Had something like this ever happened to you?
- Someone said or did something that you strongly disagreed with, but you didn’t say anything and then felt guilty about not speaking up?
- You set goals and then failed to meet them.
- You’re so busy pleasing other people that you don’t get the time to focus on what you want, and then you get angry at others?
- You suppress what you want to do because it’s not “practical” or because you have so many things you “have to do”
If any of these resonate with you, the reason behind it may be that your actions were (or still are) not aligned with your core values.
What Are Core Values And Why They Matter So Much?
Core values are fundamental beliefs and principles that you find important in life. They highlight what you stand for, what drives you, what you see as valuable. They represent who you would like to be and how you would like to live your life.
When making different decisions, our core values give us direction. They should provide the goals and criteria that influence the path we take, what we choose, how we behave. We derive a sense of fulfillment when living in line with our personal values because our motivations and actions are aligned with what we see as important in life.
Choosing your personal core values is one of the most critical decisions when it comes to living a fulfilled life. When we don’t honor our values, we can feel lost, unmotivated, like something is simply “wrong”, and our mental and emotional state can suffer. On the other hand, intentionally creating a life that is in accordance with your values instead of automatically and habitually responding to what happens around you, without awareness and purpose, increases the chances of finding a sense of balance, confidence, and fulfillment.
How To Find Your Core Values And Make Your Life A Little Bit Easier
Many of us have no idea what our personal core values are. And in a way, it’s not surprising. In a society that actively asks us to conform, it’s not uncommon to focus on meeting other people’s expectations so much, that we lose sight of what is really important to us. Our core values get buried beneath what we think we should value.
So, turning your attention inward and engaging in an attitude of curiosity about what makes you tick and what you think is important, can help you understand yourself better. From there, you can make wiser choices, and do it more easily.
But how to do this? How to determine your core values?
One way can be to, for starters, pay attention to how you feel in different situations. What makes you angry, sad, frustrated, bored, happy, excited? Examine these situations closely – what is the main theme?
Here are some questions that can help you start thinking in that direction:
- If you could have any career, without worrying about money or other practical constraints, what would you do?
- What kinds of stories inspire you?
- What kinds of stories make you angry and upset?
- Think about three people you most admire. What is it that you appreciate about them the most?
- What are you the proudest of?
Sometimes, a wide list of core values can also help. A shorter list, like the one on the picture below, may be useful. Or maybe a longer one, like the one HERE, is something you find more helpful and inspiring.
What you can do is take a look at the list and select 10-15 values that most resonate with you. As you work through, you may find that some values you picked are similar or naturally combine. For instance, if you value community, generosity, and kindness, you might say that service to others is one of your top values. So, analyze your choices and try to narrow down the list, to combine the values into groups. What are the main topics? These larger “groups” you made – those should be your core values.
Regularly Revisiting Your Core Values Is The Key
Our brains loooove instant gratification. Humans are wired to avoid short-term pain and chase short-term pleasure. This is why you fail to resist eating that yummy cake on your fifth day of diet (again), or why it’s so difficult to give up smoking. Small things that give us instant pleasure or delay discomfort, but don’t serve us long-term, are something we all occasionally give priority to. We sometimes lose sight of our more important goals and of our higher values. This is why, if we want to make wiser, healthier, more fulfilling choices, it’s crucial to keep revisiting them, so that we bring them back to the front of our mind and keep ourselves in check. Try to be present and act from a conscious, deliberate mind most of the time rather than letting automatic responses guide your behaviour. In other words – act as a pilot, not on autopilot.
Of course, not every activity you do will match your values. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. However, to have that sense of meaning and fulfillment, like you’re doing something “right”, you need to be aware of your value system and try to spend most of your time doing things congruent with it. If you feel guilty or empty doing something, if you don’t find any meaning in it, perhaps these actions are not meeting your values, or even worse, are going against them.
Values can change over time. This is also why it’s essential to check in with yourself from time to time about what you value the most and if you’re acting in line with it. This can help remove those conflicting feelings that sometimes arise as a result of not staying true to yourself or not having your values clearly defined.
What are your core values? Let us know in the comment section down below!
Dahlgaard-Park, S. M. (2012). Core values – the entrance to human satisfaction and commitment. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 23(2), 125-140.
Sagiv, L., Roccas, S., Cieciuch, J., & Schwartz, S. H. (2017). Personal values in human life. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(9), 630-639.
I’m going to mess up. 😳⠀
I’m so stupid. 😩⠀
I’m a failure. 😖⠀
I did well that time, but anyone could have. 🙄⠀
Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?
In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.
Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?
Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.
Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.
When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.
This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.
So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)
Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.
By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.
An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.
So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here a few tips and techniques.
1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic
Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.
Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.
You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.
You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.
You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.
You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.
2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.
This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.
Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.
3. What would you tell to your best friend?
Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.
RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions
Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.
In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.
“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”
Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is
Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.
“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”
Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness
Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀
○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?
When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.
You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.
How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!
And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.
Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review, 71(3), 193.
Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).
Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 826-840.
Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach. https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/
Changing seasons can be beautiful, but they don’t delight everyone. If you find your moods falling as fast as the thermometer during winter, you are not alone. Seasonal changes can also bring change to the whole sense of our well-being. While some welcome the changing leaves of the fall and fresh show of the winter, others may find themselves having difficulties to get up in the morning or to concentrate, feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or sad. We refer to this later, less pleasant group of feelings that many people experience during colder months, as winter blues.
Winter blues are fairly common – about 15% of Canadians report that they experience mild changes in their mood, energy levels, alertness, and appetite during fall and winter. So why is this happening?
When Winter Blues Join Coronavirus Pandemic
During the winter, as we all know, days become colder, shorter, and darker, and we spend much more time inside. The lack of daily sunlight can throw off your circadian rhythm. This can cause your brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that affects your mood. With winter approaching and us spending more and more time indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the result can be a chemical imbalance in our brains that makes us feel low and sluggish.
Even before the winter weather arrived, we were already experiencing a lot of stress, anxiety, and emotional loss this year. Coronavirus pandemic left a bitter taste of resentment and exhaustion that we’re still experiencing. The negative effects are now maybe even more prominent than in the first wave. Holidays are canceled and, due to our global responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe, we can’t cheerfully reunite with friends and family to celebrate. Many are struggling with routine and the lack of energy, with loneliness and feeling of isolation, with disturbed sleeping patterns, with worry about the future. Our brains have been on high alert for months, and we are drained and tired. This is why winter blues can be amplified this winter season – our coping mechanisms and emotional resilience are wearing thin and it’s becoming more challenging to lift our moods, which is especially needed during the cold season.
