Self

My Uncle Trashed My Self-Esteem With One Comment

Photo: Jesse Bowser | Unsplash
Young girl sitting at diner, upset

I spent a summer with my uncle and his family. He thought he was being helpful, but his words sliced my heart and plummeted me into despair. I don't think he meant to hurt me, but he did.

My grandma raised me after being removed from my home by Child Protective Services. Grandma was a teacher, so she had summers off. In 1994, she and her new husband decided to take a vacation without me, so I went to stay with my uncle for six weeks.

My uncle, Tom, is bigger than life. He stands over 6'4 and is a heavy man. He was the associate pastor of his church. Most people in his community respect him. I did, too, until he hurt me with his words.

Tom had three daughters — Abby, Lola, and Fiona. Abby and I were very close. She was six years older than me. She was a mentor to me, and I fondly remember her. Lola, on the other hand, was her parents’ favorite and only three months older than me. Everything Lola did was praised. Fiona was three years younger than me.

In her parents’ eyes, Lola was the most beautiful person in the world. They told everyone how gorgeous and intelligent she was. I didn’t disagree exactly, but I got sick of hearing about it.

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One day, Tom told me he wanted to spend time with me. The plan was to take me to lunch. Excited, I agreed to go and looked forward to our "lunch date."

Tom took me to eat at a local sandwich spot. They served the best ham and cheese sandwiches. Once we sat down, Tom started grilling me about my future.

I was only 16. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. Up until this point, I had faced more trauma than most people do in their entire lives: My father died of cancer when I was a toddler. My grandpa died two years later. Just three years after that, my cousin Marsha passed away. My grandma raised me after being removed from my home by Child Protective ServicesThose losses impacted me greatly, and I am sure Tom knew that. He was a therapist and pastor.

“I'm not sure what I want to do yet. I love to write, but I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe, a nurse?”

“Well, Chrissie, you must figure it out because you graduate next year. I don’t want you to watch your life pass you by without having a solid plan.”

I understood what he was getting at. Yes, I needed a plan, but I wasn’t there yet. I took his advice and agreed to think about my future.

“Chrissie, you need a career to fall back on. You aren’t pretty like Lola. It would be best to learn to cook, or you'll never find a husband. Lola will be able to find a husband easily, but not you. It’s going to be hard with everything you’ve been through. You should wear more makeup or wear more fitting clothes.”

I didn’t know what to say. I interpreted his words as I was ugly and would never find anyone interested in me. It was rude and demeaning. I didn’t know what to do at that moment. I knew I needed to acknowledge his words.

“I understand, Tom. I know I am not as beautiful as Lola. But I will do fine in life. But I thank you for telling me how you feel. It is very much appreciated.”

Tom smiled at me. Did he not understand how demeaning and rude his comment was about my looks? I was 16. Like most teen girls, I struggled with my self-image. How could a pastor knowingly crush me in that manner?

   

   

I told Tom I wanted to go back to the house; I did not want to spend another moment with him. When I returned to the house, I called Grandma, who just got back home from vacation. I told her what Tom said. She tried to stand up for him, saying he was trying to help me. But I disagreed; his comments were not helpful.

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Two days later, Grandma arrived to pick me up. She knocked on the door and asked to speak to Tom alone. She told him that he would never talk to me that way again. I was an innocent child, and he had no right to make me feel small. She told him that he would never be allowed to be alone with me again.

On the ride home, Grandma told me she thought about it, and Tom was out of line. He can believe his daughter is the most beautiful teenager in the world, but that doesn’t dim my beauty. We are both beautiful children.

A year later, Tom and his family visited Grandma for Thanksgiving. I greeted my cousins with hugs. I told his wife hello; she was always awkward and distant from the family. Tom asked me to hug him.

“Tom, she would rather not,” Grandma said sternly.

“Why the long face? I just asked for a hug.”

“Tom, I was hoping not to do this on Thanksgiving Day, but you made her feel small when you told her she was not ‘as pretty as Lola,’ and she would like you to keep your distance. You should know better than to purposely attack her self-worth. I raised you better than that, Thomas!”

Tom refused to talk about it. He claimed I lied. He claims he never said anything to me about me needing to learn to cook to find a man. He refused to discuss it and told his wife and kids to go to the car. They were leaving.

Grandma tried to talk him out of driving 14 hours back home. He refused. He said he didn’t want to spend the day with her if she didn’t believe his story.

After he left, Grandma told me that Tom left in a hurry because he knew he was wrong. She felt terrible for embarrassing him, but Grandma said putting him on the spot for bullying a child was more important.

Thanksgiving went well that year. No one spoke about Tom and his dramatic exit. No one asked about him.

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My cousins stopped talking to me. Of course, they sided with their father. I understood it, but it still hurt. Years later, Fiona messaged me on Facebook to attack me about her father. She said he was trying to help me, and I should admit that I lied about what he said.

I didn’t lie. He said what he said. I refused to back down.

I told Fiona I was sorry she could not see her dad as a human who said something he shouldn’t have. He hurt my feelings and refused to apologize. If he had apologized and admitted he used a poor choice of words, I could have moved past it. But he didn’t. Instead, he painted me as a liar and that I couldn’t forgive.

It took me years to get his words out of my head. I went through a difficult time not long after that I considered suicide. I felt unworthy, ugly, and worthless.

At the time, I had a 4.0 GPA, graduating at the top of my class. I played volleyball (varsity) and basketball (team B). I was popular and had a big group of friends. But Tom’s words sliced me deep.

I went to my great-grandpa’s house to sit with him several months later. We all took turns sitting with him. He was 98 and needed help with cooking and cleaning. I told him about Tom’s comments and how bad I was feeling.

“What’s wrong doodlebug? Why are you down?”

“Papaw, Uncle Tom hurt my feelings. His comments made me feel bad about myself. He said I was ugly and worthless.”

“Chrissie Marie, who cares what he thinks. Don’t let him control how you feel about yourself. Besides, this has more to do with him than you. Learn to let go.”

“I'll try, but it’s hard.”

“Forget him and his small-minded insults. You're bigger than that. You're something special. Don’t let him rob you of your joy.”

Grandpa never ceased to put it in perspective. I decided that day that Tom’s comments couldn’t hurt me anymore. He tried to make me smaller to prop his daughter. But it didn’t work.

It’s been 30 years since I have talked to Tom. He has no place in my life. I would never allow him to be near my children. His words cut me like a knife, but I didn’t let him kill my spirit. It almost did, but Grandpa gave me the encouragement I needed to say: Forget him and his small-minded insults.

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Chrissie Massey is a writer who loves to share her life experiences with her readers. She has contributed to Yahoo News, Examiner, Inquisitr, Newsbreak, and Medium.

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