I want to write about a friend of mine–although this friend isn’t a real person. I am taking bits and pieces of several friends to create this portrait. Some reading it might recognize some of the picture but it really isn’t you, at least not you directly. The parts you recognize and claim as well as the parts you don’t recognize are drawn from a lot of different people. It’s sort of like I am using a bunch of different coloured lego blocks to create my picture.
Anyway, this friend (who doesn’t really exist in reality) is a very capable person. They are not only good at what they do but good enough at it that they don’t need to brag or try to impress people. My friend is comfortable to be around in good times and a real help is difficult times. I enjoy having coffee and breaks with them–and as an indication of how much I enjoy it, I am sometimes willing to break out of my comfortable introverted ruts and initiate time together.
I assume and hope that you know people like this–people who are the “salt of the earth”, “give you the shirt off their back”, “a ray of sunshine” or whatever well worn but powerfully descriptive cliché you prefer to describe them. Coffee tastes better in their company; conversation flows smoother, jokes are funnier, tears are less threatening when we are with them. All of us need at least one friend like this–and I have been blessed with many.
But lurking in the background of this friend is a major blob of darkness. Most people don’t get to see it–well, in truth, most people don’t want to see it. But because of my training, my pastoral experience and probably because of my sometimes perverse way of looking at things, I see the darkness. Often, my friend doesn’t even see it.
But the darkness is there and once I see it, I also begin to see how its negative effects on an otherwise positive person. The clues are sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring. It may be my friend who is a good preacher being afraid that he/she isn’t a good enough preacher. It may be the very caring and appropriate helper being afraid that what they are doing isn’t good enough or isn’t enough. It may be the person who appears so confident confesses to feeling inadequate all the time.
In short, my friend lives with the darkness and heaviness of low self-esteem. No matter what I and others may think of them, they think they are inadequate and not good enough. No matter how much good they do and how much others appreciate them and what they do, they carry around a sense that not only is what they do not good enough but also that they themselves are not good enough.
Now, to be fair, all of us likely have days and moments when we are pretty sure that we aren’t good enough. When I was repairing the clothes dryer went pipe the other day, I was pretty sure after the third trip to the hardware store, the second mini-tantrum and the first cut that I wasn’t really a good enough handyman for this task. But this isn’t the kind of thing my friend is dealing with.
My friend is dealing with a deep-down, embedded personal awareness that they simply don’t measure up. As a pastoral counsellor, I can generally understand where that feeling comes from–these deep-seated feelings of inadequacy are generally laid down early in life by events and people close to my friend. But knowing why the darkness of lack of self-love is there really doesn’t fix the problem. It doesn’t take away the suffering and lack of peace that my friend lives with, the terror of wondering what will happen if someone finds out what they are really like.
As I mentioned, my friend is fictional–but not all that fictional. There is probably some of this darkness in all of us but those in whom the darkness resides permanently and deeply suffer in ways that the rest of us can’t really comprehend. For some reason, I can often see this darkness and the suffering and struggle.
And as a result, for many years, I have been trying to find ways to bring some light to this darkness. In the end, I want my friends to like themselves at least as much as I like them. It would be better if they could go beyond this, but that is a start–and so next time I post, I will look at some light for this darkness.
May the peace of God be with you.