My husband has a tough job. I’m not talking about the way he earns money. I am talking about being married to a person that has a really hard time realizing her own worth. I see all the flaws that have been mercilessly pointed out to me, and some that I have created in my own mind. I am never going to be perfect, and neither is anyone else, but I am not the hot mess I feel like either. I know it isn’t true. I see that it isn’t true, and yet I fight to control the negative self talk. My husband frequently tells me that he wishes I could see myself through his eyes. I do too. Verbal and emotional abuse plays a part in our self esteem throughout our lives. It doesn’t matter one bit if we know it is true or not. That seed has been planted early in our lives, and deep in our psyche. As the children of emotional abuse grow and mature we are able to see that we are worthy and know deep in our hearts that the flaw was never within us, but rather the ineffectual human being that placed that emotional burden on us. It does not change one bit the day to day struggle we face in trying to convince ourselves that they were wrong. No matter how beautiful or successful we become, we will always doubt our worth.
I always had the gift of being able to talk to others that were struggling, and I was very effective as a psych nurse when it came to pointing out the reality of their situation and the false beliefs that they held, but I could not cure myself. In reality it is easier to fix others, which is why so many nurses come from emotionally and physically abusive situations. It is rewarding to help others, even as we struggle. You can actually succeed and get some gratification from knowing that the work you have done has saved someone else from the fate you have accepted for yourself. The pitfall with that is that it becomes part of who you are. Your dysfunction becomes part of your persona. At that point it becomes even harder to focus on yourself and make the necessary changes to improve your own life, because if you do you will lose your identity. Change is really hard. It is way easier to convince someone else of the steps they need to take to improve their quality of life, than it is to take those steps yourself. I finally made that change for me, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Leaving the dysfunction was not hard, but no act is ever done without widespread repercussions. I had to cut off all dysfunctional family members, and that meant removing myself from the situation. That also meant removing myself from the family members and friends that were not dysfunctional as well for a short period of time, which of course was met with resistance and even anger. It took time and patience but everything did fall into place, and I am in the best place I have ever been in my entire life. I had to give up on those that I continued to protect, and face the reality that their dysfunction was not my problem. It was very hard for me, given my caretaker personality, but it was an essential part of my own healing.
The belief that you have to be in someone else’s shoes, so to speak, in order to heal them, is false. It is helpful to understand the unique difficulties of the people you are trying to help, but you do not have to live there in order to be effective. In fact, no matter how much success you may have in reassuring others that they are not alone, there is nothing more beneficial than showing others that they can overcome anything that is holding them back. Fixing yourself and making choices that improve your well-being is really the only way to make a big impact on the wellness of others. I could tell others who were struggling that they were not alone, and even I struggled with the same issues, but I never did. That may have provided them some superficial comfort at that point, but in the long run I feel it would have decreased their hope that they could heal if even their caretaker had not found that strength. Commiserating with others is really a self serving act and not at all helpful to anyone if there is no attempt to progress. It actually took my leaving that situation and taking control of my own destiny to show that those hard choices can be successful and worthwhile. Only then could I come clean with my struggles and help others see that there is hope. What good is a nurse that lives in a dysfunctional family situation to others that deal with the same struggles and all the constant chaos involved with that?
I once knew a therapist that was primarily hired to deal with those that struggled with substance abuse. He had a history of substance abuse himself, as well as physical disabilities. Secretly, he continued to use illegal substances as he treated others with the same issues. Of course, he managed to help some of those he met along the way, but in the end he lost his job and his freedom. What message did that send to those he helped? Many more could have been helped had he taken the steps to deal with his own dysfunction prior to attempting to build his self esteem by helping others deal with something he had no idea how to deal with himself. The same could be said for the convict that tries to discourage others from following their footsteps, but ends up going back to prison for armed robbery when it becomes too difficult to take control of their own destiny once released. You cannot convince others who struggle with mental health issues that they are worthy of a better life if you continue to struggle on the daily with suicidal thoughts yourself, no matter how good you are at trying to cover it up. You can not become a hero for others until you can be your own hero first. While it is somewhat self affirming to know your life has been a benefit to others, in order to make a real impact for anyone else you need to be a positive example. You have to heal yourself prior to attempting to help others deal with their issues if you intend to use yourself as an example of success. Simply stating that you are the same does nothing to encourage anyone other than making them aware that they are not alone. In reality we all know we are not alone. All humans deal with different struggles in life. Nobody is immune, no matter who they are. It is really not very effective to try to encourage others that they can get better, if you are a mess. It is very detrimental to everyone if you resign yourself to living in your dysfunction in order to be an inspiration to others because “even I struggle”, as if one person’s struggle is more astonishing or noteworthy than another. It is way more effective to show that they too can change their circumstances because you have walked that path. Imagine the impact you can make by showing them that they too can overcome. Therapeutic relationships are a huge support group of ineffective humans that inspire each other, no commiseration allowed.
Doctor, heal thyself. Do not attempt to become an inspiration if you cannot see for yourself that you are worthy of a better life. Great things come with hard work. How is a depressive person with suicidal thoughts who refuses treatment supposed to inspire others to feel better about themselves and seek treatment? Depressed people do not feel strength in numbers. They avoid others. How is a drug addict supposed to find strength in knowing their therapist continues to use? That encourages them to continue using, and hide their dysfunction. How is a victim of domestic violence expected to find strength in knowing their medical professional shares that situation with them? That tells them their situation is hopeless. If you truly want to help others you have to help yourself first. That does not mean that the victim of domestic violence will never feel unsure of their worth. It does not mean the drug addict will never have cravings and it definitely does not mean that the depressed person with suicidal ideation will not occasionally have those thoughts. There is no perfect fix. Just make sure you don’t identify so strongly with what is wrong with your life that you condemn yourself to live there permanently. Don’t put the carriage in front of the horse. Get some help and inspire others by showing them that they can heal. Being able to feel like you have helped another because of your struggles is like opening a gift on Christmas morning after all of the hard work and preparation is over and you are enjoying the peace and happiness with family. You don’t get the prize before the hard work with anything worthwhile. I am living proof that great things that come to those that are willing to put the effort into their own recovery, make the hard decisions and take responsibility for their future. Adulting your way out of dysfunction is so hard, especially if it is all you have ever known.