Tag Archives: self-esteem

Self-Esteem Problems Surface

24 Sep

I admittedly have self-esteem issues.  They have been more of a problem in the past, but tonight I was reminded that they’re still there, just under the surface.  I had dinner with my Mom and stepdad.  It was partly just a fun visit and partly for a school assignment.  My stepdad is an exceptionally clever, accomplished man who is mentoring me for my leadership class.  We meet every week to discuss topics for my class, which I then turn into a paper and submit.  This was one of those meetings.

While I was there, we also planned a time for Tony to meet them both this week.  My Mom has been pretty good about not asking a ridiculous amount of questions so far, although I have told her a bit.  Tonight she asked more.  Mostly it was basic stuff like how often we see each other now, what I like the most about him, and a general checklist of things Moms find important (how does he treat me, is he responsible and kind, does he have kids or drug problems or major issues, etc.).  My stepdad chimed in to tell her to stop prying when she started her normal 20 questions routine (who’s house do we go to the most, who usually initiates communication, does he have pets, how does Buddy like him, blah, blah, blah… you get the picture).

It was a nice conversation.  We were smiling, and I’m sure I was a little giddy.  Never one to turn down an opportunity to gush, I told her how intelligent and funny and sweet and all-around amazing he is.  I bragged about him.  She did a little summary of the things I told her about how incredible he is.  Then she asked what he likes about me.  It wasn’t a mean question.  She was genuinely interested, and I’m sure she was probably looking for me to list some things that he has said are attractive about me.  She didn’t say it like, “What could someone that great possibly see in you?”

That’s what it felt like, though.   That’s how my distorted brain heard it.  My horrible self-esteem was yelling in my head, “What do you really bring to the table compared to all of that amazingness?”  I managed not to burst into tears or yell “I don’t know” and bury my face in my hands.  Instead, I smiled, cocked my head to the side, and confidently said “Everything.”  They laughed.  I did, too.  I tried to believe my own bravado.  It stuck with me, though.  I couldn’t shake it.  The voice in my head was really stumped.  At a loss.  Perplexed.  What the hell does someone that fantastic like about me?  In the moment, I honestly couldn’t have given another answer.

I left my Mom’s house still shaken up inside, though I tried not to show it.  I delivered Tony cold and flu medicine (which he said I was silly for going out of my way to bring him).  He’s been feeling feverish and sick all day, and I’m pretty sure I gave him that lovely illness.  He also went out of his way to come see me on his lunch a few weeks ago when I was out sick to make me feel better.   This evening we had a much needed snuggle on the couch.   Then I headed home to submit a paper and write up my mentorship meeting for school.

On my drive, an answer to the question my Mom asked, other than sheer panic and blankness, finally began to form in my mind.  I think he really appreciates my sense of humor and honesty.  My genuineness, flaws and all, is probably endearing.  I know that we are compatible intellectually, sexually, and with our belief system.  He has said that he thinks I’m beautiful.  I have a pretty good job, I’m furthering my education, I can sing and play instruments, I’m open and fun, I try to be self-aware and positive, and I’m a giving and compassionate person.  I’m independent and self-sufficient while also wanting to share my life and happiness with someone special.  I guess that I’m probably a bit of a catch.

I need to take my advice from last post, and believe in my worth.  Tonight proved that as far as I’ve come, I’ve still got more ground to cover to overcome my insecurities.  The fact that I’ve abstained from listing a host of my shortcomings to “balance out” the positive traits above is a baby step.  The next step might be to not let those negative perceptions distort my view of myself so much that it takes nearly two hours to think of a single good thing that someone would like about me.

self_esteem

We Attract Who We Think We’re Worth

20 Sep

I read a blog post yesterday that said, when it comes to dating, we attract who we think we are worth.  That’s definitely true.  As I read, I was nodding along.  The title is Who You Date Is a Function of Your Self-Esteem.  Absolutely correct.

I likely would have said that Tony was “out of my league” ten years, five years, one year, or even six months ago.  He’s intelligent, handsome, sweet, attentive, successful, amazing in bed, responsible, wonderfully quirky, hilarious, gentlemanly, quick-witted, and more.  He has a way with words, he’s in touch with himself and his emotions, and he’s genuine.  He is the true definition of “the total package.”  He’s got everything a girl could ever dream of and then some.  Seriously.

