Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Dear Neil: I am going to be 45, and I can’t seem to move past my issues. I basically feel I am not good enough.

I was a baby when my parents divorced. My initial issues with not being good enough started when my father would say that he was coming to visit, and then not show. Of course, I would cry every time. I remember having constant feelings that if I wasn’t on my best behavior, my father wouldn’t want to see me. At age 4, my mother and I moved in with her parents. I knew my grandparents loved me, but no matter what I did, I was always getting in trouble and getting yelled at.

When I was 7, my mother remarried. My stepfather was abusive, both emotionally and physically. I would be told almost on a daily basis that I was ugly and disgusting in one form or another. “Your face looks like a Mack truck hit it.” I was back-handed constantly, and kicked in the face for having hair hang in my eyes. I was regularly told: “If you want some lovin’, you have to earn it.” I grew up in fear, and sometimes in pure terror. I was severely depressed by the age of 10, and wished daily that I had never been born. I also felt utterly abandoned by my mother.

I picked men that didn’t love me. My first husband ignored me and wanted nothing to do with me—until he felt like it. My second husband was a narcissist just like my stepfather, and he cheated constantly. He made me feel exactly the same way I felt as a child—like an expendable, unlovable piece of garbage.

No matter what I try to do, I can’t lose how I feel about myself. Can you help?

Feeling Very Low Self-Regard

Dear Feeling Low: Although you can’t change your childhood or your past, you can assist yourself in feeling better about you. You do this by focusing more on your positives than on the negatives, because when you do so, you will recognize that you are more lovable and worthwhile than you are giving yourself credit for.

In which situations have you demonstrated great social skills? What do you like about your appearance? When have you been a good friend? A good sibling? A good wife or girlfriend? A good “child” to your parents? A good mother? Where does your creativity show itself? What do you offer another person in a romantic relationship? When have you been courageous? With whom have you behaved with compassion or kindness? When have you acted with full honor and integrity? Are you able to act with light-heartedness, humor and playfulness?

If you were to look at what you do right, where you are kind-hearted, generous and gracious, and what you respect about yourself, you will come to an appreciation that you are way more likable, lovable and valuable than you have been thinking. All I am suggesting is that you change your focus from what’s wrong about you—to what’s right about you, what’s good about you and what’s valuable about your words, actions and behaviors.

I will continue this discussion about improving your self-esteem in next week’s column.

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