Written by Lorna Martin in Grazia, issue 160, 31st March 2008:
They also said I had an overdeveloped sense of self-importance combined with massively low self-esteem. I laughed. But they carried on, saying I was “in denial” about many things, including the fact I was secretly very angry inside. I told them they were off their heads; I reserved my anger for important things – like world poverty, inequality and injustice. “You’re delusional,” they said, “and you’re your own worst enemy. It’s as if you get pleasure out of sabotaging your own happiness.”
I’d always believed I was more in touch with my emotions than most, especially for a cynical Scot. In fact, in therapy I discovered I was alienated from them. What I’d considered to be my nice easy-going disposition I gradually realised was in fact an unrealistic desire to please everyone and a child-like fear of criticism and rejection.
My self-sufficiency and independence masked a fear of intimacy. Striving for elusive perfection was a flimsy way of deluding myself into feeling superior. What I’d thought was love – true, mad, deep, passionate love – was hideously far removed from the reality. And, of course, what I’d regarded as my ability to rise above anger was another illusion. I had, all my life, been unconsciously avoiding it because I was too afraid to feel it, let alone express it.
For a long time, I’d been taking my feelings out on myself. I ran, I cried, I quit jobs as if I was racing through an A to Z of careers, I screwed up relationships or got involved in dysfunctional ones, I kept friends at arm’s length, I set myself totally pointless challenges … all because, I think, I was incapable of dealing with difficult emotions. It was as if I was always running away from them. Or from myself.
Like many women in their thirties, I’d spent years piling immense pressure on myself as I struggled for “success”, happiness and contentment. I wanted to write amazing articles, preferably validated with an award, and I wanted a perfect boyfriend, gorgeous children – the whole happy ever after.
It was only when I took a trip inside my own head that I began to understand, really understand, that nothing – no achievement, no amazing job, no award, no man, no material possession, no external approval, no happy pill, no positive thinking, no skinny or toned body, no child – will bring fulfilment if your inner life is in turmoil and you don’t have your own approval. What you have on the outside has nothing to do with how you feel on the inside.