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Lovable and Worthy of Happiness

A Personal Perspective: Yes, I am very worthy.

Here is one of my biggest issues with a guy we are going to call Dylan: While I respected the sh*t out of him, I didn’t view myself as his equal. And when it comes to a healthy relationship, respect not only has to flow both ways between partners, it also has to apply to how each person feels about themselves. When we started dating in 2016, I thought, without a doubt, that Dylan was out of my league. This might not seem like that big of an issue, but if you go into a partnership feeling inferior, it is going to negatively impact every corner of the relationship. My reasons for feeling unworthy were mainly leftover insecurities from growing up. I still saw myself as an outsider, a weirdo who people might tolerate for a bit before growing sick of me.

Dylan, on the other hand, was not only extremely handsome, but he lived in a house with four other guys who partied like they were still in college. At twenty-seven, I found this intimidatingly cool. (Now that I’m in my thirties, I simply find it unseemly.) The first time I went to his house was on the Fourth of July, and there were a bunch of attractive people doing attractive things. As he introduced me, I assumed everyone was thinking the same thing: What the hell is he doing with her? In reality, people probably weren’t thinking of me at all. Not in a bad way, but simply in a “We are all the stars of our own stories” sort of way. (Realizing just how little other people think about you is unbelievably liberating IMHO.)

Throughout our ten-month relationship, I obsessed over keeping Dylan. I would sit in my therapist’s office and lament that if we ever broke up, I wouldn’t be able to console myself since this was the first guy I had dated who didn’t have flaws. In every other relationship, there was always some way to spin it so that I’d be better off without him. I could not see a scenario where I would be better off without Dylan, since Dylan was perfect. Was Dylan actually perfect? Of course not. But I had put him on a pedestal, much to my own detriment.

Here are some signs of putting a partner on a pedestal:

Constantly thinking: I don’t deserve this person.

Constantly thinking: People probably think we are a mismatched couple.

Constantly thinking: Wow! How did I trick this person into loving me?

Occasionally thinking: Maybe my partner is the lucky one? Nah! I’m a piece of sh*t!

It makes sense that if my brain has been telling me horrible things about myself for years, I'm going to believe some, if not all, of them. Plus, self-stigma is a real, prevalent thing. I could be the most famous mental health advocate in the world and still privately judge myself for my disorder. The idea that someone with this sort of painful history could start dating a person who would never have looked twice at them in high school and not feel inferior in some way is unlikely. The only way to avoid this is to reach a level of self-confidence and self-acceptance that is hard to come by without putting in a lot of work.

I hadn’t yet completed this work when I started seeing Dylan. I was still too attached to a younger version of me, who suffered rejection after rejection. Despite being somewhat internet famous and successful, my self-image hadn’t caught up to the person I had become. I promised myself that I wouldn’t rely on the old adage, “You have to love yourself before someone else can love you” because you’ve already heard it a million times and I also don’t think it’s true. Plenty of people are loved even when they don’t love themselves. The issue is whether one is able to have a healthy and sustainable love that is satisfying for both partners without also loving oneself. That scenario is much harder to find.

I had to put in the “work” to love myself and then not define what that actually means. When I mention “work,” I’m primarily talking about eliminating negative self-talk, reconstructing personal schemas, and reframing how I look at things. There were plenty of times with my most recent partner when I briefly wondered what he got out of our relationship (old habits die hard). The big difference is that when I would ask myself the same question during my relationship with Dylan, I didn’t have an answer. Now, instead of doubling down on this fear that I am unworthy, I am able to think about all the things I do bring to the relationship. (I won’t list them all here, but I will mention I am very good at silly dancing. And whatever comes to mind when I mention “silly dancing” is correct.)

It’s also important to consciously shift away from the idea that one can rank someone’s value in this world. If both partners make each other happy, then they are perfectly matched, regardless of who makes more money or has better muscle definition.

I find it exciting and encouraging that all of these small, day-to-day changes in our thoughts can influence larger changes in our personal schemas. I think of schemas as the lenses through which we view the world. If my personal schema says I’m unlovable or unworthy of happiness, I will see everyone’s behavior through that lens. It won’t matter if someone actually does love me because my brain won’t allow me to process their affection correctly. That’s why self-awareness is so important. It enabled me to properly identify any schemas that weren’t serving me. For example, I used to firmly believe that my value as a person was directly tied to my work productivity. If I wasn’t being productive, I wasn’t worth anything. Or to put it more clearly, I was a “waste of space” while everyone else was out saving lives and making millions. I think we can all agree my work schema was

  1. incorrect
  2. actively hurting me

When I first started dating Dylan, I had a lot going on professionally. I was working a few days a week on a sketch show for a now-defunct app. I was co-writing my first novel. I had a pilot in development at FX. Toward the end of our relationship, I had quit the sketch show, finished writing the book, and my pilot was dead in the water. I was bored out of my mind with no new projects on the horizon. This was when my harmful work-productivity schema started to bleed into my relationship. The only thing my anxiety enjoys feeding off more than uncertainty is boredom.

Instead of spending my days relishing my lack of responsibility, I became fixated on having nothing to do. Guilt and shame consumed me. My self-hatred began to eat away at my mental health, and I found myself crying constantly and not knowing what to do with my life. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture. What exactly was causing me to spin out of control? Was I in financial trouble? Nope. I had made enough money off the other projects to be more than fine for quite a while. Was my career completely over? Also nope. I was months away from having my first book come out, and it would eventually be a bestseller. (Only for one week, but who cares? I get to say that for the rest of my life.)

Was I truly a lazy, disgusting piece of human garbage who didn’t contribute one positive thing to the world? I’ll let you guess the answer to that one. So why did I go over to Dylan’s house one night, on the verge of tears, and proclaim, “I’m not happy”? The answer is surprisingly simple: I was working off of an unhealthy and fictitious point of view that desperately needed reframing.

References

Adapted from: Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD and/or Depression by Allison Raskin. Workman Publishing © 2022.

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