The county jail program I write about from time to time is operated by a nonprofit organization named Resolana. Resolana helps incarcerated women make life changes to reap their true potential, which includes staying out of jail. The program has a life skills class, and last week we started a unit on self-esteem. As always, the women exhibited admirable candor and had profound insights. It’s fitting to share some of those insights here, as they illustrate the lies we believe about ourselves described the last post about shame.
The self-esteem unit starts with a rather sad description of how captive baby elephants are trained not to roam. By tying the baby elephant to a stake it isn’t strong enough to break, the animal is trained to think it can’t overcome the obstacle, and eventually it gives up trying. Adult elephants are easily strong enough to pull the stake out and to roam free, but they are trained to think they can’t, so they don’t. The adult elephant believes a lie about itself.
The women pondered the lies they believe about themselves. One shared that she believes she is a bad daughter. Her parents divorced when she was young, and like so many kids who experience the loss of a parent, she blamed herself for her dad’s choice to have a relationship with his girlfriend’s children instead of with her. Another described being indulged as a child. Her mother invariably protected her from the consequences of her own actions. As an adult, she had an attorney who extricated her from legal tangles. Her lie was that rules don’t apply to her. Somebody else described a home where keeping up appearances was all that mattered. She believed she had to project an enhanced image of herself because the truth could never be good enough. It was heartbreaking to hear one woman describe a widespread family pattern of sexual abuse, a pattern that she and another young family member together managed to break, but not before being imprinted with the lie that being used sexually was all she was good for.
After calling out these lies, the women wrote affirming statements that tell the truth about themselves. I am a good daughter. My dad’s addiction kept him from being a good dad. I have to follow the same rules as everyone else. My truth is better than my image. I am a worthwhile human being and child of God. I love myself. For many women, the affirmations felt good and true. Other women were so accustomed to the lies, they struggled to find affirming statements that felt authentic. One woman was moved to tears when pulling away from a painful stake in her past left her feeling suddenly free to be. The class ended with encouragement to speak the truth to oneself—and to others—70 times a day for seven days. It is the surest way to find hope for healing from shame.
Join the conversation. How has your “training” held you back from reaping your true potential?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.