I grew up on a steady diet of Disney movies, 90s chick flicks and, being a creative mind and hopeful romantic, a barrage of my own fantasies. Like many women (and people in general), I became conditioned by the idea that my relationships were the most critical factor in my worthiness. Even now, I struggle to define my worth unless it’s in relation to other people — their opinions of me, their relationship to me, their assessment of me.
A friend told me this weekend that the thing that pisses him off most about me is how hard I am on myself. And then I’m pretty sure he told me to knock it the fuck off and asked, “So what are you going to do about yourself?” My initial reaction was something like, “Fuck if I know, you tell me. Get my shit together, I guess.”
He said I’ve probably been telling myself that my whole life and, honestly, he’s right. I really suck at putting actionable steps into practice when it comes to doing something healing for myself. Especially because I’ve learned my worth within the context of others, I don’t often give myself “permission” to improve. I wait for a friend, or a coworker, or a boyfriend, or someone to validate what I’m thinking or feeling before I even consider forming a mental committee to hold a meeting to brainstorm an action plan to develop an actual plan to take a first step. And most of the time, the mental committee keeps rescheduling the brainstorming meeting until it forgets because my mind gets so full of other things (read: my brain gets distracted enough to justify avoiding working on myself).
I wait to be saved because I tell myself I’m not worthy of improvement otherwise. I used to think the only person this hurt was me, but when you spend 24 years telling yourself you’re worthless until someone tells you you’re not… it puts a lot of pressure on the other people in your life. I need constant validation of my identity and it can sometimes just take a fraction of a second to go from joking around to me taking something so personally I don’t even want to exist anymore. It’s unfair to put that kind of pressure on others because it’s not their job to tell me I’m worthy. That’s my job.
After my friend had the audacity to point out I have (a lot of) personal growth to do, I asked if he still liked me even though I’m fucked up.
Lesson #1: Stop asking people if they still like you because you think being a flawed human automatically makes you unlikable. (Sublesson: Think of all the flawed humans you like. Remember it’s okay to like your flawed self, too).
Fuck the mental committee. Fuck the brainstorming meeting. Fuck waiting around to be saved or validated by someone else for a moment until I’m left alone with myself again. Fuck expecting everyone else to put in the work that I’m too afraid to put in myself. Fuck that bitch in my head who keeps telling me I’m not enough on my own. Fuck the idea that one flaw makes my whole being trash.
I have to start taking responsibility for the aspects of my life I can control. No one can make me feel anything, and they certainly can’t make me magically feel worthy when my internal dialogue is expending so much energy telling me I’m not. I control how I respond to the challenges I’m faced with — including the mind games I play with myself. It’s easy to pretend that I’m not because fighting against those conditioned thought patterns and their negative effects is hard, terrifying work. Shrugging it off and saying I can’t control all the “bad” stuff in my life, while ignoring the fact that I can change the mental process surrounding those experiences, has left me in the same place of crappy self-esteem that I’ve been in for most of my life.
I guess step one is recognizing that no amount of trauma or abuse has done this to me — sure, abusive situations can put stress on a situation or mental illness, but I can control the outcome of that stress. I can choose to use it as an opportunity to grow or as an excuse to get stuck… and I’m really, really sick of being stuck. I don’t feel worthy in and of myself because I haven’t cultivated that skillset (in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve cultivated the exact opposite).
Step two is to stop being so fucking mean to myself so I can actually allow myself to recognize my own worth. That means I have to stop telling myself I deserve the abuse I’ve endured, or that one mistake at work means I’m an incompetent professional, or that a fight with a friend means I’m a terrible friend, or that making a choice for myself means I’m a selfish bitch, or that I’m only worthy of existence if someone else tells me I am first.
So don’t save me, because I need to learn how to save myself.