“I’m really messed up, aren’t I?”
As my friend said these words to me, her big blue eyes looked at me searchingly. It felt as though half of her needed me to confirm this terrible thing she knew, but the other half needed me to tell her she was really OK.
Laura had just spent the last half hour confessing her sins and trying to understand why she was doing things she didn’t consciously want to do. She was confused. She was angry with herself. And she was hurting.
She has a boyfriend who she assures me is wonderful. (I haven’t met him, so I can’t say.) He’s perfect in every way, she says, both as a man and as someone who she would hope to marry. She admits that he doesn’t understand her (and never will) and that he makes her uncomfortable at times, but he still checks all the “husband material” check boxes in her mind.
What she doesn’t understand is why she’s pushing him away — and she doesn’t understand why she cheated on him.
Laura comes from a messed-up family — one parent absent and uncaring and the other parent a constant drug abuser. The narrative that her past taught her is that no one is really going to love her just for being herself. What’s more, not getting her emotional needs met made her feel as though she’s a bad person, because only a bad and flawed person could be so unloved.
She feels a tremendous amount of stress to hide that she’s “bad” — and nobody would ever think to call her this based on her sweet and wholesome public life — because she thinks her only chance to be loved is to hide how terrible she really is inside.
Unfortunately, I see similar patterns quite often.
When I talk with many of the people I love — and they tell me their secrets and fears — I find the demons they carry from childhood programming almost always survive and thrive in their minds as harsh and condemning judges telling them they’re not worthy of being loved and that they’re bad people.
There’s no telling how much better the world would be if people could believe they deserve to be loved and that they owe it to themselves to leave the judgment behind.
Laura doesn’t feel worthy of the boyfriend who loves her. She wants his attention. She wants him to want her. She wants to believe that someone so good could care about her — because that attention makes her feel slightly more alive for a moment — but she ultimately doesn’t believe she’s good enough.
So she goes through a pattern. She seeks the attention and affection of a good man who can love her and make her feel alive, but once she has his love, she feels unworthy — and feels as though he’s bound to abandon her anyway — so she pushes him away and even cheats in order to prove her narrative is true — that she will be abandoned and that she’s a bad person.
It’s a nasty cycle that leaves her feeling worthless.
She thinks her problem right now is what to do about this relationship. Should she confess to the boyfriend? Should she ignore him and let him dump her? What if this is the man she’s “supposed to marry” and she never finds anyone like him again?
I told her she’s asking the wrong questions.
Until you deal with root causes — basic “programming,” if you will — the same problems will keep surfacing in your life in different guises, even if it’s sometimes hard to notice it’s the same problem.
Laura’s problem isn’t the boyfriend. The man might be a great guy, but there’s no emotional connection and she knows there never will be. The problem isn’t even the cheating, which she feels guilty about, because she knows it’s wrong.
The problem is that Laura doesn’t love herself. She doesn’t accept herself. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of anyone else loving her. She believes that she is a bad person who will continue to push away anyone in her life who is good.
Until Laura changes her beliefs about herself, nothing else will matter.
I doubt this boyfriend will be around for the long term. (I doubt he should be, but that’s not the point.) Until she believes she is worthy of love and until she believes she is a decent person who deserves love and belonging, nothing will change.
I’m not a trained therapist who can help Laura make these changes, but I do know — from my own experiences — that as long as you don’t change your own beliefs about yourself, you’re going to continue getting the same old negative results.
Changing your life frequently starts with loving yourself and accepting yourself. That can be the most difficult change of your life.