Imagine you’ve got a clogged sink drain. You’ve tried a few things, but nothing seems to be working. You can’t do the dishes or wash your hands. Your children are crying. They want dinner. But it’s hard to make anything with the sink clogged and full of nasty-looking water. This is quite the inconvenience. You’re really not sure what to do so you call your neighborhood plumber, John. John comes out, and using a plumber’s snake, is able to dislodge the clog within a few minutes. Now everyone in the household can use the sink.
If only your relationships were that easy to fix. Or are they?
You may know you’re in a bad relationship. Maybe your partner is too controlling, or they’re too dependent on you. Maybe there’s always a lot of fighting or screaming. Perhaps there’s too much take and not enough give. Something always feels out of balance. In a bad relationship, nobody’s needs are getting met in a healthy manner.
Now, if you’re an abuse survivor, I’m going to make the case that continually pursuing bad relationships is a sign that you have a self-esteem “clog.” What is this self-esteem clog? A self-esteem clog is nothing more than negative behaviors or thoughts you engage in which are blocking the development of a high level of self-esteem.
As an abuse survivor, you probably endured emotional put-downs, physical beatings, and perhaps even sexual abuse of some kind. If you haven’t yet undergone a serious recovery effort, you may catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself from time to time. You may feel like you don’t deserve good things, and this attitude carries over into who you decide to form relationships with. Or perhaps you feel so lonely, that you just take anyone who comes along with a charming word or smile, and have trouble breaking up with them even after you find out they are definitely not who they said they were.
Now if you learned to beat the self-esteem clog, you would stop attracting these people into your life.
By raising your self-esteem, you naturally repel bad relationships. Why? Because a higher self-esteem acts like a natural filter that prevents you from settling for just anybody. You know how you’ve always had trouble breaking up with Mr. or Ms. Wonderful that turned out to be not-so-wonderful? With a higher level of self-esteem, you naturally slow down and take the time to really get to know them before deciding they’re worth your time. You wouldn’t mind being “alone” because you enjoy your company. You drop Mr. or Ms. Wonderful quickly (if you even pick them up at all) because of your higher self-esteem. If you want to test this truth, think about anyone you know that seems really confident and happy with themselves. Do they seem to be bouncing from one bad relationship to the next?
But how do you get past a self-esteem clog?
1) Get a support network of some kind – people who will be your cheerleaders. If you’re an abuse survivor, getting a good therapist can really speed up your healing process by leaps and bounds.
2) Next try some new activities you’re interested in. Ideally, something to push you out of your current comfort zone. Soccer? Karate? Watercolor? Just start small. Growth occurs in small, purposeful steps, not in leaps and bounds.
3) If you fall down, get up and try again. An teacher once told me, “fall down twice, get up 3 times”.
4) Take a sheet of paper and write down all the ways in which your appreciate yourself. Write “I like myself because I’m…(kind, generous, etc.)” and really let that sink in. If you catch yourself thinking negatively of yourself, think about that piece of paper and what’s on it. Psychologists know this can be a very effective approach to combating negative thoughts.
As you start to feel more accomplished by doing the above, you’ll gradually come to hold yourself in higher regard. Combine this with a strategy of noticing when you start criticizing yourself and stopping yourself (i.e., breaking the habit), and you’ll gradually raise your level of self-esteem over time. You may not necessarily get up in the morning and say “I love myself”, but you will stop taking other people’s crap. You’ll find yourself living a better life than you were before.
If you’re an abuse survivor, seriously consider getting a therapist.
Now you may have tried therapy before and felt like it didn’t work. Going back to the sink analogy, if John couldn’t get the job done, you’d probably call a different plumber right? Healing from abuse and raising your self-esteem is the same way. If you have a therapist that isn’t a good fit, you should find a new one. Since therapy is a long-term relationship, it makes sense to go with someone that you feel comfortable with. Believe it or not, it’s this comfort level that can really determine the effectiveness of therapy because therapy is all about learning to trust in a healthy relationship.
You deserve better. You don’t need a clogged sink or to put up with self-esteem clogs. And when you raise your level of self-esteem, the bad relationships in your life will just disappear.