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Living for myself
December 2, 2013 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I need to learn how to live for myself first, and not place so much of my self-worth on how people I'm dating view me. Please help.

I've had a pattern my whole life of investing most of my worth into my mates, and then melting down when it breaks off.

Plus, I find myself motivated mostly by people telling me I'm doing well at something. When I lose that motivation, I lose passion.

This is a family thing, my sister committed suicide over it. I've been to therapy for years and not fixed it.

I'd like maybe some other recommendations, books, methods you use to combat it or overcome it. It's starting to happen again, so here I am.

Middle-aged male, divorced, not on meds, occasionally on far too much alcohol.
posted by New Old User to Human Relations (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Gretchen Rubin - The Happiness Project

Rilke - Letters on Life
posted by John Cohen at 7:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I believe finding purpose in life is a good first step. Being involved in a cause or project larger than yourself certainly relieves a significant amount of anxiety on the subject of "am I worthy?" There must be a thing-or more likely several things in the world which interest you-excite you or annoy you. Why not try engaging in the struggle to create something good, or change something bad? In my experience, if you are busy doing something productive which you at least more or less enjoy, self-consciousness and insecurity tend to diminish. Frankl says it much better.
posted by kayrosianian at 7:27 PM on December 2, 2013

spend some time alone to fall in love with yourself. Confess all of your misgivings and then forgive yourself over and over until you love who you are - warts and all. You have nothing to share with another if the person who spends the most time with you doesn't love you.

I was insulating my attic yesterday and stepped through the drywall part - almost dropped clear through the ceiling. Had to take a trip to the hardware store to buy some drywall, screws and tape. Fucked up the measurements at least 3 times. Was very angry at myself - with a sharp blade in my hand. I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream but instead I just calmly told myself I was going to get through this like I've gotten through everything else in my life up to this point. Today the drywall is in place and I fucked up the compound. I'm going to fix it too and it's going to take 5x as long as an experienced drywall installer but when it's done it's going to be a fingerprint I left on the world that might just out-survive me. When the person who refinishes that room takes it down they will say this is shoddy, imperfect work but what they won't know is that the next one I do will be better. That's all that matters in this life, that you learn something from every experience and you work to get better the next time - be it drywall, rocket science or relationships (much harder than rocket science, moderately harder than drywall.) Everyone will give up on you at one time or another; your friends, your partners, even your family, but they don't know shit about you. You take their praise and criticisms in stride and understand that you will get shit done - especially AFTER everyone has given up on you. It might not be perfect but every day you will get better and that's something to love and something look forward to.
posted by any major dude at 7:56 PM on December 2, 2013 [21 favorites]

Seconding Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project - when you wrote: "I find myself motivated mostly by people telling me I'm doing well at something" it reminded me of Rubin's self-described insatiable need for "gold stars."

Also worth a read: The Four Agreements by Miguel Angel Ruiz
posted by hush at 8:10 PM on December 2, 2013

You are me several years ago. While The Happiness Project is good (and I'm a Gretchen fan), I think there are better books for you. The Four Agreements is one of them. But the one that helped me overcome the need to live for others is the old (and out-of-print) How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. I think you can get it on Kindle. Ignore the political stuff and read what the author has to say about living only for yourself. The book was written forty years ago, but his ideas are still radical today...
posted by jdroth at 9:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I finding myself picking random strangers or imaginary future partners to "impress." I do things or start new hobbies with them in mind. But I realize they are a crutch, they are not even real people. They are a deferment of responsibility for doing things for myself, or doing something just for the sake of it. It's the same for real people in my life as well. You are the person who will always be with you in your life. You are the only person for whom you can know their true motivations. If you are open to it, you can like yourself for the reasons you want to be liked. No one else can guarantee you that. This is a very common feeling I think. Don't feel alone.

One more thought, yours might be two separate issues wherein difficulty dealing with disappointment gets tied up into a loss of identity when a relationship ends. Maybe some help in coping with disappointment could help you avoid total meltdown in the face of it.
posted by Katine at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest working the 12 steps. Get yourself some 12 step literature and read it every day. Try some open meetings.
I'm liking this book - Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr - he talks about deciding to stop sacrificing our lives for the love or praise of others. I think thinking alot about step three might be helpful to you in making better decisions.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:00 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found that If The Buddha Dated helped me a lot with this and other dating/relationship headgames I was playing on myself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

This book helped me a lot, through a similar struggle. Best of luck to you.
posted by jbickers at 5:37 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have found the simple teachings of Epictetus useful as a guide. A summary of his principles stolen from Wikipedia:
"Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power."
I think that summarizes 99.99% of the problems I've encountered in life. I used to be a fairly angry person. I realize now that the source of my anger was often trying to control the behavior, beliefs, or emotions of another person. For example, if a family member believed that I was not making a correct career choice, I tried to change their belief by either altering my choice or convincing them that my choice was correct, but I was rarely successful. I feel that I am able to avoid a lot of pain and disappointment by simply accepting that some, and perhaps most, of the people in my life will not approve of any given choice that I make, and that, since I cannot control how they will react, it is only logical that I make decisions about my life in accordance with what seems best to me at the time. And if a decision later turns out to be incorrect, I should have no reason to regret it, because I was responding to the situation as best as I was able to given the knowledge I possessed at the time. Of course, I don't adhere to this idea perfectly at all times because I am a fallible human being, but I find its simple logic very comforting when I am swept up in the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions and sensations that comprise daily life.

I also think you might get something about of this thread.
posted by deathpanels at 9:17 AM on December 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Deliberately spend some time not dating anyone other than yourself.

Decide on something to learn or do that you will keep an innocuous secret for some length of time, and not share how well or badly you are doing on it with anyone.
posted by yohko at 4:39 PM on December 3, 2013

Yea, seconding jbickers' suggestion. I've read a few books that have helped me with what you're describing, but I think Katie's advice is the easiest, most direct advice. The idea that you can control the way someone thinks -- about you or anything else -- is crazy, and her book compassionately and directly illuminates that idea.

Tiny Beautiful Things is another book that will gut punch you in a good way.
posted by tenaciousd at 6:42 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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