Rebuilding trust in my relationship
May 9, 2016 2:06 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop beating myself up for experiencing insecurity?

My partner behaved in emotionally abusive ways - withholding affection, refusing to be emotionally close to me, generally being unkind - largely as a result of unresolved attachment issues and anxiety. I left the relationship for a while, then we had some very long discussions. My partner apologized, took responsibility, and demonstrated understanding of what was wrong with how the relationship was going. After discussing it with a therapist and several close friends, I decided to try it again.

A couple months later, and things are going great! We tell each other often how important we are to each other, how much we feel we can rely on each other, and how much we enjoy being in a serious relationship together. My partner treats me very well and I feel very comfortable and happy with them. Everything about the way we interact seems like green flags to me, and I am very glad we stayed together.

But sometimes I get worried about us, like when my partner doesn't text back for a while or doesn't say specific reaffirming things on a given day. I know that it would be ridiculous to expect to say certain formulaic reaffirmations every day just to salve my insecurities, and I never ever act on those worries, instead remaining open and calm. And I feel like they are getting less intense every day.

The problem is that I feel really guilty for even having such thoughts. I feel like I'm not trusting my partner enough, or not appreciating the present of the relationship enough, or beat myself up for being too fixated. I read about insecurity and come across things like "insecurity makes you annoying" and "insecurity is a form of manipulation" and I instantly hate myself for experiencing these feelings. I feel like needing reassurance makes me pathetic and places an unfair burden on my partner. On the other hand, rationally, I think it makes perfect sense that I would feel this way and that I would need reaffirmation from time to time. How should I be thinking about this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my personal opinion you should quit worrying about whether your totally valid insecurities are making you "annoying," and give yourself space to allow for your perfectly natural feelings to progress at their own pace. You aren't going to trust them totally all at once and THAT IS OKAY. You can keep dating this person and still reserve a level of caution and keep your eyes wide open for any further warning signs. In fact I think that's quite wise.
posted by celtalitha at 2:10 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is a totally normal thing to feel. And, honestly, this is the price of your partner's past harms. He hurts you, he claims to reform, it takes you a while to trust and you are hypersensitive to the pattern recurring. This is a good thing. The pattern really might recur and you might get hurt again, badly. Therefore, everything is functioning normally; your systems are watching out for you.

I encourage you to find a way to validate these feelings, rather than drowning them in guilt. These feelings are important; they are a record of the harm that was done to you. Couples counselling might be a good idea. Mainly like celtalitha says I would try to allow them to rise and progress at their own natural pace.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:10 AM on May 9, 2016 [27 favorites]


I read about insecurity and come across things like "insecurity makes you annoying" and "insecurity is a form of manipulation" and I instantly hate myself for experiencing these feelings. I feel like needing reassurance makes me pathetic and places an unfair burden on my partner. On the other hand, rationally, I think it makes perfect sense that I would feel this way and that I would need reaffirmation from time to time.

There's a general principle that requires embracing here, and it is this: you feel what you feel, and that's just how it is, and whatever you feel is perfectly acceptable.

Feelings just are what they are: they occur before reason has had time to kick in and are simply not subject to direct control. There is nothing at all you can do to change the fact that a certain feeling has arisen. They do that all by themselves as your present experience interacts with the sum of all your past experiences. The only way to alter the feelings that arise in any given set of circumstances is to accumulate enough experience to make that interaction work out differently. You can't will that to happen; you can only choose your surroundings and live long enough to give it a chance to.

Insecurity, in and of itself, won't and can't make you annoying or manipulative. Only acting on feelings of insecurity in an annoying or manipulative fashion can do that.

So when you have feelings that you find unpleasant, beating yourself up simply for having them is an absurd waste of your time. The old satirical motivational poster line that "the beatings will continue until morale improves" is directly applicable.

I never ever act on those worries, instead remaining open and calm. And I feel like they are getting less intense every day.

That sounds 100% healthy and 100% correct to me.

