She answers the door wearing knee-high socks, booty shorts, and a tank top.
I can feel myself smirking. As we walk into the living room, she says, “what’s the box you’re carrying?”
“I got something for you!”
She sits down and unwraps a pair of expensive heels she was obsessing over while we were shopping the other day. There was nothing special about this day; I got them for her because I was a “good” boyfriend.
These surprises were normal for our relationship or any relationship I’ve had. I’ve always bought flowers and gifts to surprise my girlfriends.
Part of the time, I wanted to. The other part of the time was because I felt I needed to do such things to keep her attracted. I needed a reason to feel worthy of being with her.
When we feel unworthy of something, we develop a perceived gap between how we view ourselves and how we view the other person. To close this gap, we either give up and decide we are not good enough, or we perform in an attempt to live up to this perceived standard. A standard only we see.
The problem is that these performance behaviors destroy our self-worth and our relationship. This is done four basic ways.
- We are never quite sure if we are doing the right thing or not. If a man believes he must impress a woman he meets, he will constantly second-guess or doubt his own words and behavior, reinforcing his insecurities about his self-worth.
- Low self-esteem reminders. If you act under the belief that you have to perform to make others like you, then you are reinforcing the implicit belief that you are inherently inferior. You are reinforcing the existing pedestal problem.
- Trust-Inhibiting. You feel that you must always perform specific actions and behaviors in order for partners to love you. The problem is you will never be certain if they love you for you, or if they’re attracted to the behavior itself.
- If you feel below something or someone, you fear asserting yourself. As a result, you suppress yourself and hide your true desires and intentions. The more your needs get bottled up, the more explosive you will react when the bottle does open. Suppressing is neither healthy nor attractive.
Initially she loved the surprise – who wouldn’t? – but over time the amount of surprises increased as I felt more uncertain about our relationship. I felt a need to step up to make sure the relationship would last.
As I surprised her more and more, she emotionally withdrew because she started to recognize that the gifts were excuses for me to spend time with her. To get the emotional validation I needed to feel good about myself. When something is not given as a “gift,” it loses the value. Since it’s self-serving, it’s meaningless and empty.
A healthy relationship is two healthy people with independent secure identities come together to help one another improve and grow. You become an attractive man or woman when you are proud of yourself, accept your flaws, and don’t compromise your values for someone who doesn’t appreciate it.
My needy behavior was a byproduct of my model of the world – the beliefs I held about myself and my relationships. These surprises and gifts were not done out of love but out of fear; fear that my flaws were so bad that she wouldn’t stay with me. I put her on an imaginary pedestal in my mind and began to value my self-worth by the quality of our relationship.
When our self-worth becomes intrinsically tied to our relationships, we burden our partners with the responsibility of making us feel good about ourselves.
Since my self-worth felt inferior to her, I was highly motivated to pursue short and long-term goals that enhanced our relationship. In fact, people like me who use their relationship as a validation of self-worth need to prove to themselves that their relationship is a success.
Despite these performances, no matter how good the relationship felt, it never fixed the intrinsic beliefs I had about being unworthy of dating her. When I felt inferior I sought affirmations from my partners. Despite the validation she gave me, my self-doubts inevitably translated into relationship insecurities.
I started acting crazy, and needy. I started performing to try to make the relationship better, but it never solved the underlying issue: the belief that I was inferior and that the person I was seeing was inherently better than me.
This belief is false.
Maybe the person on your pedestal is more physically attractive than you. Maybe they make more money, or have more friends. Regardless, they are not better than you. The Pedestal Problem does not lie in our comparison to our lover, but rather in our intrinsic beliefs that are enforced by our inner critic.
The inner critic that tells us we need to buy gifts we can’t afford, or to make sacrifices we don’t want to make. This internal critic is also the root of social anxiety, approach anxiety and so many other issues that create anti-fun self-fulfilling prophecies.
3 Steps to Removing the Pedestal Problem from Your Life
I. Self-Care – If you struggle with the Pedestal Problem, chances are you are neglecting your own needs in favor of others. We can only care for others to the extent that we care for ourselves.
The foundation of this care includes eating well (no sugar), getting sleep (7-9 hours) and taking care of your hygiene. The levels above include fitness, making time for friends and living your life according to your values and ideals.
Exercise – Pick three things you’ve always wanted to do or haven’t make time for and go do them. Take a salsa class, go on a meditation retreat, go fishing. Do things for you. You come first.
II. Self-Compassion – We can only love others to the extent that we love ourselves. Often our internal critic is a byproduct of hatred towards ourselves. The belief that who we are is not good enough.
Kristen Neff, the Self-Compassion expert, has some amazing exercises that have changed some of my clients’ lives, as well as mine. They are silly, but over time they make a big difference in how you feel about yourself.
The stories you say in your head profoundly affect the way you live your life.
Exercise: Complete Kristen Neff’s self-compassion journal for seven days here.
III. Congruence – Building self-esteem and love for yourself also requires you to act in congruence with your heart’s deepest desires.
For example: Maybe you choose to be a doctor because it would make your parents proud, when you actually wanted to be an actor or author.
By acting congruent with what we truly want, we can build up our self-worth.
Exercise: What is one of your deepest desires? Tweet it to me here.
The Pedestal Problem only exists in your mind and was created by the beliefs you hold about yourself. Change your beliefs, determine your values, prioritize and invest in yourself. Then, like alchemy, witness the quality of your relationships completely transform.