If you’ve been around a while you’ll recognize that I have issues establishing and keeping boundaries. Inevitably this will result in my ego being battered by people unfit (or unwilling) to carry the title of “friend.” It doesn’t happen often anymore, so when it does happen it usually sneaks up on me. I realize too late that I have given too much of myself away for the sake of keeping a relationship when there wasn’t a true (or healthy) relationship there in the first place.
Most of my relationships are amazing. They are healthy and strong and reciprocal. I’m very lucky in that respect. But there arises an occasional situation that resurrects the people-pleaser I’ve long tried to kill and I’ll find my self-esteem floundering because of all the wrong people rather than flourishing by the support and concern of the right people.
Apparently old habits are hard to break.
I, like many women, have been conditioned to martyr myself to the the people I love, whether family, friends or lovers. It’s our job to be there whenever needed, give whatever we have but never ask for anything in return, and as such the emotional heavy lifting of the relationship defaults to us. We are the tireless and under-appreciated caregivers who never complain as we lift the world on our shoulders as mothers and nurturers.
We are supposed to do all this without asking for our own needs to be met by others. This is falsely advertised as “virtue.” Over the years as a recovering (and relapsing) doormat I’ve come to the conclusion that unconditional love indeed has one condition: to abide by the rules of love. This starts with loving yourself enough to recognize when you’re being taken advantage of. You cannot keep giving all of yourself away to those who don’t care enough about you to renew you and call it “virtue.” There’s nothing virtuous about a lack of self-respect.
Boundaries are a normal, natural part of a healthy relationship. Otherwise it’s just doomed co-dependence that leaves you a victim of those who are trained to treat you as lowly as you regard yourself. You should be able to say no, or state your opinion without fearing conflict, rejection or abandonment.
The problem with us “virtuous” codependent types is we always sniff out the narcissistic types that need the relationship to center around their feelings, needs and beliefs rather than a respectful mix of the two. This is the kind of person who will take everything you have to give and then conveniently disappear whenever you need a helping hand. They’ll blow you off with all the promises they never intend to keep because it works to their advantage to have you on the lower rung looking up to them. This in turn feeds their ego.
The giver believes “I need you to feed my esteem because you have convinced me you’re better than me” while the taker holds fast to “I need you to believe I’m better than you to sustain my ego.”
Any change to this toxic equation creates quite the brouhaha. God forbid you attempt to grow beyond these limitations or – gasp! – expect the other person to accept it when you do.
I’ve been told that I need to ease up on my expectations, but I think the better solution is to pick better friends. Holding up one’s end of the relationship shouldn’t be grueling… it should be the very least of what one would want to do. If not, then there’s no relationship there worth fighting for in the first place. There are far too many people in this world to waste what little time we enjoy on the planet with the wrong ones.
I always ended up with the wrong kind because I’ve always felt that I wasn’t worth any better… and I had to work myself into a neurotic mess to even be accepted, much less loved.
I know better than that now, so this pattern repeating itself now at this juncture of my life surprises me somewhat. I guess I still have some emotional housekeeping to do.
There will be those who underestimate me based on their own limitations, but I don’t have to let that define who I am as a person. I’ve been handing over my fragile ego to those who, quite frankly, have plenty of issues and inadequacies of their own. But I buy into the hype that just because they don’t have some of the quirks I dislike in myself they are somehow more evolved than I am. If they don’t like me it subtly justifies the reasons I shouldn’t like myself, and as such I’ve stupidly allowed them to determine my self-worth when sometimes it is as simple as a poor fit of conflicting personalities.
When you believe the worst of yourself first, so it’s easy to take the rejection very personally. These folks simply validate all the stuff that stupid chatterbox has always regurgitated in my ear since I was a tiny child. The nagging thought in my own mind I’ll never be smart enough, pretty enough, valuable enough, worthy enough… so I gravitate towards those who feel likewise and seek to prove us both right with destructive behavior. Unfortunately low self-esteem is a self-fulfilling prophesy. The worse you feel about yourself the more stupid stuff you do to ensure you continue to feel bad… such as align yourself with dysfunctional relationships that batter your self-esteem.