Even though times are difficult – after all, pandemic fatigue joined winter blues, and that’s not an easy enemy to battle – we can still do many positive things to lift our moods and energy levels while staying safe. Here are some suggestions on how to combat the winter blues amid the pandemic.
1. Go outside
The fresh air and the light of the day can greatly increase your mood and energy.
One of the most common, and most significant, causes of winter blues is the lack of sunlight. It can mess with our biorhythm and disturb the normal production of chemicals in our brains that are in charge of our sleeping patterns and mood regulation. Talking yourself into taking a walk when it’s freezing outside can be hard, but the benefits are tremendous. Research shows that just a 20-minute walk every day can have a profound positive impact on our brains, helping us reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increase attention capacity and focus. Even just spending some time on your balcony or in your backyard and soaking up the winter sun can be helpful.
2. Get Moving
Motivation follows activation. Lift those endorphins up.
When we are feeling mentally tired, we don’t feel motivated to take action. However, ironically, what can help us feel better and actually increase our motivation is – action. Action often comes before motivation. Engaging in an activity can help us take a different perspective, think more clearly, give us a sense of achievement and, from all that, improve our mood and increase our energy. So it often works kind of in a reverse direction.
Additionally, the positive effects of regular exercise on our mental health have been shown to be so large, that it became a very common part of treatment for depression and anxiety. Exercise reduces symptoms of depression due to the increased release of endorphin, a brain chemical related to positive mood, increased energy, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Therefore, including any physical activity that you like to your daily routine is something that can be really effective in decreasing the effects of winter blues.
3. Connect with others
In a time when avoiding contact is crucial, staying connected is priceless.
Loneliness and isolation tend to make the effects of the winter blues worse. In our efforts to physically distance during the pandemic, we have to put our usual ways of socializing on pause. However, maintaining our relationships, even through virtual methods, is essential for our mental health. Social support is one of the best buffers for different mood problems, depression in particular. Technology brought so many wonderful opportunities to stay in touch with our loved ones and nurture our relationships. Social networks, video calls, different messaging apps, regular phone calls – whatever virtual platform you feel most comfortable with – are all great ways to connect, share support, or just get the basic social contact we all, as humans, need for optimal functioning.
4. Try light therapy
A special artificial light could compensate for the lack of sun during the winter.
Light therapy is a standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it is very effective in reducing the symptoms. It works by balancing out your circadian rhythm and increasing serotonin. If your winter blues are persistent, and especially if you are not able to spend time outside, you may want to consult your therapist and invest in a full-spectrum light box specially designed for this treatment.
Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although you may feel more unhappy than usual, the winter blues usually do not drastically affect your ability to enjoy life or cope with everyday challenges. On the other hand, if depressive symptoms are more severe, lasting for at least two weeks and seriously disrupting one or more areas of life – from work to personal relationships – we are talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a subtype of major depression that usually appears and ends at about the same time every year. While winter blues can be banished on your own with some changes in your routine and habits, SAD is a serious condition that requires professional treatment. A combination of light therapy, counselling, and sometimes medication is shown to be effective in treating this condition.
If you are struggling to cope, please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
What do you do to brighten your mood and feel more energized during these cold months? Share your tips with us!
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.
Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L. M., Gill, H., Phan, L., … & McIntyre, R. S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders.
“Everything happens for a reason”
“It could be worse”
“Delete the negativity”
“Just don’t think about it”
“Never give up!”
You’ve certainly said or heard some of these phrases before. It’s fairly common, and people who say them usually have good intentions – they are just trying to help somebody feel better. However, as you probably know if you heard some of them while you were going through difficult times, they don’t work. In fact, they can sometimes make you feel even worse, right?
But why is that? How can too much positivity possibly be a bad thing?
When Positivity Becomes Toxic
Keeping a positive attitude during stressful times can be incredibly helpful. It can help us cope with the situation, feel hope, and keep working toward a solution. However, being positive and optimistic doesn’t mean we won’t ever feel unpleasant emotions. Having a positive attitude is a good thing. Pushing positivity to the detriment of your authentic emotions is not.
Toxic positivity is an idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and positive aspects of life. It’s an attitude that being positive, and only positive, is the right way to live your life. This implies that any unpleasant emotions are considered as negative, and should be avoided.
It would be great if it was possible to feel good all the time. However, not only that it is not, but it can be even harmful to us and the people around us. Rigid and intense as it is, toxic positivity doesn’t leave space for experiencing all human emotions and being authentic. Instead, it encourages the person to remain silent about their struggles.
Toxic Positivity Can Be Harmful To You And Your Relationships
We have all kinds of emotions. Emotions are messengers. When instead of listening to ourselves and allowing ourselves to feel, even (and especially!) when these feelings are not comfortable, we fight and resist them — we create tension in our body. Different studies show us that hiding or denying feelings, oh the irony, makes them bigger and increases stress.
Our unpleasant emotions show us where we need some gentleness and compassion. They inform us that something is not right, not necessarily in our surroundings, but in the way we see the situation as well. They encourage us to pay attention to the parts of ourselves that need healing or the places in our paths where we need to take a turn. By suppressing or avoiding some emotions, we don’t allow ourselves to fully express and be honest. The result is denial, minimization, and invalidation of authentic emotional experience. When we go into hiding like that, we deny our truth. And the real truth is – life can be tough sometimes.
Toxic positivity can be harmful to your relationships too. When somebody is sad, anxious, fearful, what they need is support and understanding. Generic positive phrases can, although unintendedly, send the message: “You are not allowed to feel this way. Stop. It’s not okay to not be okay.” This is not helpful; it can make the person feel guilty or unheard. To them, it can sound like their emotions are not valid and important, and that they are wrong to feel the way they feel.
How To Support Someone Without Being “Too Positive”?
Feeling connected to and heard by others is one of the most important contributors to good mental health and happiness. When someone is going through a rough patch, we may not be sure how to support them. What to say to help them feel better? What to do? How to help them recover from setbacks more quickly? You may be inclined to tell them to “look on the bright side” and to “be grateful for what they already have”. However, these monochromatic statements are usually not helpful, because they are, on the basic level, dismissive. When happiness and positivity are compulsively pushed, the person doesn’t have the opportunity to feel truly heard and accepted, understood and supported. Instead, it can seem like he or she is rushed to stop feeling the way they feel, their emotions minimized and invalidated.
If we, instead, let the other person connect to their emotions and allow them to share them with us without judgment or the urge to run away to positivity, we are giving that person much-needed space to be authentic and still accepted. We are sending the message: “You can be yourself. It’s okay to not feel okay. I am here anyways”.
