Building Confidence in Dating

Building Confidence in Dating

Building Confidence in Dating

If you’ve been swimming around in the dating pool for any time at all, I’m sure you’ve heard this advice: Be more confident. It’s sexy!

And, if you’re someone who struggles to feel confident while dating, that advice probably feels about as helpful as if you’d been told to be taller, or younger, or to have better hair. 

Lacking confidence is a problem that feeds on itself: When we don’t feel good about ourselves, that feeling can contribute to outcomes that make us feel even worse. We might view every rejection as a verdict on who we fundamentally are, and question whether we’re ever going to find the love we’re looking for. 

Unfortunately, none of that is attractive to the kind of partner you want to connect with. They’re looking for someone who’s solid, who knows who they are, and who can show up and be themselves, flaws and all. 

It doesn’t help that the modern dating process itself is a confidence-undermining machine. I constantly hear from therapy and dating coaching clients that the ghosting, breadcrumbing, and rollercoaster of disappointments that accompany online dating make it hard to feel good about themselves, and to persevere through the dating process. 

That’s why I wanted to create this episode of the podcast for you: So you could learn about the roots of true confidence, in dating and elsewhere in life, and show up to every encounter feeling sure of who you are — and fundamentally happy with who that person is. 

My guest is Neha P., a therapist and dating coach here at Growing Self. Neha has helped many clients find self confidence and love, and today she’s sharing some insight that will help you too. 

I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Building Confidence in Dating

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Building Confidence in Dating — Episode Highlights

When you’re struggling with dating, it’s easy to start feeling bad about yourself. Many people wonder if they’re doing something they’re unaware of to turn off potential matches, or even, when things are going really badly, if they’re fundamentally worthy of love and respect

All of this can take a toll on your self confidence, and can make continuing to put yourself out there to face more rejection a challenge. But being able to cope with rejection and bounce back reasonably well is the number-one skill that you need to find love. There are literally billions of people who are not a match for you; you only need to find one who is, and continuing to date is the way to do so. 

Building confidence in dating can help: By building up your self-esteem, you can manage rejection in a healthier way, while becoming more attractive to the right person in the process.

Online Dating Confidence

Online dating can make it especially difficult to hold onto your confidence. Dating apps give us access to more potential partners than we’ve ever had in the past — and every one of those potential partners is also faced with just as many choices. 

When we have more choices, in dating, or shopping, or even in choosing which career we want to pursue, we take longer to settle on a decision. And that means we’re all doing a lot more rejecting, and we’re experiencing a lot more rejection. 

Add to this that communicating through a screen doesn’t always put us on our best behavior, and you have a dating pool that’s full of uncertainty, churn, and unnecessarily harsh rejections from people we don’t know (anyone who’s been ghosted after a few dates knows what I’m talking about). It’s enough to take a toll on anyone’s confidence. 

One way to maintain your confidence in the online dating climate is to keep these realities in mind, and recognize that they’re not just true for you, but for everyone. Online dating is an isolating experience, and when we’re not talking about it, it’s easy to imagine that other people have it easier than we do. But if you do talk with friends about their experiences, you’ll probably hear online dating horror stories that rival your own. 

Remembering that online dating carries some serious downsides, and that they’re not unique to your experience, can help you prevent disappointments from eating away at your confidence. 

What is Confidence in Dating? 

Confidence, in dating and all other areas of life, is about having a basic sense of trust in yourself. When you’re confident, you feel like you deserve good things. You feel like you have the right to take up space, speak your mind, and generally be yourself. 

Confidence isn’t about striving to be better, although we often think we need to improve before we earn the right to feel confident. Real confidence comes from self acceptance, and from valuing and appreciating yourself for who you really are. 

Dealing with Rejection in Dating

No matter how confident you are, rejection hurts. Literally — our brains process social rejection like they process physical pain

When you experience rejection in dating, the first thing you should do is validate that for yourself. It makes sense that you’re feeling sad, disappointed, and maybe even a little hopeless after a string of failed attempts at connecting. It’s totally normal to doubt yourself and to compare yourself to other people. 

Next, practice having a supportive inner narrative. What are you telling yourself about the rejection and what it means about you? Is this how you would talk to someone you love? (Hopefully, you are someone you love). There are likely pieces of your narrative story that aren’t accurate. This is a good time to remember your “wins,” or instances where you weren’t rejected (or, maybe even times that you were the pickier partner who did the rejecting!)

Part of having a supportive inner narrative is taking a realistic view of what rejection is actually about. We tend to personalize it, and assume the other person thought we weren’t good enough. But, in reality, we have no idea what’s going on inside that person, and rejection often has more to do with their own preferences, readiness, and whims than anything essential to us. 

Finally, try approaching your “failures” with a growth mindset. While it’s true that many of our dating disappointments are beyond our control (for example, it’s not really up to you whether someone is attracted, feels chemistry, or is at a point in their life where they’re able to connect on a deep level), you may be able to identify some regrets from your dating experiences. That’s ok — making mistakes and then improving is all part of the process. 

Dating Confidence Tips

Still not sure how to feel more confident while dating? Here are a few tips: 

  • Make a list of things that you like about yourself. You might feel a little silly doing this, but seeing your self-love on paper can help you remember your best qualities. 
  • Remember a time when you felt confident. Were you making someone laugh, taking part in a hobby you love, or maybe just doing your job? When you’re on a date and feeling like a big sweaty pile of nerves, remember you’re also that person, and this potential match may just get to see that, if they’re lucky. 
  • Remind yourself that it’s not (just) about you. Whenever we’re having a relationship, there are at least two people involved. The person you’re dating will bring their own issues, preferences, values, attachment styles, and context to the table, and those things will either line up with what you’re able to offer, or they won’t. Rejection really isn’t as personal as it sometimes feels. 
  • Remember you also deserve to be picky. You deserve to find a healthy, loving relationship with someone you’re genuinely excited about. Don’t approach dating with the mindset that that’s not out there for you, or that you’re going to have to settle. 
  • Treat other people with kindness and compassion. When you treat the people you’re meeting like human beings with emotional lives as complex and important as your own, you can date with integrity, and feel more confident about yourself and about what you deserve from others in the process. 
  • Give yourself time and space to process rejection. If you start to feel down, burned out, or hopeless after dating rejection, give yourself a break. Dating is supposed to be fun — not a grueling exercise or a form of self punishment. Take good care of yourself emotionally, and you’ll be better able to connect with the people you meet. 
  • Get clear about who you are and what you want. You probably have a list of what you’re looking for in a life partner, but have you taken the time to get clear about your own goals for dating, and the kind of relationship you’re trying to form? When you have clarity about your intentions for dating, you have some structure to follow, and you feel more like you know what you’re doing. And that helps you feel confident. 
  • Repair past hurts and heal before moving forward. Finally, before you jump back into the dating pool after a rough breakup or divorce, give yourself the time and space to heal. When you’re fully through with the healing process, you’ll be more open, available, and more attractive to the kind of partner you’re looking for. 

Episode Show Notes

[02:29] Self-Confidence and The Online Dating Experience 

  • Many people struggle with confidence in dating. You’re not alone!
  • The online dating experience is difficult and solitary.

[13:00] Comparing Yourself

  • Comparing yourself to others can affect your confidence.
  • Social media only shows snapshots of happy couples, not the string of rejections that came before.
  • Dating is a numbers game. You need to be strategic, but remember to be kind to yourself and others in the process. 

[14:32] What is Confidence?

  • Confidence comes down to having trust in yourself and your authentic identity.
  • We deserve to trust ourselves instead of thinking we need to earn it.
  • You can feel the most confident when you know who you are and accept it, rather than striving to change.

[22:46] Hang on to Your Authentic Self

  • Remind yourself that rejection is not always about you.
  • When you experience rejection, take your time to heal and feel ok on your own again before entering another relationship.
  • You can potentially hurt others if you are not taking care of yourself emotionally. 

[30:31] Repairing the Damage Done to Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

  • Get clarity about the experiences and red flags you want to avoid.
  • Communicate your needs in new relationships.
  • It comes back to being authentic and finding out early on that you are simply not compatible instead of seeing it as a rejection.

[37:41] Difficult Topics In Dating

  • Avoid difficult and overly personal topics on the first date.
  • Don’t spend the first date trying to figure out if you can be in a long-term relationship. Just figure out if you want to go on a second date. 
  • Talking about difficult topics is a gradual process.
  • Know what you’re looking for and date with intention. 

[42:59] Red Flags in Overconfidence

  • Watch out for people who are not as interested in talking about you as they are in talking about themselves.
  • Overconfidence can be a sign of fragility or something harmful.
  • There should be a balance in your conversations. Are they showing up with authenticity?


Music in this episode is by Redhino with their song Hope.

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://redinho.bandcamp.com/track/hope. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I am so excited about today's episode because today we're discussing a topic that I just know is going to be so helpful for so many people who, like so many, are looking for love and for healthy, new relationships. That means today we're talking about how to date with confidence. Every dating coach or advice columnist out there will tell you, and I think they're largely right in some ways, that confidence is an incredibly important attractive quality when you're out there dating. And I'm sure you've noticed this, in your experience that when you're finding people that, those early stages, their level of confidence is oftentimes an attractor or a turn-off, particularly if it's absent. We understand that we see that and other people said, we gravitate towards that sense of inner security. 

