Growing up with an undiagnosed communication disorder – and as an INTJ female (who represent less than 1% of the world’s population and are thereby predisposed to be misunderstood) – I was frequently in the cross-hairs of bullies. I had no sense of social cues or conventions (like sugar-coating the truth), so my words provoked hostility on a near daily basis from about 3rd grade all the way to high school graduation. And as I felt increasingly awkward and anxious, I became a prime target for further verbal and even physical abuse.
When I began college, I had no sense of my worth. After hearing for years I was ugly and inferior, I needed reassurance my tormentors had it all wrong. I was desperate to prove to myself I was a lovable person and a desirable woman. I went out with guys, not because of attraction but the need to be liked, and had sex out of a need for approval. What’s more; my intuition (and my friends) tried to pull me in a different direction, but I continued to make the same bad choices. I can’t explain why. I’m an intelligent person, and this pattern of behavior made no sense.
That is, until recently.
I’ve carried a lot of shame about my promiscuous 20s. Even after a decade+ of marriage to my devoted, loving husband, I’ve struggled to let go of my past. Memories of my behavior filled me with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing, and this internal toxicity took a toll on our marriage.
When you feel unworthy, you believe the only way you can get what you want is through manipulation.
How could I possibly demonstrate unconditional love for my husband, when I couldn’t do it for myself?
To the degree that I built up resentment over my mistakes, I became critical of my husband and callous to his needs. I don’t think our marriage would have survived if I hadn’t recognized my need to change.
While I hope I never repeat the behaviors of my past, I can now forgive myself for my short-sightedness and ignorance. I can heal the parts of myself that didn’t know a better way.
In the absence of clear guidance, we do what we’ve learned through observation, even when it feels ‘off’ because it’s all we know. Without an alternate point of reference, we experience the cognitive dissonance when our behavior conflicts with our underlying values, but we lack a template for taking action in a way where that principle is honored. At some level, I realized I was sacrificing self-respect, but I lacked the emotional and behavioral vocabulary to evaluate the issue and change my behavior.
It’s for these reasons that I so value the romantic aspect of my relationships now. Sex is not the end-all-be-all of my connections with my husband and boyfriend, but it is a tangible way we engage with one another that honors and nurtures our individuality; it goes beyond liberation and empowerment. It is the grace of existing as you are in any moment, of being seen and known within that space. It is so subtle and yet so profound.
I could wallow in regret it took me so long to learn this lesson, but I prefer instead to be grateful I learned. I know what it means and what it feels like to be deeply loved, and to love myself. That is a precious gift.