Sunday, January 30, 2011

Emotional Erosion: Rebuilding Life after Rejection (Part 1)

The summer of 2002 had been one of the driest in decades and our state was enduring a drought when the largest forest fire in Colorado’s history, the Hayman Fire, started in the Pike National Forest.

Sadly, this inferno was ignited when a forest service officer was burning a letter from her estranged husband. The devastation was enormous; it caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes, totally destroyed over a hundred of them, and burned about 138,000 acres.

What a mess.

The intense heat of the fire had destroyed the protective layer of groundcover over the soil (like plants, grass, shrubs, and even litter). With the topsoil washed away, tree roots are exposed and unprotected, and the plant life is vulnerable to damage and depleted of nutrients.

Just as a forest fire can lead to erosion of soil, the fire of harsh words, negative comments or repeated rejection can begin to wear away at your self esteem.

What are some reasons our self esteem gets damaged?

Rejection is one of the biggest self esteem crushers, whether it’s from the crumbling of a long term relationship or an I-don’t-think-so brush off after a few dates. You hope, you wonder, and you take a risk with someone. Then you breakup and feel like you’ve lost again. It can do a number on your self esteem and you wonder how you’ll muster the confidence and courage to start all over with someone new.

A distorted perception of yourself. A “distorted perspective” of something is fuzzy and imprecise, and often untrue. When I was in eighth grade I got my first pair of eyeglasses. I remember looking out the window at the trees and noticing how clearly I could distinguish each individual leaf. With the clarity the glasses provided, blurry green blobs on a stick transformed into majestic maple and oak trees.

Sometimes we don’t see ourselves clearly either. The lenses through which we’ve been viewing our lives have been distorted by the constant criticism of a parent, the degrading comments from kids at school or by the downright mean way someone has treated you.

“Distorted images are not only shaping your perspective but are also hindering your possibilities,” says Jud Wilhite in Eyes Wide Open.

We need God’s better-than-20/20-vision to gain a clearer vision of who we really are, to come out of hiding, to be courageous, and to see ourselves as He sees us.

Loss of self. Instead of being misaligned, you may feel like your self esteem has been misplaced altogether. You feel lost because you lost yourself in the relationship. Maybe you were a people pleaser, a “yes” girl, and now you’re uncertain as to your identity and purpose. “Who am I apart from you? Who am I now?” Maybe you spent so much time on his life that you neglected your own.

He may have left you, but you left you as well, and you abandoned yourself.

Loss of self means you are out of touch with what you need and want. It is the ultimate abandonment when you don’t feel worthy to live in your own life. Your heart is like a deserted house, dark and empty, with boarded up windows and a fence in disrepair.

Stuck in the past. When hurtful memories from the past linger too long in your heart, they can wreak havoc on your self esteem in the present. An example from classic literature is the eccentric Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

Jilted on her wedding day, Miss Havisham was so devastated that she left all the clocks in her house at twenty minutes to nine (because that was the time she received the heartbreaking news from her fiancé) and she never changed them again.

This woman held on to her hurt for years by leaving everything as it was on that dreadful day: the decaying remains of the wedding banquet littered the table, and she continued to wear the faded wedding dress. Every day she stared at painful reminders of the past as she clung tightly to “what could have been.” Feeling her life was ruined, she let her house and herself live in ruin.
How do you stop the “wearing away” of emotional erosion? How do you rebuild self esteem and restore confidence?

Stay tuned for more—Part 2 is coming on Tuesday.

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