Dear Neil: I am a well accomplished successful artist in my mid-thirties. I am confident in most areas of my life. However, when I get into a relationship, I lose myself completely. I become insecure, dependent on what men think, desperate for approval. I forget my own life and my own priorities, and I end up unhappy and lost. It completely overwhelms me, and it has destroyed most of my relationships with men. They are attracted to my confidence, but then are repelled when this neediness comes out. How do I stop losing myself in my relationships?
Lost in New York
Dear Lost: If your neediness in harming your relationships with men, your first step is to figure out what you’re so needy about. Most of us, when we enter an intimate relationship, long to get our life-long needs met from the person we’re intimately involved with—such as attention, acceptance, approval, recognition, nurturance, affection, commitment, connection and a sense of security and stability. But we don’t openly talk about these needs, because we may be only vaguely—if at all—aware that such desires are driving us and making us feel insecure. Our intimate partners often interpret this insecurity as us being demanding, high maintenance and needy, and some will run away as a result.
What can you do about all this? First, recognize that your need for approval—some indication that you measure up and are good enough—is getting triggered when you’re involved in an emotional relationship, and that such a need is putting a burden on your intimate partner, who likely is completely unaware of your needs and expectations. Your relationships are prone to tripping over these expectations, so be on the lookout for how you can dramatically reduce your need for approval and validation from men you’re emotionally involved with.
Second, you might try giving yourself the approval, acknowledgement, recognition and validation you’re seeking from men. Adulthood is about being your own parent, recognizing your needs and desires, and finding ways of offering yourself the validation and approval you seek from others. What do you approve of about yourself? What have you experienced or accomplished that you’re proud of? What do you like about yourself? Love about yourself? Respect yourself for?
Third, look at the type of men you tend to choose. Do they tend to be loving, affectionate, accepting and nurturing guys? Or are they more emotionally unavailable, hard to win, hard to get close to, harder to please? Find a man who gives you the acceptance, approval and validation you seek—and refrain from dumping him or judging him inadequate because he doesn’t fit your mold of what a man “should” be.
Fourth, do some self esteem work? How attractive do you think you appear to others if your self esteem and sense of self worth is so low that you consider anyone else’s needs or desires more important than your own.
Finally, curb your tendency to be a people pleaser. People pleasers don’t just want to liked, they need to be. But being so finely tuned to the desires of others often means that you ignore your own feelings, desires or needs. By doing so, you hope that people will never reject, abandon or betray you. But things don’t actually work that way. People are attracted to self confidence—not insecurity—and in truth, your people pleasing does not protect you from being rejected. Try toning down your people pleaser side and start looking at what you need in order to be content and happy in your relationships. Then insist that a man give you those things to you consistently.