The Need for Self-Love
I wasn’t sure how to write about this, or whether to write about it, but I think it’s better for me to be as authentic as I can. So, here goes…
I can be neurotic, and jealous.
Neuroticism, widely known as one of the factors comprising the Five Factor Model (FFM, or Big Five) of personality, is also referred to as emotional stability. This scholarly article by McCrae and John (don’t worry, the article is in the public domain; you can read it 🙂 ) presents a nice, broad overview of the FFM, but in short, Neuroticism as the article describes:
“represents individual differences in the tendency to experience distress, and in the cognitive and behavioral styles that follow from this tendency. High N scorers experience chronic negative affects…recurrent nervous tension, depression, frustration, guilt, and self-consciousness that such individuals feel is often associated with irrational thinking, low self esteem, poor control of impulses and cravings, somatic complaints and ineffective coping. Individuals low in N are not necessarily high in positive mental health…they are simply calm, relaxed, even-tempered, unflappable.” (McCrae & John, 1991)
Now given recent life events (re: escalating stress and future uncertainty), it’s not surprising that lately I’ve found myself gravitating more towards the, shall we say, less socially desirable, N- related traits. I’ve been moody, depressed, frustrated, self-conscious and irrational.
Of course, sometimes these feelings are a vicious cycle. You start feeling moody, and then when a tiny path of light appears and you feel a moment of rational clarity thus realizing that you are in fact moody and perpetuating that state, you feel this odd mix of realization and further frustration because you should be able to cognitively acknowledge your moodiness and then deliberately set out to change it for the better. Sometimes it’s as though the mind fights itself in search of clarity.
My recent state of heightened N-relatedness has made me challenging (and that may even be an understatement) to deal with. Seemingly small things can trigger avalanches of emotion, and it’s as though I’m my very own version of Jekyl at the drop of a hat.
Now granted, I have always been a very sensitive, emotionally attuned person. While generally pleasant and content, I was well at home on an overcast day swimming in self-reflection and deep thinking, and to this day I just can’t handle injustice, extreme pain, violence, exploitation or discomfort in others. Thus explaining why I no longer watch or read the daily news (never mind how pessimistic it can seem, but I actually feel ill seeing children being abused, or watching POW footage, or seeing violent uprisings), and why I haven’t read the latter books in the Harry Potter series. As a little kid, I didn’t like to go fishing because I felt so awful putting the worms on the hooks (I actually ended up “saving” many a worm and keeping them as pets).
And in this last year or so, I’ve just felt a bit more emotionally volatile than usual.
The thing is, I can definitely attribute some of my more recently pronounced N-ness to current events (re: graduate school application process, impending lawsuit, professional self-searching, physical health variances).
But some of it is rooted in some very personal, internal issues that I really need to face head on.
Of course, the best way (though possibly not the best way) to really “see” yourself, is through romantic relationships. I could go off on a mini tangent here about how we’re often attracted to individuals who have weathered similar emotional storms and early life experiences to us, and even those who remind us of our families, but the point is that, a romantic partnership requires vast amounts of deeply personal disclosure and a look into the most coveted parts of oneself that even me, myself and I don’t want to confront on a regular, or semi-regular basis.
Romantic relationships have this way of taking the mirror and turning it towards the inner-self.
So what Dan has shown me in the Sarah mirror of late, is how damaged my identity is right now.
Physically, I move from normal to abnormal in a matter of moments. Prior to my accident, I had experienced medical maladies (re: broken finger, tonsillitis, born prematurely), but never had anything been detrimentally permanent. It can be completely frustrating to have difficulty climbing a flight of stairs, or sitting in a chair at the movies or a restaurant. The irony to this, is that were you to see me on the street, you would not guess I deal with the chronic effects of a back injury. I walk, I talk, I move, and I do not use a cane or shuffle. But inside I am feeling fatigued, stiff, and frustrated – and sometimes it’s nice that you can’t sense that because I can go about my day to day blending into the background – just picking up groceries at the store, or just buying a book at Half Price Books. But sometimes it’s more difficult that you can’t see how I feel because I just seem like a typical twenty-something, and “why is she gripping the handrail like that? why can’t she walk through that art exhibit?” And while I want you to understand why I’m not the typical twenty-something, I don’t want to explain the intricacies of my experience. I want a little privacy, but for it, I often suffer in solitude.
Intellectually, I’m not sure what to invest in. I used to pour myself into my professional ambitions. 135% went into my work and my goals. But recently I wasn’t admitted to the graduate schools I applied to, and while my current job is pretty good, it doesn’t fulfill me beyond the present. And frankly, I’m not the person I was a few years ago – I don’t want to commit 135% to my working self. I want to spend some of that energy on nurturing my relationships, traveling and experiencing new things, bettering my health, and well, sometimes I want to relax and not feel guilty about it. But without this hard-driving professional ambition, I am feeling a bit emotionally wayward.
