Years ago, while sitting across from my therapist, processing the latest relationship disaster that rendered me a pathetic heap of self-loathing, she explained a pattern that dramatically shifted my understanding and turned me at least in the direction of healing.
Most people, she explained, spend their lives trying to disprove a set of mistaken core beliefs about self, those acquired in earliest childhood: 'I’m unlovable, unworthy, undeserving' of this, that or the other thing. It's what drives toward achieving things like good grades, awards, degrees and certificates. The crazy part is, at the same time as we're trying to disprove our own unworthiness, we are collecting evidence to fuel our deepest fear: that we are, in fact, unlovable, unworthy, and undeserving; which is what drives some of us to engage in unhealthy relationships with people who affirm these fears.
I found this notion difficult to grok. After all, like most of the women I know, I regard myself as intelligent and I really do believe myself deserving of healthy, mature, authentic love.
Here's the tricky part: these deeply held core beliefs can't be healed or resolved by merely thinking. If they could, Narcissus (and any of his modern day pseudonyms) would be hard pressed to find a date. But, because so many of us are still waking up to this pattern and learning how to interrupt it, Narcissus and his buddies have black books filled with the names of smart women.
While I officially passed the midlife mark a few years ago without having achieved the societal success marker of a long term romantic partnership - because of that aforementioned tendency to choose Narcissistic men who have neither the interest nor the capacity for authentic partnership - I have learned to identify the cycle earlier and change course more quickly.
There's the initial hit of chemical attraction that leads to an uninformed assumption of common interests; the seemingly casual brush of a hand and deep eye contact that resonates as familiar; the notion of time stood still in the presence of our connection; the intoxicating sense of infatuation with being seen, really seen, by another; and, eventually, predictably, the desperate attempt to to remake oneself in the image to which the observer had first fallen in love. In other words, to abandon one's own soul for the possibility of being seen and accepted by another.
Could it be that the intoxicating pursuit of "other" is really an exercise in avoiding oneself?
A couple of years ago I wrote a list titled ‘Ideal Mate,’ and have updated it several times since, to remind me of the love that is my birthright. Not surprisingly, the top ten attributes on this list include those that are present in my closest friends, and which I myself possess: honesty, kindness, empathy, compassion, generosity, openheartedness, presence, affection, humor, fidelity.
On a recent stroll through the forest, my friend asked, “where will you be in ten years?” I giggled aloud, recalling the intense flutter in my belly the first time he had posed that question, just after we met. I don’t remember what I said that day because, frankly, my mind was clouded with infatuation at his impressive ability to quote Campbell and Krishnamurti; and his gaze, which felt strangely like home.
Still, my answer rang out loud and clear, like a prayer: wherever I am, I’ll be fully there, present and openhearted; passionately seeking the love that is also seeking me. And doing my best not to settle for less.