Recently, a friend expressed his feelings of rejection by a wife who won’t even hold his hand, kiss, or hug him–not to mention make love. “Why won’t she let me love her?” I thought for a while about many of the women I know who work so hard to protect their hearts. They are wounded women. “Perhaps she feels unlovable or undeserving of love,” I said.
I’m Not Worthy
In my own life, one of my struggles has been low self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t just how you perceive or define yourself; it is how you value what you see.
Some experiences in life are an acid that eats away at our self-esteem, leaving us raw and feeling worthless. Some of these experiences result from decisions we have made; others result from the actions and decisions of others.
Low self-esteem is an insidious enemy that attacks us at every corner. We develop scripts about ourselves that are woven into the very fabric of who we are and how we interact with others. Our marriages are not immune to this enemy.
I’ve heard quite a few of these scripts from women I’ve known throughout the years as they talk about marriage.
- My sexual feelings are dirty and painful.
- My feelings and wishes don’t matter.
- I don’t deserve to feel sad after what I did.
- I am unlovable.
- No man will ever want me.
- Even a man who loves me will leave me.
- I brought a disease into the marriage, so I have no right to complain if my husband brings the images of other women into our bed.
- I am good only for sex.
I’m Being Punished
In my case, I did something as a young woman that I knew was wrong; it hurt others. It triggered a series of events that contributed to another woman’s unhappiness in her marriage. The script that developed in my mind was that I don’t deserve to be happy in marriage. So I wasn’t.
I truly believed that I didn’t deserve to find joy in marriage. I have a memory of standing in the living room of our first home after we married. I don’t remember what our conflict had been about, but I remember feeling miserable. Just as I was trying to figure out how to respond to the situation, words ran through my head: “I don’t deserve to be happy in marriage. This is my punishment.”
Yes, I thought my marriage was a punishment.
My certainty that I was undeserving of marital happiness became a self-fulfilling prophecy. At decision points, I usually took the path I felt I deserved–which led to unhappiness, which confirmed that I was undeserving. I sabotaged my own marriage because I felt so unworthy.
Sadly, this happens in too many marriages. Women feel they don’t deserve the joy in marriage, so they act against it—or, at best, they don’t pursue it.
Dragging Him Along for the Ride
Unfortunately, many of us may not even be aware of these scripts of our unworthiness. Or if we are, we are so caught up in believing the words that we are unable to see how our beliefs about ourselves affect others–especially our husbands.
Several years ago as I began to recognize that my marriage was not a happy one, my husband and I were having an argument (probably about sex). I heard the script in my head: “I don’t deserve a happy marriage. This is my punishment.” I happened to be looking at my husband at the time, and this time, there were more words: “But he shouldn’t have to be punished, too. My punishment has sucked him in. He didn’t deserve to be dragged along for the ride.”
In some cases, a woman may have married a man who contributed to an experience that was central to her low self-esteem. Even there, does the man who he has become and is now deserve to be punished for what he did as a younger man?
How many women are like I was, so caught up in feeling unworthy that they’ve sucked their husbands in and caused them the same suffering? If you feel your sexual feelings are dirty and shameful, have you convinced your husband that his are, too? Are you so convinced that your husband will leave you that you’ve pushed him to wonder if he should leave, or that you’ll leave him? Do you feel so unlovable that you have made your husband feel unloved as well? Has your self-esteem become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
A woman who truly feels unlovable will find it hard to believe a loving husband who says, “I love you. I’ll never leave you. Your sexuality is beautiful. I want you. I rejoice in you. I want you to experience joy.”
Rewrite the Script
I can sit here and say all sorts of encouraging things about taking baby steps, choosing joy, being generous and giving, and stepping outside your comfort zone. But when you’re wounded and feeling unworthy, it’s so very hard to move even one inch from a place that feels familiar and known. It’s hard to feel deserving of anything better. And after years of accepting or pursuing the negative, trying even one positive thing is a completely foreign concept.
I know that there are some women reading this who know all too well what this is like. They may read my suggestions and think, “She makes it sound so easy.” It isn’t.
A wounded woman struggles to trust. She struggles to believe. She struggles to let herself be vulnerable, to fully let a man into her heart. And even when she knows it is the right and good thing to do, the scripts in her head can keep her caught in a cycle of believing that she doesn’t deserve the good outcomes that can result.
How do we invite our husbands into our hearts when our minds are swirling with negative mantras about our value?
Sisters, I have no wise words or formulas for you. You must take a leap of faith. Even if you feel that you don’t deserve better than what you have, pursue it anyway. Choose to overcome the negative scripts in your head. Replace them with words that cancel out the negative ones.
My script was that I didn’t deserve a happy marriage. My first stage of overcoming that was to simply recognize when I was hearing that script. I would let the words flow through me and acknowledge where they came from. Next, I would force myself to think the words, “But my husband does.” I first began to seek joy in marriage not for my own sake but for the sake of just stopping the cycle of negativity. Then I began to replace these words with positive ones: “I am a daughter of the King. It won’t hurt me to at least try.” Over and over and over, I learned to speak the positive words more loudly than the script in my head.
You are created in the image of God no less than anyone else.
Tell yourself that, over and over and over, until you believe it.
You deserve love. You deserve joy. You deserve intimacy. You are worthy. You are lovable.
Take the leap of faith.
Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net