With toxic positivity, although it is usually not our intention, we are showing the other person that we are uncomfortable with their feelings and that we will put ourselves in the first place, urging them to stop feeling the way they feel so we can stop feeling uncomfortable. A much better, more comforting approach, is to show the other person that we are ready to sit with them with their emotions, that they are not alone, and that we are there to patiently give them our compassion and support. It can be truly healing.
So, what can you say instead of generic, “encouraging” sentences to support someone? Here are some suggestions:
It is important to acknowledge the reality of our emotions. Once we honor our feelings, we honor the whole of ourselves. We accept our positive parts, but also other, not so pretty sides. Accepting and loving ourselves as we are is the path toward balanced emotional life and better wellbeing.
If you like this article or think someone can find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media.
Do you ever wonder why you attract a certain “type” of people? Do you have patterns that you seem to repeat in relationships over and over again? Or maybe you noticed how the majority of your relationships unfold and end in a similar way?
This is not uncommon. All of us have a certain ‘style’ of connecting to others that we tend to repeat, which can result in similar patterns of outcomes throughout our relationships. These patterns are called ‘attachment styles’.
What Are Attachment Styles And Why Should You Care?
Attachment style is the way you relate to other people, the way you usually feel and behave in relationships in order to meet your needs. According to attachment theory that originates from research of Bowlby and Ainsworth, this pattern is established in early childhood.
Our parents have many different and important roles for us during our childhood. One of them is being an attachment figure through which we form beliefs and expectations on how relationships ‘work’ and what we should do to meet our needs for intimacy, belonging, and safety. Depending on the nature of our early relationships with our caregivers, we develop an attachment style that we, later, bring to relationships in our adult life.
Understanding your attachment style is a big deal because it can tell you a lot about how you relate to your friends, family, and romantic partners, what you do to meet your needs in relationships, why you may have specific insecurities, etc. Knowing your attachment style gives you an insightful perspective that can help you ‘break the pattern’ if you feel stuck or find yourself having very similar problems in relationships or repeating the same mistakes.
Although the way we behave in relationships has its unique elements for each of us, there are 4 most common global patterns of attachment in individuals:
Let’s take a detailed look at each of them and what kind of childhood patterns may they came from:
Secure Attachment Style
“It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
People with a secure attachment style tend to build stable, trusting relationships and feel relatively confident in them. They are comfortable with intimacy and don’t have a problem sharing their feelings or asking for help or support. In romantic relationships, they have their independence and also let their partner have their own, but are at the same time okay with depending on others and feel like they can trust them. They have a positive view of themselves and others and don’t have difficulties feeling connected or expressing love openly.
Secure attachment background:
- Parent is emotionally available most of the time and responds to the child’s needs in a loving, soothing way
- Usually, the parent is also securely attached and successfully balances firmness with warmth in their parenting style
- The child sees the parent as a secure base from where it can independently explore the world and then safely come back for comfort and nurture when it feels the need
- The child learns that it can get love and care from other people, that it is safe to give needed space to others without the fear that they will leave them, but that it is also safe to depend on others
Avoidant Attachment Style
“I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. Feeling independent and self-sufficient is essential to me.”
People with this attachment style can often seem emotionally distant and rejecting. They are uncomfortable with intimacy and feel like people usually want to get closer to them than they would prefer. One reason for this may be the fact that their independence is very important to them, which is not a problem on its own; however, they tend to equal intimacy with depending on someone, which is why they may have trouble with it and try to avoid it. In a way, they believe that the only person they can fully lean on is themselves. Thus, they have a hard time opening up to others and don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
Avoidant attachment background:
- Although the parent usually meets all child’s practical needs, he or she often does not respond to the child’s emotional needs and can seem emotionally unavailable most of the time
- In times when the child needs extra support and comfort, like when they’re scared or in distress, the parent can react in rejecting ways – become annoyed, harsh, neglectful, criticize or ridicule the child
- The parent may discourage displays of strong emotions, both positive and negative
- The child learns that it’s not safe to count on others for emotional closeness and that he or she should be independent and take care of their own needs and emotions. As a defense mechanism, it can suppress their true feelings and basic needs for connection and intimacy
Anxious Attachment Style
“I want to be very emotionally close to others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me.”
This attachment style is characterized by insecurity and worry about rejection and abandonment. Anxiously attached people are often preoccupied with what other people think of them and have a hard time feeling secure in their relationships. In their need to gain approval and feel safer, anxiously attached people often require reassurance and “proofs of love”. However, it never seems to be enough. They seek high levels of emotional closeness and can be very sensitive to other people’s moods and behaviours. It is not rare for these individuals to “cling” to their partner or try to control their actions. This can lead to behaviours that others sometimes see as demanding, needy, or overly emotional.
Anxious attachment background:
- Parents are often inconsistent and unpredictable – sometimes loving and caring, other times emotionally unavailable or highly critical
- Parents sometimes expect their children to worry about them and their needs, which is overwhelming for the child
- The child is frustrated and confused, so it tries to find ways to secure the love and support, but unsuccessfully. Their efforts sometimes give results, but sometimes not, and the child doesn’t know what to expect
- The child learns that it can get love and support from others, but also that it can lose those precious sources of connection at any moment
Disorganized Attachment Style
“I am uncomfortable getting close to others and find it difficult to trust them. I want to belong but when I become close with someone I get scared, so I back away.”
Research shows that this attachment style, in comparison with other styles of attachment, more often can result from unresolved trauma or abuse in childhood. It manifests as a strong ambivalence toward intimacy. People with this attachment style desire closeness and connection with other people; however, when they get it, they suddenly become distant and cold, or experience uncomfortable emotions and display some extreme behaviours. They seem to be in a constant state of internal conflict – they want to trust other people but feel they can’t because they are convinced they will get hurt, they want intimacy and also reject it, they ask for affection but then quickly get overwhelmed by it and push people away, etc. As a result, their behaviour can be unpredictable and their relationships, sometimes, very intense, “dramatic”, or unstable.
Disorganized attachment background:
- Parents very inconsistent and unpredictable, with sometimes extreme behaviours
- The child wants to go to their parent for safety, but the closer they get, the more fear they feel because the parent’s behaviours can be, in fact, terrifying at times.
- The child learns that intimacy is something simultaneously very valuable and very threatening. They crave it and, at the same time, see it as something dangerous that can easily hurt them. It is impossible to integrate these two views, which leaves the child in a constant state of internal conflict and distress
Good News – Attachment Styles Are Not Set In Stone
It is true that different parenting styles affect children differently, shaping the way they understand relationships. However, it is important to note that this relation is not so simple. Research shows that it is not so much what happens to us as children but rather how we understood and made sense of what happened to us that predict what kind of attachment style we will develop.
