Friday, March 16, 2012


My ex-boyfriend is dating a body builder.  If it were possible to construct a polar-opposite body type to mine, she has it.  She’s super muscular and extremely lean and obviously athletic.  I’m round and soft and curvy everywhere.  She has a visible eight pack…I have some vague notion that there might be something muscle-esque tucked away in the space behind my belly button.  She’s completely comfortable posing mostly naked for pictures…I’m seriously camera shy below the neck. 

I mention this woman not because of her relationship with my ex (that’s not the point)…but because being confronted with the idea of her has forced me to evaluate myself in new ways.  Being faced with the pointless (if familiar) self-torture of “he chose her, what does that say about me?” I’ve had to consider an onslaught of questions borne of raw insecurity:

What is it about me that’s valuable?
Why can he move on with his life so easily and I’m still grieving months and months later?
Am I even meant to be in a successful, long-term relationship? 
Is my relationship-past a harbinger of my future?

And, the real doozy...
If I have this many self-worth questions all of the sudden, just how far in the toilet is my self esteem, really? 

Though it stings, I’ve found it useful to be confronted with these questions.  I’ve forced myself to stay with the feelings…to cry, if need be…to dig in and wrestle with the hard parts in an effort to wrap my head around my own sense of value and why I ever allow it to be influenced by anyone else.

There is a concept I’ve been calling “self-referentialism” (that may be the wrong term, however).  The idea is that the value of oneself is intrinsically derived, rather than externally dependent.  (This article talks, beautifully, about the notion).   It’s kind of the ultimate emotional end-state.  Understanding the idea and knowing how to get there, unfortunately, are two different things.  Like so much in my life, I’ve never really had a plan; I’ve only known, in some vague way, that it’s where I need to go.

So how do I get there?  Eh, I’m still figuring that out.  I think part of it is exactly what I’m doing now:  facing the hard questions straight on.  I’m not running away.  I’m letting it hurt if it hurts.  I’m challenging my assumptions.  I’m crying foul when I catch myself spouting a line of unsubstantiated crap. I’m reading (and reading and reading) inspired writing that encourages self-kindness and openness and a life lived authentically.  I’m working on it like my life – like my happiness - depends on it. 

Because I know that it does.

At the end of the day, I also want my ex to be happy.  Genuinely loving someone means wanting the best for them, even if “the best” is someone else who makes them happier – and he appears to be very happy, so this is good.  Moreover, the universe has, as always, chosen an interesting way of delivering the message…and the metaphor isn’t lost on me.  Muscles grow by being stressed…broken down…then reformed into something stronger and more capable.  The heavier the strain…the more repetitive the stress…the better the muscle develops.  Building those muscles hurts…but the pain is worth it. 

And so it goes with me.  These moments of stress…of breakdown…of painful questioning…are all opportunities for me to build my emotional “muscles” into something sleeker and more refined.  My lesson in the repetitive struggle is that my life can’t be lived by comparison.  My own happiness can’t be dependent on anyone else’s validation of me.  In yoga, I’m learning to “keep my brain inside my body,” a reminder to stay focused even when we’re in motion between positions.  The same must become true of my self-esteem. 

The path to self-referentialism - the path I’m working to find - lies in discovering a way to keep my sense of worth strong and steady, no matter who or what changes around me.  I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting a little stronger all the time.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Quite moving and well-written.