Surprisingly, I actually feel a little bit lighter, freer, without the chains of a PhD program confining me to a particular path, but now the uncertainty of which path to take is, well, a bit exciting and lots of overwhelming.
Emotionally, I’m on uneven ground. I have grown up with some issues surrounding self-worth and self-esteem – there are definitely times when I feel unworthy of the relationships I have and the life I truly want. I don’t think I’m scum, I just feel insecure about my internal self and what I can really offer to this world. I know I have potential, but I’m struggling with the me I used to be, and the me I am today, and relatedly – with the me of tomorrow. I have high personal expectations and wonder if I’ll ever be able to be kind enough to myself to allow myself to be human (re: make mistakes, fall short of expectations) while simultaneously pushing myself to launch forward in a big way.
So lately, in all three areas: physical, intellectual and emotional – I am feeling largely inadequate. I’m not confident in what I have to offer, and I’m not confident in what I can deliver. This leads me to a wave of irrationality, worry, discontent, and internal disharmony – and sometimes jealousy.
As you know from prior entries, Dan and I are ballroom dancers. I’ve really enjoyed ballroom dancing, mainly because I enjoy dancing in general and I naturally move to music in all settings (re: grocery store, at my desk, in the car, etc.).
But ballroom dancing has forced me to constantly confront what I’m most struggling with. Class after class, practice after practice, I am forced to accept that my physical limitations are a part of me. Maybe a few years ago, I used to be able to stand straighter, bend backwards, or wear heels for longer than an hour or so, but I just can’t anymore. And of course, we dance with folks of all ages with all manner of health issues (I really applaud the older folks, 60+, who are getting out there and enjoying themselves), but again, on the outside I look like just another twenty-something, and the teachers implore me to move as I look I can on the surface. So naturally, you can see where I’d spend a moment or two sitting and watching the women in my age cohort (and even those up to their 40s) twirling and arching and doing all sorts of things I’ll just never be able to do. It’s at once simultaneously maddening, frustrating and saddening.
Similarly, class after class, practice after practice, Dan and I both dance with other partners. Generally this doesn’t bother me – we’ve come to know most of the dancers we see on a regular basis and many social dancing venues are like going to a dinner party with friends. But every now and then my neurotic side can flare up. I’ll watch Dan dance with another partner and she’s just so physically adept that all of my physical inadequacies are triggered and watching them is tough. On the one hand, I’m grateful for these other dancers because they allow Dan to experience dancing in a way that I’ll never be able to provide and it’s great seeing him happy and enjoying himself, but on the other hand it’s torture seeing someone else effortlessly execute moves I know I’ll never be able to enjoy with Dan.
That second part sometimes goes on to leap frog across my synapses and occasionally activate my other insecurities and I start thinking along the lines of “maybe Dan would be better with someone like that lady because she probably doesn’t have a chronic physical issue, she has a life plan/goal, she’s got a sense of her career path, she knows her self-worth and is more secure, etc. etc.” This can occasionally turn into twinges of jealousy when my brain then starts morphing these other women into pristine examples of the ideal woman that I’ll never be able to emulate. And then, because prior boyfriends have cheated on me in the past, I start to worry that Dan will leave me for one of these women. And well…as you can see, it’s only a short step further and I descend down, down, down into the dark and wily black hole of neuroticism and jealousy.
Not a pretty picture, I know.
Sometimes I’ve gotten upset and explained my feelings to Dan and my closest friends. To their credit, they all patiently reassure me, and for that I am most grateful. But as I’m starting to realize, my experiences with Dan continue to provide that mirror which stands as an ever present reminder that I have to look within for the answers.
In the wake of those crazed moments, when I’m finally able to resurface out of the doldrums of anxiety and self-consciousness, I realize that every time I let my insecurities get the better of me, I’m operating on irrational assumptions from past hurts that I have yet to reconcile. And the longer I live with these assumptions and unresolved past hurts, the longer I am stealing valuable time from the present and limiting the love I can provide both to the current me, and others. As has been said many a time before, to love others you must love yourself.
For me, self-loathing is so much easier than self-loving. I have long perfected my inner narrative of self-criticism and exploited the channels of inadequacy and fear. It’s going to take me a lot of courage to break these patterns and attempt to accept and love myself for who I am today. Thankfully I am not completely alone in this journey, Dan, my close friends and my therapist will be there, but only I can consciously make the changes and choose to stop the tape recorder of doubt. There is hope.
Thanks for reading, S