It’s been decades since that sexual assault but I must still feel the (admittedly unconscious) need to punish myself for being corruptible.
Truth is I don’t need to change at all to be accepted into the human race and treated with simple decency, and I shouldn’t have to assert that with the people I call friends. I need to grow and evolve just like any other human being – as none of us are perfect. But I am not the sum of my failures, real or perceived… and it’s certainly nothing someone can surmise within a few minutes of meeting me.
(Frankly if someone judges me negatively at first glance that speaks more to their personality defects than mine, rendering them disqualified for *my* friendship standard rather than the other way around.)
If we’re really getting down to it… there’s a lot *right* about me, far more than what is wrong… and I believe that’s true of most people who have a low self-esteem. If you asked me what I would change about myself I could list
five four things.
1.) Fix my crooked teeth
2.) Lose weight
3.) Be more responsible with money
4.) Be braver
At the top of my list of what is “right” about me: persistence. I know I can do these things if I just put the effort into it. So why buy into the “good but not good enough” bullshit from myself or anyone else?
If what’s wrong with me is limited and fixable, then what the hell am I whining about?
And why the hell am I giving ANYONE else a free pass to treat me like I’m “less-than” because they can’t get past what they see when they look at me… when I’m so very much more than the packaging I wear?
I’m my own worst abuser by perpetrating the lie.
So I think it’s time to set a new standard for myself. I’ve taught others how to treat me by continually bashing myself for all my perceived flaws, it’s time to teach others to treat me with the respect any human being deserves. This is especially true if you want more than a passing acquaintance with me.
That’s going to come with a few things that turn people off apparently.
1.) I’m always going to tell you the truth, even if it hurts to hear it. I won’t be mean but I can be direct – but everything I say is said out of a genuine and loving place
2.) If I let you in I believe I do have a right to certain expectations in return… namely:
3.) We can love each other differently, but in the end I expect you to treat me with the same respect and consideration I treat you. And if you cannot:
4.) BE FREAKING HONEST ABOUT IT.
I don’t tolerate half-assedness from those I let closest to me. Eventually my seemingly indefatigable sense of devotion will dry up just like any other neglected resource and our friendship will meet its end. If this is fine by you then save me the trouble and the heartache ahead of time by establishing this relationship limitation at the get-go so I can make any subsequent choices accordingly.
Don’t keep me hanging on the line for your own amusement or convenience.
(Or worse… to keep me around to feed your ego, whether it’s letting me build you up or you trying to knock me down.)
From this moment going forward I will work under the assumption that everyone who is in my life is there because they want to be and they agree to the following rules of engagement:
1.) Be honest with me. No lies, even those by omission. I’d much rather hear a painful truth than a pretty lie. Inside I always know the truth, even if it’s not spoken, so lying to me is really another form of disrespect. Which brings us to….
2.) Treat me with respect. Don’t change the rules of our social contract to give yourself a free pass on things while asking me to give up my right to feel/think or speak differently on the matter. In other words… LET ME INTO THE RELATIONSHIP and don’t try to make any of my decisions for me.
3.) Don’t underestimate me. I only want relationships where I can grow. If you want to put me in a box that keeps that growth stunted, the more merciful action would be to set me free to find those who see my potential rather than my limitations. Others can see this in me even if you can’t. So…
4.) Appreciate me for who I am, do not punish me for who I’m not (yet.)
As you can see that’s not a lot, especially for what you get in return:
a.) a tireless and devoted friend
b.) a warrior in your time of crisis
c.) a shoulder in your time of need
d.) a cheerleader for your passion
e.) a clown when you’re blue
f.) the voice of reason in uncertainty
g.) a problem-solver when times are hard
h.) a thoughtful and generous spirit when you need someone
i.) a quiet and supportive shadow when you don’t
j.) respect for your feelings
k.) empathy for your struggles
l.) adherence to your own personal boundaries
I’ll care a lot. And I’ll be real with you. But I can no longer be the martyr to one-sided, codependent friendships that torpedo my self-esteem.
I reserve the right to expect more because I deserve more.
Only the strong at heart need apply.