But paradoxically, dating itself is a confidence smasher for many people. I mean, you only need to have been ghosted one time by somebody that you really liked. It makes you question yourself. It's hard to keep putting yourself out there, particularly if you're starting in early relationships going on a few dates, it's not working out. I mean, it's sort of the antithesis of what any of us need in order to feel confident and secure in ourselves. To address this conundrum, and help you find some clarity and direction for how to reconnect with your strength and your self-confidence in this situation, I have invited my dear colleague, Neha, to join our conversation today. 

Neha is a therapist on the team here at Growing Self. She is also a marriage counselor, a couples counselor, relationship coach, who often works with couples who are on a quest to strengthen their relationships or improve their relationships. But she also works with a lot of people as a dating coach. People who are looking for the same thing that you are to have a healthy, happy, high-quality relationship and how to build that from the ground up. So, Neha, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Thank you. 

Neha P.: Of course, and thank you for that introduction. I am so looking forward to having this conversation with you around a topic that feels so applicable to a huge audience. So I'm looking forward to this conversation. 

Self-Confidence and The Online Dating Experience

Lisa:  Well, it's so relatable I mean, like every single person that I have talked with who is dating, particularly the online dating experience, it is hard. And I think it's very common to have experiences through dating itself that damage self-esteem and self-confidence, quite frankly. I mean, I've known so many people that I've just like, given up after a while, they're like, “I can't handle it anymore”. They take down their profiles, “I don't even want to try.” So it's very real. This can look like a lot of different things for different people. But with your clients, what are some of the things that you've seen around that confidence in dating? What do you hear people talking about?

Neha: I feel like one of the most common things that I hear from my clients around dating, especially in this age in which online dating is so prevalent, it's so accessible to many people. And so a lot of people are maybe venturing more towards online dating is that it's really easy to be ghosted. I think it's really common to be ghosted, unfortunately. I think that in itself can be such a confidence-killer because there's this lack of closure around, “What did I do? Or what didn’t I do that contributed to us not continuing our conversation or to the conversation just ending abruptly?” 

I think that can really get into us examining ourselves, “What did we do wrong?” and ruminating on the fact that it's about us in this moment for being ghosted, as opposed to wondering what might that other person be experiencing, if they're even ready to engage in this type of relationship that is contributing to them ghosting you.

Lisa: It makes you question, 

Neha: It makes you question and makes you really be hard on yourself in a lot of ways, too, and really nitpick around how am I presenting during our brief conversation or even just through the stating profile?

Lisa: Yeah, did I use too many emojis? I use the wrong emoji. I mean, like it can be very nitpicky kinds of that I say the wrong thing. Yeah, wow. And at the same time, I think that should add insult to injury, people are often told that they need to be confident or to present themselves as confident in order to be successful in dating. There's like this weird bind, this chicken or the egg kind of situation and it's so hard. 

Neha:  It is so so tough, and I think in a lot of ways, easier said than done. When it comes to being confident, especially if we've experienced sort of like a string of rejection, through our dating experience. Just as you were mentioning earlier, a lot of people can sort of lose interest or desire to be dating when there has been this sort of not-so-great experience or feeling rejected in those moments. I think one thing to acknowledge is that our brain can process rejection similar to physical pain. It's not only this, like, emotional pain that we're experiencing, but it could be a physical pain as well for feeling overstimulated. 

We might experience headaches or tension in our shoulders, or even nausea to a certain extent. I think at times, we can also underestimate how rejection can impact us not only emotionally, mentally, but also physically at the same time. 

Lisa: That's a really good point. Just thinking about what you're saying, there's like a rejection response that's kind of like hardwired in us in some ways. Like, I don't know, if you've had this experience, but I have where there's a situation that like, in retrospect, I don't even care that much about. It's not a super important situation, or  I'm not deeply invested. But if I feel, rejected by this situation, or like, it's something, I'm losing something, all of a sudden, I get activated in ways that surprised me. And I think it's that very, like human biologically based response to a rejection, even if it's not like a profoundly important thing. It's just like what we do. 

In all these little, tiny micro rejections that everybody experiences with online dating, you're saying that it can really start to take a toll even physically, that is very validating.

Neha:  I feel like giving ourselves to empathy, especially during these moments of rejection can feel so soothing towards ourselves. Not only reminding ourselves that it makes sense that you'd feel hurt during this moment, even if it's, we say you describe like something that doesn't feel profoundly impactful to us. But it still hurts being told no, whether relationally, professionally, in a friendship, to know I can't hang out with you right now. No, I don't have time to discuss this important issue that might feel important for you, that type of thing. I think giving ourselves that initial piece of empathy and validation of it makes sense that you would feel this way in this moment. Doesn't mean that you're wrong, it doesn't mean that you're quote-unquote, overreacting means that you are experiencing something, and we need to sort of honor that experience at the same time. 

It's also a great moment for us to sort of briefly examine how might have I contributed to this piece of rejection, whether it be at the very early stages of dating, or whether it be when we are sort of like going on dates, engaging with a certain person. When we are able to examine ourselves for more of a compassionate lens, I feel like we're giving ourselves the space to change, rather than just condemning ourselves for showing up this way. Although we want to own the ways in which we can show up just a little bit differently, I encourage my clients to not let that take up too much of the narrative that we have about ourselves, stories that we tell ourselves. 

Just because in this instance, I might have said the wrong thing, it doesn't mean that that is who I am, it means there are moments in which I can show it this way. And now I'm aware about it. And now I can do something about it. But I think compassion is such an important tool during  the dating process, especially if we've experienced rejection.

Lisa: I love that positive, supportive, inner narrative, growth mindset, learning from the mistakes and with gratitude as opposed to collapsing into self-hatred, yes.

Neha: Again, easier said than done sometimes. And I think with that, it just takes practice to with thinking about how we talk to ourselves, not only when we're dating, but also like, even professionally to within friendships, I think it's really easy sometimes to really hone in on some of that negative self-talk, as opposed to saying, “What can I learn from this? What do I want to do about it?” So I think that can also be a great tool. It's like sometimes challenging some of these thoughts. I always get rejected, versus “Can I think about moments in which I didn't experience rejection, which dating did work out for me”, by reminding ourselves of these moments in which can sort of contradict that really mean voice in our head that can show up. I think it helps also process the rejection that happened and allow us to have a space to try it again.

Lisa: That's a really good point. And I would imagine too, I think for a lot of people, because that online dating experience, in particular, is so fundamentally isolating. It's just you with an app and the avatars and text messages going back and forth. Like it's a very solitary experience in many ways. And I think that it can be common for people to imagine that it's going differently for others. That other people are having an experience that is different from theirs where they may be feeling rejected, or they're interacting with a bunch of people that don't really feel like a good fit for them. There's a sort of imaginary “other” that is having like a great experience and meeting wonderful people online and like finding love immediately. And I wonder if you found that to be true for your clients like they're sort of comparing the experience that they're having with the experience they think they should be having and that in itself is making them feel bad. Do you see that? 

Neha: Absolutely, although dating is fundamentally a way in which we're trying to make relationships and connect with people, you're spot on with especially online dating is an isolating process. It is us behind the screen, and connecting with another person behind the screen, or just going through these profiles, which feels just a little bit disconnected to a certain extent. We can't really get the information that we really want, by just looking at a profile. We need to put ourselves out there and connect, which of course, is scary in its own right. And I think you're spot on too with this comparative mindset of the guy next door who's trying to do this is probably connecting with many people, or she is probably having such a positive experience compared to what I'm having.

And it makes me think about, I'm such a fan of asking yourself the why question: “Why am I feeling like I need to compare myself to someone else's process?” Or “What would it be like if I were to talk to somebody who is also experiencing online dating, to help me normalize this process?” As opposed to feeling ostracized, and that I'm doing something different, or experiencing something differently than the person next door. It's—gosh, dating is really hard right now. During COVID times, we were already feeling a level of isolation in its control, difficult to just going back to that period of like ghosting, where we can't sometimes even get the opportunity to connect with somebody, we don't get the chance.

Lisa: As we're talking, I'm thinking too, about the potential for viewing the lives of other people, friends, and acquaintances through the lens of social media. Because there you see people posting pictures of like, the fun dates they're on or cute selfies, like with together with a cute guy that they met through whatever platform. And people aren't talking about the 150 rejections that they had on the way to creating that. There's this tendency, societally, to amplify the positive things, which can really make people who aren't having that picture-perfect thing to post wonder if they're doing it wrong. If there's like something about—do you see that as being part of the comparison process with you, I mean, you're probably much more tuned in to what's happening with people on social media than I am.

