Earning Love

July 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship, Uncategorized) (, , , )


I started seeing a new therapist in June to work through some issues that were coming to the surface during bouts of PMDD depression. I’ve meshed with her much better than I did with the therapist I saw last year, and I feel a lot more comfortable with her and the work we’re doing. It doesn’t feel like work yet, four sessions in, but we’re getting to it, and in our last session I had two revelations that created a shift in my thinking. I’m still not quite sure what to do with them, but they definitely gave me pause.

The first came from discussion of a pattern I already knew existed. Since the decision to end my marriage, I’ve said several times that I will never marry or even cohabitate again. I’m very aware of what I do when living with a partner – I very easily shut off parts of myself that I think may displease that person; I become the caretaker, the responsible one; I strive to be as adaptable for and accommodating of that person as possible. Of the four men I’ve lived with in romantic partnerships, I’ve done this every time. I mentioned this to my therapist, and we dug into a bit, and suddenly the pattern came to the surface.

From childhood onward, I’ve been driven by an enormous desire to please others, to earn praise, respect, and love. I’ve always seen love and caring as things that must be earned, that I must prove myself worthy of. In my romantic partnerships, that same inner drive pushes me to give, give, give – particularly in the form of actions, taking responsibility for things, getting things done, being the stable, consistent, reliable partner, being helpful. I’m very conscious of the inner hope that by doing the things I do, I can earn the love I crave. But at the same time, this leads to a heavy doubt… am I only loved for the things I do, the help I provide? Am I only valued for what I give – my time, my money, my willingness to carry the burden of responsibility – and not actually who I am? So I become fearful through this doubt, and even more hungry for signs of love and affection, which drives me to do more, to give more, which leads me to more doubt. It’s the dog chasing her own tail in a sad and frustrating emotional circle.

So the first revelation was how this pattern was of my own creation. The next step is to try and break it. Stop giving unless I really want to give out of simple love and happiness. Stop taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. And learn that love probably won’t be taken away because I stop doing those things.

That one is pretty clear, and on the surface at least, pretty easy to do something with. The second one I’m not so sure about, but it took my breath away and leaves me with a lot more questions to explore. It was regarding a brief relationship I was in late last year, and how I felt in that relationship, in comparison to my current & ongoing relationship and how I feel in it. There have always been distinct differences to me, and as I started to dig into those with my therapist, I realized with that person, I had never felt the need to give, to do, to try and earn his love. In the brief span of that relationship, I knew exactly how he felt about me. I never doubted, wondered, longed for affirmation. I didn’t feel like I had to work for it. I didn’t feel unworthy, either. I had no doubt that I was loved for who I was, not what I might give.

I realized in one big flash that I had never felt that certainty with anyone before. Every man I have ever loved, I felt like I had to work to be loved in return. But he saw me as I was – he knew more about me leading into our relationship than probably anyone else ever has – yet he chose to open up his life to me, and himself to me, knowing exactly what my flaws were. He saw me clearly and he loved me and never asked for anything except for me to be me and to let him love me.

I don’t know why I felt no drive to earn his love. I can’t say that others haven’t freely given their love to me, and I just felt for my own reasons that I had to work to deserve their love. I don’t know why it was different with him, other than maybe it was just who he is, and who I am, and the circumstances that led to our relationship, and the points in life where we both were at the time. I don’t know. I’ll be thinking about this more, asking more questions with my therapist, digging in to why it is so hard for me to just open up and be loved without trying to earn it. I want to. I want that experience again, that confidence and comfort of being held, emotionally held, with love that doesn’t ask to be earned.

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Getting my shit together.

September 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm (Family, Real Life, Relationship) (, , , , , , )


This is a long post that has been written, re-written, deleted, written again, and finally posted with a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share what’s been going on with me, but I’ve decided that, like other issues I’ve blogged about, maybe someone somewhere will read it who has shared my experience. Maybe someone will feel a little better to know they’re not the only one. Maybe I can give someone else a bit of hope.

Several weeks ago, I had an emotional breakdown. It was in public, and it was humiliating for me and an embarrassment to my husband. It led to a very long night of crying, and involved feelings of anger, betrayal, abandonment and loss. It was a breaking point. I was the one broken.

I’ve been feeling this coming on, and some warning signs I saw clearly and acknowledged, while others I willfully ignored. I take responsibility for that. If I had stopped and reflected on how I was feeling sooner, I could have asked for help sooner. But for a number of reasons, I didn’t, and I let myself continue on a destructive course.

A really big part of this has been caused by the stress in my working life. I take my job very seriously, and very personally. This year I’ve gone through two manager changes, a major organizational shift, and have been under a great deal of pressure from a heavy workload. For months, I’ve been telling everyone who asked that I’m overloaded, but no one seemed willing to help me re-prioritize or shift any work, they just added more. I felt constantly several steps behind and frequently overwhelmed to the point of immobility.

