720.370.1800 - Intl 844.331.1993
Select Page
Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Which Path is Right For You?

THERAPY OR COACHING? If you’re seriously considering getting involved in some personal growth work, you may have wondered whether therapy or life coaching would be the best path for you. There is a lot of confusion about the differences between therapy and life coaching. In all honesty, there is a great deal of overlap. There are also important differences between them. Educating yourself about the similarities and differences can help you choose the path that will be most genuinely helpful for you in accomplishing your personal goals.

Advice From a Therapist Who is Also a Life Coach

 I have both a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate in counseling, and have been a therapist and marriage counselor in Denver for over a decade. About five years ago I also went through a life coaching program and became a board certified life coach too. These days, I practice both therapy and life coaching, (as well as couples therapy and relationship coaching) and have spent a lot of time educating people about the similarities, and the difference between the two approaches. [Read all about “The Difference Between Counseling and Coaching.”]

First, let’s talk about the similarities between counseling and coaching.

The Similarities Between Therapy and Life Coaching

Therapy / Counseling (generally interchangeable terms) and life coaching have many things in common. The success of either therapy or life coaching are largely dependent on having a positive, strong relationship with your coach or therapist. Both therapy and coaching create a safe place for you to discuss your concerns, and your hopes for your life. 

Whether you’re in therapy or coaching (with a well trained coach, at least) you’ll experience:

  • Focused attention on you and your concerns, and time and space to talk through your thoughts and feelings in order to achieve clarity and new awarenesses about yourself
  • The opportunity to discover new ways of thinking and behaving that will help you grow
  • Encouragement, and the positive regard of your therapist or your coach

Both approaches can be very effective in helping people get unstuck, and move forward in their lives. However, there are also many differences between therapy and life coaching. While both of them can be helpful, both approaches can have serious limitations for helping people with certain kinds of issues and goals.

The Problem With Therapy

For example, while therapy can be an extremely powerful and life changing experience for some people, therapy can be a huge waste of time and money for others. In fact, “therapy refugees” come into our practice all the time feeling incredibly frustrated and put-off by their previous experiences in traditional therapy.

Therapy = Slow & Healing

Specifically, many mental health therapists are extremely “non-directive” meaning that they do not guide the sessions, offer specific input or challenge clients; rather, they allow clients the time and space to talk (and talk, and talk) confident that, eventually, people will arrive at their own conclusions about the right answers for them. Under the surface, traditionally trained therapists believe that people are being healed through the experience of having a positive relationship with their non-judgmental therapist, and by having the opportunity to make contact with and express their feelings. This type of therapy can be extremely helpful to people who have had traumatic life experiences, and who have been abused.

Therapy Emphasizes Process, Not Action

All of this is wonderful, under the right circumstances (and certainly, exploring thoughts and feelings is part of great coaching as well). However, many people seeking meaningful personal growth work don’t need someone to “hold their space,” re-parent them emotionally, or help them “work through feelings.” Life coaching clients generally already have positive relationships with friends, loving parents, and supportive people in their lives. They don’t have deep trauma to work through. They are ready to make actual, positive changes in their lives, and looking for answers and action. They want guidance, they want tools, they want strategies, and they want to take action and get different results in their lives and their relationships.  Life coaching will give them that.

Therapy is “Non-Directive”

Traditional talk therapy is, by design, gentle and slow. This is a good thing for people who are hurting, and in need of a safe space to work through hard things. But for people who could benefit more from coaching, traditional therapists often seem kind of checked out. A traditional therapist may not challenge you or offer any feedback or guidance, and will wait for you to “find your own answers.” This can feel so annoying for people who are ready to dig in and take action.

People seeking life coaching are not looking for a new best friend. They want the personal growth equivalent of a car-mechanic who can tell them what’s not working, and how to get better results in their lives and in their relationships. For these people, therapy is often an expensive, unproductive waste of time. For people seeking positive change, life coaching, career coaching, or relationship coaching will be a much more satisfying experience. 

Therapy is Medically Necessary Healthcare

Furthermore, “psychotherapy” is behavioral healthcare. Therapy (the kind that is covered by health insurance) is seen by the medical community as medically necessary treatment for a mental health diagnosis. When you’re in “therapy” the assumption is that you’re dealing with a disorder that you’re seeking treatment for: Anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, etc. If you’ve ever used insurance to cover the costs of therapy, your therapist has given you a diagnosis and then submitted medical claims saying that they are treating you for a psychiatric condition. That’s how health insurance works.