Comparing Yourself

Neha: I think that is such a great point, not only in dating but just like on an everyday basis. When we notice ourselves having comparative thoughts with the individuals or couples that we see on social media. I think social media is a highlight of people's lives, as opposed to the five days that being in a relationship can feel difficult at times. We aren't—we're just showing the Friday night, super intentional date night that we had, and not the conflict that we had right before we left on this date. I think social media can be really deceiving and a lot of ways and it can sort of amplify those comparative thoughts that can lead to us feeling isolated, to us feeling like we're doing something wrong. So it makes me think about when we do notice ourselves, comparing ourselves on social media to other people taking a step back and saying, “What story am I maybe not knowing about at this time?” 

It's not that we wish relationships that we see tend to be negative or to have conflict. And that's the reality, conflict is healthy and normal and expected within relationships and they're not easy—dating is not easy in general. And just as you touched on, we don't get to see the 150 rejections before it leads to that one true connection. Dating is really a numbers game in a lot of ways and so you need to be strategic but you also need to be kind to yourself at the same time.

What is Confidence?

Lisa: That's a really great reminder, is just to not buy into the image creation that is happening and just know that there's more to the story. That's really good. And so we're talking right now about ways that people can just support themselves in the difficult situation with online dating, ways of reminding themselves about the truth of the situations and not compare themselves to others. And going into this idea, more deeply now of, confidence. That can be I think, for many people a very elusive experience. I think many people, most people struggle with self-doubt, and self-esteem. 

Sometimes feeling like they're maybe not quite as amazing as other people. I think it's part of the human condition. Confidence is this state of being that we strive for. We're sort of told we should be confident. And then of course, when we see confidence in others are like, “That's how it's done.” So can you break down in your experience? What is confidence? I mean, people who appear to be confident, what are they doing differently than people who are like, “Yeah, I'm not really all that great.” Can you just like, take us into it?

Neha: That is such a good question and such a big question, too. And so when I try to break down what confidence is or how it can present. I think part of it comes down to trust and self. Trust in our ability, trust in our power, trust in our judgment, especially too. When we notice ourselves feeling we kind of know what we're doing or we feel like we can sort of we're allowed to occupy space in a room. I think is kind of what it gets down to, as well.  We deserve to be in a relationship in which we are treated really well, or we deserve to have good things that happen to us. 

I think when we start reminding ourselves of our trust and self, it can feel connected to increasing our confidence in self. And I think when it comes to trusting self, I think at times, it can feel helpful to understand why maybe there are moments in which we don't feel our most confident self, I think a lot of this can go back to some explorative conversations, either by yourself with a trusted loved one, or even professionally to around. When were these moments in which I started to maybe not trust myself in which I was maybe given messages that I should be thinking a little bit differently than what my gut is telling me. I think when we can start bringing awareness to when this first started, or what maybe patterns we can notice within ourselves, we can start to create new changes in the way that we think or experience ourselves. 

I think when we also believe that we are intrinsically worthy of respect, power, and ability, we're starting to believe that we deserve these things rather than we need to earn these things. We deserve to trust ourselves rather than we need to earn trust in ourselves. One of the ways in which I encourage people to build confidence is — and as cliche or corny as this might sound — listing things that we like about ourselves. I think it's much easier for us to pinpoint the things that we don't like about ourselves, rather than honing in on the skills that we have that make us feel confident. The ways in which we can connect with ourselves or other people that bring us joy and happiness. 

Once we start to acknowledge the ways in which we are showing up in a confident way, we're starting to see them a little bit more often. Someone who might say that I have really low self-esteem or self-confidence and I'll challenge them or encourage them to think about a time in which they did feel confident. And then they might recall a moment that happened a day ago or three days ago or last week. I would encourage you to not only listing things but also pointing them out in the moment when it's happening.

Lisa: That's really good reminder, and just like retraining yourself to focus on the things you are doing right, the things you do know how to do. Because I think it's very easy to just fall into this super focused on the negative aspects of yourself or the issues that there's actually a lot going on. I'm just going to share something I think that our older listeners may resonate with us more because I think that this is something that does come with more age. But I think when I was younger, in my 20s I think that I thought that confident people had their act together.

They looked good, they said the right things, they seemed to just be together in a way that I didn't always feel or they had circumstances in their lives that I didn't have. And I thought that being confident was like creating those things. And I think one thing that has happened as I've gotten older is that really this idea of confidence is more around self-acceptance. Valuing and appreciating yourself for who you are, instead of try feeling like you have to be somebody different and just, “This is who I am and I say weird things and I'm kind of a mess and that is okay.”  

That is almost the definition of confidence in some ways. And I just wanted to mention that because I think especially for some of our maybe very young listeners. Well, I think that that's a hard one insight, I think you probably don't really get that until you get older, but I just wanted to float that so that they know it's coming down the line is that like, self-acceptance.

Neha: That's an important word, acceptance for self. I think there's like a bigger movement around authenticity, which is great. And we're also starting to notice some shifts on social media around this too, which I think is so great.

Lisa: I don't look at social media enough to know that. Tell me what's going on. 

Neha: I am on social media, I can tell you a ton of it.

Lisa: I can tell you, you are a young person. So that makes sense. 

Neha: We noticed Instagram posts of vulnerability of the conversations around mental health that we often don't see. We just see the perfect days, rather than the moments that don't feel so good. I think TikTok has really helped with some of these shifts as well, because they can't get compared to Instagram and please let me know listeners if I'm getting this wrong. But I think TikTok has opened up a level of it doesn't need to be perfect. I think people on TikTok  can feel silly, they can have greater conversations, they build low risks than Instagram, which are just snapshots of our life, but I think this movement towards authenticity is hopefully being introduced to Gen Z a little bit earlier than maybe Millennials or any older generations.

Lisa: That's refreshing. So you're saying that maybe I need a TikTok account, that will be my energetic home on social media? Do I have to learn how to dance because I don't know about that.

Neha: I think it's a prerequisite to be on TikTok that you have to do at least one dance. But I love that idea of self-acceptance and authenticity is sexy. It is confident being confident oneself. And I think we can underestimate the value of accepting ourselves. When we notice the person next door or the person on social media presenting to be so confident we try to recreate something that might not feel authentic to ourselves. Maybe a good question for people to consider is what does confidence for me really look like? When do I feel the most confident?

I know for myself, I feel most confident when I feel knowledgeable about something. When it feels like I can have a conversation and kind of like quote-unquote, know what I'm talking about, that makes me feel really confident. For others it might feel like if they learned a new skill, or if they're able to perform in a certain way like that is feeling confident. Maybe relationally it's when I feel like I can get a laugh out of somebody that makes me feel connected or confident. What does confident look like for someone relationally, professionally, in friendships, I think that's a great way to kind of understand what are we realistically aiming for, rather than trying to recreate something else that doesn't really fit for us?

Hang on to Your Authentic Self

Lisa: Well, that's such good advice. And I think, especially for somebody who's in the midst of the dating experience, there are so many things that can damage confidence. And so what I'm hearing you say is that one of the most important strategies for people to be using and remembering is that authentic clarity around who they and the parts of themselves that they really like and appreciate. And not trying to be different and that self-acceptance, and that it's actually the path to confidence is reminding yourself of who and what you already are, and why that is a good thing. And like finding ways of holding on to that. 

Even though these experiences are intrinsically rejecting a lot of times. Do you have any thoughts or advice for strategies or ideas that you've found that helped people hold on to that fundamental sense of, “I am okay, even if this guy— or whatever— online didn't know me well enough to even give me a chance to find out.” Or I think even harder for people like going on, not just one date but like six dates like it feels like it's you're on the on route to a new relationship and then actually it winds up not working out? Well, what would you advise somebody to do to just hang on to themselves, their authentic selves, through this?

Neha: I think first and foremost… I think it's so important to remind ourselves that sometimes, not all the time, it's not about you. Sometimes it's about the person who is sobbing a relationship or ghosting you they are ready to have the relationship. They realize that this isn't the relationship that they feel super compatible with. That expression of: you can be the sweetest peach on the peach tree but they might like apples instead. It has less to do with you and more to do with that person's preference and somebody really loves peaches. And they're gonna come and they're gonna find you and they're gonna adore you for the ways in which you show up, reminding ourselves that we are someone person and we also deserve to be picky.

We might also notice ourselves, wanting to end a relationship with somebody or not respond to someone's conversation. On the inverse, we know what it feels like to feel rejected. So try not to reject, or ghost people, I should say, in a way that feels unkind. I think also important to give ourselves a little bit of time and space to experience that rejection or to process it just a little bit, we can learn from the ways in which we learn from quote-unquote, mistakes. We can take care of ourselves in order to feel like we are showing up in our next potential relationship in a way that feels authentic to ourselves, rather than feeling like in that phase of rejection. If we aren't, connected back to ourselves, before we engage in, we could ultimately end up hurting someone else in that process. So we definitely want to be mindful of that.

Lisa: Say more about that — if we're not feeling fully like ourselves, we might wind up hurting somebody else. And what did you mean by that?

Neha: Yeah, so I think about experiencing rejection, and I might notice myself having lower confidence, reexamining myself, maybe feeling angry, or frustrated to a certain extent too. And then potentially wanting to hurt someone the way in which I felt hurt. Regardless of what the person did, or anything like that. Or we can show up disconnected in a conversation. We can show up emotionally not curious about the person — guarded is the perfect word — we can feel guarded in our presentation. And then the next person is going to think, “Well, what am I doing wrong in order to cause this person to respond this way?” So it's kind of like this domino effect that we can maybe notice or be contributing to this dynamic that is experienced within the dating world. 

