My neighborhood cousins and I were together under the tall trees in front of their farmhouse. Donna sat on the swing, slowly pushing herself side to side. I stood with one leg up over the seat of my bike. Barb and Alice sat on the front porch steps. A cool breeze smelling of lilacs gently fluttered through the yard. We sniffed and sighed appreciatively. Life was good. In the back of my mind I felt contentment because I knew here were only a few more weeks left before school let out for summer vacation.
The topic that early Saturday afternoon was the middle names we were given at birth. To my great surprise, my young cousins had middle names I recognized as belonging to their older relatives. I didn’t know if I should envy them or feel sorry for them. My middle name, Marie, sounded like plain old vanilla in a world of exotic flavors.
I didn’t like my first name that much either. Kathy? It had such a babyish sound to it. I imagined that if I could change my name, I’d pick Victoria. To me, that name sounded beautiful and graceful. A person with that name would be confident and proud.
Ruefully, I thought, “A person named Victoria would probably have curly hair, too.” I hated my floppy, baby fine hair. I wondered, “Why couldn’t I have been born with curly hair like Shirley Temple?”
Children often go through stages where they dislike the name they had been given, the way they look and the things they have. My neighbor’s Mother heard us talking about wanting different names and said with a sniff, “People never want what they have, always wishing for different things.”
When my mother was aware that I didn’t like my name or my appearance, she commented sagely, “Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
Feelings of confidence and contentment don’t automatically come to a person as they age. As a young adult I often felt inadequate. Looking for answers, I started to read self-help books.
One day an article solidly stuck home. Like an arrow shot at a target, it hit dead center where the low-esteem beast lived within my psyche. The author addressed the negative things we think of ourselves.
I became aware of how poorly I treat myself. For example, it pointed out that when someone complements me on my clothing, hair or an achievement, we should say, “Thank You.” Instead, what I did is think to myself, “This is an old dress. She didn’t see the pulled thread,” or “My hair is too wispy to be nice.” Or “What I did wasn’t all that great.”
When the author wrote, “If you were sitting next to a friend when she was given a compliment, would you say those things out loud to the complementor? If you did, your friendship would be over.” I finally got the point.
Sigmund Freud referred to depression as anger turned inward. Even if the negative things I thought about myself may not have caused my depression, they certainly hadn’t helped.
How does a person go about changing the ingrained habit of focusing on personal faults? My solution was to repeat positive affirmations to myself multiple times each day. When Stuart Smalley with his daily affirmations was invented by Saturday Night Live, the silliness of it made me laugh. My affirmations were merely timid assertions of my being an okay person. When I received compliments, I forced myself to just say and think, “Thank-you!”
How do I feel about my name and who I am now that I am 70 years old? The sound of my name brings to mind a strong woman who has been through many battles. My character and achievements in life are all the more amazing to me because of the depressions I’ve fought through to do them.
As a child discussing names with my neighborhood cousins, I had no idea of who I really was or what lay ahead. No number of positive affirmations made me like my wispy hair. However, now I know how to handle the situation. Every four months I go to a beauty salon for a perm. Problem solved.