Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Break the Cycle of Insecure Relationships

Getting involved with an unhealthy person will put your needs on the back burner

HSPs have a high tolerance for dealing with difficult people. When a non-sensitive person might head for the hills, our danger alert signals just aren’t going off. When someone is troubled, our subconscious minds immediately strap on a life vest, a first aid kit and night goggles. HSPs don’t consciously want these kinds of relationships and would prefer to avoid them at all costs, but we feel driven to help. And on some deep level we can also believe that we can bring an unhealthy person up to a healthy level.

What usually happens, however, is that no matter how strong, secure and healthy we are, an unhealthy person will not rise up but will instead bring us down, so that eventually we feel as weak, depressed, anxious and insecure as they do. So if you’re feeling confused or upset and your partner blames you for their negative feelings, criticises you for being too needy or tries to make you feel bad about yourself, you believe it. And that’s why it’s not only hard to leave, but why your self-esteem continues to crumble, making it harder and harder to stand up for yourself.

In their book Attached, The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love, authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller explain that our brains are hardwired to seek the support of our partner during times of stress through emotional and physical proximity. Even if the source of that stress is our partner, we are biologically driven to seek their support. What that means is that there is nothing wrong with seeking our partner’s support. If our partner fails to reassure us, our brain send us signals telling us to continue to try to achieve the closeness we need. When our attempts at closeness fail, we become increasingly needy and anxious. The unhealthy person will then act out in angry, selfish, defensive or avoidant ways, while the healthy person will grow increasingly insecure and depressed, creating a downward cycle of unmet needs, insecurity and unhappiness.

According to Levine and Heller, we are built to be emotionally dependent on our partners. That is what relationships are for, to provide mutual support, understanding, comfort and reassurance, especially during stressful times. We were never meant to endure all of life’s trials alone. But this dependence means that our partner’s feelings, moods and behaviour affect us. We cannot expect to live with someone who is narcissistic, for example, and expect ourselves to ignore their antics and simply satisfy our own needs. It just doesn’t work.

Knowing that a relationship with another person hinges on both partners’ ability to give and receive support, however, means that getting involved with an unhealthy, insecure person requires your needs to take a back seat.

So here are a few tips on how to love as a sensitive person, and ensure that your relationship does what it’s supposed to do – foster your personal growth, ensure your safety and security and get your emotional needs met:

• When you meet someone, ask yourself if they can give you what you need emotionally. For example, will they be there for you and provide you with the reassurance, hugs and understanding you need after a hard day?

• Someone who is not consistently there for you will trigger your anxieties and fears. If you feel anxious or insecure in a relationship, it’s a sign that person is not safe.

• A safe person will respond to your emotional needs with calm reassurance.

• Don’t expect anyone to read your mind. It’s up to you to tell your partner what you need and how you feel. Be specific.

• If your partner gets angry or defensive and you feel confused or upset, get up and leave. Take some time to be alone, wait until your feelings calm down, and then think about how to proceed so that you are not reacting in fear.

As difficult as it may be, we need to put ourselves first. So while you can show concern and compassion for the struggles and insecurities of others, it’s important not to jump into the fray with them. Focus on your own needs, express them, and be willing to walk away to greener pastures.

More from Deborah Ward
More from Psychology Today