The old version of me would have been intimidated by that.  I probably wouldn’t have given the five star “nudge” because I would have been positive that he couldn’t possibly be into me.   I would have been shocked and maybe even skeptical when/if I got a message from him.  I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence to engage and interact with him the way that I did.

That’s not to say that my personality or taste have changed lately.  I’ve always been the person I am, for the most part.  Certainly, I have grown over the years, especially emotionally.  However, my sense of humor, natural intelligence, honesty, caring nature, talents, and even body haven’t changed that much in the last decade.  I’m pretty much the same me I’ve always been, with added maturity, insight, and confidence.

I have also always been attracted to the qualities that Tony possesses.  Who wouldn’t be?  I just never thought I would get someone like that.  Or that I deserved to.

Reading that, even after coming to the realization on my own, is painful.  I knew great people existed with all of the qualities I admired and desired.  I simply thought none of them would ever want me.  I was sure that I would have to make concessions when it came to a partner.

woman-low-self-esteemSo certain, in fact, that I didn’t even let myself desire someone who had it all.  A man like that might catch my eye for a second, then I’d mentally move right by.  If he happened to be married or with a girlfriend, I would compare myself to that woman and confirm in my head all the ways I fell short: I wasn’t as pretty, thin, interesting, social, charming, graceful, etc.

If a man like that appeared to be single, or I heard he was through the grapevine somehow, I convinced myself there was no possibility that he could ever be attracted to someone like me.  It was often a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If we did get a chance to interact, my reserved, insecure communication and failure to show any interest would ensure I wasn’t noticed or he was discouraged from making a move.

Even if a “total package” man engaged me in a way that could be construed as flirting, I was positive that he was just being nice to pass the time until someone better, more interesting, or more attractive came along.  A man like that rarely pursues someone with no self-confidence, especially someone who doesn’t seem interested.  So my behavior reinforced my beliefs.

As I matured and became more comfortable with myself, I did let my personality out to play more. I learned to be a pretend extrovert and engage with a variety of people. I was always far more confident and comfortable with people who were “less than” in some way, though. I would rather be a big fish in a little pond than feel like a small one in a big pond. The same concept applied to my relationships… I was drawn to “projects.”  Those were the type of people that I felt confident being myself around.

That’s not what I really needed, though.  Not that I ever sat down to consider what that was.  I was more concerned about being everything my partner needed.  I rarely stopped to ask myself what I was getting or if I was fulfilled.  After all, if you’ve already decided that you’ll have to settle, it’s not surprising or even that disappointing when you do.  I told myself that things were good enough, or as good as I could expect. I thought that I was happy enough, or even if I wasn’t that I could get there if I just worked a little harder at fixing things.

When I finally realized that it WASN’T good enough, I WASN’T happy, I DIDN’T have to settle, and I SHOULD think about my needs, it was a revolutionary shift in perspective.  It changed the way I carried myself.  It changed the way I interacted with people. It changed the way I thought about dating and men.

During my Librarian Bob phase, I went out with eight men, if I recall correctly. Two got to date #2. None got past that point.  I went on dates with a loser, an asshole, and a liar.  I went on a date with a fireman who posed for a smoking hot calendar picture, which I saved to drool over even after I declined a second date (for several reasons).  I went on dates with men who were nice enough, seemed to have a lot going for them, and were into me.  Any of those men might have been someone I ended up in a relationship with before, when my self-esteem was virtually non-existent.  My realization left me asking if any of them were what I wanted.  The answer was no.

Those “no’s” helped me define what a “yes” would look like.  I actually sat down and contemplated my needs.   I also began to realize the things that I had to bring to the table.  The eight men I went on dates with were a small portion of the number of interested candidates.  While that was surprising at first, I began to step back and look at myself through other people’s eyes.  I was selling myself short and limiting my own happiness.

I’m not doing that anymore, and happiness is fantastic.  So is attracting the kind of person who is really worthy of me.

