Picture yourself in a romantic relationship. You wake up one morning and are feeling down, which happens to all of us from time to time. You feel insecure, upset, or unsettled in some way. As a result, you yearn for comfort, understanding, and reassurance: you want a big hug, flowers, chocolate, and to hear all of the loving words that appear in fairy-tales. You want your partner to make you feel better by validating your worth and verifying that your relationship is securely intact.
Over the course of the day, you feel worse and worse. Soon you start to fixate on your partner instead of yourself and your internal experience. You may think about what s/he doesn’t do to meet your needs; ways that s/he doesn’t make you feel special; and efforts that you wish s/he would make. You start to become more and more upset as you focus your attention on your partner, thereby distracting yourself from your internal process. All of this is going on inside your own mind—the rest of the world is completely unaware of your internal struggle.
By the time your uninformed partner phones or texts, you are more upset than when you woke up in the morning. Now your emotions are focused on your partner instead of where they really belong—on your internal experience. Before you stop and think, some version of these words come out of your mouth: “Do you love me? Did you miss me today? ” or, especially if you are angry, “You would do X or say Y if you loved me without me having to ask you!”
Most of us have asked someone if they love or miss us when we felt needy. We also have a tendency to fixate on other people or external circumstances when we feel insecure. But, stop and ask yourself, “Does this ever really go well? Do you ever really feel better when someone says that they love or miss you after you ask?
I have yet to meet someone who honestly feels better after asking their significant other these kinds of questions when they are feeling down. In fact, it is far more likely that they feel worse because asking someone whether they love you ends with one of two outcomes. One option is that your partner responds with, “Yes, I love you.” In this case, we don’t feel better because we don’t believe them; at some level we know they “didn’t really have a choice” (were they really going to say “no”?). We forced an answer, which results in us discounting their response. A second option is that they say, “No, I didn’t miss you and don’t love you.” Needless to say, that isn’t going to make us feel better! Now we really feel badly.
The truth is that asking questions like these are never going to leave you satisfied. Why? It is all about your reason for asking. When we look to other people for reassurance when we are feeling insecure (e.g., about not being pretty enough, smart enough, successful enough), we are always going to be left wanting more. That’s because we are being dishonest about what is really going on inside of us. Given the scenario above, a more honest way of communicating our feelings would be something like this: “I am having a rough day and am feeling uncomfortable and insecure. I would really like some support from you today because I am struggling. Are you available for that?”
The Naked Truth is this: you will never feel better asking others to validate your value if your reasons for asking come from your feelings of insecurity. You will end up discounting their answer. Instead, this is an opportunity to honestly reflect on your insecurity (e.g., “What am I feeling insecure about?”) and focus on your own personal growth. If you do want social support from a lover or friends, which is totally natural and can be very helpful, do so in a way that is honest. Tell them that you are struggling and would like some support instead of trying to get your needs met by asking them no-win questions—questions for which there are no answers that will satisfy you.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.