How to Stop Being Insecure in a Relationship
Updated: May 26, 2022
Of all the questions I am asked as a counselor, this is probably one of the most common. I hear it almost daily from clients, who feel absolutely out of control due to their emotional insecurity. So, what causes emotional insecurity and how do we stop being insecure in a relationship, that means so much to us?
One explanation for this is our attachment style--the way we learn to attach emotionally to our caregivers when we are children (our parents, for most of us). The way, in which we bond to romantic partners in adulthood often mirrors our manner of attachment to our parents or other caregivers as children. If our needs are consistently met as children, we tend to feel secure in adult relationships. If we are constantly taught that our needs do not matter when we are children, this is often the assumption we carry into adult relationships--that our needs will not be met or that we are somehow not sufficient for the other person. There are four major attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment. The two I most commonly see in my practice as an LGBTQ therapist are anxious and avoidant attachment, and the two tend to often pair up together: one partner tends to be more anxiously attached, while the other is more avoidantly attached.
Anxious attachment describes a tendency in romantic relationships to often feel insecure and often on the lookout for signs that the relationship might be ending or that one's partner might be losing interest. The anxious attacher, fearing this might come to pass, will often make unfounded accusations of the other person, make frantic attempts to "fix" perceived problems in the relationship (even when they don't exist), and what some might call "clingy" behavior. People with anxious attachment styles often suffer from incredibly low self-esteem: indeed, this tends to be the driving force behind all of these behaviors. Unfortunately, these frantic attempts to "fix" perceived problems in the relationship often have the opposite effect: they are often perceived by the partner as suffocating, needy and controlling. Anxious attachment often begins due to an individual's parents or other caregivers not showing consistent validation during childhood--perhaps validating the child at some times and invalidating or chastising the child at other times in an unpredictable pattern. The child gets the message, "I'm not good enough [to be loved/validated]" and ends up internalizing this message.
Ironically, anxious attachers often end up getting into romantic relationships with avoidant attachers. Although avoidant attachment normally forms for the same reasons--low self-esteem and lack of validation from parents or other caregivers, the avoidant attacher is always on the lookout for signs that the other person is trying to control them or limit their freedom in some way. They want their freedom and independence, although they genuinely desire some level of connection also. When commitment feels too intense, they find ways of putting up walls, distancing themselves from a deeper connection (perhaps by flirting with others, not responding to text messages or calls from their partner, or prioritizing other aspects of their lives above their relationship). They don't want to feel controlled or have their independence feel threatened in any way, and even normal relationship behavior tends to at times be perceived by them in this way.
So what can one do to have healthier, more gratifying romantic relationships, once one recognizes his or her own attachment style? Well, having an idea about one's partner's attachment style can be incredibly helpful and give insight into how one's partner might perceive normal relationship behaviors. Since low self-esteem tends to be the driving force behind both attachment styles, there are several types of evidence-based counseling approaches, which can help (and often in a very short period of time) correct faulty thinking patterns, that tend to keep us stuck in our negative self-talk. One of these approaches I often utilize in my clinical work. In Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy or REBT, we collaboratively evaluate the evidence for and against the thoughts and beliefs, that are keeping you stuck in old behavioral patterns. This normally leads to a positive shift in mood and behavior: changing our thinking to be more realistic tends to help us see the bigger picture, feel better and make more rational choices over the long-term.
If you'd like to learn more about how to get control over your own insecurities in relationships, I'd love to arrange a time to talk with you more in-depth. Visit my website to schedule an appointment, or feel free to contact me by email if you have additional questions.