It hurts so much

I went through a bad breakup and have zero confidence now. How do I get my bubbly self back?

Published March 13, 2003 8:33PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have zero confidence in myself. Ever since a bad breakup a few months ago I feel like a bad person all the time (even though he mistreated me, reduced my self-esteem to nothing and then left because "I have self-esteem issues"). I am afraid to go out socializing, which is important for my work. I used to be excited about the world and now I have a very negative worldview. I can't shake it. I used to dress up, be the belle of the ball, and now I hide behind a dowdy coat. People think I am weird and awful, and it confirms the stories my ex tells. I am persona non grata in my social world. At parties I hide in a corner hoping to have a normal conversation, but when I try what comes out is negativity.

How can I overcome this and return to my trusting, bubbly self?

Persona Non Grata

Dear Persona Non Grata,

Well, you're definitely persona grata here at the "Since You Asked" column. It's not unusual for a bad breakup to leave you kind of screwed up for a few months. The reason negativity comes out when you talk is that that's where you are right now. Expecting yourself to snap back right away is just being kind of cruel to yourself, really. You are going to have to accept that you've had a kind of a bad blow. You've been shaken up a little. Maybe it's the first time somebody has really messed with your head and your feelings, so you are having trouble accepting how much it hurts, how powerfully it can affect your ability to function. But that's what happens. It's quite to be expected.

Here are some things that might help: Pay attention to your closest friends, the ones who know you, the ones you can count on, the ones you don't have to pretend around. You do have some friends like that, don't you? Do you have women friends? Do you have a best friend? If you do, hang out with her. It's going to take you a little while.

I also sense that if you are used to being the belle of the ball, and now you hover in a corner, maybe you tend to go a little to extremes. As you get older, you'll realize that neither extreme is really where you want to be. Where you want to be is closer to the middle, where you can be entertaining and fun, but you are not the princess, you are not the magical center of attention; neither are you the hurt, lonely girl in the overcoat sulking in the corner. That way, you're not going up and down so fast, which is taxing, like driving a car up and down steep hills; it'll wear you out. You want to be around for the long haul. You learn to hold your head up and go on when you've been hurt, and you learn to keep your wits about you when you're happy, and not go overboard.

It's not easy to learn this. I myself tend to go to extremes, and used to drink a lot and really go nuts. I'm almost 50 years old now, and it's been a long struggle trying to talk myself down at times. I get anxious at parties sometimes. I get depressed, etc. But I just trudge along, day to day, and life is full of little miracles and little annoyances. So hang out with your girlfriends, keep your chin up, and aim for the middle.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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