Every relationship we have represents a mirror to the relationship we have with ourselves. Yes, even the awful ones. Actually, ESPECIALLY the awful ones. When we are connected to others in relationships we find unfulfilling and even abusive, it’s time to look at what drew that person into our lives. I’m not blaming you for this, only helping you to see the parallels I’ve seen in myself. If I start with my ex-husband, I can see that when I met him while we were in college, I was insecure about myself, my body, and my smarts. I was feeling lonely and rejected after my high school fiancé dumped me over the phone a week after I arrived at my university, which was more than four hours from home. I felt like I was never going to be good enough for someone to love and I didn’t love myself in so many ways. My ex-husband was a guy I worked with on one shift a week at the cafeteria. I remember justifying the fact that I worked at the “nice” cafeteria to offset how ashamed I was of having to work at a cafeteria at all, a sentiment reinforced by the nasty cat-calls and “tricks” played by the frat boys who almost exclusively ate at the cafeteria where I worked because it was right off Frat Row. My ex was nice to me when so many times a day other men were pointedly nasty. I took that as a sign that this was the kind of man I could get and I settled. I settled for someone who drank far more than I was comfortable with. Someone who lived in his own past as an Air Force Academy Cadet who washed out on a medical after destroying a knee on an obstacle course. Someone who wasn’t as dedicated to his present life as I was before we connected. I can see myself in all of those points now, 32 years later. I didn’t drink, I ate. I lived in the past where I was smart and well-liked by my circle of friends in high school. I let things in college slide, like not getting up for 8 am classes, because I figured, “what does it matter?” I dedicated my life to being what I thought my ex wanted. I supported and ran the campaign for him when he said he wanted to run for state representative in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I supported his conservative views even though many were outside my comfort zone. I didn’t bring up my views because if I could drop them for him, how important could they be? I didn’t love myself in any healthy ways back then, so is it any wonder I began attracting narcissists as partners. Men who knew they could use me and leave me, taking everything I gave without giving in return. If I didn’t value myself enough to stand up and say I wanted or needed something, why should they care? And it took another 30+ years before I would really come to understand how much my connection to other people, and especially the men I dated, was based on how I felt about myself. When we don’t give ourselves healthy love, we create unhealthy connections with love interests. How can we expect others to love us if we don’t truly love ourselves? Often people around us will treat us in the ways they see us treat ourselves. I was the “funny girl,” for a long time and I can’t tell you how many self-deprecating “jokes” I told about how ugly and fat I was. It makes my heart clench to even think about it. I catch myself beginning to say similar things now, but the difference is that I catch myself before I speak those words aloud and give them power. Yes, I’m overweight. However, I am happy with myself in so many ways that the pudge is far less important now than it has ever been to me. I’m beautiful in so many ways that even if I trip over my own feet, I can’t feel bad about myself because of it. And I no longer get the looks or catcalls I got about my weight that came with frightening regularity through college and my life in my 20s and 30s. When I embraced that part of the relationship with myself, the outsiders took notice and kept their thoughts to themselves…or maybe they didn’t have them at all. One of the habits of the insecure is to assign meaning to everything someone does or doesn’t do. Often, this meaning is completely arbitrary and conjured out of our own insecurities. I’ve been making a habit of asking myself, does “so-and-so” really think I’m fat and ugly, or is that a reflection of what I think they’re thinking with no basis in fact? That’s been an extremely important shift for me, as it has required me to accept responsibility for imposing my thoughts on other people. And as my thoughts about myself have grown more positive, this attribution of thoughts to others has been more positive as well. I still have the behavior, but recognizing that I have it makes it that much less effective in making me feel less-than. The more you love all the parts of yourself, the healthier your relationships with others will be. As you align your energy with loving yourself in the ways in which you receive love, the more you are aligning your energy with people who will love you in the ways in which you receive love. That alignment is the key to your future happiness in a relationship with your soulmate partner. How can you improve the relationship you have with yourself in order to improve the relationships you’ll have with others?
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