“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha
I was always someone who craved love and attention. This is not to say that I accepted love willingly—quite the opposite, in fact.
If someone decided to like or even love me they would have to pass through a path of obstacles, being pushed, pulled, and tested at every corner. Only then, upon arrival at the finish line, would they gain my acceptance.
As you can imagine, this eliminated a number of potential friends and partners, and I often found myself lonely and disappointed.
The root of my inability to accept love easily stems back to my childhood.
My mother was unable to connect with me. She got pregnant during the height of her modeling career. After she gave birth, her career dried up. She resented the attention that a baby attracted and, in addition to this, she was highly addicted to narcotics.
Growing up with my mother telling me that she felt no love and was ashamed of me made me desperate to be the perfect daughter. I would go to any length to prove myself worthy, even taking drugs with her as a way of connecting.
When I was fifteen years old, she upped and left with no goodbye, leaving me with my stepdad and an overwhelming sense of failure.
If my own mother could not love me, how and why would anyone else?
After my mother left, I disguised my pain through drugs and control. Drugs provided an instant, closely-bonded social network. I tried to take control through self-harm. My life continued like this for ten years. I hated myself, and I was terrified of letting anyone in.
Throughout these years, I did several stints in rehabilitation centers, where nurses and psychiatrists worked hard on me.
I would almost give in and build connections with these people; however, when the time came to leave these institutions, I would find myself alone all over again.
I was desperate for a loving relationship and a career. My battles were hindering me from achieving either.
Luckily, I had a fantastic education under my belt, through a childhood spent at top boarding schools. It was just a matter of escaping this vicious cycle that I had spent the majority of my life spinning around in.
I had stopped the drugs but was addicted to self-pity. Therapy had taught me that I needed to let go and learn to trust. This sounds quite easy now, but back then the very idea was not only terrifying but also impossible.
A Time for Change
I always dreaded birthdays and holidays. On my twenty-fifth birthday I woke up with an annual feeling of dread.
I went to the store to buy some cigarettes and the lady at the counter asked me for some identification. I handed it over and she said to me, “It’s your birthday today. You look so young. Your mother should be very proud of you.”
It was such a flippant statement, but for some reason it struck a chord. After all my years of therapy, these words from a stranger hit home. I can’t really explain it, but I felt a whole hoard of emotions: anger, regret, understanding, and, finally, relief.
I felt that, yes, my mother should be proud of me—and I felt sorry for her that she was unable to feel that way.
I wanted to have a chance at life, to meet someone and have my own children that I could love and be proud of. I realized then that this would only happen if I stopped treating myself the same way my mother did.
Considering how long and hard it was to reach this point, turning my life around was surprisingly easy. The hardest point was the realization.
If you’d like to treat yourself better than your parents did and open up to love, I recommend:
Write Through your Feelings and Fears
I didn’t want to cause myself any more harm; I wanted to connect and understand how I worked instead. Writing things down served as a great release.
Go out and get a journal with the exclusive intention of putting your emotions into words. Try and pinpoint when and what makes you feel good or sad.
By putting everything on paper, you can then reference your emotions, look into your behavioral patterns, and recognize what made you feel a certain way and how you dealt with it.
Keeping a journal keeps you connected to yourself so you can make real changes that last.
Risk Trusting Other People
Instead of testing people in my life, I let go and granted people access. I decided that even if someone let me down, I could handle it.
Moving circles helped. I got back in touch with people I liked growing up, and I was surprised to find that a number of them were happy to reconnect with me.
This was a difficult step, as rejection is way out of my comfort zone. However, I put myself on the line and trusted my instincts to contact these people. As I started to feel more connected and less alone, I realized this paid off.
I also decided to be open with new people that came into my life. I didn’t scare them off at the first encounter, but as relationships began to develop, I would explain how my past affected me, and how I’d chosen to move on and be happy.
Almost everyone I opened up to was completely supportive. Openness became a two-way street. I learned that most people had experienced their own struggles. Our confessions strengthened these new relationships.
I also learned that not everyone is someone I can open up to—but the more I do it, the better instincts I have about who to let into my life.
Taking risks with people is essential for happiness. After all, it is better to have experienced at least some loving friendships than to sit alone, fearing heartache.
Let Go of the Old Stories
I have let go of my mother. I realized that I was heading up a similar path to her, and this taught me to feel compassion for her. I have released all the negativity I held toward her, and now I just hope that one day she can learn to love herself.
In order to let go, I needed to understand my mother. Because we were barely in contact, I had little information to go on. I collected everything I knew about her, from her childhood, her time with my dad, and the time she spent with me.
With all this information I recognized that she was a troubled woman who was unable to make real human connections. I sensed that she must have been suffering with some kind of depression or illness.
By looking at her in this way, I could see that her leaving had nothing to do with me. If she hadn’t had me and had given birth to another daughter, it would have been the same outcome.
Once I realized that our unhealthy non-relationship wasn’t my fault, I was able to stop blaming her and hanging onto the victim story.
Once you stop telling the story, it has less power over you.
In the past, I tried to hurt and hide from myself, and all this did was make me lose myself further. By braving up and removing all the escape methods, I have found my raw being.
Vulnerability is not a negative state. It is how we start our path. I have just started mine slightly later than most.
By loving myself, I allow others to love me. I love myself because I am still here, and I can see my life changing around me. When I have moments of insecurity, I read through my journals, speak to friends, or throw myself into tasks I enjoy, like baking.
Since changing my outlook, I have started working and have formed a number of great friendships. I have even gotten in touch with my mother and told her that I have forgiven her. I don’t think we will ever have a relationship, but I am alright with that.
The important thing is that I have finally opened myself up to other loving relationships.