A Deeper Look at Self-Esteem.
As Lily and I talked she told me about a situation at work. She’s a data entry person and is now eligible for the company’s health insurance. Her boss promised that the insurance information would be available two weeks ago but no one had gotten it yet.
She began by criticizing Kathy, her supervisor. According to Lily, Kathy is loud, bossy and plays favorites. She went on about Kathy’s faults until I spoke. I suggested that Lily’s problem could be solved pretty easily: by simply asking. So, I asked if she had mentioned the delay to Kathy. Or, had she told her that she was concerned about it.
Lily looked shocked. She started talking, her voice rising. What did I mean? She certainly couldn’t do that. When I asked why not, she gave a list of reasons all based on her assumptions about the kind of person Kathy was and what Kathy could do to Lily.
- Kathy would be angry and would find some way to “get back at her.”
- What about Kathy’s boss? If she heard that Lily was being pushy about the insurance, she’d be angry, too. And from there, Lily imagined the worst; maybe she’d even get fired.
When I asked if her thoughts made any sense (are they realistic), she just repeated her assumptions about Kathy and Kathy’s boss. In fact, Lily felt so threatened by my suggestion that she didn’t realize that she was just repeating herself.
No, Lily’s thoughts are not realistic. The reality is Lily’s a great employee. In fact, she’s such a good worker that she was promoted four months after she started. She turns in good numbers every week and gets good comments on her performance.
So, if her statements about Kathy and the possibility that she would fire Lily are not based on reality, where are they coming from?
- Lily’s afraid, and,
- Her fears are preventing her from taking care of herself.
When we’re fearful and back away from speaking up for ourselves, it’s easier to assume negative things about the other person instead of taking a look at ourselves. Until I asked Lily if she was afraid to talk to Kathy, she wasn’t aware of her feelings. Her mind was preoccupied with Kathy. Once she realized what she was feeling, we could get at why she felt so much irrational fear. It turns out that Lily has a few UNconscious ideas that she’s becoming more acquainted with.
- Lily doesn’t trust Kathy to really listen and be helpful instead of angry.
- Lily doesn’t trust herself to communicate her concerns without getting angry.
Lily actually has good reason not to trust others in general, but especially authority figures who have some power over her. Neither of Lily’s parents were good nurturers; they humiliated and criticized her all through her childhood. She grew up not only suspicious but often afraid of people. Plus, she doesn’t have a good track record when she has tried standing up for herself in the past.
Lily doesn’t know how to open a topic or how to respond to a situation in any way except:
- to submit to the other person or
- to use aggressive talk to open a subject.
She doesn’t know that there’s a middle ground and that, to stand up for ourselves, to take care of ourselves, the middle ground is definitely where we want to be with our “talk.” So, Lily agreed that she would learn “assertive talk” in our next conversations.
For now, her “homework” is:
- Become more and more aware of when her fear rises.
- Confront herself when she wants to think unrealistically ,
- Realize that thinking unrealistically gives her an excuse “not to take care of herself.”
How about you? Are you able to “stand up for yourself” when you need to? I hope so but, if not yet, you will be able to if you’ll do the homework, too.
Then, coming up next, we’ll do more on exactly what “assertive talk” is and how to use it to protect yourself. Anytime we’re able to make ourselves equal, respectfully of course, our self-esteem grows tremendously. Let’s go for it!
Warmest wishes until next time,
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