A woman falls in love with a man. She is wild about him, and will follow him anywhere. But he has a hard time believing that she loves him, and interprets her love as neediness or loneliness. However, she is so smitten by him that she simply won’t let him go. He finally accepts that she genuinely desires and wants him, but then begins to wonder what is wrong with her. He judges and criticizes what he thinks is wrong with her so often that she finally leaves him. When she is gone, he says to himself: “I knew she didn’t really love me.”
A woman who describes herself as “a mess” meets a man who thinks she is the woman of his dreams. After a short courtship, he proposes. But nothing he does can remove the feeling she holds that she is unworthy of his love and devotion, so she takes on a project at work that requires her to work extra long hours. The man waits this out for a while, but becomes increasingly angry at her, and eventually he gives up and leaves. She goes out and meets another man, and the pattern repeats itself.
A man and a woman marry, and they are happily in love. But before long he grows bored of the routine and the sameness, so he runs into another woman’s arms. His wife finds out and asks him if he wants a divorce. He says yes, explaining that maybe he isn’t meant to be married.
These vignettes speak of a pattern of behaviors that define one aspect of failed romance: I am unlikely to attain romantic happiness if I don’t feel worthy of love, and I therefore push away from or sabotage love when it is offered to me.
If I feel worthy of love, then I will feel worthy of being loved by you. I will feel worthy of your respect, your friendship, your devotion and your commitment. In addition, I am likely to feel self-love, self-respect and self-acceptance. I will feel competent in meeting the essential challenges life throws at me, and empowered in my dealings with the world.
If I don’t feel worthy of love, then I won’t feel as if I measure up or that I’m good enough, and therefore I’m far more likely to not allow myself to love at all. If I don’t feel I measure up, I’m going to have a hard time trusting you when you say you love me, because I “know” that I’m not worthy of love, and therefore I assume that when you really get to know me, you won’t want me anymore and will eventually dump me.
So, either I choose someone who is likely to reject me, or I give myself an excuse in order to reject, abandon or betray you — or I force you to reject me. In essence, I will reject you before you can reject me.
So permit me to ask you, on a scale from 0-10, how worthy of love do you feel? If your answer is lower than you want it to be, here are a few things you can do:
Make as large a list as you can about what you like or respect about yourself. What inner resources do you use to get through a trauma or a challenging time? With whom have you behaved with compassion or kindness? When have you been courageous? How are you creative? In which situations have you demonstrated great social skills? How do you take good care of yourself and of others? What do you like about your appearance? When have you been a good friend? A good sibling? A good child to your parents? A good parent to your children? What do you offer a mate in a romantic relationship? Refer to this list often. It will remind you about why you may be more lovable than you think.
Act with integrity and honor in your dealings with the world.
Quit doing things that will hurt you or other people.
Take overall better care of yourself.
Accept responsibility for where you are in life right now, and decide if you want to make any changes in the direction your life is going.
Clean up all negative relationships and unfinished emotional business you have with others.
Let hope run your life rather than fear.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond to individual queries.