Self-doubt is a crippling force. It’s one of the most overwhelming obstacles we must overcome in our pursuit of fulfillment in both ourselves and our relationships.
Why is this barrier so difficult to break? Well, it’s one that we build ourselves – and sometimes, we don’t even know we’ve done so at all.
Have you been standing in your own way this whole time?
Self-esteem, self-confidence, and real clarity about who we are and what we stand for aren’t always easy to learn. It often feels so much easier to shift our focus outwards. Instead of taking the time to do the hard inner work, we project these needs onto our interpersonal relationships of every kind.
Feeling valued, loved, and accepted by others is a natural thing to crave. It’s only natural to crave human connection, after all. Seeking fulfillment from external validation gives us an easy excuse to put off the daunting task of truly loving, accepting, and valuing ourselves.
When you’re younger, it’s easier to throw yourself into a relationship, romantic or not, or a group of people because you haven’t fully formed your own beliefs or values. It is more comfortable to blend in like a chameleon than to stand firm in the unique aspects of yourself that make you stand out. Letting go of doubt that you will be accepted or wanted is unbelievably liberating; the root of self-doubt lies uncertainty. I think all of us have felt lost at one point or another at some point in our lives, such as:
- Our sense of identity
- Our career
- The community around us
- Relationships of every type
At least, I know I have. Without self-knowledge, how can we accurately assess ourselves? Taking a realistic inventory of our strengths and weaknesses is a must if we want to not simply succeed, but excel.
An unstable or broken identity makes it so much harder to trust our own judgement. As a result, it’s challenging to feel confident about our:
- … and even our sense of right and wrong
Nowhere is this external replacement for self-acceptance and inner peace more prevalent than it is in romantic relationships.
Become Your Best Self, Single, First
It’s tempting to believe that a relationship will save us. Wouldn’t it be simple if that “someone” was all we needed to fully belong in the world? Relationships are fundamentally a two-way partnership, rather than a singular sense of being.
Let’s let go of the idea of looking for your “better half.” Instead, start bringing your fullest and best self to a relationship. If this feels daunting, the best way to start is by getting clear on your own path first.
Achieving Successful Relationships Starts With Taking Personal Action
When we value other peoples’ perspectives above all else, at the expense of staying true to our own, we tend to fall victim to passivity. When we relinquish our power over the wheel and hop into the passenger seat, we can only see what’s right in front of us. Our view no longer extends miles down the road to the destination we’re heading. Pathfinding takes the backseat to instant gratification.
When you prioritize the person in the driver’s seat steering you into the unknown – and the validation they provide – more where you’re heading together, it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll both end up feeling lost and way off course.
If we let other people decide who we should be, and care more about what they want from us than how we need to show up in the world, we sacrifice our path for theirs.
Instead, relationships should propel both partners forward along the best path for them to pursue. Rather than constant sacrifice, seek out mutually beneficial growth. The healthiest relationships revolve around pushing each other to become your best self. Seek to uplift one another, rather than dragging someone down to boost yourself up.
You’re More Than Just a Half: Relationships Should be the Joining of Two Wholes
Investing in your partner is important, but you need to invest in yourself, too. The worst-case scenario is using all your energy to meet your partner’s every need and to give up yourselves in the process.
Based on personal experience, the worst relationships I’ve been in were the ones where I didn’t fully understand myself. It’s taken more than a little resilience to find the strength to keep trying, sometimes.
Most of my relationships looked just like this dynamic during high school and college. I always found myself trying to merge my path seamlessly with someone else’s. Even when it diverged more often than it matched the trajectory of my own, I valued their path above my most important hopes and dreams.
In so many other relationships, I had the same exact problem. We faced constant fights and endless conflict because we could never agree on where we were going.
In each of these situations, I replaced my sense of self with a craving for external approval.
Well, because that was all I knew.
At the end of each relationship, I walked away with the same regret: not feeling understood. My approach to relationships – and their resulting satisfaction and success – only shifted when I began gaining clarity on who I was and the person I want to become.
