Over the past few years, I have come to understand I have lived an expendable life. Before you lecture me, I want to be clear that I don’t believe my life has been for nothing. I mean I have lived a life that was expendable to others.
The people in my childhood saw me as a commodity. I was something to be used up and thrown away. This was a literal interpretation of my experiences. I was sold to others for the purpose of making money. I was completely expendable, even to the very people who were supposed to love me unconditionally.
This explains why I have spent my adult life trying to prove to others I was worth something. I have always wanted people to believe I mattered. And I have done almost anything to convince them of it.
In relationships, I have worked hard to matter to the other person. I have done whatever it took to keep them around. I have worked hard to provide everything they could possibly need. And it always ended the same way. I got angry and exhausted, while the other person grew tired of using me up. In the end, I became expendable once again.
In my parenting, I have hovered over my children. I had to make it clear that they needed me to protect them and care for them in every way. I wanted them to know how much I cared for them and I wasn’t sure how else to show it. Deep emotional connection wasn’t available to me, so I would take care of all their needs. Unfortunately, this left my children with anxiety and a lack of confidence about their own abilities. And honestly, it has taken tremendous effort to turn that around.
At work, I have gone above and beyond my duties in every job. I have worked so hard at times, I didn’t remember to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. The more appreciation I got, the harder I worked. Because my inner parts related work in adulthood to school in childhood, this makes sense. School was the only part of my childhood where the rules made sense and I could succeed. So I poured everything into it. And I did the same with work. And while I did succeed on many levels, my bosses had a tendency to ask for more and more until I felt my only option was to leave the job.
There were three problems with this approach. First, I always picked the wrong adults to “prove myself” to. They were always the people who carried the traits of my abusers. They were never going to care about me. Second, I was never going to convince anyone of my worth when I didn’t believe in it myself. I was focusing on the wrong thing. I was focusing on how I could add value to their lives by doing more of what they needed. I was focusing on being needed. When in reality, it was supposed to be about connection. It is a lack of connection that makes people walk away. Third, I projected it to others. I treated others as if they were expendable too. People became a “means to an end” much like I was. If I didn’t need them, I didn’t spend time with them. Once again, need replaced connection in relationship.
I am still learning how to make connection with others. There are so many reasons for that. But it comes down to the fact that nobody ever taught me how to make connection. I was always valued for what I could do for others. I don’t even know what it means to be valued for me. Over the past week, as usually happens when I am working through a belief, the triggers have been plentiful. Several situations have popped up to let me know that I can be dropped just like that. And it is breaking my heart on so many levels. But the hardest part of this work is recognizing that despite my best efforts, I can’t make somebody decide that I matter. I can only work to be the truest version of myself that I can possibly be. And I can put myself out there in that way. If that doesn’t work for people, I can let them walk away while I stand in my integrity.
And while that hurts my inner parts, I also know that I have to stop exhausting myself to make others realize my worth. I have to know my worth so deeply others can’t make me question it. And I have to make connection from that place. They may leave. But I will know I did the most powerful, worthy and indispensable thing I could do.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW