Becoming A Woman of Unlimited Self-Esteem

It would creep up on me at the most inopportune times.
While I was driving in my car, walking down the street, making love with my husband, writing a screenplay, writing my book – it would start to churn away, slowly by surely, that little tiny voice that says “I’m not good enough,” “It’s impossible,” “Who are you kidding?” “You’re a sham, a complete sham,” and on and on. That little voice that got louder and louder with each step I took, with each word I wrote, with each road I traveled, with each kiss my husband planted on my lips. The unending voice of doom. For many years that voice – that insidious voice – had complete control and power over me. It owned me, lock, stock and barrel. It often felt like an unwanted friend. You know the type I’m talking about. Someone who calls incessantly, who never asks how you are, but just rattles on and on and drains you of all your energy. You try – sometimes in the most obvious way – to say, “I just can’t talk now,” or “Listen, can I call you back?” As if they don’t hear a word you say, they come back, draining you of energy and life force and act as if they are entitled to your time and space. That’s what my self-doubt, and low self-esteem began to feel like. An unwanted friend that no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t go away. I even tried a recipe to overcompensate for it: a sprinkle of animality, a dash of anger, a pinch of hunger, and then to top it all off, a garnish of arrogance – all tossed together. And you want to know where that got me? Feeling worse about myself. The voice came back louder and more belligerent, “YOU WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH THIS,” “THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.”
I decided a few years back that this was no longer acceptable. I equated this lack of self- esteem with all the clothing hanging in my closet that no longer fit me, and for whatever reason, I refused to get rid of. It was just hanging there – useless, unattractive and most definitely out of style. But none the less, every day I would open my closet and see with my own two eyes what I no longer needed or wanted, what no longer fit me and yet, resisting; deeply afraid of tossing it all away, I would simply close the closet door and act as if it didn’t exist. On the days when my self-esteem rose above water level, I would fantasize about tossing everything, having all this space to buy new sassy clothing – and of course, in that fantasy world, everything is in it’s place, all matching hangars, shoes lined up on the floor – color coordinated no less – and always something fabulous to wear. To put it another way, it would be uncluttered. Those fearless fantasy moments came and went in a snap.
Until one day – taking a coffee break from writing my memoir, I was walking down the street, sipping a hot and foamy cappuccino – when all of a sudden I heard this voice, “Who’s going to even want to publish this book?” “Why am I writing this book?” “It’s crap, everything I’m writing is crap.” “You’re such a sham, your whole life is a sham.” I stopped dead in my tracks and thought to myself, “This negativity, this self-loathing is cluttering my heart.” I decided right then and there to tackle this – from the inside out.
I have been a practicing Buddhist for 37 years. And while self-doubt and self-esteem has been etched inside of me this entire lifetime, I have been unbelievably fortunate in so many other ways. I have come to realize on the most fundamental level that life is in fact a journey – and only truly when we are ready to conquer something, overcome something, accomplish something – does the opportunity present itself. Although, in my impatience, I have often tried to fit a round peg in a square hole – not only doesn’t it ever fit properly, it often feels just plain wrong. In my wisdom, I have come to see the value of letting things unfold. I had never been ready to deal with the issue of self-doubt, self-esteem. I was so very comfortable in trying to manipulate the environment, that the mere notion of doing exploratory surgery on myself felt passive. As long as there was someone to blame, I could muster aggression – which I mistook for passion. I had a bookshelf filled with self help books, and while I would get a real charge out of reading a chapter that matched perfectly with my personality – it always felt like a band-aid, and for a brief moment I would be encouraged that others experienced the same self loathing as I did. Nothing like a group of people bemoaning their lack of fortune, and feelings of victimization.
I decided to review my life. My entire life. As I dug deep inside – I saw, much to my amazement – a continuing thread of self-doubt, a deep lack of self-confidence that stretched along with me from childhood, to adolescence to womanhood. Those feelings of not being good enough, not belonging, the need to please, the need to be loved and liked, the need to feel important, to feel wanted, to be accepted, to be validated, to be approved of. I had knotted that thread for 50 odd years. Along with looking at my fundamental darkness, I also gazed upon the fortune that surrounded me. My home, my husband, my career (a very successful career, I might add) as a writer, my friends, my material wealth and possessions. I had achieved and accomplished so very much, but at the end of the day – when I would lie in bed at night, and everything was still and quiet, I would think about how undeserving I felt. I could feel it in the core of my being. My solar-plexus, as my acupuncturist would say. For years and years, I would think, if I just had this I would be happy, if I just had that, I would be happy. Well, I was surrounded by “this and that” and still felt unworthy, undeserving – and more importantly, unhappy. What struck me was despite these feelings of unworthiness – I still had fulfilled my dreams. And more than that – while fulfilling my dreams – I still felt that I wasn’t good enough. A catch 22 if ever there was one. I decided it wasn’t about filling my life with more ‘stuff’ – it was about getting to the root of this suffering and pain; the human revolution of one person – revolutionizing our own lives and thereby transforming our environment. That seemed like a perfect – albeit difficult – place to start. To start with me — to change how I felt about myself. If this pain and suffering was inside of me, well then, it was up to me to change my opinion of myself.
Let me share with you ‘the’ defining moment in my life. The woe is me pity party I was throwing for myself was in full gear. I was most definitely scared and filled with doubt. I decided it was time to seek some encouragement. I went to see a friend of mine. A spiritual advisor. I had long admired his passion; his determination and the opportunity had presented itself for me to sit down with him one on one. My eyes filled with tears, I gave him a blow by blow of all the obstacles and challenges; doubts and fears that were consuming me. He listened patiently as I rambled on. Then he took my hand, and said, “Please become a woman of unlimited self-esteem.” It sounded so poetic. So simple. So perfect. I started to pray and meditate with that one thought in mind: to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem. Within 24 hours every fear; every doubt, every single feeling came to the surface, right up to the nerve ending. I had two choices – to either give in to this self-slander; self doubt, or challenge and transform these feelings that were lodged in my soul. I chose to challenge myself. And to be quite honest, it felt like do or die. For two weeks I entered a battle – an internal battle. There were days when all I could do is cry, feeling sorry for myself. There were days when I was amazed at my determination, feeling proud of myself. There were days when I felt nothing. There were days when I felt powerful. There were days when I felt shame and guilt, and there were days when I felt appreciation and humble. There were days when I felt like a sham, and days when I felt authentic. And there were days when I didn’t think I could go another inch. Then, after two weeks, I felt a sudden shift take place from deep inside me – it dawned on me that I had viewed my doubt as an effect, rather than the cause. It became crystal clear to me that the environment was merely reflecting how I felt about myself. For so many years my thought pattern was, “So and so doesn’t like my work, so I guess it’s not good,” or “She (or he) is saying it can’t happen, it’s impossible, so I guess I should just give up.” I allowed my environment to chose my life for me, to decide the outcome. I never once thought that the negativity that was coming at me was a reflection of how I truly felt about myself. The minute I understood that in my soul, it was liberating. That’s when I truly understood what self-esteem isn’t and finally able to understand with my life what it is. It is: courage, the courage of ones conviction, it is confidence, the confidence to stand in your own shoes and own your dreams, every bit of them, it is respect, respecting each and every feeling that may come up in the process of fulfilling that dream, it is honoring one’s life, honoring the struggle, the challenge, the ability to take one more step on a road that feels unbelievably long and winding, and it is faith – from the time we make up our mind to accomplish something to seeing the result of that determination – that in between time, when the doubt and the self loathing and the fear creeps in, when we feel like giving up, when it feels as if everything is falling away — that’s when we get to see what we’re made of – and that is faith in ones self.

