Why Does My Self-Esteem Fluctuate So Much?

Codependency destroys relationships, causes distress, and can even kill!  I once knew of a woman who kept putting off a much needed surgery to care for her father.  When he died it was too late for her surgery.  Taking care of others, worrying about others' feelings and needs before your own, can be a form of codependency.  Pia Mellody, in her groundbreaking bestseller and through years of research and clinical experience, details symptoms of codependency. Codependent individuals typically express:

  1. Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem
  2. Difficulty setting functional boundaries
  3. Difficulty owning and expressing one’s own reality
  4. Difficulty taking care of adult needs and wants
  5. Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s own reality moderately.

How do people develop codependent personalities? 

The natural characteristics of a child are that they are valuable, vulnerable, imperfect, dependent and immature.  Functional families acknowledge a child’s feelings even if they are different from their own; they set rules and consistently abide by them; they have healthy boundaries and are appropriate with physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional and behavioral interactions. 

In healthy families, there is no shaming when a child makes a mistake or isn’t perfect.  In dysfunctional families where these belief systems do not exist, a child grows up believing they are "less than" or "better than" others; they become too vulnerable or invulnerable; rebellious or perfect; too dependent or independent; unable to articulate clearly one's needs and desires; and either extremely immature or controlling.

When a child is confused it affects their self-esteem.  People with low self-esteem have difficulty valuing their thoughts and opinions and doubt their reality.  They put the needs and wants of others before their own.  When a child’s reality is not validated or mirrored they look to others for validation.  They become outer-directed:  focusing on what other people need for them to be.

People with poor boundaries have trouble being assertive in relationships or may be overly-controlling.  They find it difficult to express themselves with others and experience the feelings and needs of others as personal attacks or criticism.  In general, these relationships suffer on many levels.  

The path to healthy relationships

Recovery from codependency can be painful at first but it will not go away on its own.  Patients who struggle with codependency issues often come into therapy very worried about being criticized and judged.  Trusting a professional or any authority figure takes time.   Our work together sorting through and processing these early wounds can lead to greater clarity and improved self-esteem. Setting functional emotional boundaries with others is an important tool in recovery from codependency.  Healing the wounds of childhood and recognizing how a personality and a mode of adaptation occurs is also part of the process in recovery.   Therapy can work on exploring what is real and what is a fantasized version of reality.  Remember, children who grow up in homes where their feelings are not validated doubt their perceptions and intuition resulting in not knowing the difference between a healthy relationship or a toxic relationship.  Relaxation techniques and guided imagery are useful tools in this process as well.  The goal is to free you up from that prison of self-doubt and self-criticism.  No more harsh judgments!