A: I’m sorry that you have been carrying this burden for so long, but it is time to lay it down and take charge of your life. You are well into adulthood and what should matter most is how you feel about yourself. Others will treat you how you allow them to treat you. If you hold your head high and focus your time and energy on the things you are proud of, such as your sons and your career goals, it may eventually change how others view you. If it doesn’t, it is their problem, not yours.
We all make mistakes, some bigger than others, and some lasting longer than others, but no one is perfect. It sounds like you made some bad choices in choosing partners, but who hasn’t? Look at some other “Ask the Therapist” questions. Look at the selection of books in the self-help section of the bookstore. Talk to your friends or watch TV. The majority of marriages in America end in divorce these days. My point being, relationship issues are quite common. You are normal in this regard.
What you need to work on is not caring so much what others think of you. Due to the amount of shame piled upon you by your family, you may need to seek some help. This could include attending a support group, finding a therapist, taking an assertiveness class, or reading some self-improvements books. I would encourage you to look into the books by author Brene Brown, who has written several books on the topics you are struggling with. In the end, we can focus on our faults and be miserable, or we can learn to appreciate our strengths and build upon those. I believe everyone is special and deserving, I hope you can begin to believe this, too.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts