We might even believe that the job
of our parents, our partners, our children
is to make us feel good about ourselves . . .
We all know people who no matter how much we do for them it is never enough. They complain that we haven't been supportive and often do not acknowledge what we have done for them. They seem to be extremely needy people.
I picture within each of us a self-esteem bucket. Our belief is that when the bucket is full, we will feel loved, valued, and successful.
We spend a lot of time and energy in trying to fill it. One of the ways we try to fill the bucket is by accomplishing certain tasks. Our thinking is like this: 'If I get all A's, I will feel good about myself.' 'If I get this degree, I will feel great about me.' We feel good for a while and then we find ourselves looking for another task to accomplish.
There are other ways we try to fill our self-esteem bucket such as being included in a certain circle of people, reaching a certain status in the community, getting a promotion, or having the perfect body. While these endeavors may give us good feelings, they don't seem to change how we feel about ourselves. This causes the positive feelings to fade. We are like the guy who stands in front of the refrigerator saying, 'I'm hungry but I don't know what I can eat that will satisfy me.'
We might even believe that the job of our parents, our partners, our children is to make us feel good about ourselves so we hand our self-esteem buckets to them and plead or demand, 'fill my bucket.' When it doesn't work, we may get angry and accuse them of not being supportive.
We may run from one relationship to another thinking we will find that person who will fill our bucket. The problem is that there may be holes in our self-esteem bucket, so no matter how much is put in, it drains through. Despite how much we accomplish or how much others do for us, it is never enough. So the truth is - other people cannot make us happy nor can external things make us feel good about ourselves in a lasting way.
Instead of looking inward and letting this time of struggle and confrontation become an opportunity toward self fulfillment, many of us think the empty bucket is an external problem so we get a new spouse, a new job, a sports car or a gold necklace!
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700