Updated: Mar 1
The way you feel about yourself acts like a lens through which you see the world. If you have good self-compassion and self-confidence, you might notice more signs of others accepting you. If you think of yourself as unintelligent, you’ll likely be looking for any sign that others think the same of you. In this way, your self-confidence can affect all of your relationships - especially your romantic relationships. Some people may not even realize that this is an issue until they get into couples counselling, as our self-confidence is so seamlessly built into our psyche. Here are the signs to look for and how to rebuild confidence for a stronger relationship.
Does Self-Confidence Affect Your Relationship?
A meta-analysis of 52 studies involving 47,000 people, published over two decades and including samples from countries around the world, made clear the link between self-confidence and relationships. People who have high self-esteem have high-quality relationships - and, vice versa, people who have high-quality relationships tend to have higher self-esteem. The study included people of all ages and all ethnicities, yet the findings were consistent across the board.
Likewise, when social relationships are poor or self-esteem is low, one can negatively impact the other. The research suggests that positive relationships with parents as children can lead to more positive relationships into adolescence and adulthood. On the flip side, negative relationships could potentially breed low self-confidence and worse relationships as you age. Research also shows that, in general, happiness does decline slightly over time within relationships - however, those with lower self-esteem experience the steepest decline in happiness.
Why is there such a strong link? Your self-confidence affects how you think about yourself, how you treat others, and how you receive love. In a relationship, communication, stress, and emotionality all play a role. Your personality traits and the way you feel about yourself can determine how you handle these issues, therefore having the greatest impact on the relationship’s outcome.
How Self-Confidence Impacts Relationships
When someone lacks self-confidence, it can lead to a lack of confidence in the relationship. This can happen and appear in many ways.
Our self-esteem begins developing as children. People who grew up with toxic parenting or a dysfunctional family learn from parents who have low self-esteem and are unhappy in their own relationships. The parent may be manipulative, abusive, controlling, indifferent, or inconsistent, which then makes the child feel ashamed of their needs and emotionally abandoned. In these situations, the child internalizes shame. When they grow up and get into a relationship themselves, they will likely have low self-confidence and tend to hide their feelings because of that internalized shame. Outwardly, this can appear as withdrawing, aggression, or overcompensation in an attempt to please the other.
Codependency and Communication
People with higher self-esteem tend to speak assertively, honestly, and clearly. Someone lacking confidence, especially if they are codependent, will struggle with assertiveness and deny their feelings and needs. Codependency can occur because a person was ignored or shamed as a child. They want to avoid a negative response from their partner, like anger, alienation, criticism, or emotional abandonment. This results in poor communication and instead may rely on:
Controlling or ignoring
Anxious or Avoidant Attachment Styles
An attachment style is how someone seeks or avoids intimacy. Someone who experienced childhood shame, insecurity, and low self-confidence will often develop an anxious or avoidant attachment style. Anxious people tend to be the pursuer who hates being alone, while avoidant people are distancers who hate being too close to anyone.
People with anxious attachment styles typically sacrifice their needs and feelings to accommodate their partner’s, which leads to unhappiness for the anxious person. They also tend to take things personally and negatively. They may not be honest if it means they can avoid confrontation and keep their partner happy. This lack of honesty makes it impossible to have real intimacy. Anxious people tend to repeatedly seek assurance and get jealous easily. This can lead to unintentionally pushing their partner away, which creates a cycle of abandonment.
Avoidant people tend to push away others to avoid closeness and intimacy. They do this by using distancing behaviours, like flirting, ignoring their partner, making unilateral decisions, dismissing their feelings and needs, and addiction. Avoidant people are also highly aware of any attempts by their partner to control their autonomy, which can make the avoidant person distance themselves more.
Signs That You or Your Partner Lack Self-Confidence
Identifying a lack of confidence is the first step toward rebuilding self-esteem and creating a happier relationship. Signs that you or your partner lack confidence include:
Feelings of jealousy and insecurity that make you question the relationship and your own worthiness.
Avoiding communicating needs and struggling to ask for help, often out of fear.
A lack of healthy boundaries, like the inability to say no.
Sensitivity toward the other’s boundaries, like feeling rejected when the other wants some alone time.
Feeling like you are not or cannot be yourself around the other person.
Building Confidence with Self Compassion
Even if your low self-confidence is a result of childhood toxic shame, you can overcome it. Neuroscience research shows that the more we think and do something, the more prone we become to it. For example, the more you tell yourself that you aren’t worthy, the more you’ll think, believe, and search for signs of unworthiness. You can use this knowledge to your advantage to build self-compassion and confidence.
To overcome toxic shame, you must first notice your inner dialogue and learn to observe it rather than react to it. This is easier said than done. Mindfulness meditation can be used to help you notice thoughts but limit reactions. Mindfulness will also help you recognize your hostile inner voice more easily. You can start by doing a short, daily check-in. Spend two minutes observing your thoughts a few times each day. What story are you telling yourself?
Once you recognize your inner dialogue, you must choose self-compassion as an alternative to your negative thoughts. This starts by accepting that all humans, yourself included, have flaws and make mistakes. It’s normal and okay to be imperfect. Only when you learn self-compassion can you begin creating a new inner dialogue that reflects forgiveness and self-acceptance. Even when you are feeling the original negative inner dialogue, you must choose self-compassion - only then will you begin to reframe your thinking and begin building confidence.
Can Couples Counselling Help?
Oftentimes, childhood shame and self-confidence issues are so deep-rooted that they can be hard to identify and accept. A therapist can help by providing strategies and tools to recognize, accept, and heal from your past. Doing this process in couples therapy can help you see how these issues are impacting your relationship, while also helping each party understand the other on a deeper level. As a result, couples counselling can help you achieve greater satisfaction in the relationship.
Even if your partner is unwilling to participate in therapy with you, research shows that improving the self-confidence of one partner increases the relationship satisfaction for both parties. When one person begins therapy and is actively working on themselves, they bring those positive changes into the relationship, increasing the happiness of both.
In search of couples therapy in Edmonton? ReDiscover Psychological Services can connect you with a therapist that has extensive training to help you reach your self-development and relationship goals.