How Feeling Unworthy Kept Me in Bad Relationships

After my last post on my upbringing without my mom, I connected with my mom. I expressed my resentment toward her absence when we were growing up, but also shared that I have an inkling that she may have been going through struggles and conflicts that made it difficult for her to show up as a mother. My mom decided she was ready to share her story with me, and it was heartbreaking. I demanded the truth, and got it. I wish my assumptions were inaccurate, that I was romanticizing the whole thing, but my mom is filled with hurt.

Whatever the reason was that she decided to get married, my mom has been miserable since the beginning. She’s living a lifestyle that is a downgrade to her upbringing, and she seems to regret that. It also seems that each of my parents look down on the other for specific reasons. My mom looks down on my dad because of his height and because he is from a poor family. My dad looks down on my mom because she did not complete a formal college education. My mom came from a rich family and grew up with maids and a driver. My dad is a professor with a ph.D and values internal growth rather than external materials. Even on the wedding day, and days leading up to the wedding, my mom did not feel that she was loved or considered. She also expressed that she had kids to distract her from her marriage.

As I listened to her share, my heart ached for her. I had a feeling that she wasn’t living her as her true authentic self, but I didn’t realize how much pain she’s been in. She put us down, because she was put down by my dad. She wasn’t there for us, because her mother wasn’t around for her. She wasn’t home and didn’t attend our events because she wasn’t happy. Overtime, she’s hidden the parts of herself that I love about her––her big personality, her straight forwardness, her liveliness––with the hopes that if she changes, she can receive love from my dad.

I recognize many parallels from the people I’ve had in my dating life with what my mom’s experienced with just one person, and I realize that all of it has to do with my lack of self-worth when being with those people. My mom hasn’t seen her worth, but she is slowly recognizing that she is worthy of love and and that she deserves much more than what my dad is offering her. I’ll share some of the examples that showed a lack of self-worth that came to mind.

  • When I let them take parts of me but not all of me––My dad has a girlfriend of 18 years and he is still with my mom. From the outside, everything looks fine and dandy. My parents run a hiking group together, they teach English together, they also host cooking classes together. There are pictures shared each week on the adventures they go on. But my dad has a girlfriend and my mom is still with him. The pictures look happy and harmonious, but they are not authentic. My mom let my dad behave in ways that make her feel little. She lets him walk all over her because she hopes that her acceptance of his behavior would make him love her.

    I’ve also been in manipulative relationships where the guy is still connected to his ex-girlfriend, where I’m kept a secret, where everything, including when and where we see each other was on his terms. My emotions went up and down because of this guy. When things are good, I’m happy. When I feel ignored, I feel down. And all the times in between, I’m wondering if he’s thinking of me, if I even matter. I realize now, that I’m the one who put myself through all of this. I lacked self-respect and self-worth. The reason I say this is, these guys have told me exactly what they wanted. From the get go, they told me straight up that they wanted to be with me but stay single. They didn’t want other people to think they are taken. They want to keep their options open. And I’m the one who lived in a dream land where I thought things would change. I lived in a fantasy where I thought that if I gave myself more and more, if I did what they wanted, gave them the freedom they seek, then they will be mine eventually. So I kept giving and giving, and I kept asking for a relationship, but all I got was nothing back.

    It takes me a while––it always does–––for me to finalize recognize that I was demeaning myself when I let guys treat me as a side chick, someone who is easily replaceable, someone who has no value or self-esteem.
  • When he silenced me for being me and for speaking my truth––My mom has been someone who spoke her mind. That was something I remember growing up. If she was there and had to stand up for us, she had no fear in doing so. My mom shared that she feels that she can no longer speak her mind. If she wants to stand up for something, my dad silences her because he feels embarrassed by her causing conflict or tension. She now chooses not to speak up as much because she doesn’t want to get reprimanded for it.

    In relationships as well, I feel that I’m always the one to start conversations when things are not going the way I want them to go. In those bad relationships though, I also notice that the guy gets annoyed when I want to have a serious talk, when I am asking for something that I deserve. They make me feel like i’m nagging, that I’m an inconvenience, that I shouldn’t want what I am asking for. When we like someone a lot and want to please, it’s easy for us to change our behavior and who we are so we can stay with the person. But when a person doesn’t respect you, even if you speak your truth and ask for what you want, you will not be heard.
  • When I accept disrespectful behaviors and make excuses for them–My mom described some things my dad has done that tells me that he does not respect my mom as a person. I’ve been in situations as well, where the guy I liked would always show up late, sometimes even 2–3 hours late because he had other more important things to tend to. I let them be late. I don’t show I’m angry. I still act as if I’m so grateful for them to even show up, as if he was an angel sent from heaven and I should bow to him. I tolerated the behavior. I thought this makes me someone who is understanding, who is not emotional and who would not bicker about tiny things, but this is a behavior that shows that he has no respect for my time. And my accepting this behavior showed that I didn’t respect my own time and worth.
  • When he verbally and emotionally abuses me by putting me down and making me doubt myself – If my mom shows that she is more dominant in a situation, my dad puts her down. He denies that she has strengths in organization, in leadership, and talks down to her when she tries to showcase those skills. Now she tries not to speak up or stand up for what she feels is right so not to upset my dad. My mom has silenced herself, made herself little so my dad can shine, accepted the emotional and verbal abuse that denies her of her worth over and over again.

