From Anorexia and Low Self-Esteem to Confidence and Healing from Replacement Child Issues

For many years, as a replacement child, I have felt that I am solidly in second place, a runner-up in my own life. When I reflect on what has helped me the most in my recovery from my replacement child issues, I look to my writing and internal reflection through therapy.

As a result, I have learned to accept myself, to actually feel completely enough in my own eyes.  Yes, I had to travel through the long, dark tunnel of self-awakening, but I have come out the other end, to experience extreme gratitude for what I have been given and what has been taken. I have endured and flourished, and joyfully accept my growth, reclaiming my self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Yet, my earlier years were filled with trepidation, never feeling good enough, smart enough, or thin enough.  I wanted to eat the foods I loved, but I was told early on, as a round ten-year old, to watch it.  The meaning of those simple words, was actually, you are fat, and they catapulted me into a slow, but consistent, life-long eating disorder, at first limiting my calories, then my self-esteem.  Recovered from the most severe symptoms of my teenage anorexia, even today, while I am thin enough to indulge in the foods that I have spent a lifetime avoiding, I still hear a voice reminding me to watch it and I stop myself from eating what I truly want.

I have approached many areas of my life with trepidation and an underlying hesitation that I was not as smart as or quick as others despite data to the contrary— in the form of grades and degrees. I instinctively felt that I had to study harder than others to make up for my limitations despite my strong academic standing in various forums.  I found, though, that despite my limited self-confidence in my intellectual abilities, I excelled in school.   My education was the one area in which I was very successful without huge comparisons, probably because education, while respected, was not a priority in our household.

We all walk with something in our lives, an obstacle, a limitation, an issue. For me, it was the painful silence around my two-year old brother’s death 13 months before I was born and so many unanswered questions of my youth. I lived my childhood years with a depressed mother and the ghost of a cherubic toddler staring back at me in photos around our house.  Today, I recognize that I do not have to be defined by my replacement child legacy. Rather, I have grown into a confident woman who is not second best but cherished in my own eyes.

Dr. Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D., is a fellow in UCLA’s department of education and a professor at El Camino College. She is the author of When Will I Be Good Enough? A Replacement Child’s to Healing, which was published in early 2017.

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