You are going to laugh. I haven’t had a boyfriend for years and don’t have one now. On a few occasions I’ve tried to find him, but no one made my heart sing. And the effort it takes to find THE ONE didn’t seem worth it. I was too committed to building my business ALIGN. So, what motivates me to even write this blog?

It hit me when I was reading a client’s Tarot cards. She wanted to know if she was going to get back with her boyfriend, with whom she had had three major arguments. All three involved her being the target of physical abuse. After the third one, she called the police.

During the reading, my client shared that her father had left her mother when she was in utero. Never having a father, especially in the formative years, leaves an indelible, life-long scull-and-crossbones on one’s heart. The issues it elicits are complex. I can speak to this with some authority, even though I had a relationship with my father until age ten, when he died of cancer.

Abandonment is like a plague upon the land. When the father disappears, it drops a pall over one’s spirit, especially when the grief of loss is not dealt with. In my case, I couldn’t get out from under that pall.

My father’s departure set me up to choose unavailable men. The men whom I found wildly attractive either lived out of town, were already involved with someone else, or were not emotionally available. I kept searching for a relationship that worked, but I could never find one.

And those who did express interest in me never met my rigid standards of what a suitable partner should be. I rejected them outright. In hindsight, those standards were a defense. Those men were probably quite suitable.

Low Self-Esteem
My Tarot client opened my eyes. When I mentioned that her longing to resume her abusive relationship might be an issue of low self-esteem, she responded with “I have a good job and good friends.” I suspect low self-esteem never factored into her equation of being in an abusive relationship—a relationship that touches her on a deeply intimate level, where job and friends do not gain admittance.

This is an important point that took hundreds of conversations with therapists and friends to gain a foothold in my awareness. Thoughts like, “My father left, I must not be worthy. If I were worthy, he would have stuck around, watched me grow up, been there to support me through the trials of adolescence and young adulthood.” took up residence in my subconscious and ruled my most intimate judgments.

Because my father died of an illness he couldn’t control, getting angry at his leaving didn’t seem legitimate. I had no idea that his early departure affected my relationships with men, or more importantly, my choice of a partner.

My most intimate, emotional development had arrested at age ten. I kept choosing men who weren’t there for me, but who were safe. They were safe because I unwittingly blocked their entry into my heart. My father’s departure turned into a benchmark for all my boyfriends. In my unconscious state, when I met a prospective boyfriend, I suspect my subconscious self would rant, “This man is eventually going to leave, just like my father, so be sure this one will make his get-away, and if he gets too close, you bolt.”

This is where it gets complicated. Low self-esteem is such an insidious, wily character flaw. By choosing a so-called partner who wasn’t committed to having a mature healthy relationship with me or to working through issues on a deeply intimate level (because I wasn’t willing to do it either), I could continue to pursue the father who left me. Even though the relationships I have had improved over time, they never got to the point of a mature trustworthy, long-term commitment.

If certain relationships looked like they might go farther than I anticipated, I would help bring them to a crashing end. And if they looked like they were going to leave, I would preempt them and end it before they could. Since I didn’t have an opportunity to work out the complex psychological issues that occur between a father and his daughter when my father was alive, I used my boyfriends as my lab rats. Believe me, I was not doing any of this consciously, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

My Self-Esteem Barometer
My client helped me see how our choice of partner reflects our own level of self-esteem. If he treats me badly and I allow him to treat me badly, then I probably feel I deserve to be treated badly. In other words, I am not worthy of the loving, kind behavior I believe I want and deserve. Like most abused persons, we keep going back to the abuser, thinking we can get what we long for or if we work hard enough, maybe we can even change him/her to love us the way we want and deserve.

We have to move on. That’s why I’ve decided that my next boyfriend will be my barometer. I will pay close attention to how he responds to me when I voice concerns or when we disagree. I will be alert to how easily I can express myself and how honest I can be. When I feel I can trust him and myself, then, maybe, just maybe, I can open my heart and with his hand in mine invite him in. When that happens, my self-esteem barometer will have reached an all-time high, and I’ll be sure to congratulate myself for hanging in there long enough to witness my own monumental growth.

Is Anybody Listening?

