Artwork by Kalok Ng
The first relationship we had was with our mother when we are in the womb. We were safe and protected in the womb; we were warm and well fed. When we were born, we bonded with our parents through feeding, sleeping and eye contact.
As we grew into children, we realised that we were separate from our mother, and we developed a sense of self. If our home environment was neglectful, rejecting or abusive, we may have come to the conclusion that we were not worthy of love. If our home was safe and warm, we may have come to the conclusion that we were worthy of love. This relationship dictated our attachment style to our parents and our image about ourself. We may have had an avoidant attachment style to one of our caretakers if they were too rejecting, abusive or if they were overbearing. We may have had an anxious attachment anxious style to one of our parents if they were neglectful or abusive. As we matured and formed other relationships, we formed different attachment patterns to different individuals.
An avoidant attachment to a person is the idea that “I am worthy of love, but the other person is not.” If you are feeling an avoidant attachment to someone you don’t want the other person to become too psychologically close or dependent on you. You dislike the idea of psychological intimacy and prefer to remain independent of the other person.
An anxious attachment to a person is the idea that, “I am not worthy of love, but the other person is worthy of love.” This is the feeling that you want to become intimate or psychologically close to this other person, but you believe that they do not want to be close to you. You might be anxious about the other person abandoning you.
Secure attachment is the idea that, “I am worthy of love, and you are worthy of love.” Ideally, both people in the relationship have a secure attachment to each other. When the attachment is secure, communication and growth can happen. Both partners feel safe and secure within the relationship.
If we are insecure about our worthiness of love, we may become vulnerable to the influences of the media and society that may heighten our sensitivities to rejection and failure. This, in turn, may harm our relationships, continuing the belief that we are not loveable. Certain steps can help us to break this pattern.
Recognising negative thought patterns and reframing them.
Sometimes we may have a negative internal monologue because we have been around negative people, or we have been abused. When we recognise that we have a negative internal monologue – such as calling ourselves “stupid, fat, or ugly.” Try to reframe that thought to constructive criticism. For example, “My boyfriend said he wants to spend time with his friends. I understand it is nice for him to spend time with them.” Instead of “I think he is cheating on me because I am fat.” The first phrase provides a workable situation that enhances growth, whereas the second phrase leaves you unmotivated with a lowered self-esteem.
Allow yourself some space around your fears and emotions without judging them.
We evolved to heave fear to keep us out of danger and to prevent us from being eaten by bears, or killed by a neighbouring tribe. However, sometimes our fear is irrational. Sometimes we are afraid to talk to another person we are attracted to because we have a fear of rejection. In this case, don’t judge your fear. Don’t put yourself down. Instead, breathe into the part of your body that is tight from the fear, and imagine a space opening up in that area. Run through the worst and best case scenario in your mind. If they reject you, how will you respond? If they accept you, how will you respond? Remember, rejection does not mean you are not worthy of love. It merely means you are at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Learn communication strategies that enable you to express how you feel
If you feel that you are unworthy of love, you may have a hard time articulating your feelings. This might be because you have not been listened too in the past, or you believe that your feelings do not matter. If this is the case, begin by noticing sensations in your body. For example, if you have a stomach ache, ask yourself if you are anxious or scared, or if you have a tight chest ask yourself if you are sad or angry. When you begin to recognise the emotional signals in your body, you can be patient with yourself in learning how to verbally express your feelings. Another option is to write your feelings out and send to the other person.
Learn strategies to boost your self-esteem.
Learn about who you are as a human being. What are you curious about, what is your passion? What are your strengths and weaknesses and how can you promote growth in your life by setting goals and accomplishing them. Take care of yourself physically by going to the gym, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. Refuse to allow any negative people in your life who abuse you.
Dr Monica Borschel is a US trained Clinical Psychologist who specialises in loss and attachment. Get in touch with Dr. Borschel: firstname.lastname@example.org