Relationships are powerful. Life and death are in the power of our most intimate connections. Popular today is this notion that self-worth comes from within. Dr. Sue Johnson in her book Love Sense uses evidence of biochemical science to make a case for the opposite. Johnson demonstrates that self-worth arrives in the reflections of those closest to us. As children we get an indicator of self-worth from our primary caregivers and parents. If experience as a child was negative or destructive, a healthy adult relationship connection has the power to rewire the brain more positively and repair the damage. As adults, we look for it in our most intimate relationship, often a lover. When we look in their eyes, how they see us and the words as well as actions toward us provide value to our self-worth. Choose carefully those whom you allow to become your most intimate companions. Johnson penned another book titled Hold Me Tight which outlines her practice and application in couple’s therapy. We need reassurance from the special person in our life and it arrives via our connections to one another. Folks either pull away or explode in a fight when they feel their connection wane. They fight to come together or pull away perhaps in hope a pursuit will follow, but the main question when a couple experiences conflict is this holy grail of questions: “Do you love me?” Couples get in a rut or a routine based on their own version and flavor of asking this question. The fight comes from a place of hope. We often harbor hope about our partners, hope that something will improve or change. After a period of time, the hope turns to anger. We may lash out and put up the fight in a passive or more aggressive way. The anger can last however long and is the wrestling between hope the change will happen versus despair that it is not; anger is the decision stage to see it through or not. Hope turns to anger turns to despair if the hope remains unaddressed. Johnson states that in her thirty years as a marriage therapist, she has not seen a couple recover after one partner reaches this place of despair that they will not get what they want from the relationship. In my case, I recall hope that I would connect with my Asperger’s partner whom at the time I had no certainty was autistic. Autistic folks do not have functioning a part of the brain which empathizes and forms a deep emotional connection. What I wanted was not possible, but I lacked context. I became angry when at every meal we shared a screen was present and a personal connection not, so I lashed out with shopping and other screen time of my own in a space that ought to have been enjoyed for connection. Finally, my anger turned to despair. I knew I wouldn’t get what I wanted and this deeply grieved my spirit. By the time we had the Aspergers diagnosis three months past despair, we tried appropriate therapy but it was too late for me. Therapy has the ability to make my ex’s connections better and he can have fantastic relations, but not with me. By the time despair set in, my self-worth had also received impact. I had soul-searched and wrestled with the question if I was the reason we did not connect, and what was wrong with me? My relationship history indicated I did indeed have the ability to connect and I longed for emotional intimacy yet hesitated to feel worthy enough to fight for it. I wanted my marriage to be for life. I wanted a deeper emotional relationship. So I fought in little bits, arguing and reading and seeking conversation. What kept me going part of the time was the connection I formed with my modeling partner as revealed in my previous post, Fight From the Heart. We found worth in each other, which encouraged each of us along our paths. Think carefully of the words and actions you cultivate with loved ones. You’re influencing someone’s self-worth, and they are impacting yours. What they say and how they behave toward you matters, and vis a vis. Should you find yourself in any of these stages, act in awareness. Especially consider hope. If you have hope for something in your relationship, keep it not to yourself. Speak up and explore that hope with your partner. Tell them exactly what you want and need with them. Listen to your partner’s hopes and take them seriously, owning up to what you can and cannot deliver lest hope turn to anger turn to despair. Identify early on to save yourselves pain and time. Despair can take you to a place of feeling unworthy of what you want, or that you may not find it anywhere. That’s a lonely place to exist. We need each other. Be a good steward of your beloved’s self-worth. Seek relationship with those who would be good stewards of yours. I suppose then some amount of self-worth does come from within, perhaps during formative years with parents. We must see ourselves as worth the fight to find love and connection, but with that person who will reflect to us the self-worth with which we can live. A person with whom we can give honest to goodness positive reflections of self-worth, lest either of us destroy the other.
Hair by Danyelle “The Hair Maverick” Johnson
More on the books and theory by Dr. Sue Johnson
I actually learned from a real dojo how to wield the “assassin” swords in the top image. Practice slinging swords for a few hours and tell me you don’t feel like a bad ass who could handle herself. Empowering. The chance to play with the other weapons and firearms was also good fun.