It’s not that I wasn’t confident, I just didn’t feel good enough.
Not athletic enough, curvy enough, skinny enough, sexy enough, womanly enough…enough enough.
Suffice it to say, after I left my abusive relationship, I don’t know what I was – but I definitely wasn’t enough.
Wasn’t enough for the guy at my office to ask me out, or for me to feel like I was going to be okay on my own.
My struggle to feel okay again after that relationship ended didn’t make sense to anyone – other than my friends with personal knowledge in emotional trauma.
It was hard for people to understand why I was so upset. “but he was mean to you, why aren’t you over him?” is a question I heard from my parents and friends. It’s a question I asked my best friend years ago, and one I will never have to ask again after truly comprehending the complex, embarrassing answer.
Looking back on the journal entries I wrote in 2014, it was bad.
November 3, 2014
Last night was full of nightmare-esque dreams and thoughts. I contemplated suicide and calling him. It has been 4 months and the pain is still so fresh.
Don’t tell me “but you’re so beautiful, how could someone like you be suicidal?” honestly, do you think looks are the only thing in the world that matters?
It’s not like beautiful women never experience pain, heartache, or feeling like they lost everything. Plus, when the person you loved most in the world criticized your body, it kinda leaves you questioning whether or not you’re attractive ENOUGH to keep someone interested.
My self esteem was shot, even though when I smiled for pictures I still embodied the essence of youthful confidence.
So what do you do when you’re close to the cultural ideal of beauty, but not quite there?
My mind was twisted by him. He got me to believe things about myself that simply weren’t true. Maybe for you, your thoughts were twisted by your mom, your best friend, or most likely someone you dated who was a complete jerk.
These twisted beliefs manifest into struggling with body image, disordered eating, and even self medication. In my experience, no one ONLY has body image issues.
I wasn’t just having a hard time liking the way I looked, I was having a hard time believing anyone else would love me.
He trained me to fight for his approval.
In every possible aspect of who I was as a person, he made my shortcomings known.
According to him, the music I liked was “terrible.” What I made for dinner was “just okay.” He even criticized the food I ate, saying it was unhealthy even though he lived off Nescafe instant coffee, Toblerone, and beer.
Then, he said it made him feel “uncomfortable” when I would exercise in front of him. Like, I was trying to look good for other guys. He didn’t let me go to the gym with him because he didn’t want other guys to see me working out. Everything about my body was being watched, criticized, and controlled.
Every decision I made let him down one way or another. And if I ever did make an actual, honest to God mistake, I really paid for it.
When I got out from under his influence, the criticizing didn’t stop.
Every choice I made, I questioned. If I ever screwed anything up, the feeling of failure flooded my thoughts to a point where I’d breakdown.
I remember the first week after moving to Minneapolis, just months after leaving him.
I rented an apartment with one of my best friends, Ryan, who is sharing his experience related to body struggles on a blog here.
He asked to cook dinner together, a pretty simple request. He is one of the best chefs I know and bought all these fancy ingredients to make a killer bacon mac & cheese.
But I found myself feeling very nervous to help him. Since I was trained to believe I couldn’t do things, I was subconsciously expecting some criticism at some point. Or, at the very least, to mess part of it up.
Ryan was excited though, so I agreed and asked what I could do to help.
“Cook that bacon, puhhhlease!” he half sang, half chanted.
Ryan and I are always joking around, saying things in weird voices, and generally having a blast. Being around him felt different after leaving Chicago. I was guarded, afraid to joke around just in case he didn’t think what I said was funny.
Later, I realized I was still walking on egg shells even though I wasn’t around the guy who berated me for breaking them.
So when Ryan hilariously asked me to cook the bacon – I did it very cautiously.
That’s when things got interesting…
We had quite a few things going in our small kitchen. Noodles boiling, bacon sizzling, and a simmering cheese sauce Ryan was making from scratch.
The cheese smelled fantastic and I was actually starting to unwind and relax a little.
“Yeah, that’s ready to be strained,” Ryan commented.
