We always hear that healthy self-esteem and successful relationships go hand in hand, but what does that really mean? How exactly does your self-esteem affect your love life? We caught up with Dr. Robert Goldblatt, a licensed clinical psychologist with over eighteen years experience, to elaborate:
eHarmony: Are there a lucky few of us who have the whole self-esteem thing figured out?
Dr. Goldblatt: Not exactly. Everybody has issues about self-acceptance and self-esteem. A lot of dating and relationship problems, as well as positive aspects, come up through each person’s level of self-acceptance.
eHarmony: What are some reasons for low self-esteem, and how does it affect matters of the heart?
Dr. Goldblatt: People often have self-esteem issues after a blow to their self-worth, such as a job loss, financial change, illness, injury, weight gain, problem with sexual performance or marital issue. After a divorce, for example, people can feel beaten up from the criticism and judgment involved.
When a major life change like this happens, people tend to develop behaviors to protect themselves. Some avoid dating altogether, while others have superficial relationships and avoid getting too close to anyone. If a relationship does become deeper, their level of fear and anxiety increases, because there’s more to lose.
eHarmony: Can you expand on how people with low self-esteem act and feel?
Dr. Goldblatt: When a person’s level of self-acceptance is low, they don’t treat themselves with respect, nor do they respect their partner.
People with self-acceptance issues tend to work harder than their partner at the relationship. They fear the loss of the other person, so they can become jealous or paranoid over nothing. They also have difficulty standing up for themselves, and are more likely to tolerate rudeness, verbal abuse or other unacceptable behavior.
Individuals with low self-esteem are distrustful because they feel “less than” the other person. They worry that sooner or later, they’ll be “found out” and their partner won’t want them. So, they reveal less of their true feelings or true self, and present a mask or an act instead.
But by doing so, they end up feeling like the other person loves the mask or the act rather than who they really are. They’re sure that if the person knew the real them, they’d be rejected. So the more involved they get, the more anxious they feel.
eHarmony: How does low self-esteem hurt relationships? Why can’t people just be good partners, even if they don’t like themselves?
Dr. Goldblatt: When a relationship enhances your self-acceptance, and you get positive feelings about yourself from it, that validation is priceless. But, if you need that person and validation to feel good about yourself, this distorts the relationship. Your worth relies on the slightest change from your partner.
Then, your partner will start to see you as less, since we view people how they view themselves.
We are naturally drawn and attracted to people who accept themselves, whether they’re a lover, friend or co-worker. We long to have that confidence and comfort in our own skin too. When we see someone with those qualities, we want to get close and brush up against them in the hope it will rub off on us. When a person is comfortable with who they are, inadequacies and all, we think, “I can just be myself around them.”
But, if you don’t accept who you are, independent of your partner, he or she won’t accept you either. You become the jello in their mold. And while everyone loves jello, no one wants to have a love relationship with jello, unless maybe they’re Bill Cosby.
eHarmony: Do you have any parting advice for our readers?
Dr. Goldblatt: I would say the number one rule regarding self-acceptance in dating and relationships is: Always make sure both you and your dates or partner treat your feelings as just as important as theirs. At that very moment when you feel like doing so will be risking the relationship – you’ll be solidifying the relationship. You’ll be earning their respect, and find out that they care about you just the way you really are.
Note: Stay tuned for a follow-up article on ways to raise your self-esteem and improve your love life in the process. In the meantime, learn how you can radiate self-confidence on a first date with advice from Dr. Stuart Fischer, author of The Park Avenue Diet.
Dr. Robert Goldblatt, Psy.D., specializes in cognitive-behavioral treatment he learned as a Clinical Fellow of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Department of Psychiatry. He has been featured on various television talk shows and counsels everyone from couples and individuals to major celebrities. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife Alisa, also a clinical psychologist, and their three children.