This is our third blog in a series on Identity. Check out the first two on Money and Food!
Years ago, before Stephen and I were married, I almost ruined our relationship because of my beliefs.
I had spent years living and reliving the same pattern: I'd meet a guy. We'd fall in love (or at least it felt like it). I'd put him up on a pedestal, thinking everything he did was so important and special, while everything I did was small and inconsequential.
A year or so into Stephen's and my relationship, I noticed my old habits coming back. When we spent time together, I'd pepper him with questions about his work, his day, his thoughts and feelings. But when he asked about me, I would shrink. "Oh, it's fine," I'd say, and hurry back to what seemed like the most important topic: him.
When I noticed this happening, I was horrified. Why did I keep doing this? How could the same thing happen again and again?
I was so upset that I called my mother, crying. "Mom," I sobbed into the phone, "I have to break up with Stephen. I don't want to keep doing this."
She listened while I cried. She was so supportive, but she wouldn't let me say there was no hope in this relationship. "Have you talked to him?" she said.
Talk about this, with Stephen? But that would mean talking about me – and that's exactly what I couldn't bring myself to do!
When I saw Stephen that weekend, he could tell I was upset. "What's the matter?" he said.
I shook my head. "Nothing," I said. "Everything's fine."
But he knew I was lying, and he insisted. So finally I broke down and told him what I was afraid of: that I had to leave him and start over, because my old habits were coming back.
"Listen," he said. "We can fix this. I'll do anything. We can make this work."
He wouldn't let me hide any more, and that's what changed things. We went to see Sheva, my heart math teacher and mentor. She had always helped me understand my feelings and actions, and this time, she helped me see that at its core, this issue wasn't about Stephen. It was about my own identity, my own collection of beliefs. I believed I wasn't good enough, talented enough, interesting enough, special enough. Because I'd had that low opinion of myself for years, I allowed that to seep into my relationships, and it almost ruined what would become a happy, wonderful marriage.
But thankfully, I had the support and the awareness to reflect on my beliefs, and that made all the difference.
So many women today have low self-worth. Beliefs like the ones I held can damage (or destroy) relationships, careers, and passions. In a 2016 article, The Huffington Post writes:
"Of those four in five women who report low body esteem, almost all (89 percent) of them opt out of important activities, such as engaging with friends and family and participating in activities outside of the house, when they don't feel good about the way they look."
Of course, while body image plays a big role in self-esteem, there are many other factors at play. According to Forbes, "Women frequently express that they don’t feel they deserve their job and are 'imposters' who could be found out at any moment. [A Cornell study] found that women worry more about being disliked, appearing unattractive, outshining others, or grabbing too much attention."
It would be impossible to measure all the ways these negative beliefs impact the lives of others – whether that's a promising young woman who won't run for office; or a partner whose relationship is almost ruined because the other person would rather run away than face her issues.
We all have a system of beliefs that we carry around with us. We take it on our morning commute, through the workday, and yes, out on dates and into our relationships. If those beliefs are negative, then trying to maintain a healthy relationship is like building a house on sand. We need a strong foundation of positive, empowered beliefs in order to be our best selves. That’s true no matter what's going on in your romantic life, whether you're single, dating, or married. If our "relationship identities" aren't aligned with what we want, then we sabotage ourselves, and we may hurt others in the process.
Fortunately, we have a say in those identities. Even if yours is super-negative, you have the power to change it.
What are some beliefs you hold about yourself?
What patterns do you see in your relationships?
Do you believe things like I'm not enough; No one will ever love me; I'm weird or ugly or messed up?
These beliefs don't always reside on the surface, so it might take some digging to find them. If you need some guidance, you might want to work with a life coach or counselor who can help you uncover your patterns and beliefs.
One way to build a strong foundation is to use affirmations. Affirmations can help lift up your belief system on a molecular level – yes, you read that right – by actually rewiring your brain. You might've heard me talk about experience-based neuroplasticity before – the concept that our thoughts light up physical pathways in our brain, and the more often we think them, the stronger that pathway becomes. That's why it's so easy to fall into a rut of old thinking, but it can be difficult to take on new thought patterns. The good news is, those new thoughts can become strong, solid pathways – simply by repeating (and believing) them.
Here are some affirmations specific to self-worth and relationships:
Don't limit yourself to these – make up your own! A key part of affirmations is that they feel authentic and true to you. What's something you want to believe about yourself? Let that be your affirmation. With time, you really will believe it.
Make affirmations a regular part of your routine – when you're brushing your teeth, walking the dog, sipping your tea. The more you repeat them, the more you'll believe them – and the more you'll act on them. So don't be surprised when your relationships start to improve in proportion with your self-worth.
Go out, love yourself, and shine.
P.S. If you want some extra help working through this, or any issue around relationships, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'd be happy to set up a coaching consult.
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