I’m a little over three months out from my STBXW meeting a new guy, and beginning a divorce a little over a week later, after being together for 12 years, married for 10. I have read all the usual advice for moving on, and I’m doing it the best I can: find new hobbies, reach out to new people, forge new relationships, rediscover yourself, learn to be happy with yourself. Ultimately, I keep coming back to: “This advice doesn’t apply to me.” I wonder if many chumps feel this way?
In therapy, I’ve begun to understand that the concept of “innate self-worth” is apparently a thing — that you have value simply for being who you are. But the idea that this applies to me seems absolutely ridiculous. My innate self-worth is zero. Instead, my overall worth has always correlated with what I can do for others. This has become uncomfortably clear when reviewing my marriage in therapy. Your post titled “When You’re the Parent in the Relationship” was incredibly difficult for me to read, but necessary. “You need to be needed.” Yep.
I have no idea how to develop real, actual, innate self-worth. I can think of many examples in my life where I stopped or reduced the “service” and discovered how much less I actually mean to people than I thought. The idea of improving how I feel about myself without being able to “prove” it via feedback from others seems bizarre. It’s like I’m ignoring all this evidence to the contrary.
I also recognize that this is probably the best opportunity I’ll get to fix my self-perception, which is the only path I see to not repeating these same mistakes in a future relationship. But I’m completely lost as to how to make real progress here.
Well, you can begin by reframing “doing for others” as a Bad Thing. It’s not. Being a nice, caring person isn’t pathology or even chumpiness — it’s being a decent human being. We need more of you! What’s a Bad Thing is doing for others who don’t reciprocate.
That’s your fatal flaw, Theory, and that’s what needs a tune-up — your ability to recognize and value those people in your life who reciprocate.
And — shocker! — this really isn’t that hard. You’re a giver and you just need to find other givers. (They’re out there. Ask me about my blog numbers…) You need to avoid takers, and develop boundaries to dump, or limit your exposure to, people who prefer lop-sided relationships.
The reason your marriage dynamic felt parent/child is because the only people we don’t demand reciprocity from are children or elderly parents — vulnerable people. However, eventually we teach children to be independent, and we owe our parents a certain deference because they once raised our defenseless selves. The only other people we should be unilaterally generous with are charity cases. Don’t marry a charity case, Theory.
That leaves us with ordinary adults. How can you identify an adult?
a) Adults know how to do Adult Things — like balance checkbooks, unload dishwashers, and carry life insurance. They can support themselves. They come into relationships with mad skillz such as punctuality, returning phone calls, and a firm handshake.
b) Adults are not sad sausages. Sad sausages have 17,000 excuses why they cannot be punctual, balance a checkbook, or unload a dishwasher. It’s the February Solstice. They stubbed their toe on an orphan. Dishwashers make them break out in a hives. Sad sausages feign helplessness — and “Help me!” is chump kryptonite.
Pay close attention — do they really need help? (Adults sometimes do) or is this a convenient excuse to welch out of responsibilities? Are they never reciprocating because they’re sad, but feel perfectly entitled to your help? Sad sausages feel above reciprocity. It smacks of equality and respect. Sad sausages have the manipulation channel firmly set at self-pity. Avoid the pity vampires!
c) Adults reciprocate. Real adults feel uncomfortable with an imbalance — they WANT to return the favor. Healthy people respect your time and your acts of service. They demonstrate appreciation with actions — they thank you, they’re present, they reciprocate.
Your job as a chump is to LET PEOPLE RECIPROCATE. I know it will make you uncomfortable (Must Right The Imbalance Immediately!) — but fight that urge and accept kindness. Good people are like you — they WANT to HELP. You want to attract a better class of friend? Don’t shoo off anyone who wants to give of themselves.
The chump will brush it off, “Oh no. I simply couldn’t…”
Let that self-effacing shit go. Say “thanks” — and then reciprocate in kind later.
The only people comfortable in a relationship where you do all the giving are TAKERS. Takers never question the lopsidedness. It’s all in their favor, why would they? The bigger a chump you act, the more you will attract takers. So, have some boundaries.
In therapy, I’ve begun to understand that the concept of “innate self-worth” is apparently a thing — that you have value simply for being who you are. But the idea that this applies to me seems absolutely ridiculous. My innate self-worth is zero. Instead, my overall worth has always correlated with what I can do for others.
Okay, Theory, I think you’re confusing things here. People who think they are splendid for simply being who they are, are narcissists. Why should they ever do for others? They’re SPLENDID.
People who know their worth, on the other hand, have boundaries. You can’t treat me like crap. I deserve better. That’s knowing your worth.
You should correlate your worth on what you can do for others, but that doesn’t mean accepting exploitation! Being of service to each other is what we were put on the planet to do, Theory. It’s being human.
Learn to exploit and manipulate others for your own personal gain is what narks, sociopaths, and other Cluster B freaks do. Don’t be of service to others! Make them serve you!
We don’t need more freaks, Theory. We just need more discernment.
Rock on with your good-hearted self. Just don’t waste your gifts on the undeserving.
This post ran previously.