I have come to accept I have a very annoying and frustrating habit. What makes me want to cry at times is that I am not sure how to break this habit. It’s not helping me in any way, it’s holding me back, giving people the wrong impression of what I’m actually like, and it’s ultimately self-destructive.

I am afraid to stand up for myself. I assume, or have come to assume, whatever I have to say is not worth anyone’s time, is wrong, and is garbage. I tried to make myself something of a non-entity growing up, not acknowledging my wants, my dreams, my desires. I felt I did not deserve them because of my behavior. I was angry all the time, from being bullied. I hated being alive, and I hated my existence most of all. I came to believe that my being such a monster invalidated anything I had to say about anything. I did not matter.

I was afraid to argue with my father, who could get very aggressive in dealing with my outbursts. I was convinced he hated me, that I was the cause of his rages. When I got punished, I felt I was completely deserving of it, even though it scared me to death.

I had a second-grade teacher who had some major mental issues (I would learn this much later in my life). She regularly singled me out for humiliation in front of the class, would take out her anger on me, called me an abomination of Satan. I was prone to emotional outbursts because kids teased me constantly to the point I would retaliate. I did not dare to argue with her, because she was an adult and I was a child. Children were expected to obey adults, so I never questioned the things she said to me, and accepted them as absolute truth.

I felt I was expected to put up with the abuse, because I was bad and because I deserved to be treated badly. In dealing with my father, I was always, ALWAYS wrong, and my father was always right. I began to see everything in terms of black and white. One side was always right, and the other was wrong. I was always wrong, and a bad person, while my father was always right and could do no wrong. I was scared to defy him, even though I did. Getting hit, yelled at, pinched hard, spanked was just the natural reward for crossing him. I never began to consider what I was taking was abusive. I just chalked it up to having very strict parents. He feels now as if he failed in his raising of me, because I am depressed, I don’t have a great job, I wasn’t showered with accolades, and I struggled mightily in school. I was expected to go through life acting as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with me whatsoever. Even though I had surgeries just about every year growing up, going to the doctor, being picked on and no one to defend me but my sister. I was expected to be on the high honor roll every marking period, regardless of the emotional turmoil that was interfering in my ability to function in school. My father couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able (or in his view, I was just damned lazy) to achieve the levels of success my sisters did. I was an embarrassment to him. I was fully convinced in my mind I was a complete failure, and that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never make him happy. I still feel that way.

My self-esteem was pretty much gone by middle school. I had taken the lie that I was a freak and a monster to heart. I did not ever consider I would ever be cured of that black mark. I gave up trying to get better. I gave up trying to stand up for myself, because doing that meant I was being willfull and ungrateful. I never asked my parents whether this was twisted thinking. I figured this was how they felt about me.

So, what does having such dismal self-esteem do to one’s thought processes? I’m afraid to trust my own judgement in decisions. I’m afraid to voice my own opinions, even if it’s an unfair judgement of me. I’m afraid to be kind to myself because I think it means I’m being selfish. I come off as indecisive, neurotic, scared, suspicious. I turn away people’s compliments, fearing they’re just saying those things to be ‘nice’ to me. If I do speak my mind, I apologize right away, fearing retribution. I feel if people are talking about someone in a negative manner, I automatically figure it has to be me. People get tired of it, and chew me out.

I can’t take critcism very well; if someone takes me to task over something, I take it as an indictment on my whole life, that I’m a failure, I’m stupid, I’m a horrible person, et cetera ad nauseum. You get the point. I have made myself become aware of those behaviors now, and I just can’t seem to stop acting in that manner. Why can’t I just get over it? Why can’t I just automatically alter my point of view to a more positive one? It makes me want to pull my hair out, because I now know what I’m doing isn’t good for me, but I don’t know how to treat myself with any kind of respect.

How do I break myself of this ingrained behavior? How do I start feeling good about myself? How do I learn to accept criticism without getting utterly demoralized by it? I don’t have those answers. I can’t go on living like this because it will destroy me from the inside out if not checked. My emotional health is in the balance. I’ve talked about this with my therapist, but I can’t figure out why I just can’t DO it. Why do I keep holding myself back? I don’t want to live like this the rest of my life.