One of the most essential components of a new relationship is empathetic communication skills, where you truly seek to understand each other before coming to conclusions about each other. The quietly persistent fears, doubts and insecurities that are natural in the beginning of a relationship, however, can distort our perception and impair our communication skills. It’s these basic human fears that are the silent killer of a new relationship if you can’t be vulnerable enough to explain that you have them. Although having insecurities is incredibly common – especially when you like someone more than you expected – the way insecurities are manifested in a relationship varies on a case-by-case basis. How they come out in conversation or in action is something to watch out for, before they kill a budding romance that had real potential.
How these insecurities are exposed in conversation is also silently killing the relationship if you’re letting them come out in unreasonable, tactless and insensitive text messages. I’d venture a guess that almost all of us have been guilty of this on occasion. An insecure person who is having an anxiety attack or who has been emotionally triggered tends to have “trigger fingers”, where rationale goes out the window, and urgent and thoughtless texting is the silent accomplice.
Your insecurities can be misconstrued as an inability to trust, neediness, and other unattractive qualities that can’t be forgiven if they aren’t first understood. The key to success that happy and healthy couples have figured out is having empathy and always seeking to understand each other, instead of fabricating uneducated conclusions or judgments. Uneducated assumptions can happen when someone doesn’t know you well enough yet to understand that it’s simply some reassurance that you need. In terms of empathy, I’m referring to their awareness that you may have some fear or other emotion that needs to be addressed, rather than only being aware of or concerned with their own feelings or their own perceived criticisms. A great partner can recognize when your fear is doing the talking. Dating an empathetic person means that you’re dating someone who is less likely to close the book on you, and more likely to take the time to figure you out and discuss their concerns with you in person or on the phone. A considerate partner makes sure that every fight has a fighting chance of being resolved.
Your insecurities and the ways in which they manifest can accumulate over time and you won’t notice they’re killing your relationship until it’s too late. Some might argue that the real key is to vanquish your insecurities by working on your self-confidence, but no matter what, some insecurities and self-esteem issues have simply set up shop – permanently. You can, however, work on how you project your insecurities in relationships to avoid offending your partner or pushing your partner away. My personal opinion is that everyone has insecurities, but some simply control them and convey them much better than others.
Many of us are notoriously insecure at the beginning of a new relationship, when anxiety is at an all-time high and your emotional investment has left you realizing that without the anticipated return, you could be left with a gut-wrenching void. When you’re emotionally invested in someone and you truly have strong feelings for him or her, it’s normal to say and do things that are out of character. Where do you think the cliché saying, “love makes us crazy” came from? Your relationship will have its ups and downs and during the low points when you feel let down, your insecurities will surface. If you aren’t careful, they could surface in a way that drives the person you love away. Here are some important factors to keep in mind, to help keep yourself in check:
1. Your need for reassurance can be misconstrued as a lack of trust, but there’s an easy solution
Everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt, and your constant need for reassurance can therefore be misconstrued as distrust. The right person, however, will intuitively understand that you seem to need more reassurance than they’re used to, and accommodate your needs because you’re worth that little bit of extra effort. Reassurance can be accommodated in several ways. Thoughtfully explaining yourself to someone when you’re letting them down is an incredibly effective means of reassurance, and you could tell whoever you date that you appreciate explanations.
In the situation of cancelling or changing a plan, for example, your partner calling you and explaining what’s going on with some extra details is going to prevent emotional triggers from firing in your brain. It’s the factor of uncertainty that often sets off emotional triggers. If someone knows that their news is going to let the other person down, then it’s necessary to call them on the phone. Do not text! Texts cannot convey intonation, inflection or tone. Text messages are blockers for the most essential components of effective communication, which means they’re a death trap for a promising romance and should never be used to deliver even mildly disappointing news.
