Tonight, we found Bethenny in the middle of a lot of chaos. She’s doing a complete remodel of an apartment, busy being a Skinny Girl mogul, raising her toddler, and struggling with the terrible twos of marriage. So, take away the fame and fortune and she’s just about every mom I know — constantly juggling half a dozen (or more) things and holding herself up to an impossible standard of perfection!
But it’s when Bethenny breaks down in her counselor’s office that things get real. Bethenny has been going through a rough patch in her marriage to Jason Hoppy. In the scene with her counselor, Bethenny talks about being “damaged and broken” and that, essentially, she believes that her husband was unlucky to fall in love with her. And this is when the conversation turns to the core of the problem: Bethenny believes she is unlovable.
Unfortunately, Bethenny is not alone in this belief.
Look at all the books (hello, Eat, Pray, Love) and movies dedicated to the search for joy and liberation from misery! Oprah has practically built a cottage industry and dedicated her career to finding and delivering the tools to drill down into yourself to find that pain. For any number of reasons, a lot of people walk around with this invisible burden. I wrestled with this for most of my life and only in recent years have found a freedom from it. It is an almost unbearable prison. And it feels impossible to break free. As Bethenny’s counselor says to her, living that way is isolating and you will be miserable.
To believe that you do not deserve love or that you are somehow unworthy of love is a terrible way to go through life! And the truth is, it will destroy you and everything you want in life, if you let it.
For a very long time — perhaps as long as I can remember — I lived with this soul-crushing feeling inside me. I believed I was never worthy of anything good. If I got good grades, it was a fluke. If I got the job, it was because they could pay me less (because I’m a woman). If I won an award, it was a mistake. And worse, yet, I believed that if anything good happened to me, then there would be an equal and often disproportionate response from the universe to cancel it out.
So, this goes for the relationships in our lives, too. If I am unworthy of anything good happening to me, then I certainly don’t deserve the love that someone is offering me — be it in friendship, in family, or in romance.
Why do we torture ourselves like that?!
For me, it came from a pretty toxic combination of factors from my childhood. I was sexually abused. I was estranged (abandoned) from my father for almost 10 years. And my mother routinely told me how she wished I had never been born (including telling me that she wished she’d had an abortion). Add in intermittent poverty, transience, and various other mitigating factors and it was like taking a molotov cocktail to the heart! No wonder I felt completely and utterly UNLOVABLE!
It’s hard enough when you have survived sexual violence. But even if I take that away… even the daily realities of poverty can be pretty grim at times. When you see the casual wealth of those around you at Christmas and go home to a stark experience at home, you start to question why your lot is so different. As a child, the answer seemed simple: It must be different for me because I don’t deserve those things. That life is not meant for me.
So with that kind of seed firmly rooted in my consciousness by adulthood, you can see why I had a kind of whole-life panic attack as I parked my four-door sedan in the garage of my brand-new home in suburbia at the age of 27. I had a successful and promising career. I was (and still am) enjoying a wonderful marriage to my high school sweetheart.
It was like that Talking Heads song, “This is not my beautiful house… This is not my beautiful life… How did I get here?”
But the truth is I worked hard to have the success I’ve enjoyed. When life offered me opportunities — like a college internship at a magazine dedicated to rodeos and the RV lifestyle, or cutting my journalist teeth in numerous other non-glamorous gigs — I took them. I put myself through school working as a maid/nanny and a host of other jobs. And mine was the generation that broke the cycle of teen pregnancy (and went to college) in my family.
So why didn’t I feel like I deserved the spoils of my hard-earned life? Why did I feel like any second the brute squad was going to bust down my door and drag me back to The Black Abyss? It must be because I didn’t deserve it, right? It must be that I was unlovable.
And now we’re back to Bethenny — on top of the world with a beautiful baby, the husband, the luxurious penthouse apartment in New York City, million-dollar deals, best-selling books, legions of fans…
I know there will be some who mock her admission of being unlovable as neurotic or even narcissistic. How could someone who is so successful really believe that about herself? But for all of us who know all too well the quiet hell of The Black Abyss, it’s like she’s found our letters and read each one out loud. When it comes to The Black Abyss, the more success you have the more you feel like your guts are being ripped apart. It’s like throwing a hand grenade on an open wound.
And it’s this vicious, almost-addictive (in a masochistic kind of way) cycle. We drive ourselves to exhaustion to be perfect. We drive ourselves crazy with ambition and long hours to be the best at what we do. We are driven to outrun the past and to prove to ourselves that we don’t have to live in the dark times any more. And then, after so much hard work we get recognition — raises, awards, accolades, whatever — and that recognition nearly kills us. Because if we get praise for our efforts, then the brute squad is going to come and take it all away. Because we don’t deserve it. … And, repeat.
I’m not saying we should all walk around like arrogant pricks and act entitled to the world. What I’m talking about is that internal, deep sense of self that is either floating like a butterfly in the joys of your life or stinging you like a bee to remind you that you are unworthy.
It breaks my heart when Bethenny says she’s damaged or that her husband is unlucky to love her. As much as it hurt me all those years to feel like I did not deserve the love that people gave me, now it hurts me to see so many people have that same struggle. It took me 10 years of marriage before I believed that it was possible for anyone, let alone my husband, to feel unconditional love for me. Ten years! In fact, when people would compliment my husband or marriage, I used to say, “He’s better than I deserve.” How sad is that?
I didn’t get to the other side of the abyss overnight. And it wasn’t easy.
One thing I do know from my own journey is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But a good place to start is to give yourself permission to love yourself. Whatever the catalyst was that made you think you are unlovable, try to see it as just that — a seed. Maybe it grew into a tree. Maybe it grew into a forest. So what? Burn the whole damn forest down if you have to. That forest isn’t who you are! That experience does not define you! One of the most healing things I ever did for myself was allowing myself to feel angry about being sexually abused. I gave myself permission to not forgive my abuser. And yet, in that act, somehow I felt more at peace than ever before. (And, interestingly, I started feeling less and less anger after that.) It might not make sense to someone else. But the process doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else but you. Do what you need to do to free yourself. No matter how painful the event or experience, it was only a catalyst. And maybe at that time you were ill-equipped to process it or let it go or move on from it. The day I stopped waiting for the person who hurt me to change or apologize or even acknowledge what they’d done, was when I finally understood what acceptance meant. And it was liberating.
Today, this moment, can be a new catalyst. A catalyst to change your life for the better. Maybe anger or fear or even hurt has been all you’ve ever known. Stepping outside of that can seem scary. Believe me, I know! Sometimes the most radical, brave thing we can do is to dare to have hope or to indulge the luxury of imagining a life of unconditional love.
But it’s like that scene in The Hurricane; maybe it’s time try something new on for size. Maybe hate/anger/fear only get you so far. Maybe it’s time to try love on.
(PS: If you like this post, stay tuned. These themes and more are in the book I’m working on and a part of a new workshop I’m developing to inspire people to hope after trauma.)