For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to love and trust themselves first. They must feel they are needed and appreciated for support they give. If you have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. You may fear depending on your partner but may not be aware of the source of it. Achieving interdependence in a relationship is possible but takes time and intention. Love is uncertain. It's inherently risky because your partner could leave you at a moment's notice, betray you, or stop loving you.
Truth be told, an unconscious fear of rejection can cause you to sabotage a relationship or stay in a self-destructive one too long -- even though you may not be aware of it. Relationship expert Margaret Paul, Ph.D. writes "Since people attract each other at their common level of woundedness or their common level of health, an unavailable person's fear of commitment likely mirrors your fear of commitment." For many, a fear of intimacy may translate into testing a relationship by picking a partner who is wrong for you or playing it safe by distancing yourself.
The vast majority of the over 320 women that I've interviewed for my book Daughters of Divorce describe themselves as independent, steadfast, loyal and conscientious. They are hardworking, trustworthy, and self-reliant -- and pride themselves on these traits. They may feel self-assured and autonomous -- confident they can take care of themselves while others can't. The truth is that in spite of many wonderful traits, most of these women lack self-trust and tend to question their own judgment.
I sat down for coffee with Katie one afternoon. A beautiful, outgoing, and lively 20-something, she has found herself in an on and off again relationship with a guy she just can't seem to break away from. "I've always known I'm the way I am because of my past," Katie says. I found her honesty refreshing, and so asked more. Her story, similar to so many other women, reflects the root issue of trust. One of her most intense childhood memories was waiting for her father to visit her, and he rarely contacted her. As an adult, Katie has come to understand that her father was afraid she would reject him and thought she'd be better off without him. In recent years, they've been working on mending their relationship.
Having a more realistic view of her past has helped Katie to overcome her fear of rejection. She knows that her father's absence in her life had nothing to do with her. Objectively, she knows it. Yet in the past she doubted herself. "I always felt inadequate," she says. "I felt like I was with guys I could only get so close to." However, in her current relationship, she expects to be treated respectfully by her boyfriend Brian. Because they both have trust issues, their early romance was been defined by ongoing arguments that never get resolved. But through counseling with a skilled therapist, they are working through trust issues and Katie is bravely dealing with her fear of rejection.
According to psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Firestone, "Nothing awakens hurts like a close relationship. Our relationships stir up old feelings from our past more than anything else. Our brains are even flooded with the same neurochemical in both situations." She posits that our style of attachment, formed early in life, influences which partners we choose and the dynamics that surface in our relationships. For instance, a secure attachment style will set the stage for healthy relationships, whereas someone who has an anxious pr preoccupied style may fear rejection from their partner.
8 Ways to Get Over Fear Of Rejection
While all relationships present us with risks, they are risks worth taking. The following steps will help you move forward and achieve happy, long-lasting relationships:
1. Gain awareness of your history -- dating back to childhood. For instance, if you are a people pleaser you may be drawn to partners who you attempt to fix or repair. Learn more about how your parents' unhealthy patterns have impacted your choices in partners.
2. Accept your part in the relationship dynamic. For instance if you're experiencing mistrust try to figure out how much your feelings are based on the present and how much on the past. It's natural for one person to see their style as preferred and to be convinced that their partner needs to change -- neglecting to see their part in the struggle.
3. Practice being vulnerable in small steps by expressing your thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a clear and respectful way. Try not to walk on eggshells or shove negative feelings under the rug because if they aren't dealt with it can lead to resentment.
4. Let go of being a victim and positive things will start to happen. When you see yourself as a victim, your actions will confirm a negative view of yourself. Instead, focus on the strengths that helped you cope so far in life. Don't obsess about past choices in partners but learn from them.
5. Develop realistic expectations about intimate relationships. You might be focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is -- leading to disappointment. There is no such thing as a soul mate or perfect partner. If your partner lets you down, don't always assume that a failure in competence is intentional -- sometimes people simply make a mistake.
6. Take your time getting to know a new partner before making a commitment. Make sure you've dated someone for at least two years and are at least in your late 20s before you make a life-long commitment to reduce your chance of divorce.
7. Make sure that you have common values and beliefs with people you date. Pinpoint destructive traits in some of the partners you are attracted to. Finding a good match may require that you choose a new "type" in the future.
8. Develop a resilient mindset. All relationships have their ups and downs and it's important to have a resilient mindset because a good relationship requires effort from both partners.
With time and patience, you can write a new narrative for your life -- that includes taking time to select partners who are trustworthy and willing to work on a committed relationship if that's what you desire. Learn to let go of any self-criticism based on past relationships. Since low self-esteem can be a huge detriment to achieving successful intimate relationships, make it a priority to work on your insecurities so you don't unconsciously sabotage relationships that could bring you happiness.
In closing, you don't have to let your past dictate the decisions you make today. Use positive intentions such as "I am capable of creating loving, trusting relationships." Recognize the newness in each day and believe you have the power to make positive things happen. You have an opportunity to learn from your experience and build the kind of relationships that eluded you in the past. Remember to be gentle with yourself and others on your journey.
Terry Gaspard's new book, Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents' Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks, January 2016), is available at Amazon.com. and www.movingpastdivorce.com