Reassurance is not a big ask, and it typically doesn’t cause a problem in relationships if the other person is aware that this just happens to be one of your needs, and doesn’t misconstrue it for distrust. We all want reassurance without having to prompt it. We’re hoping our main squeeze will say what we need to hear, without us having to fish for it. That’s because it requires vulnerability to admit that you just need some reassurance, and many of us opt for the passive aggressive route instead of admitting that we’re having an emotional moment of weakness. This decision to hide your vulnerability surfaces as passive aggressive remarks and offensive jabs, because you never heard the reassuring words you needed. So if someone cancels plans with you, it’s likely that all you need to hear is that they still have every intention of still seeing you another time. It sounds so simple, right? Fishing for that reassurance, however, can come across as a lack of faith, or distrust. The solution is to be vulnerably upfront about what the real issue is. This way, your partner will recognize that it’s not a trust issue at hand – it’s simply a very basic (and common) human need for reassurance.
This concept is not as easy for people who have poor communication skills or for people whose communication skills tend to be weaker in the beginning of a relationship, when they’re still feeling the other person out and testing boundaries. Although an issue of poor communication can cause serious misjudgments and problems, it shouldn’t cause the demise of a new relationship if both parties are willing to understand each other a little better, get on the phone with each other, and show each other some empathy.
2. If the person you’re dating lacks empathy, they won’t understand your insecurities
Empathy is the ability to understand how another person is feeling in a given situation, from that person’s point of view. This requires an ability to take a step back and consider what their point of view might be, why they might be having the reaction they’re having, why they might be behaving unreasonably, and how they might be feeling. Feelings of fear or concern are examples of feelings that you hope your significant other will be empathetic to, as those are the feelings most commonly associated with insecure people while they’re acting inappropriately.
We deserve a loved one who chooses to be curious why we’re acting so inappropriately, instead of manufacturing their own misinterpretation. We want someone to realize that we’re also feeling hurt, and notice our pain instead of only noticing their own. We might need someone who possesses the emotional intelligence to offer us some reassurance, thus deterring the onset of a possible fight or misunderstanding.
Empathy is a muscle that must be exercised, as it doesn’t automatically function like our heart beats on its own. Empathy is highly regarded as one of the most desirable traits a partner could possess. Recognizing someone else’s emotional state and being able to rationalize their inappropriate behavior (while they’re being insecure) is giving someone the benefit of the doubt. To transfer yourself inside someone else’s perspective is a true skill, and those only looking out for their own interests (or those only concerned with fending off criticism) likely won’t ever acquire such a skill. Gaslighting is when someone negates your point of view as an over-reaction, and deems it as uncalled for when there may have been some validity to it. If someone is gaslighting you, they probably lack the capacity for empathy.
3. In moments where your insecurities surface, you could start to lack empathy for others
There’s a common saying along the lines of how careful we need to be not to get “caught up” in our insecurities. Getting caught up in your fear and self-absorbed within your own emotions can curb your ability to empathetic towards and understanding of others. Going back to the example of someone you’re dating cancelling plans, what if the reason they had to cancel plans was due to some bad news they’d just received? Well, the more caught up you get in your own insecurities over the cancelled plans, the less empathetic you’ll be. In fact, you might not even hear or read anything past the part about cancelled or changed plans, because it’s at that point your insecurities took over.
Again, this is where communication skills come into play. If it’s a new relationship, your communication skills with each other might not be developed enough to deal with this appropriately. You might be forgiven if you’re dating an understanding person. The most beautiful people are the ones who offer you empathy even immediately after they didn’t receive any empathy from you. Mainly, though, you just want to date someone who not only forgives you, but clearly communicates to you what they didn’t appreciate, and communicates their dealbreakers. This gives you a chance to modify your behavior before it’s too late.
