How Do You Know If You're Settling?
Alias (DO NOT USE A REAL NAME!!): Confused Comment: How do you reconcile the need to be attracted to your mate and not lowering your self-esteem by dating someone you're not attracted to just to be with a man? I'm in therapy relating to low self-esteem as a result of being the daughter of a narcissist. I'm a successful attorney, slim built Asian woman in her early 40s, never married and no kids. In any situation other than dating, I appear confident and strong, but then I could not let go of a roller coaster ride with a narcissist male. This brought me to therapy and to the acceptance I have self-esteem issues. I still go to therapy, have moved on from the narcissist male, and have been dating both online and offline for the past two years. I share my dating dilemmas with my therapist as my friends believe I have a tendency to chase, while I also believe I have a tendency to distrust men. In many of my therapy sessions about my dating, my therapists asks me if I am attracted to whoever I am dating. I believe her concern is I will stay with a guy even though I am unattracted to him just so I won't be alone. Sometimes I say yes, sometimes I say no. My low self-esteem extends to guys who express an interest and I think why the heck are they asking me out, as they are out of my league. For six months, I dated exclusively a guy who I thought was out of my league. A year after the breakup, I see him again at a friend's party and this time, I do not think he was as out of my league as I remember. I don't want to chase or get my hopes up with someone who is out my league and has many options, but at the same time I wonder if I devalue myself. I have asked friends to look at some of the guys' photos and tell me if they are out of my league. Never an unkind word, and I don't believe them. So how do you know you are dating someone out of your league or just devaluing yourself?
--Confused Age: 43
One of the more damaging side effects of dating or being raised by a narcissist is that you not only have trouble trusting others, but also yourself. Your sense of who you are and what you believe is - temporarily - altered because of the abuse you incurred at the narcissist's hands. Their way of keeping you in line was to make you think you were nothing without them. It's only natural that, once you do escape their grasp, you constantly second guess yourself.
What you're doing by questioning your decisions so much might actually be self-sabotage. You also show signs of possibly having an anxious/avoidant attachment style, thanks to what was likely a very confusing and tumultuous relationship with a narcissistic parent. You want a relationship, but you also fear the intimacy because you've suffered abuse in the past.
Please understand that a person can date someone out of their league aka someone who has more options than they do and still be in a healthy successful relationship. It's only when that person allegedly out of one's league uses that as leverage or to wield an unfair level of power does it become an issue. What a person finds attractive has far more do to with aesthetics than we realize. There are external factors that play into who we date. Meaning, just because someone has a certain level of looks or status doesn't mean they wish to date someone of equal looks or status. A lot of it depends on the belief system we developed as we matured as a result of our experiences. We only think dating someone out of our league is a bad thing when we don't think much of ourselves.
The only way to know if you're dating out of your league or settling just to be in a relationship is to know yourself first. What do you think about yourself? Are you someone who fears being alone or are you okay with it? Do you think you possess solid judgement and social adeptness? More importantly - do you trust your own judgment? If you know who you are and what you'll accept and not accept, the rest falls into place. It's when when our sense of self has been shaken in someway that we enter into relationships that are not good for us. That makes us vulnerable in a way that makes it easier for people to manipulate and hurt us.
Before you prioritize finding a partner, it's critical that you work on getting to know yourself. Do you date from a place of fear or confidence? If it's fear, why? Looking back on your relationship history, what patterns do you see? Can you pin point the origins of those patterns? Go far back into your childhood and examining your relationship with your parents or care givers.That's where it all started for each one of us. Do you recognize any similarities in those dynamics and your romantic relationships? How quick are you to blame yourself for the outcome of your relationships? As victims of abuse, we tend to shoulder the burden of how others treated us and allow shame to control us. We also have a tendency to unknowingly recreate scenarios are relationships that mirror those we had with people who treated us poorly, either because we think that behavior is normal or we're trying to break out of a cycle.
Is it possible that you think these men are out of your league because you don't think you deserve better? Could you be staying with men you aren't attracted to because you think it's safer to be with someone that wants you more than you want them? These are all important questions to ask yourself. It's great that you're in therapy, as that's the best place to be when you want to really dig in to what motivates you.
For now, focus on you and what makes you tick. Once you become better acquainted with yourself and understand why you date who you date, you'll have a better foundation on which to re-build your identity and self-esteem.
Before I go, I'll say one more thing: none of what happened to you was your fault. Yes, that's very Good Will Hunting of me to say, but it is crucial that you believe that. Freeing yourself from the prison that is shame or blame is what is going to take your love life to the next level.
Best of luck.