Being Aware of Our Vulnerabilities

2 Oct

man on a wire – by simple pleasure

Last week a blogger I follow posted about a Vulnerability Assessment from her marriage counselor.  I was instantly intrigued.  She pointed out that Vulnerability + Opportunity = Affair.  That makes sense, although the reality is probably a tiny bit more complicated.

Those do seem like the basic questions to ask yourself, though – how vulnerable are you to being led astray and what kind of opportunity do you have to act on that vulnerability.  Those two things together are important to the equation.  Having lots of opportunity to cheat doesn’t necessarily mean that you will.  Similarly, being vulnerable to an affair doesn’t guarantee you will have one.  Someone can also be vulnerable and make their own opportunity or have so much opportunity that it creates a vulnerability.  However, if you mix equal parts vulnerability to an affair and opportunity to have one, it is obviously a recipe for disaster.

That made me wonder…  Just how vulnerable am I?

If I had to guess, I would say that I probably have a fairly high score on that assessment.  My husband is a sex addict, so his cycles and behaviors have definitely put him at a high risk overall.  But what about me?

Certainly, according to the small snapshot she shared, I would answer “True” more often than I would like.  Just look at some of this stuff…  Did you know you are at increased risk of having an affair simply if:

  • you have a Facebook account?
  • you have been dealing with stress (family, illness, work, marriage, new job)?
  • you have moved?
  • you have had to deal with the loss of a parent, child, sibling, pet, close friend, family member?
  • you have dealt with or are dealing with a physical/emotional illness (stress, depression, low self-esteem)?
  • you feel taken for granted or taken advantage of at work, at home, in life?
  • you have had to deal with children that are teenagers, rebellious, or unruly?
  • you have felt self-conscious of aging, a bulging mid-section, receding hairline, sagging breasts, erectile dysfunction, major weight loss/gain?
  • you have felt sexually inadequate or second-rate in bed?
  • you confide easily in others?
  • you lack clear goals or dreams or sense of purpose for your life?
  • you have thought or spoke negatively about yourself?
  • you have a lack of self-awareness concerning infidelity, such as:
    • “This couldn’t happen to me.”
    • “I’m committed to working on my marriage.”
    • “No one would be interested in me.”
    • “I would recognize the signs.”
    • “I can be his/her friend only.”
    • “He/She is only a friend.”
    • “He/She is not attractive to me, so this is OK.”
    • “We are both married.”  [As if that totally rules it out…]
    • “This will not get out of hand.”
  • you have a high need for affirmation from others in your life?
  • you feel sorry for yourself?
  • you often see things as ALL or NOTHING?
  • you are unable to communicate your thoughts and emotions to your spouse? perhaps you have been dishonest with them about difficult issues because you fear them rejecting you or punishing you, or because you think it will protect them…”What they don’t know won’t hurt.”)
  • compared to others, you view yourself as:  morally superior, smarter than, or more self-aware?
  • your spouse embarrasses you in public?
  • your marriage is “keeping up the image” to others?
  • you have felt your sex life lacked quality, passion or adventure, and/or it has not been frequent enough?
  • you are disconnected sexually because of emotional starvation?
  • you have married friends who complain about their marriages?
  • you spend time alone?

Teetering on the brink – © Copyright John Naisbitt and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

I definitely don’t have all of them, not even half, but several of them stood out.  This is also not the entire list.  She got a HUGE list of almost 250 characteristics that can make you vulnerable to an affair, and chose just to share some of the ones that she found the most surprising or that made the most sense.

If I spent time alone I’m more vulnerable to an affair?  Huh?  If it’s on there, though, there must be a reason.  I think it is important to remember all of the little ways we can become vulnerable – to an affair, but also to drifting apart from our partner.  Each of these things is part of a bigger picture.  Too many of them together can mean that you are opening yourself up to stray, or even just to become estranged from your spouse.  The moral of the story is:

Expose your weaknesses before the lies become believable.

