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Fostering the Right Attitude: Know Who You Are

Woman with Open Arms

“I urge you to try not to get hung up in the mentality that says ‘I hope I don’t lose him (or her),’ but foster the attitude that says ‘He should be appreciative of having me in his life.'”

I read these words in the midst of a downward emotional spiral, and they grounded me almost immediately.

I was fifty-three when I read Marie’s words. I was in the eighth year of my relationship with my husband and realized that I had become a shell of the woman I was when I first met him. Amidst all the compromises I’d made to keep my relationship, I had compromised myself away.

By the time I reached forty, I had experienced enough of life to know relationships work best when individuals are authentic. I’m in awe of those who discover this treasure early in life.

And, forty was a turning point for me. My mother had died at forty, my first husband at age twenty-one. So, reaching forty brought with it a dramatic realization. There was a tremendous gift in front of me—time—and I would not waste it.

I devoted an inordinate amount of time and energy in my young adult life to finding for another Mr. Right; so I decided that I would not invest any more in that endeavor. I had raised my son, cultivated a successful career, put myself through college, and had recently bought my own home.

I concluded my life was grand just as it was. I did not need someone else to complete me.

Never did, actually. That frame of mind is society’s conditioning that a single person is half of something: it’s an albatross many of us carry until we choose to lighten the load.

I assessed that I was a strong, intelligent, caring, successful individual. I also knew I could be overly sensitive, quick-tempered, and judgmental. I had a pretty good grasp of who I was. If I were to live the rest of my life alone, I would be just fine.

My prayer that included a list of characteristics that I wanted in a mate turned simply to, “If I’m meant to share my life with someone, please bring him in. Otherwise help me let go of the need to have a partner and help me get on with living.”

My prayer worked. I got on with living.

My life was full. I had close friends and activities I loved. The growth spurts were so fast and far-reaching they made me anxious. I was hanging on as tight as I could. It was wondrous.

So, why did I need Marie’s words to ground me a decade later? The answer: All the work I had done discovering and nurturing my sense of self could not have prepared me for the atypical life with a widower who had not let go of his past.

I was no stranger to the emotions associated with grief and guilt. I was keenly aware of the grip they can have on one’s psyche. I understood the concept of individual timetables for processing loss especially when it lays dormant and unacknowledged for any length of time. The ghosts remain among the living until we take the time to walk through our grief and finally say good-bye.

So, in knowing all of this, I was more than willing to make allowances for what would under normal circumstances be considered unacceptable. I minimized hurtful behavior and extremely uncomfortable situations.

There is no timetable for grief, I know that. So, I empathized and compromised at every turn. I could not have imagined the effect my decisions would have on my emotional and psychological health.

Anytime we set boundaries we risk upsetting others; and because I didn’t want to upset this new love, I treaded lightly when I expressed my feelings. I backed down when things got rocky. Gee, I hope I don’t lose him quietly echoed in my mind.

Then, I thought, No, relationships need to be negotiated. He should appreciate my feelings and appreciate having me in his life. My self-esteem and self-worth was high.

Time passed. I attempted boundaries again and again. Each time I felt his resistance, the strong, self-respecting voice grew softer, until there was nothing life but a screaming, But what if I lose him?

I got my wish. I didn’t lose him. I lost myself.

It was years later when I realized I had compromised myself away. My life was all about him: his family, his house, his work, his adult children, their memories, their life choices…them, them, them.

It wasn’t their fault. I was not a victim. I had volunteered. I had made the decision to compromise my needs. I had made the decision to put all of my energy and emphasis on my new family.

I had stopped cultivating my own life and interests. And now there was nothing left of me. There was no longer any interest in me not even from me. How sad.

With help from a support group of women, I was able to make sense of what was happening and incorporate a new way of thinking:

I may understand unacceptable behavior but that does not mean I have to accept it. And it is up to me what qualifies as unacceptable behavior.

Those of us who were taught and grabbed on hook-line-and-sinker to the notion that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others got a bum rap; our self-worth gets tied up in things over which we have no control.

I do think of and consider others. It’s when I do so at the expense of my own well being that the price becomes too high.

When is it time to stop taking care of others and take care of ourselves? I like to quote instructions given by airline stewards before take-off: Put your mask on first.

