On Identity & Self Esteem: Lessons from Downton Abbey


The psychological goal is to affirm oneself without an over-emphasis on what we imagine others think

Struggles with transitions such as Mary's and Tom's are thematically similar to those of many psychotherapy clients.  Frequently, people seek therapy when something significant has changed in their life, and adjusting to this change highlights struggles with self-esteem and identity.  Whether through parenthood, changing roles, the death of a loved one, a new job or any other significant change, the near universal tension between how we experience ourselves and how we imagine others experience us is a challenging and fascinating struggle.  The goal is to be able to affirm oneself without an over-emphasis on how we imagine we are seen by others. "Imagine" being the key word, because one never really knows what others are truly thinking or feeling. 

The always-perceptive Mrs. Hughes understands this concept so well and is able to pierce through Tom's pain and give him the loving guidance he desperately needs:

"Would you allow me to speak as I would have in the old days?  You let Edna make you ashamed of your new life.  But you've done well and Lady Sybil would have been so proud."

When Tom sobs and replies that he cannot bear life without his beloved Sybil, Mrs. Hughes continues:

"You must bear it.  And one day I hope, and so would she, that you'll find someone to bear it with you. But, until then, be your own Master."

Mrs. Hughes' wise guidance is applicable to the challenges that so many of us face when feeling isolated, insecure or alone.  She urges Tom to affirm himself in spite of his loneliness, and teaches him that being true to himself rather than beholden to the opinions of others is an essential survival skill.  Through their powerful connection, it seems possible that Tom may, someday, reclaim happiness.

Elisabeht's book, "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce" was a finalist in the 2008 National Best Book Award in the relationship category.  Visit www.elisabethlamotte.com to learn more and follow @elisjoy.

This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.