Who hinders you the most in life? Who tells you, you aren’t good enough? Who tells you, you can’t achieve anything you want to? My guess is that most people when they stop to think, share the same answer. That answer is “me”. I am the one who stops myself from chasing my dreams, I am the one who tells myself I can’t do it, I am my own worst critic and biggest nay-sayer. You might think other people think those things about you. Sometimes people do underestimate us and even hurt us, but more often than not, we assume how they feel about us and we let it become our inner voice.
Lies are a terrible part of the human existence. No one likes being lied to. Lies distort our reality. Lies break down relationships, force people to keep secrets, cause people to lose trust and generally, lies just hurt. But then why do we lie to ourselves? Daily. You tell yourself you aren’t worth loving. You tell yourself that no one likes you or no one cares about you. You tell yourself you don’t deserve to be treated well or to find happiness. You tell yourself you are useless at your job, that you have no talents and nothing to offer. I’m sure you have a list of lies you tell yourself too, these were just a few of mine.
Believing the lies I told myself, mostly that I was unworthy of happiness and success, and that no one really liked me, turned me into a master of what I call “self-sabotage”. This meant that when anything was going well, I would find a way to ensure that it didn’t. Rather than stopping to appreciate what was good, I would poke holes and find what was bad. This act of self-sabotage is a common human experience I think, maybe you can relate, or maybe I sound crazy, either way I hope that if you continue reading, some of my thoughts and experiences around it can help you in your own journey or maybe if you can’t directly relate, it will help you to understand someone in your life a bit better.
If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed it has been a while since I have posted anything on the blog. For each of my previous blog posts, I have just written it and posted it without too much second thought. However, this particular post has been sitting in the pipeline for a few months now. Partly because life has been crazy busy the last few months, partly because I had to come to terms with this post myself before putting it out to the world, and partly because I really wanted it to make sense! I have to take a deep breath in as I write this, as it is potentially the most ‘close to home’ topic I have touched on this far and the one that brings me the most regret and raw pain (and a bit of anger) to speak or write about. And some would ask why I would write this, why I would put it down in writing at all let alone make it public. I guess it’s because when I read my thoughts and reflect on them, I find myself wishing I had read something similar myself a long time ago, that maybe I would’ve recognised what I was doing earlier, and that’s what I hope this achieves for someone else reading this. I could write it in a journal, take it off my chest and move on with my life, but if someone else, anyone else, can benefit from what I have learnt then it makes it doubly worth journeying through.
If you have read a blog or two by now, you will know that earlier this year (have to edit this to say LAST YEAR now, goodbye 2018, hello 2019) I went through the break-up of my relationship of almost seven years. Over the last six months, I’ve had countless, countless opinions about life, love, me, my relationship and my ex-boyfriend thrown at me. Some I asked for, and some I didn’t. And lots of them hurt. No one else really knows the ins and outs of a relationship or a break-up, and to be honest I didn’t (and still don’t) even feel like I know the full story of my own. What I do know is that feelings don’t disappear overnight and it hurts to hear people speak poorly of someone you love and care about. But people grapple for answers and in their attempt to support me, they tried to explain away the situation. It would be easy for me to jump on the band wagon of blame, hatred and annoyance that other people tend to head towards, and at times I have fallen into this trap. But it’s also important to wade through, figure out and then acknowledge the truth. This has been a process for me, figuring out exactly what happened. But part of the painful truth is that the relationship fell victim to my own self-sabotage. I didn’t sabotage the relationship on purpose, I wanted nothing more than for that relationship to continue. However, I was so deeply trapped in my feelings of not being good enough and held captive by the belief that I didn’t deserve it, that I pushed and pushed until it broke. And it wasn’t until I felt it slipping through my fingers that I realised what I had done and what I had lost. That’s the reason why I’m often quick to defend my ex-boyfriend and his actions, and it’s the reason why I have to learn to forgive myself as much as anyone else involved in the situation. Sometimes it hurts to tell the truth, I could hide all of this behind lies and blame, but it’s important if it helps someone else to learn from my mistakes, to look at themselves and those around them, and make a change.
In saying that, something that writing this blog has been really good for is getting to the reality of the situation and a balanced view on it all. Lots of the views expressed through this blog are the views of a girl over the last seven years of her life and in the depths of a break up and are not necessarily a representation of exactly what I believe now. I hear myself in conversations now and I think “Wow that is not the thoughts of the girl I used to be” and it often excites me how much my own mindset has changed.