Relationship Success Starts With Self-Discovery
To this day, this is a continual process I pursue: the process of self-discovery. When I got really clear on my past, I could finally start living a life driven by intentionality and purpose.
Now, I no longer exist burdened with regrets or “what-ifs.”
Today, I live for my future.
While our core values may have been somewhat similar, most of my ex-partners and I had simply too many incompatible interests and worldviews. We felt an impossible dissonance at the higher levels where it counted the most.
Understanding your own interests and unique worldviews requires you to consciously decide to start spending time with yourself – alone.
Don’t Let A Breakup Leave You with a Broken Identity: Learn to Be Complete Alone
Back in college, when one of my serious relationships ended, I felt like I lost a huge part of myself. I had put so much of myself and my identity into the relationship. When it was over, it literally felt like it left an open wound.
I remember going to the gym wearing long-sleeved shirts as a protection mechanism, as if that could prevent me from being noticed or “seen.” I could never seem to feel confident in my own skin.
At the time, I only seemed able to feel confident when other people gave me permission. I only felt validated by someone else’s attachment to me. My connection and significance to them felt like a comfortable way to fit in. It gave me a sense of identity.
After several years of hard inner work, I finally realized defining myself as “someone’s boyfriend” or even “someone’s coworker, mentor, or employee” left an empty page where my storyshould be. I had to start writing the script of who I was independently, even if being alone felt painful and scary.
Here’s How I Did It:
First, get clear on:
- Who you are
- What you value
- What you want for yourself
A simple and effective exercise to get you started is using the schema of life’s buckets of belonging; check it out in our recent article. Once you’ve defined these “buckets” for yourself, you will find it much easier to align with a partner.
How do you build your own identity and become more confident in what you’re passionate about and have to offer?
Here are the areas you need to establish to do so:
- Thoughtfully selected and meaningful pursuits
- Interesting hobbies
- A stable career that feels right
- A well-rounded personality that speaks to the core of your truest self
When you take the time to get these pieces in place first, the “big stuff” starts to feel much less daunting. Equipped with this strong foundation of self, you will gain the ability to both identify and seek out what you want and value in others more clearly. As a result, you’ll find your relationships will become much more genuine and fulfilling.
As we go through this process, we must never sacrifice who we are or let go of the values we stand for. You’ll find someone with similar values, even if it takes longer than you expected. Trust me; it will be worth the wait.
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First: Let Go of the Savior Complex and Save Yourself
So many people go into relationships with a “savior mentality.” If this resonates with you, try to realize the limitations of your power over other people. No one is “broken,” and no one is so much more powerful than another that they can “fix them.” This mentality is a toxic approach that leads to uneven power dynamics, and inevitably, a solid dose of disappointment and pain.
It takes time to work on ourselves, and it’s not easy. We have to do the hard work. Anyone who wants to start healing has to make that decision for themselves and really stick to it unfailingly.
Let me rephrase that: we get to do hard things.
I say we “get” to do this work, even when it’s the hardest, because it’s a privilege. The process produces distinct benefits we can go on to enjoy. Doing so allows us to show up as a full representation of ourselves.
Each and every one of us deserves to feel whole.
It’s not about “fixing” parts of you that are “broken.” If you think this way, you’ll never feel complete because there is always work to be done – and that’s ok!
Seek Out Mutually Uplifting Relationships Where You Can Both Grow
It all comes down to one core principle. The strongest partnerships make both people better. They amplify respective opportunities and help each other find new strengths and develop existing ones. People who value you for you will see strengths in you that you might never have even known you had before.
Here are the benefits you can look forward to at the end of this tunnel of self-discovery and healthy relationship building. I hope the prospect of these outcomes gives you the motivation to keep going, no matter how dark it gets:
1. Getting aligned on who you are and what your purpose is
2. Attracting the right people into your life
3. Saving yourself a lot of heartbreak, both personally and professionally
4. Staying on track on the path that’s really meant for you
5. Continuously moving forward towards where you’re meant to be
Even if it takes longer than you anticipated, never give up hope that you will find yourself, and a partner who appreciates you for you.