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Self esteem and comparing self to others


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I'm really struggling lately with my self esteem, and I think it stems from comparing myself to others.


I'm the oldest of 3 siblings. In the past year, both have gotten married, begun their careers, and bought their first houses. They are the toast of the family. I, on the other hand, am a single (never married), unemployed mom of a 10 year old. It's to the point where I avoid family gatherings to not have to listen to relative's comments about how wonderful my siblings are doing while ignoring me entirely.


I survived an addiction when I was younger but struggle with depression and anxiety. While my son's father and I were still together, I took a lot of time off school to be there to raise my son while his dad supported us.. then came a 3 1/2 year custody fight. I almost lost my son. I went back to school and earned my bachelor's degree. I have plans for graduate school, but don't have the money yet. In the last year since graduation I have submitted over 300 job applications and have not found work even at the minimum wage level (clean criminal background, substance free, have had other professionals help with my resume, relocating to a better job market isn't an option without going back to family court and winning permission to move my son or giving up custody.. not sure what's missing). I am dependent on my parents financially at 30 years old, and they are (rightfully) irritated by it. I feel as though I spend so much of the time I'm not with my son applying for jobs that I am not taking proper care of myself, they feel I'm simply not trying hard enough.


The last time the city inspected the rental property we live in, it was deemed to have structural issues. The landlord is unwilling to fix the problems. We need to move, and I am under a court order to keep my son in the same school district. Since I rented this place, rent in the area has more than doubled. It's well out of my reach even with a roommate, and housing here doesn't exceed 3 bedrooms, so multiple roommates doesn't seem viable either. More stress.


I'm also the last of my close friends without a husband or career. It's so hard to be happy for everyone else when the things I see them achieving are lacking so painfully in my own life.


I need help reframing the way I'm looking at things. I want to shut down entirely and give up most days. I find I'm isolating myself from friends because these things come so easily to them that it's difficult for them to relate to why I'm struggling. I'd appreciate your help.


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I remember feeling the way you do now some years ago. What helped me was talking to people. Sometimes from the outside some people's lives look perfect. It helped to know that I wasn't alone in my experience and that it was temporary. This last year may seem like a long time now but when you look back at this time in your life hopefully it won't seem so long. We all achieve our goals at different paces so be gentle with yourself. Completing your bachelor's degree is nothing to sneeze at. Don't spend too much time worrying about being the toast of the family.

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Success just doesn't come easy for anyone. Behind the glitter, there is always a story of a long, twisted, and painful road to get there with many many turns, set backs, and disappointments. It's so painful in fact, that nobody likes to talk about it or show it to the world. We prefer just to show the end result, so it seems like it was easy, but that's never the whole story. You are traveling your own road right now and you will get there. Just don't give up and don't give in.

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It's been helpful for me to view the successes of others as demonstrations of what is possible within a lifetime rather than as anything that detracts from me. I see all good things as a catalog of what I can pick from to aspire toward, and this helps to inspire me and keep me focused on a generosity of spirit that lifts me UP rather than sinking into a jealous focus that drills me down into a deeper hole to climb out of.


A coach at work taught us that it takes roughly 21 days to change a habit. He said to keep a list of habits we want to change to work on ONE at a time instead of glomming them all together into a giant abstraction--nobody can resolve those. So the first habit I opted to change was the critical voice I run in my own head. The one thing over which we have control is our self talk. I shifted my default inner voice from a harsh, judgmental whiner to a positive, inspiring coach.


This changed EVERYthing for me, because it changed my lens.


I don't use complicated affirmations, I just adopted simple mantras throughout my day, "We can do this..." or "Make us proud, Cat..." or "There's something good in this for us..." I use plural rather than singular terms based on a study that showed higher performance by about a third when 'we' perceive ourselves as sharing a burden with 'a higher Self' or 'adult and child selves' or 'my ego and I' or 'the holy spirit and me'--or however 'we' want to view ourselves as a team of performers that work together.


As for family gatherings, I avoid isolation from those. I make events with others about 'them-not-me' so I can lift myself up by being generous. Instead of catering to self consciousness, I throw myself into fixing drinks, passing or prepping food, cleaning up or otherwise engaging conversation that allows others to feel good rather than keeping a focus on how I appear to anyone else. When others heap praise on my sister, I join them and feel generous and proud of her. I stay cheerful and humorous toward any perceived slight, and joke that, "Maybe I'll surprise myself one day..." which is vague enough to cover all bases without internalizing anything as a put down.


We're all just a bunch of frightened animals doing the best we know how at any given time. This includes anyone who'd be snide or ungracious enough to inflict an insult. I'd rather play cheerful and too dense to 'get it' rather than join someone on the level of their own misery, since they couldn't possibly be happy with themselves if they feel a need to insult anyone else.


So plow forward and enjoy your own credit for the hardships you've overcome and the life management skills that you've gained along the way. There will always be room for improvement, and we can opt to find that inspiring rather than a downer.


Head high.

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