How to accept love?
March 12, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

How to accept love?

I am female, 35 years old, and have now been for four weeks in a relationship that I have secretly been wishing for all my life. My problem is: how to accept my new partner's love, which I essentially do not feel worthy of?

There is no real reason for my feeling unworthy, it is simply my problem of self-esteem which I have also in other areas. I haven't reached an orgasm yet with my new partner, though he is a great lover and though this has never been a problem for me whatsoever. I tremble when playing some music for him (else no problem), and at times I feel so unworthy that I am just sad and can't get out of it, making our evening together very heavy. Right now he's really supportive, but obviously this can turn into a killer if not taken care of.

To round off the picture: I am currently in a situation where I have to hold things together to make them work - and this does not really seem to go together with totally letting go and casting myself into someone's arms without reserve. But maybe there are nevertheless possibilities to improve on my lack of trust (not least in my own worthiness) right now.

Therefore, what can I do to make myself feel worthy of this wonderful love, to accept it both physically and with my mind? All experiences, thoughts, and concrete advice are welcome. Many thanks!
posted by catherinem to Human Relations (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Develop your self esteem. To do this, do good things and remember that you did them (scroll down the page a bit). This worked for me. It took a while, but it worked where nothing else did.

I can't guarantee that it will work for you, but it seems a nice thing to do for oneself nonetheless.
posted by Solomon at 12:22 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm going to say something that might not make sense at first.

Ask yourself why you might want to feel that you are unworthy. What benefits does it provide? You are getting some payoff from it, without doubt. Finding out what that payoff is and determining whether or not that payoff is worth it is really the key question here.

I really didn't start getting better until I answered that question.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:44 PM on March 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

There is no real reason for my feeling unworthy, it is simply my problem of self-esteem which I have also in other areas.

That is a real reason, and it's not a simple problem, at all, at all. I've spent most of my life consumed by self-loathing and it's not something you can just wish away with positive thinking. It can absolutely destroy a relationship that would otherwise be healthy. The best way to start fighting its corrosive affects is to be totally honest with the other person about how you feel about yourself. This is not a simple thing to do. Your brain will come up with a number of justification for not doing this. Some of them are:

-Sharing my feelings would be just an exercise in self-pity.
-Sharing my feelings would be just an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
-He'll realize what I'm truly like if I tell him how I feel about myself, and end up hating me too, like any rational person would.
-Sharing my feelings will cause him pain, which is a selfish thing to do.
-I don't have a real problem, and talking about my feelings is just a way of pretending I have a real problem to make myself seem more interesting.

And on and on and on. But what I found was that when I started being truly honest about my feelings, my twisted self-perceptions, and sometimes my lack of feelings, and was communicating all those things to my wife it brought a strength and energy and sweetness to our relationship that it hadn't had in years since.

Listen to the brain above your brain, not the one that tells you you're a hideous thing who needs to fear ever exposing how unworthy she is, but the one that tells you you're a human being who wants and needs to share her feelings with her lover.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2008 [8 favorites]

It's been four weeks. The part of you that's holding back is perfectly reasonable. Give yourself some time.
posted by judith at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The book by David Richio - "how to be an adult in a relationship" has helped me tremendously with this kind of thing.
posted by jeffe at 1:39 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This can also be a symptom of depression. I have suffered from severe self-loathing and inability to believe anyone would actually like me-- let alone love me-- for most of my life. It only really receded after I quit taking heroin to try to self-medicate that and recognized that a lot of the problem was the way I framed my experiences.

For example, I would walk into a room and think that everyone didn't want me there. I had to realize that that was *my thought*-- not necessarily how everyone felt. Cognitive therapy basically teaches you to unpack these thoughts, look for evidence and act on the evidence, not your projections. I ended up learning those techniques in a self help group, but they are codified better in cognitive/behavioral therapy, which I would recommend.