In order for us to feel like we can reengage in a potential conversation with somebody else, I think it's so important to give ourselves some time, and yet time doesn't heal all, it's what we are choosing to do with that time.

How are we reflecting back on our experience in this? What are we doing in order to take care of ourselves? Sometimes compounding rejection can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, anxiety, and negative self-talk these types of things. I would encourage individuals to potentially if there are dosing themselves in a lower space for an extended period of time, and it feels intense — seek a professional to a therapist or coach, somebody who can help them sort of untangle the meaning that they're making around rejection in order to continue forward.

Lisa: Yeah, well, that's a good point. I think we've all been there, that negative loop starts in your head. The problem is that it feels true and it can be — no matter what you're looking for, you will be able to find evidence of that. I think it can be hard to get out of that kind of mental rut if you've been really like berating yourself or being harsh with yourself. It can get very easy to get tricked into believing the things you think and the things that you feel. They're not all helpful. 

When it comes to the dating process itself — I've heard you talk about some of the things that you try to teach your clients around this. We have our little dating coaching program, and like one of those first foundational steps is really getting clear about who you are, what you want. How do you think that that helps people hold on to their confidence and empowerment just right from the get-go?

Neha: I think when we have clarity around what our intentions for dating are, we can experience dating in a little bit of a more structured or intentional way. And I know I'm using that word left and right, but I really mean it. If we are clear around the type of relationship that we want, or why we're on the app — are we seeking a long-term relationship? Are we wanting a physical relationship with someone? Not only are we being clear with our intentions, but maybe we can also communicate those intentions to someone else. If people were to engage in online dating, and we're noticing transparency, we're noticing honesty, that in itself is confidence building.

I don't need to pretend what my intentions are, I know what my intentions are. I am on this app because I want a long-term relationship, not because I just want to chat with someone endlessly or just go on dates type of thing. I think when we're also exploring what has really helped or what has worked for us in the past, that can help with confidence too, If we reflect back on what relationships have really worked for me in the past, or what traits within certain relationships have worked for me. And maybe if we don't have as much dating experience or relational experience, we can be thinking about, “What type of relationship do I deserve to be in?” 

I intentionally use the word deserve with my clients versus what type of relationship do we want. Because when we think about deserve, I think we're able to notice that we have worth. We have self-worth not only as an individual but as a person as part within a relationship. We're able to examine just a little bit differently of “I deserve to be treated well.” I deserve to have someone who openly communicates. I deserve someone who understands my triggers, rather than I want a relationship that has good communication — which are important — but we're able to just understand a little bit more when we use that word deserve from my experience.

Repairing the Damage Done on Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

Lisa: Well, that's a nice reframe that what you desire compared to what you deserve. Although I'm thinking that — well, and that's probably a topic for another day, Neha. I was thinking about, that it's not uncommon for some of the people that we work with to have had relationships that were really toxic in some ways and where regrettable things happened. And over the course of those relationships, sometimes made to feel like they didn't deserve more. And I know that can take a lot of different forms and again, topic for a different podcast. 

But I guess I'm curious to know, I would imagine just because of understanding that and knowing people that in your work as a dating coach, and I use that term sort of loosely, and you say euphemistically because you're really a therapist, right? Like, I'm wondering how often you spent a lot of time with people just working on those like foundational self-worth repairing some of the damage that has been done in previous relationships. Maybe even a long time before we even think about posting a profile on a dating site? I mean, how common is that? Would you say it in your work?

Neha: I could maybe honestly say almost every single person that I work with, in dating coaching has experienced hurt in a relationship before or through a dating experience. So part of what it's like clarity, or working on ourselves is increasing self-awareness within our previous relationships. So what parts of our previous relationships is still very difficult? What types of difficult moments do we not want to experience again in a relationship? By talking this out by processing, we're not only wanting to untangle some of these false narratives that we can have about ourselves or hurtful narratives, I should say. But we're also being mindful of what types of like red flags we need to be mindful of avoiding in the future. 

I think part of a lot of people's experience, especially at the beginning of a relationship, or within dating is having rose-colored glasses on to a certain extent where we're just seeing the really great things in people which is important to acknowledge. And we also want to be mindful of not letting things slide that feel like a deal-breaker to us, just because we're connecting with this person. It might not be that you need to completely dissolve the relationship, but it would be a great cue for you to say something.

“I feel hurt. When you talk to me like this. I'm wondering if you can say it a little bit differently.” Or  “I feel disconnected to you when we go days without talking.” What do you think is a communication strategy or schedule that we can both feel comfortable with? A lot of people that I work with have described themselves as not wanting to present as too needy within relationships. Which I think is such an important word to break down a little bit more. 

I think there's a difference between being “needy” and having needs in a relationship or as an individual, which we all do. Asking your partner for  a scheduled date night is not you being needy, it’s you having a need within a relationship. I think that can also help build up confidence around communicating our needs feeling like we deserve to be in a relationship in which I feel safe enough to express my desires to this person or that I have these thoughts, feelings. What I've noticed with individuals who might notice themselves not verbalizing their needs or desires as much, is resentment can be built up not only for the person but themselves for where the relationship ended up. 

That is something that I also think as we reflect back on previous relationships, were there moments in which you felt like you couldn't communicate what your needs were because you didn't know how partner was going to interpret that. And sort of reworking and building up some of those like healthy communication skills, healthy relationship traits as well.

Lisa: There's so much good work to do. And I'm just thinking about the wisdom of what you're sharing. I mean, really, helping people be very clear and assertive, and feeling able to talk about how they feel and what they need just in that spirit of authenticity and confidence. And this is actually who I am and this is really what I want in a relationship. And just the wisdom of doing that early and often, particularly in a new relationship. Because the alternative is not talking about that, pretending to be somebody that you're not, feel a different way than you actually do. And having this relationship really be built on a foundation of inauthenticity and hiding. 

I'm imagining that that probably turns into a really nice reframe with your clients of somebody who has actually been talking about who they are and how they feel. And the other person is like, “I think I don’t want to date you anymore.” Instead of that being perceived as a rejection, having it feel like a, “Thank God, that that didn't get any further than it could have because that would not have been in a good relationship for me.” I mean, like to really have that be a very positive reframe.

Neha: That really comes back to compatibility rather than you doing something wrong. It is not wrong for you to be authentic, or to communicate, that just might mean that we have different alignment when it comes to how we communicate, or what our long term expectations are in a relationship. We're able to set to communicate those things that we need earlier into the relationship, just as you described. We're able to set the scene for what we hope this relationship can or might not turn it into.

Lisa: I’m thinking right now of some business advice actually, I once received, which is irrelevant, it's this idea that you should fail fast. If something isn't going to work out, you find that out as quickly as you possibly can and just be done with it — fail fast. I'm hearing that that same principle applies to dating really. Your job is to figure out swiftly who is incompatible with you and be done and not like so that it sort of liberates you to continue your search as opposed to doing that thing that people do, which is, well, “If I was different, maybe that would have worked out.”

Neha: So applicable, not only in the business world relationally., professionally, with friendships, too. I love the idea of, “It's okay, that it's not going to work out with this person.” It doesn't mean that something's wrong with you, something's wrong with them, it just means that we try again. Dating is really a numbers game in a lot of ways. We want to filter, and we want to filter fast. 

When it comes to conveying the things that we want, a lot of people will wonder, when do we start having these conversations? When do I start saying, “Yeah, I want to have kids.” This feels important relationship. That is an important thing to consider, too, when it comes to being authentic, but also being mindful of when you're introducing these bigger topics into a relationship.

Difficult Topics in Dating

Lisa: Well, let's talk about that. And I know that this is kind of going into the nuts and bolts of good dating strategies. While we're here together, how do you help your clients kind of figure out that balance? Because on the one hand, we do want to be authentic, and in a confident way, showing up as ourselves. And at the same time, not leading with a weird stuff. So how do you help people sort through that and figure out what the balance is?

Neha: Well, one reminder that I like to share with my couples that I got from you, Lisa, is the goal of a first date is to see if you want to have a second date or not. So when they think—

Lisa: Oh, great, I remember that. But it sounds really good.

Neha: It’s so helpful for people to think about, when we go on a first date, it's not that we need to start planning our life with this person. It's that we need to examine, do I enjoy this person's company? Do I feel like there could be a potential for us to connect again, or to connect one month down the road — something like that — as opposed to feeling like the first date is where I need to know if this is my life partner or not. I think that helps relieve some pressure. That is a lot of pressure to have on yourself to try to figure that out within one date. I think when it comes to introducing some of these conversations, I would encourage very practically to not have some of these conversations on the first date, maybe even on the second date. But maybe as we start to feel comfortable with this person.

