The importance of self-esteem in relationships

(firs published on 3 July 2009 at 17:33 on Adam’s Facebook profile)

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Truth unfolds, I’ve been sitting here for days attempting to structure my analysis on relationships. The problem wasn’t having nothing to write, but rather the inability to connect the various related topics together in an understandable way. In my mind, I knew that they were all interlinked, that each of them overlapped the other; yet an understanding in one’s mind is vastly different than the understanding portrayed on paper.

Nevertheless, I truly think that I found the missing puzzle piece, the one to connect them all. Originally I wanted to write an extensive paper on all the issues that are found in relationships, but scraping that away, I give you my summarized findings:

Many will agree that the journey of self-discovery is eternal, that there isn’t a stage in our lives, no matter how old, when we completely know ourselves and our desires. Every day we experience parts of this world, of this life, through work, outings, friends, travelling, and of course, through relationships.

Relationships are probably the best tools for self-discovery, as often they are used as mirrors. By sharing a relationship with another person, whether it is friendly or romantic, that person tends to reflect parts of your inner self that you have never seen before. This is the process of learning through experience, of how people benefit from relationships as they fuel their self-growth.

Now, although self-growth is eternal, I cannot emphasize enough on how vital it is at younger ages. Between the ages of 16-23 it is probably our main focus, as we become more aware of ourselves, through means of experiencing all that is available around us. We begin to add and remove factors in our lives in order to get closer and closer to our genuine selves; a sifting process. Now you’re probably wondering, ‘what is the connection between self-growth and successful relationships?’ and the answer is quite simple: self-esteem

Self-esteem is the foundation to all successes in life. Without the ability to accept and enjoy yourself, you will always be limited in your endeavors. This goes hand-in-hand with many common expressions, such as ‘you cannot love others before you love yourself’ and ‘you must be able to respect yourself in order to respect others’, as mere examples. Self-esteem is closely tied to self-growth, as the more we experience and learn about ourselves, the more our self-esteem grows. We become happier and more content with ourselves, allowing our general sense of security to come from within ourselves instead of requiring it from others. Ideally, we want to be able to develop ourselves to such an extent that our love and caring literally overflows onto others, instead of sacrificing parts of ourselves in order to provide them. People often consider the development of self-esteem to be difficult, yet I tend to differ. Factors that contribute to such a development can be found all around us; whether is through our friends, who are there for support and company; our family, that guides us and cares for us in ways others cannot; our hobbies, interests and passions that drive us further, fueling our inner selves. It is through these many experiences we have daily that we discover and maintain the most important person in our lives – ourselves. We face our strengths, weaknesses, fears and virtues. We become more aware of our true desires, we develop perceptions, we make choices and we learn from our mistakes. Theoretically, we should expose ourselves to as many experiences as possible, as the more we have, the more we learn about ourselves.

Now that we understand the vital importance of self-esteem, let me help you connect it with your relationships (with focus on the romantic natured ones). To aid your understanding, here’s a common scenario that revolves around the concept of dependency in relationship: You have recently met a person that you seem to look up to. Whether it is due to their social status, their looks, their money, their fame, their age etc., you perception of this person is one on a pedestal. Somehow, you enter a relationship with that person, and you feel overjoyed. The butterflies, the excitement, you begin to feel as if you’re falling for the person overnight. Suddenly, you can’t stop thinking about him/her, you wish to be in his/her presence all the time; all you care about is that person, and that person only. The nothing else matters feeling. Often, however, this would be too one-sided, and many would refer to such a situation as the one person (you in this case) being too emotionally attached, too ‘clingy’, too dependent. Sounds familiar?

Conversely, you could be in the other’s shoes. You are happy with yourself, you feel content. Your self-esteem is high up the charts, and your life is successful due to that. You stand on a pedestal, not due to others’ perceptions, but to your own. A female comes along; she’s fair and attractive. You develop interest, yet hers is greater, you know this not now, for you are modest. A relationship is formed, you enjoy it thoroughly. Suddenly, the passion is gone, you begin to feel indifferent, the joy is not as significant as before. She still seems happy, still excited, perhaps more than you? You desire the passion, the purity, the ‘nature of the beast’. The relationship ceases, you back to normal, ‘not too bad’ you think, but she seems devastated. Does that sound familiar? When you’re in those shoes, two possibilities arise (of which both can occur simultaneously): the first, you have lost interest as now your partner is not that ‘hard to get’, there is no challenge involved, no work left to be done. The second is that you are overwhelmed by her, as she slowly structures her emotional self upon yours, seeking her security not from within herself, but rather through your presence.