In hindsight, it would have been easier on me emotionally to assert myself upfront instead of acquiescing at every turn. It would have been easier on my husband, as well. The person he got was someone other than who I am. Ultimately, we faced the same issues all over again as I moved from acquiescence to assertiveness.

As I moved forward, those fearful words rang in my mind again, I hope I don’t lose him. But now I was making the conscious decision replace fear with faith.

Do you know your self?

Knowing who you are means you know what qualities your character holds.

I am a loyal friend, sometimes to a fault. I am compassionate, empathetic, insightful, strong, and independent. My character incorporates a loving mother, wife, friend, successful career woman, stylish boomer, and playful grandmother. On occasion I can also morph into the Tasmanian devil.

Are you better with math than you are with composition? I am better with words. I’ve always loved using words. Balancing a checkbook for me is making sure I’m close on the numbers.

What type of music do you like, vacationing, sports? Clothing? I love denim. It’s now the greater part of my wardrobe, something I wouldn’t have dared adorn myself in for management meetings years ago when I filled the part of corporate hopeful.

Looking back, I’ll bet my confidence, drive, and ability would have gotten me where I wanted to go even in my denim. I know my self well enough to know that my denim can be just as impressive with me in them.

The common denominator in all of my relationships is me. Marie’s words really brought that home. How can I expect others to treat me with dignity and respect if I don’t treat myself in that manner?

And, treating myself with dignity won’t always equate to other’s seeing my point of view. Being true to my unique self may ultimately lead to losing some people: those who see my life as a means to their own end. More importantly, though it equates to bringing into my life those whom I may share my dreams and my soul.

I implore you, foster the right attitude. Don’t be a non-entity.

Know who you are and take great pride in that person. Set boundaries. Just because you understand why something is unacceptable, that doesn’t mean you are bound to accept it. You are responsible for determining the parameters by which you’ll live.

Photo here

About Christine Pondelli

Christine Pondelli is an inspirational writer and self-published children’s book author.  Her purpose is to empower people to discover and take pride in their individuality and to live fully by honoring that unique self.  Christine lives in New England and can be reached at c.pondelli@comcast.net.

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  • Karen

    Thank you for a wonderful and very inspiring blog! Many greetings from Denmark/Karen 🙂

  • S. brown

    Wow! I wish that I could have read this 10 years ago! GREAT article. I

  • Karen

    Christine, thank you so much for being so very open about something that I have wanted to overlook. This post comes at a time when I am learning to be authentic about who I am, who I want to be. Knowing that yes, some relationships may drift away, but trusting that new ones will replace them.
    This year, I realized, like you, that a choice was necessary. I could not continue to empty myself to fit into a mold I no longer even desired.So thank you for adding additional directions to my roadmap of life – so happy to be traveling with such a lovely group!

  • Cleo

    I could hardly finish reading this thru the tears that are in my eyes. I dont know who I am.

  • Chell

    Today is the day I needed to read this article.

  • Brad

    I spent the last year learning who I was, and in turn I discovered I lost myself years ago. My wife and I split this year after realizing neither of us liked who we had become over the years just to stop upsetting balances and checks. We had stopped being ourselves and had become one unstable, unhappy unit. I saw it last year and it took almost a year to finally tell her, I was so muted during the relationship.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks you so much for this article. I have been there and done that and now am just beginning to find out who I am. And I saw one comment on Facebook that said the first step is to love myself and for me I know that is true.

  • ALK

    Thank you for this article. I can relate to a lot of what you said. Last year, I found myself in a similair situation. I had given away so many pieces of myself so slowly that I hadn’t noticed that I was disapearing. When I tried to resurect myself, my relationship fell to pieces, and then I knew my relationship was fatally flawed; I was not with someone who wanted me to be myself. Its taken me a year, but I finally feel like the person I was before, and that is a very good thing. Any reminder to be authetic, and not to give up myself for someone else, is always apperciated!

  • Commenter

    I’ve seen the flip side of this coin, too where someone did the opposite of what this woman did and lost a great relationship by letting it be about their needs instead of their partners needs all of the time. Life is compromise. Don’t lose yourself, but remember, you’re not always number one either. Balance is what is needed – not “me, me, me,” or “you, you, you.”

  • Jill

    Beautifully written Christine and a timely reminder. Thankyou xxx

  • Jill

    Cleo, you are not alone. Take the time to find out though, because there is someone unique inside, someone of value….

