“I don’t know who I am anymore. Everything has changed; everything I have known for the past 4 years is gone.”
This was the pain I felt when my long-term relationship with the first man I ever truly loved came to a sudden end. Gone was the love that once flowed effortlessly between us and a future that promised so much. The ensuing hurt, rejection, and sadness was all too familiar, as this was not my first relationship, but this time the emotion grew to a whole new level.
“Why is this happening to me?”
“When will it be my turn for love and a happily ever after?”
“What is wrong with me?”
All of these questions played on a constant loop in my head.
When past relationships ended, I never took time to go inwards to self-reflect and understand how I showed up in a relationship. Nor did I take ownership of how I contributed, either in big or small ways, to the undoing of the relationship. Instead, I always lamented the pain and mourned the loss for far longer than truly necessary or beneficial. This pattern remained the same in those early days and weeks when my heart was breaking and the emotion was raw. I could not see any positive in the situation.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” This quote, attributed to Buddha, embodies the realization that fell upon me as time slowly passed and I began to tire of the emotional pain. The ending of the relationship was not my choosing, but how I chose to respond and to move forward was very much in my control. There were two options: (1) stay trapped in the hurt and pain; or (2) harness the power of pain to push me forward on a path to greater authenticity, empowerment, and self-love. In choosing the latter, I was able to see that my ex-boyfriend’s earth-shattering decision to end the relationship was in a fact an incredible gift in disguise. It was time to work on myself, for myself, by myself. So I started by asking an uncomfortable question: What am I doing wrong in the way I approach relationships, either in the decisions I make, the behaviors I bring to it, or the expectations I have of a partner?
All too often we view relationships as a way of completing us. Our tendency is to seek happiness through external validation and the love of another because we are in lack. We do not possess self-confidence, self-love, and a strong sense of self-worth. This inevitably leads to emotional attachment where we depend on a relationship to feel secure within ourselves, while at the same time being deeply fearful of losing our partner. This combination of dependency and fear often manifests in a softening of boundaries and people pleasing behaviors.
It was certainly true of my experience. I always looked to make the other person happy, to take care of them and prioritize their needs, which inevitably meant I did not prioritise myself. The narrative in my head said this was all borne of selflessness and love for those who were important to me; this was being a good friend or girlfriend. There was an element of truth, but more truthfully the tendency to be a people pleaser stemmed from a strong sense of lack and a plethora of limiting beliefs, which meant I did not value myself. If we do not know our own value, then others will determine it for us, and it will likely be less than our true worth.
Boundaries help to preserve our energy and to protect our happiness. They determine how we treat ourselves and how we allow others to treat us. Without clear boundaries, we are complicit in offering people an open invitation to treat us how they desire and how best suits their needs. If you have no boundaries there is a tendency to feel hard done by and overlooked because others take advantage of you in both obvious and subtle ways. If you always say no when you secretly want to say yes, you will find that afterwards you feel disempowered, resentful, and upset.
Failing to set strong boundaries was a recurrent issue for me, and this last relationship was no different. My ex-boyfriend crossed boundaries without even realizing it because I did not clearly communicate to him my personal needs, what was important to me, and what upset me. I had failed to recognise that setting boundaries is a powerful act of respect and self-care, but that was all about to change. Through quiet introspection, I began to appreciate that I always was, always have been, and will always be enough. This marked the start of a personal journey to discover who I truly am and to live unapologetically in that truth.
If we are to learn and grow from painful experiences, then we need first to dig in to our own behaviors and be honest about the not so perfect ways we often show up in a relationship. None of us enter into a relationship without some remnants of emotional baggage from childhood, friendships, and/or past relationships. At the end of a relationship, it feels so much easier and somehow right to blame the other person and the unjust nature of life. Yes, being completely honest with oneself does take courage, but taking responsibility for our own bullshit is also hugely powerful. Only if we are willing to ask ourselves difficult questions and answer truthfully can we uncover what drives behaviors such as emotional attachment. Self-honesty is a huge part of personal growth and a gateway to greater consciousness and self-awareness.
We have to stop looking outside of ourselves for things and people to fill internal voids and to give us a sense of value and worth. There is a reason it is called self-love and self-worth, because that strong sense of self is cultivated within you alone and cannot be found in anyone or anything else. When our individual happiness, worth, and value is anchored deep within, nothing and no one has the power to diminish it. Fall in love with yourself first and embrace your perfect imperfections, then share that love with someone who appreciates and values you as much as you do yourself. Your relationship is not meant to complete you, that all starts with you. Know yourself, know your worth, and honor your boundaries. Be self-affirming and always remember: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love someone else?” — Ru Paul.