In contrast, many many people (our clients, anyway) who are looking for “therapy” aren’t reaching out because they have a mental health condition. They don’t have anxiety, they don’t have depression, and they’re not seeking to heal from a difficult past. They just want to evolve, grow personally, improve their relationships, gain self-awareness and self-confidence, and feel like they’re growing into the person they want to be… not “recover.”

Therapy is Focused on Pathology and Illness

If you’re trying to simply make positive changes in your life, but are working with a traditional therapist who’s framing your normal personal growth work as evidence of a “disordered,” it’s demoralizing and not helpful. When you’re trying to simply improve yourself, have better relationships, and feel happier, last thing you need is to connect with a therapist who makes you feel like (and believes) that there is something wrong with you.

In contrast, life coaching and relationship coaching assumes that you’re simply a normal person having normal life experiences, hoping to attain goals or get different outcomes for yourself and your relationships. You’re not sick, you’re not disordered, you’re simply dissatisfied and wanting more for yourself.

Coaching is For Personal Growth and Positive Change

Coaching provides feedback, guidance, new ideas, and always guides you towards action. The first stage of great coaching involves creating clarity about what you want. Then we identify the obstacles (internal and external) standing in between you and your desired reality. Then you develop strategies and an action plan to begin having new experiences and creating positive change. Your coach is your accountability partner, your cheerleader, your guide and your co-collaborator. Together, you’ll look at what’s working, what isn’t, and where to fine tune your process as you go. Over time you’ll not just learn and grow, but create real-world changes that you can feel great about.

The Problem With Coaching

After reading through the above, coaching may sound pretty great. And it’s true: life coaching, career coaching and relationship coaching are fantastic, effective vehicles for personal growth and positive change, for people who are able to make use of them. However, coaching isn’t always a great strategy, especially when deeper things need to be addressed and resolved first.

Doing Life Coaching (When You Really Need Therapy) Can Make Things Worse

In fact, coaching strategies are not going to be helpful at all for people who need to heal and grow before they can start making big changes in their lives. If you attempt life coaching when you have more serious underlying issues, life coaching can actually make you feel worse. Why? Because when you have depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use problems, or other underlying mental health issues, you cannot make good use of coaching strategies. The feelings are too strong; they’re like a tidal wave wiping out your good intentions. 

In order for action oriented positive change to occur, you must first heal from these conditions. This takes time, and specialized skills and experience of an excellent therapist who knows how to help you resolve the underlying mental health conditions that will always sabotage your attempts to take positive action. 

The net result is often that people wind up 1) with untreated mental health symptoms, and 2) feeling badly about themselves because they cannot make the positive changes they “should.” This is not helpful at all.

Coaching is NOT a Treatment For Mental Health Issues

For example, we often have people reach out to us interested in life coaching. However, sometimes, through our interviewing process and assessment process (and because of the fact that all our life coaches are mental health professionals, and know enough to tell the difference) we become aware that the issues they’re describing are actually consistent with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or PTSD.

People really want to make positive changes, but life coaching strategies are not going to be enough to move the needle. They’re feeling so badly on the inside, that they just can’t follow through. In these cases, we suggest that they engage in therapy in order to heal first, and then come back into life coaching when they’re ready to move forward.

The ONE exception to this can be the treatment of ADHD. Research has found that insight oriented, non directive, standard therapy does not help people with ADHD. (Unless they have developed associated anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders as a result of a lifetime of untreated ADHD, which is not uncommon). But if you are simply seeking to develop skills and strategies for managing ADHD symptoms, coaching may be helpful to you.

Mental Health Issues Are Common and Treatable… By Educated, Mental Health Professionals. (Aka, Therapists)

And really, mental health issues are common. National statistics show that at any given time one in five Americans are struggling with mild to moderate mental health symptoms. One in twenty-five American adults, annually, will experience a mental illness episode that is severe enough to impact daily functioning. Over their lifetime, nearly half of all Americans will meet criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition.

Mental health issues are real. They are common. They are treatable. However, it requires specialized education, training and experience to identify and correctly diagnose mental health symptoms (as different from dissatisfaction due to life circumstances). There are also very specific types of evidence-based therapy that work best for different conditions. Many mental health practitioners spend years and years educating themselves, attending trainings and seeking out consultation with other mental health experts to ensure they are providing the highest quality treatment in their area of expertise, like trauma, depression, anxiety disorders and more. 

There Are No Educational or Training Requirements Necessary To Be a Coach

Buyer beware: The biggest risk of coaching is to get involved with someone who is simply a life coach, who does not have the education, training or experience to recognize when mental health issues will sabotage coaching. (Much less the ability to help you resolve these foundational issues first). At best, a “life coach” may have attended a 1 to 9 month certificate program… maybe. If you’re lucky.