I am about to head into the therapist’s office to have my husband give me a full disclosure of his acting out behavior.  I am nervous.  There are all sorts of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside me.  One thing I have been keeping in the forefront of my brain is that the roles could easily be reversed.  If I had a different childhood, if I were treated or raised differently, if I had chosen to cope with sex or porn instead of shopping or eating, if any number of things had happened… this could be me today.  I am going to try my hardest to leave all judgement at the door.  We have walked down different paths.  We have experienced life differently.  The things we have been through brought us together, and we are moving forward hand in hand.

What’s that saying… “But for the grace of God go I.”  I may not believe in God, but I do believe that none of us can be positive that we aren’t vulnerable to being that person we despise, pity, hate, laugh at, etc…  I am going to try to hold onto that renewed sense of humility and self-awareness as I listen with an open heart to the things my husband has struggled with in his past.  Wish me luck.

A homeless man in Paris – work by Eric Pouhier

Finishing up the Checklist

19 Jun

Well, today I am going to finish up the checklist from Codependent No More.  It was a lot more than I remember reading when it came time to actually type it all out.  Spreading things over several posts has given me more time to really think about each list of characteristics and take the time to properly rate them for myself.  I’m really excited to keep digging into this book and see what healthier solutions she has.

WEAK BOUNDARIES

Codependents frequently:

  • say they won’t tolerate certain behaviors from other people.  (1)
  • gradually increase their tolerance until they can tolerate and do things they said they never would.  (2 – sadly, this is definitely true)
  • let other hurt them.  (2)
  • keep letting people hurt them.  (1)
  • wonder why they hurt so badly.  (1)
  • complain, blame, and try to control while they continue to stand there.  (2 – Ouch…)
  • finally get angry.  (1 – I tend to have the anger while not really doing anything about it – see above)
  • become totally intolerant.  (2 – this has been historically correct.)

LACK OF TRUST

Codependents:

  • don’t trust themselves.  (0)
  • don’t trust their feelings.  (1)
  • don’t trust their decisions.  (1)
  • don’t trust other people.  (2)
  • try to trust untrustworthy people.  (2 – not sure how this one and the one above can be true, but they are)
  • think God has abandoned them.  (what God?)
  • lose faith and trust in God.  (see above… boy do I really hope “god” isn’t the answer in this book because I will be very disappointed)

ANGER

Many codependents:

  • feel very scared, hurt, and angry.  (1)
  • live with people who are very scared, hurt, and angry.  (2)
  • are afraid of their own anger.  (1)
  • are frightened of other people’s anger.  (2)
  • think people will go away if anger enters the picture.  (1)
  • think other people make them feel angry.  (1)
  • are afraid to make other people feel anger.  (2)
  • feel controlled by other people’s anger.  (0)
  • repress their angry feelings.  (1)
  • cry a lot, get depressed, overeat, get sick, do mean and nasty things to get even, act hostile, or have violent temper outbursts.  (2)
  • punish other people for making them codependents angry.  (0-1)
  • have been ashamed for feeling angry.  (1)
  • place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry.  (0-1)
  • feel increasing amount of anger, resentment, and bitterness.  (0 – I am on the decreasing end of this spectrum lately)
  • feel safer with their anger than with hurt feelings.  (0-1)
  • wonder if they’ll ever not be angry.  (1)

SEX PROBLEMS

Some codependents:

  • are caretakers in the bedroom.  (2)
  • have sex when they don’t want to.  (0)
  • have sex when they’d rather be held, nurtured, and loved. (0 – usually these things go hand in hand for us)
  • try to have sex when they’re angry or hurt.  (0 – not gonna happen)
  • refuse to enjoy sex because they’re so angry at their partner.  (0 – again, it doesn’t happen if I’m angry)
  • are afraid of losing control.  (1)
  • have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed.  (1)
  • withdraw emotionally from their partner.  (1 – not so much now that we are more communicative and he is more vulnerable with me)
  • feel sexual revulsion toward their partner.  (0)
  • don’t talk about it.  (0)
  • force themselves to have sex, anyway.  (0)
  • reduce sex to a technical act.  (0)
  • wonder why they don’t enjoy sex.  (1)
  • lose interest in sex.  (0)
  • make up reasons to abstain.  (0)
  • wish their sex partner would die, go away, or sense the codependent’s feelings.  (0 – whoa… glad I don’t have this one)
  • have strong sexual fantasies about other people.  (0 – unless dreams somehow count… I’ve had a few steamy ones)
  • consider or have an extramarital affair.  (0 – huh… wonder if my husband needs to take this?)