    When the person you are with cannot celebrate your wins and share your strengths, it is an insecurity in themselves that they are showing. When you don’t realize your value, you will try to accommodate the other person’s insecurity by dumbing yourself down, and overtime, you will just believe it.
  • When he uses sex to keep me with him, or withholds sex as a power play—The first guy I was involved with after my separation was someone who used sex as his weapon. He would talk about it as if it was his biggest pride. He used it to persuade me that I was making a big mistake when I tried to end it with him––it took me a few times before I finally cut off the relationship. He told me that I will be sorry because I will never have amazing sex like that again.

    If I hadn’t recognized my worth finally, it would have kept me because in that time in my life, sexual compatibility was a key thing that I was looking for. When I realized that I deserved so much better than he was able to offer me and that he treated me like trash, even if it were the best sex in the world, I wouldn’t want it. He can keep it.

In all of these examples, I frame it in terms of “I let him to this to me,” “I let him behave a certain way,” because I believe that we have choices and have control over who we choose to be with. These choices may not be easy, because there are considerations and fears that keep us from leaving a bad relationship––maybe we worry about not being able to financially support ourselves, or we are scared to be alone, or that we love this person so much that we still are hoping that he will change one day. Or, in many cases, we also fear the unknown. There are many reasons for us to stay in a bad relationship, but I’ve come to realize, from my experience, that the biggest reasons for us to stay is that we don’t think we are worthy of something better.

For most of my life, I felt unworthy. I always felt stupid, and ugly, and little. A big part of it has to do with my upbringing, because I was told that I’m stupid and ugly. And so when it came to dating, I always felt bad for the guys who were with me, for having to tolerate with all my flaws and shortcomings. After my ex, I’ve been through guys who mistreated me. Like many other women, I thought that if I talked about what I’m looking for, what I wanted, if I just let them know, they will eventually change. I wanted commitment, but they wanted parts of me but not all of me. They wanted a companion when is convenient for them. They were selfishly used my time as if it were infinite, and I just gave them my time, as if it wasn’t worth anything.

We talk down to ourselves and say that this is as good as it gets. We don’t see that we deserve so much better. We don’t love ourselves enough for fight for a better situation. Brené Brown puts it well, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

The truth is, we are worthy and deserve to be accepted and loved for who we are, flaws and all. We should be loved for who we are without having to hide parts of ourselves. When we don’t feel loved and fight tirelessly for that love, it impacts how we see ourselves, because we feel that we have to constantly make changes to who we are to get the love that we seek.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my bad relationships on how to exercise your self-worth Of course, I am not a professional. These are some things that I’ve picked up through my experiences and through hearing shared experiences with my girlfriends.

1. You Are Worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You don’t need to change who you are to be worthy of love and comfort. Worthiness, in Brene Brown’s words, does not have any prerequisites. In this moment, just as you are, you are worthy. When we let people treat us in a way that we don’t deserve, it tells them that we are okay with it and that we don’t think we can do any better. A person who doesn’t value you will walk all over this and take advantage of it.

2. Dig a Little to Figure Out Why You’re Still in it. I think it’s important to reflect on what is important to you in a relationship and why you’re with a specific person. My big queue is when I notice that I am not acting in accordance to what I truly want. When I am not being authentic to what I want and who I am, all sorts of tensions and conflict rise up within me, and even the joys I feel with the person are just temporary. As a whole, the bad relationships were a big hit to my ego, my self-respect, and my self-worth. As I said earlier, there can be many, many reasons to keep us in a bad relationship, but we only need to find our self-worth to realize it’s time to go.

3. Stop Being Too Nice. I used to think that I would be nice and smiley to everyone, even if they have hurt me. I used to be so “empathetic” that I worry about hurting someone if I don’t do what they want. Stop thinking about how your decision to make a better choice for yourself will impact the other person. Be nicer to yourself. And after you end it, also don’t be so nice to want to keep it civil with that person.

As I’ve found my worth, I also started to question: why do they think they deserve to still have access to me? When I ended it with the manipulator, I would still acknowledge him in social settings. We met through salsa dancing, and I still danced with him. But every time, I felt icky afterward because I was doing it to be civil, to be nice, even though it was not what I wanted. Why should I still stroke his ego when he mistreated me?

I think this is part of recognizing my worth and having self-respect. I don’t harbor hatred toward him, but I do not respect him as a human being, and I don’t want anything to do with him. He is invisible to me and that is on him.

4. Be Proud of Who You Are. Stop hiding yourself and making yourself little. It takes courage but also vulnerability to step out of your little bubble so you can start to shine. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I felt less than and unworthy, and my response to that has been to shrink inside myself and defer to others. I will share more on this in another post.

5. Own Your Worth. One final reminder that you are Worthy, without any conditions or pre-requisites. In Brene Brown’s words, you are worthy,

“[w]orthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Once you recognize this, you will stand up for yourself. You will break away from what puts you down.

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