And we want to understand like, “Does this person have similar values as me? Does this person have similar lifelong goals? Does this person want to be working for the rest of their lives? Or does this person want to quit their jobs tomorrow and travel the world with me?” Like we do want to understand, do our lifestyles sort of match up? And I think that is a great conversation to have a little bit earlier into the dating process at a very high level.

“What do you see yourself doing 5-10-15 years?” So if you see yourself traveling the world, how do you imagine yourself potentially starting a family if that is part of the conversation. I think there's a way to have these conversations in a way that feel like it flows into the conversation rather than it feeling like a job interview and saying, you want to have this does this feel true for you? That type of thing.

Lisa: That's such great advice and you're really talking about discernment. And, yes, do you like this person enough? Do you enjoy their company in a general sense enough to want to hang out with them again, and then it's, do I like this person enough to be talking about myself and my values and my kind of hopes and dreams for the future, and that it does take a long time to get to know people. And you're sort of advising this stance that I think is extremely appropriate, which is like, “I'm still checking you out. We're getting to know each other,” and this occurs over multiple interactions. But I think so often the case, and particularly when I talk with people who are really struggling with dating, they're not doing that. They are getting swept away by feelings. 

The first date lasts for 72 hours. They are — and not to sound moralistic because it's not about that — but like having sex with people that they've just met. They're not thinking through it. They're basing their responses on highly emotional factors that generally have no bearing on whether or not it's going to be a good relationship. I think that can really obscure a lot of things. Jumping into the deep end can really prevent people from doing what you're suggesting, which is, are our values compatible? What is this person's character? What do I want and deserve and is this person fundamentally capable of doing this with me? Or are they just hot and superficially charming? Because there's a time and a place for that too. Is that what you're describing?,

Neha: Absolutely, going back to that piece of clarity of dating with intention. If I am dating in order to have a long-term relationship, then what subliminal messages am I conveying to this person and very transparent conversations am I also having with this person. Just as you said, there's a time and a place to meet with someone just for a physical relationship, and that is perfectly fine. But if you're wanting to have a long-term relationship, then maybe we want to go into this first date, with some intention, or some boundaries around when we plan on ending the date, when we want to plan on reconnecting with this person. There's a difference between playing the game and feeling like you aren't putting effort into connecting with this person. 

When there are rules around waiting three days before you text somebody. I think, to a certain extent, if you're dating with intention, there isn't really a need to play games, especially if the other person that we're wanting to seek out is also ready for a long-term relationship. We're wanting to feel like we can authentically reach out to this person when we do want to connect with them, rather than feeling like we need to wait X amount of hours or days.

Red Flags in Overconfidence

Lisa: Yeah, that's a really good reminder. And then one last, and I know we're coming up on our time, but one last question on the subject of confidence in dating. I feel we would be doing a disservice to our listeners if we didn't address: is that, you and I both know from our training and our background is as therapists, that sometimes people who seem the most confident, are very charming, they're very witty, they look good, they smell good. They have the trappings of success. There's actually a correlation between those qualities and things like antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Sometimes the people who seem the most confident and attractive early on, are the ones that you should actually work really hard to stay away from. 

Are there any recommendations or pieces of advice that you can give our listeners certainly for them to be more authentically and confident in a healthy way? But being able to sort of discerning, as you said earlier, a potential red flag or warning sign around what antisocial personality disorder can actually look liken on the first date — highly attractive. How do you help people parse through that?

Neha: I encourage people to consider if the person that they're talking to is as interested in learning about you as they are interested in talking about themselves. Sometimes we can experience a person just wanting to talk about themselves or asking you questions in order to just give you their answer. I think that can feel like a red flag when it feels like there is an imbalance in the desire to have this kind of conversation, the desire to get to know one another. I think that is one to definitely look for when it comes to red flags. I think also self-awareness is something that feels so important to have within a relationship. 

People will ask me all the time, like, “How do I know if a person is the one?” And I'll always say,  “Does this person have a desire to grow and change with you? And does it feel like long-term values needs, goals are aligned?”  Thinking about that first one, it's not about them completely over apologizing, or being super hyper-vigilant to the ways in which they show up. But saying, “You know what, just a second ago, I said something, and I wish I could take it back, because I actually meant this”, or “This is what I'm actually trying to convey,” or “I apologize if that hurt your feelings. Here's what I meant to say.”

I think if a person can communicate that level of self-awareness, or maybe if even if that level of authenticity shows up for you, and you say something like, “You know what? Help me understand what you mean by this.” And they're able to examine why you might be answering that question. I think that's a great indicator of having that level of self-awareness. And so the opposite of that lack of self-awareness, lack of accountability is also a red flag.

Lisa: That is great advice that if the other side of the table is similarly confident in an authentic way that is based on self-awareness and personal responsibility, and taking ownership and being vulnerable, that's a good sign that it is genuine, healthy confidence, versus one that feels fragile or potentially harmful. Because people can be very confidently love-bombed and be swept away, and not until a long time later be like, “Wow, that was not what I was looking for.”

Okay, I just wanted to talk about that a little bit. Because, again, the topic of confidence in dating. There are other elements of this for people to be aware of, but thank you for spending this time with me today, Neha, this was such a wonderful conversation. I am so appreciative just of all of the really good insights and also like the actionable ideas you shared with our listeners today. Thank you.

Neha: Absolutely. It was such a pleasure. And as a final reminder that dating is hard and it takes time and it takes confidence and you can do it.

Lisa: What a wonderful — I think people need to be reminded of that, to keep going. Oh, good. Thank you again for doing this with me and we'll have to visit another time. 
Neha: I would love that. Thank you so much, Lisa.

Why You Keep Dating Jerks

Why You Keep Dating Jerks

Why You Keep Dating Jerks

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


Music in this episode is from “Automatic” with “Damage.”

Why You Keep Dating Jerks

“Why am I attracting the wrong people?” 

“How can I avoid dating ‘players?’” 

“Why do I keep dating jerks?” 

I can’t tell you how many times a therapy or dating coaching client has asked me questions like these, usually through tears. They’re often reeling in the aftermath of a traumatic breakup, reflecting on a painful dating history, and feeling bleak about their odds of ever finding a healthy, loving relationship in the future. 

When you fall for partners who cheat, who mistreat you, who don’t value you, or who just aren’t capable of being in a healthy relationship, it’s painful. When this becomes a pattern, dating can feel like a carousel of heartbreak and disappointment, where the only choices are between toxic connections and being alone

But if you’re reading this, I’m here to tell you that you have other, better choices. You still have time to get off this ride, stop accepting relationships with jerks, and go find real love

On today’s episode of the podcast, I’m going to tell you how. Joining me for this conversation is Sarah, a “Love, Happiness and Success” listener who graciously volunteered to share her difficult dating history, and to discuss how she broke free from a pattern of dating jerks to find a healthy, loving relationship

We’re talking about why jerks can seem so darn datable, the romantic myths that keep you stuck, and the deep work you can begin today to banish jerks from your love life, once and for all. 

I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Why You Keep Dating Jerks

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


Music in this episode is from “Automatic” with “Damage.”

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Why You Keep Dating Jerks: Episode Highlights

No one deserves to be lied to, cheated on, used, neglected, strung along, ghosted, or gaslit. Unfortunately, many people experience a toxic relationship with a jerk at some point. And for some, dating jerks is the norm. 

If you have a history of choosing partners who don’t treat you with love and respect, it’s time to examine your dating patterns, get curious about where they’re coming from, and start shifting them in a healthy new direction. 

This is deep, fundamental, important work. It can improve your relationships across the board — not just in your dating life. 

The Myth of the “Right Person” 

Step one in breaking through a pattern of dating jerks is to let go of a story that’s pervasive in our culture: that you just haven’t met the right person yet, and that once you do, everything will fall into place. 

Of course, meeting a kind, available, and trustworthy person (who’s also crazy about you) is a wonderful thing. But if you have a longstanding pattern of dating partners who don’t treat you well, you have some barriers to healthy relationships to dismantle first. Until you begin the dismantling, you’re likely to repel the “right person” when you meet them or to reject them yourself. 

Your real work isn’t to continue sifting through potential partners and hoping for the best. It’s to heal and grow until a healthy, loving relationship is the only relationship that fits. 

Attachment Issues and Dating Jerks

When I have a client — often a woman — sitting on my couch after yet another painful breakup, asking, “Why do I keep attracting the wrong man?,” I start with a few questions about her childhood. 

Did you experience abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a child? Was trauma a feature of your early years? Do you have a difficult or painful relationship with one or both of your parents? 

If your early childhood attachments weren’t safe, secure, and loving, this is the likely root of any unhealthy romantic attachments you’re experiencing as an adult. It’s very common for people to be drawn to partners who remind them of an early attachment figure and try to get the love and care from these partners that they didn’t get as kids. 

These relationships often lead to heartbreak, and repeating them, again and again, is like injuring the same body part over and over. If you suspect attachment issues are at the root of your painful romantic patterns, book an appointment with an attachment-oriented therapist or divorce recovery specialist who can help you break the cycle. 

To learn more about how you attach to partners, take our attachment styles quiz.  

