When I was younger I often felt inadequate and “not good enough” to be friends, lovers, or business partners with certain people. Sometimes I simply couldn’t understand what others saw in me. I was very insecure.
I ended many promising relationships because of my insecurity. In my mind, it felt easier for me to end it before they did. Walking away rather than risking the heartbreak of rejection was how I justified my behavior to myself. But after awhile, as I grew emotionally, I began to realize that I wanted and needed the comfort and support of long-term relationships.
So what did I do, and what can you do if insecurity is damaging your relationships?
You need to understand that a good relationship is about sharing ideas and enjoyable moments with another, to help each other grow in healthy ways, both together socially and as individuals. If someone really does treat you poorly or lies and cheats you out of something, feeling insecure is a natural and reasonable response. However, if you’re actually in a generally good relationship with someone, then it’s time to…
1. Stop trying to read minds.
Most relationship problems and associated social anxieties start with bad communication, which in turn leads to attempted mind reading. Mind reading occurs when two people assume that they know what the other is thinking when they don’t. This process of wondering and trying to guess what someone is thinking is a rapid route to feelings of insecurity and stress.
If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else. If they say nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation. Likewise, don’t make the people in your life try to read your mind. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Give the people in your life the information they need, rather than expecting them to know the unknowable.
It’s also important to remember that you aren’t suppose to know every little thing going on in the minds of others, even the people closest to you. When you stop trying to read their minds, you really begin to respect their right to privacy. Everyone deserves the right to think private thoughts. Constantly asking, “What are you thinking?” can provoke a person to withdraw from a relationship to find space. (Read Getting the Love You Want.)
2. Stop looking for perfect relationships.
You will end up spending your entire life hopelessly seeking the right lover and the right friends if you expect them to be perfect. Even worse, the process of doing so will drive you mad, as you feel more and more insecure with every failed relationship that doesn’t live up to your fantasy of perfection.
We’re all seeking those special relationships that feel perfect for us, but if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to realize that there are no “perfect people” for you, just different flavors of imperfect ones. That’s because we are all imperfect in some way. You yourself are imperfect in many ways, and you seek out relationships with people who are imperfect in complementary ways.
It takes a lot of life experience to grow fully into yourself and realize your own imperfections; and it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest imperfections, your unsolvable flaws – the ones that truly define who you are – that you are able to proficiently select harmonious relationships. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for imperfect people who balance you out – the perfectly imperfect people for you. (Angel and I discuss this process in detail in the Relationships chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. Stop judging current relationships based on past ones.
Think about those times when you passed an unfair judgment on someone merely because they reminded you of someone from your past who treated you poorly. Sadly, some people pass judgments like these throughout the entire duration of their long-term relationships. Simply because they were once in a relationship with someone who was abusive, dishonest, or who left them, they respond defensively to everyone else who gets close to them, even though these new relationships have been nothing but kind and supportive.
If you carry old bricks from the failed relationships of your past to your present relationships, you will build the same flawed structures that fell apart before. So if you suspect that you have been making unfair comparisons between your present relationships and a negative one from the past, take a moment and consciously reflect on the hurtful qualities of this old, negative relationship, and then think of all the ways your present relationships differ. This small exercise will help you let go of the old bricks and remind you that past pains are not indicative of present possibilities.
4. Stop inventing problems that don’t exist.
Inventing problems in our mind and then believing them is a clear path to self-sabotage. Too often we amuse ourselves with anxious predictions, deceive ourselves with negative thinking, and ultimately live in a state of hallucination about worst-case scenarios. We overlook everything but the plain, downright, simple, honest truth.
When you invent problems in your relationships, your relationships ultimately suffer. Insecurity is often the culprit. If you doubt yourself and you don’t realize your own worth, you will pass on any opportunity to let others care for you, and you will remain stuck with the insecurity issues that weigh you down.
The insecure passenger does not trust anyone else to drive. They feel out of control. They imagine that the driver is not paying attention. Or they may even fantasize that the slight jolting of the driver stepping on the breaks is a sign of doom via an impending collision. They freak themselves out by assuming that the visions they have invented in their mind represents reality.
What you need to realize is that there are normal idiosyncrasies to any relationship. There are ups and downs and mood changes, moments of affection and closeness and moments of friction. These ups and downs are normal. Wanting to be absolutely close and intimate all the time is like wanting to be a passenger in a car that has no driver.
Next time you feel insecure, and you catch yourself stressing about problems that don’t exist, stop yourself and take a deep breath. Then tell yourself, “This problem I’m concerned with only exists in my mind.” Being able to distinguish between what you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards self-confidence. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
5. Stop focusing on the negatives.
There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Even if it seems perfect now, it won’t always be. Imperfection, however, is real and beautiful. The quality of the happiness between two people grows in direct proportion to their acceptance, and in inverse proportion to their intolerance and expectations. It’s how two people accept and deal with the imperfections of their relationship that make it ideal.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to accept everyone into your life who is willing to accept you, even if they are obviously not right for you. But it does mean that if there are occasional difficulties in your relationships, you don’t have to jump to the bold conclusion that the entire relationship is bad, and become so distressed that the relationship ends, or so insecure that the other person questions your intentions.
No meaningful relationship will always work flawlessly all the time. Being too black and white about the quality and health of a relationship spells trouble. There will always be difficulties present, but you can still focus on the good. Insecure people constantly look for signs of what’s not working in their relationships. What you need to do is look for signs of what is.
Having an appreciation for how remarkable the people in your life are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places. So notice their strong qualities, cheer for their victories, and encourage their goals and ambitions. Challenge them to be the best they can be. Every day, acknowledge just how amazing they are. Written by Marc Chernoff
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