But the self help group was very useful in that, for example, I would literally see a gorgeous model talking about how ugly she was and one of the journalists I most admired (all the big prizes, etc) talking about how he was a failure and I came to believe that maybe, just maybe, I was similarly deluded and that it was actually more selfish to be focusing on how evil I was and beating myself up for it than it was to "act as if" i were decent. And that not sharing my love wasn't avoiding burdening people with my hideous tentacles of need-- but was depriving people of something worthwhile. So some sort of group might be useful as well.

They say if you want self esteem, do estimable actions. This is a very powerful persuasion technique because it's very hard to feel like a complete worthless piece of crap when you are helping other people and they are extremely grateful for it. I recommend this, too.

The other thing that really helped was medication. For me, for some reason, both Prozac and heroin have the ability to shut up the voice that says I'm horrid, most of the time. When that voice is quiet, I'm actually *not* the clingy disgusting wreck I think I am-- because I don't have to spend all my energy and focus escaping my own self-torture, I'm actually less needy and more present for others. Prozac doesn't produce the euphoria that heroin does-- and it's conveniently legal, so I would recommend trying an antidepressant, and not heroin. Take lowest dose possible and change if needed or add something like Wellbutrin to avoid sexual side effects, though.

This is a very hard thing to deal with on your own-- but also, being honest with your lover can really help. i found it very healing to realize that i could be loved despite being what i found out was basically just plain human. When you tell someone your darkest secrets, typically, you find out that yours aren't half as bad as you thought!
posted by Maias at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: i'm in a similar situation. obviously, we haven't died or broken up yet, so i can't tell you how it worked out. but this is what i'm doing: i'm just making myself trust him. i trust that even if he doesn't like my music, he'll love me anyway. i trust that even if i say something stupid, or get a zit, or look fat in those jeans, he'll love me anyway. i trust that even if i never get a job that lives up to my potential or do the amazing things in life that i want to do, he'll love me anyway. i trust that if i make a complete fool out of myself when drunk or handle something badly, he'll love me anyway.

in short, i trust him. i trust his judgment of me. i may not have a clue what he sees in me, but i trust that he's not insane, and that he's getting something out of the relationship. and his love reinforces my belief in me. it's not a creepy codependent thing, it's just--being alone for a long time (and i was) is like living without a mirror. you forget what you look like, in a way. and then suddenly there's one in front of you and you can see everything, and it's kind of scary. but just remember, people don't see in you what you see in the mirror. i don't know why that is, but it is. so just hang in there until you get used to it. you will.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2008 [21 favorites]

A lot of good answers here.

The only 2c I'll add is that you should stop trying to second-guess what your partner thinks of you, or why. He loves you for his own reasons, and that's about the end of the matter. Whether or not you feel "worthy", he obviously thinks you are.

Paradoxically, the less worthy you feel yourself, the more awesome his love becomes, and hopefully, eventually, you'll come around to seeing that he's not some raving lunatic who loves a monster, but a wonderful guy who sees things in you that - at the moment - you cannot see in yourself, for whatever reason. Try to trust his judgement.

I think this is pretty much what thinkingwoman was getting at.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:59 PM on March 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

You didn't say anything about your childhood, but in my case, my low self-esteem has very obvious roots in my past. My parents did love me, but were ill-equipped to express it (my mother is mentally ill and was addicted to prescription drugs; my father was in a state of denial). They were so wrapped up in their own situations that I was left feeling unwanted.

The single most helpful thing in my life has been to accept my parents as fallible humans. If my mother said "Go away, I don't want to talk to you" when I was 10, that was not The Voice of God telling me I was unworthy. It was a troubled person who couldn't cope with parenthood, and it was absolutely no reflection on me. Because someone you love says something does not make it The Truth. Truth only comes from within, and you can learn how to trust yourself.

Be very, very patient with yourself. Developing self-esteem is a slow process. It's teaching yourself how to love - something you probably never learned. It made me absolutely the most vulnerable I've ever been, but it's also made me the strongest I've ever been. Do something way out of your comfort zone, like skydiving or running a marathon.