Stop Over-Focusing on “Chemistry”

Some of the biggest jerks in the dating pool initially present as attractive, fun, wildly successful types. These sparkly people make your brain dispense pleasure chemicals in their presence — a sensation that can be confused with compatibility or love. 

But like most highs, the hangover is usually close behind. You may discover that this exciting person is all charm and no substance, or that their intense interest in you peters out shortly after they get you into bed. 

Meanwhile, many non-jerks aren’t so sparkly at first blush. They may downplay their accomplishments, rather than highlight them. It may take some time to discover the best parts of their personality. They may not lavish you with attention or flattery right off the bat, instead, they may take the time to actually get to know you. 

All of this can feel a bit… boring. Especially if you’re accustomed to “love” feeling like a quick dopamine hit. 

Of course, there are some sparkly, charming people who also happen to be excellent partners (and some less sparkly people who also happen to be jerks). But if you’re overfocusing on chemistry — on how you feel in another person’s presence — you might be choosing a short-term high over genuine, enduring love. 

Are You Actually Dating Jerks? 

Sometimes we believe we’re dating jerks, when in fact our love lives are unfolding in the natural, sometimes difficult way that love lives tend to unfold — and yes, that includes the occasional breakup that’s difficult to recover from.

You may think your partner’s a jerk when you realize they’re not who you wanted them to be, and you’re feeling hurt or disappointed about that. This is a sign that you need to move slower and take more time to get to know people, before getting deeply attached. 

It could also be that the person you’re dating just doesn’t have the same level of interest in you that you have in them, and is communicating this in various ways that feel a little jerky. They may be slow to respond to your messages, unmotivated to make plans, or unwilling to commit to your relationship. This kind of rejection hurts, and it can be hard to get over it. But it doesn’t make them a jerk unless they’ve deceived you in some way about your relationship (which happens!). To avoid situations like this, learn to judge potential partners by the effort they’re putting into your relationship. If you’re not seeing effort, that’s your cue to move on. 

Finally, we sometimes think we’re dating jerks, when in fact our own unresolved issues are introducing unhealthy elements into the relationship mix. The way you show up in relationships will affect the feedback you receive from partners, and if you’re getting a lot of the same, unpleasant feedback, that could be a sign that your own style of relating needs to change. 

And if you do need to work on how you show up in relationships, you’re in great company. Relationships are an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow into better versions of ourselves, and to develop essential relationship skills like empathy, communication, listening, and emotional intelligence

How to Stop Dating Jerks

There could be a number of reasons for your pattern of dating jerks, and many of those reasons are best worked through with the help of a good dating coach or therapist

But there is one thing you can do all on your own, that can change your dating life for the better: Get clear about who you are and what you’re looking for in a relationship. 

Do you know what your values are? Do you know where you’re headed in life? Do you know where your boundaries are in relationships, what you’ll accept and what you’ll walk away from? If you’re looking for someone to spend your life with, what qualities will that person have? 
Once you’re clear on the answers to these questions, dating will feel a lot easier. You’ll find yourself drawn toward emotionally healthy partners who fit into the life you’re committed to building, and the jerks will lose their sparkle.

Episode Show Notes:

[02:33] A Harmful Dating Pattern

  • Gaining self-awareness can help you understand and recognize toxicity in your relationships.
  • Being stuck in a harmful pattern can be traumatizing and prevent you from finding the real, healthy love you want and deserve.
  • It’s ultimately your power — and your responsibility — to make things better for yourself.
  • Clear the deck for new ideas! It’s not luck or chance that will help you — it will be you and your growth.

[06:29] Jerks And Attachment Styles

  • You may have unresolved attachment issues from your childhood.
  • You might never feel safe or secure in relationships, requiring plenty of validation. On the other hand, you might be keeping people at a distance.
  • Involving yourself with someone with an unhealthy attachment style can cause you to act in unhealthy ways, too, even if you were secure before the relationship.

[12:57] Why Do I Attract Jerks? Jerks Are Attractive!

  • Jerks tend to be superficially charming — they’re often good-looking, fun, and successful.
  • It’s easy to get swept off your feet when you first meet them.
  • Jerks may have narcissistic or sociopathic traits or have highly avoidant attachment styles.
  • Nice, kind, and securely attached people are not that flashy. Developing a real relationship often feels like growing a friendship.

[16:15] Not Everyone Is A Jerk

  • Emotionally healthy people will get to know you over a period of time. It won’t be as exciting and will usually feel calm and peaceful.
  • If you’ve been dating a lot of jerks, a healthy person might seem boring.
  • Some people may realize they’re incompatible with you and reject you. This doesn’t mean either of you are bad people.

[22:16] Dating People Who Aren’t Jerks

  • Being a good partner is a learned skill.
  • If you can’t show up well in a relationship, your partner might pull away.
  • It’s critical to face yourself as well. What are you doing to create these outcomes? Are you bringing harmful patterns to the relationship?
  • Take time to understand yourself and your values.

[33:16] Unrealistic Expectations of Dating

  • A good beginning doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.
  • Some people might only show negative behaviors later in a relationship.

[41:51] Dating A Jerk Advice: “Red Flags”

  • Red flags can get buried by powerful feelings at the start of a relationship.
  • They also come in waves — you may have a great day, followed by multiple arguments.
  • Heeding the “red flags” in a relationship is a valuable lesson to learn.

[48:51] Attracting the Wrong People

  • Attempting to “fix” someone tends to backfire.
  • It pays off to introspect and understand yourself. 
  • You deserve better; be with someone who builds you up.

[57:09] How to Date a Nice Guy After Dating Jerks

  • Focus on a potential partner’s demeanor before jumping to conclusions.
  • Cultivate mutual commitment, honesty, and authenticity in a relationship.
  • Take your time getting to know someone.


Music in this episode is from “Automatic” with “Damage.”

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On today's show, we are exploring a question. I know many of you have been asking yourselves at some point or another, which is, “Why do I keep dating jerks?” I know that this has been on your mind because I've had a lot of you reach out to me through our website — growingself.com, through Instagram. With these situations, you're like, “You know what? I did it again. Why do I keep getting myself in these relationships, in these situationships, wind up not being a good fit for me? I don't like it, I don't want to do it anymore, but I also don't know how to stop.” And that's valid. 

Today, we are devoting a whole episode into unpeeling this onion and answering some of these questions for you. I have something exciting planned for us today. I am going to be doing a couple of things. I am an information person, as you probably figured out now if you've listened to the show before. I am going to be providing information and insight — just things that I have learned over the years in my role as a therapist, a dating coach, a counselor here at Growing Self. 

Then, I also am going to be speaking with one of my listeners, one of your compadres, one of our community has raised her hand. We actually put a call out on Instagram recently around, “Have you had a pattern of dating jerks? Do you want to talk about it with Dr. Lisa?” Our friend, Sarah, raised her hand and said that she has been working on this for a long time, and she also had this pattern and has some very special and hard-won insights to share with you about her process in this area. Lots of fun stuff in store for us today.

If this is your first time listening — hello, welcome. I'll make this quick. Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby — founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I'm a Marriage and Family Therapist, I'm a psychologist, I'm a life coach. This show is all about love, happiness, and success, and your love, happiness, and success specifically. If you have questions, or topics you would like me to talk about on the show, if you have a question for me and would like to discuss it with me on the show, I hope you raise your hand and get in touch. hello@growingself.com is how you can email. You can also get in touch on Instagram, @drlisamariebobby

A Harmful Dating Pattern

First of all, let's just talk about this pattern, which is so common. I know that many people who come to our practice, Growing Self, we do a number of different things here. We do couples counseling, we do career stuff — even our individual clients that we work with, the work that we do is often very relational in nature. I've done a lot of research and writing on the topic of breakup recovery, and I think is an extension of that when people heal and grow. It can turn into dating coaching, which is wonderful. 

That can also be a difficult experience for people, particularly if they haven't done a lot of this deeper work around patterns and subconscious motivations. Without that insight, without that self-awareness, dating can often be extremely discouraging and disappointing, I should say. The hope of this podcast today is to arm you with some new ideas to help make it more positive and productive for you. Again, as with all these podcasts, this is information. Information is not the same thing as having a growth experience. But hopefully, you'll hear some things today that you can put to use in your own life that would be helpful for you. 

You deserve to have help with this because it's an awful experience of feeling like you try to have relationships with these people. Just over and over again, you're getting involved with people who treat you badly or they're untrustworthy — maybe they've cheated on you, maybe they weren't emotionally available, or maybe you just leave this experience feeling like they're not valued, and that is terrible.

It's hurtful to experience, but also, if we don't figure out ways to break these patterns, it can be traumatizing and can really hold you back in some ways from trying again, daring to trust again, and put yourself out there again, and finding the real, healthy love that you want and deserve. I am here to tell you — the good news is that these patterns are 100% within your power to change, and it is your power to change it. Meaning, that it is also ultimately your responsibility to change it.

Tip number one: one of the biggest things I found that can be a huge barrier for people on this path of growth is this idea that, “I just haven't met the right person yet. When I do, this will be completely different. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, I'm talking to all these different people, and sooner or later, I will meet the right person, and then I will have a different experience, and this will all be better.” I am here to tell you that certainly, meeting the right person can be glorious and leads all good things. 

