The story of Rebecca, a case of low self-esteem
Rebecca (not her real name) is a petite 40-year old part-time aerobic teacher. Her husband is an executive in a large corporation. Three years before we started working together, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer was surgically removed and eradicated with chemotherapy. Rebecca stated that she was living in a permanent state of depression and sadness, could not sleep without over-the-counter sleeping pills and was suffering from recurrent colds. Moreover she expressed her lifetime low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy as she said she was “pathologically shy”, “terrified to death with school” and “always feeling stupid.”
Rebecca was born in a middle-class family and has an older sister with whom she is very close. While the family looked perfect on the surface, the two daughters had to adjust to their autocratic father and submissive mother. Unlike her sister who reacted as a placater with her father, Rebecca felt unable to satisfy his high and emotionless expectations. Because her father admired her pleasing sister, Rebecca perceived her as superior and withdrew into herself at an early age.
School has been a traumatic experience for Rebecca. In her early school days, she was terrified to leave her mother. In grade 3 she was scared and terrified by her teacher whom she described as a mean and cold witch. From that time Rebecca began to feel stupid. She would hate tests, especially math and oral tests, because she would perceive them as a proof of her stupidity. Rebecca still hates that teacher and avoids any academic activities because of her tests anxiety.
Grade 8 was another unhappy year for Rebecca. She was totally unmotivated, hated everything about school and had terrible grades. She tried to quit school as she felt that she was not as good as the others. She smoked marijuana occasionally and ran away with a friend for one day. Finally when she was 16 she frequently skipped school and her school nightmare would end when she got pregnant, then married her high school sweetheart and quit from school. Rebecca and her husband raised their son who was a responsible 24-year old man.
A major couple crisis happened several years ago when her husband left for another woman during his mid-life crisis. Rebecca was desperate and suicidal thoughts crossed her mind. After 6 months, her husband eventually returned home and they have remained united.
Rebecca grew up pretending to be a boy
The father is the cornerstone of the family myth. Everyone had to adjust to his rational tyranny and be in the service of his myth of a “strong family leader.” His wife chose to be submissive and his two daughters had to sacrifice their true selves. Repressing her emotions, Rebecca’s sister acted according the father’s model and became his favorite child. Hearing her father always praising her sister, Rebecca perceived her as superior. At a very early age she gave up any hope of meeting her father’s expectations which resulted in a withdrawal into herself, the repression of her emotions and developing a strong feeling of inferiority.
Rebecca once told me a very revealing dream. She was rinsing pasta in a kitchen sink in the house of her childhood. Pasta were spiraled and every single one had a penis shape. This dream was about her conception: the spiraled pasta was symbolizing an all-male sperm in the sink-vagina of her parents kitchen. Her father was expecting the birth of a boy. To be her father’s boy was an expectation Rebecca could not meet, although she tried: she always wanted to be a boy. She was faced with this impossible challenge from the first second of her life. Coincidentally, Rebecca indicated that between the birth of her sister and hers, her mother miscarried a boy.
When becoming a teenager and her breasts beginning to show, Rebecca could no longer pretend to be a boy to her father. It is exactly at that time that she was driven to break the communication with her father.
With her sporty appearance and her childish look, Rebecca looks much younger than her age. She reminded me the metaphor of Peter Pan eternal youth, to which she agreed completely with a big smile.
Rebecca now smiles and has gained self-confidence
Rebecca became motivated in changing her self-image sustained by new spiritual and professional aspirations. As she was entering her mid-life crisis, her life changes took positive directions. Rebecca unveiled her true self, gain a stronger self-image and felt more adequate.
Rebecca has come a long way. Now with rare milder depressive episodes, Rebecca smiles and has gained self-confidence. Her recurrent colds have become occasional and she can sleep without sleeping pills. She also learned to cope with her perceived surgery loss of womanhood.