self-esteem

PETITION TO WIN

When our daughter Violet was younger, I found a shoebox stuffed in a corner of her closet.  I lifted the lid to find tons of pieces of paper in it, like 50 torn shreds.  As I opened the first folded piece, a lump in my throat constricted like a knot. 

“You hate me.”  I opened another.  “You hate me.”  And another.

What was this?  My heart pounded, my ears rang.  The next 30 had the same kid scrawl saying the same sentence, most with tears drawn all over the piece as if the words were crying. 

She was only 9 years old.  

I was haunted.  She was SO young, and this was such a desperate measure – trying to shed her innermost thoughts by boxing them up, yet concealing them as if she knew how scary they would be to me.  It was like peeking through a curtain to see what was constantly running through her mind.  Even now, my heart cracks in half remembering it.  The teardrops drawn were self-fulfilling, my own poured down my face.

How could this be what she was thinking?  I LOVED HER so much it hurt.  I always felt like a warm mom, constantly hugging and praising.  I just couldn’t understand.  And, how could she POSSIBLY interact with anyone in a positive way when she couldn’t escape herself?  We listened to Violet put herself down, OUT LOUD, all day.  Now you’re telling me THIS was on repeat even in her silence?  It must have been an unbearable place to exist in, a tireless loop of self-loathing. 

“When self-esteem is compromised, the feeling of self-loathing may be intermittent, and it may be suddenly triggered by disappointments, struggles, painful memories or anxiety about the future.  These triggers can create an overwhelming flood of feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and powerlessness which can lead to self-destructive behaviors, emotional withdrawal or aggressive behaviors towards loved ones and family members.”  (Out of the Fog, see link)

This is exactly what was happening in our lives at the time.  Self-loathing turned into acting out.  Unfortunately, for our precious little girl, it was not intermittent.  It was continuous and consumptive.  An inescapable prison, without doors or windows from which to even glimpse hope. 

“In sociology and psychology, self-esteem reflects a person's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth.  It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self… Self-esteem may, in fact, be one of the most essential core self-evaluation dimensions because it is the overall value one feels about oneself as a person.”  (wiki – see link)

The self-esteem piece has consistently “shown up” throughout all of our family’s trials and every family we have interacted with in our process.  It seems to be the baseline of ALL of these issues, regardless of how they manifest.  Eating disorders, self-harm, acting out, depression, school refusal, substances - they ALL seem to stem from anxiety and lack of self-esteem.  The world is a difficult place when you DO feel good about yourself.  Try multiplying it by 1 billion when you don’t.

12 years old now, and over a year since she left home, Violet was truly transforming her soundtrack.  Being in the woods in wilderness therapy changed her.  She began to believe in herself again.  Going to a therapeutic boarding school continued her metamorphosis.

At Violet’s school, they pass through therapeutic levels.  As you progress, you gain more trust, responsibility, and freedom.  In order to pass through to the next, the girls “petition” the staff.  They write a speech about their growth, and present to a team of about 8 people.  

How do you demonstrate change in self-love?  I don’t believe it is the grandiose moments.  They are fleeting, sometimes contrived for a result.  I am most encouraged by the subtleties.  The littlest things seem to be the biggest barometers. 

Violet proudly showed me her speech for her petition for Level 3, the Leadership Phase.  These sentences covered the journal pages of her speech notes:

“I’m awesome.”  “Keep it up.”  “Good job.”  “You got this.”  “I love winning.”  “Be the best you can be.”

Violet let me publish this.  As incredible as the content is of the speech, it was the outlining words of encouragement she was giving to herself that were the most moving.

There is nothing I can write to explain how this felt to me.  This was not my troubled Violet.  This was the girl I believed in, the one who was now overtaking the sad parts.  These, to me, were the greatest indicators of her sense of self worth.  Her private journal moments, full of strength and hope.  Impossible for me NOT to cry every time I see it. 

She petitioned to move up to the Leadership Phase.  It worked. 

SHE WAS WINNING, and clearly, loving it.

 

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http://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/self-loathing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-esteem   

THE WILD GROWTH

Violet’s letters went from screaming agony, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Mommy!  Come and get me!  I hate it here…” to “…I am learning how to do really cool things.  I miss you A LOT and I have really changed, I haven’t gotten upset in a while, I am growing a lot emotionally.  I think I am almost ready to come home.”

