Yes, another therapy post. You can pass on by if you want.
We were discussing relationships, and she asked me a somewhat off the wall question, at least from my perspective. I can’t exactly remember the question, but it was essentially one where she wanted to know if there was any specific memory that seemed to be associated with what I was feeling.
It took me straight to Homecoming of my senior year in high school. Now, you have to understand a few things about my high school. It was a boarding school, and I was what could be called a “scholarship student.” I worked as a dishwasher at least both my junior and senior years, and my parents got loans either from family or from the church body that owned and ran the school (yes, it was a religious boarding school owned and run by a very conservative, evangelical Lutheran synod). We were not allowed dances, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have those “special days.” It just meant that it was more about speeches and awards than about having some — hopefully — semi-clean fun. We had a joke about it (that I told my therapist) that we weren’t allowed to have sex because “it would lead to dancing.” Also, since it was the 80s, and most of the huge anti-hazing laws had yet to be created, there was a form of hazing for incoming freshmen. Anything (short of illegal or against the rules) that an upperclassman (juniors and seniors) told them to do, they were supposed to do.
I was, for a good portion of my high school years, the almost asexual, advice-giving friend. My senior year, I decided to take a risk. I asked an older freshman that I had been hanging out with to go to Homecoming with me. I wasn’t expecting some huge romantic relationship, just having an escort for my last Homecoming of my high school career.
He stood me up.
I spent that last Homecoming sitting in my room, trying not to cry. Wearing a dress that took quite a while to make.
I found out later that he went to every male upperclassman that he knew to ask them to order him to do something so he could have a reasonable excuse for standing me up.
Now, there’s a second part to this as well. Of my romantic relationships, I have only been dumped twice. I have been the dumper far more often than the dumpee. It isn’t me “dumping him before he can dump me,” it’s that I don’t see the relationship going anywhere or certain behaviors that at first seemed almost cute or understandable have begun to cause actual damage to me.
That right there should have clearly happened early in my relationship with my ex. It should have happened even before he asked me to marry him, let alone after I actually did marry him.
But there is a particular occurrence of personality traits that leads to my attempts at ending the relationship somehow being turned back on me, and I end up feeling abandoned and seemingly willing to beg the person to stay with me.
This is obviously — at least to my therapist and myself — something that causes me a lot of shame. She pointed out that I struggled trying to keep myself looking her in the eye. That’s not something that I normally do. When she pointed it out, I actually tried to keep looking her in the eye, but honestly couldn’t for any more than a second or two.
It makes no real sense to me, either side of it. The one side is why the choices of an immature boy would develop into a fear of abandonment. The other side is that somehow if I were just a stronger woman I could stick by my decisions and not be turned into that same sobbing young woman.
I think it is the last part of it that gives me the most shame. I’ve always tried to show the world a strong woman, even when I wanted to let someone else shoulder the burden. It’s why I feel shame and blame for sticking it out with my ex for so long, because I should have been stronger.
But, it is a brittle strength without a foundation in self-worth.
And that is what is behind the lingering teenaged angst. It’s that somewhere in that night, alone and crying, I internalized that boy’s choice. I internalized that I must somehow be so unworthy, so disgusting that a boy would intentionally find a way to excuse standing me up. It never occurred to me that if the boy really didn’t want to be my escort, he could have been honest and straight with me. He could have either said “no, thank you” when I asked him. Or, later, he could have walked up to me and said he would rather not be my escort.
Yes, the adult me still wants to excuse him. That expecting him to be honest with me is expecting too much of a teenage male.
This is also why it took me 30 years to finally learn that rejection is not about the person being rejected, but about the person DOING the rejecting.
The other problem in some ways is that many people become confused when I say I’ve always struggled with self-worth. The thing is, most people equate self-worth with self-esteem. And a low self-esteem almost always comes with low self-confidence. I actually do have a reasonable amount of self-confidence. I know what I am capable of. I know that I can do anything I put my mind to, unless – of course – I run up against something that is based in self-worth.I have a reasonably decent self-esteem.
What I lack, and what I am working on developing, is that sense that I – as a human being – am valuable. I have only ever based my self-worth on what I can do for someone else. That if I fail in aiding that person, that I become valueless.
That’s not true self-worth. Self-worth is that basic, instinctual awareness that I matter.