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Do You Outsource Your Self-Esteem to Relationships?

Start breaking the pattern of inadequate love.

As an adult, do you find yourself continually attracted to and coupling with partners who are inattentive or inconsistent in their love? You may be repeating the pattern of how you were loved in childhood.

It’s a sad reality that people who weren't loved adequately as children are often loved inadequately in adulthood. Children tune in to the messages they receive from their parents. If parents are distracted, overwhelmed by life, or emotionally or financially burdened, they can’t give their children the kind of attentive love and care they need to thrive. Although a parent may deeply love a child, just saying it isn’t enough. Of course, parents don’t have to be (and can’t be) perfect. However, parents who actively demonstrate love and care on a regular basis tend to raise children who are naturally drawn to healthy love in adulthood.

Instead of settling for a few crumbs when it comes to love, hit the pause button and take a step back. Through self-love and self-compassion, you can give yourself the love you didn't receive in your youth. The more you learn to value yourself, the more you will be attracted to people who can love you in a similar and more mutually gratifying manner.

Instead of banging your head against a wall by dating the same type of person again and again and hoping for different results, just stop dating for a period of time. Instead, take the time to build yourself up from the inside out. Many people to whom I give this advice respond, “OK, I get it. But what do I do? How do I start to love myself?” In my book Building Self-Love 5 Steps, I describe specific exercises and insights to build a new pattern of self-love. Here are four to consider:

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1. Spend time alone each day.

If you never felt adequately loved, being alone can be a terrifying experience. You were never taught how to be kind and friendly with yourself, so you avoid yourself at all costs. This pattern of avoiding yourself, however, just perpetuates low self-esteem. Commit to spending at least one hour a day by yourself. Spend this time writing in a journal, meditating, or finding ways to be with yourself that are peaceful and comfortable. If you don’t take the time, you never give yourself the opportunity to figure out what you need to feel safe and secure standing alone.

2. Talk to yourself compassionately.

Pause from time to time to pay attention to what your internal narrative is telling you about yourself and your life. We all have a little voice in our heads that comments, judges, and draws conclusions about our lives and about ourselves. Start noticing yours, and then work to make it less harsh, less judgmental, and kinder in tone and words so that you can start connecting to yourself in a warm and loving manner.

3. Develop an interest that’s all yours.

Another extremely effective way to build self-esteem is to do something that doesn’t involve your friends or family but that gives you a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. If you struggle with low self-esteem, it may be hard at first to allow yourself to come up with what it is you want to do because you think you won’t be good enough. This isn’t about being “good," though; it’s about doing good. Perhaps you're interested in volunteering or in developing individualized exercise or physical fitness goals. Perhaps you take on a small part-time job. Anything that helps you connect with the intrinsic rewards of feeling competent and effective will make a difference. But remember: It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing something that makes you feel good about yourself.

4. Force yourself to make your own decisions.

When you struggle with low self-worth, you come to feel as though you don’t know what’s best for you. Feeling at a loss, you use others to guide and steer your course. Other people may manipulate you or take advantage of you in this way. Instead, become your own compass. When you can’t decide what to do or not to do, sit with the angst. Allow yourself the space to plot your own course. Even if you make the wrong decision, it’s still a success because it was your decision and you had your best interest in mind.

Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC and author of Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough" and Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and Facebook, or check out

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