Almost.  Just the word itself held so much meaning for me.  It embodied acknowledgment.  She was accountable with one little word.  She was challenging herself, she was working and growing; she still had some things to deal with.  She knew she wasn’t ready, yet.  But almost…sweet almost…sigh.

When you have spent 10 years screaming into a vacuum of futility, “almost” is like a brand new hearing aid.  I’m not crazy.  AND NEITHER WAS SHE.  We were all just hard of hearing for a while. 

Here is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the kid mislabeled.  Someone tells them they are “bad,” they get upset and act out because it’s easier to be in control of being “bad” than it is to be vulnerable and STILL be called “bad.”  Too hard to feel shamed.  So these kids push all this stuff down and hold it inside and BAM!!!  Hypersensitivity + shame = anguish and explosiveness. 

Violet had realistically gone through 6 years of people telling her she was doing things that weren’t “right.”  Accuracy was irrelevant; it was her perceptions and the feelings they ignited.  After eons of ‘feeling’ like the world was against her, her self-esteem was left a tarnished shred.

In the woods with people trained to be so patient, nurturing and supportive, she was finally able to stop punishing herself.  The physical feats she accomplished were so outlandish - she was a beast!  Hiking, setting up camp, making food, cleaning up, creating fire – HUGE.  If she can do those things, what CAN’T she do? 

The emotional growth began with accountability that came in a letter – amazing to receive.  She worked on rebuilding trust and respect, with others and herself.  Add more feeling better about herself which let’s face it – this is REALLY what gets us through life’s trials – the confidence you can.  She passed through the curriculum’s phases and her therapist walked us through the next harrowing step.

Just when you think you’ve cleared the hurdles, the next step crushes you...HOME or BOARDING SCHOOL.  Violet had been asking about it for weeks.  I was living in denial.

I remember talking to one of my parent advocates pre-Wilderness.  I asked how long it had been since her daughter had been home and she said 8 months.  I choked.  My ears completely refused to acknowledge this information.  IMPOSSIBLE, that would NOT be happening to us.  We were different.

Now, we were in it, 65 days in.  Her therapist told us she would graduate around her 85th day and we should prep for the next crossroad.  I wasn’t ready.  I had two separate parts of my brain screaming into my ears, Mrs. Long-Term-Rational and Ms. Instant-Gratification-Emotional.  Ms. Thang was SO LOUD, she made it inconceivable to be apart from Violet any longer.  I wanted my baby with me.  I craved her.  But, having her step back into THE GAUNTLET, our home with all the old triggers, seemed self-defeating.  Mrs. Rational took over.  More dread.  

I strapped on my big girl boots and toured the two best choices for therapeutic boarding schools.  I was constantly asking about 3 things that, to me, meant overexposure for Violet: drugs, sex, suicide.  Violet didn’t even know the word ‘suicide.’  I was paranoid about her getting any ideas, if only for manipulative purposes.  Serving such a young age group meant that my fears were prrrretty much alleviated (10-16).  Extracurricular activities abound, homey houses, tons of parent integration.  I was still conflicted, but then I met the girls.  I can’t tell you how quickly Ms. Thang shut her yap.  SO RELIEVED.  They were just like Violet.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Guided by the therapist, we told her we were looking at residential schools in her next letter.  I was petrified.  How terrible must it have felt to be confronted with not coming home after being away from everything for 3 months?  After everything she had done...  

She got it, read it aloud.   

She ran.

They let her.  She screamed and cried into the woods.  They just watched and waited for the fury to be gone.  She calmed down, went back.  Kids supported her; therapist helped her process it.

The Wilderness Program had girls from both schools come and visit – total streak of genius.  Violet aligned herself with one and luckily it was our first choice too.  We let her be a part of the decision making process, back and forth letters for 2 weeks.  It empowered her. 

“I am still pretty surprised and upset that I’m going to boarding school but here is what I’d like to bring to school…(list of goods)…I am also kinda excited to go to boarding school and would hope that you would take into consideration me going to Lions Lake Academy I really like it there.”

I couldn’t even believe it.  She was ok.  She was even a little excited. 

She would graduate in 1 week.  Belly flops of opposing extremes – elation and trepidation.  I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  ONE WEEK?!?!?!  84 days later and I would finally get to hug my baby girl.  YES!!!! 

She had done it.  She made it through the WILD.  She accepted another tough transition.  WE ALL MADE IT.

Now if that’s not growth I am surely confused by the definition.