Almost every woman I know has had at least one relationship where she has willingly allowed herself to be treated poorly for months, or even years. This is not a judgement, rather an observation. Some are lucky enough to escape these relationships, others not so much.
As girls growing up, I think many of us were conditioned to be accommodating and adaptable. Now don’t get me wrong, these are very good qualities, but combined with poor self-belief they can be toxic.
At least I can speak for myself.
I have struggled a lot with low self-belief. High school bullying left me with this permanent sense of feeling and being ugly. A natural tendency towards anxiety, brought with it, a veering towards self-doubt.
Poor self-belief wasn’t necessarily because I was a girl. I know men who struggle with it as well, of course. This in no way is to belittle or make light of their experience. But I think our tendency to think we must be the ones to give in, to compromise, as seeped in so deep, that it’s hard to know when we are going too far.
I had an insecurity about feeling loved. Although my childhood was largely a happy one, the bullying (which by the way, wasn’t even as bad as many people faced), left a lasting impression. I felt ugly, disgusting and unlovable.
In relationships, I found that I would go along with things, I would subdue who I was, and absorb much of who the other person was. I would subtly adapt to their habits, their preferences and their choices.
I also had a tendency to “fake” it: pretend I was present in a relationship, and that I was on board, okay with the rules, and ignore the gnawing doubts in my mind.
In a way I would pretend that I was the person that my partner expected us to be or wanted me to be. When people have said “I love you,” I have said it back, without meaning it. When people have taken a budding relationship at a pace that I was not comfortable with, I have just gone along with it.
When those same people have turned around and said that it was moving too fast for them, I have said nothing, letting them place the blame on me.
I’m no victim, I wasn’t coerced into doing this. I had an innate tendency to adapt, and a low belief in my own value, so I just assumed that I should follow someone else’s lead.
But what I did notice, is that I started breaking out of my confines, acting out in ways that pushed boundaries, when I found myself trapped in these relationships.
My protagonist in Spilling Over the Edges fakes it, and places her self-worth in the hands of an abusive partner. By her own admission, she feels average. She feels lucky to have found someone willing to marry her.
At the same time, she realises she is not the person that he wants her to be, and it starts to eat her up inside.
In a way, though perhaps not the same way as my protagonist, I did spill over the edges of who I was supposed to be, acting out when it got too much, and not in a healthy way.
For me, the realisation that I needed to change occurred somewhere in 2018, ironically around the time that The Boundaries of Sanity was in the works. It had been a challenging few years, with a lot of ups and downs. Workwise I hadn’t yet found my footing, and I didn’t know where I was going with my life.
I had been going through a lot of mood swings and general anxiety, possibly triggered by some medication I was on, but somehow this opened my eyes to this persistent problem, that when I thought about it, had likely always been there.
My entire day would be positive and negative based on feedback I received from outside myself. If my boss didn’t tell me I did a great job, I wouldn’t feel it was great. If my partner didn’t compliment me, I didn’t look good. I felt unsure and insecure, and doubted what I had to offer the world. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew it wasn’t good.
So I sought help.
From my psychologist, I learned that by placing my own self-worth in the hands of others, I was setting myself up to fail.
I realised that all along, I had been placing my own self-worth in the hands of my partners. I put up with more than I should have, because I did not have enough confidence to stand up for my opinions and preferences.
Now I have good days and bad days. There are still some days I slip into that bad habit of looking to others for approval. However, I try and catch myself, and correct course. I am lucky enough to have avoided the mistakes that my protagonist has made.
There are pieces of me in that woman, who digs around for her sense of worthlessness, who sees herself as flawed and gross in every single way. She was born in some of my darkest moments and embodies some of my deepest fears. In a way, that part of myself is a security blanket I retreat into, when the outside world is too frightening.
I have moments where I am right back there again, in front of the mirror in the darkness, feeling my sense of self crumble to dust. I have times where I want to undo everything and redo it as a better, smarter, more evolved, healthier person. I have times I wonder if I even have the faintest idea how to be a well-adjusted functioning adult.
For the most part, I’ve managed to quench this need for reassurance, and feel comfortable in my own skin. Writing, meditation and plenty of exercise and sleep help me maintain my inner balance.
My protagonist, with her deep dark secret will struggle further, and she’s got it a lot worse than I do. Will she overcome it? Is there any hope for her? You’ll have to read it to find out!
The Boundaries of Sanity is available on Kindle or downloadable on Kindle app on any device.