As both a member of the LGBTQ community and as a clinician, I have become very familiar with how we refer to ourselves, particularly in our search for that magical someone. In our hunting there is one small parasite that pops its little head up from time to time: Body Surveillance. The wonderful gift of body surveillance is self-denial, self-doubt, and self-blame. While we search for our future spouse, or live alongside him or her, we beat ourselves up. Maybe I’m not funny enough or maybe they don’t like me because I’m too fat. When I walk into a room, I know exactly how I look, what I choose to wear, and how I think others might judge me. And then I catch myself: body surveillance.
Guilt is the voice that tells you have done something wrong. Shame, however, is the voice that says I am something wrong. Shame is the feeling that something is wrong with you, something inherent and unfixable- this is the root to body surveillance. In this light, marriage is often seen as the refuge. We dream that when we are truly loved we will somehow feel differently about ourselves. So we hunt. We hunt and hunt and hunt for that one person who can rescue us from our own self-shame. Doing this can set a person up for a serious dilemma, and this is why marriage equality can feel like one big crock:
1. You partner isn’t responsible for your pain.
After all that time daydreaming of being rescued from your feelings of unworthiness, we implant an expectation on our future partners or current signif others. We subconsciously make them responsible for reading our minds and knowing how to take care of us. When our partner fails, we can become sad, isolated, and most often angry. If you really see me, you would know that I cut my hair. If you really knew me, you would know that the dinner with my parents was really important and you would’ve been on time. If you…then… Ugh! We get stuck here and we feel as though our anger is valid. Your partner, family member, and friends cannot read your mind and they can’t know everything about your insecurities (trust me we all have them). Take care of yourself. Recognizing that your reactions are your choice and responsibility will help you navigate arguments in a very healthy way that connects, not protects. Protecting via isolation or anger is all about the me vs. you mentality. Relationships function best when they operate as the me-and-you unit.
2. The dilemma is not your fault, but your responsibility…unfortunately.
If you spend too much time believing in shame and the ensuing need for body surveillance, you’ll be other-person focused. You’ll loose focus on your passions, happiness, and confidence. In this light, body surveillance is not your fault. As an adult, however, it is your responsibility to surround your self with healthy friendships, family, and a partner who can help you see yourself in a positive light. It is also your responsibility to challenge the voices of shame and body surveillance that lives inside of you. Confront these freeloaders with peace and compassion. We all hope for that quick rescuing that will prove our worth. But the most efficient way out is to take responsibility for your actions (emotional or physical) and your interpretation of someone’s behavior. Trust me.
2 ½. Needing another to validate your value means entering relationship with a structure that is half built.
When body surveillance holds you constrained you’ll try to become a better version of yourself so that you’re good enough for someone’s love. Seeing marriage as the ultimate form of evidence that declares your worth will create bad juju. You’ll be dependent on needing another to validate who you are. And although we say, “my partner is my other half,” in reality this is not very fun. Needing a loved one to validate who you are is depleting for you and your partner. And if both partners come in only trusting one half of their personhood, it’ll be a great breeding ground for something I call the coD…the big codependency.
Marriage equality, in this light, is about two people having a steadfast sense of I am… Knowing who you are, how you demonstrate beauty, what makes you alive, and how your unique dance is a contribution to the world allows you to enter relationships as a whole person. Not needing your partner is a gift. There is power in knowing that you don’t need someone, but that you want him or her. Needing vs. wanting is the difference between 1) the desperation to be cared for and 2) feeling the joy of being cherished. When a woman marries a man or a woman, and those two people unite out of their self-assured beauty- and not their shared pain- we’ll see a beautiful union that is gorgeously sustainable.