Adapted from a recent online discussion.
She should liberate herself from appeasing domineering men
Sweatpants and Baggage: "Sweatpants Girl" here again! I wrote (Dec. 14) about dating a co-worker who said sweatpants were a deal-breaker, and my staying mum. You pretty much hit the nail on the head about my being passive around guys. I'm not sure why I didn't just say, "Hey, I wear sweatpants!" except that I don't want to get serious with him, so I'm trying to keep things cool.
I was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship for years, and part of me wonders if I'm "damaged goods" emotionally. I mean, I know the guy I'm seeing is on the controlling side. We have fun when we hang out, lots of chemistry, yet he'll throw out these scathing comments, and I feel judged or even degraded sometimes. But then other times he's really complimentary and great.
Yet I have the hardest time sticking up for myself. It's almost like I know he's not emotionally invested in me, so I don't want to show that he has the power to hurt my feelings.
I want to break up with him, but I feel like that's letting him win, and he'll see me as the weak and vulnerable girl. We're only supposed to be casually dating, after all. Any advice, besides the counseling I know I should get?
Carolyn: Thinking someone's a jerk doesn't mean he "got to you." Not having the same tastes as someone doesn't mean you're weak. Not enjoying someone's company isn't "letting him win."
You are a sentient adult with your own ideas, feelings, opinions, preferences, tastes, whims, hang-ups and soft spots. If this guy's versions of same don't happen to line up with yours, then you don't need any further justification for breaking up. He's not doing it for you. Done. Bye.
That is an expression of autonomy. If we're going to assign a value to it — really no need to — then I'd call it an expression of strength to act on your preferences.
Given your history and disposition, the matter of assigning values is of real consequence. Currently, you're assigning negative values to your expressions of self. So counterbalance that negativity by declaring these expressions as explicit strengths: "I'm a sweatpant-wearing, jerk-dumping, coffee-swilling (or whatever you happen to swill) goddess," only you won't sound like Stuart Smalley when you do it.
In other words: Break up with the guy, just because you want to; embrace your preferences as no more or less valid than anyone else's; and regard them as the last word in the business of your day-to-day life. Practice, practice, practice — it builds better emotional habits and reflexive thinking.
The goal is not to "goddess" yourself into sloganeering irrelevance, but to break your habit of supplicating yourself. That's Step 1 toward learning not to assign any values at all: You are you and so be it. He is he and so be it. You and he aren't well matched, and so be it.
It might not be realistic to believe one sustained mental exercise will be enough to break your negativity habit, because appeasing domineering men is apparently your emotional comfort zone. For that, therapy wouldn't be a bad idea — just choose the provider carefully.
Tomorrow: About the guy.