Not-so-fun-fact: Life coaching is not a recognized, regulated or licensed profession. There are zero educational requirements needed to call yourself a “life coach” and absolutely anyone can roll out of bed one day, decide to be a life coach, and start taking clients. They don’t have to register with the authorities, agree to any ethical standards, or even take a test! You don’t need a high school diploma, you don’t need to pass a background check, and there is no regulatory agency overseeing life coaches. You just start introducing yourself as a life coach, and it is so.

Your weird next door neighbor with the ferrets who drinks too much and is always offering unsolicited advice? He could decide that he’s really smart and has lots of great life experience and wisdom, and that he’d be a great life coach.  He can put together a little website one afternoon and be in business the next day.

Coaches Can Cause Harm

As a mental health professional as well as a board certified coach who actually did go through a very involved, accredited coach training program (which was offered online, and which I zoomed through in about 6 weeks), I find this thought to be extremely frightening. Imagine that a person with legitimate clinical issues such as depressionanxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. reaches out to a random, completely untrained “life coach” for help? At best, they risk wasting months and years of ever-worsening (and sometimes life-threatening) symptoms without the effective treatments that will set them free. At worst, it ends tragically.

While mental health conditions are treatable, if left untreated they can become life-threatening. They can also ruin relationships, destroy families, and tank careers. If you have a mental health condition it is vital that you get involved in evidence-based therapy with someone who has the skill and experience to help you. 

Relationship coaches are often times even more dubious, in my experience. Really: Someone can say, “Well I’m smart and I’ve been married five times so I know a lot about relationships and I can help people with theirs!” They set up a website and start taking clients.

If It’s Important, Go To An Expert

A licensed marriage and family therapist will spend years in graduate school learning about general counseling and mental health, PLUS many courses on family systems and assessment, relational dynamics, family therapies, methods and theory into couples and fa therapy. THEN they have supervised practicums, internships, and generally spend several years post-graduation working under the supervision of a licensed marriage and family therapist. THEN they have to accumulate thousands of clinical hours and pass a difficult national exam. Only then will they be a licensed marriage and family therapist themselves.

And even for licensed marriage and family therapists with all that education and experience… couples counseling can still be extremely challenging. What we know from research into couples and family therapy is that couples often delay couples counseling or relationship coaching until their relationships are feeling very difficult — they may even be on the brink of divorce.

Imagine some poor couple, who is on the brink of divorce, reaching out to a self-proclaimed “relationship coach” who doesn’t even know enough to know what they don’t know about how to help? That couple will likely wind up divorcing, thinking “Welp, we did everything we could do — we even tried a relationship coach, so our relationship must have been beyond repair!”  How sad to think that that same couple, if working with a true relationship expert, could have had a very different outcome. 

Not to be overly dramatic here, but the fate of your family and your future could be hanging in the balance. Divorce especially has significant emotional, financial, and material consequences for both adults and children. If your relationship is on the brink, please seek the help of a marriage and family therapist, NOT a coach. (Or any therapist who does not have specialized training and experience in marriage and family therapy, for that matter). 

Knowledge Is Power

If you’re still with me, I must say that I am SO thrilled that you’ve read this article. The general consumer of therapy OR coaching typically doesn’t know about any of the differences between therapy and coaching, or the risks involved in different approaches. That is why I’m taking the time to explain these differences to you! As a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist who also happens to be a certified coach and a relationship coach, I feel that it is my obligation to educate the public around these types of things so that you can make educated, well informed decisions about the best option for you. 

In addition to informing yourself, please DO share this article with anyone else in your life who might be 1) inappropriately seeking help from an unqualified life coach (and getting worse) or 2) feeling totally frustrated by therapy that isn’t going anywhere.

I’d also like to add that, when you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life and hoping for change, it can be difficult to know which path is the right one for you. Many people ask, “Do I need life coaching or therapy?” Unless you have a master’s degree in counseling and can spot the difference between a mental health condition and a personal growth issue, it can be very challenging to know which approach is going to work for you. To help cut through the confusion I’ve put together a free, online quiz. Take it by clicking the link below and answering a few questions.

I hope that it helps you learn about yourself, and which option will be most effective in helping you move forward.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Do You Need Therapy, or Life Coaching? Take the Quiz.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

Living Intentionally

In addition to my role as a therapist and life coach here at Growing Self, I absolutely love hearing your questions and answering them on The Love, Happiness and Success Blog and Podcast. Late summer is a transformational season, and  I know that many people are asking themselves hard questions about who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. I know this for a fact, actually, because lately we’ve had listeners of the blog and podcast reaching out with specific questions like:

“How do you find your purpose in life?”

