Your relationships with others mirror your relationship with yourself. The way you feel about yourself directly influences the quality of your relationships with others, as well as your behaviors and roles. With a healthy view of yourself that includes self-acceptance, self-love, forgiveness, and insight, dating and relationships will feel easier, more satisfying, and more loving. You will be better able to handle the natural conflicts that arise in a partnership because you will be less likely to interpret each roadblock as a personal defeat or a sign that your partner does not love you. Rather, you will be more open to joining your partner to resolve the issue instead of protecting yourself first and foremost. Simply put, your own self-esteem breeds relationship health and satisfaction.
The opposite is also true. A poor self-image feeds relationships in negative ways. If you feel unworthy, you will have trouble believing that an ideal partner will pick you over someone else. Even if your ideal partner commits to you, your feelings of low self-worth will play out and cause you to question your partner’s feelings for you. If you tend to create conflict out of nowhere, low self-esteem might be the culprit.
You might find yourself testing your partner’s ability to love and commit to you or going into protective mode when your negative self-identify is in control. This might include putting up walls, picking fights, or leaving your partner before he or she can leave you. Although these behaviors might feel necessary and helpful in moments of distress or fear, they ultimately lead to relationship sabotage.
As well as projecting how you feel about yourself onto your relationships, you might assume that the same patterns or circumstances will happen to you over and over again. In your romantic relationships, you might find yourself consistently taking on the role of the pursuer or withdrawer. Over time, you become more comfortable with these roles, even if they get in the way of relationship or career success.
Unfortunately, these assumptions and patterns may lead to the recreation of similar unhealthy relationship dynamics. For instance, you might find yourself unconsciously picking the same types of unavailable or abusive partners or going after partners who will ultimately leave you, if that has been your previous experience.
These forces are in play without awareness or conscious thought.
For example, if your father left you when you were little, your undeveloped brain might have led you to believe that all men will leave you. If you witnessed your mother nitpicking and controlling your father, you might have bought into the idea that all women will control you and therefore you need walls to protect yourself. Although your brain does its best to process these events and experiences, all too often it overgeneralizes and equates the past with the present. From a rational perspective, you know that your parents’ behavior does not equal your partner’s and that relationships are not one-size-fits-all, but it can be more difficult to form a healthier reality in present life relationships.
Long story short: Your past romantic relationships (or lack thereof), early childhood and adolescence, social and family life might not have gone as you had hoped, but you can control how much of the past you bring into the present and how positively you feel about yourself.
How can you lighten any lingering baggage or negativity from the past and enjoy positive relationships now and in the future?
- Don’t assume the worst. If your new girlfriend doesn’t text you back right away, talk yourself down from assuming that she dislikes you, doesn’t want to be with you or will never speak to you again. Although your mind might tempt you to believe that these statements are true (even if your new relationship is going well), they are not facts and you do not have to buy into them. You might just be remembering an old pattern or experience that is triggering a negative response in this moment. Bring yourself back to reality and resist believing that things don’t work out for you or you will be abandoned time and time again. Be mindful of those types of thoughts, then course correct when necessary.
- Be AWARE of what you bring into your love life. This includes all of your “stuff”- from the way you view yourself, your relationship expectations, unhealed emotional wounds, the roles you commonly take on in relationships, how deserving you feel, etc.
- Commit to owning your “stuff” and separating these ideas from what is actually happening now. You (and only you) are responsible for your stuff and it is crucial that you do not project any of this onto your partner. When you notice yourself projecting, talk to yourself in encouraging and compassionate ways (without judgment) and remind yourself that the past does not equal the present unless you let it.
- Regardless of your relationship status, vow to take care of your own mental and physical health and act in ways that increase self-esteem. Try committing to exercise and healthy eating, seeking professional help when necessary, surrounding yourself with positive people, spending time enjoying your hobbies and interests and practicing gratitude.
- Don’t hold yourself back from love. As frightening as it might be, allow yourself to be vulnerable, take risks, and act on your desire to find and enjoy a great partner. No matter what you might believe about yourself or how bad you might feel, you are deserving of love, health, and happiness.