If there’s anything that damages your confidence from the very beginning, it’s a parent not showing any interest in your life.
Growing up, my dad wasn’t around very much. He skipped out on most of the important things that were going on in my life. I’ve competed in hundreds of swim meets. Summer league, club team, high school team, and eventually college. I’ve been a swimmer for 14 years. I can count on one hand the amount of time he’s decided to make it a priority to watch me do what I love.
When he did show up, he didn’t actually know what he was watching. I would be willing to bet money that he doesn’t know what my best event is. I know that because the times when he did show up to my meets, he either had a phone call that was more important or a newspaper that was too intriguing to put down.
This is just one of the many examples of not being supported by my dad. I was blessed with a wonderful mother who has been my rock for my entire life, but when I was growing up, there was always a piece of me that was missing. And the piece of me that was there was never good enough.
I know you’re probably thinking to yourself that this seems typical. The age old story of the girl that was too damaged to see her own worth. It seems like a normal thing, especially in the case of a child of divorce. But it feels real and it’s more deeply rooted than you may think.
I have always tried to fill that gap with other people. Having people in my life who loved me made me feel better about my dad’s narcissism. I would crave the approval of others. Throughout high school, I was in one “relationship” after another. I always liked someone, and I always wanted them to like me back. It was what made me feel good about myself.
In my most recent relationship, I lost someone who meant the world to me. This breakup was different than the others, though. When I lost him, it became very clear to me that I didn’t want anyone else. I couldn’t distract myself by liking another guy. There was no way to replace what we had. I reflected on what had happened and saw all of my destructive behaviors. I realized the pain I felt was ruining my life.
I had been so caught up in my own insecurities, I couldn’t contribute anything to the relationship because being sad took away all of my energy. I was clingy, suffocating, and insufferable at times. I had severe anxiety about not receiving text messages back and my biggest fear was getting broken up with. Picturing my life without another person by my side was a foreign concept at the time.
I had lost other relationships to my anxiety before. I had always been too insecure to ever be capable of truly loving anyone else. I carried so much baggage around from my childhood, and I had never focused on myself long enough to really work through it.
But last summer was different. I had no choice but to be alone. I had no desire to be with anyone besides the boy that I was in love with. When it all came crashing down, I immediately knew there was no way to distract myself like the other times. I had to feel the emotions the hard way.
And so I did. I cried and I cried. I felt guilty. I felt sorry for myself. Eventually, that act got old and I decided that I needed to do something about it. I devoted the rest of the summer to truly learning how to be alone. To loving myself. To realizing that I would be able to pick myself up. I had always thought that losing him would be the thing I’d never recover from. But there I was, still making it through the day. Sometimes, even smiling. I remember, specifically, looking in the mirror one day and thinking that I was beautiful and truly meaning it, for the first time in my life.
I remember that day and feeling so specifically. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in late July. I had decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts (which is something I never do). I was wearing almost no makeup (which is something I always do). I hadn’t been particularly thinking about self confidence, or, rather, my lack thereof, but for some reason, it occurred to me that I really thought I looked pretty that day.
I had always relied on the opinions of others to feel complimented. I’ve felt that just like you have. It doesn’t matter how we got there, we’ve all been there at one point or another.
That was the beginning of something. It was the beginning of me finally starting to love myself. It was the first time I knew what it was like to forgive myself for what had happened. It was when I finally stopped feeling like my dad not being there was because I wasn’t good enough for him.
After that day, it was an uphill battle. I didn’t wake up every morning and feel wonderful and whole. But each day got a little bit better, and I felt more independent than ever.
I know this is such a tired thing to say, but it has never been more clear to me that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. I’d always heard it. People preached about it all the time. I thought I understood what it meant. I thought that I loved myself, but, obviously, I had no idea what I was talking about.
The boy I loved came back to me a few months later. He said he saw a difference in me, and that he wanted to start over. It’s been almost 2 years and our relationship is the best it’s ever been. We are more in love than we’ve ever been. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
The approval of others will never replace your own. Another person’s love won’t fill the void. In fact, if you aren’t ready for it, it will just delay the process of developing your own self love. The hard days will teach you what you’ve always needed to know. Someone could give you the same advice a million times, but you probably won’t follow it until life gives you a reason to.
No matter what has damaged you, you can find your own self worth. It’s a long process. It’s scary and it’s uncomfortable. But at the end of it, you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders. You’ll look back at who you were before and wonder why you didn’t change things sooner. But, more than anything, you’ll be proud of the work you did to get there. You’ll be grateful for the journey.