The most basic personal need of each person
is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being.
Dr. Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr.
All my life, I have appeased bullies and stayed in toxic relationships at devastating cost to my own well-being, hoping my willingness to forgive these false friends would demonstrate my love for them and earn their love in return. In my efforts to please others, I have apologized for and/or suppressed every good thing about myself many times over: my creativity, my playfulness, my talents, my enthusiasm, even my love and compassion.
I carry these scars with me into every relationship. I’ll be the first one to admit this sometimes leads me to behave in a way that causes misunderstandings and hurt feelings on both sides, even with people who truly care about me. I try to be mindful of this and go out of my way to prevent it from happening, but somehow that tends to backfire and make matters worse. I’m still trying to understand exactly why that’s the case, but in the meantime I’m doing my best to identify and eradicate this problematic behavior.
Recently, one of these misunderstandings led to a huge explosion and the loss of a friendship that meant a lot to me. I don’t blame this person, since I did hurt them, no matter how inadvertently. However, in their pain and anger, they hurt me in return.
I can do one of the following things in response: shut down and withdraw, then spiral into depression as this event becomes another permanent wound reinforcing my feelings of worthlessness; harden my heart and never love anyone again in an effort to protect myself; or address the foundational issues within myself that have led to this situation in hopes of preventing it from happening again.
I am choosing to heal and grow. It will be a long and difficult process. These thought patterns and behaviors are deeply entrenched—some of them go back as far as thirty years, so it’s inevitable that I will slip back into them from time to time. Still, I’m determined to keep going, and I hope people will be patient with me as I work on this.
Recent events have proven I have no control over how others perceive me. I can do what I genuinely believe to be the right thing and try my best to do it in a kind and helpful way, and still have the other party make unfair assumptions about my motives and character.
This has led me to realize I can no longer base my self-worth other people’s approval. I will be my weird, creative, passionate, and loving self–and rediscover how to love myself for those oft-rejected traits. Other people’s perceptions of me are their responsibility, and I refuse to let them define me anymore. I know my heart. God knows my heart. My family and friends know my heart. That heart has been shattered for a long time, but I’m finally facing the source of that damage and rooting it out for good. Ultimately, those are the only things that matter.