All humans struggle with insecurities, and romantic relationships are sure to expose fears or insecurities you may have been unaware of previously. We all want deeply to be liked, loved, and accepted by our partners, but our insecurities can creep in and convince us to prepare for the worst when these desires feel threatened. This article will focus specifically on insecurities that affect your self-worth and self-image and how these insecurities can impact your romantic relationships.
Insecurities show up very differently for different people. For some people, insecurities make us shy, tentative, and people-pleasing. For others, when feeling vulnerable or insecure, we might peacock and act more confident than we truly feel. Or for some, insecurities might show up with jealousy and anger toward their partner.
What Does it Mean to “Feel Insecure”?
So what exactly are insecurities, and what should we do with them if they are specific to my romantic relationship?
Insecurities about our worth usually sound something like “I’m not ______ enough.” Attractive enough. Smart enough. Funny enough. Successful enough. Interesting enough. GOOD enough. And while these statements might not be what you think in your mind outright, they might pop up in more subtle ways through assumptions you make about what your partner is thinking, wanting, or doing. For example, assuming your partner is thinking about leaving you or cheating on you or assuming your partner forgets to do what you asked them to because they don’t care about you – because you are not ____enough. When insecurities fuel negative assumptions about our partner, it can result in taking things personally that aren’t actually about you. For example:
- Assuming your partner wants to spend time with their friends because they find you boring (“not interesting/exciting/fun/adventurous enough), rather than because they enjoy their friendships and want to foster those connections, too.
- Assuming your partner doesn’t want to have sex because they find you unattractive (not attractive/sexy enough), rather than because they are tired, just simply not in the mood, or maybe because you two aren’t getting along.
- Assuming your partner doesn’t respect you or thinks you are stupid (not smart/capable/respectable enough) because they asked for a second opinion after asking for your opinion.
- Assuming your partner thinks you are lazy (not hard-working enough) if they ask for more of your help with tasks.
- Assuming your partner thinks you are broken (not good enough) or that something is wrong with you if they express concern about your wellbeing.
What does it look like to be insecure in a relationship?
If you feel unsure of your worth (in general or in a specific area), it is likely easier for you to misinterpret things your partner does as a personal attack or criticism. In this case, you are already thinking critically about yourself and are primed to perceive that others are criticizing you – even if you’re not actually being criticized. When we feel bad about ourselves, we tend to project this onto the people around us, assuming they see us the way we see ourselves – defined by our deficiencies and flaws rather than our efforts, strengths, and innate worth as human beings. This can be corrosive to a relationship because the more likely we are to interpret things as criticism, the less tolerance for important feedback and conflict there is, and the less able we are to engage in important relationship maintenance work.
How Insecurities Can Sabotage Love
If your insecurities feel too big to manage, this can look like this:
Our insecurities tend to show up in all kinds of ways in our relationships, but especially with our partners! When they do show up, they might look like:
- High emotional reactivity (mood outbursts, saying hateful things to your partner
- Shame spiraling (“my partner doesn’t love me, I’m not lovable, I’m worthless”; saying hateful things to yourself)
- Withdrawing or retreating in ways that make it difficult to connect
- Assuming the worst of your partner (specifically, assuming that your partner is assuming the worst about you, criticizing you)
Here is a glimpse at how those insecurities can play out:
It can also be hazardous if your self-esteem is based solely on other things in your life, such as work success or your identity as a parent. Ideally, your sense of worth is derived from a variety of domains in your life (don’t put all your eggs in one basket!), especially some that are separate from your romantic partner.
What do I do with my insecurities?
- Be aware of your insecurities.3 The first (and sometimes the hardest) step to managing insecurities is increasing your personal awareness of their existence in the first place. What “not ____ enough” statements hit home for you?
- Not lovable enough
- Not hard-working enough
- Not smart enough
- Not kind enough
- Not good enough
These statements can take other forms, too, such as:
- I don’t deserve love
- I am a bad person
- I am terrible
- I am worthless (inadequate)
- I am shameful
- I am not lovable
- I am not good enough
- I deserve only bad things
- I am permanently damaged.
- I am ugly (my body is hateful).
- I do not deserve ____
- I am stupid (not smart enough).
- I am insignificant (unimportant).
- I am a disappointment.
- I am different (don’t belong).2
- Self-reflect when you’re experiencing intense feelings (e.g., jealousy, defensiveness, anger, hurt) and see if these feelings might be linked to an emotional soft spot or insecurity of yours. Try and trace the emotions back to the root. For example, if you notice you get really angry when your partner says they’re not in the mood for sex, see if there are insecurities fueling the anger – maybe you are interpreting your partner not being in the mood to mean they don’t find you attractive enough. Maybe you interpret their “no” as a rejection because you don’t currently feel sexy or attractive. Questions you can ask yourself to help facilitate self-reflection include:
- “Why is this bothering me as much as it is?”
- “What does this problem symbolize to me?”
- “Is there an aspect of myself or my character that feels threatened or under attack right now? And is it actually under attack?”
- “What am I yearning for underneath my anger or pain? Validation? Reassurance that I am lovable? Love? Comfort? Something else? ”
- Label the insecurities when they come up.3 Acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling insecure and what specifically you’re feeling insecure about.
- Express & Connect.3 Express this to a loved one (not necessarily your partner) through words or writing, taking ownership of what you’re experiencing versus what your partner is “making you feel.” There will be times when your partner isn’t in a place to hear and/or connect with you, too. In those instances, try to reach out to people other than your partner to who you can express pain and connect with that support you and your relationship.
- Regulate3 with Self-Compassion. Remind yourself that it is normal to feel insecure at times, and give yourself the nurture you need to feel comforted in a moment of suffering. This will help you stay calm and grounded in the midst of the storm your insecurity is causing.3
Remember, ALL humans have insecurities. Whether we are aware of them or not, we all struggle at times to remember our worth, and our purpose, and to feel good enough. So if this sounds like you, rest assured that you can use this knowledge to your advantage to actually deepen your connection with your partner through vulnerability and self-work! Insecurities are not the true problem if they are managed. It’s what we do with our insecurities that really makes or breaks a relationship. We know that our beliefs about ourselves can both be impacted by and impact our romantic relationships4, so it requires both works on oneself (e.g., self-reflection, self-compassion, self-confrontation) and one’s relationship (e.g., communication techniques, rituals of connection, daily check-ins, quality time, expressing love and admiration) to navigate insecurities. For more information on what it looks like to manage insecurities effectively, check out this article on What does it look like to feel secure in a relationship?