Sunday, January 27, 2013

Learning about self-esteem

As part of my "Be Strong" project, I’ve challenged myself to read at least one book each month that deals with an aspect of inner strength such as confidence, communication skills, dealing with difficult people or circumstances, self-knowledge, willpower, etc. My January read was Gloria Steinem’s book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem.

Motivation for reading:
According to the book's jacket Gloria Steinem wrote Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem after searching for books about self-esteem, but found none that welcomed both women and men or included both the personal and political contexts that can foster or crush self-esteem. After beginning her own book, she gradually realized that “we teach what we need to learn and write what we need to know.”

Interesting, since that is exactly what I've been doing here on this blog - teaching what I need to learn and writing about what I need to know. I was intrigued and eager to learn more about attaining self-esteem and to hear what Steinem had to say about strength.

What I learned from Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem:
Steinem begins her self-esteem journey around the age of 40 when she finally connects her current low self-esteem to her past. She makes this connection while researching the life of Marilyn Monroe for a series of essays she was writing on Marilyn's life.

In Hugh Missildine’s book Your Inner Child of the Past Steinem reads:

The most common sins and excesses of child rearing - overindulgence, neglect, perfectionism, sexual abuse and so on manifests itself later in life. Steinem was particularly interested in the aspect of neglect. Marilyn Monroe had been so neglected that as a little girl she believed she was invisible. Only the early maturing of her body and the attention it attracted made her feel “visible” and convinced her that she did indeed exist.  It was this division between an internal, worthless self and an external, sexually valuable self that would haunt her for the rest of her short life. Missildine’s text described some of the typical results of the kind of neglect Marilyn had experienced: a lifelong search for nurturing, wanting to belong yet feeling a perpetual outsider, trying to make fathers out of husbands and lovers, using sex to get childlike warmth and approval, and neglecting one’s own welfare because neglect feels familiar, like home. (PG. 35 and 36)
Steinem explores her own childhood realizing she was repeating the painful, familiar patterns of home in her own life:

Each of us has an inner child of the past living within us.  Those who needed to build no walls have access to that child’s creativity and spontaneity.  Those who had to leave this crucial core behind can tear down the walls, see what the child needed but didn’t have, and begin to provide it now.  The more we do this the more we know that we are worth it. 
And that we always were. (PG. 39)

Steinem provides a guide to discovering our true selves:  
No matter who we are, the journey toward recovering the self-esteem that should have been our birthright follows similar steps:

1.    A first experience of seeing through our eyes instead of through the eyes of others.  (For instance, the moment when a woman stops being defined by the male gaze.)

2.    Telling what seemed to be shameful secrets, and discovering they are neither shameful nor secret.

3.    Giving names to problems that have been treated as normal and have no names (think of new terms like homophobia, battered women or Euro centrism).

4.    Bonding with others who share similar experiences.

5.    Achieving empowerment and self-government.

6.    Bonding with others of shared powers.

7.    Achieving a balance of independence and self-government.

8.    Taking one’s place in a circle of true selves.

Steinem shares the biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi who was born into a caste of grocers in India, had little self-esteem for most of his early life yet manages to go on to find true strength.  He spent half his life trying to live as a false self, found his strength only when he followed an inner voice, he then taught by example and worked to unite people across boundaries.

Bottom line:
This book does not read like your typical self-help book, but it does include so much information I had difficulty processing all of it in one reading.  Perhaps this is a book I will need to re-read in a year or two. I enjoyed the references and analysis made to characters from books Steinem has read including Celie from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and the strength comparison she made between Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Her meditation guide is a helpful resource and the section describing how meditation can help reshape our past was enlightening.  I also came up with my word for 2013 – wholeness:
Steinem includes a list she received from Donna Jensen, her friend and expert on how we relate to one another – in couples, families, and organizations - listing “masculine” extreme personality traits, wholeness traits and “feminine” extreme traits.  Steinem writes:
When the choice is so clear, who wouldn’t say yes to a whole self in the center? (Pg. 268)
I revisit this list as I feel my thoughts and actions veering too far towards either the masculine or feminine extreme.  Focusing on "wholeness" does help me stay centered.

Overall I felt the book was an excellent choice for the first read of my "BE Strong" reading challenge. The Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Hugh Missildine’s book Your Inner Child of the Past would make excellent companion reads along with a Marilyn Monroe biography as a contrast read. 

Do you have any future books or topics suggestions for my Be Strong Reading Challenge?   Have you read a book on self-esteem you would like to recommend?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
How to be more confident at work

Interview with Gloria Steinem

A perfect book for women's history month


  1. Hi, I'm going to suggest Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear again. I just read it a second time, and it's very empowering stuff.

    Also, a novel titled Burning the Map, which doesn't end the way most chick lit novels do, but is a much better read for it.

  2. What a great thing to do just for you that will end up helping those around you as well! I don't really have a suggestion, but I just wanted wish you great luck in your journey! What a great word for the year! (Visiting from SITS)

  3. I agree that Steinheim can be difficult to digest. Keep looking, you will find what you need. Visiting from Sharefest.

  4. Maria,
    You have convinced me Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear is going to be my next read. I am also adding Burning the Map to my reading list. I will let you know what I think.

  5. Thanks Melissa. My ultimate goal is to create a community of women that can support each other.

  6. Sheila,
    I actually enjoyed the book while reading it. When I sat down to write the review I didn't know where to start - so much information.