Personal Testimonies by Yagniza:
Introduction Career_Day Contemporary_Native_American_Issues Cultural_Racism My_Journey The_Amphitheater The_Designer The_Sacred_Trust Notes_on_Navajo History Racism_Institute Spanish_Poetry El_Cuartocentenario El_Inca_ Garcilaso_de_la_Vega The_Best_Is_Yet_To_Come
Introduction | Women and Self-Esteem | Self-Esteem's Components | Developing Areas of Self-Esteem | Intimacy | Codependency | Assertion, This Is Who I Am | Recovery from Self-Alienation | Covey Training | Travel | Classes | Painful Experiences | Journal | Recovery Manual | My Husband | Friendships | Self-Acceptance and Love | My Journey, Part II
I started my journey to heal from the effects of child abuse, racism and sexism when I was in my forties. No one knew I needed help because I appeared to be doing well. I was a lawyer, ran marathons and played soccer, had two high achieving high school age sons, and looked happy.
I have now analyzed what I was like then and what I am like now as I have recovered, but I was not able to do this without being educated along the way. After experiencing what I considered personal work-related racism and sexism after I was assigned to a new position which I left as a result of these experiences, I had tried to work out my disappointment on my own. I spent time in the outdoors which is healing for me. My close friends welcomed me into their home for a week after I moved back to Houston and my previous position. I shared my experiences with my close friend, Linda, also a Native American. I moved back into my old neighborhood, picked up on my old friendships, started playing soccer and running again, decorated my home in Indian art as an affirmation of myself and pursued my interest in arts and crafts. I also met my husband during this period. Yet all of this was not enough to heal the internalized anger, the disappointment, the sadness and the pain inside of me, from having come face to face with racism and sexism, from experiencing again the lack of recognition and acknowledgment from my childhood. The safe niche that I believed I had in the workplace and society was gone, the truth of my internalized low self-esteem revealed such that I was not even safe at home or with myself. It has taken me two years of concerted effort to heal and I will have to continue to work on my recovery every day, one day at a time. I have a sign at my home that says, "Walk in Beauty," from Navajo prayers that focus on being in harmony with beauty above, below, and around us. I had it made to put me back in contact with my heritage and to give me strength each day from that heritage. Now it is a reminder of the way I want to live.
Women and Self-esteem by Linda Tschirart Sanford and Mary Ellen
I simply had no self-esteem. I felt as I had no safe niche in the world. I felt as if I had been gang raped from my experiences of racism and sexism. Wherever I turned I felt that I faced these issues. I could not run away from my race or my sex and the sense that I did not belong on an equal footing in my world hurt. I so wanted to experience achievement, recognition and advancement. The lack of recognition and acknowledgment I perceived in the workplace keyed into these issues from my childhood. Having been raised in a dysfunctional family where they were absent, I felt betrayed by my company when in the workplace I experienced these same issues.
The feeling that I was not the person I used to be, that the confidence and the well being I had experienced in the past had been lost along the way, was eating me up inside. I was also not sure of who I wanted to be. It is easier said than done to try to regain or gain self-esteem, to figure out who you want to be.
My first task though was to understand self-esteem and to internalize what it was theoretically even though I did not yet feel it. I read Sanford and Donovan's book several times. I did the exercises to understand my family history, my family themes, and the messages I had received from my family and society through the media, institutions such as schools, the business world, churches, and the public regarding my race and my sex.
Sanford's and Donovan's premise was that the sense of oppression and the messages of not being as valuable due to gender, also applied to minorities. Once I could make contact with the messages that I had received and internalized about being less valuable, I could then begin to counteract them with affirming statements about myself, my race and my gender.
I had lost a sense of significance because I felt like a second class citizen because of my race and secondarily because of my sex. I did not have a sense of identity or a sense of worth. Through experiences of exclusion by the dominant group, I felt isolated. I doubted my self-worth and I was hurt by the exclusion. One example of this came when I was in college taking Urban Economics. A student had asked me join her study group. She apparently had not cleared it with her group though because the next day she had to come and withdraw the offer. She could not look me in the face and she gave no explanation for the change. She seemed uncomfortable. I was hurt by the exclusion and wanted to scream out, I am capable, I am a good student. I got a 98 in the class, not to show them I was capable but because I was. Another example was in a Law School class where the professor would dwell upon my name and say it very, very slowly, each time he called on me. My last name then reflected my Native heritage.
As a minority employee, I felt a strong need to prove myself, to be acceptable in appearance, not just performance, not only on my own part, but also my family. We had to be "perfect." When we went to the Legal Department picnic each year, I felt a very strong urge to look right, to act right, to be right. We couldn't just be. This unconscious urge to fit in was communicated to my family and resulted in a sense of shame in my children.
