Love yourself first

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Healthy relationships flourish when both parties have robust self-esteem. Unfortunately, some people endure a relationship that gives their self-esteem a battering. You can end up feeling bad about yourself and constantly questioning your self-worth.

In the worst cases, your relationships with not only your partner but family and friends can be affected, as you become more unsure of yourself and withdraw socially. Self-esteem, what nourishes it and what erodes it, is a complex area, but whether it is something you bring into a relationship or something that develops BECAUSE of the relationship, only you can change things for the better.

People with poor self-esteem often struggle in relationships. They may fear rejection and consequently put up with unreasonable or controlling behaviour from their partner. Then there are the people whose hitherto healthy self-esteem takes a battering because of a partner’s infidelity, betrayal or undermining behaviour.Once the trust is broken, once the seed of doubt is sewn, the relationship can spiral from good to bad very quickly. Conversely, a loving, supportive relationship in which you feel safe and cherished can do wonders for your self-esteem.

If you are struggling with poor self-esteem, comfort yourself with the knowledge that to do so is common – only narcissists are devoid of self-doubt. There are also ways to fight your way out of it, from doing something as simple as reading a self-help book to seeking professional guidance. The trick is to be proactive. Having low self-esteem can make you more anxious about your relationship in general.

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“You may be afraid that your partner will leave you, or you panic over other things that others wouldn’t think twice about,” says social psychologist Dr Heidi Riggio, in an interview for the Everyday Health website.“This can lead to panic attacks or extreme jealousy.” Dr Riggio says changing your negative thoughts is the key to rebuilding confidence. “When you notice yourself thinking you’re not lovable, or that no one will ever find you attractive, you need to stop and talk back to yourself in a positive way,” she says. “Tell yourself that the negative talk is not realistic, but just a distortion.”

Complicating factors

The decision to stay in or leave a relationship which has derailed your self-esteem is not easy. It’s often not as simple as just walking away and blocking a number. There could be children involved, shared finances, family expectations, health issues or future commitments – or it’s simply your confidence has been shattered and you don’t know what to do.

But if something has happened to make you feel undervalued – your partner has cheated on you, or been dishonest perhaps – you must conduct an honest appraisal of whether continuing the relationship is worthwhile. Repairing relationships requires a lot of hard work. Is it worth the effort, and at what cost to you?

Don’t linger

Sometimes, memories of the times when the relationship was good or pleading from your partner can convince you to stay in an unhealthy relationship, hoping that time will heal the wounds. It can work, but it often doesn’t. Some wounds won’t heal, or what has happened is so contradictory to your beliefs you can never look at your partner the same way again.

If this is the case, don’t let things drag on. You need to protect yourself. “Be real,” writes psychology professor Peggy Drexler in psychologytoday.com. “Even if it seems unlikely – is forgiveness a possibility? Or will life become an unending cycle of punishment and recrimination. ‘You forgot to take out the garbage.’ ‘Yeah, well you cheated on me’. “If you see hope, then keep talking. Don’t withdraw in hopes that emotions will simply cool, and you can move on. It seldom works that way.”

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