People come to me when they’re struggling. Most frequently, clients are disenchanted with or have been hurt by love and marriage. Their relationship is over or in crisis and they’re unsure how to move forward. They’re trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life, now that a central aspect of their identity—their marriage and partner—has been removed. The specifics of each client’s story varies but they seem to be struggling from two common symptoms: 1) Lose of Self/Identity 2) Lose of self-worth/value. These two symptoms seem to be at epidemic levels in our society and I'm desperate to educate people on ways to transcend these crises.
We are never taught how to develop healthy identities and healthy relationships. There are no classes in schools, rarely any discussion in our homes, and it’s hard to find a healthy role model to follow. Our culture tends to ignore important subjects like shame while brainwashing us into thinking an intimate relationship or marriage will "complete you.” An intimate partner is supposed to be your "better half", indicating that we walk around incomplete or half empty until we find our special someone. We tell ourselves that we are finally "enough" when we have a partner who wants us and validates our value. We're smart, attractive, a good person, because others say so. The problem with that is that every human is flawed. So believing another human can save you from your own flaws or emptiness or complete you is setting you up for ultimate disappointment. Why? It is inevitable that our partners—along with us and everyone else—will fall short, at times. We will fail, we’ll disappoint, we’ll act selfishly and defensively, we’ll make choices and say things that hurt others. It's who we are as humans. We are perfectly imperfect. To count on another human being to save you, complete you, heal your childhood wounds and hurts, validate your worthiness, etc. will keep you in a cycle of insanity.
So if people are bound to disappoint me, then why would I ever bother engaging in a relationship with another?
Well, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re neurobiologically made to connect with others. Therefore, it can be just as destructive to isolate from others or emotionally armor up in order to avoid being vulnerable to others. The answer lies in working hard to maintain our own identities and sense of self-worth, regardless of the uncertainty of people and life around us. We have to take steps to make our own value and worth constant, know our shame triggers (what makes us defensive or manipulative), and take responsibility for our own joy, contentment, and shortcomings.
A Healthy You Makes a Healthy Relationship
A healthy relationship has two people who are whole on their own, already. They each know their wants, needs, and passions. They have their own interests. That way, the relationship doesn't DEFINE either person. It is not the ONLY source of validation and worth or passion and identity (because its okay to get SOME of that from a relationship). When we enter into relationships already whole, we do not and should not operate out of fear of losing it. See the illustration below:
Ideally, a healthy, interdependent relationship is one where both people are defined both in and out of their relationship. They both nurture and enrich their relationships out of a genuine desire to do so instead of doing it out of fear of abandonment or feelings of duty and obligation. Each speaks up, respectfully and honestly, about their wants and needs. No unspoken resentments. No mind-reading. Also, both take responsibility for their shortcomings and can make amends for their mistakes.
QUIZ: Are you struggling with your own identity and self-worth?
Do you find yourself comparing parts of yourself, your life, your relationship, or your achievements with others?
Do you regularly find yourself saying “yes” to someone’s request when you would much rather say no (but you don’t want to disappoint them or make them mad)?
Do you find you become upset or extremely bothered when you think others are upset at you?
Do you have a need to be approved by others in order to feel good about yourself (Example: When others are happy, you’re happy. When others are unhappy with you, you’re unhappy)?
Do you act nice to others on the outside but really feel like “I can’t stand you” or “I’m so angry with you” on the inside?
Do you often remain silent in order to just “keep the peace”? Saying things like “I’ll be the bigger person” or “I’m sure things will get better after (fill in blank)” or “I’m just not going to think about that” but you continue to feel angry, hurt, and frustrated by it?
Do you believe that if you make mistakes you have failed and you feel embarrassed of your mistakes (and maybe try to hide them from others)? Are you fearful of taking risks?
Do you find yourself criticizing others in order to feel better about yourself?
Do you find yourself avoiding looking weak or foolish to others for not having the answer (or just lie or make up an answer).
Do you have to be doing something exceptional in order to feel “alive” or “passionate”? Do you find yourself feeling bored and exploring ways to escape the monotony of life?
Do you have to be needed by someone to feel alive (yet often feel resentful for someone needing you too much)?
Do you find yourself doing things you THINK others will want you to do in order to please them or avoid them getting mad at you?
Do you find yourself bragging or showing off your assets or achievements in order to cover up any feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty?
Do you find yourself negatively judging people’s choices or behaviors, or their children’s choices or behaviors?
If you answered yes to most of those questions, its likely you’re struggling with your self-worth and your identity. Here are some helpful tools:
Exercises for Who I Am was created to help clients explore “who they are”, their values, strengths, weaknesses, passions, etc.
The Boundaries Chart is a general guideline for how to healthily operate with other flawed individuals.
Lying & Manipulation
In my next article I’m going to talk about why its destructive to your self-worth, identity, and relationships whenever you choose to lie and manipulate instead of face others with honesty and accountability, regardless of the consequences.