Today, I’m going to write a little bit about something I may have realised about myself once or twice before, but that I somehow discovered again recently, and quite vividly so. I love it when that happens, when all of a sudden, the chaos finally seems to make sense (again) and the cloudy confusion makes way for some much-anticipated clarity. These moments are usually so crystal clear that I think that I’ll remember the wisdom they brought upon me until the end of time – but alas, I almost always forget. Which is why I’m quite proud of myself to have written it all down this time around.
Lately, I was reminded once again that I often feel “less than” or like I don’t belong because I’m not good/smart/witty/cool/… enough in social situations. What it generally means, however, is that I need to work on my self-esteem and that I’m actually already an adequate enough person for most (social) settings, but I’m not yet convinced of that myself, either because I still don’t really believe in myself or because my belief system is still anchored in a place that prevents me from living up to my potential – old habits die hard. This isn’t to say that I’m not working on the issue, but it’s true that the past years – or should I say, the pandemic – left a mark on me: sadly, a lot of social settings were cancelled and are still not taking place, and if they are, they carry the risk of me catching Covid and thus double my anxiety about them. I’m a little out of practice and extra-avoidant, to say the least.
What’s interesting is that I’ve felt inadequate and afraid to speak up about what I need and want in family settings as well, to the point that I didn’t always share all the things I would have liked to share, even as an adult, for fear of being belittled or having my feelings invalidated. Ideas that digressed from what was expected of me or the children of the family were usually dismissed with claims that we – the kids – didn’t know anything about the real world and that we should just replace our stupid ideas with the grown-ups’ smart proposals about how we should live our lives. There wasn’t a lot of room for mistakes, which isn’t to say that we didn’t make any – I, for my part, made plenty! I just felt (and feel) a lot of shame around them.
This little detour to the past allows me to fast-forward to the 34th year of my life (when did I get this old?). I know a lot more than I did back then and I have a vast understanding of my feelings, where they come from and why they’re there most of the time – which is a blessing and a curse.
Now, on to the realisation I announced at the beginning of this post:
When looking for people to date, I have a tendency to choose those that make me feel unsettled and even a little unsafe, emotionally speaking: those that I’m not comfortable (enough) around to speak my mind freely and without fear of them belittling and judging me, even after having known them for a while. In short, I pick the people that make me feel the same way as I often did as a kid: not good enough, a little bit small and stupid and “less than” – like I need to prove that I am, in fact, worthy of being chosen and loved.
In the end, I often end up having my feelings invalidated in all kinds of situations, being belittled and talked to in a condescending and/or patronising way. I then struggle to set boundaries because of the (sometimes minor, but still) backlash or judgment I often get from the other person as a result, and because I’m all of a sudden not so sure whether my boundaries even make sense, because I feel inadequate.
When I was younger, I experienced bullying on multiple occasions, to the point that going to school, where the bullies were, made me feel queasy. I remember that the advice that I was given by adults was to “rise above” and to simply not give in to the bullying. So, I tried hard not to let the bullies see how much pain they were causing me or how embarrassed I was and instead pretended that I was completely indifferent to how they were treating me, suppressing my tears – while they were hitting me on the head with plastic bottles and breaking my little teenage heart. What I learned from this and many other questionable situations is that if I just “levelled up”, everything would turn out alright.
And that’s the belief I still unconsciously hold today. Whenever I feel “unsafe” or small in any given situation, the little voice inside my head tells me that it’s because I need to level up. I need to do better and be better and then things will be alright. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember – if I feel unsettled or squirmy or emotionally unsafe with someone else, it must be because I need to do better!
This might explain why, in addition to feeling unsettled, I also feel challenged whenever I’m not at ease in a social setting. Now, this may not always be a bad thing and occasionally very necessary in order to do some needed level-upping, but I feel the same challenge in situations that aren’t beneficial and potentially even harmful to my well-being and that would actually require someone else to level up.
The aforementioned challenge is a very intense feeling of “being activated” (= starting the level-up process) after a trigger (= not feeling good enough) and can be very easily confused with the feeling of attraction, which is why I’m certain I’ve mistaken it for the latter on many occasions.
Is it attraction? Is it me settling in an uncomfortable but very familiar situation? Am I feeling (rightfully) challenged? And: should I accept the challenge (= is it worth it)?
Sometimes it’s not me. Sometimes it’s them.