Ones self.

And faith in ones self manifests in unlimited self-esteem.

Category: Uncategorized 22 comments »

22 Responses to “Becoming A Woman of Unlimited Self-Esteem”

  1. David Lacy

    This is what I’ve struggled with so substantially in my life. I’ve had “impostor’s syndrome” in so many things I’ve attempted and that’s often created very real limitations on my success.

    Please forward this AMAZING piece to Tracy for inclusion at iPinion. Also, once I allow a bit of time to elapse on the FB wall, I’d like to promote it there as well (a few hours from now).

    Reading this in the a.m. is like getting pumped with your favorite song, grabbing a vitamin-loaded smoothie and taking on the world!

  2. Katja

    Thank you for showing the way!

  3. Amy Wise

    Love this. Love you.

  4. Michael Ann Riley

    This is so timely for me to read. Thank you, thank you for opening up your soul like this. I have been going through this “self discovery” process for two years now and have made much growth. But I was just telling my best friend how I feel like a “fake” and a “fraud” so often in life. Even when I’m successful, I just feel like I have everyone fooled. Your essay made me feel not so alone, and has given me a lot to ponder. Thank you again.

  5. madgew

    Amy, very well said. I am glad you found you peace and now don’t have to indulge in self doubt anymore, not one minute, not one day, not ever. I use a metaphor that a therapist long ago taught me. Literally when the thoughts invade sweep them out with a broom (metaphorically) and after you do this for a month is become driven in your mind and it happens naturally. Just a tip from a wise woman therapist. Love you Amy Ferris.

  6. kristine

    perfection…just what I needed…amazing how we all feel that we are the only one haunted by that tiny voice that perpetuates the myth that we are not enough. night and day, day and night it whispers “loser”…
    Thanks for sharing and kicking that tiny voice in its’ tiny ASS.

  7. cheryl

    amy…just wonderful. You once again have put into writing so many of my own feelings. Thank you…you are wonderful!!

  8. Linda Lichtman

    Where did you put the video camera? In my bedroom? My office? My car? Action – re-read.

