How can I rebuild my self esteem
July 5, 2017 1:56 AM   Subscribe

A toxic relationship has left me questioning everything about myself and I'd like some good advice on how to rebuild my damaged self esteem.

I was recently in a long toxic relationship which ended around 8 months ago. It's left me feeling very raw and lacking in confidence. I'm a 53 year old bloke and I know I have many reasons to feel quite confident about myself (I cycled from Lands End to John O'Groats a couple of weeks ago being one of them), yet I'm down on myself all the time. My ex used to break up with me all the time and the last time she delivered quite a character assassination and it's made me question a lot of things about myself. It sounds terribly shallow but I'm even becoming obsessed with my looks and appearance. I have been on dating sites and had quite a few dates yet I am constantly wondering if I'm good looking enough and if women will find me attractive.
I'm 53 and feel like I shouldn't be worried about things like this at my time of life. I have grown up sons and a decent job and home so I have a lot to be happy about and I feel guilty for being so self consumed.
I probably could do with some counselling but to be honest I can't afford this so would appreciate some good advice.
Are my feelings normal and is this some part of me grieving the relationship?
How can I like myself a bit more at this difficult time.
posted by blokefromipanema to Human Relations (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, your feelings are normal and they will go away. It will happen faster if you can focus on other things beside your appearance. Some suggestions:

- Do something you're good at. Notice the positive feelings you get from using a skill.
- Do something you're bad at. Fail. Enjoy the process anyway. Goof off and have fun and laugh at your pathetic results.
- Spend time with friends and observe how they enjoy your company.
- Cook a lovely meal for someone you like. Enjoy it with them.
- Learn a new skill. Learning is fun and makes people feel better about themselves.
- Spend time helping other people. Find a place to volunteer where your help is welcome and meaningful.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:48 AM on July 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, and congratulations on getting out of that relationship. It really was toxic. But you got away. Time to heal now, and then time to bloom again!
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:50 AM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well done on LEJOG - I'd love to do that myself one day.

The book that really helped me after a bad break-up years ago was called The Relate Guide to Starting Again, by Sarah Litvinoff. A friend gave me a copy because it had helped him too after his divorce.

Eight months is a short time, you're still grieving for what happened. I tried to bounce back & date too soon - I was walking around with the bloody stump of my previous relationship, trying to re-attach it to someone else. It didn't go well. In the end (partly with the help of the book) I figured out that I needed to be single for a while & get comfortable with that - not try to rush the grieving process. Gave me space to figure out a few things, so I wasn't inflicting my previous experience onto new partners.

At that time I also got some counselling via my GP - only half a dozen sessions or so, but it was through the NHS so free of charge - the same might be available for you, it's worth asking. The counsellor that I saw talked in terms of two years being a typical time-frame for recovery, which turned out to be about right for me - in terms of when I started back out on a healthy relationship.

It's a process. You've got to let it take its course. You'll get there. Good luck.
posted by rd45 at 2:53 AM on July 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was recently in a long toxic relationship which ended around 8 months ago.


Frankly I didn't think you had it in you. So so glad to learn I was wrong, wrong, wrong!

My ex used to break up with me all the time and the last time she delivered quite a character assassination and it's made me question a lot of things about myself.

My best advice to you at this point is to focus on getting better at reflexively disputing and discounting a character assessment clearly constructed for no better purpose than a vindictive desire to wound you; my best guess is that this is one of those "if I can't have him, I'll burn him down to stop anybody else having him" things.

If you focus more on the form and intended function of that character assassination and less on the particular words it happened to contain, you'll be better placed to see it as evidence of the strength it took to tear yourself off the barbed and jagged hooks your former partner had managed to bury in you for such a long time.

I'm down on myself all the time ... Are my feelings normal


and is this some part of me grieving the relationship?

No question about it.

What you thought you had for all that time was different in many important ways from what you actually had, but that fact cannot and should not change the many good memories you're sure to have of good times spent with your now-ex partner. Those memories are real and will remain real despite the fact that the emotional price you paid for them was way, way way too high. The other person featured in them is not now part of your life, and that will feel like a genuine loss because it is.

Eight months is not very long compared to the amount of your life you put into that relationship, and especially at the age of 50+ the end of such a major phase of your life can only be expected to knock the wind out of you for quite some while.

How can I like myself a bit more at this difficult time.

Main trick I use when I'm down like that comes from the upside of being 50+, which is having lived enough to understand that feeling like shit for quite lengthy periods is a normal part of life, is not a permanent condition and will pass, and at some point is going to make me appreciate future good times all the more.

You can like yourself a bit more by taking the Happiness Is The Only Acceptable Feeling pressure down a few notches and just letting your life be what it is for a while. Be kind and gentle with yourself. You've survived a serious emotional mauling. There will be scars and they will hurt before they fade.

Once again, you have my congratulations and my sincere admiration for finding the strength to walk away at last. If you were anywhere near me I would buy you beer.
posted by flabdablet at 4:28 AM on July 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


One thing I wanted to suggest from personal experience is, if there are friends or acquaintances in your life who are still friends with this person, break up with them too. Same with any shared organizations, interest groups, etc. After I was in a relationship with someone who constantly belittled me, I realized that interacting with people who were our mutual 'friends' was reminding me of the person's abuse, and also making me feel bad because they were tacitly condoning his behavior by being his friend. It wasn't personal to them, they were perfectly fine people and I wished (and wish) them the best. But it was healthy for me to move on from them as part of moving on from the relationship. I felt so much lighter and have never regretted moving on.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 9:17 AM on July 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you should get screened for depression. The end of a long relationship can certainly be causing you to feel this way 8 months on, but that doesn't mean you're not depressed too. Looking at some of your old posts, they seem kind of melancholy to me. Maybe your circumstances, maybe your temperament but why not get checked out?
posted by BibiRose at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2017

Some self-help book I read said, in the Breakups chapter, basically "expect your self-esteem to be very low, that's just the way breakups go."
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on July 5, 2017

Oh, good for you! I saw your username and instant remembered who you were. Well, you've broken away so you've already done the hardest part. Your ex partner has done you a favour, she's burnt that bridge so completely you'll never go back. So thank her for that but don't take her toxic parting gifts to heart, just use them as a reminder that you broke up for a reason! Time is the best healer, that and maybe a little ritual where you release everything that reminds you of her and allow yourself to move on.
posted by Jubey at 4:29 PM on July 5, 2017

At many low periods, I've felt most proud of myself when I've been able to forget myself for long enough to watch a decent TV drama. Something moderately subtle with complex characters, solving problems calmly, like a Scandi noir or something. And you're just watching to remind yourself that problems can be solved, and people (i.e. you) are complex and can be forgiven their 'faults'.

So, whatever you can do to make yourself feel good, reinforce yourself by saying "I'm here, and I'm doing the most important thing that I could be doing right now, which is making myself happy". You're shoring up the foundations of your life, so you set your own goals for that, and mostly they're not ones you can talk about. That said, you can definitely be proud of doing the LEJOG, and when you talk about it to other people they'll probably hear you talking about physical toughness. But make sure that the reason you feel proud of doing it is for the emotional resilience it involved.

Also, there's no harm in trying your NHS psychological therapies service. If you look up IAPT and your local NHS, you should find something like this, and you can call them to refer yourself for, normally, an assessment followed by group work. It might not be for you, but there's little harm in taking up the opportunity.
posted by ambrosen at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2017

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