My friend Pia, who writes for Psychology Today, pointed out a great post on the Psychology Today blog on Self-Lock.
I believe this is an article that Lauren Elizabeth really needs to read because it deals with issues on how to improve one’s self-esteem.
I very deeply believe that Lauren Elizabeth’s drinking and drug addiction are rooted in her poor self-esteem and were triggered when she caught Ian cheating on her in January of 2011. Lauren Elizabeth broke off her relationship with Ian Murphy in January of 2011 after she caught him cheating on her with a woman that was, at least in my opinion, not as pretty or as smart as Lauren was.
Again, I really don’t understand the reasons that a person would cheat on someone they say they are committed to—especially when the person they are committed to is as beautiful, smart and desirable as Lauren Elizabeth. If Lauren Elizabeth had asked me to, I would have knee-capped Ian for what he had done, and that was before I realized how much I love Lauren Elizabeth myself. But, she did not want that—which is one of the reasons I love her so—when she is healthy, she is one of the most gracious, caring and compassionate people I know—and one of the few that I could see achieving the level of grace Gee had.
I believe that the hit that Lauren Elizabeth’s self-esteem and self-image brought out all the buried insecurities caused by being raised by an emotionally abusive father. The fact that Lauren Elizabeth has only really seen and known the dysfunctional relationship between her father and her mother, who is frightened of her husband much of the time, doesn’t really help matters any.
A key paragraph from the blog article is:
Research only offers tentative theories as to why this might be, but in the clinical realm, authors have grappled with the phenomenon of self-lock for more than half a century. A school of thought called relational psychoanalytic theory holds that one reason we cling to a negative identity is that our sense of self and intimacy are inextricably bound to one another. That is, we protect old versions of ourselves, even if they’re negative, because we expect that who we are keeps us connected to the people around us. It’s as if we’re all spinning webs of connection, reaching out to people, and at the center of it all is our self-image: I’m stupid, I tell myself, because so many of my relationships confirm the belief— and if I change that, then the way people relate to me (condescending, dismissive, authoritarian), won’t fit my identity anymore. Break the center—change our identity— and our fear is that the whole web of connection falls away. We’ll nurse the darkest thoughts about ourselves if they protect our need for connection.
I think that this paragraph also explains one reason why Lauren Elizabeth has pushed me away in favor of her addictions and alcoholism. My love for Lauren Elizabeth and what I see in her makes me a threat to the insecure, unworthy-of-being-loved identity that Lauren Elizabeth has formed of herself growing up.
It isn’t really much of a surprise that she feels this way, given the role model of love that her parents have presented—especially if you consider that they both basically gave up any real involvement with Lauren Elizabeth and her older brother Johnny seven years ago. I only know this because I was the person that basically stepped in as a go-between for her parents at that time.
It was then that her mother asked me to befriend, mentor and guide her two older children. This is much of the reason Lauren Elizabeth and I had become such close friends and another reason I have been so protective and caring about her and her brother. As an example of how Sue and John checked out of Lauren and Johnny’s lives—all last summer John and Sue would go to their Cape house with Bridget most weekends, leaving Johnny and Lauren Elizabeth to fend for themselves. This had been part of a pattern that has been going on for years. This is also a good part of the reason John and Sue had no idea that Lauren Elizabeth had a serious problem with drugs or alcohol and was going out almost every night drinking. Their abandonment of Lauren and Johnny was well enough known that one of the local police officers I met while helping Johnny a few summers ago knew about it and had commented on it when I spoke to her last summer regarding Lauren Elizabeth’s problems with alcohol and drugs.
The article goes on to say what the best way to break self-lock:
So how can we loosen the grip of self-lock? The answer appears to be by falling in love with a good partner. Psychologist Arthur Aron of Stonybrook University, has spent years elaborating on what he calls self-expansion theory, which suggests, among other things, that in healthy, intimate relationships, we often experience tremendous growth, exploring new experiences and even lesser known aspects of who we are (you can find more recent research supporting this idea here). Find the right relationship, Aron says, and maybe you won’ just leave behind your negative self-image; maybe you’ll fashion a better one.
Ironically, this is exactly what had been happening with Lauren Elizabeth and I prior to my confronting her about her drinking. I have no doubts that Lauren Elizabeth knows I love her. This is something that she has always known, though the nature of how I love her has changed over the years. I have always been there for her and she has always been one of the people I have cared about as my own family.
I have always been her biggest supporter and greatest ally in helping her accomplish her goals, dreams and hopes. It was in fact because of one of her dreams that I came up with her nickname of “Ellie”. About five years ago, when she was at Ursuline Academy, she wanted to start making and selling home-made bath soaps and bath salts. She had asked me to help with branding and designing the packaging for her bath salts.
As part of this, I came up with a logo that used her given name. I told her that my reasoning for using her given name as the basis for her brand name was that both Lauren and Elizabeth were names that were clearly well regarded when it came to fashion and high status. It was the first time I had really used her first and middle names when referring to Lauren Elizabeth. I started to call her Ellie Kay based on her initials, LEK.
