It seems strange to be 49 years old and admit, until very recently, I had a fear of disappointment. Not in every area, but in some of the bigger ones. Growing up through generations of alcoholism caused me to take on the belief I didn’t matter. I thought I wasn’t lovable. I began expecting “others” to criticize, reject, or act indifferent toward me (If you live or have lived with someone who has an addiction, the atmosphere tends to focus on them and their needs. Everyone else becomes secondary).
Therefore, getting my hopes up meant leaving myself unguarded against someone else’s jabs. It meant opening myself up to the truth I really was unlovable. Disappointment became hardwired with feeling unloved. Living in victimhood, self-pity, and martyrdom seemed preferable to the pain of hoping others cared, only to find it wasn’t true – or more accurately, didn’t seem true. The funny thing about following the story of our wounding is that we will always feel the wound. It’s an illusion that avoidance somehow keeps us from feeling the pain. In fact, by living from the wound, we end up interpreting situations to support that belief, not protect ourselves from it.
My fear of unlovability often masked as anger or self-pity. If my partner didn’t do something the way I wanted, I became the martyr, resentful of his incompetence. I was harsh in my judgements, often thinking I was right. The other end of that stick came when other people, whom I deemed “better than me”, turned me down, didn’t invite me, or offered advice differing from my own feelings. Then I felt rejected. On those occasions, self-pity and I would hang out together.
I spent my life expecting others to judge me and find me unworthy.
And so I went, not daring to risk the hope that I mattered. Not daring to risk disappointment. I recall telling a business coach that maybe I could get a small group to come to my workshop and that’d be fine. And she said, “Well, it’s okay to hope for a large number. You may be disappointed, but you can handle that.” The thing was, back then, I don’t think I could.
What Saves Us From Sabotage
Two things saved me from my own sabotage:
1. Sit with the feelings. I had to get a direct experience of how that young part felt rejection in my body – the color, the shape, the sensation of it. Then validate the pain and right of every child to feel loved by her caretakers. Now, as my 40 something adult self, offer love to the pained part of me that didn’t know she was beautiful, lovable, and worthy all along.
Allow the tears. Allow the pain to be felt and validate the pain was real, but not the belief. And allow your love now, of your adult self, to heal that young part, to see yourself as this child and tell her she is precious, beautiful, and lovable just as she is.
This is not about blame. Someone may have made us feel this way, but it’s our responsibility now to heal it and take our power back.
2. Go to the opposite. This is something I encourage my clients to do. If we tend to go to our emotions first and react from that place, then we need to turn to logic. If we tend to react from our pride and ego first, then we need to go to our emotions. I needed to do both.
The truth was I was afraid of being seen, afraid of being rejected, afraid of intimacy with others. In the case of my partner, I had to feel the hurtful emotions of interpreting something as my unlovability rather than trying to be superior and right. In the case of others who “rejected” me, I had to go to logic, take in the facts and give myself a reality check. Most of the time, it’s not personal and not about me. People have their own lives and their own struggles. And in the end, even if they do reject me, I will not reject me.
When we can recognize when we are reacting from fear of unworthiness by making ourselves better or worse than someone else, we can use the tools to help grow ourselves up. We can feel the hurt of the past without going into self-righteous anger. We can use our rational minds to give ourselves a reality check without sinking into the hole of self-pity.
We don’t have to avoid joy by trying to avoid pain. We don’t have to play the martyr or the victim. We now have choices. And we can play the loving adult.