Mr. Right

Comes after self-esteem

 Mr. Right Comes After Self-Esteem, Dr Jill Weber, Psychology

Mr. Right Comes After Self-Esteem, Dr Jill Weber, Psychology

Waiting to find the perfect someone to transform your unhappy life? Generally that is not a good strategy for finding a long-term, mutually supportive romantic relationship. But if a woman harbors a negative self-image she may believe that relief will come by finding the perfect match. And that can put her in a perpetual cycle of working to attain male desire followed by a short-term high when it is temporarily achieved, followed by a crushing low when it slips away. This whole process can take place in an evening or stretch out over a longer period of time, marked by frequent ups and downs.

The trouble is that when self-esteem is weak, the idea of outsourcing a sense of self by associating with an idealized match looms large. Yet until self-love is present within, true love with another evades. Placing romantic partners on a pedestal is a way to make up for the self-worth deficit. If the man seems confident, sexy and high achieving, then suddenly the woman feels better about herself, almost as if she is him. Failing to develop her own self-esteem, she leans heavily on his.

It often happens that the more obsessed and ruminative a person maybe about obtaining a partner or fnding new romantic attention, the more depleted and inadequate they may feel about themselves.

When self-love is lacking, judgment becomes impaired; a woman is more desperate to couple up and is so lost in this pursuit that she has diffculty making an accurate assessment of who the person in front of her is and if he can truly meet her needs. When partners are idealized, the illusion is destined to dissolve, leaving the woman depleted and with a greater sense of inadequacy.

Building self- love is a process. A helpful first step is to notice if you are putting all of your energy into making a relationshipworkorintofndingtheperfectmatch. Take a step back and consider if you are hoping someone else will provide you with something that only you can develop. Ask yourself if you have a tendency to idealize your romantic partners and then are left defeated when you discover who they actually are. If you tend to camoufage what you consider unlovable about yourself through attaching to highly desirable, Oh-So-Important men, refocus, not on another potential mate, but on yourself.

Self-esteem is often a misunderstood expression. And when this misunderstanding equates healthy self-regard with competitive success, a woman can find her self on a treadmill pushing forward without getting closer to achieving the balance that a fulfilling life needs. Self-esteem cannot be achieved externally. It can be missing even when there is physical beauty, career success, material wealth and public recognition galore.

My book, Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships examines self esteem. It turns out that it is not about self-perfection or about feeling superior to others. It is actually a process of learning how to rebound from failures and disappointments with enough fortitude to listen to criticism and consider feedback. Healthy self- esteem is fnding a balance in which you accept yourself as you are while recognizing that you have the ability to change and grow.

In my book, I write about a group of young girls, around eight or nine, playing in the summer sun at a neighborhood park. I watched them dance, lift their shirts to cool themselves, laugh loudly and shout over one another to tell their stories. They were full of themselves without apology or reservation. Self-esteem means tapping into this type of freedom. It is a return to individuality, spontaneity and the ability to shamelessly bring yourself to life’s table, however it may be set.

The following questions are designed to help identify where a woman might place on a scale of self esteem. This is a directional guide, not a definitive analysis. Mostly “yeses” mean a person may not allow themselves to change and move in a different more promising a direction. Fewer “yeses” suggest a personality that is more likely to allow themselves to evolve in a positive direction.

• When I hit a setback, I doubt myself and often give up.
• When something doesn’t work out for me, I beat myself up with criticism.
• Even when I do achieve a goal, I immediately begin to feel anxious about the next task on my list.
• Most of what I do is to prove my worth to others and less about what I actually desire.
• Feel great about myself, but within a few hours or a day I feel depleted.
• I worry that people will see me as a fraud, and that I will be exposed.
• I do not believe that the aspects of my personality that bother me are changeable through learning and gaining new experience.