Some people think this is healthy… It’s not. It’s also not possible!

MISCELLANEOUS

Codependents tend to:

  • be extremely responsible.  (2 – definitely)
  • be extremely irresponsible.  (0 – never been a problem for me at all)
  • become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don’t require sacrifice.  (0 – I don’t think so…)
  • find it difficult to feel close to people.  (2)
  • find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.  (1 – my husband has helped me in this area a lot already)
  • have an overall passive response to codependency – crying, hurt, helplessness.  (1 – at some points)
  • have an overall aggressive response to codependency – violence, anger, dominance.  (0-1 – not really a main issue, but sometimes intense anger has come out)
  • combine passive and aggressive responses.  (1)
  • vacillate in decisions and emotions.  (1 – decisions, no.  emotions, yes.)
  • laugh when they feel like crying.  (1-2 – does smiling count?  I often have am inappropriate response to uncomfortable situations or death like smiling when I really am not feeling happy or amused in the least)
  • stay loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.  (2 – yes, I am very loyal)
  • be ashamed about family, personal, or relationship problems.  (2)
  • be confused about the nature of the problem.  (1-2)
  • cover up, lie, and protect the problem.  (0-1 – I don’t remember any specific times when I have done that.  I definitely don’t lie, but I might “protect” by not telling many people)
  • not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isn’t bad enough, or they aren’t important enough.  (0 – not any more…  there was a time years ago where that was true, and I’m not going back there)
  • wonder why the problem doesn’t go away.  (1)

PROGRESSIVE

In the later stages of codependency, codependents may:

  • feel lethargic.  (2)
  • feel depressed.  (2)
  • become withdrawn and isolated.  (1)
  • experience a complete loss of daily routine and structure.  (0)
  • abuse or neglect their children and other responsibilities.  (1 – work has suffered a bit)
  • feel hopeless.  (1)
  • begin to plan their escape from a relationship they feel trapped in.  (0)
  • think about suicide.  (0)
  • become violent.  (0)
  • become seriously emotionally, mentally, or physically ill.  (0)
  • experience an eating disorder (over- or -undereating).  (1 – I wouldn’t really call it a disorder, but both of those things have happened)
  • become addicted to alcohol or another drug.  (0)

And that’s all folks!

Being a Fixer

5 Jun

I am a fixer.  When I see a problem I want to correct it.  If there is something to do, I attack it.  I am also an overachiever and a perfectionist.  I want to be the best.  I won’t accept less than what I know I am capable of.  I strive to stand out from the pack.  While these things have led to accomplishments and good outcomes in my life (full college scholarship, 4.0 GPA while maintaining a full-time job, owning a home at 19), they are not healthy traits overall.  They can lead to missed opportunities (because if I can’t guarantee success I will most likely not try at all).  They can lead to controlling behavior (if you want something done right, just do it yourself).  They can lead to frustration, stress, low self-esteem, and a host of other things.

My husband’s sex addiction is the biggest personal test of those traits that I have ever experienced because I can’t fix it.  Not being able to control that aspect of our life makes me feel helpless, useless, and deficient in some uncorrectable way.  I have to address my “fixer” urge and perfectionism head-on almost every day.  Nothing I can do will change or correct my husband’s sex addiction – now, in the future, or in the past.  It is his journey.

I am slowly accepting the fact that there are aspects of our marriage recovery that are not in my hands.  It is terrifying because the outcome doesn’t solely rely on me.  I have to put away the notion that we can have a “perfect” marriage.  I also have to challenge the idea that perfection is possible in any other aspect of my life.  That is my ongoing battle.  It is one of the major contributions I can make to our marriage.  Accepting that means I am also accepting that my husband’s sex addiction and his hurtful actions existed outside of me.   He isn’t perfect, either.  What he did wasn’t about me, I can’t control it, I couldn’t have loved him out of it, and his behavior wasn’t my fault.

