For the most part, people would like to find a healthy and loving relationship. People who have had complicated relationships in the past might be confused about what a healthy relationship is. As they search for love, friends and family might say things like, “you have to love yourself first.”
Take, for example, the case of Annie. Annie grew up in a home where her parents fought constantly. Annie’s mother was controlling and would give Annie the cold shoulder when Annie did not do what she said. If Annie did not do her hair or dress the correct way, her mother would criticise her and then not speak to her for days. When Annie’s mother needed something from Annie, she would be warm and affectionate with her. Annie’s father was passive and would allow Annie’s mother to devalue the family because he was co-dependent and afraid to leave the marriage.
In this way, Annie did not have a healthy role model for what relationships should be. Her self-esteem suffered from her mother’s hot and cold behaviour. She felt abandoned by her father because he did not protect her. When Annie began dating, she would feel insecure and anxious because she thought that no one would like her. This belief that she was not good enough lead to some anxious behaviours that pushed people away. The pushing away was not because Annie did not love herself; it was because her insecurities and anxieties led to frightening actions or were hurtful to the men she was dating. She would often wonder, “Why am I still single?” If we were to clarify what “love yourself first, then someone will love you” means, it would be that insecurities and anger lead to pushing away behaviours that people are not aware of.
If you feel attachment anxiety or social anxiety, understanding your fears and insecurities better will help you change your behaviour. Finding self-love can be a long journey, but that does not mean that you cannot have a healthy relationship. Practising self-compassion can help to calm some of the negative self-talk that leads to anxious behaviours.
Here are some pointers on recognising and finding secure relationships even when you are feeling insecure:
1. Recognise your insecurities
Write your insecurities down and be curious about what behaviours come from these insecurities. Are you speaking poorly of yourself and others? Do you panic if your date doesn’t call you every day? Do you lash out if you feel that you are being rejected?
2. Do you like someone just because they like you?
When people are eager to find a relationship, they fall into the “they like me so I will like them back” trap. When you are on a date, it is like an interview. Don’t over-focus on whether they like you or not; focus on whether this person has the traits you are looking for.
3. What won’t you tolerate?
Make a list of things that you will not tolerate in a relationship. For example, I will not tolerate verbal or emotional abuse.
4. Real and false alarms:
If you have been betrayed or abused in previous relationships, you might have some false alarms. For example, you go on a first date, and your date calls you three days later instead of the next day. Your first thought is that he is with another woman. This leads you to lash out when he does call you. A real alarm would be if you continued to date this person and you are in a monogamous relationship with him, and he disappears for a day or more at a time.
The bottom line is that you can work on loving yourself and finding a healthy partner at the same time. The trick is being honest with yourself about your insecurities and recognising when a partner is unhealthy for you. If your main priority is finding a partner, you might tolerate abuse if you believe you will never find anyone else.
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Although I am a registered clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology, I am not a licensed psychologist or any other type of licensed therapist in the United States. The information I am providing here is educational and informational. This social media page does not provide professional advice, nor does it create a professional-client relationship or any other type of relationship between us. You should always consult your own licensed mental health professional before making any changes regarding your mental health. My goal is to educate, guide, consult, and empower you regarding your mental health journey. Always consult your licensed mental healthcare provider(s) and never disregard or delay medical advice based on information posted on this page or post.