For those stuck in the self-defeating pattern that emerges from answering yes to these questions, there is good news. Women and men can improve their self-esteem because people can change. It takes a little self-analysis and consistent dedication to new ways of thinking, but with persistence, people can recast themselves with a more positive outlook. I often see it happen in my work as a psychotherapist.

There is always a beginning point. Finding it can be helpful. For women it is often early childhood. Parents who tell their little girls that they are perfect set the stage for later self-esteem issues. No one is perfect. And while parents may know this, refexively making the assertion reveals their own inability to handle the anxiety of raising a child. In these cases, the parental strategy is to assert that their daughters are perfect so these girls won’t even consider being anything else. And so the parent puts the discussion of any other prospect out of bounds. By repeating this message often enough and by discounting or ignoring all the other information, girls can be taught to believe that they are perfect. Inevitably, reality creeps into their world and as it does a frantic pursuit begins to be good enough to match an unachievable standard.

This may spin out in a number of negative ways. Young women may lose the opportunity to discover who they are in favor of putting all their energy into being who they think others expect them to be.

When this happens, dating becomes a particular problem. Because when a young woman believes, consciously or not, that her life’s goal is to fulfill someone else’s concept of what she should be, her chance of finding a mutually satisfying romantic relationship is deeply compromised.

If a woman can’t tell a potential romantic partner who they are and what they desire independent of what anyone else may think, it is difficult for them to form an authentic relationship. This is the zone where we would expect to find a woman engaging in a pattern of short- term sexual relationships with little emotional intimacy; something I refer to as sextimacy. Yet, the woman in this unproductive cycle may see it as a necessary process in order to be in the quest to find Mr. Right, the person who will make her happy.

For those caught on this merry-go-round, there are a number of things that can be done to shore up self-esteem and break the unproductive patterns of the past.

Make yourself aware when negative thoughts are taking over with one self-criticism leading to another. Focus instead on the job at hand. If you are working, put your heart into it. If you are with a friend, pay attention to them. When your mind drifts toward negative thoughts, redirect your attention to what is happening in front of you. It is not necessarily easy at first, but dedicate yourself to this work and you will reduce the domination of negative thought patterns.

Take care of yourself physically. However modest, commit to a realistic exercise routine. Eat right. Commit to a schedule for house cleaning, paying the bills, grocery shopping and other basic jobs. Following a simple routine for daily chores will give you a sense of control and wellbeing that will help you escape negative thought patterns.

Take on new experiences even when they make you uncomfortable. Know that just by trying you will develop new strategies for dealing with the world.

Take the time to cultivate friendships with other women. Look for non-judgmental friends and be a nonjudgmental friend. Healthy friendships between women are sources of strength for many. A person who treats you in a manner that makes you feel unhappy is not really a friend. Have the courage to end those relationships.

Set goals based on your own innermost desires. Recognize that there will be setbacks and remind yourself that your self-worth is not dependent on reaching those goals; it is dependent on persistently trying. After all, who in this world accomplishes all that they wish to accomplish?

Most importantly, work on cultivating an internal narrative or dialogue that is supportive of you and your goals. Most everyone has a little voice inside their head that narrates and judges what they are experiencing both within themselves and toward others. Develop self awareness around your internal voice; is it harsh and critical or soft and supportive? Instead of chronically beating yourself up in your own head, learn to rebound from setbacks simply by being kind and encouraging yourself.

As you work determinedly on the project of building self love, you will naturally be drawn to romantic partners who treat you in a similarly healthy way as you treat yourself. It is a project worthy of your time. Developing self- confidence can single-handedly change your relationship destiny, setting you on the course for an emotionally intimate and sexually fulfilling relationship for the long- term.

Dr Jill Weber, a licensed clinical psychologist, practices in the Washington, DC area. Dr Weber ofers expertise in psychotherapy for adults, teenagers, and couples, tailoring her treatment to individual history and problem areas. Dr Weber writes a blog for Psychology Today and is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy--Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Follow her on twitter @DrJillWeber
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