You are visiting a Virtual Museum that honors all
Native American cultures and traditions

Location: The Internet



The Museum's mission is to advance and share the experience and knowledge of what has happened in the past and what this has meant for Native peoples today; to preserve the memory of those who died or suffered; to offer comfort, support, encouragement and understanding; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the need for dignity of and respect among all peoples.

You are invited to explore this Virtual Museum at your leisure and visit us frequently.

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


Page Contents:

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.

Top of Page

Excerpts from Women and Self-esteem by Linda Tschirart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan
"We want self-esteem because it increases our chance for happiness in life and makes it possible to cope with life's disappointments and changes. We need self-esteem because nothing is as important to psychological well being. Our level of self-esteem affects virtually everything we think, say and do. It affects how we see the world and our place in it. It affects how others in the world see and treat us. It affects the choices we make choices about what we will do with our lives and with whom we will be involved. It affects our ability to both give and receive love. And it affects our ability to take action to change things that need to be changed. If a woman has an insufficient amount of self-esteem, she will not be able to act in her own best interest. And if a woman has no self-esteem at all, she will become overwhelmed, immobile, and eventually will 'give up.'" (Page 3).

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.

Top of Page

Self-Esteem's Components
According to Sanford and Donovan, the essentials of self-esteem include (i) a sense of significance, (ii) a sense of competence, (iii) a sense of connectedness to others balanced by a sense of separateness from them, (iv) a sense of realism about ourselves and the world, and (v) a coherent set of ethics and values. Each of these areas of my self-esteem had been impacted by my abuse as a child, racism and sexism.

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.

Top of Page

Developing Areas of Self-Esteem
A sense of significance can come not only from within us but from those around us. This is an area that became important to me to develop. It was very hard to generate a list of my assets which might make me feel significant. So I instead listed my specific physical, mental, social and emotional skills and accomplishments. It was from this and other work that I was later able to come up with a list of my assets.

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.

Top of Page

The next area that I focused on in my journey was being able to establish an intimate relationship with another person. This doesn't only involve one's spouse, it involves friends as well. In the "Dance of Intimacy" by Harriet Lerner, intimacy is defined as follows: Intimacy means that we can be who we are in a relationship and allow another person to do the same. It requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship. It is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way. Thus intimacy allows one to really know themselves, to develop themselves, and to be connected to another human being. This strength can then be taken outside the relationship to be shared with others, in the workplace, in society, in the community, etc. It allows one to experience the uniqueness of another human being as no other relationship can. It requires continually focusing on the self, understanding the self, communicating honestly based on an understanding of self, and having a propound respect for differences between the self and others. It requires courage so that one does not run away from conflict. Intimacy allows for autonomy, for trust, for respect, and for self-enhancement that foster personal growth and connectedness.

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.

Top of Page

As I continued healing part of my journey involved reading "Too Good For Her Own Good" by Claudia Bepko and Jo-Ann Kristan, analyzing the code of acceptable behavior dictated to women by society: how we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to be attractive - a woman is only as good as she looks. We are supposed to be a lady - a good woman stays in control. This means to not be competitive, loud or aggressive, to not be angry or argue, to back down, to not challenge or show strong emotion or seek power. This means to be calm, kind, patient, to sooth the egos of others while controlling or submerging one's own. If not, the person is overreacting or "too much of something": hysterical, crazy, serious, intense, demanding, threatening, etc. (Bepko, 9)

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.

Top of Page

Assertion, This is Who I Am
The next area my healing focused on was assertiveness: expressing who I am openly, directly and spontaneously. I read Self-Assertion for Women by Pamela E. Butler. I cannot begin to tell you what a difficult task this is and how important it is to the integrity of a person. It is important to be the same person inside and outside and this can only be done, this congruence of values and action, by being assertive. I can now tell you what assertiveness is, that it is an expression of positive feelings, negative feelings, setting limits and initiative. I know that the obstacles to assertiveness are a lack of awareness, anxiety and negative self-talk. I know that it is important to support one's self in becoming assertiveness and to establish a support group to assure that one doesn't back slide because of the incredible anxiety and catastrophizing one can go though in being assertive and in remaining firm in face of the backlash experienced.

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.