My sense of competence had been undermined by self-doubt and by the doubt of others. I had a supervisor who would leave work on my desk with a note saying, "let's see if you can handle this." I then felt as if I had to prove myself, versus there being an assumption of my competence. When I was assigned to a new position I knew that I would have to work to be accepted, but once they saw that I was good at what I did I would be accepted for my performance. I knew many times that I would not be accepted as a person. I learned to go slow, to give them time to accept me. I knew that if I had been male, was in their age group, played golf, was in their social class, and was of the same race, it would have been easier because they would feel more comfortable with someone like themselves. I could sense the disappointment at times in a client having received me as their attorney.
The sense of connectedness that I longed to have to others was also shaken by the experiences of racism and sexism in the workplace. I wanted to believe that I had a place in the world, was valuable, and that I could fit into any environment. When my sense of connectedness was shattered, I felt a strong urge to reestablish it, to reconnect myself to other people. My reconnection though was different than what it was before because I had lost my innocence and my naiveté knowing that others did not necessarily believe that I had an equal place. It was made more difficult because of what I had experienced being public information in part. I felt like a pariah, that I was a political outcast, that people would not want to associate with me, that they were afraid of me, distanced from me. I kept myself isolated from them and this alienation caused me loneliness and pain.
The sense of realism that is part of self-esteem would come over time as I began to understand and accept that child abuse, racism and sexism in our society are real and that I do not need to be afraid of them, nor am I to blame for them. I do not need to feel guilty or responsible if coworkers are afraid to interact with me because I will "slam dunk" them if they say something inappropriate. The real truth is that until recently I have been afraid to say anything because of my childhood values that still remind me to be good, to be quiet, to do what I am told, and to not say anything about another person unless it's positive.
To make it less threatening and to support myself on my journey, I begin to keep a diversity notebook for myself, clipping articles on racism and sexism from newspapers which helped me to understand the pervasiveness and the realness of these issues. I had grown up with and had given my children the sense that racism and sexism didn't really exist if you were competent, that as long as a person worked hard and had merit racism and sexism wouldn't be a reality. This simply isn't true. As I have come to understand racism and sexism intellectually and emotionally, I am gaining a new freedom. I am able to detach myself from the problems others have regarding my race and my sex and to feel comfortable within myself. This could not have come without reading about and discussing women and minority issues. I no longer feel that I am creating the problem or that I am the problem or that I can cure the problem. It takes away part of the blame, the guilt and the shame which I have carried within myself.
The coherent set of ethics and values necessary to self-esteem took me time to develop. I could not even begin to focus on what my values were until I had done substantial work in a number of different areas, before I reestablished my self-esteem. I did not even know what my values were. Yet I know now that values are the underpinning to self-esteem, that living congruently with one's values is the core of self-esteem.
Areas of Self-Esteem
This significance component of self-esteem also involved other people. It made me look at how I related to other people and whether I was significant to anyone. Friendship and intimacy had not been role modeled in my family so I had to work at learning how to trust, and how to nurture friendships.
Every now and then I wander off the path of my recovery and question the value of my life as just a person on this earth. While it is important to know what our assets are, I hope that each of us can feel that we bring value to the world by just being, not tied to any skills, accomplishments, or validation by others.
The question of competence required my gaining a belief and reestablishing a belief in myself which I would not allow others to shake. If people wanted to test me by finding out whether I could handle something versus assuming that I could handle it, I would depersonalize their approach and see it as their problem. I would realize that it was an aspect of their personality that I did not need to incorporate. If someone was disappointed that I would be assigned to them, I would go slow, recognizing this as a part of reality, but not something I needed to internalize as a reflection of my worth. Once I understood that these were personality characteristics of the other person, apart from a problem related to myself, I could then take on the responsibility myself to increase my skills and to take pride in my efforts. I could affirm myself; I could give myself recognition for my performance; and, I could protect myself from the negative behavior of others that I had no control over. It became very helpful to me to acknowledge the negative behavior to myself, identify the behavior, label it, and then determine how I could protect myself. I determined how I would behave and what I would and would not tolerate. For a minority and a woman this is very hard to do, the threat to our job security must be overcome.
In my pursuit of my identity and my self-esteem, I decided I wanted to find a way to connect to other people, not only Indian people, not only Hispanic people, not only Black people, but all people. I believe that this is possible and it can be done as we accept each other as our unique selves. I decorated my home with Indian art; I started studying Spanish; and, I took photography and creative writing to begin writing about my heritage. I put together a book of the reading I had done in the areas of personal growth to share with others.
Low self-esteem has high costs. Psychological scarring results from the loss of self-esteem as a result of racism and sexism. It can lead to alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and suicide. It is important that employers understand this so they take positive steps to counteract it. The shame, ridicule, labeling behavior, and punishment that are a part of racism and sexism need to be acknowledged so they can be educated against. It is simply inhumane to ask that people because of their birth must be pariahs in society and pariahs in the workplace.
