When you reflect on your history and how it has impacted you, you may appreciate the building blocks that contribute to your resilience. You may see the opportunities to engage in the fortunate and challenging experiences that helped to shape you in a way that helps you to feel solid in who you are, now. Then again, you may look back with such dismay and despair that your past feels like a boulder you’re forced to drag up a never-ending hill. You long to free yourself from your past because it doesn’t represent who you are now or who you want to be in the future.
In the movie “American Beauty” we are compelled to look closer. As the movie progresses, we learn that what appears on the outside to be a normal, happy, well functioning family is crumbling on the inside. What is so remarkable about this movie is how exquisitely it communicates the complexities that lie beneath the surface of one’s inner world. Shame, pain, confusion, hope, fear are just some of the hidden, visceral feelings we experience and react to. The movie reflects an extreme contrast between outside and inside.
In real life, the distinction between yours and others’ inner and outer worlds can be far more subtle and less extreme. However, reminding yourself that everyone has their own “look closer”, just like you do, can help you feel less alone with what you perceive as your painfully flawed self.
Your life has been a string of events that leads you to where you are now – in part determined by doors opened, doors closed, and the history, decisions and happenings that contribute to who and where you are today. When you look back on your life so far, how do you feel? Optimally, there are no regrets. But in reality for many, when you’re having difficulty feeling okay with where you are now, you may look back with regret and grieve lost opportunities, lost relationships, no-win situations, and unfortunate decisions that you perceive as having affected the trajectory of your life – if only you hadn’t married your ex; if only you hadn’t put your career on hold to have children, if only… The list in your head of imagined and impossible negotiations to bring your loved one back or to gain access to that better life you should have had can painfully distort your thinking.
Despite women’s progress in shedding some of the shame attached to their sexuality, there is an over-arching message that many women have received through time, warning them not to have sex on the first date “or it will ruin your chances for a second date.” The religious, biological, scientific, and self-esteem related implications of this message are beyond the scope of this post. But the fact remains: In general, women are held to a very confusing and difficult standard when it comes to having sex early in a relationship. It just is that way.
Last week I wrote about the ways that low self-esteem manifests in women’s relationships. This week I will do a very brief overview of the infinite places from which low self-esteem can originate – how your history and primary caregiver relationships shaped your opinion of yourself, how other important external variables contribute. Here is a brief inventory of sources of low self-esteem and how these feelings manifest:
Nothing interferes with the ability to have an authentic, reciprocal relationship like low self-esteem. If you can’t believe you’re good enough, how can you believe a loving partner could choose you? Low self-esteem can make you test or sabotage relationships that have potential, or settle for relationships in which you’re treated in a way that matches your beliefs about yourself. That said, low self-esteem doesn’t always look the same way in relationships. The following are 10 of the many ways that low self-esteem can manifest in your romantic relationship.
With groups, at work, with your partner, with your family, and alone you might feel like you are different people. At times you may even feel like a fraud. Somehow you think you’re supposed to know more, be different, have some sort of tangible or social skill set that you’re not sure you actually possess in real life, so you put on what feels like a false self to convince yourself and others that you are the person you’re supposed to be, that you’re better than you really are. But the process feels uncomfortable, inauthentic, and unreal. Here are 3 reasons to embrace what can sometimes feel like your false self:
Does it seem like you’re in a cycle of rejection—like every relationship ends in being dumped? The cycle of rejection is ugly, painful and humbling. It decimates you self-esteem, and gives you ample opportunity to say to anyone who will listen, “See, I told you so: I am damaged goods, an unlovable loser.”
You just had the best first date. It’s the beginning of something great. There was absolute connection and immediate intimacy. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I do believe in the certainty of an intense connection. I believe you can have a first experience with a person that’s so powerful it encourages you to imagine a future full of possibilities. What happens when he says he’ll call the next day and he doesn’t? When he hasn’t returned your texts?
You join a gym but can’t stop smoking. You finally pull free from a destructive relationship but are binging on junk food. You stop wasting time on mindless TV, but then compulsively check Facebook. Does it seem like pushing forward in one area of your life must be balanced by slipping backward in another? For many of us, the deep-rooted belief that we don’t deserve good things makes us resistant to taking care of ourselves as fully as we can.
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