How to Like Yourself After a Series of Failed Relationships

Training the mind to see one’s own inherent worth can  go a long way in recovery.

So often, I see that people, who have done their best in a failed  relationship,  fall in self-esteem. The person might have tried hard, wanted to maintain the connection, and yet it did not work out.  Despite the best of intentions, the one left behind ends up not liking……..oneself. 

You would think it would be the other way around. The one who walked away or behaved badly should be on the receiving end of the dislike. Yet, it is so often toward the self that the negativism is most deeply directed.

I have six suggestions for you as a way of resurrecting a positive self-image after relationships fail:

First, take the courageous inventory of your part in the breakup. If you were behaving in destructive ways, admit this, know what is destructive about your behavior and take steps to change. You even can begin to forgive yourself for your own part in the break-up.

Second, if you did not contribute to the relationship’s demise, own that thought. We are used to hearing that it takes two to ruin a relationship, but that just is not the case. Sometimes one person can independently destroy what the other has tried to build. If you did not contribute to the destruction of the relationship, start to admit this to yourself. You were not perfect in the relationship because no one is. Yet, imperfection itself is not necessarily a cause for the actual destruction of a partnership.

Third, if you tried your best, then realize that you are not to blame for another’s difficulties or weaknesses. The other is free to make misfortunate decisions, even if these decisions hurt both of you.

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs
Fourth, try to practice toward yourself the idea of inherent worth. You have value, inestimable value, as a person because you are special, unique, and irreplaceable in this world. This worth is unconditional, not earned as some kind of reward for good behavior.

A strictly biological perspective can show you this. For example, you have unique DNA so that when your time in this world is through, there never will be another person exactly like you on this earth……ever. You are…..special…..unique…..and irreplaceable. People with certain religious viewpoints can go beyond the biological to the transcendent and say, “God loves me” or “I am made in the image and likeness of God.” In other words, you are…..special……unique……and irreplaceable.

Fifth, begin to practice this idea that you have inherent or built-in worth. You can do this by extending this knowledge to others first and then to you. For example, as you pass people on the street, you can think: “This person has built-in worth that cannot be earned. That person over there may have weaknesses, but this does not detract from having worth. I, too, share this in common with them. I, too, have inherent worth.”

Sixth and finally, once you have strengthened the idea that you are a person of inherent worth, then apply that knowledge to yourself in the context of the past relationship(s): Despite the fact that this failed, I have worth. I am not defined by the success or failure of a relationship. I am more than that relationship. I will continue to be special, unique, and irreplaceable regardless of that outcome.

Be aware that you want to keep such thoughts in balance so that you do not degenerate into narcissism.  The point of growing in the knowledge of inherent worth is not to puff yourself up relative to others.  In fact, a clear understanding of inherent worth should be a guard against narcissism. Why? It is because the idea of inherent worth levels the playing field of life. If we all have inherent worth, then all of us have value, even if some make more money or have more talent or whatever separates us. We are united in this: We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.


                          “We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.”                                                                                                    Robert Enright


As one more caution, avoid using the thought of inherent worth to perpetuate nonsense. For example, suppose you have a gambling habit that seriously depletes the family’s funds. You do not then want to proclaim your inherent worth to yourself so that you can continue the nonsense. Yes, we all may have inherent worth, but we all are imperfect and need to work on our character flaws as we retain that sense of worth.

We are more than our actions. We are more than others’ rejection  of us. We possess a worth that is unconditional. No one can take that away from us, even those who walk away from a relationship that could have been great for both of you. Hold out the hope that the next person also sees inherent worth in those with whom there is a committed relationship. One of the best ways to have a stable ongoing relationship, it seems to me, is to find a like-minded person who understands the importance of inherent worth and sees this very clearly in the self and in you.

Robert

This blog was originally posted on the Psychology Today website on Nov. 8, 2018.

My mother refuses to accept my forgiveness. I am an adult who lives away from home now. She denies any neglect even though both my brother and I carry scars from her inattention when we were growing up. My brother and I carefully have examined this issue and we are in agreement about the unfairness. How do we get my mother to see this?

It never is too late to establish affectionate relationships.  You do see that what happened with your mother has damaged your trust and this an important insight. If you start to forgive your mother now, this is a start with establishing trust more generally.  Forgiveness itself does not necessarily engender trust, but it does make one open to trust because, if others fail you, at least you begin to realize that you have a way of confronting and overcoming resentment—through forgiving them.

In other words, forgiveness is a safety net against the wounds of others.  So, I would recommend that you start to cultivate a sense of forgiveness toward your mother and, when you are ready, be open to others, knowing that any unfairness on their part will not lead to a crushing resentment within you as you practice forgiveness in these new situations and relationships.

For additional information, see How to Forgive.

I am forgiving my boss for harsh language about a month ago.  Now this week he is dumping all kinds of work on me with unrealistic deadlines.  Can I forgive him for both of these issues at the same time or is it better to take one at a time?

If the boss has a pattern of unjust behaviors, then you can forgive for the pattern itself rather than take each incident one at a time. If there are only two incidents as you describe, I would recommend forgiving the boss two times, for each discrete incident.  It will be less complicated if you separate the two.  Yet, if these two are part of a pattern, it may be better to forgive for the pattern so you do not have to forgive the boss 10 or 20 or 50 times.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I forgave someone a year ago, but I still have these random moments in which I feel some anger.  What is my next step here?

When we forgive, the anger does not necessarily go away completely.  This does not necessarily imply that you have not forgiven.  Are you in control of that anger or is the anger controlling you?  You say the anger comes “randomly.”  How often does this happen?  If it occurs infrequently, say once a month, then I think you have forgiven and are experiencing the natural and imperfect parts of being hurt and forgiving.  If the anger is more intense and comes more frequently, say once a week, then I recommend going back through the forgiveness process with this person.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness

Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous  political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”

While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the AntichristThe Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.

Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
Desmond Tutu


The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa.  This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.” 

I have been divorced for 10 years. I can honestly say that I no longer have what you call “toxic anger” toward my ex-spouse. I never actually engaged in the forgiveness process. I kind of just let it go and the anger went away, too. Do you think I still need to consider forgiveness?

A researcher, Judith Wallerstein, did a longitudinal study of divorced people and she found that, even 10 years after divorce, many people still were fuming with anger.  This does not seem to be the case for you. If you carefully examine your level of anger, including the possibility that you are not denying the depth of your anger, then it is possible that you have, as you say, moved on without excessive anger.  If, on the other hand, the anger should again surface for you, then you do have the possibility of beginning the forgiveness process.  It never is too late to forgive if you think you need to do this.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.
Learn more about Wallerstein’s Research on Divorce.

How can you create a forgiving community for oppressed people? Don’t you first have to validate the injustices by solving them? Forgiveness without such validity seems weak.

One can validate oppression by acknowledging it and calling it what it is: unfair.  One can own one’s legitimate anger over the oppression.  Yet, if one waits to actually solve the injustice before forgiving, then those who are oppressing win twice: once with original and ongoing oppression and second by having the oppressed people living under a constant state of unhealthy anger or resentment. That resentment, over time, might be so strong as to destroy individuals and families within that oppressed community.  Forgiveness without a correction of the injustice at the very least solves that one problem of destructive resentment.

Learn more at Healing Hearts, Building Peace.