Relationships and self-esteem may seem like two completely unrelated things, but the fact is, the health of your relationships can clearly affect the state of your self-esteem.
Relationships can colour the way how you see and perceive yourself and the reality around you. It's not just your intimate relationships that do this, but relationships with family and friends can also affect your world view, and ultimately, your self-esteem.
The goal in any relationship is to feel safe, supported and respected. In intimate relationships there is also a desire to be emotionally taken care of, wanted, unconditionally accepted and loved for who we are. We want to feel part of something special and not alone. A healthy relationship encourages personal growth and supports individuality.
But sadly, people with low self-esteem may have difficulties in relationships. If you're in this situation, you may become a victim of being controlled by how others think, feel and act. You may also be dependent on others for approval and recognition, and fearful of rejection. But you're not alone. It has been estimated in self-esteem studies that over 90% of society will suffer from low self-esteem at some stage in life.
So what do you do when your relationship becomes troubled?
First, you need to decide if you want to stay in your relationship, and sometimes, that can take time. You may be in a position where you need to consider the welfare of children, finances and housing. This is no easy task and can require forethought and planning.
Second, if you stay, you need to ask yourself why the relationship is troubled. The main relationship killers are infidelity, disrespect and dishonesty. Betrayal can cause immediate reactions, with severe shock the most likely--the idea of being betrayed can make survival seem so hard and making decisions in the immediate aftermath can seem impossible. It's possible to float along in a fog while the world seems to race by.
While you're in this place, you must consider what efforts will be required to maintain your relationship. Mending a broken relationship takes time and hard work, with the first step in rebuilding a troubled relationship being a complete commitment from both parties. But will this result in you sacrificing yourself for the sake of your relationship?
Psychologist and Relationship Expert Melanie Schilling says, "It's important to maintain your own sense of self when you have been betrayed. If possible, try to think about the betrayal as an act that was chosen by your partner, an act that had nothing to do with you. Rather than stepping into victim mode, try to maintain your power by considering your needs and putting yourself first as you process the situation. It's also very important to have your own confidante, someone whom you deeply trust to confide in, be vulnerable with and be assured of a judgement-free zone."
A lack of trust between partners caused by cheating or lying can put your self-esteem into freefall and sometimes, it can only take a small emotional jolt or feeling of suspicion to feel like the other person has broken that trust again. To build trust you will need to give it time, talk often, and be aware of the feelings of your partner. But can that initial trust ever be rebuilt? They say time is a healer, but sadly, scars will always exist after a betrayal.
Schilling warns, "It may be that the betrayal in the relationship clashed with your core values and if so, you may decide that this is a deal-breaker. Ask yourself if this behaviour has told you something fundamental about who your partner is, and if so, is this the type of person you want to spend your life with."
According to Clinical Psychologist Dr Lars Madsen, "It is always best to start with the relationship you have with yourself. If you have explored who you are and what you really need in your life, you can attract positive relationships into your life. People with low self-esteem usually have negative beliefs about themselves and the kind of person they are. These beliefs are often taken as truths about their identity, rather than being recognised as opinions they hold about themselves. Low self-esteem can sometimes cause people to stay in relationships that really are not good for them."
It is important to know that low self-esteem is a common problem for many people in our society--if this is you, then you are not alone. The good news is that you can take steps towards developing healthy self-esteem. Have a realistic appraisal of your qualities and don't be afraid to seek help from a professional, or someone that you trust can be useful.
Healthy self-esteem in a relationship comes from a supportive partner and environment, but mostly importantly, from within. Strive for healthy relationships so you can experience a safe, loving and supportive environment built on commitment, communication and love, but as much as you work on your relationship, you should be willing to do just as much work on yourself.
Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation The MindShift Foundation. Resources about self-esteem can be found on the MindShift website www.mindshift.org.au
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