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Flirting

When You Feel Uncomfortable, Choose Self-Respect

How to get out of a familiar "mess".

This question comes to me from a reader. It is published with permission and has been edited for grammar and flow:

Dear Mariana,

I always get myself into this mess: When someone flirts with me online and I feel uncomfortable, I reluctantly respond, not really replying to their requests for photos or more intimacy, but not telling them how I feel or really speaking up either. Recently, someone I briefly dated a few years ago added me to social media and has been messaging me barely-clothed pictures of him that I don’t ask for, as well as suggesting we video chat, asking me for pictures, and flirting with me. Last year, I asked him whether he wanted to date again, and he said he was seeing someone, so we stopped talking, but since adding me on social media now he's been really forward. He has pictures of a girl up on his profile, and I’m not sure if it’s his girlfriend, but it looks that way. Last night, he wrote to me again. This time, for the first time, I flirted with him, but instead of flirting back, he said something that made me feel really ashamed of flirting with him. I got really upset because he's the one who's been forward with me this whole time and deleted our messages. I don't even understand what happened, but I feel like a fool. Do you have any advice for how I can stop always doing this to myself?

Thanks.

--

Hi There,

Thank you for your message and I'm sorry you've had this experience. There’s clearly some part of you that wants nothing to do with this person or people with whom you are involved in these situations. The tell-tale sign is this: You feel uncomfortable. Rather than listening to this feeling and/or letting your feelings be known, it seems that some need – which could be boredom, attention, approval, or simply not knowing what to say or having the skill to say it – overtakes you and leads you down a path where you sacrifice your integrity. The problem with not listening to your initial feelings in these contexts is that it erodes the trust you have in yourself. With that, your sense of self-trust and worth can diminish and when you are put in similar situations down the line, you are increasingly less likely to make decisions that are beneficial to you, because you no longer trust or value yourself when you repeatedly sacrifice yourself in this way for others.

When you were initially hesitant to flirt back, you inherently understood that you were not interested and/or that there was something unclear about his relationship status and the truth in his own feelings (considering the context of your past with him), and yet you allowed his behavior to continue, despite feeling uncomfortable. Without further detail, I’m not sure what your reasons were for pushing past initial uncomfortable feelings and flirting with him, but what is clear is that when he did not reciprocate, you not only felt upset, but ashamed. Shame is a dangerous emotion when mishandled that makes us feel that we are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, as people, to the core. It triggers us to devalue ourselves, which can also spur into feeling intense remorse, anger or negative affect in general. Likely in an attempt to cope with these negative feelings, you deleted your messages (thus trying to psychologically distance or erase the acts you now find shameful).

The truth of the matter is, as an adult, you made a choice to flirt with him, though I suspect there are underlying reasons to make them, which would best be worked out with a professional, particularly as this has been a common pattern in your life. You felt from early on, however, that something was amiss about this person and situation, but continued contact nonetheless, deceiving yourself and not taking yourself or your needs seriously. If you do not take your needs seriously, no one else can. You are worth more than treating yourself like someone whose needs come second, and you are worth more than rarely taking your own feelings and needs into account. If someone makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself what is truly the worst that could happen if you let your feelings be known: Asking for clarification by saying “I’m not comfortable flirting" or "I'm uncomfortable with this if you have a girlfriend; do you?” not only clears the air but it does much more than that – it allows you to see yourself as someone who is respectable who takes yourself, your needs, and your feelings into account. Once you begin seeing yourself this way, others will too. The attention, flirtation, conversation, and the way he perceives you is not worth the sacrifice for your own self-respect. Repeatedly putting yourself and your needs seriously will allow you to trust yourself again over time and make decisions that are healthy for you.

If you feel uncomfortable in the future, take yourself seriously, listen to yourself, and speak up for yourself. Once you start treating yourself as someone who deserves more, you are sure to find it – most importantly, in yourself. Good luck!

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mariana

Kindly note: Thank you to readers who submit questions. Kindly use my author page to do so in lieu of other methods. Due to increased volumes, I am only able to respond to a handful of questions, some of which will be published here. Please submit only if you are comfortable having your question made anonymous, edited for flow, and posted with my response on Psychology Today.

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