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I want to get out of the self-pity loop
February 11, 2010 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Snap me out of becoming obsessively shallow and insecure.

I'm a 22 y.o. female. Just recently, I broke up with my boyfriend because he's moving to another country. He was my first love and now, post-breakup, I'm acting very crazy and losing what little self-respect I had.

Before I go into what I've been doing, here's a back story: A couple months into our relationship, my now-ex cheated on me with much prettier women, and after he apologized and said he wouldn't do it again, I stayed with him because I loved/idolized him. As the months went by, however, I became more and more insecure. His past girlfriends were all very pretty and one of them was even an accomplished model/musician. In comparison, I am socially awkward, plain Jane. I am also very flat-chested, with a pear-shaped body, something that has always made me feel unattractive and less of a woman. My ex has NEVER made any comments to attack my physical appearance (although he has said how, as a guy, he really liked boobs). Our relationship was mostly defined by me trying to please him and win his attention. Although I knew he cared for me, I never felt that he loved me, in the sense that he'd be willing to commit to me, and so I ended up throwing myself at him over and over again and used sex in an attempt to bring him closer to me. I didn't feel like I had a very important place in his heart. Most of the time I tried to hide these insecurities from him by placing him in the spotlight.

Now that he's leaving, I know that I should take this opportunity to work on myself. But I haven't. I do feel like I was genuinely in love with him, but I also know that I was incredibly dependent on him for my happiness. Just having him in my life made me feel like less of a loser. I still see myself as that shy, awkward kid who got picked on a lot in middle school. Instead of moving on, I've started to obsess over the types of gorgeous women he's likely to get with. After I found out he cheated on me, I myspace-stalked his ex girlfriends, telling myself that I'd never be as pretty or as talented as them. I got a kick out of hating on myself and became very self-obsessed.

For the past couple of days, I've stalked his facebook exchanges/all his internet activity, looked up videos/pictures of beautiful women on the internet and compared them to videos/pictures that I take of myself to make myself feel inferior. I try to make myself feel like shit on purpose and I neglect all my responsibilities as a result. I haven't left home in days (well there is the blizzard...), haven't showered, and eat cereal all day. I feel locked into this useless loop of self-hate and I want it to stop. I really have a lot of work to do and have been unproductive for days. I feel unmotivated and have stopped believing in myself.

I am going to start seeing a therapist next Tuesday because I know these are issues that I can't keep ignoring, but until then, I'd appreciate any advice to help me get over myself, to really convince me that beauty isn't everything and that life isn't a race that I've lost by not winning the genetic jackpot. I want start working towards becoming someone I can admire and respect. Email at: perfect._day@hotmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
much prettier women

You are clearly not in a position to judge this objectively.
posted by amro at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because you and your boyfriend are splitting due to the distance (and not issues with your couple-hood), you could ask for a swap of parting words: both write the other person a letter, describing all the things you've loved, enjoyed, respected and honored in the other person. When either of you are feeling down, you can re-read the words and feel a lift. It might be hard to write now, but it may be cathartic.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:51 AM on February 11, 2010


I come across as harsh sometimes, but I mean well. Good that you plan on seeing a therapist. But, you just have to quit with the negativity. No one can do that but you.

Quit stalking his internet ongoings. Now.

Take a shower, lay off the cereal.

People come in all shapes and sizes (btw), and constantly comparing yourself to others will only be self destructive.

Get a hobby that makes you feel good about yourself. Volunteer somewhere.

Focus on your positive attributes.

Learn to love yourself, and you will find someone who loves you for you.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2010


I'm sorry that you are going through all of this.

I don't have much advice, except to say this: please don't imagine that you are unattractive because of what you find on the internet. Not only does it misrepresent reality (most women aren't like most of the images out there), but it doesn't often represent what men find to be attractive. Would it surprise you to know that many man prefer a pear shape over a stick figure? Or prefer a smaller chest size? Also, internal disposition is the most frequent indicator, I think, of whether or not someone comes across as physically attractive. It doesn't always have a whole lot to do in the end with winning the genetic jackpot.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2010


I know this sounds pretty hackneyed, but "pretty" has a lot to do with a guy's particular proclivities, and has as much to do with your personality as it does your body. I can tell you right off the bat that there's nothing pretty about this aspect of your personality.

My advice? Have a trusted friend change your facebook/myspace password. Limit your time online. Spend some time away from all the triggers for this unhealthy behavior. You recognize that this part of you is really unpleasant, and I'm sure you believe you're better than this. Allow yourself to make some changes so you can realize this belief.