Our emotions will always shape our perceptions, and emotion-driven misinterpretations can lead to thoughtless accusations and a perceived mistrust. We often forget to be thoughtful about our words and actions when we’re letting emotions take the wheel. Anxiety is a common emotion in insecure individuals, and anxiety can cause us to perceive threats in a way where the smallest hint of a threat is magnified – especially if you have an anxiety disorder. There’s actually scientific evidence that backs this up. The prefrontal cortex of the human brain is the area that houses our ability to be empathetic, and understand context in a rational manner. Studies have proven that our brain’s prefrontal lobe functioning is diminished when we’re anxious, tired, fearful or insecure.
4. Misinterpreting your partner will happen when you’re feeling anxious and insecure
If we think we’re falling in love, or on the path to falling in love, we’re going to be easily triggered within those types of intimate relationships. This type of romantic relationship is the only one that causes us to feel extra-attached, extra-rejected, extra-disrespected – the list goes on. Theses “extra” emotions that only come out around this person will shade our interpretations of everything they say and do. Self-preservation kicks in during moments of heightened insecurity, and this can manifest as a completely inadvertent attack on your partner’s character. Again, this is why phone calls are important.
Let’s go back to the cancelled plans example again. If your man (or woman) doesn’t volunteer much information about why they have to cancel, or about when they can reschedule, you must be careful not to misinterpret this as a deliberate withholding of information or as them blowing you off. If you have an over-reaction to being let down and start acting offensively, your partner must also be careful not to mistakenly attribute your actions to a character flaw that you don’t actually possess.
The fundamental attribution error is when we see someone we love doing something wrong or offensive, and we attribute their wrongdoing to their personality or character instead of to the situation. The fundamental attribution error would remind you that this behavior might not be an accurate representation of them, and it’s simply that they’re a little insecure due to the newness of the relationship and due to the situation at hand . Those with a capacity for empathy are less likely to make attribution errors.
An informed decision can’t be made about someone until you’ve gotten to know them better, and that’s why the fundamental attribution error unfortunately happens so often in brand new relationships. Russell B. Lemle Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today that we’re also very over-sensitive in the beginning stages of a relationship, where something like this can happen:
If we’re feeling insecure in our relationship, our threat alarm system turns up and we over-estimate new instances of potential danger. It’s like a car alarm with a delicately set motion detector. The trip-wire activates when a truck rumbles by. Harmless clatter is falsely recorded as a break in.
This means that those cancelled plans could be falsely recorded as a threat to the relationship, and set off all of your alarm bells for no substantial reason. So, your job is to refrain from overreacting as best you can, and to not let your emotions take the wheel. If you feel as though you might start saying inappropriate things because your emotions are about to take over, or you feel the onset of an anxiety attack, you need to stop communicating and take a breather instead.
5. If you have insecurities, you can’t let things move too fast
The problem when someone falls for us quickly is that we can’t help but wonder if it’s too good to be true – especially if the other person is claiming to have strong feelings without knowing you that well. This doesn’t mean you don’t trust the person, because it’s actually a normal instinct within intelligent individuals to think of the various scenarios in their heads of plausible explanations for atypical behvior. For example, you’ll entertain the scenario that even those with bad intentions know what the good guys do and say, and the bad guys can therefore easily “act” and say all the right things to keep you on the hook. Playing out plausible scenarios in your head doesn’t mean you believe any of these scenarios. What you’ll truly believe is what your gut tells you, and if your gut tells you it’s for real, you’ll go with it and love them back. It’s easier to have faith in the other person if things are moving at a regular pace, and being insecure doesn’t mean you’re needy. You likely don’t require exclusivity right away, and you won’t have high expectations of the other person right away either. Just because you’re insecure doesn’t mean you need to force an exclusivity talk or progress things at a faster-than-normal pace. It’s just the opposite. It’s better for your peace of mind if things move a bit slower. If the other person is being over-the-top romantic too soon, it’s your job to politely pump the brakes and slow things down a little. If you don’t, that flame could burn out almost as fast as it was lit.
