Self-esteem isn’t a static concept, nor is it all-or-nothing, although it may sometimes feel like it. To use perhaps not the greatest analogy, it’s like a treehouse that you build. Sometimes external events can knock out rungs to the ladder up to the treehouse, or sometimes they cause more significant structural damage. External factors can also affect what is seen when looking outside the windows of the self-esteem treehouse.
I think it’s important when dwelling in a treehouse to be able to see that there’s a forest full of treehouses out there, of varying heights from the forest floor and in varying states of repair or disrepair. When we can see the whole array, it’s easier to feel snug and settled in our own little house. Some other treehouses might be doing better and others might be doing not so well, but we can maintain perspective and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with where we are.
We’ve all got our own set of factors that tend to skew our view or cause major/minor damage to our treehouse. I grew up to have a pretty good sense of self-esteem, and my treehouse is pretty sturdily constructed. Depression can cause problems, though. It can do damage to the ladder in and out of my treehouse, causing a weakened sense of self regardless of what else might be going on in the forest.
The other thing that can trip me up is when people who, at least at some point, where on somewhat of a peer level have moved into something that looks more like a tree mansion in the sky. I then tend to lose sight of the rest of the forest, and fixate on the difference between our treehouses.
The peer level piece is important, because for me at least this isn’t as much of an issue with people who are further removed. Digging a little deeper into this, I suspect part of it stems from having always done very well academically, and feeling like I could keep pace with any of my classmates. When I began my nursing career, I knew I was good at my job, and was confident that I could keep up professionally with my colleagues. Depression got in the way of that right from the beginning, as a pattern became established of opportunities being open professionally to others that were not available for me. That was mostly an externally imposed change.
I think the distress that creeps up every so often related to someone’s treehouse appearing to be higher than mine turns out to be less about their treehouse and more about my own treehouse being situated differently in the forest than I used to expect that it would be. I’m still reasonably comfortable in my treehouse much of the time, but sometimes the view outside my window isn’t what I would like it to be.
I doubt that this is something that will ever go away entirely. No matter what I may be able to do now that I might not have anticipated before, there’s no getting away from the fact that my life has deviated significantly from the course that it used to be on and that I had expected it to stay on.
Aside from that, it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. Sometimes that turns out okay, and other times it’s a hot mess. I guess recognizing that it’s part of the process is a good place to start with in maintaining a solid self-esteem treehouse. And sometimes those windows just need a little Windex.
Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.