The material I had chosen for the packaging was a heavy black card stock that has the feel and appearance of black suede. It is an expensive stock that her father had some left overs of that is normally used by an exclusive brand of diamonds, and I thought that it would make excellent packaging for her bath salts and soaps. The packaging would be die cut and then hot foil stamped with gold or silver foil, depending on what the price of the enclosed product was. The packaging could easily be made in-house by her father’s company, which is a high-end print finishing company that specializes in hot-foil stamping, die-cutting, embossing and such.
While she never went on to sell the bath salts and soaps, the nickname the project had given her stuck. I called her Ellie Kay and that was my private nickname for her.
Back to the article. As the article points out, there’s a problem with a person suffering from self-lock and low self-esteem selecting a relationship with someone who sees the best in them.
What Aron’s research suggests is that relationships hold the key, simultaneously, to perpetuating an impoverished sense of self and expanding it beyond the familiar. At key moments of change we become anxious, like Karen, precisely because we’re not sure if our current web of relationships—or any new connections, for that matter—can remain in tact with a different identity at the center. People will leave or abandon us, our unconscious minds tells us, if we try to become someone new. So we unconsciously select relationships with friends and lovers who need us to remain just as we are and push away the ones that allow us to grow…
The fear of change forces them to protect their old, low-self-esteem self-identity and tends to make them choose to be with people who need them to remain their lesser self. This is what Ian, Jarrod, and most of Lauren Elizabeth’s current group of friends are—they are drug addicts and/or alcoholics and have no reason to help Lauren Elizabeth grow beyond what she has been for the past 15 months.
In fact, Lauren Elizabeth’s “best friend” Chelsea, one of her co-workers at the movie theater where many of her friends work, is the one that pimped Lauren Elizabeth out to Jarrod last summer. Jarrod gave Lauren Elizabeth the drugs and alcohol her addictions required and used her for sex in return. When Jarrod tired of Lauren Elizabeth, he dumped her like yesterday’s trash because he had no love and no commitment to her.
But, the article goes on to say that the key to breaking self-lock is to accept and embrace their partner’s positive encouragement of them instead of seeing it as a reason to leave.
…As a result, the only way to fashion a new identity, ala Aron’s self-expansion theory, is to stay the course when someone disagrees with our low opinion of ourselves. This is just one of the many reasons I tell clients to read discomfort with more affirming relationships not as reason to exit, but as an invitation to change.
Say, for example, that the students and spouses in Swann’s research had tried to embrace their partners’ or roommates’ support by saying something like, “I feel lucky to have met someone who sees me the way you do—and I love that you help me see myself as a better person.” If they had, they might have rewarded someone for seeing the best in them (rather that the worst)—and encouraged that person to move even closer. And each time they repeated that same intimacy-enhancing exchange, their minds would link the new self-image with closeness instead of loss. More affirming interactions. More self-affirming identity.
And that’s the key to breaking self-lock. The more times we frame our discomfort with affirming relationships as an invitation to change and move towards them, the more we embrace the notion that we’re as good (or loving, or worthy, or smart) as our partners and friends believe us to be. Each new connection offers a potentially new identity. But we can only reach the best versions of who we are by breathing through the anxiety and walking boldly towards the unfamiliar.
I wish Lauren Elizabeth had the courage, the love for herself and the will to fight her addictions and the wisdom to see that my encouragement of her and the way I see her is not a reason for her to push me away, but a reason for her to become the incredible and amazing person I have always seen her to be.
I still love Lauren Elizabeth. As I told her and her mother so many times last summer, I do not know how not to love Lauren Elizabeth—I have loved her all of her life in some form and I always will love her. I also promised Lauren Elizabeth and Sue that I would be there for her if she just asked me to be. That is still a promise I intend to keep to the amazing woman I love and her mother, who has been a part of my family for 30 years.
But, if Lauren Elizabeth decides she needs my help and wants me back in her life she will have to: make amends for the damage her behavior and lies have caused; she will have to re-build the bridges her addictions have burned; she will have to make a place in her life for me beside her and show me that she is willing to fight to keep me there; and she has to show me that she is as committed to me as I have always been to her.
This may sound like a lot, but I know that the woman that loves me would understand why I would require proof that she is once again the woman I love. I also know that she would be able to do it because it is the right thing to do for the both of us and no less than what I deserve.
I will still pray for my beloved Lauren Elizabeth and hope that one day she finds her way home to me. But, I doubt she will ever have the strength to fight her addictions and return to being whom God intended her to be. I doubt I will see that beautiful smile or hold that amazing woman in my arms again.
Goodbye my beloved Ellie. I miss you and always will. I love you and have all your life.
I hope that God grants you the peace that you need to once again love yourself and believe in yourself as you once did. I hope that God grants you the strength, the courage and the will to overcome your self-doubts, fears, insecurities and to fight your addictions. I hope that God reminds you of the love, friendship and caring that you and I once had and lets you see who we really were to one another once again. I pray that God watches over you and protects you from all harm—even that you would do yourself. All this in Jesus’s name I pray because I love you. Amen.