Last blog we examined how the predominant Culture of Fear functions to keep you complacent and how it might be affecting your life at work. But it’s not just your career that suffers from fear-based decision making. Romantic relationships are a part of our lives where fear will almost always show up. You can think of that as a good thing if you wish—our most intimate partners in life will also be the people that help us grow the most.
Fear in relationships is extremely common, and it can manifest in many ways. Insecurities, fear of commitment, self-sabotage and many more. In this month’s blog we’ll be looking at how fears manifest in relationships and how we can deal with them.
Insecurity in Relationships
Insecurity is one of the most common forms of fear in a relationship, and most everybody experiences insecurity at some point in their lives, whether in a school or work setting (impostor syndrome anyone?) or in a relationship.
If insecurity is a persistent issue, it may be a result of childhood trauma or specific parenting styles. As children we’re like sponges, soaking up whatever information we can get. We may internalize something a parent or teacher says. Maybe you’re enjoying pizza and a teacher or parent or someone you trust tells you to “stop eating so much or you’ll get fat.” Such a seemingly innocuous statement can become a building block of how a child constructs their identity. A child who believes they are fat or funny looking may begin manufacturing proof of this worldview, looking for evidence that it’s true. (This is called Confirmation Bias, and it’s a powerful psychological concept to understand.) You can probably imagine how this insecurity would manifest in a relationship.
Emotional Insecurity could also be defined as the measure of one’s capacity for resiliency. The higher the insecurity one has, the less their resiliency.
Someone who struggles with insecurity may have trouble taking constructive criticism, may take things too personally, may feel high levels of anxiety about a partner and may have trouble trusting a partner. Oftentimes insecurity manifests with trust issues, and these trust issues can even attract or create the type of behavior that is feared—a self fulfilling prophecy. For example, a man who suspects his partner will cheat on him may subconsciously select a partner that is apt to do so, and he may act in ways that makes his partner feel they must seek intimacy elsewhere. This doesn’t mean his partner is not responsible for their actions! But it does suggest that we are more responsible for the events in our lives than we’d sometimes like to believe.
In the above context, patterns of self-sabotage can become relatively easy to understand. Self-sabotage happens when an individual makes a choice that directly contradicts or sabotages a goal or intention. Often it comes as a type of relief to the individual, who likely had great anxiety and doubts about their abilities to achieve said goal. Frequently this individual may be dishonest in the story they tell themselves and others about why they failed to achieve this goal, most likely attributing their failure to an outside force beyond their control.
Say you have a friend who has been seeing the same person for over a year and really likes them. One of their goals is to have a stable relationship. Now their partner wants to move in together. Apropo of nothing your friend makes a huge deal out of the fact that their significant other was late picking them up for a date, claims it’s indicative of a general level of disrespect and continues escalating until they break up.
Perhaps this friend of yours is holding onto a story about themselves that they are unlovable, and becoming truly vulnerable and intimate with someone can only lead to the pain and suffering of being dumped. They may feel deep inside that they cannot risk proving this story to be true. In a way they have managed to avoid that story playing out. They’ve traded the possibility of a failure that was out of their control for a failure they controlled.
We can see that self-sabotaging behavior like this is the result of trying to protect ourselves from catastrophic failure, at the expense of our success.
The Patterns of Fear
Do you know anyone who seems to have relationship after relationship that repeat the same pattern? Perhaps they seem to attract infidelity. Maybe it’s jealous men. Maybe every relationship is a long distance relationship, or they can’t seem to find someone who can commit.
Likely you do know someone like this, or you have been this person. It is a very common occurrence. Traumas can become locked into our perception of the world and the people in it. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know that for months afterwards getting back on the road can feel terrifying. A similar thing can happen with relationships, reaching all the way back to the way our parents treated us and each other.
As long as these traumas remain buried and unexamined it is likely we will repeat the overlying issue. These traumas and fears can easily become invisible to us, driving reactions that seem irrational because we can’t see the source.
Think of it as your subconscious giving you chance after chance to pick a better outcome, to prove the past wrong, to grow into a bigger, better, healthier world view. Working with a counselor is one way we can begin to identify and unravel these fears. Once we develop a healthy relationship with our past, our intimate relationships will follow.
There are many ways that fears manifest themselves in relationships. Identifying and communicating these fears to your partner may be the best way to exorcise them. It takes a deep level of trust, listening, patience and understanding to unravel the traumas that we carry. This is one of the first goals of relationship counseling—creating a space where both partners can be safe and heard in a relationship. If this sounds like work that interests you, reach out to our team of experienced counselors today. You don’t have to live with your fears forever.