3. Self-Esteem

Your anger was a major issue in this relationship. However, I think the underlying issue that was even larger, was that of your low self-esteem. I think much of your anger in a way derives from this. It seems as if you have internalized what everyone (your parents and family) told you in the past, that you were good for nothing, stupid, etc. etc. (their words, not mine). You were made to feel diminished, and now deep down you really do believe you are a failure. I feel that this affected our interactions in several important ways.

First, I think that a lot of your criticism of me and others, represents an attempt to make yourself feel better. When you do not feel very good about yourself, and do not want to or are not able to address the issues of why, it is a lot easier to focus on other peoplesí faults. In this way you attempt to reassure yourself that you are indeed superior to these other people, and you avoid having to critically examine yourself.

Second, I believe that, in order to make up for the self esteem you were missing, you tried somehow to derive that "ego strength" from me. Reassurance that you indeed were a likable person, a lovable person, all had to come from me. The most concrete examples of this were the many times you looked at me sadly and asked questions like, "Do you think Mandy likes me?" or "Do your parents like me?" Another way this manifested were statements like, "So-and-so hates me," "Your father hates me," etc. I would have to rush in and reassure you that no, they didnít hate you, that yes, they liked you. Or you would look at me sadly and say that you thought you were not intelligent. Of course you are intelligent!! You donít need initials after your name to be smart! But you had such low self-esteem, you needed to hear me say it in order to believe it. Another example, were all the times I spontaneously exclaimed, "Youíre so cute!!" You would crinkle your nose in protest, "No Iím not," and I would have to assure you that you were. You just couldnít seem to accept the fact that I thought you were incredibly cute and attractive. After a while, it became a burden on me, to seem to have to carry so much responsibility for they way you felt about yourself. It was as if I had to carry all the weight of your self-esteem, on my shoulders (with the very real threat of being yelled at or pushed away if I didnít). There is a big difference between affirming someoneís worth and goodness, and having to give them the self-esteem they lack.

Third, I get the feeling that you view yourself as a failure specifically when it comes to education, occupation, salary, and general status in life. You made many comments to me, that indicated to me that you do not think you have achieved very much in life. Your self-esteem was probably already low to begin with in this respect--and just perhaps, when you saw yourself next to with me, you felt even more inadequate. This is sad because, in my mind, I never, ever saw my educational background, profession, etc. as a form of status over you. I have never thought, in any way, that I was "better" than you.

I believe that your feelings of inadequacy in this area, might have been an unconscious driving force behind your attempts to equalize or at least somewhat neutralize the power differential you perceived between us. I would like to quote a passage from Permanent Partners:

Veto power (p.122):

Another covert means of control in a relationship is through use of veto power. The less powerful partner may veto sex, affection, plans, even conversation, anything that requires his or her cooperation in order to make it happen. I watch the guerrilla warfare when one partner has more of something significant--money, prestige, visibility, or influence--than the other. The have-not partner uses his/her veto< power over the intangibles in the relationship--sex, affection, understanding, acceptance, support--in order to equalize the power balance.

Does this sound like it may have had some relevance in our relationship? I believe it does. The differences in our occupations, salaries, etc. really did not mean much to me, but I suspect they mattered (subconsciously) a lot to you.

Fourth, I think the most devastating effect of your low self-esteem was that it led you to believe that there was just no way someone could truly love you. You didnít really love yourself, so you couldnít really see how anyone else could love you, either. The roots of this most likely came from your past, since your family treated you as so "unlovable." I think this had two effects, the first minor, the second major.

First, I believe that you artificially derived a feeling of being loved from having others (i.e. Sandy, then me) come back to you after an upset which you had precipitated. (Have you ever heard the saying, "The best part of breaking up is making up"?) The thought pattern might have been something like this: "If I hurt her so badly and she still came back, then she must really love me." Since you thought it was so unlikely for us to truly to love you, in a way these episodes "proved" that we really did.

Second, somehow I think you didnít feel like you even deserved my love in the first place, that you werenít good enough for me. I heard this over and over, with your saying things like "I donít know how you put up with me." The most striking example was after we got back together in January, and you said that you thought you were at a "disadvantage" being single, compared with me. It struck me as pathetic, how little you thought of yourself. And it seemed that all along, you had an "end result" in mind. You felt that there was no way someone could really love you, and that in the end they would always ultimately dump you. It certainly didnít help that Sandy dumped you eleven times before I ever even met you. I think a part of you, the whole time you were with me, felt it was inevitable that I would eventually dump you.

Why do I think this was so important? In a way, I believe that this was the underlying key to all of our problems. If there is one paragraph in this entire letter that I want you to consider carefully, it is the following.

If you donít love yourself and donít have self-worth, i.e. if you feel like you are unworthy of being loved, then it necessarily follows that you will expect the other person to reject you . However, rejection terrifies you, so in order to protect yourself you push the other person away at the slightest indication of trouble, i.e. reject them first so they canít hurt you. Whenever the other person tries to become closer, you push them away first because you are so afraid they are going to reject you. After this happens enough times, the other person will 1) become hesitant to approach you because she wants to avoid the pain of being pushed away, and 2) begin resenting you for continually pushing her away. In turn, now she withdraws, and then you perceive her withdrawal as evidence of her rejecting you, etc. etc. ...and a vicious cycle is begun. In the end your worst fears about rejection become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This vicious cycle had its roots in your own lack of self-worth because if you had felt good about yourself in the first place, if you had realized that it really was possible for this person to love you and not reject you, then you would not have been so afraid of intimacy, and would not have pushed her away.

I believe that this is exactly what happened in our relationship. What do you think? Why did you repeatedly push me away??


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