When I was in college, I used to babysit for this family. They had the most adorable little girl, and I loved her. Over the summer, I was with her every day. During the school year, I’d babysit some nights and weekends. She was a little sweetheart, but the mom and dad were not so wonderful. First of all, they didn’t pay me a competitive hourly rate. And then they’d always “round down”, so if they were fifteen minutes past the hour, they just wouldn’t count that. To be fair, I wasn’t assertive at that time in my life. I wasn’t used to standing up for myself. So I’d rev myself up to talk to them once in awhile about a higher rate, but they’d always say they couldn’t afford it. I was attached to their daughter, and she was attached to me, too, so I’d stay. Often, they’d also come home a lot later than we’d agreed they would. Basically, it was an opportunity for me to practice self-respect and to set boundaries, but I just wasn’t there yet.
I’ve had lots of experiences with people over the years when I didn’t stand up for myself and should have. There was another woman with a baby I worked with over one summer. She was a new mom, and a nervous one. She’d asked me to stay with her son while she went back to work part-time, but that never happened. Instead, I’d go over and she would stay, too, and I’d end up changing diapers and making bottles and playing with the baby, getting lunch for the mom, or throwing in a load of laundry. Sometimes I’d prep dinner. I didn’t mind, because most of the time she was fun to hang out with, but when her girlfriends came over she treated me like crap. She’d be rude and bossy and disrespectful, like a mean girl in high school. Once, she made fun of me while I was getting drinks for her and her friends. Something about my needing a haircut or something, and all these women laughed in the other room, and I blinked back tears in the kitchen.
Years later, I taught at a yoga studio owned by a guy who was also unpredictable. Sometimes awesome, sometimes mean. I quit after a few months because by then, I had the tools to get myself out of situations that were insulting and painful to my heart. The only reason we allow other people to devalue us or treat us poorly is if some part of us believes we aren’t worthy of more. Low self-esteem is not only painful, it’s dangerous. It often goes hand-in-hand with people-pleasing tendencies. If we doubt our worth, we look outward for reassurance and approval, and at that point, it’s a crap shoot. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and only encounter kind, stable, ethical people, but I highly doubt it. It’s a mixed bag out there, and chances are you’ll run into a few challenging people along the way. You might deal with people who have personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy or consistency. You might run into people who are controlling or manipulative because they’ve hardened themselves. There are all kinds of ways you can get yourself into trouble when you don’t recognize what a miracle you are, and I mean that sincerely. I don’t say it to make you blush, I say it to give you a prod in the ass if you need one. It’s my opinion that we’re all here to shine, to uncover whatever gifts we’ve been given, and to share them freely. You can’t do that and doubt your worth simultaneously.
How is it possible we have seven billion people on the planet, but only one of you? Those are pretty amazing odds, and the only safe bet is that you have something to give that only you can. If you’re bogged down in rage or shame or blame, if you’re numbing yourself out or running or denying your pain, it’s really time to stop doing that.
Life is short. The time is always now. If you’re allowing yourself to be mistreated, get help today. Find a great therapist. Ask for support. You can’t allow yourself to be bruised and battered for too long, and expect life to feel good. If you doubt your worth, figure out why that is, and when that started. Nothing else is going to fall into place until you do. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation of all the relationships in your life. You are not here to let other people walk on you, or treat you like crap. You are not here to teach people the right and kind way to behave, unless you have children. It is not your job to wait for someone to see the light, nor can you show it to another person.
You can love people who don’t know how to love, but it hurts like hell. You can recognize that someone may be treating you poorly because they don’t know how to do anything else. You can feel empathy for someone’s painful or abusive history, or for their struggle with mental illness or depression, but you cannot allow yourself to be treated badly. You are as worthy of love as anyone else walking the planet.
My personal belief is that we’re made of energy, and that energy is love. I think we come into this world and sometimes we forget who we are. Sometimes we’re hurt or disappointed and we harden ourselves to get by. You might have to do your childhood that way depending on the circumstances, but you don’t have to do your whole life like that; that would be such a waste, and such a tragedy. Tools exist. Shifts are possible. You can feel good about yourself, you can learn to stand up for yourself the way you would for anyone else you love. You might have some serious healing to do before you get there, and I’d really suggest you get on that. Healing takes work, but it’s doable. You just have to start.
Sending you love,