I grew up in one of those families that did most everything together. Outside of my immediate family which includes my parents and three siblings, I also have a large extended family consisting of aunts, uncles, grandparents and many cousins who all live right here in Nevada or Southern California. Our family gatherings were never a bore and left me with many fond memories. You’d think with such a loving, fun and supportive family my self-esteem would be through the roof. But that wasn’t so.

As far back as I can remember I had feelings of not being good enough that left me striving for validation from every relationship I was ever in. I worked hard and did well in school but like most confused teenagers, I had feelings of low self-esteem and yearned for validation. I’m sure if you took a poll, most teens struggle with these same feelings at this age, but somehow I was different. I began to treat relationships like I would treat an addiction. I wanted more. I wanted control. I put the pressure on others to make me whole. It was not about what was inside me, it was about outside forces (that I had no control over) to fill my void. Relationships became a status symbol for me. I was so worried about what everyone thought of me so I figured if I was in a relationship, I could focus my eyes on someone else and lift the spotlight off me. It’s a classic case of co-dependence. Since I became so focused on others I never had to be honest with my feelings. I could blame everyone around me for their behavior and how it affects me. I was a victim, you see.

I had a way of interpreting most situations that were done as loving gestures as being cruel and aimed directly at me. My distorted view of things caused me much pain and grief as I hopped from one relationship to another, always believing it wasn’t my fault. If only they would change, then it would be ok. These filters were put in place at a very young age and I looked at the world through these glasses causing much wreckage along the way.

I have been blessed with many relationships filled with love, support, intimacy, encouragement, loyalty, understanding and appreciation. I love to give and thought I did it unconditionally. To give unconditionally is tricky because you have to expect nothing in return. I wanted that validation I so yearned for and put unnecessary pressure on others to provide it. The gifts I gave came with a price tag and when the response wasn’t what I wanted, I took it personally and tried to manipulate the outcome. This led me down a negative path of feeling unworthy, disrespected, deceived, judged, criticized and misunderstood. Now begins the vicious cycle of relationship hopping to find that perfect fit. There’s got to be someone out there who can fix me. That perfect puzzle piece.

Relationships are complex in that we have them on so many levels. I continued this cycle for many years and in retrospect, it’s painful to revisit some of the hurt it caused. I’ve had three failed marriages which was a result of jumping in too quick to be the knight in shining armor. I was Mr. Fix It and with the right amount of money and stuff, I could fix any problem. I have been a single parent for many years which requires an entirely different skill set altogether. But once again, I can fix any problem and went to work “repairing” what I thought was best for this child. My co-dependency was running rampant and resulted in fall-outs with cousins, friends and family members. I still couldn’t see what my part was in all this. I continued to give, give, give and if only they would behave the way I want them to, then it would be fine.

Remember those glasses I mentioned earlier. Well, they were beginning to fog and stopped working for me. As I became healthy is other areas of my life, I needed to make some huge changes in the relationship department. Relationships are part of living but healthy relationships make living joyful. I was able to remove the plank from my eye so I could see that the focus had to be on me. We cannot control people, places or things but what we can control is our own reaction to them. What a concept! You mean to tell me it’s that simple? I started to look at Ernie and Ernie had some work to do.

The first order of business was belief in myself and knowing a relationship was not going to fix me. I had to be whole before embarking on a journey with another. And this wasn’t just on the romantic level. I needed to be whole for my daughter, friends, family and even acquaintances. What would draw people to me was my belief in self and positive energy. I got to see for the first time what it was like to spend time with myself and was pleasantly surprised to find I really liked this guy. And if I like this guy then it’s natural that others will too.

Take it from me, this hasn’t been easy and I have many regrets for the people I’ve hurt along the way. It has taken many years and many hurts to arrive where I am. The good news is I have a second chance (and a third, fourth and so on) to live an authentic life and treat myself and those around me with respect and love. I approach relationships with honesty and check my motivations before investing time and energy in them. I remain true to my God and myself and the blessings are many.