Marriage and Self Esteem

Marriage exposes self esteem “unfinished business.” And I’ve always learned a fundamental factor that can help heal a broken self esteem in marriage.

Celia, a wife of a millionaire CEO, suffered from a deep sense of very low self worth. One of the psychologically sickest patients I’d ever encountered, she avoided speaking to people or even looked at another’s eyes. She’s obsessed serving her husband, doing house chores for him as well as their children. She’s too overweight and had no inclination to eat well, exercise, and take care of her self.

After over a year of therapy with her husband, as she was about to leave our session, she said, “Thank you for caring, Doc. You’re amazing to me!,” looking at my eyes. After that, she began to get well. She showed progressive gains in her health, dressing, and social relationships. She joined a gym and started a medically-supervised exercise program. Her relationship with her husband got improved too by cultivating new patterns of self-care.

In the healing of mentally disturbed patients, I’ve discovered that any psychology method makes little difference. This, to me, is a single most important factor in effective psychotherapy: affirmation and emotional connection. Such is a non-traditional for analysts who usually learned to maintain “clinical distance.” In my work with Celia, it’s the sharing of heart and spirit and appropriate intimacy which she finally acknowledged when she said, “Thank you for caring, doc. You’re amazing to me!”

I’m reminded of Dr. Conrad Baars, a psychiatrist who shared an insight on this in his book “Born Only Once.” Dr Baars writes that all of us have been born once – physically. Then, he added that many of us never had our second or “psychic birth,” because no one has affirmed us. I see most people in our culture and families have not had their goodness revealed to them by another who loves them unconditionally. Most emotional wounds are commonly rooted to a lack of affirmation.

Affirmation can mean a difference between life and death in marriage. In fact, it holds true in all human relationships. For a most severely unaffirmed spouse whose sense of self worth is so low, it may come down to very simple things like a spontaneous smile or warm hug. Such simple things can have the power to fuel basic sources for rebuilding self esteem and wholeness.

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