I Matter. Yes, I Do.

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves–there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. -Joan Didion

Whenever I talk about boundaries, I warn people about how others will “up the ante” when we try to set a boundary. This “upping the ante” has to do with others being uncomfortable with our boundary and not knowing exactly how to deal with the “new” us. We are showing a new and different person and those who are not used to it, even if they have our greatest interest in mind, react — many times unconsciously — by trying to get us back to the person they know and the typical interactions we have. When we “do better” or set a boundary or start taking better care of ourselves or become more assertive or change in positive ways, we may make others uncomfortable…unknowing how to respond to us. We also might get this reaction from our own selves. We know we should be doing these things but it makes us a bit uncomfortable. It’s new, it’s different. It’s SCARY.

These “get back where you belong” messages, tell us to get back to where we were before. The place where we’re not good enough, where there are things wrong with us. Where we don’t have boundaries, goals, ambitions. Where we don’t say no. Where we put our needs last. Etc, etc, etc. These messages tell us we’re not good enough or there are x number of things wrong with us. These “get back where you belong” messages, either from ourselves or others, serve to undermine us in our quest for change.

It is these internal messages that we listen for in our “observation” of ourselves and others. It is these messages we work to change in our affirmations. We work to change them in our “preparation” and we change them by continually cultivating the positive.

By doing our work, we not only build our self-respect, but we stop twisting in the wind at the behest of others and their opinions of us. We take back our own lives by caring, not about what others think of us, but what we think of us. We begin to measure our worth by own own yardstick and not the ever changing yardstick of others. We take back our own lives and answer to ourselves.

My earliest recollection as a child was that the “bad people” were coming to get me. I was about 4 or 5 and used to wake up at night with night terrors. I was in foster care. I was in foster care for 8 years. My message was my biological mother didn’t want me enough to take me home and didn’t care enough to let me go. She kept me spinning in a pattern. My foster/adoptive parents were considered “too old” to adopt me and yet they kept fighting for it until they wore down the Catholic Charities who had difficulty placing me anyway because I was getting “too old” for adoption by another couple.

Yet when my adoption was final, my adoptive (alcoholic) father left the home (the marriage had been horrible for years) and my adoptive mother became unbelievably abusive. As the only adopted child in a family of biological children, guess who was the scapegoat?

Can you say abandonment issues?

Can you say abuse issues?

Can you say validation issues?

I wanted to MATTER.

I wanted someone, somewhere, somehow to say that God’s green earth was a better place because I was in it….but until *I* said it, no one else said it.

During my teenage years I gravitated toward abusive, abandoning boys. This kept “the” struggle, MY struggle alive, convinced that I would one day be the victor over it.

The trouble was that I gravitated toward WHAT I KNEW .

I wound up in abusive relationships over and over again and was, as Stephen Levine says, “surprised by the same old thing.”

Over and over again.

When I left my last abusive relationship with a man who was cheating on me, I had no self-esteem and was scraping the bottom of the proverbial self-respect barrel.

I not only didn’t like myself, I HATED myself. For years I was told I was worthless and meaningless and I believed it.

But slowly and with a great amount of effort–affirmations and journaling–I was able to slowly change my opinion of myself and start to say to myself, despite all evidence to the contrary by others, that I mattered.

And for a long time, I was the lonely (small) voice in the wilderness saying (whispering) “I matter.” (I think).

I had to free myself of what others expected of me and tune into what I expected of me. In the beginning it was just to survive from day to day. I had no grand expectations. The thoughts of becoming a therapist, a motivational speaker, a lawyer were the furthest things from my mind.

Those things only came over the years as I expanded my comfort zones and my frames of reference.

In the beginning, my work was simply to stop trying to please others, stop trying to be that foster kid who wanted to be adopted (pick me! I’ll be perfect! I promise!) and who rebelled, often in self-destructive ways, when I didn’t get picked or I was picked by the wrong people.

It was going to be a long, uphill battle from where I was, but it had to be done. I had to start telling myself I was worth something and to stop trying to live up to others’ expectations of me. The others in my life would never be happy anyway.

I had to tell myself that it only mattered if I was happy with me. I affirmed this several hundred times a day..I had to nurture and give wings to that tiny voice inside me that said “I matter.”

When that voice took hold and gained strength, other people, healthy people started to be attracted to me, as friends, as lovers, as people who CARED about me. Until I cared about me, no one else did. As soon as I did, others came along to lighten the load.

When I started to believe that I mattered, the abusive and abandoning people fell away and healthy people, started to see it/think it too…damn, she does matter. Caring about yourself, above all else, is the gift that keeps on giving. The paradox of self-love is that it brings MORE love from others. The paradox about being self-sufficient is that giving people come into your life. The paradox about not needing anyone is that wonderful people come along to help you.

When I left that abusive relationship, my youngest son was 4 years old and I learned what happy and healthy was and raised my children in a fairly healthy environment…I let them know that self matters and self-respect matters and not to sell their souls for the expectations of others. When he was 18, my youngest son gave me a card that read: “ I know a woman of strength and beauty. I have watched her for years.” Inside it said, “She is my mother.”

I know the words by heart because I’ve read it hundreds of times and have recently framed it. All of my children have send similar ones over the years.

But without my self-esteem, without the years I worked on myself and cared about what I thought, that card would not have been possible.