It sounds like your relationship with this guy was unhealthy from the jump off, and a while a lot of that has to do with his infidelity, part of that has to do with your self image. If you truly feel like this in a relationship, if you worship the person you're dating, you're never going to find a balance where your partner will feel like they can love you and respect you.

Oh, and:

My ex has NEVER made any comments to attack my physical appearance (although he has said how, as a guy, he really liked boobs)

Liking boobs does not mean that dude only likes HUGE boobs. I say this as someone who likes boobs.
posted by orville sash at 10:12 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Being cheated on messes with your head. After I guy I had hardly dated for any time at all in college cheated on me, it threw me for such a major loop that I finally swore off dating for a year (to the relief of all my friends who were tired of listening to my crazy!) just to avoid throwing myself into those issues for a while. After a year I was enjoying being single and drama-free so much that I went another year. :)

Do the things you need to do, like therapy, to help yourself, but also be kind to yourself and give yourself time.

Also, stop watching TV. I found humanity an amazing kaleidoscope of unique beauty when I took a break from idealized images of normalized beauty.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding amro: most people aren't good at objectively judging their own attractiveness, so it's futile to obsess over it. Although I do agree that "beauty isn't everything," there's just no way to conclude you don't have "beauty." The fact that your ex cheated on you says nothing about your attractiveness; it just means he's a jerk. Anyway, even if he didn't find you attractive (and I have no idea if that's the case), that still wouldn't be a problem: he's out of your life now, and there are other guys out there with different tastes.

Based on your second-to-last paragraph, your issues are probably more serious than something that can be solved by a bunch of anonymous internet commenters. It's good that you plan to see a therapist.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2010


my now-ex cheated on me with much prettier women, and after he apologized and said he wouldn't do it again, I stayed with him because I loved/idolized him. As the months went by, however, I became more and more insecure. His past girlfriends were all very pretty and one of them was even an accomplished model/musician

Your ex acted with no regard for your feelings while telling you otherwise, and so was not at all worth idolizing.

If you want an assessment of how attractive you are, on average, to a bunch of strangers on the internet, there is always Hot or Not.

Whatever you look like there will be someone in to that, and in your case those someone's probably comprise a significant portion of the population, as pear-like figures are quite widely desired, regardless of what you see on TV (did you see this?).
posted by phrontist at 10:23 AM on February 11, 2010


If you want an assessment of how attractive you are, on average, to a bunch of strangers on the internet, there is always Hot or Not.

Um, considering the OP's particular circumstances, I think that's seriously bad advice. Look at what she wrote:

For the past couple of days, I've ... looked up videos/pictures of beautiful women on the internet and compared them to videos/pictures that I take of myself to make myself feel inferior. I try to make myself feel like shit on purpose and I neglect all my responsibilities as a result. ... I feel locked into this useless loop of self-hate and I want it to stop. ... I feel unmotivated and have stopped believing in myself.

If you go on Hot or Not, you'll either get a high or medium or low score. If you get a medium or low score, it will be essentially meaningless -- random internet users who could be clicking numbers at random to skip to the next image or something. It's completely unscientific. It's NOT "objective." But it will make you feel even more miserable. If you get a high score, you'll still find something to feel awful about. The site displays every individual score as well as the average. If you get all 8s, 9s, and 10s except some loser who randomly clicks "2," you'll think -- aha, I got a 2, this proves I really am unattractive. Also, based on what you've said, it's likely you'd choose an unflattering photo because you'd actually hope for a low score, which would make the site even less reliable.

Please, go to a therapist; don't go to Hot or Not.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:34 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you get a medium or low score, it will be essentially meaningless -- random internet users who could be clicking numbers at random to skip to the next image or something.

Sure, that's possible, hence the averaging and scaling relative to other users, which over a large enough sample size negate that kind of noise.

If you get a high score, you'll still find something to feel awful about.

Being a stranger on the internet myself I can't say whether it's a good idea for her to try it, but I thought she might be interested.

It's NOT "objective."

Sure it is, in the sense that it's not one subjective valuation, but many, keeping in mind of course that it only represents the snap judgements of a bunch of the kind of people who hang out on that kind of site.

aha, I got a 2, this proves I really am unattractive

She seems quite aware of the irrationality of these thought patterns already.

don't go to Hot or Not.

I was just throwing it out there. Ultimately she needs to care less about appearance.
posted by phrontist at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2010


There are two things going on here, and they're obviously related.

One, you were in a relationship where you were obsessed with your partner, and your partner was far less committed to you, and two, you feel like you are not attractive. Which is, and you know this, BECAUSE your partner was less committed than you were.