Furthermore, your attachment style may not be permanent. Some researchers indicate that attachment styles can change as we get older. More precisely, our attachment sometimes tends to lean toward more secure as we age. Researchers explained this as a result of changing ideas about goals, values, relationships, stability, and trust.
Other studies also indicate that our later relationships and life events can alter our attachment styles. For example, going through a bad breakup or a divorce, experiencing betrayal, trauma, or abuse, can change our outlook on relationships and, consequentially, how we behave in them, how much we trust other people, what we are insecure about, etc. On the other hand, being in a relationship with a secure partner, scientists believe, can improve our sense of security in a relationship. It makes sense – being with someone who is caring and attentive, who pays attention to our needs and shows us they’re there for us, and who does these things consistently, can change our idea about relationships and show us that they can be stable and that we can be loved the way we are.
The point is, it is not all black and white. Our attachment style can depend on many factors, not just our parents’ behaviour. Frankly, adulthood is complicated, and the paths that take us to it are super variable. Although science suggests that, one way or another, our early relationships have a life-long impact on us, it’s never a simple thing to understand the intensity or the course of that impact.
We are all unique. The way we act is not just simply who we are born to be; what we learned we can also unlearn, what holds us back we can change, and what brings us closer to others we can embrace.
What is your attachment style? Let us know in the comment section below!
Also, if you like this article and find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1991). Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle. In C . M. Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde, & P. Marris (Eds.), Attachment across the life cycle (pp. 33-51). London: Routledge.
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the childs tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.
Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (p. 3–22). The Guilford Press.
Hazan C, Shaver P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (3): 511–24.
Fraley C. R. (2018). Adult Attachment Theory And Research: A Brief Overview. Retrieved from: http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts and feelings, your wants and needs in a direct and respectful way, knowing at the same time, that others have the same right. Assertiveness helps us be open in our communication and establish good relationships based on respect and honesty. Like any skill, assertiveness can be learned with practice.
In our previous blog post, we covered in detail what assertive communication is, compared it with two other common communication styles – passive and aggressive – and talked about its risks and benefits. But how exactly can you become more assertive? How to have that healthy confidence to stand up for yourself? What to do, what to say?
Here are 4 basic tips and principles that can help you on your way of becoming more assertive:
1. Recognize your values and your rights
Assertiveness is about standing up for your rights, beliefs, and values. It is about respecting ourselves enough to be OK with who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Thus, it’s important to define our values clearly and to realize that we have the right to live in line with them, as long as we do not violate the rights of others. When we are sure about our priorities and know we have the right to ask for what we want (which is not the same as necessarily getting it), practicing assertiveness becomes easier. Defining your core values and recognizing your assertive rights will help you make decisions with more confidence.
2. Practice saying NO
Rejecting someone’s request is uncomfortable for most people. However, learning to say no in a respectful way is necessary for setting healthy boundaries with others and with ourselves. A helpful first step toward feeling less guilty for saying no may be to recognize that you are rejecting the request, not the whole person, and that your wants and needs are as important as wants and needs of others. In the end, practice saying no with the simple realization that you are going to feel uncomfortable. The whole point is to build tolerance to this discomfort.
3. Communicate clearly and respectfully
Assertiveness is a golden middle between passive and aggressive behaviour. Thus, it is important to learn to express your wants and needs in a way that is direct enough, but not aggressive. The key is in confidence and honesty with respect toward others.
While paying attention to the words you say, don’t forget to keep your body language in check. Assertive communication is marked by open body language – straight posture, relaxed facial expression, kind but firm tone of the voice, smiling. If you communicate passively, your body language will be closed, stiff, you’ll avoid eye contact. On the other hand, in an aggressive communication style, there is are frequent head shakes in disagreement, eye rolls, loud or threatening voice, quick body movements.
If your tone of the voice, facial expressions, and gestures are incongruent with the words you say, people will tend to believe non-verbal signs over your verbal message.
4. Take responsibility
It is important to keep in mind that everybody is responsible for their behaviour. It is not your job to control how other people act or feel, but you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. Nobody can make you behave or feel a certain way – other people choose their actions, and you chose yours.
So how does assertive communication look like in practice? How to phrase what you want to say without shying away or coming off as too pushy? This little cheat sheet of assertive communication may be helpful on that:
Step 1: Address the behaviour, not the person
You can start by clearly describing specific actions that you are not OK with in a non-judgmental way. While doing this, it’s crucial to avoid pointing fingers and trying to induce feelings of shame or guilt in them. Describe the situation as you see it but try to be as objective as possible. Don’t exaggerate by using words such as always or never. For example, instead of saying “You are always late”, you may try saying something like: “You are 15 minutes late for the third time this week”.
One mistake that is often made in conflicts is labeling the person instead of addressing the behaviour. When the focus is on what someone is perceived to be rather than the behaviour they exhibit, the productive communication usually shuts because the person feels attacked and in need to defend their character. Instead, talking about specific actions in a non-judgmental way increases the chances of the other person focusing on solving the problem instead of becoming defensive and feeling the need to protect their sense of self.
For example, instead of saying: “You are so selfish”, you may try with: “I think that this specific action you did was inconsiderate”. See the difference? Starting the conversation in this manner does not guarantee that the person will not get defensive at all, but it can decrease the chances of this happening and increase the possibility of coming to a positive result.
Step 2: Use “I statements”
Sometimes describing the behaviour that you don’t like and asking for it to change is enough. However, it can often be useful to let the other person know how you feel and what you need in a particular situation. Express your feelings and needs in a clear and open manner that’s at the same time non-blaming and non-critical. While doing this, you should be careful to frame the communication from your perspective, describing how you feel.
Avoid focusing on the other person, or trying to blame them for how you feel. Instead, share your emotions and your needs in the context of their actions. For example, instead of saying: “You don’t help enough around the house”, you may say: “When you don’t help out with the housework, I feel overwhelmed”. This way, you take responsibility for your emotions (because don’t forget, nobody can make us feel the way we feel; we respond to what is happening according to our thoughts and beliefs), but simultaneously address the problematic behaviour.
Note that, sometimes, these “I statements” can seem like emotions, but they are really just about other person’s actions. For example, when you say something like: “I feel…manipulated, ignored, mistreated”, you don’t express genuine emotions. What you’re really saying is: “You manipulate, ignore, mistreat me”, which is, again, describing other person’s behaviour or, more precisely, how you understand their behaviour. “You statements” can sound overly blaming and critical, which, again, moves the focus of communication from finding a solution to self-protection.
