Dearest Dr. Love,I must thank you with all my heart for your precious help and for the concern you have for all those who need advice. I always read your column and I truly think that every single advice you give is brilliant and very helpful. Thank you kindly.I hope you can help me with this problem I’ve had probably ever since I was in my mother ‘s womb! It’s about my very low self-esteem. . . It kills me to notice how low it is, and it saddens me every time I have negative thoughts about myself and every time I look with disgust at myself, or everytime I remind myself of how ridiculous and imperfect I am.I think it’s so unfair and so shallow of me to think that because I am chubby I am not worthy of love and admiration. I am currently seeing someone and we are sexually active, but every time he looks at me, I feel so terrible and I am so very afraid that he is looking at every inch of fat, every unattractive spot on my body, on my face. . . It makes me feel so unconfortable. . .We make love in the dark, and I keep my shirt on. Sure he tells me that I have a pretty face, and I believe him, but when it comes to my body, I am so insecure. It has come to the point where I will seriously think about breaking up with him because I am convinced that he isn’t attracted to me, that he’s simply using me. And I will think to myself how ridiculous and stupid I am to believe that he might like me and enjoy the person I am.Also, it really doesn’t help to have parents and relatives who tell me to lose weight every single time they see me. . . and it doesn’t help to have a twin sister who is 60 pounds lighter than me (she has an eating-disorder). When I leave the house and I am in public, I always feel self-conscious and unconfortable, convinced that everyone is judging me. So much of my energy is spent focusing on this.When I do decide to start a diet program, I become obsessed and stop eating altogether. Obviously I have issues, and I have lots of anger toward my parents. . . my father for hurting me all my life and making my childhood a truly living hell, and my mother for never protecting me from him.Is it possible that I can find one day a man who will truly love for all that I am and for what I look like? I guess the real question is, will I let a man love me the way I am? Will I ever accept myself fully and acknowledge that I am a special and precious human lady?Please Dr. Love, if it possible for you to help me with this problem, I would be eternally grateful. I am truly desperate. . . Be well and have a nice autumn season.
When I read your kind and loving words, it struck me how generous you are with others and how unkind you are to yourself. The next thing I noticed is that you give yourself permission to put yourself down.Paradoxically, the more you put yourself down, the lower your self-esteem gets. Before long you’re caught in a vicious cycle in which your self becomes like a cancer that eats away at itself.Your pattern of putting yourself down seems to me to be caused by two different factors. The first is what is called the toxic introject, the second is misdirected rage.Let’s start with the first. The toxic introject is made up of the voices of the people who raised you–your parents. We humans become who we are by taking our parents’ inside ourselves, literally swallowing or introjecting them whole. When we take our parents inside ourselves, we absorb their attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. We also absorb their feelings about us.You said in your letter that they are very critical of you, and as you can see, it is their critical voices that resonate in your head and continue to put you down, thereby lowering your self-esteem more and more each day.The problem here is that you aren’t even aware of who is really talking to you each time that you put yourself down. Their voices have become so integrated into your self that you actually think that it’s your voice that you hear when you trash yourself.These put downs aren’t your voice. How do I know? Because your voice spoke to me at the beginning of the letter. You are kind and loving. The put down voice that you hear is theirs.The first step toward freeing yourself from the destructive voices of your toxic introjects is awareness. You must begin to observe yourself, as if you were a scientist watching yourself in action. Listen to your self talk.Each time you hear yourself uttering a put down, label who is actually speaking to you by saying, ‘Hi mom (or hi dad). That sounds like something you would say to me. ‘ By identifying who is really speaking inside your head, you are beginning to separate you from them.This is the only way to repair your self esteem. This is hard work and takes time, but eventually you will carve out a healthy self separate and apart from them.You also need to be aware that your ongoing contact with your family helps to keep the bad voices alive in your head. You might consider limiting contact and/or making sure that you voice your disapproval of their unsupportive remarks each and every time they utter them. In other words, it is imperative that you not continue to allow yourself to hear their negative messages, which only fuels the negative voices in your head.Becoming a group therapy member will accelerate your healing since you will form connections with many people who love you. Their voices will help you to replace the ‘bad’ voices by filling your heart with more loving messages. These messages will become part of your self and will help you to engage in kinder self talk.Above all, don’t try to stop talking down to yourself. You can’t stop it right now. Trying to stop will make you feel like a failure and will actually lower your self-esteem. Just do the observing, and identify who’s talking to you. Gradually, the voices will go away by themselves.I mentioned above that there is a second cause of your low self esteem–misdirected rage. Rage turned back on the self takes many forms from depression to anxiety to self attack. You use words and puts downs to pummel yourself. You do this partly because you’ve been trained to be a punching bag (so you think it’s normal to suffer abuse) and partly because you know no other way to vent your anger.Beating on yourself is safer than beating on your parents, who would surely retaliate against you. Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying that you should beat on your parents. What I am saying is that you aren’t supposed to be mistreated by them or by yourself. When they don’t talk properly to you, you are supposed to put your foot down and tell them that they must tell you loving and supportive things or nothing at all.The same limit should be extended to yourself, so that when you hear their voices putting you down in your head, you need to tell them that they aren’t supposed to talk to you in the way that they are.How can you clarify whether the put downs in your head are due to the emergence of a toxic introject or rather a sign of misdirected rage, or a little of both? First ask yourself who do I sound like right now. If you are talking like a parent, label who’s talking to you (and ideally give the parent in your head the same limit that I advised you to give in real life by saying that your parent doesn’t have the right to say nasty things to you. )Next check if your rage is being misdirected back at your self in the form of a put down, ask yourself who am I mad at right now. If you discover that you are, indeed, angry at someone, figure out who that someone is, then identify what was said or done to make you angry.Next, make sure that you channel your anger constructively by taking care of yourself and asserting what you want for yourself. This is how to use your anger properly, so that it doesn’t get redirected back against yourself.I have given you a lot to work with. When you feel better about yourself, you will know how likeable you are and you won’t be surprised to know that many men find you endearing and attractive.