The first time Leslie (not her real name) came into my office I didn’t detect anything different about her. Well, it was the end of August and she was the only one of the many others who came by that day who wore a long-sleeved shirt. It was very hot that day. But I guessed her sleeves were more of a fashion statement than a problem.
I guessed wrong.
What further eluded me about any potential problems was the successful exterior she portrayed. She was a beautiful young woman who appeared to convey an air of confidence. She was a returned missionary. She was an accomplished musician. She had a great singing voice. She was an excellent student. I guessed that with such an impressive list of accomplishments Leslie would be an extremely happy person.
Again, I guessed wrong.
As I got to know her better I learned that she was extremely unhappy and in spite of all the good she was doing. She hated herself. As an expression of her self-loathing she had a decade’s long struggle with bulimia, anorexia, and self-harm. This explained the long sleeves on that hot day in August. She was hiding her scars that came from cutting herself.
How is it possible for one who seemed to be so richly blessed with talent and intelligence to have such low self-esteem? What factors could have contributed to this terrible tragedy?
Leslie and I spent a lot of time trying to unravel this mystery and with the assistance of a wise therapist we were able to boil down those things that tore down her opinion of herself at such an alarming level to the following:
- Cultural influence
- Familial stresses
- Personal misinterpretations
Of course, any who have personally struggled with serious self-esteem issues or know people who have had similar challenges understand that the causes are complex and recovery takes time. So I mean not to diminish this pervasive problem by assuming that all who similarly suffer will find the roots of their struggles in this same fertile ground as Leslie did.
But I do feel that a discussion about Leslie’s three contributing factors can give hope to those who silently suffer. For this reason I will use future posts to explain what Leslie and I learned as we worked together on the road to her recovery.
As the purpose of this web site is to promote discussion, I look forward to your insights about this topic.