What if I can't learn to love myself?
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Physical & Mental Health Issues Marriage and relationships are difficult by themselves, but coping with physical or mental health problems can make things even more difficult.

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Old 03-12-2012, 12:58 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Post What if I can't learn to love myself?

I am separated from my husband of nearly 16 yrs. It is a "healing separation" where we are both not seeing new pple and working on ourselves in IC. We see e/o once a week at MC and spend every few weekends together.

My backstory is that I've had chronic depression mixed with anxiety since puberty. My parents have their own mental and emotional issues which were never treated and they are basically selfish, broken, and helpless. They could never make ends meet financially, my dad has horrible low self-esteem and my mom is a control freak and very emotionally manipulative. When they couldn't have kids naturally, they went through extraordinary measures to have us.

So I grew up with the selfish, child-like, needy parents who were ill-suited to having children. Everything was laissez-faire - no bedtime, no restrictions on TV, never had to brush my teeth, no structure. I was a smart, sensitive kid with above-avg IQ. I was emotionally neglected although my Mom did make supper every day (sometimes at 8 or 9 pm) and we wore mostly hand-me-downs until I could pay for my own clothes.

I never got the attention that I needed because my parents only paid attention to drama, tragedy, and anything negative. I got straight As in school (school was my salvation - the only true structure I had). So it didn't matter that no one told me to do my homework. I did it anyway. One year, the heat in our apartment was broken so much I missed something like 20+ days of school that winter. My teacher sent home a note to my mother, but I threw it away. The only bad mark on my report card was for attendance.

So basically, in my parents' home, if you acted childishly (like my parents) you got everyone's attention. They got every perk from the gov't that they could get - welfare, food stamps, etc. Another great mssg: the more pathetic and needy you can make yourself, the more Uncle Sam will bail you out with $ and services.

Fastforward to age 22. I met my hub and we planned to get married. A few months before the wedding, I totally crashed with bad depression, didn't go to work or do anything, basically slept for 2 weeks. I promised him it was because of the wedding stress. I tried to explain that this happened to me over the years in high school and college, but I didn't have a name for it. I told him everything would be OK once I moved out of my parents' dysfunctional home. He told me, "OK", but if this happens again after we get married I needed to promise to see a psychiatrist.

Fastforward to age 38. We have been married for almost 16 years. I have been on meds and in IC for 15 of those years. He has been in IC for 10 years. We have been in MC for over 2 years. We have both grown and learned a tremendous amount over that time.

We kept on putting off having kids because of my depression. The meds are bad for pregnancy. Or so we said. We kept ignoring the emotional and relationship reasons for no kids.

I had an acute illness five years ago that was a wake up call for both of us on our physical health and our relationship.

I have been through therapy. I see my therapist for over two hours each week. I believe in psychotherapy. I was a Psych major in college.

I need my depression meds. They keep me from being suicidal. They make my ups and downs much more manageable.

I believe in the goals of our separation. It sucks and its extremely painful, but our relationship was floundering. I was ready to go forward and have kids and hub wanted to know why he wasn't happy with his life. Somewhere around when I almost died five years ago, he finally realized that I wasn't the cause of all of his problems :wink:

So he's off in his early-onset MLC and I'm waiting around, hoping for R but trying to mentally prepare myself for D. So all my therapists tell me what I know already: the goal for me is to learn to take care of myself. Invest in myself. Discover what makes me happy as an individual.

What I take from this is that I have to stop being such a needy-freak. I can live w/o him. I can take care of myself. I can cook and shop, even if he's not there for me to "take care of".

And that's how we get to my question. What if I've tried and tried and tried and I can't.

My basic question is: What if taking care of yourself makes you feel like s**t?

I have a Masters degree and scored 1270 on my SATs (I am telling you this so you know I am not a lazy, good-for-nothing, worthless piece of s**t). But somehow, after more than $500,000 of therapy, meds, etc, deep inside I still feel like a worthless piece of s**t.

Example: After week #4 of separation, I decided I needed to do something concrete to "take care of myself". So I started trying to brush my teeth once a day. I made a "star chart" to watch my progress. Now, I damn well brushed my teeth more than 50% of the days in February. And that is at least 5 times more than any other month in my life. But it felt like physical hurt to do it. I literally get a stomach ache thinking about it. And it never got easier. So March isn't going so well (only 4/12 so far.)