Whenever you notice that you're beating yourself up again, you have the Internet's blessing to interrupt that thought by giving yourself due credit for dealing with your unpleasant feelings in a mature and well-considered fashion.
posted by flabdablet at 3:16 AM on May 9, 2016 [12 favorites]


Oh, and you also score degree-of-difficulty points for choosing to go another fifteen rounds with somebody who has already given you grief, and taking their apparently sincere attempts to do better at face value. That's a hard path, and I would expect even the most robust sense of personal security to suffer an occasional bump and scrape from taking it.

The upside is, of course, that if this works out for the two of you it's going to be bloody fantastic. Keep the open communication happening and there's a good chance that it will.

I know that it would be ridiculous to expect to say certain formulaic reaffirmations every day just to salve my insecurities

Ridiculous? Maybe. But we humans are inherently ridiculous beings, and the occasional formulaic reaffirmation is simply kind and good practice for your partner besides. There's nothing wrong with a bit of healthy ritual.

We tell each other often how important we are to each other

That's lovely. Provide an incentive for it to happen more often by letting your partner know, whenever they've just said something that's left you feeling good, that you appreciate having heard it. Anything from "that's lovely to hear, thank you" to a bear hug, depending how you roll.
posted by flabdablet at 3:32 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you're doing really well: you're aware of when your distrust is getting in the way, and you work to calm it down, and it's already starting to get better. The rest is time. It'll still hurt a little while it heals, and then one day it won't hurt at all.

There are two things you'll need to keep in mind: first, needing things from your partner isn't the same as insecurity. If you've ever had problems with insecurity in a relationship, it can be really hard to figure out where the line is, which is something your therapist can help with. Say, if you need your partner to say "I love you" every so often, or to initiate plans half the time, that's a healthy thing to ask for. Second, anyone can be a perfect partner for a little while, even if they have a history of being abusive, especially if they know there's a risk of losing the relationship. It's healthy for you to be on your guard for a bit longer, because even if things are going perfectly, there's still a chance of old patterns emerging. And that's not just on you; it's also on your partner to be a healthy contributor to the relationship.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:50 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I agree that your uncertainties are because you learned that this person, who you trusted and loved, was hurtful in some important ways. It will take a long while of demonstrating that they really got it and have grown past it until your worries can really fade. How long was the problematic period that led to your separation? It's been a couple of months since you got back together and it may just take a while longer (and, frankly, making it healthily through a few bumpy spells) to get the evidence your heart needs that it's really better. In short, your worries are normal.

I'd like to echo the sentiment that those worries/insecurities seem normal, and it's that judgement about whether it's OK to have them that may be the place where you'd benefit from doing work. Are you aware of the concept of "meta-emotion"? The feelings that you have about the feelings you have? That's often where people get stuck: it's not just that you feel scared, it's that you are down on yourself about feeling scared. This post from Emily Nagoski has a good overview in that table in the middle. May be good to see if you recognize emotion dismissing, and give some thoughts about how it would be if you tried an emotion coaching perspective.
posted by Sublimity at 4:39 AM on May 9, 2016


If it was the other person who was abusive, what I am wondering is why you are blaming yourself instead of him for your feeling uncomfortable. I don't think it's pathetic to need reassurance. Burden is on this guy, not you, to make you feel cozy if he used to be a straight-up abuser.
posted by johngoren at 5:38 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you have somehow taken on the idea that it's your responsibility to be completely over any emotional abuse. This makes me uneasy, because it fits in so well with the way that abusers often extort forgiveness--by making you feel that whatever happened is your fault or that you yourself are being unkind or "crazy" for dwelling on it. Please don't squash your feelings; they're natural. If the relationship is truly proceeding healthily, then they should eventually diminish and pass away. If they don't, that's a genuine yellow flag in itself--your lizard brain is telling you that there is something still not right.
posted by praemunire at 5:49 AM on May 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


Anecdote: a dear friend was treated badly by their partner at the time. Partner faced up to their wrongful actions and promised change. Friend accepted their word and attempted to make a go of it. Leant on Partner emotionally during healing period. Partner was unable to deal with that emotional leaning and behaved badly again. Friend dumped partner and got together with someone who made them happy and treated them well.

