Friday, June 26, 2009

Attacks from Within

Originally Published: Thursday, June 25, 2009 2:45 PM CDT

Self doubt. It eats away at your soul and your heart.

Building self esteem is supposed to be easy, and at times it can be, but maintaining a solid belief in my abilities has always seemed akin to a house of cards. One stiff breeze, and that flimsy base of confidence comes tumbling down.

Finding help should be easy. The world is filled with self-help books, motivational television shows and monthly “you-can-do-it” magazine articles addressing the internal burdens that plague many of us.

I’m not sure when my seeds of self doubt were planted. I know the times I’ve watered them -- mistakes that seemed overwhelming at the time, missed opportunities and missteps along the way. Each one added to an uneasy feeling I wasn’t worth much until it seemed those seedlings had turned into an overgrown jungle.

Most of the time, we put on a happy face, but in the dark or when we’re alone, those vicious demons of self doubt creep up and attack when we least expect them. My brother wrote about that personal hostage mentality in a poem entitled “The Glass Soldier.” He believes the worst personal attacks come from within.

He’s right.

For those who have a solid sense of self, it must be difficult to understand those of us who struggle with feelings of mediocrity. When things go well, we believe we don’t deserve it or we worry our good luck and fortune will suddenly disappear.

There’s the guilt of knowing we don’t have it as bad as others. We feel embarrassed we’re indulging in a so-called “pity party” when we have a job, a roof over our heads and food on the table. The “at least you have” mantra begins and then we’re ashamed.

Most of the time, we smile, pretend everything is going well and find ways to help banish the sad thoughts -- friends who believe in us despite our failings and quiet places where we can reflect on the positive aspects in our lives, not the bad ones.

We stay in those comfortable places until the well is replenished, realizing it won’t stay filled, but knowing where to go for rejuvenation.

Still, just thinking about positives doesn’t always move me out of the sad zone. Sometimes reflecting on when I’ve been faced with a difficult task and accomplished it helps.

I stopped smoking 30 years ago, and it was one of the hardest obstacles I’ve overcome. I went back to school mid-life, and passing algebra was a hurdle I didn’t think I’d ever achieve. I did, but not without the help of others and working pages of problems every single night.

But of all the cures, the best way I’ve found for feeling better is to do something nice for someone else. When I’m preoccupied with helping someone and stepping away from my own feelings of worthlessness, the dark clouds roll away.

I’m out of my gray world and more often than not, the person I’m helping is grateful and happy which, in turns, makes me happy. Selfish? Yes, but shushing that nasty inner voice in my head and rolling up my sleeves to help someone else is therapeutic.

And until the next stiff breeze comes along, I’m okay.

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