“What ruins relationships and causes most fights is insecurity” — Olivia Wilde
Insecurity is an inner feeling of being threatened and/or inadequate in some way. We’ve all felt it at one time or another. But while it’s quite normal to have feelings of self-doubt once in a while, chronic insecurity can sabotage your success in life and can be particularly damaging to your intimate relationships. Chronic insecurity robs you of your peace and prevents you from being able to engage with your partner in a relaxed and authentic way. The actions that come from insecurity—always asking for reassurance, jealousy, accusing, and snooping—erode trust, aren’t attractive, and can push a partner away.
While many people tend to think that insecurity comes from something their partner said or did, the reality is that most insecurity comes from inside ourselves. The feeling can start early in life with an insecure attachment to your parents, or can develop after being hurt or rejected by someone you care about. Insecurities are maintained and built upon when you negatively compare yourself to other people and harshly judge yourself with critical inner dialogue. The majority of relationship insecurity is based on irrational thoughts and fears—that you are not good enough, that you will not be OK without a partner, that you will never find anyone better, that you are not truly lovable.
When you start to notice that sinking feeling of insecurity there are a few things you can do:
1. Take stock of your value.
When you feel insecure, you are often focused on something you feel is lacking about you. In most well-matched relationships, each partner brings different qualities and strengths that compliment the other. It is possible to be equals in different ways. In order to feel more secure in a relationship it helps to know what you have to offer to the other person. You don’t have to be rich or beautiful to offer something—personality characteristics are far more important to the overall quality of a relationship. Think about the traits you have as a person—you may be nice, trustworthy, funny, kind, or a good communicator. These are traits most people value in a partner. And think about how you make the other person’s life better: Do you make them feel loved, supported, and happy? These are things everyone wants to feel in a relationship, but many often don’t. Focus on what you offer instead of what you feel you lack; this will change your perspective. If the other person doesn’t appreciate what you have to offer, that’s his or her loss.
2. Build your self-esteem.
Research shows that people with more relationship insecurity tend to have poorer self-esteem. When you aren’t feeling good about who you are on the inside, it is natural to want to look outside of yourself for validation. However, trying to feel good by getting approval from your partner is a losing situation for any relationship. When your well-being depends on someone else, you give away all of your power. A healthy partner won’t want to carry this kind of burden and it can push him or her away. Feeling good about who you are is a win-win for the relationship. You get to enjoy the sense of well-being that comes with genuinely liking yourself, and self-confidence is an attractive quality that makes your partner want to be closer to you.
Building your self-esteem isn't as difficult as it may seem. Building self-confidence comes with experience, but there are two steps you can take that will rapidly improve how you feel about yourself, Learn to silence your inner critic and practice self-compassion, and retrain yourself to focus on the aspects of yourself you like instead of the ones you don’t like. (To learn how to silence your inner critic, click here. For a simple 30-day exercise that trains your attention to focus on your positive qualities, click here.)
3. Keep your independence.
A healthy relationship is comprised of two healthy people. Becoming overly enmeshed in a relationship can lead to poor boundaries and a diffuse sense of your own needs. Maintaining your sense of self-identity and taking care of your needs for personal well-being are the keys to keeping a healthy balance in a relationship. When you aren't dependent on your relationship to fill all of your needs, you feel more secure about your life. Being an independent person who has things going on outside of the relationship also makes you a more interesting and attractive partner. Ways to maintain your independence include: Making time for your own friends, interests, and hobbies, maintaining financial independence, and having self-improvement goals that are separate from your relationship goals. In essence: Don’t forget to do you.
4. Trust in yourself.
Feeling secure in a relationship depends on trusting the other person but, more importantly, on learning to trust yourself. Trust yourself to know that no matter what the other person does, you will take care of you. Trust yourself to know that you won’t ignore your inner voice when it tells you that something isn’t right. Trust yourself not to hide your feelings, trust yourself to make sure your needs are met, and trust yourself that you won’t lose your sense of self-identity. Trust yourself to know that if the relationship isn’t working, you will be able to leave and still be a wholly functioning individual. When you trust yourself, feeling secure is almost a guarantee. If finding this kind of trust in yourself seems very difficult on your own, you may wish to work with a professional who can help you learn how to do this.
It's important to remember that no one is perfect—we all come with some baggage. But it isn’t necessary to be perfect in order to be in a happy, healthy, and secure relationship. When you take your attention off of what other people think and keep the focus on yourself, you can’t help become a better, more secure version of yourself.
Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, is the director of the Outpatient Psychotherapy Treatment Program at Emory Healthcare, the developer of Future Directed Therapy, and the author of Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life.