(written by request)
I remember when I was young, my parents had just purchased a home, and they set about changing the wallpaper in the kitchen. They were the “do it yourself” types, and my uncle was a professional craftsman, so he pitched in. They pulled off all the old layers of wallpaper and carefully and slowly applied the new, with my uncle directing. They spent a lot of time getting those sheets to fit “perfectly”.
Then, they invited my mother’s father to visit. Everything was hugs and kisses, until they talked proudly about the new wallpaper accomplishment. He walked right up to the wall, and it didn’t take long –
“Nope. I can see the line. You didn’t do it right.”
It was not until many years later that I remembered – they used to talk vaguely, randomly about his drinking. Now, he was no alcoholic. He was a big deal in the town where he grew up. He was in charge of the water works for the city – he wasn’t just a freemason, he was a Shriner. He was in the city parade every year. He was a big deal.
It may be almost impossible to believe that your dad – that rich, successful, popular “everyone likes him” guy, actually has zero self-esteem. He has an ego that fills a room, so where is the self-esteem issue?
With ego, he compares himself to others and he finds them lacking or “not good enough”; he judges others’ abilities and finds them incapable; he will do and say whatever it takes in an effort to appear superior. In conversations, he will continuously change the subject until he finds one in which you are not accomplished, and he is.
Self-esteem doesn’t rely on approval from the ‘other’. It’s nice to have it, of course, but it’s not necessary. They don’t judge the other, but they can assess whether someone may need some help or is not qualified for a job. They don’t have to be the center of attention, but if they get it – it won’t be a bad experience.
Ego wants it all for themselves. Self-esteem can share the glory.
Ego looks for the line in the wallpaper. Self-esteem says, “good job”.
If “perfection” is that golden mist that always seems to allude your grasp, you are not alone. You want to do well for the family, but in the world of finance, like many other worlds, it is impossible to do perfectly.
The firm of John Paulson for example, had assets of $38 billion at one point, only to have that sink to a mere $9 billion a few years later.
Can you imagine the potential dining room conversations John had with his father?
Words like “perfect” and phrases like “good enough”, “should have”, “could have”, “would have” are all terms used to manipulate others. They are red flags in a bad conversation and maybe, a bad relationship.
Here’s a good one: You finally get that Masters’ degree. You get an opportunity to get a PhD. There you are, PhD in hand – you have finally accomplished something great.
Who is it in your circle that would say, “well, it’s not really a good university”?
I lied to you, earlier. My grandfather was an alcoholic. How do I know for sure? Because of the way other people acted around him. You would never know he was an alcoholic, because he was so successful. Many people equate success with strength of character, and alcoholics are just weak-willed. However, among the seven American Nobel laureates in literature, four of them were alcoholics. Australian Nobel prize-winning immunologist Prof. Peter Doherty accidentally asked Twitter when he would be able to get a drink.
Alcoholics (and prescription medicine abusers) are often the smartest and brightest people around. However, they have an illness. It is like cancer – but it’s an emotional cancer. One in eight American adults are estimated to have an “alcohol disorder”. One alcoholic directly affects on average four other people. How much higher is the estimate for those countries with a “drinking culture”?
Sometimes, there is no bottle to point to – because it’s a family illness. There was a bottle somewhere, but maybe it was a generation or two back. The children are raised with the attitudes and behaviors of the alcoholic, and they carry this baggage with them to the next generation. My grandmother was embarrassed by the behavior of her mother, who occasionally had to be helped up the stairs because she was tipsy. My grandmother never had alcohol in the house.
She married one, instead.
“Jekyll” is the friendly personality – this is the man or woman you first meet, your mother or father when you were young. It could be your co-worker, colleague, your boss. They’re great, but once in a great while they get really angry, to the point of intense yelling – and it’s your fault. You should have known something, you could have done something better, why didn’t you do it this way.
Since they are normally “a really nice guy/gal”, you think, “woah, this is a really big deal. I better take care of this.”
Slowly, over time – it can be a few years – the episodes increase, until it is mostly ‘Hyde’ with whom you have to contend. This is the progression of the illness. Hyde was actually there the whole time, whittling away at your self-esteem, but you didn’t notice.
Now, if you are emotionally healthy, Hyde is not going to get too far with you. The first unjust statement, insult or manipulative phrase will immediately trigger a conscious assessment of the relationship. Further episodes will not drag you down but will lead to fearless confrontations – initiated by you – regarding proper behavior.
Your situation might not have all of these symptoms, but if you have a few, you might consider visiting the Al-Anon website. If you feel that doesn’t apply to your situation, then maybe you will like the book, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, by Manuel J. Smith.
By the way, did you know that the feeling of shame is actually a sign of virtue?