The older I got, the more uncomfortable I became. One night I had a vivid, frightening dream. Motivated by the desire to untangle it, I began psychotherapy. In my sessions I talked about the many instances when, as a child, I felt as if I had come up short: showing a marked lack of graciousness, for example, about the arrival of my baby sister; my constant need to know my mother's whereabouts at all times—perhaps suffocating to her. My therapist wondered aloud about how I, by then a mother myself, might feel toward any other child—my son, for instance—who demonstrated that behavior. It was a no-brainer, literally: My heart was instantly awash with compassion. As I remembered more of my childhood shortcomings, and forgave them, it became like a practice—the forgiving—and before long I was doing it with my adult self, too. Forgiving myself for past mistakes in love, in work, in the many daily interactions always open to missteps. I would forgive the mistake, learn from it, and try to do better.
Is all self-esteem nurtured by mastery? I'm not sure. But it was mastering forgiveness that nurtured mine.
Valerie Monroe is O's beauty director.