  • Martin

    Brilliant post. Loved all of it. Learned a lot from it too. Well done, and I’m proud you’re not happy in your life. 🙂

  • Alexandra0o7

    Me too. I read the quote at the beginning, and my eyes started to water.

  • I can completely echo what you’ve said here, down to taking a year to get myself back and everything else! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one (and that we both came out on the other side)!

  • LC

    I have no idea who I am and I turn 50 in March next year, these last 12 months have made me realise I have given my life over to my family, I was the youngest child and responsible for my older brothers and sister, my parents worked and I was given the key to the house, then I was so grateful to have my husband I did everything for his happiness, then I gave up all for my children and dont they all know how to tell me that I am wrong in so many ways, I no longer talk to my siblings as I am over being lectured. The saddest part is when I gave my own self respect away in giving up my life for others it allowed my family to have no respect for me. My youngest finished school this year and is now moving to go to university, I will now have time to get to know me and care for myself. The hardest part is knowing where to start.

  • It’s incredible how timely this piece is for me right now, and I think the fact that so many other commenters were deeply touched by it as well shows that many people needed to read this today. So many points and lessons here to take to heart… I have always had such a strong sense of self and yet it seemed like I woke up almost a year ago and wondered where I went. As many others have said, it happened so slowly that I hadn’t noticed up ’till then. It took a year for me to find my place again, because I couldn’t just “go back” to who I was (and I wouldn’t have wanted to), and now I’m technically alone but I know after I get through some of the rougher parts, I will be happier than I have been in almost a decade.

    So many thanks for this piece, and for sharing such an important message and your personal experience here. I really needed to read this today!

  • Jalmonte2

    Wow, what a fantastic article. Exactly what I needed to read TODAY. Thank you for this Christine!

  • Chrissie Bettencourt

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you for writing it. We so often lose ourselves and yet ironically enough it is when we stand in our own power of who we really are that we are the most attractive to others. And this is how we live an authentic life. Well done!!!

  • Sam4319

    My life exactly!!!!! I started off with taking a class or two at a local college. (family all against it) still taking classes + I am pursuing the interests I had when I was young…somehow those dreams got oppressed … like I was not sacrificial mom or wife if I pursued MY interests or dreams…I gave my life to my family…I had no respect for myself and my family had no respect for me… A LOT has changed…I am NOT the doormat servant to everyone now… start with one thing that you ALWAYS wanted to do…you dreamed of when you were younger.

  • Sam4319

    and remind yourself…You are worthwhile!!!…you gave of yourself and now everyone is able to care for themselves…now care for you…the neglected you that was put aside when you were giving your all to everyone else. You will begin to respect yourself…this has taken me about 3 years of painful transformation…..too many details to share here…know you are NOT alone & I am happy to chat with you…it is a new beginning for you…a VERY exciting time…your life is beginning a transformation (if you allow it)

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you, ALK. Yes, it can be a daunting journey, but as we know now, it is one worth and needs taking if we are to be authentic. “I was not with someone who wanted me to be myself.”

  • C Pondelli

    The first time I read the quote my eyes filled also. Then my life changed…for the better.

  • C Pondelli

    Isn’t it amazing how this happens and time goes by. I’m grateful that at least I discovered a new way of living. I have had to put distance between myself and my family of origin also: expectations die hard, and some people don’t want you/us to change. It can be lonely. But that is where faith comes in. I had always wanted to take golf lessons, so I took a few lessons and met others who were on the same path as I. I had always wanted to take piano lessons, so I did that for myself. Trying something doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. If you take a step in one direction and find you don’t like it, take a step back. That’s where I’ve found life to be most rewarding. There is so much opportunity, we just have to find our niche. Have fun!

  • C Pondelli

    Ditto.
    Sam, I like th doormat analogy. I keep a quote nearby on my desk, “People call me _______ (you fill in the blank) whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat.” I just love that. Yes, follow your dreams!

