My classmate from middle and high school had come over to my home for a visit and we were discussing relationships. I was explaining to her how I was struggling with putting what I know to be true into practice when it comes to the area of romantic relationships.
I could give others sound relationship advice but for some reason there was a disconnect in applying it in my own life. I simply could not figure out how I knew what I should be doing but I had no idea how to do it.
She told me what I knew to be true, she said –
“You’ve got to set some boundaries.”
I remember quickly replying “I know… but how?”.
I further explained to her that my dilemma was that while I know I should have boundaries for some reason once I finally opened my heart to a person I would have a hard time sticking to the boundaries. Which ultimately meant I didn’t have any.
She and I had some further discussion, shared thoughts, ideas, stories, food and laughs and then she left, but thankfully – her words didn’t.
I talk and write extensively about standards and boundaries, but for some reason when it comes to romantic relationships I often exercised a weak no towards a man who becomes my object of affection. I was totally aware of this weakness and had been for quite some time.
I was fully cognizant of how actions like being a people pleaser, engaging in over giving, seeking external validation, having a lack of boundaries, possessing low standards, acting out of a fear of abandonment and a fear of rejection were all things that can result in attracting poor relationship partners. And yet I was plagued by each and every one of them.
I often give advice to others in these areas and speak to my friends and family about the dangers of having low self-worth, a lack of self-love and possessing low self-esteem. I am able to give people suggestions on how to improve in those areas and many of them are able to take my advance and make positive adjustments in their life.
But for some reason, while I was improving in those areas I was still riddled by them. In my own life the improvements in those areas were moving at a snail’s pace. It was very frustrating to know what was wrong with an area of my life but not be consciously aware of how to fix it.
I felt stuck.
I knew the problem, but could not determine how to deploy a plan of action in my own life!
Sadly, I was still allowing myself to be a doormat and for the life of me I could not figure out how to get off the floor!
I was very emotionally vulnerable and while I knew better mentally – emotionally I was a wreck!
It is my firm belief that my failure to be true to myself wasn’t just showing up within my romantic life. In all honesty I was going through turmoil in almost every area of my life and I was desperately clinging for a sense of normalcy. I wanted better for myself, I wanted the chaos that was surrounding me to ease. And I knew that it all started with me. I had to work through the chaos within myself.
After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion of why I had a weak no. I had a weak no because I didn’t really see my worth and value.
The reason I could encourage others to see their worth and value and not myself was because I thought that everyone was valuable – well, everyone except for me.
Understand that I knew I was valuable, but I did not believe I was valuable, therefore I did not feel valuable. I could not act upon what I did not believe or feel to be true, even though deep down I knew better.
Understand you can know something in your spirit but not believe it in your mind and then you will feel such away about it, that your body will act contrary to what you know to be true.
I am not really sure where it started but somewhere inside of myself I decided that I had to take scraps from the men I cared about because I wasn’t worthy of more. I remember at one point my self-esteem was so ridiculously low that I actually thought I was too ugly and too much of a burden for any man to ever want to be with me. I would try to push men away because of this.
However, I erroneously believed that if a guy was crazy enough to like someone as insignificant as me and I felt attracted to him then I had to do practically anything to keep the relationship before he realized how worthless I was and left.
And yet simultaneously I possessed such a strong fear of rejection that at slightest hint that he might be thinking negatively of me I would try to leave him before he could leave me.
I was living in a mess of emotions dictated by my own internal thoughts.
One major experience that pointed my thought process in that direction happened back when I was 15. My parents separated and my dad decided that he no longer wanted to be a part of my life. I remember thinking, my dad has known me for 15 years and he doesn’t want to know me any more. I thought who could be better at making a judgment call of my value to men than my father – the male blood relative, who helped create me and who was one of my house mates of 15 years. If my own father doesn’t want to know me why on earth would anyone else?
In my warped 15 year old mind the seed was planted that if my own father doesn’t want to spend time with me, attend my graduation, walk me down the aisle, be there for the birth of my children, for holidays and to support me emotionally then why on earth would any other man?
My 15 year old mind had made a false assessment and I carried it for 18 years. 18 years is the length of time it takes to become considered an adult in American society. Interestingly enough, that thought become a full grown adult concept in my mind by the time I really began to gain clarity on the weight of its destruction.
My assessment that my father would be a good judge of my worth was a major fallacy in my line of thinking. I define my self-worth, self-value, self-love, self-respect, not my father! I set the standard. My vessel was intricately designed by our Divine Creator God, I am fearfully and wonderfully made! My worth and my value cannot be gauged by my earthly father, because my Heavenly Father has already determined my worth and He has already spoken who I am and His word shall not return void.
I had to cast down the false premise that there was a direct correlation between my father not wanting to spend time with me and other men not wanting to.
I reached a point where I started to believe no man would want to be with me – and it came to pass.
I thought I wasn’t valuable – and no man saw my value.
I thought I was worthless – and that is exactly how I was treated.
For, I started living a self-fulfilling prophecy based on that belief.
I became pregnant at 15 to a guy who couldn’t care less about me if he tried. I met a man who was to become my husband at 16 and we were married from the time I was 18 until I was 32. Ironically my interaction with my ex husband lasted about as long as the one with my father.
My ex husband was as emotionally damaged as I was, and in time he grew to not want to spend time with me either.
I later developed romantic feelings for someone after my divorce, who really didn’t care anything about me and made that perfectly clear through his actions.
When men would show me attention, I would pull away and put up walls. The walls went up out of fear of rejection and out of fear of abandonment. But the truth is, I desperately wanted a man to love me enough to tear them down.
