Marlene, a bright, creative, friendly, funny, generous, cultured, 50 year-old single woman looked hopeless as she sat across from me with tears in her eyes. Although she is highly educated, she also suffers from bi-polar disorder. As a result she has had a number of severe ups and downs in her life, some of which landed her in the hospital. Therefore, she was not able to make the most of her dreams to work in the medical field since her disability kept her from going to graduate school.
Instead, Marlene has a dead-end clerical job that stresses her although it offers the security and benefits she must have to keep her medical needs covered. She can converse about art, music and literature with ease, but has trouble mastering the computer skills necessary to excel at her job. She feels like a failure because her co-workers are not helpful or friendly and her boss is critical and intimidating.
As Marlene talked about some recent events in the office that frustrated and depressed her, I thought about how many of my clients and friends have been through similar experiences in which they felt like misfits in a work or social situation. They too decided that they must be stupid, unlovable or totally inept, although they were actually quite the opposite. As I describe in my book Grownup Love: Getting It and Keeping It, their low self-esteem kept them from finding their happily ever after love story, so they often settled for less than the best.
As we talked I helped Marlene get in touch with gratitude for all the wonderful friends outside of work who loved to be with her and her unwavering belief in a loving God. She also acknowledged that she was a talented artist and humanitarian who devoted time to others who were needy.
Most of us are familiar with the fairy tale about the Ugly Duckling that felt the same way Marlene was feeling. He thought he was ugly because the other ducklings made fun of him and pecked at him. Then one day he noticed the wondrous graceful swans swimming in the pond and wished he could be like them. But alas, he was just an unappealing failure. Then, lo and behold, he looked at his reflection in the water and discovered that indeed he looked just like them. He was truly a swan and didn't know it!
When our session drew to a close I presented Marlene with a special pin depicting a graceful swan swimming on a lake. I designed them as gifts to share with clients who need to let go of their ugly duckling personas in order to realize their worthiness and inner beauty. As I pinned the swan onto her lapel, I proclaimed that Marlene was now officially a member of the S.O.S., the Secret Order of Swans. Her face lit up as she understood the truth about herself, and she walked out of our session with a spring in her step.
Do you suffer from Ugly Duckling Syndrome although your friends and family don't think of you that way? Try to see yourself through the eyes of those who love and admire you. Perhaps you too are a Swan and don't know it yet.