When a relationship breaks up, we look for reasons. And the only reason you can come up with is, "I wasn't enough for him." He cheated on you, so you feel like you must be lacking in some way.

This is bullshit.

He wouldn't have been with you in the first place if he wasn't getting something out of the relationship.

And these other women that he's known? They may have all been envious of you when you were going with him.

Or maybe it didn't work out with them because they realized he was a cheating jerk, just as you've discovered.

Definitely get some help, but take it from another pear-shaped woman: a discriminating man realizes there is a lot more to "sexy and attractive" than perfect measurements. I'm damn sexy, and my man knows it, and if he didn't, I'd kick HIM to the curb.
posted by misha at 10:51 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Going to Hot or Not is terrible advice, not because the opinions received will be worthless (and they will be, because who gives a damn what those clowns think), but because it's not going to help the OP with the issue regarding her self-perception. If you don't love yourself, the adoration of strangers is meaningless- think of Marilyn Monroe.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:57 AM on February 11, 2010


Good for you for having a therapist appointment scheduled. It will really help you work through the issues you raise here.

But I'd also like to say that we are all SO MUCH more beautiful than our 22 year old self believes we are. Trust me on this one.
posted by MsMolly at 11:04 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Going to a therapist is a really great idea, and good for you for recognizing your behavior is hurting, not helping, you. I don't mean to minimize your pain - I've been there and I know how much it hurts - but I also want to say that feeling this way isn't going to last forever. Breakups are especially hard when you're young and haven't had enough experience to know that even though this guy didn't treat you very well, there are lots of guys out there who will.

Also, I hate to give his opinion more weight than it deserves, but if he was with lots of really pretty girls and he was also with you, it would stand to reason that you're also pretty. It sucks that so much of our self esteem comes from others' opinions of us, but knowing that people find you attractive can make a big difference. Keeping in mind that you're young can make a difference here as well. Over the next few years you'll have lots of opportunities to experience relationships with people who do think you're beautiful, and that will make it easier for you to believe of yourself. As I said, ideally feelings of self worth should come from internal appreciation of yourself, but it doesn't always work that way.

I hope you start feeling better soon.
posted by odayoday at 11:10 AM on February 11, 2010


Letting go of the negative self-talk is so frustrating: one one hand, you're aware of how miserable you're making yourself, and want to stop... but on some level, for some reason, you don't want to stop. You want to keep punishing yourself, perhaps out of guilt or shame, as a strange form of penance, or low self-esteem. It's really great that you have the strength and awareness to help yourself and work through these issues: that determination will serve you well.

I think you should work with the therapist to try and discover what it is that you get out of this negative behavior; why do you actively try to make yourself feel bad? Once you're able to have some grasp on what the motors for your negative behavior are, you can start to counteract them. I went through a fairly long period of self-hating and punishing thoughts (exacerbated by guilt and shame for being stuck in such thoughts), and I was lucky enough to find something that worked for me rather quickly. It's nothing original, but every time I would start on those thought patterns, I would think to myself "Rut!" (as in, I'm in a rut). It's pretty silly, but it worked for me, and I was able to break the cycle much faster than I had anticipated. This gave me all sorts of energy to make positive changes in my life (as I was no longer wasting so much on destructive patterns).

Best of luck!
posted by queseyo at 11:11 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


She seems quite aware of the irrationality of these thought patterns already.

Yes, and that's great. What's not great is recommending a course of action that would facilitate those thought patterns.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:15 AM on February 11, 2010


Girl, you are in a pretty upsetting position, aren't you?

I know what it's like, I've been there. When I was younger--up until my early 20s, actually--I thought I was so ugly I should count my blessings people talked to me without a bag over my head. That is not an exaggeration, I honestly, truly believed that the world would be a better, happier place if I had a bag over my head and it was only the benevolence of general humanity that kept that from happening.

I started dating someone, and at first I thought I was just the damn luckiest girl on the planet that someone who was desirable and attractive to other women was dating me. I couldn't figure it out. And for the majority of our relationship I thought that way. So like you, even having someone there who said they loved me and wanted me did not help with my self-esteem.

The thing that really turned it around was getting into fitness, and then redefining my image of beauty from it. I discovered weightlifting and have become incredibly passionate about it, I compete and want to have a future career as a weightlifting coach. It's definitely improved my body physically, but that's not what's led to feeling attractive. I've been in places where looking back I was way more traditionally attractive than I am now and that still had no effect on my self-perception of my own beauty.