“What to do when you feel you have no purpose in life?”

“I want to find a meaningful job/direction in my life, but I don’t know how to work out what that would be!”

“I would like to know more about how to know your on the right path. And not making decisions out of fear.”

“I want to feel alive and excited about life again but I’m so used to isolating and hiding/numbing out. How do I find happiness? Nothing’s bad but nothings great- it’s all just kind of blah.”

How do you find your calling/purpose?” 

These are big questions, but important ones. If you too have been looking for clarity and direction about your life’s purpose, your career, or who you fundamentally are as a person (and how to create the life you want) today I have a treat for you!

Embracing Your Power + Finding Your Purpose

On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m talking all about how to not JUST find your purpose and highest calling, but how to start living your life with self-awareness and intention. Specifically, we’re discussing:

  • Why your ultimate purpose in life is bigger than your career
  • How to fully embrace the amount of power you already have to design the life you want
  • How to uncover the unconscious beliefs and messages that have been leading to life circumstances you don’t want
  • Targeted questions to help you get clear about what your truth is
  • The importance of deliberately living in congruence with your highest and best
  • How to develop self-awareness and mindfulness strategies that will allow you to take control of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • How living intentionally and in congruence with your values leads to authentic happiness

If you have been feeling stuck lately and are struggling to find clarity and direction in life, I hope you listen to this episode.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: One of the strategies I offered on this episode involves thinking about times that you experience “flow” and using that as a clue to where your passions and talents lie. What are your “flow moments?” Share with us!

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Fruit & Flowers, Inside Decides”

Enjoy This Episode?

Please Rate, Review, and Share The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Google Play

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

More Love, Happiness and Success Advice on the Blog

How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

The Season of Transformation

Did you know that right now is possibly the best time you’ll have all year to make real and lasting change in your life? That’s not hyperbole. In my experience as a therapist, life coach, marriage counselor, and fellow traveler on this journey of life, I have noticed that this season — the annual transition from summer to fall — is often when people are feeling most intrinsically motivated, and most able to make real and lasting change in their lives.

Perhaps it’s a natural itch to get back to work after the languid summer season, particularly if you’ve done a good job of relaxing well. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of major life transitions in the form of back to school experiences. For whatever reason, now is the time when you’re ready to cultivate fresh new energy in your life and plant the seeds of a new chapter. Whether it’s your career, your clutter, your personal habits, or your how you spend your time that is begging for re-evaluation, the time is ripe to sweep out the old and usher in the new.

On this episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m going to be teaching you four crucial steps to practice as you harness the natural, transformational power of this season and use it to affect real and lasting change in your life. You’ll learn how to access your self awareness, create intentional change, get deeper access to your core values, and make changes that last.

Here’s to your liberation!

Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Make Real and Lasting Change... Right Now

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Enjoyed This Episode?

Please Rate and Review, and Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast!

Google Play

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

More Love, Happiness and Success Advice From the Blog

12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

Are you unknowingly making serious relationship mistakes that are damaging the health of your partnership? Learn the most important things to avoid (and what to do instead!) in order to have a fantastic relationship on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
Relationship Mistakes How to Destroy Your Relationship Denver Marriage Counseling Online Couples Therapy Denver Premarital Counseling Online

Do What You Love

How to create a career that's in alignment with who you are, what you enjoy, and what you're good at, (AND that earns you a living) on this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
Do what you love career coaching denver career counselor online career coaching online career development coach

Free Relationship Advice From a Marriage Counselor

Scouring the internet for honest, useful relationship advice to help your partnership heal and grow? Look no further: The latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is devoted to answering YOUR relationship questions — listen now! Read More
free relationship advice podcast online marriage counseling denver couples therapy online relationship advice website

The Power of Decluttering

Releasing the old is an exercise in personal growth that gives you space to embrace the intentional future you're creating. Learn how to declutter your life, mindfully, on the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
The Power of Decluttering Expert Decuttering Podcast the Joy of Decluttering Denver Life Coach Online Therapist Denver Life Coaching Get Organized Motivation

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

Persistent feelings of insecurity can tank a relationship. Learn how to strengthen your sense of trust and the emotional security of your partnership, on this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
how-to-feel-more-secure-in-your-relationship-denver-therapy-online-marriage-counseling-denver-online-couples-therapy-denver-therapist-bentonville-arkansas-marriage-counselor-arkansas-therapist-online

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

Let Yourself Feel Loved

OVERCOMING INSECURITY | It’s not uncommon for both women and men to feel insecure in a relationship from time to time. We often see emotional insecurity as an underlying issue to address with couples who come to us for marriage counseling, couples therapy, premarital counseling and relationship coaching. After all, when couples don’t feel completely emotionally safe and secure with each other it tends to create conflict and problems in many other areas of their partnership. [For more on the importance of emotional safety and how it may be impacting YOUR relationship, access our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and my mini-couples coaching follow up video series.)

