If you're facing a challenge in your relationship, it is often much easier and a lot more comfortable to place blame on the other person because it is often hard to face the mirror and take a look at yourself. We tend to criticize our partner when it is difficult to take responsibility for oneself, especially when acknowledging the problem may mean that you would have to DO something about it. Taking action can feel strenuous and overwhelming at times leaving many to settle and become complacent in life and relationships. Don’t fret, however, it is one of the ways our brains try to protect us...from ourselves. It is common to resort to one of your defense mechanisms in order to escape feelings of accountability, responsibility, anger, and even pain.
While it doesn’t inherently make you a “bad person” to engage in this type of behavior, it’s important to ask yourself: How may I be contributing to this problem?? OR if you feel you're the only one to blame for given circumstances (which often stems from past abuse and/or self-deprecating thoughts/feelings), its crucial to take into consideration you are not the only person in the relationship… Often, neither partner is the one to “blame” for challenges within relationships (unless one is in an abusive relationship!), it’s often the interaction -- or pattern of interactions-- that have developed between partners.
Recognizing limits and triggers, noticing how past experiences and messages you received from your family or culture may be dictating your beliefs of how you think things “should” be, and learning emotional regulation and expression are all facets of the self that are helpful to tend to and sort through in order to be more mindful and aware within relationships.
If you are not aware of the way you may be actively contributing to the challenges within the relationship, how can the relationship change for the better?
Developing self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-worth, are an integral part of forming a strong relationship with yourself that you can then extend to others. The more we pay attention to who we are, what our triggers are, and how we operate in relation to others, the easier it will be to let your partner know what your boundaries and expectations are.
This is something that often comes up in the therapy room. Partners expect each other to just know what is wrong with them, when they themselves have difficulty identifying their own needs.
Importance of Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
The common factor in self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem is that it stems from THE SELF. Yes, it’s often wonderful and it feels so good to receive acknowledgement and recognition for the work that we do, especially from our partners; however, we have to reconsider what drives us to do what we do in the first place.
WHAT IS YOUR WHY?? Is recognition the only reason why you go to work everyday, care for the kids and maintain a happy home? If it is, then that could be a huge source of depression and resentment. What makes you, you? What makes you so beautiful and wonderful? What are your strengths, what are your passions, and what fills you up inside? When your kids are older, what is it that you hope they say about you...what do you want them to learn from you? It's about being self-reflective, acknowledging and owning all of the good work you do regardless of the opinions of others.
It is SO vital to understand, acknowledge and embody the sheer power we have, especially as women. Women are the source of creation, therefore we are a power house! If we are not able to recognize our own worth, it is relatively impossible for others (even our partners) to recognize and honor that worth in return.
We cannot develop self-love without learning to like ourselves first…
Tools to help deepen the relationship with yourself:
Positive Affirmations: Every morning create 2-3 short, specific phrases that reinforce positive, uplifting thoughts of yourself, stated as already occurring.
Engage in meditations to envision/visualize yourself already in possession of and exuding the affirmations you have identified. Then, act as if those qualities actually (and already) exist within you. There is actually a lot of truth behind “fake it till you make it.” You have to develop a belief in the possibility of being & becoming all the things you desire to be.
Identify your strengths, skills, and successes: Every evening identify something you are proud of accomplishing. Write it down and journal about what this experience was like and how it felt to be in that moment.
Treat Yourself: Provide yourself with positive reinforcement rather than relying on it from your partner. You deserve a treat!
So, How Does Self-Esteem Play a Role in Intimacy?
Sexual desire is deeply entwined with your feelings about yourself…. If you don’t feel good or comfortable in your own body, you’re less likely to share your body with someone else. Positive self-esteem leads to a higher sense of self-worth. When we feel worthy of love and connection, we’re more likely to engage in and be receptive to intimate experiences. When we feel good about ourselves, we often feel alive and vibrant; this vibrancy is often magnetic and draws others in, especially your partner.
Why is Self-Care SO Important?
Self-care is actively engaging in activities that help to improve one’s health and well-being, which often leads to higher levels of self-esteem. There’s a reason flight attendants stress the importance of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting children… If you are not able to breathe, you become of no help to your child or your family as a whole (which includes your partner).
Self-care helps to refill and refuel your tank; it can give you the energy you need to not only feel good about yourself, but to also share with others. When we are constantly giving to others without also giving to ourselves, we can quickly get burnt out, which often leads to irritability, anger and frustration.
Setting boundaries is another form of self-care. While more difficult to do when you have children, it becomes crucial for the development of children to understand how to set healthy boundaries for themselves by modeling the behavior from their parents.
What ARE boundaries anyway?
Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.
Tips on How to Honor External Boundaries (i.e. choices and actions):
Being mindful of the people you surround yourself with.
How do they make you feel about yourself?
Saying no to people, places, events that do not foster your growth/love/light and drain energy.
Saying yes to people, places, experiences that bring out the best in you and support you and accept you for who you are, not who they think or desire you to be.
Tips on How to Honor Internal Boundaries (i.e. mindset):
Differentiating between past self vs present self.
Not continuing to put yourself down or hold on to resentments from past decisions or circumstances.
Not taking things personally
Recognizing that the way other people or your partner reacts and responds is a reflection of them and what they have going on in their internal world, which is not your responsibility.
Recognizing what belongs to you and what no longer serves you.
We often internalize the beliefs of the ones we are closest to, beliefs about ourselves we heard from our parents, siblings, friends and partners, however, if those characteristics do not seem to fit with who you know yourself to be, it’s important to learn how to detach and separate from them. Eventually you’ll learn to let them go so that you can wholeheartedly write your own story and live a more authentic life.
Cultural Implications to Setting Boundaries
Some cultures can view boundaries as rude or disrespectful. It’s important to consider that parents often want what’s best for us and tend to have good intentions (unless they struggle with their own trauma and mental health.) Oftentimes, their need to dictate or control a situation stems from their own fears and past experiences. This may not fit in with modern-day values. Outdated views with different cultural and generational values can be difficult for us to apply to our current lifestyle and create additional stress and pressure when dealing with life occurrences. If external boundaries are difficult to maintain in these circumstances, then it is vital to strengthen the internal boundaries (i.e. increase awareness of which messages/directives are being internalized as a reflection of self or when it is truly a reflection of the messenger.) This way you can learn to respectfully detach from those messages/directives and embrace your own journey.
One Step At A Time
Taking care of you isn't always easy to do. And when we are flooded with so many external responsibilities, it can be even more difficult to honor your needs. But getting to know what your needs are, and taking the time to understand how to honor yourself better, leads to healthier and happier relationships and healthier and happier relational dynamics- be it with your spouse, children, family, friends, or at work.
While the journey we take to “get to know yourself” is a life-long one, recognizing small wins can help you feel comfortable with every step you take. Taking time to deepen the relationship with yourself can prove to be a fulfilling adventure you take on, not just for yourself, but for all the relationships you create in your life.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Board Certified Sex Therapist
You deserve to feel safe within your intimacy, and I'm specially trained to do that.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Sex Therapist, my main mission is to help you foster true intimacy within yourself by guiding you through the therapeutic healing journey.
I offer complimentary consultations at 954-488-2234 to answer any questions you may have.