Meditation has helped a lot in that I'm much more in tune with how I'm feeling, and I can halt a self-defeating downward thought spiral at will. I read a lot of buddhist stuff, which reminds me that compassion towards oneself is of utmost importance, and getting attached to what others think is a sure route to suffering.

I am able to trust that my fiance loves me because he's seen me at my absolute worst and he's still patient with me. But more importantly, I have come to trust that even if he decided he didn't love me anymore, that wouldn't affect my worth at all (yes, yes, I'd be sad and hurt, but my value as a person remains the same).

No one's intrinsic value is greater than another's, and nothing can increase or decrease your intrinsic value. I can't explain exactly how I arrived at this knowledge, but it's true.

Please feel free to mefimail me; I'm around your age and can identify with every word in your OP.
posted by desjardins at 5:22 PM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

I read a lot of buddhist stuff, which reminds me that compassion towards oneself others is of utmost importance, and getting attached to what others think one thinks about oneself is a sure route to suffering.

Not being snarky here; I think that's an important flip-side to desjardins' coin, especially in this situation.

It's something you can apply in all your small-r and big-R relationships: check whether you're focusing on yourself (what you think of yourself; what you imagine others think of you) or whether you're focusing on others (what you think of them & how you treat them).

You'll hear it said time & time again that the way to receive love is to give love. However, from what you describe, you're getting caught up on whether or not you're worthy of receiving it, when you can avoid that trap altogether just by focusing on your partner instead, and the rest somehow magically takes care of itself.

(which is a kind of paraphrase of what i wrote before)

ps - in a 'meditative' sense (observing one's thoughts without grasping & fixating on them) the technique would be to notice when your thoughts are starting to obsess about yourself; let them drop away without judging them or beating up on yourself & consciously shift your thoughts onto your partner instead - what a great guy he is, something nice he did the other day, something beautiful you'd like to do for him, etc etc etc. if your thoughts return to yourself & how you're "not worthy", just rinse & repeat the above)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:55 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I suggest relationship counseling.

It's not all about fixing broken marriage, it's about teaching people how to communicate better and recognize how their past is shaping their current behavior. A professional will be able to understand your situation and offer actionable ideas on moving forward.

When my wife and I began dating, we had trouble connecting a bit. I grew up in the Norman Rockwell home where no issue went undiscussed. She grew up a child of divorce, parental strife, and had felon boyfriends. We were and remain very different types of people. Going to counseling helped us understand each other much better and gave us tools to use when we felt relationship stress.

We'll be married 14 years in May. Without counseling very early in our relationship, we never would have made it that long.

Good luck! Love is worth the effort.
posted by Argyle at 6:31 PM on March 12, 2008

I'm trying to figure out a different but related question and the one thing I have noticed is that if I stay focused on the "why" then the doubts and whatnot are overpowered. There's something deeper and more powerful than doubts, so I try to keep that thing strong. The process is:
1. recognize I'm overcome with fear/doubt
2. take a break from that situation (go outside for some fresh air). Shake it off. Go for a run even. Smile and laugh. You have to shift yourself into a slightly happier state via endorphins, positively connecting with someone, or something else.
3. Remember why you're really doing what you're doing. Deep down, why does this situation turn on the burning passion for life in the pit of my stomach? Stoke the fire. If this relationship is what you have secretly wished for all your life, focus on that. That's a powerful thing -- you are just now beginning to live out your lifelong vision.
4. return to the situation, with the fire burning. The doubts, for me then, they do not come up for a while. Then when they do, I start back at #1.
I'm not explaining this persuasively, but I encourage you to try it.
posted by salvia at 11:21 PM on March 13, 2008

I think since you have secretly been wanting this for quite sometime and you cant believe if it real and going to last and if it doesnt work you dont want it to break your heart so your keeping it in your mind that u are not worthy and holding back because of that its your FEAR you just need to accept it it will go away
posted by soooblesssed at 6:14 PM on April 1, 2008

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