As women, we often get the message growing up that to be a “good girl,” we need to be selfless and put other people’s needs before ours; if we want something, it’s better to hint indirectly than ask for it directly, lest we come off as pushy. Somehow, the theory goes, life will work out for us, including our romantic life.
Then we realized that life does not work that way. Women who seem to be the most “bossy” get the best job and the best men. Women who express their feelings freely and ask for what they want seem to get exactly that; they create a world around them that reflects their high sense of self-worth.
I often see my fellow “nice girl” girlfriends stuck in a perpetual “waiting” state. They’re hoping that through their self-sacrifice, men will come to see how awesome they are and fall in love. Instead, they are often trapped in a loveless, sometimes even abusive relationship, and sometimes, they have a partner that refuses to commit.
I once had a roommate who slept with men on first dates and claimed she enjoyed it. One late night, she confided that what she actually wanted was a serious, committed relationship.
I have another friend that dated her boyfriend for well over a decade. To conceal her disappointment that her guy wouldn’t propose, she spoke of their drawn-out relationship as if it was her choice, even though her facial expressions betrayed her true feelings.
I was also guilty of not standing up for myself. A decade and a half ago, when my ex-husband proposed, deep in my heart, I did not want to marry him, but I couldn’t bring myself to say no.
I was afraid that my rejection would upset him, and it would mean the end of our relationship. I didn't want to marry him, but I also didn't want to lose him, so one thing led to another. Eventually, I married a man that I did not want to marry and ended up divorcing years later.
I betrayed myself by not willing to follow my instinct and speak my mind, and I paid a heavy price for it.
Why do women do these self-sabotaging things that ruin our chance for a happy, committed relationship and diminish our self-worth?
I have come to see the problem as boiling down to one thing, which Stephen Chbosky summed up brilliantly: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Until we can truly love and accept ourselves, we will not be able to raise our standards.: we will put up with too much, ask for too little, and survive on less than we desire.
“Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.” ― Author-Poet Aberjhani
In retrospect, what made my separation and divorce so hard was that I assessed my value through my ex’s eyes. I did not have a strong sense of intrinsic value, and I did not know how to love or approve of myself. When my ex-husband retracted his adoration, I “lost myself” and my sense of self-worth.
Shortly after he left, my therapist, trying to help me dig out of depression, suggested that I love myself more. I asked her how.
“You are lovable because you exist,” she said.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world." — Lucille Ball
Back then, this was a complete mumble-jumble to me. It would mean that we don’t need to do anything to earn love. Being raised by parents who doled out approvals in fleeting, bite-sized chunks only as a reward for pleasing them, I had no idea what she meant, and how that made any sense whatsoever.
Reflections From The Real-World
What made the concept of inherent lovability challenging to understand was that we also encounter people in society who treat us with conditional love. These exchanges strengthen our limiting belief that love has to be earned. The spell can only be broken when we critically reflect and see the absurdity of it.
Years ago, when I first dabbled in mountain biking, I showed up at a training ride with an old bike that I bought secondhand. The ride leader, sitting on his $10k plus bike, took one look at me and snarled, “We go at race pace.” He only warmed up to me after I demonstrated that I could keep up. This whole incident struck me as bizarre. This guy doesn’t know anything about me, yet he judged me as deficient the moment he saw my clunker.
His only measure of significance is the quality of my bike and how fast I ride.
I also observed similar snap judgments at play at work. Years ago, my then boss, the Vice President of Sales, picked candidates for the chopping board annually. The idea is that regular firings allow us to keep only the best. As soon as rumors got out about who’s on the list, people avoided the targets like the plague. I remember feeling a mixture of shock and disappointment at how quickly people flipped against each other; close colleagues became strangers overnight, all over some sales numbers.
The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that placing our self-worth on the opinions of others is a losing game. Everyone has their own peculiar yardsticks that consist mostly of nonsensical measurements.
It is not only impossible to please everyone, but also silly to base something as crucial as our sense of self on somebody else’s measure.
What makes us lovable?
Over the years, as I started to read more, learn from interactions with people and self reflect, I realized that love, whether that is the love of self or another, is not earned but given. We can be ourselves, flaws, warts and all, and still be lovable. When I think about my favorite people and why I love them, it has absolutely nothing to do with how good they looked, what schools they went to, or their jobs. What made me love them was who they are — their warmth, compassion, sense of humor, and little quirks that make them unique.
Nothing they can do would tip the balance one way or the other.
As I continue to examine lovability, I also thought of those who loved me the most — My maternal grandmother, my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Weisent, and my dearest friends. I realized that none of these people loved me for my accomplishments or what I could do for them. They were there for me when I was at my littlest, weakest, neediest, and saddest, precisely when I had very little to offer in return.
Over time, I came to realize that my therapist was right. As I loved myself more (see my self-love practices), the constant gnawing inner voice that says I am not good enough started to abate, and in its place came another voice that is supportive, self-reassuring, and accepting. I also started to explore how to set healthy boundaries. Growing up, it was not safe to push back on my parents, and my subconscious, with its wounded inner child, stood there, helpless and afraid. However, once I woke up to the reality that I am a grown-up with the strength, skills, and resources to protect myself, I spoke to my inner child and helped her grow up.
Journey To Self-Love
Asserting oneself, like any other communication skill, takes practice. I’ve certainly, at times, overdone it and came across as aggressive, and at other times, do the opposite and let people walk all over me. However, with concerted effort and constant self-reflection (“What did I do well? What could I do better next time?”), my ability to skillfully pushback improved. The more I stood up for myself, the more I trusted my ability to protect myself and the less trepidation I felt towards doing it.
Shortly after my ex-husband left, a dear friend counseled me that I should savor being alone because “You are a lot of fun to be with!” Back then, I took it as only something nice a friend would say, but I’ve come to realize the truth of it. Nowadays, I can spend hours reading, journaling, playing the piano, or singing, and be perfectly happy and content. Because I enjoy spending time with myself, it was easy to raise the bar on who I would allow into my life too.
It took many years, but soon after I made peace with possibly being single for a long time, I met my now-husband — a courageous, virtuous, and kind man that I respect and adore with all my heart.
Ultimately, we teach people how to treat us. When we are ready and willing to love and honor ourselves, we will naturally expect the same from others, and that’s when the magic happens.
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My name is Yumay Chang, and I run Life Is Love School, a global support group for childhood trauma survivors. I had a challenging childhood, and I know what it’s like to feel not good enough and not lovable. I learned through over two decades of research and plenty of trial and error how to heal so I can live a life of joy, love, and purpose. Now I help women that are successful at work but are unfulfilled in their personal lives do the same so they can also shine their brightest.
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