It’s also easier to have faith that someone’s declarations of feelings are legit if they actually know you. If they haven’t really been asking you questions to get to know you, or they haven’t been digging deep to get to know what you stand for, then it will be more difficult to have faith that their feelings for you are real. You just need to let someone know that although you’d eventually love to hear all of these wonderful things, you’d rather not hear it until they know you a little better.
6. Being an insecure person doesn’t make you damaged or undateable
Anyone who says they can’t date an insecure person is kidding themselves, because everyone has insecurities and nobody is ever going to perfectly match their ideals. Besides, it’s not as if your insecurities are completely out of control. Most people are able to control their insecurities enough to maintain a high level of functioning in their everyday lives.
When two people really love each other, they discover each other’s weaknesses and flaws and accept them. Dating someone whose insecurities surface sometimes will require emotional maturity, but from a logical standpoint there’s no reason why fears and doubts should tarnish a relationship – especially since they can be so easily diluted and dissuaded.
Your insecurities just need to be watered down, and there’s an easy way to dilute them. The metaphorical water bottle of insecurities that you carry around with you will probably never be clear, perfect drinking water. There is no perfect relationship. Insecurities, however, can be diluted through acts of reassurance on your significant other’s part, but also through a practiced ability to reassure yourself.
7. If you like getting reassurance, dating a narcissist will be especially difficult.
I’m personally pretty sure I’ve never dated (or tried to date) a narcissist, and I also try not to assume someone is a narcissist without really getting to know them first – even if they’re exhibiting the signs of narcissism. This is because I truly do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t believe in manufacturing my own truths towards someone I’m newly dating. I do know, however, that dating a narcissist would be very difficult for someone like me who needs reassurance.
Narcissists like their ego to be fed, not bruised, and their ego will be bruised when they start to misconstrue your need for reassurance as you questioning their trustworthiness or their character. Narcissists want you to be terribly in love with them, because that’s what feeds their ego the most – your love and your approval of everything they do. Not your questions or your need for reassurance. Narcissists are very vulnerable to any sort of perceived criticism or questions regarding their character, meaning that they’re prone to narcissist injury when you verbalize your insecurities about the relationship.
8. A new relationship is a clean slate, so you must learn to separate past traumatic experiences from your current experiences
Past trauma in relationships can condition humans to be fear-driven, and transference is the defense mechanism that we think will prevent us from being hurt again. Transference is when you allow all of your experiences with someone new to be shaded by the dark shadow of your past. Psychologists commonly refer to transference as a common defense mechanism because it allows us to avoid another painful experience by predicting it will happen again, with the new person. Nobody wants to be fooled yet again, but it’s a mistake to think the best way to avoid this is to ascribe ill intent to your new babe’s innocuous actions. Instead, ascribe to the notion that your new relationship is a clean slate.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is when you predict a negative outcome in a new relationship, and then inadvertently act in a way that brings about the very outcome you predicted. In other words, if your self-esteem is hitting a low point and you’re believing that your current relationship won’t work out, you’ll start to say and do things to sabotage the relationship so that the outcome you predicted happens as quickly as possible. This is a form of self-preservation, where you protect your ego by causing the relationship to end so that you can later say that it ended because of an external action or mistake you made, and it didn’t end because there’s anything wrong with you as a person. Yes, the relationship failed, but this way, you can externalize the failure instead of internalizing the failure. If you catch yourself engaging in self-sabotage, that means you’re dirtying up that clean slate. A clean slate in the form of a new relationship is a gift, so please don’t destroy your gift.
Erica Gordon’s new dating advice tell-all book, “Aren’t You Glad You Read This?” is currently on sale for only $4.99 – available on iBooks, Thought Catalog and on Amazon.
Thank you for writing this. I wish my ex would read this, because a text fight is what broke us up. I was having a bad spout of anxiety, and said some insensitive things in my texts. I was a bitch, but I never got the chance to apologize. He ended it (yup, in a text message) and I never got a chance to explain my side of things!