By Gin Sexsmith
Image courtesy of michi003 via Flickr.
We’ve all been there, crying as we search our reflection in the mirror for some answer as to why our relationship is crumbling before our eyes. Why our heart is broken. Why those harsh words were said. The question: “What did I do to deserve this?” racing around in our heart is broken. Why those harsh words were said. The question: “What did I do to deserve this?” racing around in our minds.
On September 8, 2012 Stephen Chbosky’s modern classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, originally published in February 1999 by MTV, made its cinematic debut. The book, and movie, is a brutally honest coming-of-age story that deals with mental health, abuse and the awkwardness of growing up. One of its most resounding quotes, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” was sure to make it into every preview.
In Perks, Emma Watson plays Sam, a sexy, quirky, self-dubbed “psycho” with a history of sexual abuse and a trail of ex-boyfriends. After Sam learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her she says to main character, insecure, over-thinker Charlie,“why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?” Charlie replies with the now popular (do a Google Image search of tattoos bearing the quote and you will see just how popular) quote: “we accept the love we think we deserve.”
MTV cult classic or not, the idea that we accept the love we think we deserve is far from fiction.
“There is a good percentage of people who are in the position where they only accept the love they think they actually deserve,” says psychotherapist and founder of Collaborative Minds, Andriana Mantas.
When a woman has a healthy sense of self-worth she is more likely to seek a better relationship. But being in touch with your self-worth can be easier said than done.
“Every time you start comparing yourself to another individual you’re looking at where you are on the self-worth yardstick. From that perspective, if you’re worth is intact, then I find people have a better sense of their relationship and where they need to be,” Mantas adds.
“I think way too many perfectly amazing people undervalue themselves and I think pressures from society and the media to be perfect are major causes of this, especially in women,” says Emily Brant, a recent graduate of Sheridan College’s interior design program.
These pressures can hinder more than just our self-confidence. In the wonderful ways that vicious cycles work, these pressures affect our relationships and the ways we let ourselves be treated.
Mantas believes that sometimes a woman’s confidence is compromised before she enters a relationship, and standards can be lowered.
“That sense of belonging overpowers; that connection, that need, that feeling of being loved,” she says.
Brant can relate.
“My last relationship turned into a negative one because I wasn’t being treated the way I should. I put up with it anyway because I was in love and was hanging onto the way things used to be,” she says.
At the end of the day, standing up for ourselves and what we think we deserve can be daunting. But Mantas says it has to be done. As a specialist in relationship issues she’s too familiar with resentment and anger taking over when an individual doesn’t make sure they’re being treated the way they should be.
Low self-esteem can also work in a way that leaves women stuck in the same old ruts, continuously seeking mates that keep them feeling bad about themselves. Looking back at her high school years, Cleo Reinink, an art history student at the University of Guelph, remembers a less-than healthy relationship where an ex judged her past and, in the process, lowered her self-esteem by making her feel trashy.
“It seems stupid that I let him manipulate me into apologizing for something I shouldn’t have had to apologize for, but I cared about him so I let it happen,” she says. “Now I know that if someone really cares about me they aren’t going to do something like that.”
While women run the risk of being walked on if they lower their standards to be in a relationship, Mantas also raises the issue of setting your standards too high, which can also leave a person feeling discontent. She recommends describing an ideal relationship so you can gauge whether or not you’ve set your standards too high or too low.
In a society where insecurities come a dime a dozen, truly loving yourself can be a struggle.
“I don’t know what it’s like to love yourself, because I have self-esteem issues, and it’s hard to determine if I really need to love myself to love someone else,” says Tabitha Weyrich, a health information management student from St. Lawrence College. Although we’ve all heard the saying “you can’t love someone without loving yourself first,” Mantas doesn’t believe that we have to be totally sure of ourselves before getting into a relationship. “I value that saying, but we learn from our relationships to love ourselves. Having a few relationships is key to learning what you want and need,” she says.
In Perks, Sam forgives an ex for cheating on her, and Charlie’s sister, Candace, forgives her current boyfriend for hitting her during an argument. While forgiveness is important in any relationship, abuse should not be tolerated, no matter how intense the urge to change somebody, or blames ourselves, is.
While we usually look at forgiveness as being about the person we’re forgiving, it has more to do with ourselves than we think.
“Sometimes we will constantly connect with a mate who may mistreat us, or who cheats on us, until we actually learn that we don’t deserve to be cheated on,” Mantas points out. “You’ll know you’ve forgiven too quickly if you’re continuously attracting the same mate”.
Although low self-esteem and lack of self-worth can lead to negative relationships, Mantas says that getting the life you want is all about making the choice.
“Once somebody makes the decision that that’s enough, it’s actually all that needs to take place,” she says. “Once you align your values it brings attention to the question: ‘What truly matters to me?’” M