It’s especially true for people in new relationships to have some anxiety, but even people in long-term relationships can worry about their partner’s feelings for them sometimes. While very common, feeling insecure in your relationship can create problems — for both of you. 

Root Causes of Insecurity

If insecurity is an issue in your relationship — either for you, or your partner — you might be speculating about the root causes of insecurity and how to heal them. People can struggle to feel emotionally safe with their partner for a variety of reasons — sometimes due to their life experiences, but sometimes, due to things that have happened in the current relationship itself. 

Insecurity After Infidelity: Certainly being let down or betrayed by your partner in the past can lead you to struggle with trust in the present moment. Insecurity after infidelity or an emotional affair is very common. In these cases, the path to healing can be a long one. The person who did the betraying often needs to work very hard, for a long time, to show (not tell, but show) their partners that they can trust them.

Anxiety After Being Let Down Repeatedly: However, insecurities can also start to emerge after less dramatic betrayals and disappointments. Even feeling that your partner has not been emotionally available for you, has not been consistently reliable, or was there for you in a time of need, it can lead you to question the strength of their commitment and love. Trust is fragile: If your relationship has weathered storms, learning how to repair your sense of trust and security can be a vital part of healing. Often, couples need to go back into the past to discuss the emotional wounds they experienced with each other in order to truly restore the bond of safety and security. These conversations can be challenging, but necessary.

Insecurity Due to Having Been Hurt in the Past: Sometimes people who have had negative experiences in past relationships can feel insecure, due to having been traumatized by others. For some people, their very first relationships were with untrustworthy or inconsistent parents and that led to the development of insecure attachment styles. This can lead them to feel apprehensive or protective with anyone who gets close. However, even people with loving parents and happy childhoods can carry scars of past relationships, particularly if they lived through a toxic relationship at some point in their lives. It’s completely understandable: Having been burned by an Ex can make it harder to trust a new partner, due to fears of being hurt again.

Long Distance Relationships: Certain types of relationships can lead people to feel less secure than they’d like to, simply due to the circumstances of the relationship itself. For example, you might feel more insecure if you’re in a long-distance relationship.  Not being able to connect with your partner or see them in person all the time can take a toll on even the strongest relationship. Couples in long-distance relationships should expect that they will have to work a little harder than couples who are together day-to-day, in order to help each person to feel secure and loved. In these cases, carefully listening to each other about what both of you are needing to feel secure and loved is vital, as is being intentionally reliable and consistent.

Feeling Insecure When You’re Dating Someone New: And, as we all know, early-stage romantic love is a uniquely vulnerable experience and often fraught with anxiety. Dating someone new is exciting, but it can also be intensely anxiety-provoking. In new (or new-ish) relationships where a commitment has not been established, not fully knowing where you stand with a new person that you really like is emotionally intense. If you’re dating, or involved in a new relationship, you may need to deliberately cultivate good self-soothing and calming skills in order to manage the emotional roller coaster that new love can unleash. 

Feeling Insecure With a Withdrawn Partner: Interestingly, different types of relationship dynamics can lead to differences in how secure people feel. The same person can feel very secure and trusting in one relationship, but with a different person, feel suspicious, worried, and on pins and needles. Often this has to do with the relational dynamic of the couple.

For example, in relationships where one person has a tendency to withdraw, be less communicative, or is not good at verbalizing their feelings it can lead their partner to feel worried about what’s really going on inside of them. This can turn into a pursue-withdraw dynamic that intensifies over time; one person becoming increasingly anxious and agitated about not being able to get through to their partner, and the withdrawn person clamping down like a clam under assault by a hungry seagull. However, when communication improves and couples learn how to show each other love and respect in the way they both need to feel safe and secure, trust is strengthened and emotional security is achieved.

Types of Insecurities

Emotional security (or lack of) is complex. In addition to having a variety of root causes, there are also different ways that insecurity manifests in people —and they all have an impact on your relationship. As has been discussed in past articles on this blog, people who struggle with low self esteem may find it hard to feel safe in relationships because they are anticipating rejection. The “insecure overachiever” may similarly struggle to feel secure in relationships if they’re not getting the validation and praise they thrive on. 