That resolve is put to the test every day, though.  I often hear people parroting that an affair is just a “symptom” and the real “cause” is a bad marriage.  They point the finger back at the betrayed spouse and say that there is something more or better that we should have been doing.  They say that we failed in the marriage first by not fulfilling every need our partner had.  These people are fond of saying that affairs are wrong, but that they wouldn’t have made the wrong choice if this or that thing was better to begin with. It plays right into my “fixer” complex.

I’m not going to go into the merits of that argument as they apply to standard affairs without a sexual addiction component.  I really can’t address that because that’s not what I am dealing with.  I do understand that there are always things ANYONE in a marriage can do more of or better.  No one is perfect, and that includes me.  That admission is a hard one for me to make.  As much as I would like to do everything right all of the time, I don’t.  Even if I did and had been all along, though, the issues that I am dealing with in my marriage would still be there. Because my husband’s “cause” is deeper than our marriage. 

There are other “causes” of affairs than just “my marriage sucked” or any variation thereof (I wasn’t getting enough sex, she didn’t love or cherish me enough, etc.).  There are some people who are dealing with a pattern of sexual acting out that is a lifetime behavior not caused by the person they are with.  Sometimes affair behavior has nothing to do with their primary relationship at all – and confessed sex addicts will be the first to tell you that – at least my husband would.

Does that mean there is something fundamentally wrong with me that I picked him to marry? Quite possibly. That is part of my journey to healing.  I need to figure out why I was attracted to someone who was emotionally unavailable.  I can say that sex addicts are masters of covering up their emotions, compartmentalizing, rationalizing and denying.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I inadvertently accepted that behavior by allowing him to offer me thin explanations, bad lies, and surface emotions.  I let him give me less than I deserved, and I tricked myself into thinking I was getting everything I needed.

I know that this will sound awful, but sometimes I wish that I was just dealing with a garden variety affair. I know that they are painful and difficult to get through. But at least there is a clear path, and it is more of a partnership to find your way out.  This?  I’m not sure what it is.  Any books I read call me codependent if I try to help my husband through it.  So I have to just sit back and let him do the work.  Sure, I have things that I’m working on as well.  But none of those things will matter if he doesn’t unravel his “cause” and break his underlying patterns.

I WISH that I could do something to fix this.  I WISH that our cause really was as simple as some fundamental thing being missing from our relationship.  It just isn’t.  His sex addiction was not caused by me.  It was there before me.  The primary cause of my husband’s cheating had nothing to do with me.  It has to do with his addiction.

That means we are working not just to find the proper footing in our marriage.  We are also working to find a way to connect and get to the “real” person underneath the sex addict veneer.  I want to know my husband.  I want him to share with me.  He wants to share with me.  But his gut instinct, his default programming, is to lie, hide, and cover his true emotions with acting out behavior like porn, sex chatting, sexting, etc.  He isn’t acting out sexually anymore, but he is still lying and hiding things that he could and should be sharing with me.  He has to figure out why.  He has to get to the root of that programming, undo over 40 years of “faulty wiring,” be okay with being vulnerable, and learn to accept the love that I am offering him.

And I have to learn to let go.  I have to learn to let him figure things out.  I have to learn to keep offering love and support whether he accepts them or not.  I have to keep being vulnerable even when he isn’t.  I have to lead by example and put into my marriage what I hope to get out of it.  That is the only way that I can “fix” anything – by doing the things that are in my power and being aware of the things that aren’t.  What an easy concept that is in theory, but how incredibly difficult it is in practice.

Maybe now you understand me better.  Maybe you don’t.  I don’t know.  I just wanted to point out that not every affair has the same cause.  Maybe other perfectionists out there will be able to let go of a little bit of their guilt, feelings of responsibility, and shame regarding their husbands’ affairs.  There are more spouses of sex addicts out there than you might think.  This is written for them.  Hopefully you will be able to identify what things you can change and what things you can’t.  Maybe you will start to understand the areas where you have responsibility and the areas that are completely on your spouse.  Don’t accept more responsibility than is really yours because it will only lead you to try to change things that aren’t in your power.

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