Self-Esteem: The Root Of It All
Written By Elona Washington
During college, I envied my friends and classmates who had it all together. They were focused, driven and had enrolled with a goal in mind. Nothing or no one could stop them. As I got to know more about them and their family life, I discovered our upbringings differed greatly. A few may have had some struggles, but most were blessed with a mom or two parents who programmed them with healthy, positive self-esteem. Despite their socio economic status, race or nationality, their self-confidence was unwavering. As I followed their lives and careers over the years, I also noticed that despite what life threw at them, they continued to remain undeterred. Unfortunately for me, my life wasn’t so easy. And it took years of struggle, loss and heartbreak to fully understand the root of it all.
My mother and stepfather were graduates of elite schools, held successful careers and my younger sister seemed destined to follow in their footsteps. My sister and I had different fathers and as we grew up, we visited her father’s family every summer. I yearned to see my daddy again but my mother would fly into a rage upon mention of his name or my longing. I was told over the years that my father didn’t want us and if I was to ever find him, I had to choose between her and him. If I chose him, I would never see her and my sister again. Frightened of that ever occurring, I subsequently stopped asking but searched secretly instead, hoping I’d find him and at least be able to talk to him without her ever finding out. I didn’t remember much about my dad other than his first and last name so I was never successful. It wasn’t until I was married that I was reunited with my father and his family. Assuming my mother had released three decades of bitterness, I drove to her house to share the news and was taken aback by her reaction. Staring at me blankly she spewed, “you finally found the family you always wanted” before slamming the door in my face. I was 32 years old when that happened and it broke my heart.
A few years later, we had another disagreement. They usually occurred when I tried too hard to impress her, get her attention or simply do something foolish. We were communicating via email this time but, like always, she managed to get the last word. Her email to me went something like this:
“For the life of me, I’ll never understand it. I love you; I have to love you because are my daughter, but I don’t like you. And I don’t understand why my two favorite people in this world, my mother and husband, speak so highly of you.”
And that’s when I received confirmation for everything I had felt as a child. My mother doesn’t like me. I always saw her favoritism for my sister; then later, for the children she had with my step dad in addition to feeling the lifelong distance and mistreatment. During those years, I thought I could win her love and approval by cleaning, cooking and taking care of my siblings. It never worked. She’d thank me and there were even times when she said she loved and believed in me, but more often than that, her words continued to break my heart. And if she happened to notice and care that I was hurt, she still wouldn’t apologize. Here’s an example that’ll explain it all: her disdain and distance increased when I became a single mother at 20. Sitting in the backseat with my infant daughter, I was singing to her and telling her how much I love her. My mother, irritated, interjected with, “I bet her father can’t say that.” My sister was in the front seat and demanded she take it back and apologize but she never did. She did attempt to make up for it by offering to buy me a TV. I’m often reminded of these and a myriad of other moments when she directly and indirectly suggested I wasn’t smart, capable, liked and loved. And it all made sense. My life choices stemmed from my self-esteem. And it was lacking severely because the one who should have worked to protect and build it systematically and unapologetically destroyed it. I struggled through life and never felt I was good enough because deep down I believed I couldn’t be successful nor truly loved because my own mother didn’t love me. It was why I married a man who treated me exactly as she did. It was my inner child longing to prove that someone like her could change and love me the way I deserve to be loved. And it was also why I had been deathly afraid to tell her that I’d been sexually abused since the age of five. She never thought highly of me and I was always certain she would have believed it was my fault. I was especially convinced of this because for most of my life, I thought it was my fault. It took years to complete the work necessary to reprogram my thinking and increase my self-esteem. Because I did, my marriage ended, affording me the opportunity to make healthy decisions in every area of my life.
I don’t want to say that my years living with low self-esteem were a waste. I learned how critical positive self-esteem early in life is to success, love and joy; for it’s your self-talk that indicates where and how far you will go. In lieu of the path I’d taken, I wanted my children be stable, make good decisions and relentlessly follow their dreams. Because of this, I filled their hearts and minds with love, positivity and peace from the moment of their first breath. Those who begin this way seem to have a head start in life while the broken wander aimlessly trying to discern where they went wrong. Because so much of my life was spent broken and making decisions from my pain, what I went through and how I got through it can be used to help others.
Elona Washington is a mother of two, a best-selling author, and contributes to Digital Romance and Huffington Post. Her most recent book, “From Ivy League to Stripper Life: 10 Lessons Learned” is available now on Amazon.