This brought to the surface a long-standing issue I’ve struggled with through most of my life – a sense that I have to prove myself worthy, and that no matter what I do, I am unworthy. That’s become a big issue in my working life, in my stress over incomplete or insufficient output, my fears of being thought of as slacking because I was struggling to maintain my output, an increasing defensiveness whenever anyone questioned what I was doing or where my time was going or why something wasn’t done yet. As someone without a college degree working in a field where degrees are the norm, I’ve always felt I had to work harder to prove myself up to the job. The pressure really has been coming from inside me, though, and the voice telling me I’m not good enough for this job has been getting louder and louder.

This is a very old issue for me, going back to my childhood. I’ve always struggled to see my own value as a person and have always tried to find it by seeking to keep others happy. I’ve tried to work on this issue, and over the years I’ve found some coping mechanisms and ways to defeat the negative self-talk, but lately those attempts to control my inner critic have not been working. I reached a point a few months ago where I stopped trying. I had a similar emotional breakdown while on a business trip in early June, and ever since then, I’ve felt increasingly out of control. What were occasional bouts of depression that seemed to be PMS related started lasting longer. That inner critic would pop up at any time, even without provocation, to tell me I was worthless and unlovable.

I could clearly see how this was impacting my relationships, but I felt helpless to do anything about it. I was becoming increasingly dependent on my husband for emotional support. He’s a very calming, soothing presence for me, and when I would spend evenings alone, I’d find my inner critic rambling out of control, and anxiety would start gnawing at me. On more than one occasion, I chose to combat this by drinking, which was an old habit I’d broken more than six years ago. Allowing myself to use that crutch again was very disturbing, but I struggled to find another way to comfort myself that wouldn’t be equally unhealthy.

During this same time, I’d been making an attempt to build a my first polyamorous relationship. I fell in love fast and the emotions have been very confusing. I’ve struggled to understand the terms and structure of a poly relationship and how to express my needs. Really, I’ve been uncertain if I was even allowed to have any needs, or if such would be a betrayal of my husband, or if I’d be looked down upon for asking for any needs to be filled. I found myself hyper-sensitive and worrying constantly about this relationship. Did I say or do the wrong thing, am I asking for or expecting too much, am I expressing too much affection, and on and on. I needed frequent reassurance, was scared to ask for it, but clung to every piece given, while the anxiety built up and spilled over into other areas of my life.

Essentially, the stress from my job and the stress over my relationships were feeding on each other, becoming a painful mess. I started feeling like I was being crushed by the weight of my insecurities, fears and responsibilities. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about what I was feeling, because that would mean admitting that I was failing. I just let it continue until it exploded in a very messy, very public way, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I still feel, essentially, like a broken thing. I’ve failed. Yes, I managed to decrease some of my work-related stress through a very frank discussion with my boss about my emotional state, and that has given me some relief. On the relationship side, my husband felt strongly that we should close the marriage for a while, to create a safe place where I wouldn’t feel threatened by his attention to other women, so that he would be able to give me some additional emotional support, and so that I would be able to direct most of my emotional energy towards myself and working on these issues.

That was not an easy decision. I’ve been investing time and energy into building this other relationship that was very important to me. But I also knew that my feelings about that relationship were unhealthy and needed to be reworked. I knew I wouldn’t have much to offer him emotionally while I worked on myself. I knew I could use sex and affection to avoid working on those issues, so I couldn’t allow myself that distraction. The reassurance that I am a valuable, worthwhile person has to be re-discovered from inside me, and I was relying far too heavily on his affection to tell me my own worth.

I knew all this, and I tried to explain it, but I probably did it too quickly, too soon after the sleepless night of tears. I didn’t explain it well, and as a result I’ve alienated my lover and lost what could have been a source of support. This has weighed heavily on my heart the past few weeks, but I’ve not been given the opportunity to make it right. I’m not sure at this point if I’ll be able to.

So that’s the story.

The concept of emotional health is relative. We all have our issues, and we can work on them, and learn ways to manage them, even rise above them. But over time, your life changes, your place and perspective changes, and you grow. And the coping mechanisms you learned or the way you figured out how to function in spite of your issues may no longer work. You have to revisit those old fears or inadequacies and learn a new way to find contentment in spite of them.

That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ll probably never be one of those super-confident people who believes wholeheartedly thst she deserves all the best in life and won’t settle for anything less. But I can get back to a place where I no longer feel unworthy, at least. That has to come from within, but I also need to learn how to accept support from others without depending on it or needing it too much. I’m learning how to walk that tightrope once again.

And that’s what I call getting my shit together. At least I’m trying.

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