Every time I get dumped, I give myself a few days of pure, unadulterated self-pity.
This week the confluence of every godawful thing one could go through really upped my self-pity: getting dumped, work stress, and discovering my apartment is infested with bedbugs and cockroaches. Given the choice, I would take bedbugs over cockroaches any day. Just saying.
But I wasn’t given the choice. I was blessed with both living rent-free in my space, and was told I’d have a week to totally gut my apartment so the exterminator could treat.
So, y’know. I’m doing great. Just wonderful.
The first few days after getting “dumped” — I use the phrase lightly since it’s not like it was an exclusive, committed relationship, but a nice thing that ended too soon — were tough.
I kept coming back to the question:
How can I be loveable if no one loves me?
Shit, how can I be likeable if every guy I’m into turns me down? How do I have intrinsic self-worth if I don’t seem to be worth much to others?
At first, I didn’t even want to like myself. Self-hatred felt pretty good. Finding my faults was a lot easier than trying to discern what made me valuable, and after crying into a whole roll of toilet paper anything “easy” sounded good to me.
Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately), I had therapy a day later.
“I don’t see the point in building my self-esteem,” I told her.
“Why bother liking myself if no one else does?”
“If you like yourself,” my therapist said, “then the next time someone dumps you it won’t hurt so bad because you won’t be relying on them for your self-worth. You need to learn to like yourself before anything else.”
I need to learn to like myself.
When I look at the distressingly long list of social missteps and outright humiliations I’ve brought upon myself, the idea of even liking myself made me sick. What was there to like?
All the positive phrases around building self-esteem felt like delusional platitudes.
“You are a beautiful sea star in an ocean of cosmic stars — open yourself up to your own inner goddess and you will find all the love you deserve!”
Clearly I am not a beautiful sea star. I’m an awkward 20-something who keeps getting dumped. And I don’t deserve any love at all, not even from myself.
But maybe my therapist was right.
If I liked myself, then I didn’t need anyone else to like me. I’d be happy with myself, by myself.
I didn’t think I could make that jump, though. In the midst of post-relationship blues, liking myself felt like the furthest thing from possible.
But what if I pretended to like myself?
Not love. I don’t think me and myself are ready for that level of commitment.
But what if I started telling myself those same platitudes? What if I exchanged every bad thought about myself with some over-the-top statement about how awesome I am?
Even if I couldn’t believe it, could I start thinking it? Acting like it? Faking it until I made it?
No, I couldn’t force myself to believe in my own intrinsic self-worth. That’s like forcing an adult to believe in the Tooth Fairy. No amount of arm-twisting can change their mind.
But I could pretend.
And maybe, early on in the self-esteem game, pretending is enough.
Maybe stopping those negative thoughts in their tracks and not allowing them to fester was worth something on its own. Maybe I didn’t even need to like myself — maybe I just needed to not let the self-hatred take over.
So I’m starting my self-esteem journey not by finding things I like about myself, but by turning my negative self-talk on its head.
I want to like myself. But if I can’t do that just yet, then not being quite so negative still feels like a win.