Sometimes the large chip on one’s shoulders can block one’s pathway to happiness. It’s easily one of the saddest parts of my work as a Minister and outreach worker to see genuinely kind persons who are loaded down with the baggage of low self-esteem and greeting each new interaction with the tinted lens of being the victim of attack. Recently I was shown an email by someone I admire and like very much, it was from a relation, and she believed it was nasty and critical. I read the email five times, there appeared no such attack, only instructions on how to proceed with a family project. When I asked where this woman was seeing the vicious words she pointed to the way her relation was speaking to her, “like a child”. I know this relationship and there is a history of one relation going off and doing their own thing. So the way the instructions were laid out in such a clear way seemed to me to be a helpful and constructive way to avoid confusion. But that is not how the instructions were read.
And so there followed heated exchanges. My hunch is that the person who lives with low self-esteem will now find her relation becoming the person she imagined her to be in the first place. It became a “self-fulfilling prophecy” to undermine one’s self and being one into a conflict that otherwise was not present. I see this all too often, a person allowing one’s lack of confidence to poison relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
And this pattern is not immune to the life of the church. For clergy the likelihood of this pattern taking form is very high. We see people who want to put us on a pedestal, call us “the boss” and repeat to us at every turn that we are “in charge” will automatically resent us if there is even the faintest scent of arrogance that be detected. When that happens the term used to describe is… “big feeling!” So any Minister with any degree of intuition will run away as fast as s/he can from words or deeds that smack of entitlement.
But it matters not, persons with low self-esteem will find something to tag us with the accusation we are looking down on them. It seems so odd to me to be told I am “the boss” or “the big guy” and then to be watched for signs of arrogance.
My response to this challenge has been to offer affirmation wherever possible so that the person living with low self-esteem is aware of their gifts and how much they are valued by the community. I am under no illusions that this authentic offering will make a huge difference, years of absorbing the feeling of one’s lack of worth are not going to be addressed with a series of affirmations. But around the edges these comments, when sincere, are helpful and do lodge inside the other a sense of their own worth.
I used to walk with egg shells around these folks, always afraid to hurt their feelings. I have become convinced we do them no favours by this approach. I feel the affirmations, the attention I offer them, the way I encourage them to participate in community, gives me some credibility with persons living with low self-esteem. They know from my actions that I care. And care I do but when their actions are hurtful to other persons with low self-esteem I now am more direct about an intervention. Another great irony of these situations is that often the most derogatory comments from one to another are made by people with low self-esteem to another person with low self-esteem. Go figure! On one level this does make sense, on another it makes the dynamic of community all the more confusing.
Community is messy but authentic, caring and constructive participation is always a path to come form of right relationship.