For others, insecurity is linked to an overall struggle with vulnerability and perfectionism. People who feel like they need to be perfect in order to be loved can — subconsciously or not — try to hide their flaws. But, on a deep level, they know they’re not perfect (no one is) and so that knowledge can lead to feelings of apprehension when they let other people get close to them. In these cases, learning how to lean into authentic vulnerability can be the path of healing. [More on this: “The Problem With Perfectionism”]

Sometimes people who are going through a particularly hard time in other parts of their lives can start to feel apprehensive about their standing in their relationship. For example, people who aren’t feeling great about their career can often feel insecure when they’re around people who they perceive as being more successful or accomplished than they are. This insecurity is heightened in the case of a layoff or unexpected job loss. If one partner in a relationship is killing it, and the other is feeling under-employed or like they’re still finding their way, it can lead the person who feels dissatisfied with their current level of achievement to worry that their partner is dissatisfied with them too. 

Insecurities can take many forms, and emerge for a variety of reasons. However, when insecurity is running rampant the biggest toll it takes is often on a relationship. 

How Insecurity Can Ruin a Relationship

To be clear: Having feelings is 100% okay. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, or your relationship, or anyone else because you have feelings of anxiety or insecurity. The only time relationship problems occur as a result of feelings is when your feelings turn into behaviors.

If people who feel insecure, anxious, jealous or threatened don’t have strategies to soothe themselves and address their feelings openly with their partner (and have those conversations lead to positive changes in the relationship), the feelings can lead to behaviors that can harm the relationship. Some people lash out in anger when they perceive themselves to be in emotional danger, or that their partner is being hurtful to them.  Often, people who feel insecure will attempt to control their partner’s behaviors in efforts to reduce their own anxiety. Many insecure people will hound their partners for information about the situations they feel worried about. Still others will withdraw, pre-emptively, as a way of protecting themselves from the rejection they anticipate.

While all of these strategies are adaptive when you are in a situation where hurtful things are happening, (more on toxic relationships here) problems occur when these defensive responses flare up in a neutral situation. A common example of this is the scenario where one person repeatedly asks their partner if they’re cheating on them because they feel anxious, when their partner is actually 100% faithful to them and has done nothing wrong. The insecure person might question their partner, attack their partner, check up on their partner, or be cold and distant due to their worries about being cheated on or betrayed — when nothing bad is actually happening. This leaves the person on the other side feeling hurt, controlled, rejected, vilified… or simply exhausted. 

If feelings of insecurity are leading to problematic behaviors in a relationship, over time, if unresolved, it can erode the foundation of your partnership. 

How to Help Someone Feel More Secure

It’s not uncommon for partners of insecure people to seek support through therapy or life coaching, or couples counseling either for themselves or with their partners. They ask, “How do I help my wife feel more secure,” or “How do I help my husband feel more secure.” This is a great question; too often partners put the blame and responsibility for insecure feelings squarely on the shoulders of their already-anxious spouse or partner. This, as you can imagine, only makes things worse. 

While creating trust in a relationship is a two-way street, taking deliberate and intentional action to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you in the ways that are most important to him or her is the cornerstone of helping your insecure girlfriend, insecure boyfriend, or insecure spouse feel confident in your love for them. The key here is consistency, and being willing to do things to help them feel emotionally secure even if you don’t totally get it. This is especially true of the origins of your partner’s worry stem from early experiences of being hurt or betrayed by someone else. 

Tips to help your spouse feel more secure: 

  • Ask them what they need from you to feel emotionally safe and loved by you
  • Give that to them (over and over again, without being asked every time)
  • Rinse and repeat

How to Stop Being Insecure

Of course, it’s very frustrating to partners who feel like they’re not just true-blue, but doing everything they feel they can to help someone feels safe and secure… and yet insecurities persist. While partners of anxious people do need to try a little harder to help them feel secure, the person who struggles with insecurity needs to also take responsibility for their feelings and learn how to manage them effectively. Note:  This doesn’t mean not ever having worried or insecure feelings (feelings happen y’all), but rather, learning how to have feelings that don’t turn into relationship-damaging behaviors.

Without the ability to soothe yourself, become grounded in the here and now, and get your emotional needs met by your partner (or yourself), unbridled insecurity can put a major strain on a relationship. But how? How do you manage insecurity? That’s the million-dollar question, and that’s why I’ve made it the topic of the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast! 

