Why feeling insecure in relationships is common - and how to stop it
Many of us are no stranger to feeling insecure in our relationship. That angsty, needy fear of being rejected or that we’re not good enough can be debilitating.
It can also cause us to stay in unhealthy relationships for fear of rejection or to sabotage potentially good ones.
"Being in a relationship with someone who is very insecure can be exhausting," says human behaviour expert Peter Sage. "And women in particular tend to seek validation through putting their partner through tests or challenges. But they can often test their relationship to the point of destruction."
So, where do these feelings of insecurity come from? And why are some of us more prone to them than others?
Most insecurity stems from childhood. "It comes down to your perception of how you did, or didn’t get love from the people you most wanted it from," explains Sage.
So, yep, parents can mess you up! But then, their parents probably did the same.
"There’s this imposition on all parents to reward children for good behaviour," says Sage. "But what the child perceives, is that when they’re not being good, love is withdrawn."
"So by the time we get to five or six, we have been pre-conditioned that love is earned. Then we spend the rest of our lives projecting that into future relationships, rather than understanding that you are born good enough [to love]."
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Why do women in particular get insecure?
"Because we are judged more," says psychotherapist Marisa Peer. "By society and by each other. So, women feel they are not pretty enough, funny enough, or thin enough."
Relationship expert and co-founder of Amicable, a support service for divorcing couples, Kate Daly adds that social media has a lot to answer for, creating a ‘comparison epidemic’.
"It’s very easy to feel insecure when you are comparing your relationship and yourself to people’s filtered and curated pictures of 'perfect' relationships and bodies. Those comparisons can fuel a deep sense of insecurity," she says.
There is also the unavoidable fact of female biology.
"The stakes of a relationship not working out are much higher for women because of the biological clock," says Peer. "Women can’t afford to start over again, whereas it’s much easier for a man to cut and go. We know that, which can add to our insecurity."
What feeds our insecurity?
"Bad past experiences," says Daly. "If you’ve been at the receiving end of someone cheating or being abusive before and not had the chance to heal, you’ll put that in your trauma bag and take it into the next relationship."
The other big issue is low self-esteem.
"The neediness this creates can drive rejecting behaviour from a partner, which then fuels the cycle and can make insecurities feel justified," says Daly.
Certain personality traits such as introversion, neuroticism and perfectionism can also leave us more prone to insecurity, but Daly is quick to point out that "It’s the combination of your innate personality traits and your life experiences that can manifest in insecurity." Not usually one of them on their own.
So, now we understand why we feel insecure and where it comes from, how do we stop feeling it?
1. Know you are enough – on your own.
"People put so much emphasis on making people like them," says Peer. "Instead, work on knowing you are enough – just as you are. Then, people will stay with you because you have self-worth, and that is the most attractive thing of all."
"So many people look for the other half of the circle to complete them," adds Sage, "but this just makes you needy and co-dependent. What you are looking for is someone who is a violin and a bow already – with you who’s a saxophone; someone who doesn’t need anyone else to make music, but when they make music with you, it’s beautiful harmony."
2. Make an inventory of awesomeness
Self-love is the key to warding off insecurity.
"And a great way to build that is to make what I call an ‘inventory of awesomeness,'" says Sage. "This is a list of things that are awesome about you. If you can’t think of anything, get your best friend to tell you what’s awesome about it and write it down."
Daly also suggests putting post-it notes of how awesome you are on your bathroom mirror to book-end the day with self-love as you brush your teeth. "The more specific the better," she says. "So rather than 'I am the best person in the world’ make it more, ‘I make time to listen to my friends.'"
Read more: How to get the spark back in a relationship
3. Use positive self-talk
"Your language shapes your reality," says Peer. "If you don’t like your reality, change your language around it – especially the way you talk to yourself."
"So if you feel insecure and say things like, 'My thighs are too big' that’s what you’ll believe to be real. Instead, change the narrative and say, "But Beyonce has big thighs and she’s one of the sexiest women alive!"
"Focus with your self-talk on the reasons why your partner loves you – not why you might break up –otherwise, that’s what you’ll get. We always look for the evidence to support our stories, so make sure your stories are positive."
4. Be receptive to feedback
Knowing when your insecurity is justified and when you are being paranoid is a tricky one. The answer? Up your awareness.
"If I am running around constantly trying to prove I am good enough and second-guessing what people think without paying attention to the facts, then that is paranoia," says Sage.
"Instead, look at the feedback objectively, it’s usually self-evident. You feel they’re not as into you as they were? Well, are you being the person you want to attract? Or have you become lazy or negative?"
Rather than getting all needy, be open to feedback and improvement.
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5. Be clear about expectations
If the way someone is behaving in a relationship is making you feel insecure, don’t ever assume it’s because you’re not good enough.
"Instead, be clear from the outset," says Sage. "Say, 'What are you expecting out of this relationship, just so I know?' Then decide what you’re willing to settle for."
"Otherwise you are second-guessing which will always be wrong because you are filtering the relationship through a fear-based lens rather than a love-based lens."
6. Remember authenticity is the new sexy
"People don’t want AI-generated waifs," says Sage. "They want real. They want no mask."
"After all," adds Peer, "If it was all about looks and youth and being perfect, then you wouldn’t have models like Helena Christensen never marrying."
7. Be aware that neediness isn’t appealing
"If I say I need you then you can’t love me because need is always filtered by loss or fear of being without you," says Sage.
"We don’t 'need' anyone. When you’re comfortable not needing someone you are free to choose who you want to be with or celebrate a relationship with."
8. Own your feelings
"People are not mind-readers," says Daly "So if you’re feeling insecure, tell your partner what you need."
"Say, 'Are you prepared, for the sake of this relationship to modify some of your behaviour to meet my need?' And, ask yourself, 'Am I prepared to do the same?'"
"If you are both prepared to change then there’s the seeds of a good relationship, but if you are met with a straight ‘I am who I am’ then run for the hills, because it is not going to go away."
9. Don’t expect yourself from other people
Nobody goes into a relationship looking for lack of love, so when feelings of insecurity come, it’s often just different communication styles that are to blame.
"Most people wander around in life expecting themselves from other people," says Sage. "Then wonder why they feel like they need therapy when the other person behaves in their own way, with their own communication style."
"Don’t be too committed to your own communication style. Be willing to evolve and adapt."
10. Find the source of your insecurity
Are you always attracted to a personality type that feeds your insecurities? Or, did something happen in your past from when all relationships followed a certain pattern?
To explore this, Daly suggests making a list of your relationships. (Alone, or with a therapist.)
"Next, look at what point in those relationships your insecurity started and see if there are common themes or patterns,” she says. “Is your insecurity about you or the relationship situations you find yourself in?"
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11. Own your part in things
"The second you make somebody or someone else the issue, you lose your power," says Sage.
Sounds counterintuitive? It’s not.
"If your partner is being an idiot, do a personal inventory!" Sage suggests. "Ask yourself, 'What am I doing that’s contributing to this situation?'"
"The flipside to that is, if it’s nothing then you have a choice as to whether you want to stay with that person or not – but if you don’t even ask yourself the question, you don’t have the facts to work with and my experience is, if I blame someone else for a pattern I need to work on, then I will simply have that relationship again, just with somebody else."