“It sounded like a cliché topic to me, this writing prompt asking what I don’t like about myself. A real yawner. Haven’t we all been over this before?”

Off the bat, this was an easy question to answer. There are many things I dislike about myself. I could go on and give you a list. But as I dug deeper and thought about this question, something hit me. Every single thing I would list is actually something I keep hearing from other people. People close to me, people like my family. It’s the words I grew up with that have lodged themselves permanently in my brain and which I have made my own. After hearing certain things about me all the time, they started to become part of my self-talk. I started believing them.

I dislike my low self-esteem. It’s not easy building yourself up when your sense of self has been trampled on all your life. I was never good enough. Being made fun of when I was a slightly overweight made me very self-conscious about my weight ever since. (And I was thin then compared to now!). Hearing from my spouse I’ll never be a good housewife made me believe it. When I organized a stunning Bar Mitzvah event for my son, I got many incredulous comments not believing I really managed to pull it off.

I don’t believe we realize how many of the negative self-talk comes from things we hear from the people close to us. Growing up I felt I must be a lazy person. This was something I heard often from my parents and teachers. Looking back, if I was growing up these days I would have been diagnosed with ADD. But in the 80’s who knew of such things? We just got labeled as lazy and forgetful good for nothings. My low self-esteem continues to plague me till this day.

As a survivor of abuse I realized I needed therapy to help me move forward in life. One of the things we did was work on my self-esteem. My therapist claimed that she saw many good things in me and she worked on getting me to believe it too. She sometimes had to stop the session to ask me if I realized that she just gave me a compliment. I actually did but my usual reaction was to brush it off because in my head it couldn’t be true.

The effects are far reaching and everywhere. I barely write because I’m sure I’m not good enough. Sure, I have all the reasons like English not being my first language, no proper training, and all that. I don’t bake because I “suck” at homemaking. I could give many more examples too.

All because I chose to believe what I was fed, what I’m being fed. The criticism about my life continues to come from all sides. I have to make a conscious decision every day to not believe the words I’m hearing from those around me and my inner voice who joins them.

It has made me stop and think about the way I talk to my kids. One of my children is not easy. I have made the mistake of throwing the word “lazy” or “you will never..” to him. I’m not perfect and it’s all too easy to fall into the familiar pattern I grew up with. Now that I’m in therapy and I’m starting to see the damage this approach has done to me I’m working on stopping this harmful behavior.

So the thing I dislike most about me is the fact that I believe all the negative things other people have said about me, I have let other people’s opinions of me shape me, and I believed what they said.

And that’s the greatest tragedy of all.