Letting go of past pain
I am a 36-year-old female who grew up in a very typical family dynamic. I was a shy child who worked hard to overcome social anxiety around the age of 30. I was never popular with boys or men, even though I've been told by various people throughout my life that I'm fairly pretty. Whatever the reason(s), over the years I was ignored by boys and even outright mocked by them as being completely un-dateable or even the ugliest girl in school. Even with my low self esteem, I don't believe that was ever true. As an adult, I've always been ignored by men, with a few creepy exceptions.
My self-prescribed therapy for my shyness and complete lack of dating was to force myself to go on online dating sites and at least learn to talk to men, since I'd developed a fear that if I ever did manage to get asked out, I wouldn't know what to do. At almost 30, I thought I'd scare away anyone who finally noticed me. The plan worked, I became less shy and more comfortable talking to strangers. After years of trying, I did meet a good man who loves me and who I love too. We've been together 3 years and I feel like we could potentially make it permanent. My issue is my self esteem has been low lately and I feel like I don't understand why he likes me when almost no other male can. Even though I know I have great achievements in my life - I'm intelligent, successful, a warm, caring person and I even see myself as pretty sometimes - the little girl no one wanted is still inside me and is too often the voice inside my head. My boyfriend is frustrated that his wanting to be with me isn't enough and I hate feeling sad and wallowing in old pain. That little girl is afraid he'll wake up one day and say, "What was I thinking?"
How do I show that little girl that the past doesn't matter and what matters is what's in my life now?
Clearly, you are intelligent and perceptive. You've given as good an explanation for your handicapping belief system as any professional could. All the same, I'll put my understanding in words, and see if it makes sense to you.
For some reason that now no longer matters, as a little girl you came to believe that you were ugly, unlikable, inevitably rejected by boys. You then developed the habit of acting as if this was true - and that made it true: a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is very close to home to me. If you read my novel "Ascending Spiral," you'll find that I had the exact same problem. I got over it by doing the 1960s equivalent of your use of dating sites: I forced myself to have conversations with those scary creatures, girls. Both of us have hit on the research-based technique of behavior therapy. By doing what you fear or feel incompetent in, you improve. You are now ready to move into the next stage.
If you can afford it, a few sessions with a good psychologist will be of immense benefit to you. Your partner might attend some of them. This next stage is to realize, at gut level, that your inner beliefs are distorted, false, the lies of the "Hate-me" monster. Your boyfriend's assessment of you is the accurate description.
He is with you, and has stuck with you for 3 years, because he cares. He loves you, and sees the good qualities that your Hate-me monster is hiding from you. He knows he is onto a good thing. People like us make the best long-term partners. I've been married for more than 47 years now, and I still feel grateful that my wife rescued me from being a lost puppy, looking for a home. Even as a young man, I'd never, ever have played up on her, or acted in any way against her interest, because of this feeling. You'll be the same kind of wife.
I still don't know why my wife loves me, but it doesn't matter. She gives me a secure home base, and this has allowed me to grow in many ways. So, trust this man's love. Accept it as genuine. Do your best in every way, every day, to make his life good, and to enjoy your company. At the same time, I'm sure he is not perfect either. When he gives you crap, respectfully and assertively stand up for yourself. Both of you should read the following, and follow the recommendations there for a good life together.
With love to both of you,
This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com