of the time. But my past experiences and how I grew up are things I just cannot seem to get beyond.

Every slip up gets piled on top of the great big pile that I’ve been building for the last 50 years when it happens. I KNOW it’s not so bad when it happens, but inside it looms over any good I’ve done so hugely that I lose sight of anything positive. Even when I had a boss I enjoyed working for and talking too, every time he called me into his office to talk, my stomach fell to the floor and told me it would wait there until I got fired. And he NEVER wanted to tell me anything bad. But since I’d had too many jobs to remember and just about all had ended because of my failings, it was a learned behaviour that was hard to unlearn.

I also have a hard time making decisions. I don’t know if it’s a natural trait of my personality or a result of poor self-esteem. If I choose one way, and it doesn’t work out, I feel bad. I decide I should have chosen the other option so the failure is the result of my poor judgment. So I try to gather as much information as possible and look at the good and bad and only committing to an option when I know the results or I run out of time and have to choose or have someone else do it for me. And I usually cannot argue for my position because as soon as someone doubts me, I figure I’ve failed again.

Now I read all these books and articles about how to improve your life, improve your career, how to have self-esteem. I take personality tests and study the lists of people who have the same traits that I do. I have learned that I am unique–and that’s OK, but I’m not alone, that everyone has value and a special place in the world. That my gifts should be nurtured whatever they are. But I still feel like I don’t deserve to keep breathing. I’m a total failure. The evidence says so.

World history is written by the victors to praise themselves and either ignore or degrade the opposition, but my personal history must be written by my personal critic who evolved inside my own brain. That critic only seems to remember the pile of failures and makes sure I never forget. Even when I’m shown evidence that counterdicts it, I seem to be unable to believe it. Those who praise me don’t really know me. I have put up a really good façade to fool those around me, but they will learn soon enough. I feel like I’m living a lie. When I worked for other people, the longer I worked, the more I was sure I’d be fired. The more sure I was that they would find out what a fake I was. How big a failure I am.

I’ve shared these feelings before. People give me advice. People tell me that I’m really OK. I’m not a failure. Tell me that what I do is important or good or they like it. But when I get down. Down is all I’ll believe. The say in recovery programs and self-help groups that you should “act as if” you are successful at whatever it is you are trying to do and eventually you’ll succeed and be successful. But for some reason, they never tell you how long that will take or how to be sure it happened. I feel as if I’ve been “acting as if” for at least 40 years–but I still haven’t been a success. They don’t tell you how to deal with that reality! I’m tired of acting. I just want to “be.”

I try that sometimes. But then I feel even worse about myself.

OK–I could go on and on and on. I don’t need any more advice. I don’t need any more evidence from other people that I’m a success. I need to FEEL like a success. I guess I just need to keep waiting and acting as if I’m a success until I am a success to myself as well as to others.

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    • marciewrites
    • July 20th, 2010

    Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself in this post. I appreciated you for who you are and what you give. Here are some hugs to you. Hope you felt them.

    • Sherry
    • June 30th, 2010

    Thanks so much for this Diane. Well done indeed. We are all wounded, and perhaps we have always been wounded as humans. Not a one of us is perfect, and even when we feel okay, there are hidden demons yet unknown. We are all works in progress, and not a single one of us is unscathed. It is only a matter of degree and type. Cudos to you for the work you do in healing!

    • Thanks Sherry–I’ve had a rough couple of weeks and needed to get it out of my brain. I’m working at all the stuff I put off while I was down, but it’s slow going to get back to where I started. I hate to just drop out of it all like I did because I know it’ll take so much effort to recoup the time. But I just had to take a break.

      The 2 trackbacks were filtered as spam, but I approved them because I thought it was at least a little validation that my work is valuable enough for other sites to link to it and I need all the validation I can get right now!!

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