For many years, I would tell my husband that I did not feel I was worthy of him. In fact, I told him repeatedly that I was "garbage". The truth was that I honestly felt I was completely worthless and that he deserved a "better" wife than me. I didn't just tell him that once when I was depressed, but many, many times over the course of years.
I can't remember the last time that I told him I was garbage, but it wasn't that long ago. It was, as little as a year ago, perhaps as "far" back as two years ago, but lately I've been thinking about the concepts and talk about self-esteem. The aspects of it I've been considering are how we form it, how it affects our behavior, and why we lose it or gain it. Obviously, I'm hardly the self-esteem queen, though I've certainly got more of it than I used to.
One of the things about the way I saw myself in the past was that, when my husband told me I was valuable, it was an utterly abstract concept to me. I could not relate to that label at all and couldn't see how it fit into the psychological puzzle of me. Sure, he loved me a lot and wanted to be with me despite my body size. He would tell me about all of the things he admired or found attractive in me, but I didn't see those things as adding value to me as an individual. I rationalized away all of the good points, and filtered them through my daily experiences.
The impact of the daily poor treatment a fat person receives cannot be overestimated. When you are ridiculed, pointed at, laughed at, and spoken about as if you had no more comprehension of how people are regarding you than a fish does of a fisherman, you begin to accept that you are somehow less than others. Being objectified makes you feel like an object. Being treated like a worthless object makes you feel worthless. Being treated like an object that deserves to be scorned and ridiculed makes you feel like garbage.
My self-esteem didn't start to find a way out of its deep, dark hole because I lost weight and found myself a new image. It managed to slowly climb out because the abuse that kept knocking it back down slowed and eventually stopped as a result of losing weight. A lot of people who do fat advocacy writing talk about loving yourself and confidence and how the world will treat you with respect if you project respect for yourself, but that's a load of bull cookies. There really are only two roads out of the garbage pail. One is to lose weight so the emotional battering stops and the other is to build up an attitude or defensive wall such that you don't allow yourself to be dragged back down by the abuse heaped on you. Confidence will not stop the abuse.
One of the things that happened as my self-esteem revived was that I started to have problems in my relationship with my husband. When I viewed myself as garbage and unworthy of him, I constantly repressed my own wishes and desires. I felt I didn't deserve any better and I placed my needs last. Whatever he wanted, he got, but not because he insisted. I just gave way. As I lost weight, a two-pronged problem emerged. I lost food as a support mechanism and I started to assert my needs more strongly.
I would say that I was "needier" than before because of the stresses of the psychological changes I was going through, but I don't think that is actually true. I think that my overall level of "neediness" was the same, but just handled differently. Before, I repressed my pains with food and hated myself or I fulfilled the gaping hole of my "need" with food. Now, I felt my pain and demanded that I be cared for. My husband's needs competed with mine and we had a horrible few years as a result. He wasn't used to having to balance his needs against mine because I felt so unworthy of him that I never questioned that he should always come first and I wasn't used to having him not meet my needs completely. Of course, he had to now do heavier duty. Food no longer shared the burden with him.
My husband and I worked through these issues. It was a long and complex process of reaching some understanding about how we were both going to change which would require a book to write so I can't go into it in this blog post. Suffice it to say, I need a bit less and he's much better at meeting the needs I have now. I can see, however, how women losing weight often crushes their relationships. My husband and I are at least two standard deviations from normal in terms of our devotion to each other and our level of communication, and this put a strain on us. People in more average relationships would be hard-pressed to survive the transition.
Now that I have some self-esteem, I've reached some realizations about how I interacted with people before. I'm not only talking about my husband, but everyone. Just as I suppressed my needs in favor of those of his, I also did it for others. Since I saw myself as fundamentally flawed and unworthy, I felt others always should come first and that I was "lucky" if they overlooked my body and were friends with me at all. This theme is not new to this blog nor to me. However, recently, my fledgling self-esteem has made me realize how vulnerable I was before.
Part of feeling like garbage is that you feel you deserve to be treated in whatever manner people choose to treat you. You deserve no better, after all. I gave people access to the best part of me and asked that they do nothing in return. In fact, in some cases, I allowed them to treat me poorly as I helped them. It never occurred to me that knowing me was a privilege, not a right, and that anyone who treated me badly deserved to lose that privilege. I wasn't special. I was lucky they associated with me at all.
I have realized after difficulties with my in-laws that I am special and that they are lucky that I associate with them. I was a good person before and I'm that same person now. I'm kind, warm, engaging, and an excellent conversationalist. I help people who need help without expectation of return, but in the past I've allowed them to treat me poorly and I would still help them. I convinced myself that I did this because I was the better person, but it was actually because I thought that I deserved no better. If I was garbage, then I was lucky anyone kept me around rather than throwing me out.
Part of my coping with my in-laws situation as described in the previous post is that I've decided to limit their access to me. What is more, I've decided that when I am with them to share less of the best me with them. I will be socially appropriate and kind. I will still act in accord with my values, but the part that gives and shares warmly and generously is being put carefully in a box so that I can protect myself from their issues and the pain they can inflict on me. I'm not doing this because they are awful people and I want to punish them by taking away my glorious self. Frankly, I think they are not bad people, but just lacking in awareness of how their actions affect others due to their insular lifestyle and lack of social experience. I even feel sorry for them in some ways, but now that I have some sense of my own worth, I am going to treat myself as something too valuable to be damaged.