By freeing myself of the expectations of dysfunctional others, by insisting that I matter, others, the most important others, think so too.

Nothing is really possible without thinking that you matter. That you are important. That you are worth it (“it” being care and effort from others). You cannot be healthy and happy without knowing that you matter. My parents may have thrown me away, abandoned me and abused me, but I fought the fight to say, “I matter.” And my family knows it, my friends know it, the world knows it. I was married to a man who thought that the world was a better place because I was in it. And he thought that every single day from the day we met until the day he passed away. And he was the most wonderful human being I’ve ever known. If I could secure the love of such an incredible person, it was because–AND ONLY BECAUSE–I knew I mattered.

You can rise above the old messages, the destructive messages…the patterns…whether from yourself or others…and give yourself the one truth that you need to know in order to make any change happen…and that truth is simply this: “I Matter.” Say it. Own It. Believe It.

Because you do.

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8 Responses to I Matter. Yes, I Do.

  1. Court says:

    I crumbled into little pieces reading this because it hit so close to home. I have never believed I mattered. I’ve been told this point blank to my face by my mother, other family members, and ex boyfriends.

    It is such a difficult perception to change when I’ve spent most of my 40 years regarding myself as “not good enough” and “less than.”

    I am adding “I Matter” to my affirmations. I think it is going to be much more powerful than my usual, “I am ok.” I want it to sink in, I want to believe it.

    • Wildwood says:

      Me too, Court. This has come as an a-ha moment to me, in conjunction with a conversation with my mother tonight. It really upset me, but I had an insight afterwards – that she does not see me as a separate individual to her. No wonder I’ve never felt that I mattered. That insight and reading this post left me in floods of tears. I’m going to work on building up that little voice that says that I matter and that my wants and needs are as important as anyone else’s – more important, to me. And I’m 40 too and sad that I’m only now having this revelation. It feels like a huge task to change this, but so helpful to read that it’s possible, through steadily doing the work.

      • Court says:

        It makes me so sad too that I am having this revelation at this late age. We’re in this together! I hope it comforts you in a small way that you are not alone in this endeavor.

        • Wildwood says:

          Thank you, Court. Yes, it is comforting to know I’m not the only one – not that I’d want anyone else to face all this! I’d like to stay in touch – it sounds like we’re in similar places on the journey. Let me know if that’s OK and I’ll ask Susan to send you my email.

  2. mormongirl says:

    I think I’ll add “I matter” to my affirmations, too! I just had a beautiful baby girl 3 weeks ago, and my estranged husband refuses to see her. He is bipolar. This is all so hard. I thought we were a forever family.

  3. just_me says:

    I spent most of last night letting this sink in. I matter! What I want, what I need, my opinion, my thoughts all matter! I have been pushed to the side, disregarded, over looked and unappreciated for way to long. I have done it to myself, have allowed others to do it to me & that all stops now!

    I MATTER & finally I believe it!

  4. s95814 says:

    I just read this post. The first thing that comes to mind is I have spent my entire life feeling like I wasn’t good enough. My alcoholic father abandoned me when I was about 5. I reconnected with him again when I was 16, only to have him abandon me again. I wanted his approval so badly, I wanted him in my life more than anything for me, for my children, so I tried again when I was 23. We had a nice conversation but it went no further than that. He had rejected me again. When I was 24, I set out to find him again…I got lazy with my search and put it off. One month later, I got a phone call from his ex wife informing me he had died. He was hunting and was stung by a bee. His epipen had expired and he went into cardiac arrest and died. And that was it. All those years of wanting him to love me, needing his approval – were gone just like that. I would never have that. I would never get what I wanted from him.

    To make matters worse, I showed up at his funeral surrounded by all my relatives and my three half sisters (from his first marriage), and the whispers couldn’t have been more obvious. I was pulled aside by my half-sister and she handed me a photo-copy of a hand written note and some pictures of me as a baby. She said Dad had these in his belongings and we (meaning her and her sisters) thought I should have them. She walked away and left me there. I stood there and couldn’t believe what I was reading, it was his will. Of which, he probably wrote in one of his drunken stupors. I will never forget reading the words: “I love my three daughters (and he named each one) more than anything and I’m sorry for hurting them and their mother who was the love of my life”. Whoa. Talk about pain. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I cried all the way home, which was a 3 hour drive.

    I guess my question is: Is this the reason I get so attached to these BHs? The reason why I can’t let go and hold on with a vice grip, allowing unacceptable behavior over and over, ignoring red flags – all for the sake of trying to win their love and approval? This has to be it, right? I know in my heart that I don’t love my recent BH, I honestly think I fell out of love with him long ago, before our relationship even ended. He became a lying, cheating a-hole. Heck, maybe he always was a lying, cheating a-hole, and I never saw the red flag!? But the fact that he rejected me and has moved on and is with someone else absolutely drives me crazy at times. Is this me somehow living out the struggle with my dad with BH!? I have done this my whole life, with every BH. Maybe it isn’t them…maybe it’s me!? I’m so confused right now. I just want to fix it. I don’t ever want to go through this again.

    Sorry for the rant…

    • Susan J. Elliott says:

      Trying to matter is one of the biggest reasons to become attached to BHs. It’s a struggle you want to win and you pick the most challenging people ever.

      It’s not you. And don’t apologize for the rant! Rant away! You’re in good company here.

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