Hello everybody, welcome to episode 236 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is from a listener who feels unlovable.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
And I highly appreciate you joining me today for a longer question that I’m extremely grateful to have in front of me. I’ll just say in advance that this question really exemplifies how deep our childhood wounds can actually go (some of which we notice, some of which we don’t) and how strongly they can affect our adult lives if not taken care of properly, and properly is the key word here. We’ll talk about that in the episode, but there’s a lot to get through so I’ll jump into the question now…
QUESTION: “A slogan that I come across over and over again in self help is, “You're worthy of love.” or something along those lines. When I hear this, I always think to myself, “Why? What makes me worthy of love?”
Though I have close family and friends, when it comes to the theatre of romance, I never have, nor do I feel that I ever will, experience true love. I think that I am fundamentally unacceptable on a romantic level, and that no matter what I do, I am destined to spend my days alone and devoid of intimacy with another person. Maybe I am fundamentally flawed as a person.
I've tried putting myself out there a number of times, and taken the leap to ask people out, but every time it's just ended in rejection or abandonment. I grew up in a household where love was VERY conditional, with a bi-polar mother and an absentee father, and I think that it might be impacting my approach to love, but I don't know what to do with that information.
I have made great improvements in loving myself and accepting platonic love from those around me. But the specter romantic failure looms over me all of the time, and the loneliness that comes with it is a constant hint to me that no matter what I do, I'll never be truly worthy of love.”
Ok, asker. Many, many thanks for being so open and honest with subject matter that isn’t easy and clearly means a lot to you. There’s a lot in here that we could talk about, but I think a good start would be for us to trim this down to what the question is about.
Minus the noise, what you’ve come to me with is a claim that you’re fundamentally unlovable. That’s what you tell yourself, that’s what you’ve believed, and maybe you want my opinion on whether or not you’re lovable, maybe you want me to convince you that you’re lovable or maybe you don’t care about my opinion and you instead want me to help you live with this alleged truth that you’re ready to believe in no matter what.
Observations and Assumptions
I’ll tell you what. I think both of us should look at this as we would any other claim or belief. If I come to you and tell you that I think a meteor is going to destroy the earth tomorrow, that’s not going to be enough to convince you is it? It’s a pretty significant assumption and one that really involves your well being, so you’re going to want to look into this so you can know if it really has any legs.
You’re going to ask me for evidence. And if I just say, “Well, cause a lot of people think that a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs”, or “Well, a fourth grader told me so”, or “Well, I just have a funny feeling and I like to trust my gut”, you’re probably not going to worry about it too much because I’m not even close to proving this.
How is your situation any different? And I’m not trying to make you feel silly because I know what you’re experiencing is serious, but I want to know if you have any actual evidence of this. Is there any concrete reasoning to back up your claim?
Is there any kind of black and white criteria that constitutes what makes someone worthy of love and what doesn’t? Of course not. Because love is far too layered, far too subjective, far too gray for any of that. There is no cosmic rule in place that determines who is and isn’t lovable, and because of that, this remains nothing more than a story you’re telling yourself.
Therefore, you being unlovable is not the problem. The problem is you thinking you’re unlovable. And even though it’s admirable that you’ve tried to put yourself out there, that feeling is likely what’s caused your attempts at relationships to fail, because you’ve been unable to break from the conclusion that you aren’t lovable.
If I had to guess I’d say that you’ve probably found yourself feeling guilty for little things in relationships, apologized for everything, felt undeserving of setting your own boundaries, shamed yourself for not being perfect, felt undeserving of your partner, felt like you were wasting both of your time.
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s likely these types of things that have caused your relationships to fizzle out, because this is the stuff that prevents other people from being let in. I’d also even suggest that some of your attempted relationships may have fizzled less than you thought, and rather a sense of rejection or abandonment was more perceived by you because it always has been, which would’ve only accelerated the process of others not feeling let in and ultimately not feeling as though the relationships were good fits.
But don’t get down on yourself for that. Don’t love yourself less for that. Because even if all that is true, is still is not you being unlovable or unworthy of love. It’s the fact that you’ve believed you are, and even if you put yourself out there, you never stood a good chance of finding compatibility with that type of feeling leading the way.
Reflect on Your Relationships
Spend some time pondering how you’ve navigated your relationships under an assumption backed by no evidence, and then really reassess whether or not there’s anything you can do to find love. You may have tried a lot to put yourself out there, but it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve tried anything without the childhood lie steering the ship.
Spend your time thinking about that, and don’t worry about the slogan of being worthy of love that you mentioned in your question. Whether or not you agree with that ideology, it’s not like simply saying it aloud is going to unpack an entire childhood worth of conditional parental love.
For that reason, I’d steer clear of the self-help (at least self-help that pertains to romance) and focus instead on therapy. As I said recently, even good self-help content is only useful for people who have relatively strong foundations and are just looking to make some little improvements and discover new things.
When it comes to a deep-seated issue, good self-help can definitely open doors, some of which may lead to long term changes for the better, but breaking childhood patterns and abandonment issues is something that requires a lot of time, work and assistance from a professional. No quote or article listing 10 reasons why you deserve lasting love is going to do it. If anything, something like that is likely to make you feel entitled and as though you don’t have to put effort into your relationships.
If self-help is helping you in many areas, that’s great. Keep at it. But leave to a therapist the romantic problems that you correctly stated started in a troubled childhood. Breaking a lifelong lie you’ve, psychologically, had no choice but to believe, is not going to be done by anything less than time, effort and concentration.
Feeling Unlovable: Conclusion
And until then and on your own, continue to foster your own self-love. Work on making yourself proud and fulfilling your own healthy values with or without a romantic partner. Love yourself in spite of this belief you have. You loving yourself is of upmost importance after all, and the more you can be vulnerable and love yourself anyway, the more you might start to realize that it isn’t so farfetched that someone else could do the same.
Thanks a lot for joining me today everyone, and thanks again to the asker for submitting a touching and vulnerable question. Asker, I hope the answer today proves to be a good jumping off point for you to start questioning your beliefs a bit, but again, these beliefs, while not true to me, are not beliefs I blame you for having at all. You may not be responsible for having detached parents, but you’re responsible for healing the trauma it’s caused you.
You can do it. Just don’t shy away from the hard work and time required to do so. And on that note, it’s time to sign off everyone. Be kind to yourselves, forgive yourselves, but continue to make yourselves healthier emotionally as well. I’ll talk to ya next time.