Step 3: Listen actively and put yourself in other people’s shoes
Just listening is not enough for good communication. We need to be actively listening. Active listening means that we are fully engaged in a conversation, that we are trying to truly understand the message the other person is trying to convey, and that we are putting effort into making the other person feel heard, understood, and safe to speak. This means that we will show interest in what the other person has to say by, for example, nodding, leaning forward, not interrupting them, etc.
The key is listening to understand, not to respond. When we are focused on what we want to say next, we are focused on ourselves, not on the other person. That can prevent truly hearing and understanding their message, which can further lead to misunderstandings, bitter feelings, and overall unproductive communication.
Trying to see things from another person’s perspective and to acknowledge how they understand the situation can be incredibly helpful in creating a productive dialog. It can make the other person feel heard, understood, and respected, which makes them more likely to listen to you openly, and less likely to get offended.
Step 4: Offer a solution
People can’t read your mind. You can state what you’d like to happen next, or invite the other person for a discussion to find a mutually satisfying solution. You can say something like:
“I would like…”
“I think… What do you think?”
“I appreciate your concerns, what do you suggest we do? How can we get around this problem?”
Putting it all together, here are some examples of assertive communication:
“This is the fourth time this month that I’m doing extra work because you have fallen behind. I understand that you are busy, and I want to be a team player, but I am under a lot of stress when this happens. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I completely understand what you are trying to say, but I will have to disagree. I see the situation this way. How can we find a common ground?”
“When you are late to our dates, like you were the last three times, I feel frustrated because I need to wait. Also, I feel hurt because it seems to me like I am not a priority. I would appreciate it if you would respect my time and arrive promptly the next time.”
“I understand that you need my help, and I would like to help you, but I really need to take care of myself today because I feel run-down. How about tomorrow?”
“No, thank you” (Yes, this is perfectly fine to say, no need for excuses or explanations)
Assertive communication can feel stressful at first, especially if you’re used to another form of communication. Remember your assertive rights, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It becomes much easier with practice, and the benefits are numerous.
Do you find it difficult to communicate assertively? What are your experiences with this style of communication? Let us know in the comment section below. Additionally, be free to share this article on your social media; who knows, maybe someone finds it useful and get inspired to improve their communication skills.
Duckworth, M. P. (2009). Assertiveness skills and the management of related factors. General principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, 124-132.
Duckworth, M. P., & Mercer, V. (2006). Assertiveness training. In Practitioner’s guide to evidence-based psychotherapy (pp. 80-92). Springer, Boston, MA.
“Being assertive means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly – without attacking others.”
– Albert Ellis
We can all think of times when our boundaries were violated but we didn’t know how to protect them. When we knew we should speak up, but we didn’t. When we sensed that we are being taken advantage of, but we just accepted it, unable to say NO. These are not pleasant situations, and they can easily leave us feeling neglected and powerless, seeming like whatever we do – confront or comply– we won’t feel good about ourselves. But there is a way to actually not feel guilty for expressing your thoughts and feelings and defending your rights. The key is – learning how to communicate assertively.
What Is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a skill of communicating your opinions, wants, and needs in an open and honest way, while also considering the opinions and needs of others. It refers to being able to recognize our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. Assertive people don’t shy away from defending their points of view or standing up for their goals but do that in a respectful and polite way.
Assertiveness starts with recognizing two main things: your core values and your (and other people’s) assertive rights.
Your core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide your behaviour. They reflect what is important to you, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life. Your core values help you set priorities and provide direction and criteria that influence your personal decisions. When we live in alignment with our core values, we derive a sense of fulfillment and, often, a higher level of confidence in our choices. Thus, defining your personal core values is critical for setting priorities and feeling self-confident when setting boundaries or standing up for your rights.
Assertive rights highlight people’s freedom to be themselves and take responsibility for their choices. When you are assertive, you know your rights and also know that others have them too. From there, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly and fairly, without disrespecting others.
Being assertive can sometimes come across as being rude or “cocky”. It is important to be clear and concise about your message especially when you’re communicating in and around the workspace. Learning to be presentable, to communicate well, is not an easy practice. It takes time to master these skills. To help you become more assertive in your speech, there are services provided online like those from Development Academy.
Assertiveness As a Sweet Spot Between Passive And Aggressive Communication
Assertiveness is a core social skill because it dramatically helps in delivering your message successfully. If your communication style is too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people either won’t recognize or acknowledge your rights and needs, or will be too busy defending themselves.
With a passive communication style, you’re sending the message that your needs, thoughts, and feelings are less important than the needs, thoughts, and feelings of others. Not being able to express yourself honestly, or doing it over-apologetically and feeling guilty about it, putting yourself down and shying away from saying NO are all signs of passive communication style. Although your intention may be to keep the peace and increase the chances of other people liking you, this kind of behaviour easily permits others to disregard your wants and needs, which can quickly lead to building up stress, resentment, and anger, which can damage your relationships.
On the other hand, with an aggressive communication style, you don’t have the problem to state your thoughts, needs, and feelings, and do so in a very open way. However, this style sends the message: “I am right and you are wrong!” The main difference between assertiveness and aggression is that the first is about balance, while the second is about winning. Being assertive means you consider your rights and the rights of others as equally important. There is a big difference in the words used, the tone of the voice, and in body language used. Assertive people are firm without being rude. Aggressive people demand what they want while dismissing others’ wants and needs and violating their rights. You can make choices for yourself, and that is what assertiveness is about. But when you make choices for others, that is aggressive.
- Being open about your thoughts and wishes, and encouraging others to do the same
- Being solution-oriented
- Realizing you have the freedom but also the responsibility for your decisions and actions
- Being able to admit mistakes and apologize
- Having the confidence to stand up for your rights when they are violated
- Behaving as equal to others – not above, not below
Assertiveness is a sweet spot between passivity and aggression, and like any skill, it can be developed and improved through practical exercises and experience.
Benefits And Risks of Practicing Assertiveness
Learning assertiveness skills can help you:
- Politely and effectively say NO
- Negotiate win-win situations
- Feel good about yourself and others
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Set healthy boundaries
- Communicate more clearly and openly
- Develop your leadership skills
- Protect yourself from being taken advantage of
It’s important to note that assertiveness is not a tool for “getting what you want”. Being assertive is about choice, responsibility, and healthy boundaries. It may increase the chance of getting what you want by promoting open communication and respect, but is by no means a guarantee for a positive outcome.