I work part-time. I need to lose weight - maybe 70 lbs if I want to even get in the neighborhood of my BMI. If someone would ask me to do them a favor (e.g. one of the multiple volunteer committees I am on or one of my friends) I would jump to do it. But to wake up in time to make myself a decent breakfast or go to the gym... Not happening.

I guess what I'm saying is: giving to others brings me joy. Giving to myself (while it gives me benefit like losing weight, clean teeth, improving health/well-being) brings me emotional pain. The pain I feel mostly outweighs the benefit. I have tried and tried and tried, but it still makes me feel nauseous to take care of myself.

I don't know if giving to others brings only joy. That is too facile a characterization. It gives me an attention-high like a hit of cocaine. Sometimes, afterwards, it feels good if I actually helped someone. But if someone treated me like s**T, took advantage of me, or I enabled s/o in a codependent way - then giving also makes me feel like s**t.

In the last few years I've lost 30 lbs (well, I lost 43 and gained back 13) and am not falling apart despite the separation and I haven't had a suicide attempt in 12 months, and I went to the gym today. OK, so I get it - that's good - I'm trying. I don't need you to tell me that its good to work on it. What I want to know is WHEN WILL I SUCCEED? When will it stop hurting so badly.

In my heart I know that if you love someone you need to set them free. I am using some of the techniques of 180 in my interactions with hub. But deep, deep in my bones, I am desperate for him to come back and take care of me so I can stop this sick game of trying to take care of myself.

I suck at it and I'm not worth it.

Thank you, TAM, for allowing me a place to say how I really feel inside.
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:37 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: What if I can't learn to love myself?

Thanks for sharing all of that, dontpanic. I feel like I say this a lot on TAM, but this post hit a nerve with me. Not because of your issues with your H, but because of your feelings about yourself and taking care of yourself.

Since you've spent so much of your life cementing all of these (literally) self-defeating behaviors, it's going to take a lot of time to undo them. It will come incrementally. I'm still struggling with this myself. I've spent more than 1/2 my life literally taking care of needy people - my mom and my STBXH. On top of that, I spent my childhood and teens being parentified by my mom. I attempted suicide when I was in high school, and somehow nobody in my household even noticed. It prepared me well for a life of feeling like I wasn't worth taking up space on the planet if I didn't 'earn' it by overachieving in school, at work, and taking on way too much at home. Many things I'd start and not finish, making me feel worse. Sometimes, I let myself go, thinking there was no point in trying to win a losing battle against my ugly body. Unluckily for me, STBXH also has a lot of depression, OCD and anxiety issues, and possibly personality disorder issues as well. He was predisposed to treat me as the cause of all of his issues (including the ones that were present before we met? But I digress...)

When I look back on our nearly 15-year relationship, my number one gut reaction is exhaustion. Mental, physical, spiritual exhaustion. I never felt worthy of him, and that fed into a very bad dynamic -- he ended up feeling that way, too. It made me feel horrible, but at the same time, I couldn't objectively disagree with him. When he had multiple EAs, it didn't occur to me to leave, I just tried harder. I couldn't even love myself enough to realize I didn't deserve to be lied to and cheated on.

I am in IC, plus a DBT-based coping skills group, plus a support group for women recovering from abusive relationships. I am lonely and hurting, but terrified to get involved with someone. I am afraid what will happen when a man sees what a mess I am inside. When I feel better, it doesn't last and doesn't go all the way to my soul. I think I understand what you're feeling.

There is no easy answer to feeling better about yourself. You were abused as a child, at a time when you were learning how to interact with your world. Part of that was seeing how people treated you -- our self-worth comes a lot from that -- as you know from being a Psych major. Problem is, what you saw from your parents when you were growing up is at the root of your problem now. Your mind is still replaying that script that was encoded in your childhood. What may help is a therapy that is specifically designed to help adult children of abuse to grieve the loss of childhood and 're-parent'. You look at the specific thoughts you have about yourself, and learn where they come from, why they are not actually true, and how to replace the old script with a new one. Some of the mindfulness practices in DBT are meant to help when we start with automatic self-judgement, too.

Simply repeating mantras like "I am a good person" doesn't help. You and I both know that. Taking care of other people doesn't help. We both know that, too. Just going through the motions doesn't work, either. The reason we don't love ourselves is that we were never taught to. We were taught the opposite. And since we're such smart women, we learned that lesson well.

Hang in there, dontpanic. You can do this. You've hung in so long because there is a strength inside of you that doesn't really want to let go of life. ((hugs))
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Old 03-12-2012, 02:31 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: What if I can't learn to love myself?