So I quickly grabbed a colander, placed it in the sink, and dumped the bacon into colander – straining the grease.
“Oh,” Ryan commented innocently, “I meant the pasta, but that works, too!”
How could you be so stupid, obviously he didn’t mean strain the BACON into the sink! Who strains BACON?? You ruined everything. I told myself.
“Oh…I’m sorry, I didn’t know you meant,” I began.
Ryan quickly cut me off, “Hey, man, it doesn’t matter. I guess we kinda had to do that anyway, right?” he laughed.
My mind went numb.
I was preparing myself to get yelled at, to be ridiculed, and to be called names. I even started doing it to myself out of habit.
Ryan didn’t do any of those things, he shrugged it off and turned back to his cheese sauce.
He isn’t even mad. I realized.
“Uhh, I’ll be right back,” I said as I hurried to my bedroom and closed the door. I had to leave because I was suddenly crying.
Not because I was upset with myself, but because Ryan wasn’t upset with me.
I had to take a minute and let the built up adrenaline out of my system because I wasn’t being yelled at.
That was the moment I realized the relationship did a whole lot more to me than I thought. You know it’s bad when you’re surprised someone didn’t call you a bitch for straining bacon grease instead of pasta water.
Picking up the pieces.
I had to start with really small things.
Things as simple as straining pasta, apparently, because I didn’t trust myself to do anything right anymore.
Which was very strange, because before I met him I was on track to graduate from college a year early, I was a state champion in speech, and I just ran a marathon.
It was very clear I was capable of doing things, impressive things.
Looking back, I’m sure that’s why he tried convincing me I wasn’t capable of doing anything. Because he believed if I was capable, he would be seen as less capable.
Even when I did something “right” he would make up some way I could’ve done it better. It was awful and the more I think back on it now, the more I realize just how bad it really was.
I realize you might be in a relationship like this right now.
That might be what’s feeding your struggle with body image and self confidence.
When someone you care about is telling you everything you’re doing wrong, it creates emotional trauma.
Sometimes it’s a romantic relationship, but it doesn’t have to be. You know who it is, it’s the person you’re afraid to screw up in front of.
The person you can never seem to please, no matter what you do.
They’re the reason you’re struggling with body image. It has NOTHING to do with the way your body actually looks.
So when I realized my brain was auto correcting to tell me all the things I was doing wrong, I knew I needed to make a change.
I started with one simple thing, my singing voice.
I love to sing, but anytime music was playing – he started singing and telling me how good of a singer he was. If I ever sang along, he pointed out that he was better than me. I didn’t want to seem conceited, but I personally thought he wasn’t good at all…
So I looked at the facts.
Because that was the only way I could convince myself who was right – and if I could trust my instincts.
When I sing karaoke, strangers come up to me and tell me I have a good voice. I was in honors choir in high school, won contests, and got leading roles in musicals.
And on the other hand, some guy I dated from Chicago told me I wasn’t that good, and between the two of us he was “definitely a better singer.”
So who should I believe? One narcissist or everyone else who has heard me sing?
I looked at the facts, and they told me I WAS a good singer.
So I started singing again.
I needed to show myself and decide FOR myself if I liked my singing voice. For so long, I let other people tell me what was good and bad about me. I didn’t want to be delusional and try and “be something I wasn’t” but in the process of trying to avoid being conceited… I gave other people the power to define who I was.
You can start training your thoughts like this by using a mantra or affirmation. If you’ve never done this before, I put together a guide to help you out. You can get a copy here.
My biggest takeaway from realizing the depth of my emotional trauma is that your beliefs are sacred. If you aren’t convinced in your beliefs, you’re opening the door to let others influence you.
And some people don’t have your best interest at heart.
You have to examine your beliefs, test them, clear out beliefs that do not serve you, and then fiercely protect your chosen beliefs.
That’s how I healed my emotional trauma, damaged confidence, and low body image. I call it The Mindfulness Method.
What about you? Is there something you feel you’re not allowed to do or be anymore because you’re letting negative people influence your beliefs?