I have a picture of the sea in my office to remind me to keep my mouth shut, to not make excuses, and to not give advice. I hum the song, "By the sea, by the sea, oh how happy we will be," to remind myself of what a gift silence can be.
Women are also supposed to be unselfish and of service. We live to give. This means setting aside our own agenda, at home, in the workplace and in the community. And what are women supposed to do: we are supposed to make relationships work, to be competent without complaint. According to Bepko and Kristan, "the Code of Goodness keeps us focused on what other people think, want, or need. Any impulse to act in our own interest leaves us feeling anxious, guilty and ashamed. We end up wanting to fulfill society's prescriptions because of guilt and shame." As they further state, "When we are slighted at a meeting or passed over for a job, when we are sexually harassed or abused, when we are told in countless ways who we are doesn't count because we aren't male, we get the message that we are less valuable than a man; that something is wrong with us. We forget to remind ourselves of our own worth. We sink into a state that we aren't even aware of. It's a state that we call basic female shame." (Bepko, 42)
"We compensate for this shame by doing too much for others, assuming that the more we do, the more valued we will be. We compensate for this shame by becoming silent participants in life, fearful of expressing what we truly feel and who we truly are. The silence that expresses shame is most powerful and most damaging when we fail to speak up for our rights and when we fail to talk about the fact that our rights have been violated. Ironically, one of the dominant reactions of women who have been sexually abused or battered is to become silent and to fail to speak about it. They hold inside a belief that somehow they are responsible for their own abuse. They feel so shamed by having been abused that they silence and thus shame themselves further with their secret." (Bepko, 52) "Ultimately our shame is only as deep as our secretiveness about it." (Bepko, 56)
This reading made me realize how important it is to start defining ourselves, to not look at what society says we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to do. It is critical to being healthy to make those own definitions for oneself.
Bepko and Kristan's guidelines to counteract these social prescriptions were as follows: to be comfortable, to be direct, to be responsive, to be nurturing and to be firm. I found healing in their analysis that "the more we go inward in the search for wholeness and self definition, the more we want to be deeply connected to others. As we become less concerned with being good and right, the more we want others to know and accept us as we are. As we become engaged with other people, we learn we are more similar than different."
This message has come through loud and clear for me as I have proceeded on my journey, each step along the way adding to my sense of wholeness and self-definition. These initial readings in psychology and in understanding myself have led me to put together a collage of myself, a dream for myself. This dream involves an understanding of my cultures and an acceptance of myself as having a place in the world along with everyone else. It may seem hard for the dominant group to understand, but as a minority there is a sense that somehow you do not have an equal place in the world. You do not stand on the same footing as other people with a place upon this earth as yourself, not having to be what someone else thinks you should be or ought to be. I am coming in touch with myself, with my own voice, and articulating that voice.
This is Who I Am
I believe it is important to be assertive not only because it allows for misunderstanding to be avoided, withdrawing from other people due to anger, hurting other people unnecessarily and spending energy nonproductively, but because it is necessary to wholeness and well being. Non-assertive behavior is self-destructive. You will take home with you the nonassertive behavior you practice in the workplace and the illness and self-destructiveness will contaminate your family, and the people you hold most dear. Employers must allow for and relish assertiveness in their employees.
Racism/Recovery from Self-Alienation
This guide has: my mission, my values, my roles, my personal, family, financial and professional goals, my skills and accomplishments, my family history and family themes, self-improvement ideas, and my dream. It has material on the issues that have impacted my life: alcoholism, racism, sexism, self-esteem, intimacy, codependency, assertiveness, managing conflict, criticism, stress, and discrimination, the Covey principles, and cognitive behavior thinking.
I no longer want to have to be better, to be something I can't define just because I feel insignificant. I no longer want to feel ashamed, self-conscious, fearful, anxious, insecure, and as if I am to blame for something. I am not to blame for my existence and our society must welcome each member wholly and joyfully so that no person must feel to blame for being. I no longer want to feel intimidated by Anglos, as if they are better than I am because they have blonde hair and blue eyes and are valued by this society over me. I don't want to have to prove myself by studying harder, working harder, looking better, being better, living in a better neighborhood, meeting standards that apply only to minorities which are impossible to achieve, in an effort to feel okay. This need in itself, to feel okay, is recognition of the illness of being a minority, which is created and fostered by a society that is unwilling to recognize each of us as equal and having a place in this universe.
I now want to reach out and help when asked because I know the journey is hard at times for each of us. I want to share what I have learned about childhood abuse, racism and sexism and healing and hope that in so doing I learn from others about their personal journey as they seek and find self-love, acceptance and hope.