How many times are we supposed to give someone the benefit of the doubt? How many times are we supposed to look away when someone says or does something that chips away at our self-esteem? Or if we do try to stand up for ourselves and we get slammed each time, how many times are we to pick ourselves up and try again? How many chances do we give the people in our lives?
I have spent a lifetime overcoming the affects of early childhood sexual and emotional abuse. My spirit was shattered at a very young age and continued to be battered and bruised in one abusive relationship after another. It is only now, at 60 years old, that I feel whole and complete. But it is a fragile state of being for me. Even the other night, when I attended a lecture and asked a question at the end, I doubted myself. The speaker said she hated my question and I felt humiliated and ashamed and embarrassed. I was quite tired and went home with a bad taste in my mouth, but when I woke up the next morning, I realized her response was a poor reflection on her; there was nothing inappropriate or wrong about my question. It was a question that appears on their “common questions” fact sheet.
A recent experience with a teacher is still plaguing me, and it frustrates me no end that I can't seem to let go. I ended the relationship, both the teaching one and the friendship that had evolved. But I still have her voice inside my head at various times. Her comments made me feel flawed and any confidence I'd built up in the area of the teaching is kinda damaged. I’ve since hired another teacher and am hearing quite different comments from her. But I realized tonight that the reason I can't let the relationship go is because I seem to have internalized the negative comments.
That is my unfinished business. I'd thought it was a need to get together, to find a way to bring closure in a good way, without the negativity and nastiness we ended up with. But tonight
at the session with my new teacher, I ended up in tears because I kept hearing the negative stuff in my head that had been drummed into me over the last three years.
So now I need to ask myself, what is self-respect and how will I best be respecting myself in this situation? Self respect means:
Setting appropriate personal boundaries and pushing back when someone oversteps them
Speaking up for myself when someone mis-treats me
Living according to my own values and upholding those values, even if it means upsetting someone else
Acting according to my beliefs and feelings in a way that does no harm to anyone or anything else
It is not being a doormat. Saying or doing anything to please the other person or to get them to like or love me. Here is where I’m guilty in this teacher relationship. I wanted her approval. I wanted her love. I wanted her to see that I am a loving, talented person. So I gave and did and gave and did and got moments of what I wanted. It’s called the people-pleasing disease. And what it’s taught me to reflect upon is to question my intentions and motives when I offer myself or my services or my help to someone. Am I looking for something in return? Am I doing it out of the kindness of my heart or expecting a certain result? If it isn’t a pure act of giving, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.
As human beings, I don’t think we want to think badly of others. We want to believe the best about them. I struggled with this issue vis-à-vis my own parents. Who wants to think their parents don’t really love them or that our parents don't really want the best for us? But sometimes parents are flawed. I came to believe and understand that my parents did, indeed, love me. They just didn't know how to show it.
We’re all flawed to some degree. And if someone is flawed, but doesn’t see that they are flawed, they will always think they are right and that it is okay to treat you however they’ve been treating you. And that is a person with whom it doesn’t make sense to try to reconcile, because they will not admit or take responsibility for their part in the flawed relationship. I am the other side of that coin. It is way too easy for me to take blame for things that are not my fault. I've gotten better over the years, with that, though.
So, looking at my points re what constitutes self-respect, as they apply to my relationship with my former teacher, what I can see is:
I didn’t uphold personal boundaries. I didn’t speak up when I felt belittled or put down. The few times that I tried, we ended up in a huge disagreement and I invariably apologized or made nice in order to maintain the relationship.
My belief is that you don’t stay in a relationship in which you don’t feel good about yourself. If you start to doubt yourself and your abilities, something is not right. Then you must determine whether that something can be changed. If you are with someone who is able to look at themselves and their behavior and is willing to work on change, you are in luck. You don’t have to leave the relationship. But if not, you have a decision to make.
I chose to stay in this relationship because for a long time, the benefits outweighed the negatives. Once that shifted the other way, I needed to get out and did. But I’m realizing that the damage done to my psyche by staying may not have been worth the benefits I received. Now I need to find a way to release the messages I've internalized.
I welcome any thoughts from my wonderful blogger friends about self-respect, giving people chances, forgiveness, and being kind to yourself. What I need to do in order to respect myself is honor my decision to leave this relationship. Trust that it came from my higher self. Pay attention when I hear her negative messages inside my head and push that voice out of my spirit. Honor the good that was received from her and let go of the rest. But to invite her presence back into my life may not make any sense, even though there was no reconciliation between the two of us. Perhaps I need to let this serve as my reconciliation with myself to be more respectful of my spirit and my emotions and my being in the future.