Fake It Til You Make It!
Relationships up until this point had all been valuable learning experiences but had also been a long list of disappointments. By disappointments I mean I wasn’t happy in any of them. I had not been treated the way I thought I should be treated and I knew I deserved better but I didn’t know how to achieve my idea of happiness.
My perception of relationships was that it was my “position” as the woman to make all of the necessary sacrifices and compromises to make my relationships work. Yet, I was so incredibly unhappy doing that and I felt I was always getting gypped. And not just in my romantic relationships, I was doing this in all of my relationships.
During my marriage I had discovered that I had a disease that stemmed from an abusive childhood. The “disease to please” was deeply ingrained in my personality and it became clear that this was the main reason for my unhappiness. As a people-pleaser, my focus was on pleasing everyone around me and in the process I neglected my own needs which caused me to become very angry. After my 14 year marriage ended in 2009 I felt broken and confused. However, I was still learning how to take care of my own needs as I headed down a path of recovery from this disease. I learned many things in the years after my divorce, one-of-which was that my husband was NOT a compatible match for me. I mistakenly tried to force him into being something he was not. Lesson learned and I won’t make that same mistake again.
While I was married I would fantasize about a man that would treat me with love and respect. Now that my marriage was over I had the freedom to explore new relationships in the hopes of finding such a partner.
When I started dating online, I went into it with an open mind and realistic expectations. I met a seemingly nice man and we started dating exclusively. It soon felt exactly like all of the other relationships I’d had in the past. The first four months were great. He was on his best behavior until he accomplished his goal of impressing the pants off me (which wasn’t that hard to do if I’m being honest) and then BAM he started treating me like crap.
After countless disappointing relationships in my youth and a miserable 14 year marriage, I started thinking that a happy relationship with a wonderful caring man, was not in the cards for me. Maybe my expectations were simply too high and no man would ever be able to measure up.
I was very discouraged and decided I needed to be alone so I took a year “off” from dating to re-discover who I was and what I wanted. I had become a “serial relationship-ist” up until this point so I really needed to step back and focus on myself and my goals if I was going to find true happiness.
While searching for the tools I needed to find my “happy place”, I read a lot of books.
- "The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne (DVD actually)
- “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
- “Discovering The Mind Of A Women” by Ken Nair
- “Mars And Venus On A Date” by John Gray
- “The DNA of Relationships” by Dr. Gary Smalley
The most influential book though was “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man” by Steve Harvey. His explanation of what motivates men was eye-opening and his theories (or observations) about women were truly enlightening. I will do a separate post on what I learned.
I thought about all of the conversations I’ve had with my female friends - about men - and how we thought we could figure them out but ultimately we were “the blind leading the blind.” I could go on for days about the important things I learned from this book but the most critical gem, for me, was that women give away their power to men because they don’t value themselves.
Power and value? What is he talking about? These were foreign concepts that I really needed to wrap my head around. First I looked up the definitions of power and value. Dictionary.com defines them as;
Power: “capability of doing or accomplishing something…strength; might; force”.
Value: “to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance. To regard or esteem highly.”
I had spent a lifetime giving away my power, de-valuing myself, and not realizing I was what Steve Harvey calls a “sports fish”. I decided from this point forward I was going to be a “keeper” and not a “throwback.” I needed to learn how to value myself and realize my power. This was not going to be easy!
I didn’t really formulate a plan to achieve my goals, I just started doing some things that I had learned from several of the books I had read over the years. In retrospect I was just “faking it”, until my new mentality was embedded and eventually felt natural.
My self-perception began to slowly change by doing the following 7 things:
Step 1: Change Your Thoughts. According to “The Secret” you are your thoughts so during the day I tried steering my thoughts in the direction of “I am important and I am useful” and “I am an excellent mom and a good person.” As soon as I had negative thoughts about doubting my strength and abilities, I would try to shut those down and refer to my list.
Step 2: Make a List. Throughout the day I made lists of the things I’m good at and how that ties into feeling important and useful. I made a list of the things I’ve accomplished. Accomplishments as minor as trying a new recipe and as major as earning my bachelor’s degree while going through the struggles of a divorce. I needed to prove my value to myself and this was the method I used to get to where I needed to be mentally. As the list grew, so did my ability to conceptualize my power and value.
Step 3: Use Visuals. To stay focused, I taped motivational reminders to my mirror. “You are important and talented and wise.” “You are a woman that is held in high esteem.” Throughout the day I would look in the mirror and recite these messages, then shake my head and roll my eyes. I felt silly. But it was actually working because, unprompted by my reminders, my thoughts started to change naturally. Thoughts like “Wow, I’ve certainly had my struggles but I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished despite all of the road blocks. I must be strong and powerful to have not only survived the pain of the past, but have also prospered.”
