The three courageous acts of self-worth.
Originally posted in Psychology Today
Authentic, meaningful relationships are so hard, I do not think I could persuade anybody to seek out this challenge when they have made up their minds to avoid relationships. And yes, it is fine and possibly wonderful to be single. But often we avoid being in a relationship because of previous, overwhelmingly negative experiences. No rational reason could be powerful enough to take the risk to get burned, and we have all been burned. Nothing can ruin us quite like a person to whom we have entrusted our own heart and then get it, along with our bank account, broken into a million pieces. You might choose to try again for the crazy reason of love alone.
We can heal, and most of us do with time and support. What we can learn from past relationships depends, of course, on our and the others’ psychology. Much of the deeper workings of our minds can only be known via intimate dialogue for which this article does not profess to substitute. There are general lessons though that many people to whom I talk about happiness have found useful. Many think that they did not feel worthy of love in their relationship which caused them to allow their partner to cross boundaries. Physical and emotional abuse can happen to anybody, but staying in an abusive relationship is often the result of feeling unworthy of love. (There is also monetary dependence, which is an enormous underlying problem that must be resolved, but which cannot be addressed here).
The subtle emotional abuse of the silent treatment was addressed in a previous article (“The Silent Treatment” under the “Abuse” rubric). The not-so-subtle abuse usually can’t be solved with improving our communication skills, but with separating from the abuser and with an in-depth look into our convictions about ourselves. What is there to do?
- Face the Underlying Problem
Examining ourselves takes a great deal of courage. What is asked of us? Stopping our usual way of functioning and face something that we wish to forget or avoid. “Why did I feel unworthy of love?” Just asking this question can set us on our way. Sometimes we realize that we simply got used to the abusive partner and slid into the dysfunction. Slowly but surely, we might have bought into the notion that we are not worthy in the course of having been treated badly.
There are many people who unconsciously accept the abusive treatment because of conditioning that took place with a partner. Others must confront courageously that they do not feel worthy of love because they were never loved before. To realize past negligence or abuse is often traumatic, which is why this realization takes so much courage. Many must seek out professional help to avoid re-traumatization.
- Claim Your Experience
The first step of facing one’s truth has its own risks, namely that we can get stuck in blaming someone else for our own sense of unworthiness. It is easy to feel like a victim when we were indeed victims in the past. Therefore, never blame the victim, never blame yourself for having been abused. It is important to muster the courage to take responsibility for having generated the experience of unworthiness. We must not feel unworthy only because someone has treated us as if we were. There are ways to break out of the conditioning when we claim our experiences as self-generated.
- Embrace Yourself with Your Imperfections
Once we have faced our convictions and realized that we are the actual and only agents of change, we must do one terrifying last thing. The headline “Embrace Yourself” sounds like a cliché: easy and self-evident. But it is not. We can only feel worthy when we acknowledge that we are, like everybody else, imperfect, flawed, a human mess indeed, but that we are okay nevertheless. This step necessitates admitting our vulnerability, which feels very dangerous because others might take advantage of our admission and punish us for it. We might punish ourselves for it.
It takes all our resources, our intelligence, kindness, and wisdom, to finally realize that imperfections are lovable, so human, and absolutely okay. In fact, our imperfections are the cracks in which the light comes in, as Canadian singer Leonard Cohen put it. While most believe it is best to appear perfectly polished, the raw diamond is the real treasure as it allows us to relate to the rest of humanity and find creative solutions.
In your quest, I wish you only courage and the ultimate realization of your inherent, beautiful, miraculous being. You are worthy of love, not because you are perfect, but because you are alive and embedded in this grand universe that does not cast anybody out. So, do as the universe. Stand by you, and let your light shine through the cracks for others to see, and, most of all, for yourself to see.
© 2019 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.