Spotting Insecurities and Addressing Them to Strengthen Relationships
Spotting insecurities in yourself can be scary and shameful as a client recently told me about being stuck in a relationship where he felt demeaned and devalued. He wanted to learn how to become more secure inside of himself to withstand the put downs, let downs and mushiness that made him feel that there must be something seriously wrong with him. He wanted to work on feeling like he could live without his partner’s attention and walk away whole.
Spotting insecurities in his partner however was much more difficult. It’s usually the case that if you are insecure you perceive your partner as having all the qualities you wish you had – strength, lack of neediness, self-confidence and assertiveness.
But it’s equally the case that your partner is also insecure, perhaps in different way, but that you don’t see it. You need them to be the strong invulnerable types – that’s what makes them so attractive. But by being blind to your partner’s insecurities makes you split them into good and bad, where you only engage with the good side, UNTIL your partner belittles you and then you start seeing the bad side – the side of your partner that is also insecure and derives strength from making you out to be inadequate.
What is insecurity?
Spotting insecurity is only possible if you have a lived sense of what it is. Remember the time you didn’t get picked up from school, or your dad missed your regular Saturday night movie time together? You have no idea what’s happened, but fear of being lost, or separated for who knows how long envelop you. Thoughts of having done something wrong and having to pay for it with your partner’s coldness prevail, as do fears that you are no longer wanted and that your loved one has found someone much more lovable than you… It’s like a massive attack on your sense of self, of having no ground under you and of being disoriented in the world.
Your body goes into a tail spin of panic and you can’t think about anything else but being cast aside, forgotten or unlovable. In that moment all you want is to know what to do restore the connection. You’ll admit to anything, do anything, especially keep your wounds hidden if it will bring back that sense of being settled with your loved one.
So spotting insecurity is facilitated when you allow yourself to recall those times when you felt panicked at being left, dismissed, forgotten, not included, and most of all when you feel those emotions of wretchedness and abject dread that you are nothing to the one you rely on to make you feel that you matter in the world.
Spotting insecurity in yourself helps you in spotting insecurities in others – provided you let yourself believe that your loved ones are human and like you, need reliable sources of attachment to enjoy relationships.
Where does insecurity come from?
Spotting insecurity requires some appreciation of the earliest relationship with your mother/care giver. It’s from birth on that an infant’s interactions with mother determines whether the child will be secure or insecurely attached. Security is about how stable and strong the attachment is when it is strained.
If mom is reliable and consistently emotionally available baby develops a secure attachment. But if she is sometimes doting and other times enraged by baby’s needs, then infant develops an insecure attachment.
When mom is more anxious about herself and isn’t tuned into baby, baby doesn’t feel safe and develops an anxious insecure style of attachment, leading to clinging, difficulty separating when it’s time to sleep or when mom goes to the bathroom.
However when mom is cold and just goes through the motions; or is overly intrusive, overwhelming the infant, then the child grows up with an avoidant attachment. There is lack of trust and safety in the mom and the child finds it hard to be loved. The child shrinks from others to protect themselves from being taken over and used for mom’s purposes. These infants long for closeness and care but dare not feel that need and make themselves vulnerable. So they armor up with fear and or depression as a defense.
Spotting Insecurity – signs and symptoms
Symptoms: constantly calling, texting or wanting to be physically in the same place, asking the same question over and over about your time of arrival, your anticipated call or attention.
1.Fear of being separate and unmoored when apart – will you be reunited again; will it will last or will be an ongoing abandonment?
Addressing it: reassurance isn’t enough. Spotting insecurity involves noticing that words that say there is nothing to worry about aren’t going to calm that scared place of separation that is unbearable.
- Acknowledge the fear – that is the most calming strategy
- Say that you understand – that makes your partner feel normal and accepted
- Tell your partner that you realize they think you are going to forget about them when you are gone, and talk to them about the various ways in which you hold them inside you and remember and your moments together with fondness.