Unless you've done deeper levels of growth work, you will have a really hard time meeting that person. Here's the fun part: if you do meet that person, you will reject them. There's a lot to unpack here today. The first thing that I would like to request, as we do this work together today, is that you release that old narrative of I just haven't found the right person, and I'm just going to put it over here next to me while we're talking. I will hand it back to you the end of today's broadcast. 

But in the meantime, just clear the decks for some new ideas that will have more impact on your life ultimately because it's not luck, it's not chance — it's you. It's you learning, and growing, and gaining self-awareness and clarity, and being able to understand your patterns so that you can ultimately find freedom from them.

Jerks And Attachment Styles

One of the reasons that people have jerks in their life — a string of jerks going back for decades, different shapes and sizes, but jerk-wise nonetheless, and this one is hard to wrap your arms around. 

If this is true for you, it is likely that you will need some professional support in order to work through this. But if you emerged from childhood as many people have with damaging experiences in your very early primary relationships with one or both of your parents, it may have left you with what we call “attachment issues”. 

You may be on either side of the spectrum, you may have a tendency towards anxious attachment where you never quite feel safe or secure in relationships, and you need a lot of validation and people telling you that they love you, and showing you that they love you, or you start to feel really anxious, and that can lead to controlling behaviors in relationships sometimes that makes it difficult to have the kind of relationship that you want. 

You may also have come out of that with what we call an “avoidant attachment style”, which is that you, from a very early age, became heavily defended and even are now subconsciously really protecting yourself from getting too close to other people, which in practice typically looks like being extremely perfectionistic and critical of the people that you date and get to know. 

You can start to get to know somebody, and it seems good so far. Then sooner or later, they're not perfect anymore, you have all these reasons why they're not your person, and you will withdraw from relationships — even if you don't want to. I've talked to so many people, and it's like a physical — like they feel grossed out by a person almost, it's like on a physiological level

It is very common for people who have anxious attachment styles and avoidant attachment styles to come together in a non-blissful union, and essentially torture each other for several months before breaking up, and then oftentimes repeating that with a different person with a same kind of complementary attachment style. 

I also want to say that any of us in a certain type of relational system can exhibit an attachment style on one side of the spectrum or the other. If you are in a relation with somebody, for example, if you have a secure attachment style fundamentally, and if you are in a relationship with an avoidant person, you will become anxious and you will start looking like an anxiously attached person in that relationship. 

If you are a securely attached person, and you start dating somebody who has an anxious attachment style, you will very predictably move into this avoidant relational style with them because of their kind of way of showing up in the relationship. One way to dig into this and to see if it's deeper attachment things going on at a much deeper level is to ask yourself, and it could be with the help of a therapist or you unpack this, “Did I essentially grow up, from the ages of zero to five, in a highly emotionally unsafe or physically unsafe environment?” 

Not that you needed to have perfect parents. Everybody's parent is a weirdo in one way or the other. This is not parent-bashing, but patently unsafe. It was bad, you are suspect that it was left with traumas, left with scars, and it has persisted and been in these kinds of stable patterns in every relationship over time. But that would be a sign that there's some deeper work to do. 

I just wanted to say that first because I think what these kinds of questions like, “Why do I date jerks?” We think that there's some simple answer, and if you've lived through awful things in your early childhood, I want to be a better friend to you than that by suggesting that there's some simple amp answer and do these three things, and it will be better. There is a longer road ahead, and it's okay, and it can be healed, and it's going to be an intentional process, and it's also difficult to do alone. 

But until you do that, it's going to be hard to break out of those patterns because not only do you have your own attachment style that will interfere with healthy relationships anyway, but it's almost like your antenna is a little bit bent. You're going to be fundamentally more attracted to people who are going to be nothing but trouble for you. 

Herr Freud, back in the day, noticed this in some of his patients, and it would show up in different places, but he termed it “repetition compulsion”, and observed the fact that people who had very traumatic experiences, particularly with their parents, particularly in early childhood, would try to heal it, close the gap, have a healing experience with a person in their adult life who was very similar to one of those abusive parents like, “I couldn't get the love and care that I needed from my abusive father, so I'm going to find this guy who's very similar to my abusive father, actually, and try to do this with him. In that way, have that healing experience”, and it doesn't work, and it is also highly subconscious. People don't even realize that they're doing it. 

If any of this is ringing a bell for you, you can just stop listening to the “How to Not Date Jerks” podcast, and just make an appointment with a good therapist who has an attachment-based orientation to help you dig through some of this, and do a deeper level of more meaningful work. Just invest in it, and trust that through this deeper work, you will be ready to heal, and grow, and find a wonderful person. But until you do the work, that time that you spend dating will not be helpful to you. That's my first piece of advice, for better or for worse.

Jerks Are Attractive

Another reason that I often see why people have a pattern of dating jerks when we unpack this is because jerks are often incredibly attractive humans — they really are. When we think about the stereotypical jerk, they don't say terrible things, and act in horrific and shocking ways when you first meet them. No — they are often superficially charming. They are smooth talkers. They look good, they smell good, they often have admirable careers, and they can be really fun to talk to. 

They’ll sweep you off your feet, an experience that I think a lot of people are craving. They are subconsciously, when they're going out and thinking about who they're attracted to — or feeling attracted to, I should say, is people with a lot of sex appeal who have established good careers and these kind of admirable lives, and who are again, good talkers. Sometimes, there are certainly wonderful humans in the world that can be all of those things — they're talented, they're fun, they're smart, they're charming, they're accomplished, and they're also kind. That happens, it's a thing. 

But oftentimes people who are not all that kind, who may actually have narcissistic or sociopathic personality traits, or who have highly avoidant attachment style, which is can be associated with sociopathic or narcissistic personality traits, often present as all that and a bag of chips when you first meet them. That is actually something that I have — part of my spidey sense that I've developed with other humans over the years is if somebody seems too good to be true, and is flattering you, and love bombing you, and talking about all these amazing things, wants to fly you somewhere on their private plane, that makes my narcissist alarm start flaring. 

Just pay attention to that and think about who you are attracted to, what those patterns are, and whether or not you might have a proclivity to sexy-hot chicks or the suave-debonair guys because again, there can be a pattern there. I think if you are prioritizing that charming experience, that butterfly experience, that exciting experience, that super sexy experience with people that you're just getting to know. 

If that is what you're looking for, and that's what you're vibing in the direction of when you are seeking partners — if you're looking through online dating apps, or starting to text with people, or go first dates, you are going to be, by definition, rejecting people who are non-jerks, because most of the time, very nice, kind, decent, securely attached people are not that flashy. They're not trying to impress you, they're not trying to lovebomb you — they are just going about their life and looking for somebody nice to connect with, and go and do fun things with, and develop a real relationship with which often feels like developing a friendship with somebody.

Not Everyone Is A Jerk

A secure, emotionally healthy person is going to want to get to know you over a period of time, and it's going to feel relatively calm and peaceful. They don't want to have a 72-hour first date with you, so they often have healthy boundaries, they're being appropriate. If you have a pattern of being attracted to the feeling, if you're looking for that feeling, you're going to encounter non-jerks and think, “Hmm, they’re boring”, or, “This doesn't feel like it should”, because there isn't that sizzle sort of feeling. 

Sometimes I'm sorry to say, people can even take this a step further. They have criteria that very nice, decent potential partners might not meet in terms of career aspirations, how much money they make, how much they weigh, how tall they are. If you are looking for superficial characteristics to guide your dating life, and not paying a lot of attention to things like values, and character, and who this person fundamentally is — you have a much higher likelihood of connecting with a superficial person because that's the energy that you're coming into this with. 

I'm not saying that to be critical towards you, but just to bring it into your consciousness because this is a mistake that a lot of people are making and not even realizing that they're doing it. Again, knowledge is power, self-awareness is power, and if this is something that could be true for you, it's really important to get clear and reflective around this so that you can break the pattern and do something different. 

Now, another reason why you may feel like you are dating jerks and have a pattern of taking jerks — you might not actually be dating jerky people, you might be dating people that, over time, you come to realize are fundamentally incompatible with you. It's not a good fit, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they're a bad person. 

But if you are feeling angry, or disappointed, or let down by them because they are not who you wanted to be, that would be a good sign that one of the reasons why you feel like you're dating jerks is that you are getting involved with people on a more intimate level too quickly that if you had given yourself the time to slow down and get to know them a little bit better over time, you would have come to the realization that is not a good fit just in terms of who you are, what you want, personalities, the way that you communicate, values. It takes time to do that.

If you find yourself being really disappointed or surprised that people aren't who you thought they were, it's a good sign that you're probably moving too fast — and a fix for this would be to slow it down, and really understand dating as a process of getting to know someone. You're evaluating each other, “Is this somebody that I can have a nice long-term relationship with?” It is normal and expected that you would be getting to know people sometimes and saying, “Actually, no. Now that I've gotten to know you a little bit better, I'm not sure that this does feel like a good fit — not sure how much I like you anymore.” Totally fine. 