Rather than focussing on the self-sabotage so much, I want to focus on the difference between me in self-sabotage and me in self-love. Because it is so easy to say “LOVE YOURSELF” but what the heck does that even look like? For me to figure out how to love myself, I actually had to look at how and why I was destroying myself. These examples are specific to me but you may have some of your own or you may be able to relate to some of these.
Methods of self-sabotage I have identified in myself (hopefully they are self-explanatory):
– Negative thinking
– Assuming the thoughts of others
– Belittling myself
– Seeking validation from others
– Pushing people away with moody behaviour
So in a nutshell, what self-love looks like for me now is:
Positive self-talk. It sounds cheesy but it’s an actual game changer. When the voice in your head tells you “you can” instead of “you can’t”, the whole world opens up. When the voice in your head tells you “people really like you and want you around, notice the ways your friends make time for you, support you and tell you they love you, they are telling the truth”, it changes all of your relationships and how you treat yourself and others. This one goes hand in hand with assuming the thoughts of others. I remember one of the first times I had become really conscious of my own thoughts and how they were affecting me, and how I could actually control them: I was out for dinner with a friend and she said something about how she really cared about me and was really stoked to be having dinner with me. I remember saying out loud that for the first time in a long time, I actually believed that. A lot of what I used to do was tell myself what I thought other people were thinking about me, rather than what they were actually telling me or how they were showing me they felt towards me, and I always assumed the worst. For example, at a similar dinner someone may have said the same things and I would have been sitting there thinking, “they don’t really care, they are just saying that out of obligation, they would rather not be here with me at all, they are bored, they aren’t even enjoying this, they don’t even like me” and all the other negative thoughts I could muster and assume. DIABOLICAL. To relationships and friendships. At this point I’m really hoping other people have these thoughts, otherwise I’ve just exposed myself as a bit of a nut case. Maybe you don’t even realise you have them, but slowly, they will eat away at your self-worth and eventually your relationships with those around you.
Now I make a super conscious effort to hear people for exactly what they say to me, I stop and I try to be real with myself. “They are choosing to spend time with me, they do value me, they enjoy spending time with me because they like me as a person and I am a good friend.” When my workmates tell me, I’m doing a good job, I let that in rather than scoffing or putting myself down. When my parents tell me, they love me and they are proud of me, I believe them and I take it on board. When my friends tell me, they appreciate me and love spending time with me, that they value me or think that I am hilarious, I take it all in, I say thank you, and I let it sink in and rest with me rather than brushing it off or running from it. My confidence is so much better for it. But I also don’t let my entire value rest on the thoughts or feelings of others. I have learnt to validate myself and for that to be enough.
Some people would have always looked at me and seen the kind, caring, funny and thoughtful person that I am. Some would have looked at me and seen the girl who loves to help people, who always puts their hand up for an opportunity, and who would do anything for a friend. I always knew that girl was there, she went to Vanuatu to help build a water tank, to Nepal to raise money for people with Leprosy, she became a nurse because she wanted to help others. She put thought and effort into every single gift, organised fun events and holidays for her friends and she would go above and beyond for anyone. But she didn’t feel like anyone else saw her that way. I realise now that my love language is words of affirmation. I need to hear sometimes that what I’m doing is right and that it is being recognised. This was huge in my previous relationship. Towards the end I found myself asking “why” a lot. Why am I loved? Why am I still here? Why is nothing changing? It’s taken me a while to figure out why that started. And I think it’s a mixture of things. When a relationship is fresher, you tend to vocalise your feelings and the things you like about that person more frequently. As the relationship went on, I guess we assumed the other person knew the things we loved about each other and so we stopped saying it. That also means you stop hearing it. This is a fine, fine balance in relationships, I probably needed some more positive affirmation from the relationship in what I was doing well, but at the same time it needs to come from within, otherwise the positive words would just slide right off my silky exterior. Secondly, my expectations got the better of me. I had a picture in my head of what life would be like once I graduated and got a job and entered the real world. I had dreamed so far into my future that I didn’t stop to look at my present and realise that the way I was acting, did not end with the future I had envisioned for myself. Hoping for a healthy relationship or even marriage in the future but not stopping to acknowledge what you are doing in your relationship in the present is like hoping to have a million dollars by the end of the year but never putting a dollar into a savings account. Or hoping to be able to run a marathon but never doing a single training run. It just won’t happen by itself.
