When you have lousy entitlement and self esteem it’s really hard to understand that until you learn how to give yourself love and respect, nobody else is going to give it to you. And self love starts with being willing to listen to your own emotions and feelings, taking them seriously. For me it was a conscious decision I had to make: “okay, I’ll let myself be important. I’ll listen. I won’t dismiss myself.”
I once had a partner who I was absolutely crazy about. I thought he loved me too. He didn’t treat me very well, because he was so self-obsessed, but I didn’t know I deserved any better. We were living in Italy, not together though. For my birthday one year I invited him for dinner. I prepared a fabulous meal, and lit the room up with candles. I was so excited, this was Italy. This was romance!
He showed up at the door sulking. My heart dropped. What had I done wrong? He had forgotten to get me a birthday present and when he remembered it was too late so he didn’t get anything. And he was angry with me for it! I can smile now but I was hurt and so disappointed then. What I really wanted was for him to say sorry, and put it behind him, so we could have a great evening.
It was my birthday, I wanted him to pay attention to me. Instead I was super nice to him and did everything I could to make him feel better. I succeeded, but as the evening wore on I felt worse and worse. I was also angry, but there was no way I was ever going to let him see that. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt him – or that’s what I told myself. I guess it was true. I didn’t want to hurt him but I let him hurt me.
The whole evening was a bust for me. He enjoyed himself though. I couldn’t sleep that night for hours and when I did I had horrible dreams. I woke up angry and depressed. In those days I was torn between wanting to be loving towards him and understand him, be there for him, and the feeling of worthlessness I had when he treated me like a doormat. The irony of it is that eventually he left me.
When I play that evening back in my mind, it doesn’t even start with me preparing dinner for him!
And if he showed up now at my door with a sulk on his face I might ask him what the problem was, but not before I had said “You know what? This is my birthday, I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make it a really beautiful evening. It’s not okay that you’re showing up in a bad mood. Unless somebody has died or something. Have they?”
Once I heard his reason I’d boot him out! Then I’d have to go and do a tantrum, just let my anger out. And hurt and disappointment. Then I’ve have to think long and hard about what the hell I was doing in a relationship with a man like that. The truth would be difficult to face but it would better than what actually happened – that I felt depressed for days afterwards. Depressed and worthless.
That evening – and in that whole relationship – I suppressed my feelings and ignored my needs. I chose to make him more important than me, even though he was so self-obsessed, and that’s actually what made me feel so awful. Discounting yourself, not speaking out because you think it’s hurtful, repressing emotions and getting depressed – how could that possibly work for anybody? It can’t. It sure didn’t work for me.