Love and Self-Esteem

“The love oneself is the beginning of a life long romance.”

– Oscar Wilde, Irish author, playwright and poet

“My boyfriend doesn’t like you,” she admitted reluctantly.

“Your boyfriend?” I replied, mildly concerned. “Have I met him?”

“No,” she replied. “Not really, but he’s heard a lot about you.”

“What has he heard?” I asked. “And from whom?”

I was speaking to a young lady who had recently attended one of my self-esteem workshops. Shy at first, she became more engaged as the weekend progressed and led many of the discussions by Sunday. Her main issue was a history of abusive relationships.  

“Since I attended your self-esteem workshop, I’m looking at many things differently,” she admitted, “and that includes my relationships. I told my boyfriend that I deserve better.”

Healthy relationships develop when both parties feel confident about their voice and personal value. Nothing interferes with our ability to enjoy a healthy, loving and mutually respectful relationship than low self-esteem. For example, suppose we believe ourselves unworthy of love and happiness. In that case, we may unconsciously sabotage every potential relationship or, worse yet, settle for a relationship where our partner treats us in a way that matches our negative self-beliefs.

Research into relationships has revealed that we’re likely to partner with someone who has a similar level of self-esteem to our own. If we have low self-esteem, we may be subconsciously attracted to others with low self-esteem. The opposite is also true. If we have high self-esteem, we are likely to attract or be attracted to others with high self-esteem. Therefore, low self-esteem could cause us to miss the chance to connect with a positive partner. 

Occasionally, low self-esteemers are attracted to high self-esteemers because they recognize the benefits such a relationship could provide – security being a primary motivator. Conversely, someone with high self-esteem could be attracted to a low self-esteemer. This is less likely but can happen when the attraction is solely based on physical appearance.

There is another category of low self-esteemers I refer to as performers. They can stage a convincing performance – coming across as though they have confidence and self-assurance to spare. They can be tremendously charismatic and appear to have a high level of self-esteem when in fact, it’s all a show. Actors, singers, politicians, military leaders, and even writers fall into this category. High self-esteemers may find themselves attracted to these individuals and become involved, later wondering how they could have been so deceived.

Relationships, where self-esteem levels are mismatched have two typical outcomes. The first and perhaps the most obvious: the relationship ends when the “infatuation” period passes. Breakups are common owing to insecurities and self-sabotaging behaviours on the part of the person with low self-esteem. For example, a female in a relationship may have many male friends, which can trigger deep-rooted insecurities on the part of the male partner. This can lead to jealousy, arguments, manipulation and even passive-aggressive behaviour. The result is a growing resentment between the two parties. The collapse of the relationship is inevitable.

The second outcome of a self-esteem mismatch is the harmonizing effect. Over time, both parties begin to adjust to each other’s level of self-esteem, in the end striking a balance somewhere between the two extremes. I saw this play out when an acquaintance with exceptionally high self-esteem married a painfully insecure woman – almost to the point of being anti-social. Over time, and with the love and support of her husband, she began to adopt her partner’s higher self-esteem. Although never the life of the party, she did start to feel better about herself and was certainly more confident and engaged as a person.   

If you suffer from low self-esteem, you may be reluctant to begin a relationship in the first place. With low self-esteem, we often experience feelings of being unworthy or undeserving of love. As a result, we may decide that a loving relationship is something we could never attain or ultimately sustain. Consequently, this self-defeating belief may cause us to hesitate to move away from actively pursuing love or avoid love should the possibility appear.

There is no greater barrier to a loving relationship than believing you are unworthy of love. Feeling unworthy is almost always connected to low self-esteem. This lack of worth comes from a lack of self-love: if we cannot love ourselves, how can we express and accept love from others? If we cannot generate feelings of love and acceptance from within, we may look to others to provide approval and validation – viewing others not for who they are but for what they can do for us. Again, not a good foundation for a loving and lasting relationship.

Maya Angelou, the American author and entertainer, was asked once in an interview about love. “I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves,” she said, “and then tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying, ‘Be careful when a naked man offers you his shirt.’”

Awareness and the desire for something better are always the first steps toward improving our self-esteem and situation. As with the young woman in the workshop, she had to feel deserving of something better before she could break her pattern of abusive relationships. If you’re in a relationship, think about your self-esteem and its effect on the positive and negative aspects of your situation. This can be insightful. If a successful, loving relationship is something you desire, then continue to improve your self-esteem actively. You are laying the foundation for an improved sense of self and healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

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