Everyone feels insecure at times. Insecurities can sneak into any relationship, whether at work or with family, in your romantic relationship, or with friends. If you’ve ever felt burdened with insecurities in your relationship and are unsure how to move forward, you are not alone! We chatted with therapist H.M. Humphrey to answer the top five most common questions about relationship insecurities. Read on to learn about where insecurities come from, how they affect a relationship, and how you can overcome them through open and vulnerable communication.
Q: What are some common causes of feeling insecure in a relationship?
A: Common causes of insecurity in a relationship include (but are not limited to) emotional and physical affairs and other kinds of attachment injuries. Sometimes betrayals of trust look very obvious, like hooking up with another person. Other times they can appear more subtle, like one partner not helping enough when a new baby is brought home. Either way, the emotional impact is similar, breeding feelings of fear, mistrust, and anger.
Personal insecurities that existed before the relationship can continue or intensify in current relationships. Most of us don’t escape childhood unscathed, and it’s a typical time of life when we begin to internalize negative beliefs about ourselves. Our experiences with our parents and other meaningful relationships can create raw spots of emotional insecurity. If those raw spots are unaddressed, emotional insecurity can create distress in our present-day relationship. Personal insecurities may materialize in negative self-talk or eroded self-esteem: “I’m not good enough, my hurt doesn’t matter, I’m not lovable.” Fortunately, we can always learn to heal and grow.
Q: Can being insecure in a relationship be a healthy and normal experience, or is it always negative?
A: It is normal to experience insecurities in your life, especially within close relationships. The more important a relationship is to us, the more we have to lose, and thus the more insecurity we may experience. In some ways, feeling insecure is healthy because fear helps us pay attention to what’s important. The fear emotion prompts us to take action. For example, if partner A feels fearful about partner B’s relationship with an outside person, the fear may indicate a need for stronger boundaries to protect the relationship and prevent an affair. Ideally, this couple will follow that prompt, and implement boundaries. This is an example of how fear can guide us to keep a connection safe and secure.
Insecurities can also negatively affect your relationship. We often see this adverse effect due to negative self-belief and the accompanying emotion (like fear or shame) one (or both) partners are experiencing. Just like we might start limping to compensate for an injury, we also have ways of coping or compensating when we are in emotional insecurity or pain. In the world of psychology, we call those “defenses.” Criticism, projection, defensiveness, blame, denial, and shutdown are common defensive behaviors for emotional pain. Those defenses offer protection for the underlying insecurities.
Some amount of defense is typical in a relationship. While defenses have an understandable, protective function, they can lead to problems in a relationship. The insecurities are only dangerous when a couple’s defenses or protection becomes rigid and stuck. A rigid, unmovable defense creates a negative interaction pattern that can smother a relationship over time. Imagine a couple who is stuck in blame and defensiveness. Any time a sensitive topic arises, the couple is unable to have a productive conversation as fighting always ensues. The relationship is likely to fail if the negative interaction pattern is left unaddressed.
Q: How can insecurities in a relationship impact my emotional and mental health?
A: Insecurities such as the belief that one is unworthy, undesirable, inadequate, or unloveable can trigger painful feelings. Those painful feelings typically involve shame, fear, and sadness. If these beliefs and accompanying feelings become more intense, they can significantly impact your emotional and mental health. Unresolved, intense feelings often lead to increased anxiety and depression, creating unproductive and frustrating patterns of negativity. And when both partners are experiencing insecurities but do not address them together, a negative interaction pattern will usually occur. This negative pattern prevents effective communication and resolution. If this pattern continues, it could lead to the breakdown of the relationship. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to end that way!
Q: How can I communicate my insecurities to my partner without damaging our relationship?
A: If you want to communicate your insecurities to your partner, it’s best to do so in a self-focused, non-blaming manner. The key is for partners to learn how to share and accept vulnerability. Open and safe conversations allow each partner to listen and respond with kindness and comfort rather than reactivity. Sharing your personal and relationship insecurities makes it easier for your partner to hear and respond with love and give us the comfort and reassurance you need. If you are getting stuck in reactivity/protection, such as blame or defensiveness, try to slow down and take a breath. Remember, rigid defenses lead to negative patterns that damage a relationship. For more in-depth guidance on how to avoid negative patterns, and improve communication, check out this blog post.
Q: Are there any specific therapeutic techniques or strategies you use to help couples learn how to overcome relationship insecurities and build healthier relationships?
A: Yes! My particular approach to relationship work is a therapy called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT is a science-based approach that strengthens a couple’s attachment bond so that partners can better turn towards one another with their insecurities. For more information on EFT, check out this blog post. At Connect Couples Therapy, we also utilize the Gottman Method, which helps couples learn tools to alleviate distress in various relationship aspects.
Need a bit more help with insecurities in your relationship?
Sometimes the need for support extends beyond self-help. Schedule an appointment today if you want to help understand how insecurities are blocking your connection and how to heal from them. Our therapists are available if you live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. We offer virtual and in-person sessions. Contact us to get started.