Sudden use of assertiveness may be mistaken for aggressiveness by others, especially by individuals with a passive style of communication. Also, be aware that some organizations and cultures prefer people to be passive, and can find assertive communication rude or offensive.
An Assertiveness Training can teach you how to speak assertively, use appropriate body language, understand your rights in interpersonal situations, give you the opportunity to practice, and much more. If you think assertive training is something that you need, be free to contact us for more details.
If you like this blog post, please be free to share it on your social media.
What is your communication style? How difficult do you find being assertive? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below!
Smith, M. J. (2008). When I say no, I feel guilty. Pacifica Tape Library.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
The majority of us are eager to offer kindness and compassion to other people, and value when we receive them from others. However, when it comes to giving these same things to ourselves in the moment of suffering, we are more reluctant. Does being kind to myself means I’m self-indulgent? Selfish? Weak? Not only that, but when we fail to live up to our expectations, we often tend to let our inner critic become loud and take over, dismissing the value of kindness directed to ourselves. But what if there is a better way?
3 Elements Of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself – in a supportive way, with understanding, and acceptance. It’s having a friendly, caring, comforting attitude toward ourselves, like a good coach that motivates through support and understanding instead of through harsh criticism.
The concept has been around for a while, but Dr. Kristin Neff was the first one to operationally define it, measure it, and popularize it. She proposes there are three elements of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness – Having an understanding, comforting, and caring attitude toward ourselves instead of using harsh criticism.
- Common humanity – Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and experience pain at times, and that we are not alone in our experience.
- Mindfulness – Being with what is in the present moment. To be self-compassionate, we need to acknowledge what we feel and make room for it.
Self-compassion is a practice of being kind and loving toward ourselves, whether or not we behave intelligently, correctly, or competently, and whether or not others approve or respect us. It can increase our well-being tremendously, from feeling happier to coping with difficulties more successfully.
Self-compassion is very different from self-esteem. For a long time, self-esteem has been considered a foundation of mental health and the level of happiness. However, more and more researchers suggest that the concept of self-esteem is flawed and can have negative consequences, and that self-compassion might be a better, healthier alternative. We talked about it HERE.
Why Should You Cultivate Self-Compassion?
Studies show that practicing self-compassion releases feel-good hormones in our brain – oxytocin and serotonin – while also reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Long-term, self-compassion sets the stage for better mental health and relationships. It turns out that individuals who treat themselves with compassion and kindness tend to have:
- greater happiness
- greater life satisfaction
- increased motivation
- better physical health
- increased quality of their relationships
- less anxiety and depression
- higher levels of resilience that helps them better cope with stressful events
Practicing self-compassion can help us feel better in times of suffering, but it’s important to note that it’s not always the case. It is not a recipe for happiness or a tool to make the pain go away. Self-compassion is a way of treating ourselves while feeling pain. It helps us to not push ourselves to an even darker place with criticism and self-contempt.
Myths And Truths About Self-Compassion
In our culture that highly values strength and stoicism, there are sometimes some misconceptions surrounding self-compassion. Knowing what self-compassion is not and debunking some myths about it can help us feel more empowered to practice it.
Myth 1: Self-compassion means weakness
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion, research shows, is one of the most powerful sources of resilience, helping people overcome difficulties and thrive. Additionally, it doesn’t focus on “poor me” attitude, but exactly the opposite – recognizing that “things can be hard for everyone, including me”.
Myth 2: Self-compassion serves as an excuse for bad behaviour
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion provides emotional safety to see ourselves for who we really are and, from there, take responsibility for our actions. When we know that we are imperfect humans, it is less likely that we will feel the need to find excuses for our behaviour and blame someone else for our mistakes.
Myth 3: Self-compassion is narcissistic
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion, opposed to self-esteem, doesn’t encourage us to see ourselves as better than others in order to hold ourselves in high regard. Instead, it is a way of relating to our experience in a kind, accepting way and acknowledging that we share the human condition of imperfection.
Myth 4: Self-compassion will undermine my motivation to do better
✔️ Truth: Actually, research shows that being hard on ourselves is a serious motivation-killer. It can draw us back because, if harsh criticism is how we treat ourselves, we know that failure comes with very unpleasant emotional consequences. In contrast, self-compassion can be a motivating force that moves us forward because it provides emotional safety for making mistakes and, further, learning from them.
Myth 5: Self-compassion is just self-indulgence
✔️ Truth: There is a big difference between giving ourselves temporary pleasures and making choices that lead to long-term wellbeing. With self-indulgent behaviour, we try to make ourselves feel better instantly, even if those actions are not beneficial for us in the long term. On the other hand, as mentioned before, self-compassion is not a tool to take away the discomfort; it focuses on our long-term wellbeing, even if it means a certain amount of displeasure in the present moment. But it also provides comfort and emotional safety needed while going through that unpleasantness.
How To Be More Self-Compassionate?
Self-compassion is not always easy to do. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially to those who didn’t have caring or particularly supportive figures in their lives. For many, it is a completely new way of relating to themselves. But we can allow ourselves to slowly learn how to do it, one self-compassionate act at a time, step by step.
Here are 5 practices that can bring us closer to being more self-compassionate:
RE-EVALUATE YOUR SELF-TALK
Are you your own worst critic? When you make a mistake, do you blame yourself or put yourself down? Is it how you would talk to your best friend? It’s important to notice our self-talk throughout the day and make a transition from negative self-talk to more kind and empowering way of treating ourselves.
STOP THE COMPARISON GAME
Social comparison is a strong weapon against our happiness. Oftentimes, we tend to compare someone’s best with our average, or even our worst moments which, on top of being pointless, is a recipe for feeling bad about ourselves. Instead, realize we are all different, not only in our traits and abilities, but also in our history and life circumstances.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO MAKE MISTAKES
Encouraging yourself to do your best is not the same as forcing yourself you absolutely must do your best. Allow yourself to make mistakes and forgive yourself for them. This is particularly difficult for some people because they derive a sense of self-worth from performing well, or from perfection. However, you are worthy of love because of who you are, not because of being “flawless”.
Mindfulness and self-compassion go amazingly well together. Noticing what is happening right now, without labelling and with acceptance, is the first step toward allowing yourself to feel how you feel with no judgment. From there, it becomes much easier to manage your emotions and thoughts.
The relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. You can’t run away from your own company, so it’s crucial to nurture it. Get to know yourself, your needs, interests, and curiosities, and don’t judge yourself for having them. Instead, allow yourself to schedule some quality “me” time every so often and have a fun or nurturing date with yourself.
