I've been in a lot of abusive situations and dated so many people in which I ended up in some kind of off kilter romance. In these affairs I often found myself on the crappy end of a power play always expending a lot of energy trying to win the other person back. Staying in the situation causes a lot of mental anguish and stress. When you are in the midst of this, it is easy to lose your voice because you are people pleasing. Going through the gamut of emotions that come up in an abusive scenario cause your mind to exist in some sort of mental flurry- perhaps similar to the fight or flight reflex you often react rather than act. This mental flurry makes it difficult for you to live in the moment and you often lose track of your own wants and needs. When you are stuck in the middle of this much emotional stress, you are no longer paying attention to yourself and run the risk of letting others define you.
This happened to me a few weeks ago when I got sent to self-esteem classes by my counselor. I will tell you why she initially sent me. I was obsessing over whether or not the guy I was dating liked me. In fact I was very insecure about the whole thing. My counselor figured that he did. He asked me out didn't he? She couldn't understand why I was acting so insecurely and thought that perhaps self-esteem was the root of what was causing me to have insecurities in this new relationship. “You don't have any self-esteem, Hayley. You don't like yourself.” I thought about what she said.
“I like myself,” I countered. I wondered about the self-esteem. Did I lack self-esteem? Is that why I kept wondering if he liked me? Or were my insecurities about this relationship trying to tell me something. Now, that I heard her opinion, not only was I still feeling completely on edge about the relationship but now I was feeling insecure about my self-esteem. Perhaps my lack of self-esteem was causing my insecurity? I dutifully reported to my first self-esteem session. And after I left I realized both my counselor and the self-esteem coach were wrong: like the Cowardly Lion at the end of The Wizard of Oz I already had self-esteem though maybe I didn't always know it.
As the weeks passed, I soon found that my insecurities about the man I was dating were not coming from within me; from some perceived deficit in my own self esteem. They were in fact accurate assessments of the situation. As the shadow of his last girl friend began to appear via him mentioning her in conversation, I began to worry that I would soon be playing second fiddle or edged out completely. My counselor and one of my friends thought I was being insecure by worrying whether or not he would go back to her; however, I was not. I was not insecure- I was right! He soon fell off the face of the planet without explanation likely going back to his ex.
In my case these insecurities were really gut “feelings” telling me what was up. It was intuition was masked as insecurity, but it is impossible to tell for sure until you have hindsight. This insecurity in particular was the main reason I was offered self-esteem classes. There is something to be learned from this. Others viewed my legitimate fears as lack of confidence and self-esteem: they thought I viewed myself as not desirable enough to maintain a man's interest. That was not the case, though I did begin to wonder.
One cannot help but feel ugly when a man comes along and treats you like he thinks you are; when he comes on strong and then suddenly pulls away without explanation. I was, however, internalizing something that didn't belong to me. After careful thought and consideration, I found that when I am feeling ugly or just plain bad it is directly related to the people I am choosing to surround myself with.
Fundamentally, it is all about how you allow others to treat you. If you are hanging around with people who are treating you like crap, you don't initially look at the big picture because it is only naturally to become defensive (at least initially) and start to wonder if something is wrong with you. You start think I must be ugly or idiotic or not good enough or something. It isn't until you pull back and really think about the situation that you realize the answer is simple: you are not ugly- you are hanging out with ugly people.
If I wasn't in such a mental frenzy and confused emotional state, I wouldn't have entertained the idea that I lacked self-esteem to begin with. However, I was confused about my hunch- that he might be going back to his ex girlfriend, and was actually secretly hoping it was just my insecurities speaking and that I was wrong; that he did like me. By bringing it up to my counselor I was subconsciously seeking validation, for her to say “It's obvious he likes you.” With that said she drew the conclusion that self-esteem was clearly my issue. I bit. If you are dating a person is leaving you hanging like that and not addressing what is making you feel poorly in the first place they are not worth it. And if I was paying better attention I wouldn't have let the voice of others cloud my head. Remembering to listen to your voice is not always the easiest thing to do because with so many people's opinions your voice becomes very easy to lose- even in your own head! I remember the first time I realized that I wasn't listening to my voice. It isn't always the easiest thing to do, but is as simple as taking a moment out of the day, to sit in a quiet place, reflect and ask yourself, “What is it that I want for myself today.”
At the end of the Wizard of Oz, Oz gives the Scarecrow a diploma and assures him that he is intelligent. Yes a pat on the back and validation is nice from time to time, but this not The Wizard of Oz. You do not anyone to give you approval or validation. You already have everything you need.
“If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.” - Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
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