The moral of this story for me wasn't "don't lean emotionally on your partner in case they do bad again". It was "if they can't take you leaning on them after they've been bad, you just get to find out that they weren't really committed to being better anyway".

So I mean, therapy (for both you and them) will doubtless be invaluable and an airbag for the tough moments, but please do feel you can lean on your partner a bit more than you would normally - either they can take it and will take the challenge and support you, or they won't. In which case, then you know.
posted by greenish at 6:05 AM on May 9, 2016


The rest of the advice is spot on, but I wanted to add:

I read about insecurity and come across things like "insecurity makes you annoying" and "insecurity is a form of manipulation"

This is a particular piece of garbage pop psychology that is floating around (IME) the social justice/new age/young-squishy-left internet and I'm sorry but it's terrible. It's basically the SJ version of the cool-girl thing, and it hinges on the idea that there's only ever bad feelings in a relationship because someone is doing something wrong. News flash - bad feelings and conflict are not always the result of someone being a bad actor, and if you're going to have a serious, long term relationship you will sometimes encounter bad feelings and difficult stuff.

If you said to a therapist, "I am only being insecure because of an underlying desire to manipulate my partner", contra the SJ internet the therapist would not say "yes, you are only being insecure because your motives are bad, like a bad person; you should stop immediately". Your therapist might help you unpack what was making you insecure, whether your strategies for dealing with it were effective, maybe whether you felt like you could not articulate your needs directly to your partner so they were coming out in random bursts of insecurity.

Also, seriously, "manipulation" is how humans work. If I want to make you happy, maybe I'll make you a cake - look at me, manipulating you into happiness! If a baby wants to get fed, it cries - look at that baby, "manipulating" people into attending to its needs! If I ask someone on a date, maybe I'll....take them somewhere really nice and guarantee that they have a good time so that they'll like me - so manipulative, right? Just because it's good to use your words does not mean that using your words is the only healthy way for humans to interact. And you could make a case that language itself is manipulation!

There's this weird, judgey, contract-minded strain of pop-psych around right now, where it's all "you must never be insecure or ask for anything that your partner might not want to provide or set any limits on your partner because that is coercive and only a morally bad person would do that - hey, maybe you're abusive on top of it all!" It is the worst. It is harmful and guaranteed to tip anyone who is anxious or insecure or just too conscientious over into a panic episode. It is uncompassionate garbage that does not even begin to describe the real world. Do not listen to it for one moment.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [40 favorites]


I read about insecurity and come across things like "insecurity makes you annoying" and "insecurity is a form of manipulation"

Obviously, people can find ways to wield anything like a weapon, and you shouldn't do that. But it doesn't sound like you're doing that, and in fact it sounds like you're hiding these feelings from your partner which is also a problem because it reinforces the shame and guilt for having the feeling in the first place. And the only problem here - in that it is hurting you - is the shame, not the mistrust.

The mistrust is a reasonable reaction to being abused, and it takes time for those adrenaline-fired programs the abuse built in your brain to wither and die. It may help to come up with a mantra that both honors that the feeling is happening for a reason but also reminds you to just feel it and let it move on rather than punishing yourself for feeling it. It is also legitimate to tell your partner about the specific pockets of stress you are still dealing with so that they can be more mindful of those things, but also so you aren't hiding them.

I suspect the "insecurity is manipulation" thing is more of a "young person" trope rather than some kind of social justice conspiracy, especially since it's also a tenet of PUA/MRA philosophy.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel like I'm not trusting my partner enough

But he has a history of "withholding affection, refusing to be emotionally close to me, generally being unkind" -- you are right to be wary. I would give yourself much more time to let that wariness die off, and when you feel bad about experiencing it, remind yourself of the history -- and that you are hopefully both moving forwards, but, for now, you are not being unreasonable.
posted by kmennie at 7:53 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


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