No, it was discovering my body and its capabilities through something besides physical appearance that gave me the ability to see it as a beautiful thing. When I became proud of what my body could do, slowly but surely I realized I was seeing it and myself as something that could be beautiful. I pursued performance, I pursued focusing on the weights I could lift, and as I lifted more I became more physically confident. As I became more physically confident, I became more mentally confident. And from there, and from the appreciation of the increases in my performance, there's developed a natural appreciation for the inherent beauty of my body.

I don't know how better to explain it--but when you see what your body is physically capable of doing, you start to focus less on your faults and more on your positive aspects, or even turning your faults into positives. It just sort of happened, one day I realized my thick ankles were not mortifying, I actually kind of liked them and they fit into my overall physique a lot better than delicate ankles would. My big thighs weren't gross, they were proof I could squat a lot and that is fine as shit, thank you very much. I never thought if given the choice between looking like me and a Victoria's Secret Model I would choose to look like me, but I honestly would, warts and all.

I'm happy with what my body can do, and by doing what I do my body has been shaped to looking the way it does. Its appearance is not a cruel joke of nature, it's not bad luck, its the direct result of my sweat, tears, and effort, and I can't be anything but happy and proud of that.

And you know, I get a lot more attention now that I ever did when I was a bit slimmer and less muscular and more objectively attractive to the general population. I think a large part of that is because I have this confidence that I never had before.

After that long-winded explanation, my suggestion is to get involved in some physical activity. Not "30 minutes on the elliptical, 30 minutes of weights, three times a week". Not Jazzercise or Zoomba or an exercise class you feel you have to go to. It doesn't have to be competitive weightlifting. Just something physical that you've enjoyed doing and can maybe do with other people, roller derby, rock climbing, something that you'll get better and better at and can be proud when you improve. I promise if you do that, if you just focus on what your body is doing and not what it looks like, the self-love will follow.
posted by schroedinger at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not everybody is physically attractive--that's just life. From your description of yourself, you probably wouldn't be my type, but the flip side is you are almost certainly the type of some guy out there who is also your type.

The other thing to consider is, was this person disproportionately more attractive than you were? Studies (which I can't seem to find links to at the moment) have shown that if there is a big gap between how attractive each partner in a relationship is, those relationships don't work as well unless there are some other balancing factors.

If he was very attractive, try to go for a guy that isn't so attractive and he will most likely appreciate you a lot more than this guy ever did.

I know this isn't the advice many people are giving, but I try to be a bit more pragmatic in my approach to things--none of this fuzzy feelings bullshit.
posted by Elminster24 at 1:27 PM on February 11, 2010


This is already a good start. You have pretty much listed what you want and don't want in your post, rather neatly at that. All you need to do now is build on it. For instance, you want to be someone you admire and respect. What are the qualities that you appreciate in the people you respect and admire? Can you make others respect you when you haven't begun to respect yourself? Let's assume for a moment that you do become prettier and more talented than these women you think are pretty and talented- will it make you happy because you will now believe in yourself more than you did or because you think this will make this chap hang around longer? And what if it is the latter, will it then make you happy, knowing that he is with you while he finds someone else who is prettier and more talented? And if its the latter, heck, how much pretty and talented does one need to be to satisfy a man? Is he even worth the trouble? But wait a second, what about him? Is he as handsome and talented (and faithful) as you think a man should be?

One thing you could try to get your mind off the obsession is to set a goal. Not at work, not in relationships. Volunteer, be creative if you are wired that way or adopt a dog. But set SMART goals. Don't worry about not being motivated- the idea is to just do it anyway. Once you act, motivation will follow.

In comparison, I am socially awkward, plain Jane. I am also very flat-chested, with a pear-shaped body, something that has always made me feel unattractive and less of a woman.

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman."
posted by xm at 3:38 PM on February 11, 2010


It sounds like you take responsibility for yourself, and you know there's more to people than their looks...these are valuable qualities that will last you longer and bring you more peace and good will in the long run than good looks. If you need something to like about yourself, start with that. Not everyone has these qualities at the age of 22, after all.

