People can have low self-esteem for a multitude of reasons. Some people suffer from a negative image of themselves physically, whilst others feel unable to accept love and praise. Whatever the cause, one important way to help fix their fractured self-esteem is to find the root cause.
We can enter a relationship with varying degrees of self-esteem, this can cause several different issues. Self-esteem is formed and impacted by outward influences, this can be parents, friends, bosses, past relationships, and teachers. If we have low self-esteem, we leave room for becoming over-reliant on our partners. We look to them to fulfil our low self-worth.
I believe that we can have healthy connections and unhealthy connections depending on our self-esteem. Through working with lots of couples within my practice I’ve noticed the importance of healthy time apart as well as a healthy time together. I’ve noticed that people with fractured self-worth can always feel a need to be in the presence of their partner. This plays out in the person only feeling good in the company of their partner.
Problems occur when the partner on the other side of this starts to feel trapped and smothered. A loop can begin within the relationship because the person wanting space will pull away and the person needing connection will push for even more closeness. This spiral can cause lots of serious problems within the relationship with the potential to end it completely.
It is helpful within couples counselling to help both couples understand this spiral and the reasons for both their actions and responses.
Another manifestation of low self-esteem in a relationship could be the individual using an emotional barrier to protect themselves from abandonment.
When we have low self-worth, we fear that others will leave us or reject us, and so we may protect ourselves from the threat of rejection by distancing ourselves from our intimate partners. This is a way of avoiding intimacy and is called Avoidant Attachment.
We avoid showing our vulnerability by not sharing our feelings and emotions with our partners. We may dislike ourselves on an emotional as well as a physical level. We may project our own dislike of our bodies onto our partners and assume that they dislike our appearance as well. This may lead to a lack of intimacy on all levels. Over time this can cause partners to feel disengaged and distant, and the relationship can feel like it lost its spark.
Couples counselling can help because it can shine the light on the underlying dynamics at play within the relationship.
Together we can explore where this low self-esteem comes from, and how it both impacts and replicates earlier childhood experiences. Our partners can unintentionally trigger us, and this may be explored through the counselling. The partner doing the triggering is normally completely unaware of what is causing their partner to act defensively and become angry with them. A spiral then begins with one partner being guarded and the other being angry.
However, once the partner understands what is going on they are much more likely to be less triggered themselves.