Sounds like your life is rather empty. Why not try religion.
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Old 03-12-2012, 09:58 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: What if I can't learn to love myself?

Dear angelpixie - Thank you so much for your support and understanding. It really does help to know that others feel like you do. It is so hard to explain to people how neglect can emotionally feel worse than being physically abused. At least if they hit you they know you are alive.

I really want to learn to take care of myself. I have tried DBT, but maybe I need to give it another go. I will bring your post to my therapist to discuss.

---

Dear accept - You are so funny. I am Orhthodox Jewish which is a very proscribed religion with lots of obligations and requirements. It also has a full and deep philosophy. I strictly keep kosher and keep the Sabbath and don't wear immodest clothing and was a virgin when I got married.

The jokes on me. I am religious largely for the structure it gives my life. However, for the last few years, I have been beating myself up because my level of basic simple faith in G-d to take care of me and help me sucks. The big wake up call for me was a close friend got divorced and to keep herself sane gave up the religious life. She has hung out in bars, slept around, etc etc. But when you speak to her, her faith in G-d is unshaken. She truly believes that G-d is watching out for her and will take care of her and help her get through.

I used to be more involved with my synagogue. I have tried speaking to my Rabbi and attending services, but it is sooo embarrassing to be "separated" in the Orthodox community. In my community, it is weird enough to be married without kids. Divorced makes you ridiculously marginalized.

The thing that speaks to me is the Twelve Steps. Am thinking of joining a Codependents Anonymous group. If individual therapy is not helping, maybe a group setting will.

I do need to "get religion" ... another one of the things on my mile-long list to work on.

Thanks so much for listening.
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:08 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: What if I can't learn to love myself?

Hi Dontpanic. I'm so glad that there may be something in my post that will help! I'm reading and doing the exercises in a book right now that you might want to ask your therapist about. It's called 'Adult Children of Abusive Parents' by Steven Farmer. It's an old book (1989) so I was able to get a copy really cheap online. I know I see a lot of the issues I deal with in it. It seems like the author really understands. And another one that helped me a lot was 'Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers' by Karyl McBride. It certainly sounds like your parents were pretty narcissistic.

Religion played a large, unhealthy part in my relationship with my mom. Unfortunately, the religion I used to observe was all about suffering and unworthiness, so I knew that I had to break away from all of that if I was going to have any kind of recovery. Believe me, I prayed with all my heart for years. If religion, faith, prayer, etc., was all it took, I'd be whole, healthy and happy right now.
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Old 03-12-2012, 12:53 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I am not as funny as you think, I can read between the lines. You are welcome to send me a PM which I will answer. I can guess the rest of your story what you have not told us. There is no such thing as a healing separation certainly not if it takes so many years. So you were a good girl before you married was your husband also a good boy. Considering you have a religion and a strict one at that I am surprised that no one can do anything for you there. You write you still keep your religion does your husband. I dont think your religion allows you to seek new people.
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Old 03-13-2012, 12:13 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: What if I can't learn to love myself?

Dear angelpixie -
Thanks again for your reply. I just requested those two books from the local public library. I don't think that all of life's answers are in books, but I do believe in educating myself as much as possible.

I don't think religion has all of the answers. I do think that having faith in a Higher Power (like 12 Steps/AA) and bringing spirituality into your daily life can help you cope with life's ups and downs.

--
Dear accept,
Typing on computers makes it hard to understand people's tone and intent. When I said "you are so funny", what I meant was "wow, that was pretty perceptive of accept to notice how I purposefully left out religion from my post". But then when you say "I'm not as funny as you think" it sounds to me like you are being defensive. Even if I ignore the defensive feeling that I got from that, I hear that your opinion is "there is no such thing as a healing separation not if it takes so many years". I understand that that is your point-of-view, but I respectfully disagree. As I explained, we both came with baggage, I am a religious person, and I still love my husband. After investing almost 16 years in this relationship, I'm not willing to throw it away. I also feel that even if we don't end up together, I am learning things during the separation that will help me form healthier relationships in the future. yes my religion is strict, but lucky for me it is also compassionate. Friends and neighbors invite me over and try to be there for both me and my husband during this hard time. We have chosen not to see other people and try to work on our own problems before throwing in the towel. I don't know of any religion that allows you to "seek new people" while you are still married. If we end up divorcing, then we will be free to seek new relationships.
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