These two scenarios are highly common, especially in younger ages. They are vastly different from codependency, in which the two people both have their own needs from each other, and they are both aware of such needs. They enter the relationship with the desire of fulfilling each other’s needs and gain fulfillment by doing so. Understand that co-dependency is the norm rather than the exception, yet it does require a balance between the requirements of both members in order to be sustained.

In order to explain the close link between self-esteem and dependency in relationships, I shall make use of an analogy. This analogy was designed by a friend of mine, Shelley Lewin. Shelley is a highly intellectual life & relationships coach, who has great expertise in the field of relationships. Her focus is to help people become more aware, and understand the true nature of relationships. This revolves around the factors that determine healthy and successful relationships, and how vital is the relationship with ourselves in this process. She named this analogy the ‘Happy barometer’.

Truthfully, this simplifies what I’ve been trying to explain above quite efficiently. Going back to self-esteem, let’s give it a numeric value, say a 100. At 100, you are perfectly content with yourself. You are aware of your attributes and mindsets, and are completely comfortable with them. Thus, you are happy with whom you are and you do not need others to fulfill such a security. As mentioned before, each of us is ideally trying to get to the 100 mark. Now say there are two people, namely Diana and Mark, who have just met recently. Mark is a successful guy, working in a field that he’s passionate about, financially stable with many hobbies and interests. Let’s give mark a self-esteem rate of 80. Diana is not as fortunate, she hates being the secretary at ‘Nedbank’, she gave up many of her hobbies studying to become something else, and is still living at home. Diana gets a self-esteem rating of 40. Now, Mark and Diana enter a relationship. As with most relationships, the initial stages of it are ever so enjoyable. They share passion, they spend every day together, they fall madly in love. It’s perfect, really, so what’s the problem? By sharing the relationship that they do, Mark’s self-esteem increases to 100, and so does Diana’s. To Mark, this is a nice add-on to his already successful lifestyle, just another thing in his life that produces happiness; an increase of 20 self-esteem points. To Diana, however, this relationship is everything. Her increase is unbelievably significant, a whopping 60 points! The majority of Diana’s happiness and security is sourced from Mark, and the relationship she shares with him. Now the above-mentioned scenario occurs, where Mark loses interest, or is a tad too overwhelmed by Diana’s ‘needy’ behaviour. The relationship ends.

This is where the true problem lies: Mark goes back to his usual lifestyle, still remaining up at 80. He was saddened by the break up, but is by no means devastated. Diana…dear Diana. What a drop, from her peak of happiness at a 100, way back down to 40. In-fact, Diana had dropped even further, as her wellbeing revolved around Mark, she sacrificed factors in her life in order to maintain him; the nothing else mattered feeling. Diana is now at 30, perhaps even 20. She’s having trouble functioning, as the biggest part of her life is now lost. ‘If what I am is what I have, and what I have is lost, then who am I?’ – She goes into depression, she fails to find joy in other things, her previous lifestyle doesn’t make it any easier. She’s surprised at how well Mark dealt with the break-up, and blamed him for not caring about her because of that. Diana wonders to herself ‘Why is it so difficult for me to move on? Why am I having trouble functioning now?’ Would you, dear reader, be so kind to answer her?

The point is this: Self-esteem is the source of our true happiness. Without it, we are basically nothing. We can always try pretend, work in ways that suit others, but these are temporary solutions, and even using the word solutions is pretending on its own. First and foremost, we must develop our self-esteem through the numerous opportunities that flow daily around us. Go out with your friends, develop the hobbies that you’re passionate about, study the field you have interest in, work in places that make you feel complete. Travel around, experience the beauty of this world, take time for yourself, meet new people. Most importantly, throughout this whole process, remain honest with yourself, and with others, in order for you not to stray from your spiritual path. By no means am I suggesting that you do not partake in romantic relationships until this process is ‘complete’ ; simply be aware of its importance, and learn to balance the factors in your life that allow its development.

To end off this chapter of the analysis, I leave you with an expression in the style of the previously mentioned:

‘Without the ability to form, maintain and develop a relationship with yourself, you cannot focus on doing the same with others’

 

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