Ask an expert

05 Apr 2006

Low self esteem
Hi Doctor
I am the second daughter of 4 siblings. My mother and I did not get along very well while I was still in the house and I kept my doings, emotions and what got me going to myself rather than discuss them with her. I guess out of fear of critique and being a disappointment. My siblings all achieved more than I did during our school years. I was not a loner and have always had many friends. I just somehow did not fit in my family. I did not have the same driving goals to achieve as they did. This sense of not being good enough, was enhanced every time I got a surprised reaction from teachers that I am actually a member of my older sisters family. She was a very good student academically and became the head girl at the school. I love my sister and fortunately this reaction from other people never created any negative feelings between us. Although I respected her I guess we got along because I never aspired to compete with her. Although my parent both tried to inspire me to perform better at school (because I could have) they never made me feel less important. It was people from outside my family that made me aware of my "underachievement" compared to my siblings.
I was a very shy girl and never had boyfriends at school. There were some boys interested, but I was too shy and never pursued these friendships. I had male friends though.

In my 5th year at university I met my husband. We attended the same University 1000 kms from the farm he grew up on. We attended the same honors class. We were friends for one year before we became involved in a romantic friendship. Today I can honestly say that we are still friends. At last I was good enough for someone that I thought was good enough for me too. I was so happy to love and be loved. The problem came when I met his family, a rural farm family. I was obviously not the choice of some of them. My husband's father died when he was 16 (by then he was 75) and I never met him. My husband is from a large family of six siblings. The fist four boys were born close to one another of which the oldest was born the same year my father was. Ten years after the first 4 boys came a daughter and seven years later came my husband. So, while growing up he and his sister were the only children in the house. She played a sort of parent role while he grew up. His mother was 46 at his birth. It is particularly the sister that made me feel unwelcome. I later found out that she earmarked a girl from the region as bride for him. I think she would have liked him to settle close by.

We dated for almost 4 years before we got engaged. By then we both worked professionally about 800 kms from the farm. The day my husband phoned his mom to tell that we are planning to get engaged her only comment was “Are you sure?” You should think that after 4 years of dating she could have mustered up some congratulatory remark. His sister’s only mention of our engagement game 3 months later when I visited him over the holidays at the farm. On the third day after I arrived she told me one afternoon. “Oh, I guess I must look at your ring.” That was all that was ever said between us on that topic. Why it bothers me is that these were the two closest people in his live and here they rejected me. It was really hurting. And still is. And my husband never strongly told them that I am what he wants and they should accept me. He just kept quiet and tried to convince me that his mother will not be influenced by his sister.
When we set a wedding date for April, he later felt pressured (I am not aware that any pressure came from them, but the fact that they were not enthusiastic must have played a part in his doubts) and unsure of us marrying. I told him that I will not live this kind of life being kept on a leading-string without commitment and that I would rather end the relationship then. He did not want that so we agreed to move the wedding date up another few months to August, 11 months after getting engaged. He never again expressed any doubts after that, not to me at least.

After getting married (sister complained bitterly that she had to travel with a small baby, again only comment to me about marriage) we lived about 800 kms from the farm and were basically left alone to enjoy our new life together. My husband and I were happy and got on well. However, he has never managed to spontaneously tell me that he loved me, or that I looked beautiful or gave me any sort of complement. He is however quick to be sarcastic and criticize.
We have three wonderful children, a girl and two boys. He is a good father. I have since won over my mother in law’s acceptance to some extent and she has told me on numerous occasions that I am a good mother to my children. But through the years there were many incidents between me and his sister that left me helpless and very hurt. For instance when we came to visit with my small children and babies, she would disregard their routine completely and make it very difficult for me. Not once did he speak to her, no matter how wrong, about her disregarding my situation. It is the way his family handles difficult situations,- ignore them. With the older brothers and their wives I get on well and some of his brothers wives and I get on very well. They all complain of the same thing: That sis rules the brothers and can never do anything wrong in their eyes. The brothers all still call her ”Sussie”. She is 47 years old.
Why does she bother me so much? I realized that maybe because of my bad self esteem I started to mistrust my worth. Maybe she was right?
My husband is extremely shy about any public display of affection, even at home when we are alone I will get a short hug (that I initiate) and be then quickly be pushed away. But when we are in bed and it is dark he would be passionate. This does not help me feeling any better about myself. Can I only be touched when it is dark? Why then show affection and passion? Why so shy? This has made me stopped complimenting him, trying to hold his had or telling him I love him. This is out of fear of rejection, of being pushed away.
We have move the last 2 years to another country. I quit my job in SA. I am working currently, but the job is not as challenging. I was very good at my work and often got praised and won awards for the work I did. I am well educated (despite what some of my teachers probably expected). I miss this praise and I realize how much I needed it to survive. I also miss my friends dearly. They made me feel loved and special. Here I have not yet made that kind of close friend. I know it takes time to develop.
I need some coping mechanisms. I have tried to locate a psychologist here where I live but there is no one. We now live in a completely different culture. I need someone sympathetic to talk to, like I used to talk to my friends in SA.
Thank you
Answer 421 views

01 Jan 0001

Hello Loupy,
You don't identify the "other country", though most have better psych services than SA. CBT style counseling sounds ideal for you, to change what sound like lifelong habits of finding negative interpretations of any situation, and blam,ing yourself for whatever others do or say ; believing criticisms, whoever they may come from, and ignoring compliments.
eg. So your husband is inhibited about showing affection in public, but though he makes it very clear in many ways how much love he feels for you --- your interpretation is that there must be something wrong with you that makes him reluctant to show this in public
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
33% - 9371 votes
67% - 19385 votes