I can’t remember a time where I truly loved who I was before this point in my life. I grew up hating my body, I felt unfairly bullied through my intermediate school years and although I had friends through college, I wasn’t confident in myself or my likeability. Here’s the clincher when it comes back around to dating and relationships. I do seriously believe you have to love yourself first before you can have a healthy relationship. As a 16-year-old, I didn’t love myself, and I carried that into my relationship. Yes, we had a loving relationship which clearly had good aspects as it lasted for 6-7 years. But when it came down to it, the foundation was poor in terms of how I felt about myself and how I projected that onto the relationship and how he “must be feeling about me”. It sucks. There’s no other words for me to put to it other than it really sucks that my feelings about myself corroded someone else’s feelings for me and rendered my feelings for them useless.
What’s that famous quote that every parent, teacher and friend feel the need to recite to you when you need a pep talk for a positive attitude?
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
This translates to everything else too. When you tell yourself, you are hard to love, you eventually become hard to love. This is true for all relationships, not just romantic ones. Because I felt unworthy of love and I didn’t give it to myself, I found it hard to hear it and believe it and therefore accept it from others. I think if I look back, as a young girl and as a teenager, I just didn’t think I would ever find someone who would love me. I’m not entirely sure where that belief stemmed from, but it followed me into that relationship. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe he loved me, I did, I just didn’t understand why or always feel that it could be true. I would look at my friends or other people I know; beautiful, intelligent, kind and incredibly funny people. And lots of them single. And I would think why the hell do I get to have a relationship (and with someone so great) when these people aren’t being picked? They are far worthier of love than I am, wouldn’t he or anyone else far rather be with someone like them? SO many things wrong with that scenario. But what it boils down to is that when I compared myself to other people, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be picked, I felt like I was the one who should be left on the shelf. Now? I can confidently say “That’s wrong! I’m totally worthy of love.” I’m an incredible human, I’m thoughtful, caring and fun. But above that, I’m worthy of love just because I am. And so are you.
I could not possibly count the number of times my brain has done “what if” scenarios since the break-up last year. Why did I act that way, why didn’t I change my way of thinking in time, why didn’t it work out differently, what an idiot I am for pushing away the person I care about more than any other human on the earth. And to be honest the “old Bernie” probably would have let those thoughts consume her and push her further into a hole. But mostly I find myself thinking, “what would have happened with the relationship if I had been the person that I am today, with the knowledge and the growth that I have now?” And the answer that I always come to is that I wouldn’t be this person, it just wouldn’t have happened. I can’t change the past. I can’t go back and teach myself these things earlier. It’s an absolute waste of who I am if I sit in those feelings. What I can do is offer myself forgiveness. Offer myself love. Commit to growing and evolving and not living in fear. Take the opportunity to help others by sharing what I have been through and what I have learnt. Be grateful that I learnt these lessons about myself and about life at 23 rather than 53. In the break-up, I lost the one person who I now realise I always counted on to rescue me, (or that I hoped would) and I was forced to rescue myself in a way that only I could do and only I could choose. It went from being a relationship issue that “we” had to deal with, to a personal issue that I had to deal with on my own. I get a lot of “wow you are so much happier now than you were in that relationship” from the people around me. That’s true. I am a much happier person now than I was between say 2016-2018. But that isn’t as simple as me – relationship = happiness. It’s more like me – relationship = huge wake up call = seeking help to change my mindset = a lot of hard work = happiness. I would hate for people to think that the relationship was the sole foundation of my unhappiness because it’s just not true, it was an internal issue that I had to deal with myself.
Fun fact about me: I love country music. It’s what you will find playing in my car 95% of the time, unless someone has forced me to play something else. One day, I was listening to one of my favourite playlists when a song called “Most people are good” came on. It talks about all the pain of the world and how when you look at the news etc, it all appears to be bad, all the time. But that actually the majority of people going about their day to day lives are good people. I believe that. Anyway, in the song there is a line that says: “I believe we gotta forgive and make amends, ‘cause nobody gets a second chance to make new old friends.”