It wasn’t until I really sat down and did some deep self-analysis that I came to realize I had to be the one to tear my own walls down. For it was I alone who built the wall up, brick by brick.
I was so afraid that no man would ever love me, so much so that when I did finally develop feelings for someone after my marriage ended, I came into the interaction with such low expectations for how I should be treated that all I was, was mistreated.
I didn’t ask for much and he gave me less than that. I loved him and it went unrequited. I could know he was lying and I was so hungry for affection that I would do mental summersaults to convince myself that what I knew to be a lie was true. Just so I could say my object of affection loved me.
I knew he did not love me, but I didn’t want to accept that I could be so emotionally invested in an individual who could take me or leave me – and who for that matter would much prefer leaving me.
How on earth was I in love with someone who didn’t love me? I had put up the walls! I had rejected the advances of men as hard as I knew how. But there I was in love with someone who treated me like trash.
I was so ashamed but I was drawn to the hurt. It felt painfully familiar having a man not want to spend time with me and so I felt comfortably uncomfortable in that awkward pattern of behavior.
I was behaving pitifully and it had to stop.
Thankfully God allowed some amazing things to happen to help me to break through from my pain. For one thing He allowed my father who left me when I was 15 to return back into my physical presence on my 33rd birthday. God allowed things to play out in such a way that the gift my mother purchased for my birthday did not arrive in time. Therefore, the only gift I received on my actual birthday came from my father. He gave me a gift of $100, bought me a cake, card and a balloon and sang happy birthday to me.
That day was bittersweet – sweet because after 18 years my dad came to spend time with me, bitter because I saw how hard life had been on my father. No matter what my dad had done, I only wanted well for him. My father loves me the best he knows how.
You see, I had already decided at 17 to forgive my dad for leaving me. Shortly, after I graduated from high school I sent him a letter explaining how his decision had hurt me, how I wanted him in my life, how I loved him, how I missed him and how I forgave him. He never replied to the letter – it was simply cathartic. I knew that my father’s decision to leave my life was not normal behavior and I decided he didn’t know how to do better and I took the steps to let it go.
Nevertheless, his visit on my 33rd birthday was a crucial step in my healing process. I thank God for it. Because overtime it helped me to grow to realize there is a huge difference in me loving my father who is emotionally unavailable and me romantically loving men who treat me badly and are emotionally unavailable.
For those men or those men, and my father is my father. Thankfully, I got that clear!
I respect my father deeply, however I do not allow my father to act up in my life and so I have decided that I will not find it acceptable to consciously interact with or expense my energy on anyone who feels comfortable demeaning and devaluing me while I lay down like a doormat for them to dish out the abuse.
So now I know how to have a standard for the treatment that I deem acceptable for my life. I learned the root of what was preventing me from setting boundaries. I had to fully accept that I am worthy of having boundaries.
Much to my chagrin I feel compelled to confess that my self-esteem was so low that I actually thought I deserved to have men mistreat me. I rarely interacted with men because I associated men with rejection and pain.
I expected men to do what my father did, get to know me and leave. So I didn’t want to open up to a man. And after my divorce when I did finally allow a guy to get to know me, he didn’t care to know me any further.
He didn’t want to spend time with me, because he didn’t see me as worth his time. Mentally I knew I deserved better than what I was accepting, but emotionally I still had all that childhood hurt that I needed to work through and the pain felt normal.
Some would argue pick better men. However, the truth is it wasn’t really about the character of the men I was attracting and allowing into my life. Because if I am completely honest, my truth is that I held such a negative thought process about myself and about men that my self- fulfilling prophecy that men who got to know me for who I was would decide to leave me ultimately caused me to behave in such a way that a man of any caliber would have no other choice but to leave because I have determined that prophecy had no other destiny but to be fulfilled.
Clearly, work would have to be done before I would be emotionally ready to engage in a healthy romantic relationship.
So I am doing the work it takes to free myself from that horrible mentality and thought process that I had been engaging in.
I will take the advice I give to others, I will enter relationships with expectations of how I should be treated and if a man is not willing to meet or exceed those expectations than there is no need for me to further interact with him. I will set standards and create boundaries and demand they be met before I allow myself to emotionally invest in people. I will not need walls around myself because I will have a gate to my heart and I will be the gatekeeper. I will show men that there is a criteria that someone must meet for them to possess the key to my heart. I will require reciprocity because I know and believe that I am truly worthy of it.
When in a relationship I will be free to give 100% of myself and I will give good love. I will feel comfortable letting someone know me. I will act out of love and not fear. I will feel completely comfortable doing these things because the person that I interact with will do those things with me because that will be his true desire. Reciprocity is a new standard of treatment that must be met. And I will do whatever it takes to no longer feel comfortable being or for that matter wanting to be in the company of a man who doesn’t care to be around me.
If someone doesn’t believe that I am worth the effort to treat me with love, care, trust and respect then clearly that someone is not worth my time. This is not just something for me to say, this is something for me to believe.
And it doesn’t mean they are a bad person but it does mean they are not the person for me.
The reason I was unable to set standards and boundaries was because I thought being in a romantic relationship automatically included disrespect. I had a fear of falling in love because I thought the men I love, would come to know me and leave me. My thought processes about men caused me to attract the worst behavior in men. Thinking that no man would want me and that the woman I am made me unworthy of a man’s time was the ultimate set up for romantic relationship failure.
I don’t know your story, but if you are allowing anyone to mistreat you like I did, please love yourself enough to do the work it takes to figure out what is broken on the inside of you to where you find abuse acceptable.
© Renata Pittman, Renata Nicole and RenataNicole, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Renata Pittman and RenataNicole with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.