If you’re struggling with insecurity in your relationship — either as the person who worries, or the one who’s trying to reassure them — you’ll definitely want to join me and my colleague Georgi Chizk, an Arkansas-based marriage counselor and family therapist who specializes in attachment therapy as we discuss this topic. We’re going deep into the topic of insecurity in relationships, and how to overcome it. Listen and learn more about:

  • The root causes of insecurity
  • The surprising ways insecurity can impact a relationship
  • Practical strategies to help someone else feel more secure
  • Actionable advice to help yourself feel less insecure
  • How trust and security are healed and strengthened
  • Concrete tools couples can use to banish insecurity from their relationship

We hope that this discussion helps you both overcome insecurity, and create the strong, happy relationship you deserve.

With love and respect, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Juniore, “Panique”

Enjoy this Episode?

Please rate, review and share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast!

Google Play

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice From the Blog

12 Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship

Are you unknowingly making serious relationship mistakes that are damaging the health of your partnership? Learn the most important things to avoid (and what to do instead!) in order to have a fantastic relationship on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
Relationship Mistakes How to Destroy Your Relationship Denver Marriage Counseling Online Couples Therapy Denver Premarital Counseling Online

Do What You Love

How to create a career that's in alignment with who you are, what you enjoy, and what you're good at, (AND that earns you a living) on this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
Do what you love career coaching denver career counselor online career coaching online career development coach

Free Relationship Advice From a Marriage Counselor

Scouring the internet for honest, useful relationship advice to help your partnership heal and grow? Look no further: The latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is devoted to answering YOUR relationship questions — listen now! Read More
free relationship advice podcast online marriage counseling denver couples therapy online relationship advice website

The Power of Decluttering

Releasing the old is an exercise in personal growth that gives you space to embrace the intentional future you're creating. Learn how to declutter your life, mindfully, on the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Read More
The Power of Decluttering Expert Decuttering Podcast the Joy of Decluttering Denver Life Coach Online Therapist Denver Life Coaching Get Organized Motivation

How to Love Yourself, Unconditionally

How to Love Yourself, Unconditionally

Can You Love Yourself, No Matter What?

Self-love is much harder for many people than it is for them to be unconditionally loving and compassionate with others. It is much easier to pick yourself apart, ruthlessly, for all your failures and imperfections than it is to be your own ally, your own cheerleader, and your own source of strength and compassion.

Why is it so hard to love yourself? Often, it’s due to a deep and enduring core narrative that is rooted in shame and criticism, particularly early in life. Over the years as a therapist and life coach, and talking with hundreds of people about this issue, (and making this topic a primary focus of The Happiness Class) I have come to the conclusion that difficulty with self-love, and harboring feelings of unworthiness are largely due to the negative automatic thoughts, and the negative “stories” that people started to tell themselves about themselves as children and teens.

Why It’s So Hard To Love Yourself

The proclivity we all have to beat ourselves up is often simply an unhappy byproduct of the psychology of children. Children are, inherently, narcissistic in the sense that they only know their own experience and have limited insight into why other people behave the way they do, or the larger context of situations. Because of this, when kids experience shaming, criticism, rejection or hostility from peers or parents (but especially peers) it boils down to one central takeaway: “I’m bad / wrong / unlovable / unlikeable” and they carry that message into adulthood with them.

Can you relate?

How Difficulty Loving Yourself Impacts Your Life

If you, like many, have a hard time accepting yourself and feeling generally good about who you are, it may negatively impact many areas of your life.  Not being able to love yourself is damaging to your other relationships is because when you struggle with beliefs of low self-worth you don’t feel okay inside of yourself. This makes you look to other people for affirmation and acceptance in order to feel good about you. Or, you might start linking your intrinsic “goodness” to other things, like what you achieve, how you look, how much money you earn, what you weigh, etc.

This can turn into a roller coaster of chasing perfection that you can never quite attain. You might work so hard to do everything “right,” and drive yourself into exhaustion attempting to prove to yourself and others that you really are good enough as evidenced by all the amazing things you’re doing. [For more on this, read “The Problem With Perfectionism”]

The truth is that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. If you strive, you will fail sometimes. As a fellow human, you are just as imperfect as the rest of us. Not everyone will like you, much less love you. A lot of living is not really that fabulous, just the day-to-day slog of adulting, interspersed by peak moments that may feel long in between. You will occasionally make bad decisions. You might even get fired or laid off. Time will come for you, too, changing your body, the way you look, and eventually, your mind.