Self-compassion is all about giving ourselves room to be human – imperfect and unique, creative and capable of great things at times, flawed and sensitive at other. It teaches us to, though all those ups and downs, unconditionally accept ourselves, and realize that we are connected with others in our imperfections.
How do you practice self-compassion?
Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133-1143.
Cousineau, T. (2018). The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World. New Harbinger Publications.
Neff, K. D., Rude, S. S., & Kirkpatrick, K. L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of research in personality, 41(4), 908-916.
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of research in personality, 41(1), 139-154.
We all feel insecure from time to time in our relationships; it’s completely normal. However, some people feel like this most of the time, to the point where it becomes overly consuming for both partners. Knowing how to handle and manage insecurity in a relationship is something that can truly make a difference between a relationship’s flourish and failure.
Signs of Insecurity In a Relationship
Insecurity in a romantic relationship can feel like:
- The constant fear that your partner will leave you
- Feeling you don’t have enough to offer
- Ruminating about all the times in the relationship when you looked or behaved imperfectly
- Feeling like a fraud destined to be exposed
- Seeing yourself as boring, overweight, stupid, ugly…
- Feeling like you don’t deserve lasting love
- Experiencing guilt and shame often
- Being hungry for attention and reassurance, but even when you get it, it rarely seems convincing enough
- Switching between doubt, anxiety, anger, and guilt back and forth
- Consuming jealousy that leads to unhealthy thoughts and actions such as obsessively questioning your partner’s whereabouts, privacy violations, controlling behaviour, etc.
These feelings can especially exacerbate when we are in a relationship with someone we have intense feelings for. The more important the relationship is to us, the more we think we stand to lose. This is where our insecurities become super uncomfortable – they spike anxiety, fear, suspiciousness, anger, and other unpleasant and unhealthy emotions.
What Causes Insecurity In a Relationship?
At its core, insecurity usually comes from a deep sense of inadequacy. The frequent underlying belief is that we are not enough the way we are. That we are flawed, ugly, or unworthy of love. Often, this sense of “low worth” comes hand in hand with one or both of these unhealthy patterns – a harsh inner critic and the belief that others will love us only if we are behaving a certain way.
Acting strong, fun, compliant, agreeable, beautiful, hard-working, always there for others, whatever the set of criteria is, we may believe that it’s the only way to make our partner stay. Sometimes, this can even feel like tricking our partners into loving us. Maybe not explicitly, but somewhere between the lines, we may fear that the moment they discover our true colours, they will leave.
On the other hand, we may feel powerless before our inner critic that throws insults at us all the time. It may become so embedded in our daily self-talk that we are not even aware of how much of an impact it has on our overall self-esteem.
The Impact of Our Past to Our Current Relationships
All these beliefs are usually the product of our early experiences. They come from the ways we interpreted and incorporated those experiences into our belief system the best we could with the limited resources we had. Some examples of those early experiences may be:
- attachment styles we built with our primary caregivers, that we, later, transfer to our other relationships
- main messages we received from our environment that tailored deep beliefs about ourselves, other people, and life in general
- observing relationships around us and “learning” what we absolutely should and should not do to avoid ending up hurt
- hurtful experiences, like being rejected, neglected, or humiliated by someone we cared about
While it can be easy to blame our partner’s behaviours for our insecurities, the truth is, most of the time, insecurity in a relationship really comes from inside of ourselves. Indeed, being in a relationship with someone who regularly judges most of what we do can surely shake our confidence. Putting up with repeated criticism and rarely getting affection or appreciation from our partner can increase our self-doubt. But pay attention, the word is increase, not create. It may be good to remember that other people cannot make us feel or behave in a certain way. Only our thoughts and beliefs can.
Can Insecurity Damage a Relationship?
It is completely normal to feel insecure once in a while. In small amounts, it can even be beneficial at times, because it may motivate us to put more effort into our partnership. It is chronic self-doubt that can negatively impact our mental health and interfere with our relationships.
One of the key elements of successful romantic relationships is an authentic connection between partners. Deep connection comes from authenticity, and authenticity requires us to be open to showing our vulnerable side. To do that, we need to believe that, even with our vulnerabilities, we are still beautiful and worthy of love. In other words, we need to be comfortable with who we are, at least to a certain extent. Chronic insecurity can stand in the way of engaging with your partner in an authentic way by preventing you to be completely yourself.
Constant worry in a relationship can be mentally exhausting, robbing you of peace and happiness. Instead of enjoying the journey and having a good time with the person you love and care about, obsessive doubts can turn your head into a truly uncomfortable place to be. And like if that’s not enough of a pain, if you let your insecurities get out of hand and impact your behaviours, it can lead to a set of unhealthy interactions with your partner where you’re both unsatisfied and the relationship suffers.
We Fetch For Clues To Confirm Our Toxic Beliefs
For example, insecurity in a relationship can sometimes cause you to misinterpret some situations or to exaggerate problems. It may not sound intuitive but we, as humans, are constantly in search of clues to confirm our beliefs. This gives us a sense of structure and control. We have all kinds of beliefs, and most of them are accurate and help us organize and interpret information. However, some of these beliefs can be unhelpful and unhealthy. But our brains can be stubborn and instead of letting go, they seek to confirm those beliefs too.
In the context of relationships, this means that, if you believe your partner will hurt you, leave you, or betray you, there is a high chance that you will, consciously or unconsciously, try to find proof for your fears. This is a natural response to anxiety – you’re trying to feel prepared if the worst-case scenario happens. However, this causes your anxiety to spike up. Not only that, but this may even lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you start behaving in a way that induces the exact reaction you wanted to avoid. Simply put, you may start finding problems where they don’t exist. This not only fuels your insecurities further, but also leads to unhealthy behaviours like putting your partner down, jealousy, accusations, and constantly asking for reassurance, just to name a few. All those behaviours push your partner away and disrupt intimacy and trust in a relationship.
How Do I Stop Being So Insecure?
Depending on where your self-doubts come from, there are several strategies and steps you can take to tackle them down.
1. Tame your inner self-critic
People with a strong inner critic know how hard it is to suppress the annoying voice that’s putting them down. Sometimes this little voice is so persistent and so convincing, that we accept it as our reality. Since it can be so loud sometimes, and so embedded in our thought patterns, the solution is not to shut it off; it’s often impossible. Instead, pay attention to what the voice is saying and then actively stand up for yourself. Treat your inner critic like a misbehaving child that you’re trying to teach how to be civilized and stop firing insults. This way, you’re becoming mindful of your self-diminishing thoughts, taking a step back, and then take an active effort to reframe them. It allows you to reject unhealthy attitudes toward yourself and accept a more realistic approach as an accurate reflection of who you are.