Top of Page

Dialogue: Racism/Recovery from Self-Alienation
My healing on racism was furthered by Dialogue: Racism, a seminar sponsored by the Center for the Healing of Racism. The messages that I took away from Dialogue: Racism are that racism is real, that one does not need to be afraid of it, and that it is as important to understand it as it is to be an ally against it. It is not until now though, a year after having completed Dialogue: Racism, that I have internalized its powerful message of self-acceptance on an equal footing with everyone else. I am valuable in my own right and I may claim my own culture and my own heritage.

Top of Page

Covey Training
The Legal Department sponsored participation for each of us in a five day Covey seminar focusing on the seven "Covey" habits. This seminar was extremely beneficial to me. It is important to emphasize that part of the growth envisioned through applying the Covey principles does not occur immediately, it is over time. Over time, I have articulated and written down my values, my roles, and my personal, family, professional and financial goals. When I feel threatened by my new behavior I turn to my value list to see if what I am doing is in accord with my values and then I can be at peace knowing that I am doing what is important to me - being true to myself. As Covey said, "You do not so much invent your mission as detect it." It is only through thinking and rethinking, and rediscovering myself, that I have begun to ascertain what that mission is.

Top of Page

Travel to Europe, Africa and Indonesia during this period of evaluation furthered my growth. I kept journals that I shared with coworkers and I developed an interest in photojournalism. The different peoples and cultures I experienced enhanced my belief in the inherent value of each of us in this world, on this planet.

Top of Page

The classes I've taken have contributed immensely to my understanding of myself. Photography allowed for my creativity, my discovery of my desire to share my love for the quiet and solitude in nature with others, and the articulation of my voice. I am studying Spanish and writing stories of my heritage. I plan to study Navajo. For fun I took scuba classes and quilting classes also. The quilting is allowing me to reconnect with my Mom since she loves sewing.

Top of Page

Painful Experiences
One of the more difficult experiences during this time period was the Women's Focus Group which was held over a two-day period to discuss women's experiences within the Legal Department. Many women stated that they believed they had been discriminated against based on their gender. It was disappointing to face this from a company that I believed in, that was a part of me. It was also devaluing to have my experiences labeled by my supervisor to me, after the meeting, as "insignificant." The aftermath of this experience in my view was a defensiveness and an entrenchment on the part of management, disavowing that they were a part of the problem or the solution. In fact, at the required seminar "Men and Women Working Together," a fellow attorney, reported me to his supervisor for saying this in a private conversation with the seminar leader during a break. We had agreed to maintain each other's confidence in going into this seminar. I am just glad I was out of town for the Minority Focus Group.

Top of Page

I begin to keep a daily journal to evaluate my experiences and to try and learn how to become more aware of others and to reflect on how I handled situations and how I might be more effective in dealing with conflict, criticism, stress and discrimination.

Top of Page

Recovery Manual
As part of my healing I created a guide, "Walk in Beauty." In the Navajo culture, beauty is harmony. I wanted this harmony restored in my life. I wanted to journey to the holy places of the Navajo and to be blessed. I wanted to be reconnected to myself and to others.

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.

Top of Page

My Husband
My husband, from another ethnicity and country, has been a gift to me, as I learn through him to value my individuality and to reclaim my cultural heritage, just as I value him and his culture.

Top of Page

This has been a difficult area for me. I find that I want friends that are not prejudiced against anyone, that respect each person. It is not okay to accept me because I am Native American, but to not accept blacks. It is not okay to make fun of waitresses because of status and gender differences. It is not okay to tolerate discrimination. I want to avoid being judgmental but at the same time I want to surround myself with people who respect others, so I find that I am having to let go of some friends as I embrace others.

Top of Page

Self-Acceptance and Love
I now accept and love myself and know that this is fundamental to change. I gave myself a paperweight with hearts inside that I shake each day to remind myself that I love myself, that I accept myself. I had to repeat it hundreds of times as I jogged to internalize it. I still lose this self-love every now and then and have to reaffirm myself again and start again, yet I am finding I do not lose my centeredness for as long as I would in the past. I now know my relapse signals when I am losing my balance and harmony and I ask for help. I have a photo of a fulcrum to remind me of the value of balance in my life.

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.

Top of Page

My Journey, Part II
I didn't expect to take the route I followed in my recovery. They say we are tested by the unexpected and this is true.

Top of Page