  • C Pondelli

    Karen, thank you for your reply. Choice is necessary and choosing a path that is best for us is not always…should I say, rarely is ‘best’ for anyone else. When we change, others need to change to. But the struggle is worth! It IS a great group, isn’t it. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    “A strong sense of self…woke up…and wondered where I went.” That was a difficult piece for me to comprehend because I would have described myself as a very confident and strong individual. It’s a slow process, losing oneself. I’m happy to see that so many of us have found a path back. Thank you for your reply. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    Me to, I couldn’t read it without my eyes filling up. That is what started the whole process of reclaiming myself. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you. I appreciate your feedback.

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you for your reply, I am very happy that you found inspiration in my writing. You are very welcome. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you. Standing in our own power enables us to give our best to others, nicely put. I appreciate your feedback.

  • C Pondelli

    You are so very welcome. And, thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you, Martin. I appreciate your reply, and I’m touched that you and others have taken so much from the piece – this fills my heart. Best,

  • C Pondelli

    Thank you. It is gratifying to know that you gained something from my work/experience. Best,

  • koh

    Fabulous article! Loved it. Recognizing boundaries, or the lack of, is something that can be hard to grasp but once you do it makes so much sense. Setting healthy boundaries takes skill and practice but once you get there it becomes more natural. So many of us are raised to be care takers or fixers that we often aren’t taught how to set boundaries at all, nor do we have good examples to go by. At 40 I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. I found the book ‘Boundaries’ to be very helpful in understanding how to set healthy boundaries.

    p.s. I think you look smashing in denim!

  • koh

    Fabulous article! Loved it. Recognizing boundaries, or the lack of, is something that can be hard to grasp but once you do it makes so much sense. Setting healthy boundaries takes skill and practice but once you get there it becomes more natural. So many of us are raised to be care takers or fixers that we often aren’t taught how to set boundaries at all, nor do we have good examples to go by. At 40 I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. I found the book ‘Boundaries’ to be very helpful in understanding how to set healthy boundaries.

    p.s. I think you look smashing in denim!

  • marielaina

    What a wonderfully written article, Christine. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • That is one thing I’ve learned this year as well… when you finally assert yourself and want to make changes, it’s very lonely. Family and friends can react very negatively and you have to stay strong and not let them pressure you into going back to your old ways. My therapist told me, “when one person gets healthy in a relationship, then the spotlight then turns to the other person” and I think people do sense that. They then try their hardest to push you back into your old place because they don’t want to change or have to look at themselves. It’s all very complicated and you really have to assert yourself and create strong boundaries and stick to them!

    I’m so impressed with all the positive comments here from people who are starting to look after their own needs after taking the backseat for so long. It’s never too late to start caring about yourself and listening to your heart!

  • That is one thing I’ve learned this year as well… when you finally assert yourself and want to make changes, it’s very lonely. Family and friends can react very negatively and you have to stay strong and not let them pressure you into going back to your old ways. My therapist told me, “when one person gets healthy in a relationship, then the spotlight then turns to the other person” and I think people do sense that. They then try their hardest to push you back into your old place because they don’t want to change or have to look at themselves. It’s all very complicated and you really have to assert yourself and create strong boundaries and stick to them!

    I’m so impressed with all the positive comments here from people who are starting to look after their own needs after taking the backseat for so long. It’s never too late to start caring about yourself and listening to your heart!

  • Me too–I’ll be 40 in 3 months, just read “Boundaries” a few months ago and really needed it. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it!

  • Wow! What a beautifully written and highly insightful piece! And you got so many comments. It really resonated all of us. Keep writing.

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  • CL

    I recently had a relationship end, and at the time it seemed as though neither of us really knew why. This post resonated with me. I have realized in the last few weeks that I was in a situation like many who have commented on your blog. I had unknowingly it seemed “sacrificed” myself, and my needs to continuously maintain the relationship. It did not outwardly appear this way, and I had no idea of it. I never saw it as sacrifice, I saw it as something I wanted/needed to do. I loved her, why wouldn’t I do all these things? If it meant not having an argument, or that she was happy. I did it. Again “the doormat.”

    I lost a lot of myself in this relationship, at the same time however, I learned a lot. I could not make the connection however with what I had learned. I found myself lost in her work, in her interests, in her friends, in her music, in HER life. In that process I have indeed lost myself. It’s as though I have no interests of my own, no passions. My passions were hers.

    The hardest part is indeed knowing where to start. It does not and will not happen over night. I’ve learned that it is a long, painful, and sometimes seemingly pointless endeavor. How do you reconstruct yourself after years of “being” someone else.