You don’t get a second chance to make new “old” friends. Cherish the long-standing friendships you have. I started thinking about all the people I’ve made amends with in the last six months. People that I had pushed away, said rude things to, ignored or just been grumpy around. People who hadn’t stayed in touch and so I felt like I just wasn’t good enough for them. Self sabotage didn’t just exist in my romantic relationship. I didn’t think I was likeable enough to deserve friends. I didn’t think I was fun, funny or kind. I felt like I was someone other people tolerated having around but no one really wanted to know. And so to avoid being hurt and rejected, I pushed away first. I didn’t realise it at the time but I guess what I was doing was acting out so that when I did “inevitably” get rejected, I could tell myself it was because of my actions and not because of who I am as a person. Just so you know, this is a warped way of thinking and I recognise that. It wasn’t until I was speaking to a counsellor that I realised it could have stemmed as far back as my childhood where I felt excluded and bullied for no reason at all. When I let my guard down and began apologising and explaining what had been happening for me over the past few years, I could see it starting to click for people. I was brave, I said I was sorry for how I had treated those people and I’m so grateful that many of those people chose to forgive me and so many friendships have been repaired, reinstated and even surpassed where they had been previously, because it’s true, the history and years of friendship you share is important. If you feel like there is someone you need to make amends with, just take a step and try, like the song says, most people are good and I believe most people will accept an apology.
Mending a friendship or relationship doesn’t just end at “I’m sorry” and magically just fall into place. I had to do a tonne of work on myself, I had to become steadfast in the knowledge that I am worthy of liking and getting to know, that I am fun to spend time with, that I’m a good and thoughtful friend, that I am kind, and that I can change. And as I mentioned earlier, I had to learn to stop assuming what people thought about me, and listen to what they were really saying and how they were showing me they cared and valued me. Equally, I’ve had to be careful to not push my value from one person’s hands to another. I haven’t turned to my friends and required them to love me because I am no longer loved in a relationship. That would defeat the purpose entirely and keep me on the same spinning wheel. But I have been vulnerable, opened myself up, apologised, and made extra time and effort to rebuild relationships. It hasn’t been an easy, breezy, comfortable process but it has been really worth it in terms of the quality of friendships I feel I now have, and I did that. I was brave. I reached out. I made it happen.
So no matter what you are facing, if you only take one thing away from this blog, it is that you are in charge. You create your life. You create who you are. You can forgive yourself. You should forgive yourself. You create your happiness. No one else has that power, nor should you try and give it to anyone else. It took me a while to learn that but it came through strong in 2018. Sure, I had great support in the form of family and friends that told me I would be OK, and they were there for me in lots of ways, but I still had to do it all myself. I had to make the choice to change, to move on, to get out of bed every day, to read books, to write words, to plan things to look forward to, to smile, to laugh, to be open, to be present, to have fun and to forgive myself. I do have regrets, but resenting my past self for things I can’t change gets me absolutely nowhere and keeps me in the cycle of self-resent and self-loathing. Instead I choose to forgive myself, and endeavour to understand why I am the way I am and put time into working on myself, to become the person who I want to be. I choose to take it all as a learning experience, to acknowledge the loss and pain and what brought me there, in the hopes that I won’t land myself in that same hole again.
Our society for a long time has put a negative spin on being self-centered and selfish. Let me say this, it is not selfish to put yourself first, to love yourself, and to believe in yourself. You are also not the only person who stands to benefit from your own self-belief. There is nothing better you can do for those around you than to love and take care of yourself first.
So here I am. A girl that has been through massive change in the last six-seven months. A girl who has learnt more in those months than in many years preceding them. A girl who has changed her ways from self-sabotage to self-love. I am equal parts an entirely new person, and exactly the same person I’ve always been, and I love the Bernie of the past and the Bernie of the present with the same kindness and care they both deserve. If you made it to the end of this absolute novel, then feel free to contact me and redeem a free chocolate fish or something. I’m not even sure if you would believe me when I say I cut out about 2000 words. But seriously, I hope there was something of value in here for you. Otherwise, you truly know the insides of my soul now, so welcome. And as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if any of this resonates with you. Now go and create the life that your incredible soul deserves: one full of joy, love, reflection and fun.
With all the love and positivity