I never knew what loving someone looked like inside of a commitment to each other. Looking back, I thought if I was the perfect girlfriend, or if I could make the relationship great all of the time and fix anything that went wrong, then we wouldn’t break up.
Instead, of course, I would prove myself wrong. I would prove that I was unlovable.
My perfectionism would show up subtly. It was almost imperceptible to me, which made it difficult to shift the relationship pattern I could see myself having but not knowing why.
I avoided conflict, because I was terrified that it was the gateway to breaking up. I spent a lot of time trying to make sure that nothing went wrong in relationships.
I would slowly slip in to people-pleaser mode, doing what I thought I "should" do and being who I thought would be the "perfect" girlfriend — doing sweet things, always being there when he needed, validating him, making sure to always think about him when making my plans.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing any of those things. What wasn’t working was that my intention in doing those things came from fear. I was looking for love from fear of not being lovable.
My strategy instead was to create a shiny squeaky clean image of myself to show how lovable I was, and keep a lid on the messy, unsure, and imperfect personality traits. I had to have it all together to be lovable — a good job, a nice home, always with a smile on my face, well put together, among other things.
The cost to myself also became very clear: I lost myself. Predictably, relationships would end because he felt smothered or I felt my needs weren’t getting met — which is no surprise because I completely denied having them by pretending to be perfect.
Like a peacock fanning its feathers, showing yourself favourably while dating is completely normal, and it feels so incredible when you find someone head over heels for you.
There’s the excitement, the butterflies, the trying on his last name (jokingly, of course), the adventure of being courted and the lust high. It’s like you’ve finally proved that inner critic wrong, that you are indeed lovable.
Except the belief about yourself still exists, because determining your worthiness from external sources is still in the same story you have — that you’re not lovable unless someone else says you are.
Our love for ourselves starts first on the inside. It's having your love cup full and overflowing, and having the courage to let it emanate to others, regardless of how much they can give back — because no matter what, you are loved.
Your love is like gravity, it just exists and is ever-present. Love is having the courage to be vulnerable and real, to say the bold thing in relationships. It's getting messy because you know that anything else would lack authenticity and be untrue to you. It’s feeling free and light, rather than anxious and restricted.
To truly step in to the relationship with yourself to create the relationship with a partner you want, I recommend these five steps:
1) Love yourself up.
If you’re feeling the anxiety rise that you’re not lovable, practice giving yourself some mega-doses of love first. Go to a favorite restaurant for an amazing meal. Do an activity that gets you energized. Do something that makes you laugh. Make time for yourself. Give yourself the attention you are craving to ground yourself in you.
2) Say what you need.
The only way you’re going to create the relationship you want is to communicate what you want. If asking for what you need is difficult, you may first need to practice noticing what you need, then practicing asking for it.
Be specific in what you say. Ask yourself if you would understand what someone wanted if they said that to you.
3) Stop thinking so much.
Perfectionism is analytical and detail-oriented. When you notice yourself really thinking about what the right thing to do or say next is, pause, take a deep breath and drop back in to your heart.
Overthinking is a sign that your fear is driving the show and you’re strategizing to try to get something. Ask yourself what you really want or need. Then refer to #2.
4) Don’t hold emotions in.
Society often tells women to “get a thicker skin” or “stop being so emotional,” and that’s bullsh*t. Learning how to express your emotions as they arise is a sign of confidence and self-love.
The strategy of holding back emotions, minimizing them or pretending they don’t exist, usually ends in an “emotional tsunami.” One thing too many happens that cracks the dam and everything suddenly pours out in a big rush.
Keeping your emotions pent up doesn’t grow your relationship with yourself or your partner.
5) Go back to what your commitment is to yourself and your relationship.
Make decisions from that place rather than feelings in the moment that may be clouded by anger or fear. And don’t let that be an excuse to not trust your intuition.
It starts with you believing you are worth it. You are.
Edited by Jody Smith