I am on an emotional roller-coaster

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Since high school I have had a very low self-esteem. I sometimes just stare into the mirror for an hour just observing my flaws and feeling like a total gross 19-year-old girl. But the funny thing is that one day I would feel like the most ugliest person in the world who doesn’t deserve anything…and the next day I would be happy and satisfied with the way looked. This is a continuing cycle that I cannot stop and it is making me very depressed. From elation and appreciation for life to feeling pathetic and worthless…it keeps going on and on and on.

My self-esteem in the past has been so low to the point that I would not look into people’s eyes when talking to them, with the exception of my school friends. I would always avoid big social groups and be the quiet one in the corner.

I have also been hurt in the past when guys would prefer my attractive friend compared to me, which led to me to create this imaginary world in my head where I am the prettiest.

I do this very often. Create these movie-like fantasies in my head to relieve the pain of not having these physical attributes or my desires in reality. I can sit for hours just imagining. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I also have a very small group of friends. And this bothers me as my other friends are invited to parties and have boyfriends and enjoying the prime of their age and life…while I am just at home. Sometimes I feel pathetic and jealous. Me not having a boyfriend also fuels this feeling of worthlessness. My friends would talk among themselves about the issues of relationships and it makes me feel horrible.

On the days that I do feel slightly confident and happy I make a real effort to make friends at college and during class…however I feel like a total awkward fool afterwards because speaking to new people always makes me feel uncomfortable.

My brother is always teasing me that I do not have enough friends and although I joke with him about it, it hurts me deep inside. When I am hurt or confused…I go back to imagining a better life in my head.

I am also very, very self-conscious. I feel like everybody is looking at me sometimes and so my actions are very conscious and never relaxed and natural.

I also feel like that nobody knows the TRUE me, as I feel most comfortable in my own skin when I am by myself. I feel like I am a different kind of person for everybody. I am a different person when talking with my family, my friends, my best friend, my college friends and strangers. I feel so conflicted sometimes that I wonder why bother living, when living is a total lie of my true self.

I want-I need to be cured somehow. Thanks for listening to my ramblings.

A: First, let me say that these are not ramblings to me. This sounds like a very caring, sensitive person trying to find the best way to be known in the world.

There is a Cherokee legend of a grandfather teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In the opening of your letter you say that you spend hours looking for flaws, and, no surprise, you find them. When you look and allow yourself to be satisfied with what you see there is happiness. This actually is one of the principles emerging from positive psychology. Over time research has shown you can learn to identify the good things about you and your life and savor them. More on this approach is available here.

Issues of self-esteem are often tethered to things we are avoiding. We avoid them to try to cope, but then we end up feeling bad about the fact we are not dealing with the issue, and this keeps our self-esteem low. We then feel emotionally unable to deal with the issue the next time around, so we avoid it, and the vicious cycle starts again. It seems like social situations and new people are where the rub is. An acting class for beginners will put you in with other people who are looking to grow. The other possibility might be an assertiveness training class. Most communities will offer these through non-credit continuing education courses.

Group therapy can be a place where your roller-coaster ride can be discussed, and experiment with new ways of relating to others in a safe environment. Check this list for therapists in your area.

We can often recognize when our true self is emerging. There is a sense of wholeness and well-being that comes with it. Pay attention to when this is occurring with you, and particularly notice the people, places and things that allow for this true self to be known.

The goal isn’t to feel good about everything and everyone, but to develop strategies for coping with the inevitable difficulties, while returning to the people, places and things that help restore our balance.

Cultivate an appreciation of who you are and your unique gifts and talents. You get to choose the wolf you feed. As you become pleased with who you are, others are likely to join in.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). I am on an emotional roller-coaster. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/12/i-am-on-an-emotional-roller-coaster/

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