It's no secret that women struggle to maintain positive self-esteem. From the age-old question "Does this make my butt look big?" to more serious issues like feeling like you're the black sheep of your family, we all fight against our inner critic on daily basis.
Unfortunately, your battle against negative self-esteem doesn't only affect yourself, but it also impacts your romantic relationships. According to a 2013 study, self-esteem influences our own relationship satisfaction, as well as that of our partner's. When we routinely feel bad about ourselves and question our self-worth, insecurities creep into the ways in which we interact with our partner.
The Journal of Personality study also found that the impact of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction was consistent across gender, age and length of the relationship, meaning this is an issue that can influence everyone. So the question is... how do we fix this?
To find out how your insecurities have developed, first you have to look at your past, suggests Julie de Azevedo Hanks, licensed therapist and author of The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide For Overwhelmed Women. "Our early childhood relationships set a template for our relationships in the future."
How Your Past Sets The Stage For Future Relationships
Hanks says that we move towards the familiar when creating relationships. We're drawn toward what we know and "are wired for connections." The key to creating healthy relationships is balance, according to Hanks. We all have wounds, feelings and validations that we want to be met. "We must be able to give a portion of the validation we need back to ourselves, so that we aren't entirely dependent on external sources."
In adulthood, we seek out relationships we feel deserving of as an attempt to heal wounds from childhood relationships, explains Hanks. "And certain unmet needs will manifest themselves in our adult relationships."
When building adult relationships, we tend to express our wounds, or unmet needs, in different ways.
One common way people express their unmet childhood needs is by distancing themselves from their partner. When a person distances herself in her relationship, she can come off as aloof and uncaring, but what she's really trying to do is detach herself from the past and hide her emotions.
On the other hand, a person can express her insecurities through her relationship by being overtly needy (e.g. someone who is typically overwhelmed by her emotions). These individuals usually have a difficult time calming themselves down and practicing self-soothing techniques. "By acting needy, these emotionally-overwhelmed individuals end up overwhelming their partner as well," says Hanks. "This causes their partner to feel burnt out."
5 Tips To Address Insecurities In Your Relationships
For whatever reason you're feeling insecure, Hanks offers these tips to help you start feeling better about yourself and establishing a healthier relationship with your partner.
1. Make sense of your life story.
We can't change the past. Our childhood experiences have shaped us as the women we are today -- both the good and the bad parts. However, what we CAN do is change the way we view the past. "It's important to make sense of your life story," advises Hanks. "Try to think about experiences in your past and how these experiences could have shaped actions you took in the future."
By linking past experiences to your present, you'll be able to better understand the motives behind your actions and move forward, so that your past -- while it remains an integral part of yourself -- doesn't define you.
2. Understand how to express insecurities in your relationship.
When trying to address the insecurities that seep into your relationship, it's important for you to be honest with yourself. And part of that is becoming self-aware, says Hanks. Are you a person who tends to distance yourself from your partner or are you more of the needy type? Answering honestly is crucial. "You need to tune into your inner world and then share it with your partner."
3. Show self-compassion.
Once you've become aware of how you express your insecurities, it's important to continue to practice self-awareness and recognize moments when you're letting your insecurities shine through. In these moments, practice self-compassion.
"Self-compassion is the response to yourself when suffering," says Hanks. Unlike self-esteem, we have control of self-compassion. Self-esteem involves the evaluation of yourself compared to others. It encompasses your feelings toward your performance in a certain situation. We can't control how we feel, but we can control the response to our feelings. "Self-compassion is that controlled response through which we accept our insecurities and work through them."
4. Practice self care.
Fulfilling basic needs, such as hunger and thirst, can make a big difference when trying to strengthen your relationship habits, practicing self-awareness and showing self-compassion. If you don't satisfy your hunger or quench your thirst, this can act as an obstacle when fulfilling these higher tasks. "Unmet basic needs magnify negativities and make things seem more difficult," says Hanks.
5. Separate self-worth from performance.
While showing self-compassion, it's important to separate your self-worth from your performance. "A lot of us feel our worth is based on our performance on a given day," says Hanks. This idea is known as contingent self-worth. When you perform poorly, you get down on yourself and feel insecure, which is when you really want to show yourself some self-compassion.
In order to reduce the amount of times you have to go through this tedious process, you can try to separate your performance from your worth. If you do poorly in a game, try not to let that determine your worth, advises Hanks. "I know it's easier said than done, but you're not defined by how well you do on a job interview or a sports game and don't let anyone, especially yourself, let you think that.
No matter how self-aware and self-accepting you become, there are always going to be thing you're insecure about... your "raw spots." You can think of these "raw spots" as metaphorical sores, says Hanks. You wouldn't pick at a sore that 's healing, right? There are just some things that we're always going to be sensitive about. "It's important to know what your 'raw spots' are and to also encourage your partner to be respectful of these 'sores'."
Being in a relationship is a balance between loving someone the way they are and encouraging them to grow in positive ways. As you prepare to seek healthy ways to deal with your insecurities in your relationship, don't forget to ask your significant other to help you through this process.
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