Life is a mixed bag, and things are going to happen. But when your feelings of self worth hinge upon achievements and how you’re viewed in the eyes of others (because you struggle do it yourself) it puts you in a precarious position, emotionally and psychologically.

How Difficulty Loving Yourself Impacts Your Relationships

While struggling to love yourself seems like it would only impact the primary target (you), it does impact others too. Here’s why: As we have discussed, people who really, fundamentally don’t feel good about themselves on the inside must look to others for affirmation, acceptance, and positive regard to regulate themselves. They often need a constant stream of praise and validation from other people in order to feel okay about themselves.

When their partners turn out to be fellow humans who also have complex needs, rights and feelings, (and complaints! and get upset sometimes too!) people who struggle with low self-worth often feel anxious, criticized, and unloved. When their partner can’t always be kind and patient and overtly loving and approving of them, they tend to fall apart and get pretty anxious and even angry.

Because they are unable to support themselves emotionally from the inside out when their partners are upset with them or needing something from them, their partner not being okay feels very threatening to them. It is not uncommon for people who struggle to love themselves to be emotionally reactive, lashing out at their partners, or withdrawing emotionally from relationships as a form of self protection.

Furthermore, because people with low self-worth will often twist themselves into knots to be pleasing if not perfect, they can struggle with authenticity and vulnerability. Because they struggle to love themselves, and worry they’re not good enough, they fear that if people really get to know them they will be rejected. This can make them withhold their true thoughts and feelings from others, and make them feel like they need to maintain a “perfect” facade that, while helping them feel safer, truthfully deprives them of the ability to connect on a deep level with others.

In other, even sadder situations, people who struggle to love themselves can find themselves in bad relationships with people who do not treat them well at all. People with low self-worth may wind up staying in these toxic relationships for too long, because the criticism, shaming, and bullying they experience with their partner matches the abusive inner dialogue they have inside of themselves. It’s difficult for them to believe that they deserve better, and they have a hard time leaving the toxic relationship they feel stuck in. [More on this: “How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity”]

How to Love Yourself Unconditionally

Healing these wounds and developing authentic self-love and self-worth is a process, not a decision or an event.

People are damaged by experiences and in relationships with others, and they are healed by experiences and in relationships with others. The first step in being able to love yourself is often to cultivate a supportive, unconditionally positive relationship with a great therapist who is able to be emotionally safe and affirming. This emotionally safe relationship creates the crucible whereby the person who struggles with low self worth can finally feel safe and accepted enough to begin revealing their true selves and the old core beliefs about themselves that they’ve been carrying.

Over the months, sometimes years, this precious, fragile person and their therapist can begin to question some of those beliefs (carefully, so as not to trigger too much self criticism and shame) and explore — from an adult perspective — the fact that there may have been other explanations for their life experiences besides their being inherently bad and unworthy of love. They can begin to create a new narrative about themselves and new core beliefs that include a deep sense of security, rooted in the fact that they are actually good people, worthy of love and respect… and they always have been.

Self Love = Emotional Strength

Over time, healing happens. People working through low self-worth often need to process a great deal of anger and pain in later stages of healing. But in doing so, they begin the process of learning how to validate themselves. They begin unhooking their sense of self-worth from how other people view them, as well as their achievements. They acquire the ability to decide, for themselves, that they deserve to be angry when mistreated, and that they have the right to set boundaries.

Most importantly, they develop the ability to internalize a self-supporting inner dialogue that coaches them through challenging moments and reminds them of their inherent worthiness even when other people are upset with them, when they fail, or are not as perfect as they’d like to be. Through the development of this self-supporting adult core, they become able to finally feel okay about themselves and emotionally stable no matter what is going on around them. They develop self-compassion, the ability to forgive themselves, and often start practicing good self-care. They become able to assertively advocate for themselves, make healthy decisions, and not fall apart when other people aren’t mirroring admiration back at them.

As they become more self-stabilizing, their relationships stabilize. Over time, this creates a positive spiral up where they start feeling good about themselves, and genuinely have a great life and healthy relationships — all of which supports the new narrative they internalize that says, “See? You are worthy of love and respect.”

The path is long and hard, but so, so worth it.

If my sharing this perspective has resonated with you, I sincerely hope that you seek the support of a great therapist who can be a safe person for you as you embark upon this journey of growth and healing. You deserve it.

xoxo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: When you read this article it may have made you think not of yourself, but of someone else in your life. If so, I hope you share this with them so that these words might provide them with clarity and direction, as well as hope and affirmation. On behalf of them, thank you for supporting their growth and personal evolution…. LMB

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
Loading...