Step 4: Be You. As this transition took root I discovered ways, other than being the consummate “yes girl”, to be happy. It was liberating to focus on my needs for once. Up until this point, the need for validation by serving others, was a constant motivational factor in my happiness equation. However, I discovered that I still wasn’t happy. I had to start living my life on my terms. This included resisting the compulsion to be NICE!
This was probably my biggest struggle and at times felt impossible to overcome. In the past, if someone asked for help or extended an invitation I would say “yes” without hesitation because I wanted to be liked. With this new mindset, I now paused to think about how I wanted to respond. I have learned to say “let me get back to you” as a way to buy time to think about my answer. I had to make sure I was being true to my own needs first. It sounds crazy but this was the most difficult part of the process for me. It was excruciating not to immediately say “yes”, because I’d rather be subject to Chinese water torture than say “no” to someone. To us people-pleasers “no” is a dirty word and I usually fabricated an elaborate excuse so I didn’t have to actually say the word.
Instead of lying, I learned the phrase: “No I’m sorry I can’t this time, but maybe next time”. This response helped me feel like less of a jerk and I didn’t have the stress of keeping my lies straight. After several times of doing this, it got much easier. As luck would have it…people eventually stopped asking.
Step 5: Molting. Understanding my value meant I would have to change some very fundamental characteristics. Those that knew me as the eternal people-pleaser with no regard (no value) for her own needs, struggled with these changes. I would have to face the fact that the people in my life may have ill feelings towards me. They may even use such adjectives as “selfish” or (heaven-forbid) “unfriendly” to describe me. This was agonizing…for a while, but then something amazing happened. As my perception shifted, I gained clarity and the relationships I once revered, were visibly flawed. With this clarity, I was able to identify the solid relationships that still deserved my time and attention. Those that were hindering my growth naturally unraveled in irreparable ways and were discarded. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy because it was a conscious decision to discard those relationships and that was the most difficult part. There was a lot of stress and many times I thought about just giving in to my fear of being disliked. But because I had come so far and had done so much work, my new-found confidence and self-talk led me the rest of the way.
With these changes I was able to establish new goals for my life. I was selective about new relationships because they took on new meaning. I wasn’t simply stock-piling people in my life to feed my need for validation, like I had done in the past. I was selecting people who would complement my personality, contribute to my happiness, and not suck-the-life out of me. The relationships that remained were more robust and satisfying.
Step 6: ASK! After years of de-valuing myself, I was determined to change the course of future relationships; especially with men. My track record wasn’t good and I now know why. I was not a whole person. I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted. I based my self-concept on how I thought other people viewed me. Now it was time to start living my life on my own terms. While watching “The Secret” people talked about writing down on a piece of paper what you want and the universe would bring it to you. Ask for what you want. I thought I’d give it a try…what’s there to lose right?
While I thought about the type of people I wanted around me, I started making a list. These characteristics I wanted in a life-partner because these are the things I value as a confident woman who now knows who she is and what she wants.
- Affectionate – any time any place
- Attentive - wants to spends time together and considers me a top priority
- Adventurous – willing to try new things to keep our relationship exciting
- Compassionate – he feels deeply for me
- Committed – to me, our relationship, our future
- Communicative – he has to be a competent and willing communicator
- Compatible – he enjoys the same things I enjoy
- Confident – he is self-assured and doesn’t need to be constantly praised
- Connected – he is aware of my needs mentally and physically and continues to discover what makes me happy
- Devoted – to me and our love for each other
- Financially responsible – we share the same attitudes about money
- Gentleman – chivalrous, courteous, and honorable
- Health Conscious – he enjoys a healthy lifestyle of exercising and eating right
- Loyalty – he is on my team
- Motivated - content with his life but also has goals to achieve
- Playful – great sense of humor and not afraid to be silly
- Protective – wants to know that I’m okay wherever I am and when we are together he bravely looks out for me
You may be thinking these are lofty expectations considering my past relationship failures, however, I am a different person now. I truly believe I deserve to have people in my life that hold the same value system.
I put my order out into the universe and waited.
Step 7: Visualize: Create a picture in your head of what you want, believe that you have it, be grateful that you have received it, and it will be yours. It wasn’t difficult for me to envision the type of partner I wanted because I had been thinking about him for years. After my year “sabbatical” from dating I updated my eHarmony profile and remained confident that he would come to me.
And he did.
“My Person” my post about how I found happiness in a relationship…finally!
Here are a few more posts you may want to check out:
“Disease to Please – My Story” about my recovery from a lifetime of unhappiness
“Dating After Divorce” my post about my online dating experience
“My Humble Childhood” my post about my abusive childhood, which led to a lifetime of unhappiness and my disease to please
Images originated from graphicstock.com but have been tweaked for my blog