It’s often said: “You have to love yourself before you can love others”. But there are many individuals, who do not love themselves, yet, are in romantic relationships [or are seeking one].
Whether these feelings of inadequacy or self-loathing are caused by unreasonably high standards, a pattern of negative and bipolar thinking, or even a consciously developed attitude of extreme humility, they can cause hardship for both partners.
If you’re in a relationship with a self-loathing person, what can you do to strengthen your relationship while helping your partner—and yourself? I’ll tell you.
At the most basic level, self-loathing people feel they are not good enough for their partners. To some extent, this is natural: love is often accompanied by feelings of awe and admiration, but people who don’t love themselves take these feelings too far.
“Why should this person be with me when there are so many better people out there?” is what they think. If this sounds like your partner, your first impulse is to praise her, to reassure her of her worth. While this is admirable and kind, self-loathing people are likely to dismiss or deflect such praise, feeling that they don’t deserve it.
They may even interpret it as patronising rather than sincere if you repeat it often. It may also intimidate the self-loathing, who may look at the praise as something they have to live up to while worrying that they can’t. This only compounds their feelings of inadequacy.
Self-loathing people are sensitive to wording; they are naturally disposed to take things badly, so they project their own feelings of inadequacy onto what other people say to them. This puts an extra burden on you, the partner, to be especially careful when giving criticism.
Any criticism you give is often blown out of proportion. It also reinforces your partner’s feelings of inadequacy. Furthermore, because of a lack of faith in herself, your partner takes even minor criticism as a sign that you are reconsidering the relationship, and fears that every little mistake may be the last straw.
To make things worse, this ‘crisis of faith’ suffered by the self-loathing person may also show up in expressions of paranoid jealousy. Every person they see you talking to [especially of the opposite gender] seems better in comparison to themselves.
This makes them worry constantly that you will abandon them for somebody else. [This can be especially maddening for self-loathing people when coupled with their guilt over preventing you from meeting other people!]
It is natural for you to interpret these displays of jealousy as distrust and take it as a reflection of you. But remember, it’s more likely based on how your self-loathing partner perceives his or her low worth and value to you.
It is natural to think that self-loathing people are needier than most, but the truth is more complicated. Some self-loathing people seek out in their partners what they find lacking in themselves: success, good looks, intelligence, or confidence. [Ironically, this backfires as they later find themselves tortured by feelings of inadequacy when they compare themselves to the ‘superior’ partners!]
At first you may be flattered by this admiration, but over time you come to realise that your partner values you not for yourself, but rather for his or her own perceived shortcomings—and that probably isn’t what you want in the long term.
There’s another way in which many self-loathing people do not fit the picture of the needy partner: they often reject help when it is clearly needed and sincerely offered. They are reluctant to seek out or accept help for the same reason they reject praise: they do not feel they deserve it, and they don’t want to impose on anyone else, especially you.
Dealing with a self-loathing partner can be a delicate balancing act. You deserve to express your own issues and concerns, but you must also keep in mind how sensitive your partner is.
You have to assure your partner that small problems are not important in the big picture, that you both botch up from time to time—and that none of these issues signal the end of the relationship [though continued friction over them might].
Many of us desire sensitivity in a partner, of course, but dealing with extreme sensitivity can be both frustrating and exhausting, and may be more than you want—or deserve—to handle.
If you’re with such a person, his or her reluctance to accept help may be especially hard on you. However, the fact that you are with such a person means that you are caring and patient. You understand who you’re with, and you naturally want to help your partner deal with his or her issues.
But the very nature of these issues causes your partner to push you away, refuse help, and possibly alienate you. Out of all the difficulties that partners of the self-loathing face, this may be the most fatal to the long-term health and success of the relationship, since your essential caring nature is being denied. It’s natural to feel frustrated.
While your self-loathing partner has her issues with which you naturally want to help [even if you can’t], you must not forget to take care of yourself as well. Your partner must keep in mind that, as selfless as you may seem, you also have needs that deserve to be met.
It is each partner’s choice to be in a relationship, but it is also each partner’s prerogative to end it—and you have every right to leave if you’re not getting what you need because you’re always thrust into the position of dealing with your partner’s problems.
Despite your natural kindness and patience, please keep this in mind: Don’t let your partner’s failure to love herself make you forget to love yourself.
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