Stop worrying about how others view you 

As I sit here on a plane, with no affordable Internet access, and thus no access to Recovery Nation or WordPress, perhaps I can use this time to step back from those resources and give myself a progress report, or self-diagnostic. Where am I, and where should I go next? I think the top reason I am doing this daily work and therapy is to prevent myself from ever re-offending as an adulterer and liar. I know I will not re-offend; my sins resulted from my own conscious decisions, and my reform comes from my conscious realignment of my priorities as well as conscious analysis of risks and counting my blessings. But, there is no way my wife, or any other person, can know that about me with the certainty that I know it. They have no evidence. From their perspective, it must seem entirely possible that I might suddenly and inexplicably change my mind about my behavior, or that something buried in my subconscious might assert itself in a way I can’t or won’t control.  

On the idea that I am certain I won’t change my mind, but that no one else can share that certainly, I can not think of a solution to that reality. It is, at least, comforting to me that my newest therapist shares my views on this topic; she believes I have truly changed my ways and that I will not re-offend. What about that possibility that some monster of the id might assert itself and change my behavior unexpectedly? Can we identify potential subconscious problems? What were my conscious drivers of adultery and deceit? And, what were the subconscious drivers? Are the two sets of drivers related? How can we distinguish them? Let’s see. What were the drivers of my sinful behavior?  

When was the first time I recall telling myself that I wanted to commit adultery? I was obsessing on my wife’s sexual history. What did I feel? I felt jealous. Why? I thought that fate had given her experiences that I wished I had had. I thought it unfair. I thought I was unfortunate; hence the self-pity. Why did I wish I had had those experiences? I thought those experiences, or lack thereof, would say something about me, about whether I was successful and desirable. I felt undesirable. I thought that my wife was an attractive adult woman and that I was an unattractive boy. I thought that I did not have the skills to satisfy or impress my wife sexually. I thought that if I did not impress her sexually, she would look down on me with dissatisfaction, pity, superiority, and boredom. I thought she would not be happy with me as a mate. I thought she would always harbor, even subconsciously, knowledge that she was superior to me sexually.  

So, what if she had? So what? I would have felt defeated. I wanted to be a winner, not a loser. I wanted to be a leader, not a follower. I wanted to be a strong man, not a weakling. I wanted to be a success, not a failure. I wanted people to admire me, not to pity or ignore me. I wanted women to want me, not to overlook me. Why did I want all that? I wanted to be happy about myself and proud of myself, not unhappy with myself or ashamed of myself. I was ashamed that I was physically small and weak. I was ashamed of every stupid mistake or blunder I had ever made and every opportunity I had ever missed.

In this obsession about my wife’s sexual past, I told myself that adultery would help me “catch-up or even the score. I set about trying to fornicate, thinking that extending my own list of sexual partners would make me feel confident, successful, grown-up, attractive, sexually adept, and desirable. It did not, and could not. Yet, I kept trying, telling myself that though I could not count those adulterous experiences honestly to my mate, I could at least quietly and internally feel better about my own sexual history. There’s an interesting point. Maybe it wasn’t so much that I felt bad about my wife’s sexual past, but more importantly that I felt unhappy about my own sexual past. It wasn’t just that I obsessed on the idea of her being sexually successful. It was that I obsessed on the idea of me being sexually unsuccessful.

So, what are the problems with feeling bad about my own sexual past. First, no one can change the past. Second, obsessing about the past distracted me from living to my fullest potential in the present. Third, my mate is not responsible for my past.

So, the main driver of my adultery was the goal of making me feel better about my past. No action I could take in the present could compensate for my past. The only way I can feel better about my past is to change how I view it. I need to see it in perspective. It is much less important than I thought it was. I thought it was important because it would affect how my mate views me. In fact, I will never have complete control over how she, or any other person, views me. I have to stop trying to control that. I can more easily affect how I view myself. I can choose some values and goals, and measure myself by those rather than by my reckoning of how other people view me.

That’s been my main source of instability all these decades. I spent so much time and energy measuring myself by what I thought other people thought of me. But, do I trust my own self-evaluation when trying to measure myself according to my own values and goals? No, not entirely. And, that is self-doubt. Right? That’s exactly what self-doubt is.

So, who do I trust in evaluating myself? What is a healthy way to measure my worth? I trust God. I know, that sounds overly simplistic, and a bit surprising coming from me. But, this must be why some people talk about the value of having a personal relationship with God.

For example, here are some unhealthy and unhelpful questions I could ask myself. Is she attracted to me? Does that person respect me? Does that person think I am foolish? Am I desirable? Have I done enough? Have I done too little? Do I have a right to be proud of myself, or am I fooling myself? Should I be ashamed of myself, or am I overreacting?

And, here, perhaps, are healthier questions that I might more easily answer. Am I behaving as I promised God that I would? Does God approve of my efforts? Does God see that I have made the appropriate efforts to help myself and to help others?

And, does God care whether I am sexy, manly, foolish, successful, unsuccessful, strong, or weak? I think God does not care about those specific things. Instead, I think, God cares whether I have done my best and acted with integrity. So, that’s where I need to focus: on measuring myself by my commitments to God, rather than by my guess as to how others view me.

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