Why Self Love Matters, Me, You and Us


I was recently asked what my thoughts were on the major contributing factors to relationships breakdowns. My initial response was to sigh, close my eyes and search the deep caverns of my mind for a more respectable answer other than , “ I don’t know – stuff !”. Luckily my brain managed to recall few key findings in research undertaken by the Gottman’s, relationship guru’s of the 21st century. I was able with some degree of professional wisdom, comment on how negativity can build like a toxic leak corroding the very substance of anything remotely resembling mutual love and affection transforming once passionate, loving beings into adversarial, fault detecting machines. It’s difficult to bear witness to the relentless pattern of ‘yes, but’ communication where alternatives are shot down with impressive speed and accuracy or to the 4 key areas of relationship destruction – criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. These are not particularly fun to spend time with and yet they are embraced almost as if without them, without these defences, annihilation awaits.

The level of hurt, anger, fear, angst and sadness that sits in my therapy room when these big guns take up residence is palpable. I am often left without a single idea of how to bring even just the slightest hint of love, intimacy, kindness or mutuality into the space that sits between the couple seated before me and yet that is precisely the task at hand. I frequently feel as if I need to operate in stealth mode so as to outwit the toxic but steadfast pattern of attack (sometimes silent but deadly nonetheless) that envelopes the couple. In these times, I share the overwhelming pull to ‘just give up’. What is clear is that simple sorry’s are not going to cut it anymore, clever strategies can momentarily shift the ‘furniture’ so to speak, but still the embodiment of hurt, disappointment and hopelessness often creeps its way back into the couple’s world. It is at this point that I as a therapist and a woman who has experienced this murky sea of hope and hopelessness, am tempted to abandon the mission. But I am also aware of what is possible, what is needed and what enormous amounts of vulnerability and courage is needed to go on

First of all – Abandonment – fear of, avoidance of, anxiety of- is the Mt Everest of relationship angst. If we abandon ourselves in relationships – emotionally, financially, spiritually or in regards to self-care and management we by proxy project this abandonment onto our partners. They become responsible for our sense of being worthy, loved, contained and safe. There is of course a difference between mutual respect and support and being able to count on your partner for assistance, and pardon for poor behaviour at times. What I am alluding to is a patterned set of manipulations, that may take the form of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling to gain approval, a sense of belonging and being loved. This is the stuff of attachment that stems from our childhoods, a whole other topic. Long story short, the patterned ways we develop to maintain closeness to our caregivers in our formative years set down our way relating to others in adulthood, especially our intimate relationships. Of course, if we had some challenges in our childhood, and we all did, survival patterns that we adopted in childhood can go on to have an unhelpful grip on us, especially if we are not aware. Signposts that may alert you to some of these are things like having a tendency to judge yourself as a means of driving yourself to achieve so others will like and respect you? This self-judgement is arguably useful when there is awareness in tact but when it’s meandering about in our psyche unfettered, it can come with lashings of anxiety and fears of not being good enough and a constant seeking or demanding for approval. The tricky part is that often these anxieties and fears are projected onto our unsuspecting partners who aren’t aware (how can they be if we aren’t either). So the seemingly small stuff, like putting the dishes in the sink, unknowingly becomes a sign of respect and the list goes on – think about your own. When do you seem to have disproportionate responses to things?  Small things such as putting dishes in the dishwasher, putting clothes away and so forth, become metaphors (albeit hidden and unclarified) for love and respect and signs of being good enough. It is little wonder we can end up feeling misunderstood, confused, sad and/or mad.

 What’s my point? Taking care of ourselves is key to having successful relationships. We really do need to take care of our finances, our time, our health and well being. It really isn’t our partner’s responsibility to assume financial responsibility for us. Nor is it our partner’s job to clean up after us, or act as our personal assistant or even manage our health – it’s our responsibility. We are getting into the territory of ‘taking for granted’ here. Relationally it is important that we develop a capacity to have a voice, to speak about our needs, the really deep ones that can make us feel uncomfortable. Of course, it’s useful to have engaged in some self-introspection so what we ‘voice’ is not yet again unprocessed defences or self-protection mechanisms against fears of not being good enough or being abandoned or unloved or fears of rejection.

If our intent in a relationship, consciously or unconsciously, is to get love and respect rather than share, we will inevitably become reliant upon our partner for emotional safety, emotional stability, approval and efficacy. This may be experienced by our partners as burdensome and create imbalance. The development of self-efficacy, yes – self-love and awareness, is key to sustaining a loving relationship. While self-abandonment tends to leave us feeling unfulfilled, and reliant on others to fill us up (the trick being of course no one can actually ever do this); self-love creates foundational safety and security within. We can self soothe, we are better able to suspend judgements and afford space for mutuality, we can more readily recognise our defensive responses and we can voice our needs, desires, concerns more authentically and with compassion. It is from here that our capacity to give and receive love is optimised and we are better positioned to share love and life.

Dr Rayleigh Joy, The Groundworks Lab

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