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The Trouble with Insecurity

How those who suffer from low self-esteem
sabotage their own
relationships.

Most people seek a soul mate to love them unconditionally. But those who need such acceptance most—the terminally insecure—often sabotage their own chances at bliss.

When we're feeling low, we often regain confidence through a mate's love and support. Unfortunately, says Sandra Murray, Ph.D., people who suffer from low self-esteem assume that their loved ones notice their glaring faults more than their redeeming virtues.

In four experiments, Murray and colleagues asked subjects to think of a time they'd disappointed their partner. Finally, subjects answered a questionnaire assessing the strength of their partner's love and their feelings for him or her. Mulling over the past incident led insecure subjects to report that their mate did not accept them as they were. Ironically, insecure people seemed to push away a possible source of reassurance by thinking less of their loved ones. Afraid of rejection, the less confident fear that their partners will get wind of their flaws, explains Murray, of the State University of New York at Buffalo. They try to distance themselves before they get dumped.

"People with low self-esteem are doubly at risk" of feeling vulnerable in a relationship, she says. "They tend to believe their partner's regard is conditional." Luckily, says Murray, stable relationships are known to boost self-esteem. So the longer the insecure person hangs on to a loving partner, the less likely she is to drive him away.