Anna* sat in my office and, through bitter tears, told me she felt miserably worthless, unattractive and disappointed in herself and in her relationship. Her self-image was dictated by her husband's attitude and actions toward her.
Anna had been a respected manager for a Chicago advertising firm when a friend introduced her to Joe*, who was in town for a convention. Joe admired Anna's intelligence and accomplishments, and she was impressed by his ambition and outgoing personality. After a short courtship, she was elated when he proposed; with Joe, she felt socially connected, attractive and secure.
When Anna moved to Joe's hometown, he suggested she "take a break" from advertising to help him launch his construction business. Anna felt needed; the prospect of her husband being a successful business owner boosted her self-image. With no expertise in the construction industry, Anna worked hard for Joe's approval. She gave much of her time and savings to help the business. She missed being in touch with old friends, and within months, she missed her career and felt out-of-place in Joe's profession.
When he was stressed, Joe seemed impatient and critical of her work. She took his comments to heart and felt incompetent and worthless. Oftentimes, she would pressure Joe to be more appreciative of her help. The business was barely surviving and so was the marriage. Anna was discontent with Joe, the relationship and herself.
Many women - and men - express pangs of dissatisfaction, anger and depression because their significant other doesn't make them feel as significant and confident as they want to feel. Some of us have even tried new relationships in an effort to feel better about ourselves, only to find similar or worse disappointments. Relationship-dependency talk includes phrases such as these: "If my loved one is unsuccessful, then I feel unsuccessful"; "If my soul mate is attractive, then I must have many attractive qualities, too"; or, "If my significant other treats me with disrespect, then I must not deserve respect."
According to Dr. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, such dependence is the paradigm of you. Thoughts like "You take care of me," "You come through for me," "You didn't come through for me," and "I blame you for the results," are examples of relationship dependency. Instead of being codependent, Covey recommends being interdependent being involved without losing your own identity.
Dr. Gary Chapman, marriage counselor and author of The Five Love Languages, cautions men and women about looking to a significant other for 100 percent approval and acceptance. If you do, you'll be disappointed in your relationship, loved one and, worse, yourself. You'll also sabotage your potential for personal fulfillment and happiness.
If you want to break out of the identity-dependence trap and enhance your feelings of self-confidence, worth and attractiveness, try the following steps to renew your spirit:
1) Know your truth and values. Write what you believe you were meant to do in life, as well as your core values. Never compromise your truth or values for anyone especially for someone else's approval. In her book, Approval Addiction, Joyce Meyer says you'll eventually resent the person and yourself for having done so.
2) Know who you are on your own merit - not someone else's. Take time to acknowledge your own positive traits and qualities - your God-given strengths, accomplishments and contributions to the relationship. Large or small, record them and keep the list accessible. (In times of stress, we tend to forget our worth and need these reminders.)
3) Review your personal truth, values and qualities to help you maintain perspective and self-confidence. Post them on your bathroom mirror, record and play them in the car, send yourself an email - anything that helps you remember how valuable and wonderful you are as an individual.
4) Select the object of your affection wisely, preferably someone who encourages you to be yourself.
Most importantly, renew your spirit continually and celebrate being you. You'll have a healthier relationship and be infinitely more confident, attractive and fulfilled.
*Names have been changed to protect the clients' privacy.
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