  9. Hollye Dexter

    Damn, we all have that voice. Who is she? Is she that same woman on the GPS? How do we turn her off!
    Beautiful piece Amy. you’ve once again hit a nerve with so many of us…this is why we love you.

  10. Carol

    WoW! I have also been having this same internal battle. “Who am I to think I can just get remarried, move, become a stepmom at 49 yrs old?”
    and “What are you Stupid? What makes you think you can do this?” actually, some of those voices aren’t just in my head!!! And yet, just last night I thought of my Grandmother. She would say (in Polish) “Of Course YOU CAN!!!!” I have been so scared, in less than 3 months I will go from living alone to being married and living in a home with 4 other people (3 of them young adults).
    I thought of Grandma…at 15 yrs old she and her sister packed a steamer trunk and got on a ship to come to America. Never saw her parents or family again. Started completely over at 15 yrs old!!!! Talk about courage!!! Well, that kind of put things in perspecrive!!!! And to read this, this very morning is definitely a SIGN!!! I can do this, in fact I CAN DO ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!!! You are amazing Amy!! From now on I will just refer to you as Amazing Amy!!! XOXOXOXOXOX

  11. Barbara@TheMiddleAges

    HA — even as I went to write my comment about how much this hit a nerve, I started to second-guess my comment because, you know, everyone had said it already, yadda yadda. Even in something so seemingly innocuous, our inner sappers can find a soft spot and zero in. Thanks for showing me this in so many words and not so many words. love you! xoxo

  12. elizabeth geitz

    Amy, you beautifully describe a voice so many of us have heard over and over at some point in our lives. I have found that it is impossible, absolutely impossible, to will that voice away or to tell it to go away and have that work. I have discovered, however, that I can replace that voice with positive self-messages. Replace it with that which is life-giving, whole and transformative for myself and for the world. Thank you for your honesty, courage, and love for yourself and all those who read your words. Love to you!!!

  13. Cherry Woodburn

    Beautiful. Heartfelt. Reflective.
    I really, really,really,really,really,really,really,really, really,really,really, really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really, really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,
    liked this post and was touched by it. Really.

  14. Deb McGrath

    Amy this really spoke to me. I do not hear the voice all the time but when I do, she is deafening. Thanks for this.

  15. Solrun

    For me to read this right now when I am a little down in the dump is like your blog open my eyes and said to my you are awesome. So what if somebody does not like you or don’t like how you are dressed. As long as you are proud of what you have become and have Family support you can clime a mountain. Thanks Amy for helping me to find myself after a week in very low and confusing state where I was doubting myself. From bottom of my heart thank you. Solrun

  16. Richard

    This astonishing piece of work should be a siren call for all of us, those who doubt, those who run from the light, as well as those who embrace the dark as one might a soft comforter, keeping sadness at bay when even little children know the simple, inexplicable truth, that we are here on earth for such a brief amount of time, that to do other than to love one another, beginning with ourselves,is to forge a nail in our hearts that will not heal…

  17. Jane

    Standing up and applauding! Ok – not really. I’m at work…but in my head and heart.

  18. mamawolfe

    Thank you. Sometimes it is by stepping back, and looking at ourselves through another’s eyes that we can really begin to see ourselves as others do. When I look at myself through the eyes of children around me, I see the best parts of myself. That gives me the reality check I need to get back on my game and not give up.

  19. Debra

    I have a variation of that voice… It says “Oh screw it, why bother. Success happens to other people. Pour yourself a glass of wine and go sit in the back yard. At least your time won’t be wasted.” It’s not that I think I’m untalented. It’s that I feel lost in a sea of talent and unnoticed. A grain of sand on the talent beach.

  20. Tracy

    It took me many, many, many, many years to eradicate the STRONG voice of self-doubt that would shout through the chambers of my brain during my childhood and well into my adult years. It wasn’t until I began to practice Aikido (an amazing martial art) where I learned to quiet my mind and redirect energy from negative to positive that the constant stream of belittling self talk began to subside. It still creeps in every now and then but I have learned to stamp it out quickly by doing something positive for myself like taking a run or dancing around my house to some good music that lifts the spirit. It will most likely be a battle until the end of life, but it is a battle I am extremely determined to win! Thank you Amy for this beautiful piece and for sharing yourself with us so honestly…

  21. Kim LePiane

    Just beautiful. Love this.

  22. momma methane

    on self doubt: is anyone ever really “cured” of self doubt? should they be?
    we all reach different planes of awareness, but I’m not sure being “cured” of self doubts would not produce the monster that just annhilated norway.

    on self esteem. I struggle mostly w. justifying why I have an others do not. I am really conscious of all the woman suffering in this world. we are survivors, but many just barely. I think self compassion, self care, makes sense, but in our consumerist culture, this too is perverted. oh, I CARE about myself, so I am going to get my nails done. I CARE about myself, so I am going to spend a third world’s monthly income on my perm and color at the salon. etc.

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