In the beginning, this kind of self-talk can feel a little bit unnatural, like you’re faking it. However, with persistence, it usually starts feeling less and less like labour, and more and more like something authentic.
2. Make a list of your strengths (short-term solution)
As an emergency boost to your self-esteem, it can be helpful to make a list of all your positive traits. This list represents what you bring on the table in a relationship. This is not the time to be modest – get creative and write down every positive detail you can think of. Maybe you have a gorgeous smile or you’re a good kisser. Maybe you don’t have a smokin’ hot body but you’re supportive and make your partner feel appreciated. Or maybe you’re not that funny but you’re trustworthy and, on top of that, a great cook. Nobody is perfect. But it’s important to know that it’s not necessary to be perfect to be loved. Imperfections are what make us human. Learn to love your uniqueness.
One important thing to have in mind is that this list does not represent the reason you deserve to be loved. It should just serve as a reminder of how many positive traits you have, because during the times of strong self-doubt, they are easy to forget. You, with all your quirks and experiences and scars and mannerisms, you as a unique human, are loveable. Let that sink in. Sometimes this is hard to accept.
3. Let go of conditions you imposed on yourself to deserve love
The underlying belief: “They will only love me if I am this or that” is what can often be seen behind insecurities in relationships and what fuels self-doubt further. On some level, when you hold this belief, you send yourself a message that you are not truly loveable at your core, for who you really are, but that you need to deserve love by doing certain things and behaving in certain ways. But you don’t. We choose our partners and our partners choose us.
Of course, you need to invest in a relationship for it to be healthy. It’s necessary to put work in your partnership to thrive. It’s good to do nice things for your partner, to show respect and affection, to build trust and make them feel safe and appreciated. But you don’t need to do certain things to be the person worthy of love. There is a difference between the two.
If we feel worthy of love only if we meet certain criteria, that feeling stands on an unstable ground simply because we will sometimes fail. Inevitably. Everybody does. This is why it’s important to start loving yourself for who you are and not for what you do. To recognize that you are enough. To realize that your partner is with you because of you (even if you’re super not sure about it right now). Self-compassion can be incredibly helpful with this!
4. Communicate with your partner openly and effectively
It’s important to get clear about what you and your partner both need in a relationship and discuss realistic and reasonable ways you can help each other fulfill them. Be aware that this kind of talk requires both partners to ditch defensiveness and assumptions, and be kind, honest, and open with each other. Intimate connection creates a safe environment in which you can work to overcome insecurities and meet each other halfway. Sometimes this is not easy, especially if there are perpetuating problems and frustrations in a relationship, but with mutual effort, it can be done.
Coping with insecurity in a relationship can be tough because it requires you to deal with your core beliefs and take an active effort to break the patterns that influenced your thinking for years. Still, with consistency, self-reflection, and effective communication with your partner, it is possible. And please remember that it doesn’t have to be a lonely battle. Support and help from someone you trust, like a friend or a therapist, can make it a lot more bearable. Learning to manage your insecurities will increase not only the quality of your mental health but the quality of your romantic relationships as well.
P.S. If you like this article or know someone who may find it useful, please don’t hesitate to share it on your social media.
Emotional intelligence is the capability to accurately identify and monitor your and other people’s feelings, as well as the ability to effectively manage your emotions.
You may know that general intelligence (IQ) can be important for success. But did you know that emotional intelligence (EQ) is equally, if not even more important?
Emotional intelligence is a key element of success in the workplace, as well as for happy and healthy relationships. Research shows that high EQ leads to better communication, effective conflict management, and empathy toward others. It also helps us connect with our feelings and live in tune with our true selves. It is, therefore, not surprising that emotional intelligence is essential for reaching personal and career goals and for building successful professional and personal relationships.
In a similar way IQ reflects how you process information, EQ refers to how you process emotions. However, EQ is much more flexible than IQ which means that it can be trained and improved.
The term emotional intelligence first appeared during the ’80s and was later popularized by psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman. He suggested there are 5 elements of emotional intelligence. Each of these elements can be developed and improved, and the more you have them in check, the higher your EQ should be.
5 Important Elements of Emotional Intelligence
- Self-awareness – A critical part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand and monitor your own emotions. It also refers to the capability to recognize the relationship between your behaviours, motivations, and feelings. Being self-aware means you are in tune with your emotions and values and see yourself realistically. It also means you’re aware of how others perceive you and understand how your moods and emotions affect other people.
- Self-regulation – Another important part of emotional intelligence is being able to think before you act, to control your impulses and direct your emotions appropriately. This means you are flexible and able to modulate your feelings when facing change or stressful situations. Good self-regulation also refers to having integrity and taking responsibility for your actions.
- Motivation –People with high emotional intelligence are pretty good at motivating themselves without relying on external sources such as money or recognition. What drives them is a higher purpose, internal values that move them forward. They set goals that they see value in and combine inner drive and discipline to reach those goals. Correspondingly, they have the ability to motivate others.
- Empathy – The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act accordingly is a big part of emotional intelligence. When we recognize how others feel and approach them with something they can relate to, we are creating a connection. This plays an important role in building relationships, managing conflicts, motivating people or helping them see the bigger picture.
- Social skills – The capability to communicate well and find common ground with others is crucial for creating good, stable, and meaningful relationships. Crucial skills in this domain include, for example, active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
How Does Emotional Intelligence Look Like In Practice?
In everyday life, we can see emotional intelligence in someone’s sensitivity to the moods of others and the ability to grasp the point of view of other people or as readiness to see what is going on with them beneath the surface. High emotionally intelligent people can, for example, recognize that someone’s angry outbursts may come from the feeling of helplessness or fear. Thus, they can act accordingly instead of jumping into defense mode immediately. Similarly, emotional intelligence allows us to recognize emotions and motivations behind our own behaviours or behind some other emotions that may mask the real feelings. From there, high EQ helps us manage those feelings and direct them appropriately.
Some signs of high EQ:
✔️ You are able to stop and think before you act
✔️ You are able to objectively watch your thoughts
✔️ You show empathy and understanding for others
✔️ You recognize your mistakes and offer a genuine apology
✔️ You have a moment-to-moment connection with your emotional experience
✔️ You know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your values
Emotional intelligence is about being open and ready to connect – with others and with yourself, practicing and balancing both is the key to raising your EQ.
Would you like to test your EQ and learn more about your personality characteristics? With our highly trained professionals, you can assess your Emotional Intelligence through Profile Evaluation System (PES) to get an extensive, well-rounded, and comprehensive description of different aspects of your personality, including your EQ.