The Power We Give Away: The Importance of Defining Yourself

The World of Dating

I was going through a break-up when I was in therapy with Eileen. I told her that a girl had broken up with me without giving me any indicator of why. Things seemed to have been going so well and, out of the blue, she dumped me. I came into treatment on one hot spring day feeling like shit about myself, believing that I already knew why she ended it, despite not having conclusive evidence. Eileen looked at me with a stern face and asked, “Why do you give this girl so much power?”

I peered at her stunned! Because truthfully, I didn’t understand her question. How did I give her power? Didn’t she already have it without my having to afford it? Didn’t this girl, who knew me all of a few months, inherently possess the ability to assess whether or not I was good enough, for her or anyone else I could possibly desire? What a silly question… Of course she already had the power. I mean, she’s her…

But what did any of that really mean?

Eileen’s question sent me a journey, in which I hoped to discover the actual source of my misery. “How did I give her the power to define me?”

Unconscious Lives

Most of our lives are spent living automatically; we just sort of do and feel things, without ever asking why. And much of my romantic life encompassed this way of being. When I felt hurt or was rejected, I always took it personally; for I couldn’t resolve how it could not have been about me. But Eileen, in her best impression of Socrates, presented me with a question which implied the reality of what I was doing; I realized that I, and only I, had the ability to perceive, and thus accept or reject, my whole self, not her; and, really, not anyone else, either.

Unfortunately, most of us live our lives allowing seemingly superior others to define us: academic institutions, careers, highly-prized mates, material wealth, etc… Self-esteem becomes conditional, and nowhere is this more commonly found than in dating; we live and die with each text, call, like, and ghost. In essence, we give others (possessions and titles included) a level of control over us that frighteningly mimics drug-addiction.

Discovering My Worth

Eventually, I told Eileen that I wasn’t sure why I gave that girl the power to define me, but that it seemed so natural to. I figured if I was worth anything, she must have known. Eileen responded by saying that it was possible for someone to simply not be ready for what I was looking for; and with that remark, I acknowledged my perpetual pattern of taking breakups too personally.

As therapy went on, Eileen helped me see my worth through an exploration of my values and the revelation of her admiration for my openness and willingness to be myself. I realized that that girl missed out. But also, that I missed out, too.

When we think about value, and I mean deeply think about it, we inevitably accept that we’re the only ones who possess the power to create ourselves and our self-perceptions. When I explored my own values, I examined how many of them I was trying to live up to. And for me, this exercise was enough to feel good about myself. Additionally, I recalled all of the girls who saw me, or at least the best parts of me, and liked me for who I was; and I reminded myself of all of the aspects that I had to continue to improve.

At this point, rejection still hurts but not like it used to. There are still times when I shy away from taking risks, but the days of devastation are long gone, or at least that’s what I hope for.

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