The way you feel about yourself today is directly related to how you felt about yourself as a child. If you have a limited ability to see yourself as loveable and valued, you must build a positive sense of self on your own. Although your childhood experiences may have helped create the woman you have become, it is up to you to carve out a new story for your life. Take the time to examine how your relationships have played themselves out, and what role your self-esteem took.
Laura, for instance, has struggled with self-esteem issues since adolescence. At times, she blamed herself for her parents’ breakup because she was a strong willed child. At age thirty-six, Laura is smart, attractive, and a mother with two children who works as a human service professional. Her parents divorced when she was ten, and she describes her father as emotionally distant.
During our interview, she spoke with intensity in her voice, saying: “I feel uncomfortable with conflict,” she says, “My relationship with my dad caused me to seek approval in the wrong way. I don’t know how to communicate well with my husband and we argue a lot without reaching a solution.”
In Laura’s case, her feelings of diminished self-worth cause her to avoid conflict – to believe that she isn’t worthy of being respected or being number one in anyone’s life. So her husband Jason walks on eggshells even they have small disagreements. As a result, they never really clear the air and both feel chronic disappointment with their marriage.
Negative experiences in childhood can forever change a woman; and can change how she feels about relationships and her expectations from her partner. Divorce can alter a girl’s self-worth and make her feel damaged, even if her parents tell her that it is not her fault. Studies show that from an early age, girls are socialized to seek approval from others and to look for connection for a sense of self-worth. For the most part, females tend to focus more on relationships than males so they may be more vulnerable to the loss of an intact family.
The following are steps for women to gain self-worth and shed self-defeating messages:
Examine your past and self-defeating messages derived from it.
- Don’t allow yourself to play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strength as a woman. Make choices that impact the way you live in a positive way.
Surround yourself with people who support your journey and can allow you to build self-worth. This may mean shedding toxic relationships and developing new ones. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
Build relationships based on mutual respect, integrity, and honesty. You can’t alter your past, but you can make better choices today.
- If you find that you struggle with low self-esteem, seek counseling and make an effort to work on improving it.
Learning to love yourself is an inner journey which involves examining your past from a fresh perspective. Take the time to investigate any carry over from the past that might impact your current relationships. But rather than giving in, it’s important to embrace loving relationships without giving up part of yourself. If you fear conflict, like Laura, find a counselor that can help you examine the reasons why and to change this mindset. You deserve to have your needs met and you are worthy of love.
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.