At 6_30 a.m. May 12, Nancy Salas, 22, disappeared from her family's home in Glendale, California, prompting a massive search. Late on May 13, nearly two days after she had vanished, she walked into a carpet store in Merced, California, hundreds of miles away, seemingly disoriented and reporting that she had been abducted at knifepoint and managed to escape her captors.
In truth, Salas had run away from her family rather than face the fact that she had lied to them by telling them she was about to graduate UCLA when she had, in fact, stopped attending in 2008. Apparently, she had deceived them and her friends and her church for two years and was about to be discovered. Her family had actually been planning a graduation party for her.
I have never interviewed Salas, but she fits the model of individuals who have so little real, core self-esteem that they believe (always erroneously) that if they lose the admiration of their parents or community that they will have nothing at all left-that they will literally disintegrate psychologically. This is the likely reason she opted to go through the stress of a two-year-long charade, lying to everyone in order to maintain their goodwill, as if her life depended on it.
Things could have ended worse. She could have killed herself, rather than face reality. She could have killed herself and her family. When people fear humiliation and abandonment they sometimes do terrible and destructive things in order to avoid it. That's how deep the need for perceived love-even based on a false self-can be.
Now, Salas, perhaps for the first time in a long, long time, has the chance to be herself. Now, maybe she can begin to grapple with how she lost the degree of internal strength and confidence she would have needed to tell her family that she was leaving school two years ago. Now, maybe, she can be more assured that their love and concern is not conditional on her academic achievements.
Only now, having run away from reality and come back to face it, is it possible that Salas has nothing more to run from. Salas is not alone in needing to take this journey. Granted, she is an outlier. Her case is extraordinary. Yet, there is a teaching point here for the millions of Americans who have been and will be increasingly challenged to feel worthy and be honest with their loved ones, even in the face of losses.
As this economy claims the livelihoods of more and more people and as instability in our nation shakes the structure that reassures us of our future prospects, it will be more and more important that we turn to ourselves and our faith and our friends and our families, willing to be vulnerable and honest and (God willing) certain in the knowledge that we are worthy and decent and ready to meet the next challenge life poses.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at email@example.com.