January 19, 2011

A friend and I sat down to do a tarot card reading.  Instead she spilled her latest newsflash—a former colleague asked her to marry him three weeks ago.  As quickly as the offer was made, it was rejected.  I was the first person she had told—not her best friend, not her adult children, and not her spiritual mentor.  I was stunned by the news and flabbergasted to discover that she had let so much time pass without sharing this life-changing proposal with anyone else. 

This got me thinking.  How much time had this exchange occupied her thoughts?  How much energy had it usurped from her daily routine?  My friend longs to write her memoir, yet little progress has been made.  I suspect the emotional unrest of this thwarted proposal has contributed to her writing stalemate. 

A Heated Internal Dialogue

Certainly a marriage proposal, especially one not accepted, causes an internal dialogue—more than likely a heated one.  If it goes on for a while and isn’t shared with someone else, an internal dialogue can overshadow our other rather “regular” thoughts.  It can turn obsessive quickly.  When that happens, we’ve got a serious case of mental and emotional clutter!  This form of clutter can distract us from being productive, keep us from being direct and honest with others, and, if it goes on for too long, derail us from our life purpose. 

Everyone benefits from a loving, objective ear.  We need to be heard.  Aren’t we all comforted when another person validates our feelings and concerns?  I believe that is why many people get married.  They find a partner who listens with a kind and caring heart.  If they don’t have a husband or wife, they find a friend or several friends to share the vicissitudes of their life, and if that doesn’t work, they seek the help of a therapist or spiritual counselor.  Many, however, don’t believe it necessary to get this kind of professional help and end up stuck in the sludge of their unexpressed thoughts and feelings. 

The longer we let these thoughts remain unexpressed, the more they expand and, probably get heaped onto issues that were never adequately addressed or expressed when certain events occurred in the past.  We talk to ourselves and make judgments about the role we played in getting to this place.  If disturbing thoughts have been stirred up, we may begin to blame ourselves or others.  The inner chatter when left unaddressed begins as a murmur and can end up a deafening roar.

If we obsess about it, this stuff becomes the dross of our thoughts, and if we repress it, it becomes sediment that gets etched into the recesses of our brain.  These troublesome thoughts will remain until they are skimmed off the top or excavated from below—only by articulating them to another or engaging in some form of healing work, usually with another.          

Are We Willing to Be Vulnerable?

Perhaps the bigger question we need to ask is whether we are willing to be vulnerable.  This means exposing the not-so-stellar sides of ourselves to someone else.  Uh-oh!  My beautiful exterior persona is cracking.  When that other person finally knows my baser self, will he reject me?  Will he see my weaknesses and run in the other direction? 

We will never know the answers to these questions until we take the risk.  But be careful!  I’m not advocating sharing your deepest concerns with everyone or anyone who will listen.  No, you must be discerning and circumspect.  Sharing your most intimate thoughts requires trust.  

You may find the third definition of the word vulnerable in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) pertinent to this discussion:  “liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge.”  We are not playing bridge here, but the game of life.  If the other person doesn’t run in the other direction, but sticks around to hear more, we have a chance at deepening the relationship.  We are heard and validated.  We are no longer alone.  Someone cares about us and we care about that someone.   

Not only that!  In addition to discovering we have a partner (perhaps several) in this game of life, we can emerge from the distress of perseverating thoughts and feelings and take the next step.  Our worrisome and sometimes insomnia-inducing concerns crumble.  In time, we ready ourselves to rectify the situation or release it to the annals of life experience and move on. 

Relationships Change

Of course, things aren’t always simple.  Relationships change.  Trust ebbs.  We find the people who were there for us last year may have moved on or we have grown beyond them.  They are no longer available to us or we to them.  Julia Cameron in her book Transitions captures the essence of this thought:

“Connections are alchemical.  Friendships are not static.  They are living entities that grow and change.  Sometimes my friendships become strained, undergoing mysterious seasons of estrangement…My friendships are organic and evolutionary.  My friendships are catalytic and transformative.”

If we detect an unsatisfactory change (i.e., the trust has cracked or listening has been traded for judgment), it’s healthy to acknowledge it—at a bare minimum to ourselves and optimally to the other person.  Maybe the tear can be repaired, but if not, let’s honestly admit the change, so we can take the initiative to go elsewhere to share our innermost thoughts and feelings.  Holding onto mental and emotional clutter dulls our soul and hardens our heart.  It clogs our creativity and blocks our growth.  A trusted friend or professional is worth her weight in gold because she listens with a caring heart.