Counter-intuitively, I've found it helped to be out in public when I was caught up in self-loathing, because it gave me some perspective and made it impossible to be too mean to myself. I don't like crying in front of strangers, so to save face I would either distract myself or try to be kinder. So, you could also try heading somewhere where you can be with people. I don't know if it's possible with the weather being the way it is. If it's not possible, try calling a friend just to chat about everyday things.
posted by millions of peaches at 5:11 PM on February 11, 2010


I am not a "pretty" woman. I have very angular, almost mannish features (think Bea Arthur, or Glenn Close, or Meryl Streep) and for years despaired that I was ugly. Even when guys liked me and pursued me, I was always like, "Why?" As a result, I never bothered with makeup, or regular haircuts, or nice outfits or dresses. In the last few years I've started doing that though, and I gotta say: it makes a huge difference in how you feel about your appearance, if you put some time and attention into it. Now, everyday I put on makeup, style my hair, and while I'm no fashion plate, I do try to wear something that makes me feel good, whether it be a color that looks good on me, a nice piece of jewelry, whatever. I get my hair cut regularly, and use products that are suited for it (I also despaired over having very curly, frizzy hair which I didn't know how to take care of). I've found that I feel much, much better than I ever did when I was in my twenties, despite grey hair, gaining 40 lbs, etc.

Watch What Not To Wear. I've found that they are really great about showing people how to dress for their particular looks and body types. There is nothing wrong with a pear shape; many men find it very cute and attractive!

All this requires that you focus on you, and on looking your best, and working with what you have. Not to try to be beautiful or perfect, but to care for yourself and treat yourself well, because it makes you feel good, and you deserve to feel good.
posted by cottonswab at 6:25 PM on February 11, 2010


First, get offline. Well, after you finish reading this comment. Go to sleep. Given "blizzard," I assume you're on the east coast, and it's past midnight. Set your alarm for 8, and shower immediately upon waking, do not think about it, do not pass go, just get in there as quickly as you can.

Snowpocalpyse is the perfect time to read. A physical book, I mean. If it's not too cold or dangerous, put on some boots and take a walk. I call this "taking refuge in the tangible." It gets me out of my head, which can be a very dangerous place to be. Plus, there is sooooo much beauty in the tangible, non-human world. Snowflakes are the most obvious (and convenient) example. Probably not too many flowers growing wherever you are, so go buy yourself some.

I'm not going to give you advice on how to think you are pretty, because thinking about physical appearance is the whole problem here. You need to think about something else. Almost anything will do. Grab pencils, markers, whatever, and make some art. Do your dishes. It doesn't matter at all as long as it's offline. Just pick something and then keep doing stuff. I guarantee your self-esteem will improve by the end of the day, because you have accomplished something besides hitting F5 on Facebook.
posted by desjardins at 9:17 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


He was my first love and now, post-breakup, I'm acting very crazy and losing what little self-respect I had.

I initially didn't read past this, because I wanted to tell you that sometime around age 19, I read this cheesy book called, like, The Hip Gals' Guide To Life In Your Twenties or something, and what they said about breakups always stuck with me -- that no matter who initiates it, the time after a breakup is when your self-esteem just plummets. I've found that to generally be true over the several I've experienced. Breakups cause some security to disappear, and every anxiety in your life amps up. Even the breakup that I most, most wanted was also when I started to double- and triple-check the door locks and the stove burners.

You're totally stressed, and (at this point in your life) this is one way you deal with it. You dwell in your most painful fears and you procrastinate on the internet. Honestly, that probably describes what about 40% of 22-year-olds do when they experience a painful loss and are feeling really stressed out. So, don't beat yourself up about your undone work and your cereal-eating. That was one phase, and now move on to phase two.

I agree with desjardins, that the first step is to trick yourself into getting off the computer. What you want to do is to muster just 2-3 seconds of willpower and leverage that into a much longer period of time by locking yourself out. I use a technique I call "look over there!" - I get myself to look across the room, and meanwhile slam shut the laptop lid. For me, the boot-up time is enough of a disincentive. A more technical and longer-lasting approach is listed here. You can block certain websites all day -- might be worth it for you. Over the next couple days, if you do want to obsess over looks and your ex- and everything, fine (I wouldn't), but maybe you can start to make it more of a discrete activity instead of something you can't quit. Maybe tell yourself you can do it for an hour after you finish your work or something. But then, lock yourself out and go take a walk.
posted by salvia at 12:45 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, on the looks question, I would go sit in a park and watch people and try to understand what makes people beautiful. We've all seen the "Barbie doll" person who seems "beautiful" but fake, because just under the surface, she's actually mean and angry. Also, there is that really beautiful or charismatic person that we all remember once noticing, "actually, their teeth are really crooked" (or something - no offense to people with teeth crooked like mine are). Dead people rarely look "beautiful," except to people who remember them being alive. It's the life force that animates us, and the quality of our character, and emotions like happiness, that makes people beautiful. I know this is cheesy, but it's true, and if you go sit outside in a park or something, you can probably see it for yourself.
posted by salvia at 12:45 AM on February 12, 2010


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