How about some suggestions on working with your partner to overcome insecurities?
Interesting question: and one that could be taken two ways. I’ll deal with the shortest first. If we interpret it as, “How can I fix my partner so s/he can be more convenient when I’m all hot and bothered about my new flame?” then there’s a simple answer.
You can’t. The only insecurities you can work on are your own.
See? That was easy.
If we interpret it as, “How can I become more secure?” then we’ve got a nice, meaty subject to deal with.
Try to figure out in what situations you feel most secure. There are times when you do feel secure. If there were none, you’re looking at a psychological condition that requires a professional to help you. If you need that, you have my compassion and best wishes for a fantastic therapist to help you. Speedy healing.
For everyday insecurity, though, there are still times when you feel comfortable and secure. Think a minute about those times. What’s going on in them? I ask you to do this so that you know what “secure” looks and feels like to you.
When you’ve got that clear in your head, try to figure out situations in which you feel most insecure. Probably the most common sort of situation in which someone feels insecure is when they’re afraid of losing a partner. What if the newlove is sexier, more intelligent, more fun, younger, a better action/adventure partner, whatever? If you have it in your head that your partner is only going to want to be with the bestest/mostest, that’s going to wear anyone but a clinical narcissist down.
Then you need to go on to work on some stuff. I asked The Prince what he thought, and he had an interesting answer: When I need to feel more secure, I don’t go to other people with things I need validating. I look inside and make a list of five things, no matter how trivial or dumb that I know in my soul I’m good at. It could be as silly as, “I make one awesome grilled cheese sandwich!” But I look for five things I know in my soul are true that I’m good at.
This may sound silly on the surface, but it’s really pretty profound. Security is not something that comes from the outside, but the inside. Now, can partners remind each other of positive things? Of course they can, and should! I’m all for everyone building their partners up and mutually egging each other on to be their awesome selves. But that’s not the same as secure.
You’re not really secure until you get to the point where you can say, “I love my partners and love having them in my life. If I lose one of them, it will suck and hurt. I might even feel like someone is skinning me alive for a while, but I will survive, heal, and go on to have a good life.”
That’s your goal. Getting there requires a certain level of emotional independence. It also requires that you love your partner’s independence. I do feel secure that my partners want to be with me. If I wanted to take it a step further, I could even say, “Loves? I know you want to be with me, but to help me feel more relaxed, would you do me a favor? If you ever stop wanting to be with me, just go ahead and give me a heads up as soon as it happens. Don’t feel guilty about it or anything, because I really only want to be with people who want to be with me. Can you do that?”
If I get a yes (I did ask one partner this once, and did), then I just put it out of my mind. Hey, they said they wanted to be with me. I take my partners at their words. It’s all good. If the situations changes, I’ve been told I’ll be informed, so it’s not a problem. I don’t have to keep my feelers out for anything because it’s all taken care of.
The thing is, it’s not hyperbole when I talk about security knowing that losing a partner isn’t going to destroy your life. I went through a period of pretty intensive self-work once, then about two years later, did lose a partner with whom I was desperately in love. What got me through it was repeating to myself constantly, “It hurts now, but I will survive. I am still myself, I am the same human I always was. I have good qualities and they’re not gone because the partner is. I miss what I had terribly, but since I don’t own that person and that person doesn’t choose to be with me anymore, I will deal with the reality. The reality is that I can still make choices to have a good life.”
Getting through that and knowing I could made me utterly relaxed about relationships. It also made my choosier than hell about what partners I wanted, because I learned that hormonal carbonation does not a good match make.
So yeah, no. Working with a partner on his or her security ain’ta happening, and your partners can’t make you more secure, either. But lucky you, that’s still in your hands.
Oh, and How to Become a Secure Person is also still a good article, though possibly without the subtle brilliance of my own detailed analysis.
1 thought on “Overcoming Insecurities”
This is a great article, and everything you say about self-work is very true and very important! But I want to talk about the assertion that you can’t work on your partner’s insecurities… The articulation of the insecurities, and the choice to work on them, needs to ultimately be the individual’s own, but I think a partner can do more than just be sensitive and supportive, one can actually play an active role in resolving a partner’s anxiety and strengthening their sense of self.
My partner are both emotional abuse survivors. Because poly!, we had the opportunity to observe a whole lot of that abuse up close for a couple of years (we were two couples, then a quad, and then two couples again, perpendicular to the original arrangement), so we were armed with a lot of direct, firsthand knowledge about each other’s past traumas that a lot of couples aren’t blessed (?) with.
1.) Understanding that there’s a big difference between fleeting anxiousness about various things and life in general, and ongoing, unresolved insecurities and anxieties centered on specific things, and there’s a big difference between not expressing anxiety and not feeling it. Not wanting my partner to express insecurity because it’s inconvenient – yeah, that’s bullshit. The first type of insecurity is a fact of life, and I need to just deal with it. That leaves the big, deep stuff, and working on actually not feeling that fear? is a great and worthy goal I want to help my partner with! It requires a lot of time and humility and self-awareness and persistence, but it can be done.
2.) Accepting that although I am not an abuser, my actions are sometimes triggering, and loving behavior means taking responsibility for that triggering – not just avoiding it, but recognizing when it happens by accident, keeping my own emotional control while my partner’s flipping out, and both reassuring/affectionate gestures and processing conversation afterward. Intent isn’t magic and my partner has fucking reasons to be insecure. If they’re expressing anxiety, it’s not time for me to be offended or frustrated because I didn’t intend to upset him, it’s time for me to shut up and pay attention.
3.) Helping push the envelope. Some situations are scary! It’s okay to avoid them, but it’s also okay to push through them, and easier with a trusted partner. (1 and 2 obviously have a lot to do with “making yourself trustworthy.”) There are a lot of things that I’m actually less afraid of now because, when I expressed anxiety, he said some variation on “I’m sorry that this thing is making you uncomfortable, I’m sorry but that’s not going to stop me from doing this thing, but I will take it slow, hold your hand and check in with you and respect your feelings every step of the way.” and then actually followed through on that, in good faith. I am assured that the reverse is also true.
Having been through therapy, and a couple more bad poly breakups than he, I think I was a little further along the curve when it all went bad, and I was doing these active-partnering things on my own for a while. I’m absolutely convinced that part of what gave him the emotional breathing room to get invested in his own healing was the respect and consideration I was giving him. Now that he’s been fully reciprocating for a while, I’ve had the space to process a lot of stuff that just got shoved down and neglected during the breakup crisis. And I think we’re both a lot more secure and emotionally resilient than we’ve ever been.