Dear Neil: I am 32 years-old, and I’m a mess. I grew up in a mess of a home—parents divorced when I was five. I had an abusive step-father. My father and I are now estranged. I’ve spent years trying to connect the dots between my childhood and the person I am, so I can become a better version of myself. But it hasn’t worked.
I have been reading your articles trying to understand how I continue to just mess up everything in my life. How do you change the way you see yourself? I am in a five year off-again on-again relationship with a wonderful guy. For over a year now, we have been “on,” and we got engaged last fall. This will be the second marriage for us both. We love one another very much, and even better, we like each other. But nothing seems to make me happy. There is always something on my list of things to improve. I have accused him of having an affair—even though there is no evidence of this and I don’t think that he’s that kind of guy. And it’s not just my relationship with him. I have a hard time making friends.
Whatever “this” is about me, I can’t seem to figure it out. And I am terrified of passing whatever “this” is on to my daughter. Can you help me?
Dear Unhappy: What “this” is called is insecurity and low self-esteem as Nathaniel Branden says in his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: There is no greater barrier to romantic happiness than the fear that I am undeserving of love and that my destiny is to be hurt, rejected or betrayed. Without a fairly healthy sense of self-worth, it is hard to believe that someone else really might love us and that all we sometimes have to do is accept that love.
It’s got to feel natural that someone else could and will love you. If you’re not accepting someone else’s love out of the conviction that you’re not worthy or loveable enough, you’re likely to do and say things that will eventually stop someone else from loving you.
So in order to love another and feel worthy of someone else’s love, you’re going to have to learn to love yourself, believe in yourself and find yourself worthy of love.
Here’s some things you can do:
- Take power in your life by going after your goals and staying connected to what matters to you, and do everything you can to meet those goals.
- Quit wasting time on things that do not really serve your best interest.
- Let hope run your life instead of fear.
- Take overall better care of yourself. Nurture yourself in positive and healthy ways.
- Quit doing things that hurt you—or that hurt others.
- Face and deal with your anger, depression, shame, guilt, self-blame and other negative emotions until you defeat them or get them under your control.
- Quit allowing your negative emotions to get the better of you.
- Make yourself productive every day.
Start your day looking for ways to be pleased with and happy about your life. What is it that you like and find attractive about yourself? What do you think others might find loveable about you? What do you find loveable about yourself?