    This article was lovely. Thank you for posting. I knew that I was not the only one who had these sorts of experience (obviously), but all the same it was lovely to Stumble upon this and read of others people’s experience.

    As individuals we are beautiful people, and should be accepted–faults and all. It’s hard to see that sometimes when you worry and try so hard to maintain anothers happiness. They’re your partner for a reason. They love you.

  • C Pondelli

    CL, Thank you for your reply. “Unknowingly” – I can so relate to that. You’re right, why wouldn’t you do all those things for someone you love? It just needs to be mutual. There are only a few people who knew the truth about my relationship and how I was drowning in my efforts to maintain it. People on the outside looking in would not have known anything was amiss. I had a hard time understanding what was happening at first. A lot of reading, some counseling, and my closest friends helped me with the process.

    And, yes how to start. I started by looking back at my life before I met my husband. Then I looked at the aspects that I had slipped by. One for me was law school, but for a few reasons that is no longer an option; not at the moment anyway. What were my other passions? One by one I started to look at which ones would work at this point in my life. For me a love of horses has led me to volunteer at a local rescue. I have the dog I’ve wanted for so long. Each of these pieces and others, like connecting with long lost friends, feeds my soul. When I get stuck, and feel like I’m not moving forward, I connect with an aspect of life that fills my heart. It could be the simplest thing, but if it resonates me and I feel my heart start to fill, I stay with it for as long as I can. It’s that feeling of wholeness, life, and happiness that keeps me heading in the right direction.

    Best to you.

  • D R E W

    thank you for the great article… i found myself nodding in agreement through the entire piece. this is exactly the journey i am taking right now. my therapist calls me a “pathological caregiver.” i’m taking major steps to improve my mental and physical health and to love myself again. thanks again!

  • C Pondelli

    A “pathological caregiver”. I like that description. Turning that selfcare for others and focusing it on ourselves is uncomfortable at first. I can atest to the fact that it does get easier, not without some effort at times however. When I get backlash from others who see my selfcare as selfish, I ask myself why is it that they do not want me to take care of myself. The answer is often selfish on their part. – I’m very happy you found something in the article that helped you. Keep taking the steps you need to take to improve your unique self !

  • sherman

    Fresh out of a relationship in which we both ‘lost ourselves’, I can really relate to this article.

    I had previously ducked out of a relationshp because I wasn’t ready or comfortable with myself enough to give and recieve love. Coming into this new relationship I was committed to stand firm and not lose myself to the process, but stay poised enough to accomodate my partners needs.

    Sadly my partner did not know herself… got lost and stayed lost. I watched her slip through my fingers and from my heart. I was gutted. But having been in that position myself previously, I also knew that I could not take responsibilty for her happiness, it was something she had to do for herself, and the longer we stayed together the longer she stayed lost.

    I don’t know whether we are ever destined to be together, but I knew that no amount of compromise on my part was ever going to be enough to give her what she wanted or needed. In fact, my strength, wisdom and experience provided a distraction for her. I needed to let her go.

    I’m too precious to have my needs ignored and continuously compromised. My (now ex) partner is too beautiful, precious and loving to continue ignoring and denying herself her own happiness. I love us both enough to let us go and give us both an opportunity to realise our own happiness and compassion for ourselves.

    One day we’ll both share the most wonderful loving relationship with someone, for now that relationship must be with ourselves.

    It’s strange yet empowering to find myself speaking and living my life with such wisdom and courage, I never thought I’d love myself enough to put myself first and be strong enough to do right by someone else in the process. And then I woke up. Today I’m wide awake and present. I love me. Phew!

  • Sherman, I got a great deal out of your response. I have re-read it a few times. You are speaking such wisdom and show such courage in your actions.

    – “Sadly my partner did not know herself… got lost and stayed lost. I watched her slip through my fingers and from my heart. I was gutted. But having been in that position myself previously, I also knew that I could not take responsibilty for her happiness, it was something she had to do for herself, and the longer we stayed together the longer she stayed lost.” – That is so profound.

    I also very much appreciated your point that what you needed to do for you was also doing right by someone else in the process.

    Bravo. I admire your courage and your clarity.

  • Ananya Karmakar

    A truly inspiring and encouraging article. Thankyou so much for sharing your story . 🙂