Masks, Transitions and the return of Self-Esteem

[Written by Steve Melio; posted by JZ]

I was talking about grief in my last post, and how I was stuck in it for months until it turned to anger. Anger can be healthy if it energizes you and puts you back on the path. That’s what happened for me. It wasn’t anger directed at a person, but rather anger at the seeming unfairness of my marriage coming apart.

In the Rebuilding exercises on “transitions,” I started by making a list of the things I wanted to leave behind as I moved forward, and the things I wanted to preserve. On the leave-behind list, I put “shame-based grief” as #1, followed by a bunch of my counter-productive behaviors that contributed to the problems in my marriage. I don’t want to get into those here, but a lot of it is stuff I acquired in childhood, and I’ll probably be wrestling with it for years to come.

The preserve list was a pleasant surprise. With that cleansing, energizing anger came some restored perspective. There were things about me – good things – that I was happy with and wanted to preserve… Humor. A sense of wonder about the world. A sensual nature. Loyalty, creativity, intuition and much more. It wasn’t at all hard to fill the preserve side of the ledger, and that was the pleasant surprise. My self esteem was back after taking a long, long sabbatical. I was a worthy person again. Heady stuff!

(By the way, don’t think that all the Rebuilding lessons happen in a classroom. I’m starting to attend more of the social events for Rebuilders, and my fellow classmates are a tremendous support network, and a ton of fun! We’ve shared personal stories & insights with each other, so I’m closer to them than I am with some of my old friends. And a few of my Rebuilder buddies keep urging me to learn salsa dancing with them, so if they succeed… well, that would an amazing achievement, given the shy guy I am.)

Back to the classroom: Some of the transition exercises weren’t as much fun for me. I didn’t really understand the Three Stages of Adulthood (“Shell,” “Rebel” and “Love”), perhaps because it depended heavily on remembering what you were doing & feeling at various stages in your life, on different fronts. My memory just wasn’t up to the task; I couldn’t remember the milestones. My memory has always been an embarrassment to me, with more holes than swiss cheese. I sometimes wonder if my flying headfirst through the windshield of a school bus at age 10 might have had anything to do with that.

Anyway, the exercise on Masks was better, although a bit sobering. Masks are roles that we play in life that don’t serve us well. Looking at a long list of masks, I easily picked out several that I’m apparently fond of – Depressed. Judgmental. The Rebel. The Intellectual. The Joker. Enough roles for several curtain calls…

This year, I added the role of Dumpee. I think that’s a mask that has kept me from looking closely at my role in the decline of my marriage. So now I’ve started reading some of those ‘psychobabble’ books I’ve always resisted. It’s probably too late for introspection to save my marriage, but maybe for my next love relationship…

The next Rebuilding class focuses on Self Esteem. I’ve made a good start at recovering mine, but there’s still plenty of work I can do in that area. Let’s get started. With the support of my new friends in Rebuilding, that’s not as intimidating as it once was.

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