- Talk about missing your partner during the separation and looking forward to the reunion
- Need for feedback – spotting insecurity involves noticing and taking seriously your partner’s need for feedback.
It’s common during a couples therapy session for one partner to pour their heart out about their fears and longing and then to panic because there is no feedback from the other partner.
Usually the partner being spoken to is taking it in, but doesn’t show it. Their faces are blank and there is no body movement or eye contact that indicates reception and or what is done with the shared information.
Insecure partners become highly triggered and overcome with stress, demanding an answer –
“did you hear me?”
“are you listening?”
“see, I knew it! What’s the point? This is what I get – a nothing!”
It’s a scary feeling not knowing what you the listening partner may be doing with the information. They imagine the worst and it leads to further estrangement because communication is impossible with such fantasies of loss.
Are you blowing it off?
Are you somewhere else in your mind?
Are you imagining your partner as a whining baby that needs to grow up?
Are you turned off by what your partner is revealing?
You, the listening person may have learned not to show your reaction because in your family it would get you into a pickle – maybe you would be seen as a sucker or unable to handle the family anger etc. Perhaps a poker face was a protective device that you don’t realize you are still using. Many a time I watch the person listening shut off and stare back at the intense intimate stuff coming at them and making them overwhelmed or unable to give what’s being pleaded for.
Addressing it: being silent without any other form of contact escalates insecurity.
- Reach out and touch your partner. The touch response is calming, and shows you haven’t been put off or demolished by the stuff your partner expressed. Even if you are silent and make this move it will be enough to lower the insecurity temperature.
- Make an observation about what hit you when they shared, something like:
“That’s a lot you just told me. I’m not sure how to be with it, and I don’t want to let you down.”
- It’s okay not to know what it means or what to do, but trying to dismiss the feelings or accuse your loved one of being too sensitive comes off as defensive and heightens insecurity.
- Need for predictability – spotting insecurity involves bearing in mind that reliable routines that are predictable go a long way to PREVENT insecurity from peaking.
You know yourself that it’s very grounding for you that you can predict and depend on your light coming on when you switch it on. It’s the same here, only in relationships, it involves the predictability you build into your connection that enables your partner to survive for periods without you present or calling in on demand.
- Avoid ambiguity – instead of saying “in a few minutes,” say, “in ten minutes from now.” The word ‘few’ sets up an uncertainty that stirs up insecurity and makes your partner keep on at you to respond.
- If you kiss your partner on your way out the door each day, then make it something predictable no matter whether you are rushed, on the phone or fighting with said partner. If you don’t it will set the stage for massive insecurity – your partner may start wondering:
‘Do I smell today’?
‘Is he/she having an affair’?
‘Do I look hideous’?
‘Can he/she not wait to get away from me’?
- Need for trust/safety – spotting insecurities in your partner requires that you intuit their need for safety which then allows for trust to exist. Without a feeing of safety, your partner becomes inward focused, protecting themselves the only way they can, by becoming depressed and withdrawn.
Whether you feel safe or not has no bearing on whether your partner feels safe. What triggers danger for your partner may be laughable to you but is lethal for them. You can sense fear in their eyes, in their hunched bodies, in their need to be physically close, to shut the world out, and most of all in you NOT SEEING THEM AS BAD.
Safety is threatened when your partner is thinking:
‘He/she’ll get mad if I tell him how I feel’
‘He/she will think I’m nuts if I get mad’
‘He/she will think I’m spoiling their fun if I ask them to hold me till I fall asleep’
‘He/she will get offended and think I want to control them when I say not to drive too fast’
You can’t fix fear. You can’t take it away and you can’t ignore it. It is there based on not being made safe as infants.
- Acknowledge the fear. Don’t mock or dismiss it.
- Listen to what your partner is saying and invite their feelings – it shows you have the desire and the capacity to handle their intense emotions, and that they are not crazy for having them.
- Show, not tell your partner that you appreciate their sense of danger even if you don’t feel the same threat.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2021
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