It doesn't mean that person is a jerk, it means that you've done a good job and you're both free to go. Now, there's also a corollary to this. You could be, again, not dating jerks, but dating people who are not that interested in having a relationship with you. When you are trying to have an attachment and you're all excited about somebody, and they're not that into you, you are not their person, you are not what they're looking for — you're going to feel that, and it's going to show up in the way that they're behaving towards you. 

They won't be committed to you, they may not be thoughtful about you, they may not be saying nice things, they might not be working that hard to try to make you feel good because this isn't a relationship that feels like something they want to build with you. In these cases, I think it can be easy to look at these patterns of behavior and think, “Oh, that is a bad person because they're not treating me kindly”, or “they're not being respectful”, or “they're not following through”, when in reality, maybe they're not like a fundamentally horrible human being, they're not a monster — they're communicating that this isn't a good relationship for you to be in with them. They don't want to do this with you. 

What is also horrible, but it is true and it is common is that many people don't like to be alone, and they will happily date a good enough person that can get strung along and can be like a placeholder in their life while they're waiting for the right person to come along. If you're with somebody who has a pattern of being checked out, or isn't working that hard to be with you, there is a possibility that you might be occupying that space in somebody else's life. It is so crappy and horrible to think about this — it really is. 

I feel like you deserve to know the truth so that you can make informed decisions on your own behalf into not try to make somebody treat you better or feel differently about you, that it's okay to just be done — and it doesn't mean anything about you either. I think we can all reflect, scrolling back through our minds about people that we connected with for a little while. For whatever reason, they weren't bad people. They were fine, They were attractive, they were nice in their own way, but they just weren't our person. I think we've all been in those brief relationships.

Dating People Who Are Not Jerks

I think that can help manage some of the self-esteem, “Oh, if I had done something different or better or whatever, then they would have liked me more.” Let's just not do that and accept the fact that there are people that you're not compatible with, and they're not compatible with you, and that can just be okay. They're not a jerk, you're not a jerk, and we can all move on. There's no need to demonize people in that space. 

Then, the other situation that we do need to talk about — there are two pieces of this. There are situations where you can get into a pattern of dating people who are not jerks. If you are bringing unresolved stuff into a relationship with you — like going back to exhibit A when we were talking about attachment issues. If you have work to do in those areas, and you haven't, and you are dating people anyway, and you are engaging with them in some of those either avoidant or anxious attachment styles, people will begin to feel an act and be jerky-er than they were when you first met them. 

Because relationships are systems, and I think it's important for all of us to be aware of how we are engaging with other people and the impact that is having on them. It might not even be due to attachment styles. If you haven't done work around like emotional intelligence, and maybe communication skills are not something that you've taken time to develop in yourself, and maybe if you haven't had a lot of relationships and haven't done some work around, “How do I be a good partner for someone else?” 

Even simple things like learning how to be emotionally validating, being intentional about showing love and respect to other people — these are learned skills. If you are showing up in relationships, and you don't know how to do these things, and other people are having not-so-great experiences with you as a result, they're going to pull away from you, and they're going to decide — like what we talked about — that you're not their person, and they're going to be less responsive to you, they're going to be less interested in making you happy, and it's going to start feeling to you like they're being mean to you, they're being a jerk. 

When in reality, they're having reactions to the things that maybe you're bringing to the relationship. Again, I am not saying these things to be harsh, or mean, or scary — but I think that there's a lot of somewhat questionable dating advice around social media and other platforms. What I'm here to do on this podcast is to help you gain insight and awareness into yourself. I think it can be very difficult to identify some of these things. 

It is much easier to demonize others, to blame them for the experiences that we're having in relationships. It's difficult emotionally to look into the mirror and be like, “Okay, what am I doing to create these outcomes? What are the patterns that I'm bringing in? And what are the things that may be difficult to look at, but that I really need to look at because I want something better for myself?” 

The path of growth is often one of reality-based, authentic, sometimes darkness. We need to grapple with things that are real and true and sometimes challenging on the path of growth. I just wanted to mention these things because I've seen them come up so often in my clients and with other people, and I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I weren't honest with you. For what it's worth, those are some of the reasons why you may feel like you are dating jerks. 

Very lastly, and then we will shift gears, another thing that I have seen in addition to all of the above is, I think of what I've shared probably the most easily solvable of problems if you will, which is not that there's an attraction issue or rejection of good partners, or a way of showing up in relationships that's not ideal. But rather, that you haven't yet put the time and effort into getting really clear about who you are, your values — like the things that are most important to you to getting clarity about how you want a relationship to feel, the kind of partnership and life that you'd like to have with another person. 

I'm not talking about like that extremely specific, “Okay, she needs to be 5’8”, and she needs to have sandy blonde hair.” Those kinds of things are not what I'm talking about. But it's more around, “I really want to be with an emotionally safe person that I can talk to about real things. I want to feel valued by this person, I want to feel fundamentally respected by this person, I want to feel like we're going on in the same direction in life. By the way, what is that direction that I want to go in? I have to get clear about that before I can figure out if somebody is going in the same direction as me or not.” 

Doing that kind of self-exploration work can build the foundation of clarity. Then, when you do start dating again, you can be looking for people who are much more than just attractive or fun to talk to. It's more around, “What kind of experience would I have with this person as a long-term partner?” 

Off the bat getting to know people for who they are, and deciding as you're dating whether or not this feels good for you, this feels compatible, “Am I experiencing greenlights with this person, and I want to keep getting to know them and getting deeper into the pool of a relationship?” Or, “Am I having experiences that don't feel really good for me, or making me worry that we’re not that compatible?” And, “Am I overriding my own good judgment here because I'm excited about this person because they feel attractive to me. I feel butterflies — they're sexy.” 

Remembering that they're very different parts of our mind, and that the part of your mind that feels, the part of your mind that experiences, excitement, and attraction is not the same part of your mind that has the ability to think critically and make good decisions, and that's really the part of your mind that you need to stay engaged with when you're dating. Okay, so this was a quick crash course in things to think about when you're dating. 

If you are interested in more on the subject, there's a lot more on this on previous podcasts. You can scroll back through, or certainly, hop over to the blog at growingself.com, and check out some of our good dating advice over there. We do also have a little dating coaching program. If you want to dig into some of this work, there are activities and worksheets, and things that you can do to gain insight. But I tell you, there's not, I think, a substitute for, in some ways, talking to somebody about this because that's where you really get help in uncovering those blind spots and developing the kind of self-awareness that we all need to make different choices and to get different outcomes. 

This concludes the informational part of our broadcasts. Now, though, I really wanted to do something to make this more — not like real, but I'm a big believer in understanding, gaining wisdom, and understanding the depth of awareness by not just reflecting on our own experiences and taking in information, but really hearing about the stories of others. 

For this reason, I have invited Sarah to join us on the show. Sarah is actually a listener of the podcast, and we began doing a new thing recently where we thought it would be fun instead of just talking abstractly and from a distance about your questions and the topics that were most important to you guys, “Hey, let's start bringing people on the show and actually having real conversations that I'm sure you'll be able to relate to.” 

We put a little post out on Instagram who says, “Hey, who has had the experience of dating jerks?” Sarah was kind enough to raise her hand and share that — you're intimately familiar with those. I thought it would be so fun just to, maybe if it's okay with you, get some insight into your story, and the things that you learned along the way for the benefit of our community here on the podcast. So, thank you. 

We do not have to go into all the details, of course. But when I'm working with somebody in the capacity of a therapist, or a dating coach, one of the most important places that we will start is with your relationship history because that's when we can start to see patterns. I think that when we're living in the moment, it's hard, sometimes, to know why we do what we're doing. But I'm curious to know you've shared that you over time noticed a pattern of dating jerks. Would you give us the short version of your dating history to the degree that you're comfortable? And when did you begin to notice that this was a pattern for you? 

Sarah: I have only really ever been in two long-term relationships that were actually established relationships where it wasn't just talking or getting to know one another — those stages that are very popularized now. One of which I'm in right now, the other one was with a previous partner. We've been almost broken up for an entire year now, and my boyfriend and I currently have been together for — it'll be six months in four days.

Lisa: Congratulations.

Sarah: Yes — and he is wonderful. He's definitely not a jerk. Definitely not any of the things that I've experienced with previous parties. But out of everyone who wasn't in either of these two relationships with me who I did, myself, being attracted to and attracting, the qualities that I noticed, it was initially — I was expecting a spark. Dating coaches will say certain things like that — and it depends on the dating coach and their expertise, of course. 

But the way that so many things are mainstream nowadays, it felt like I was supposed to be, “Okay, I know I have a chance with someone like this. Or maybe I feel like, “I feel a connection there. I feel like there could be something that can grow and transpire from this.” When really, I was giving my I was getting my own hopes up and give myself a way to easily, allowing myself to become vulnerably and emotionally attached and tethered to this person. 

Any of these people, very quickly — with how much time we would spend together, what we would talk about, how I felt like they might have been different quote-unquote, “from the last person”, and it's kind of like whenever I noticed a pattern. That’s what I found myself doing most often.

Unrealistic Expectations of Dating

Lisa: That is so relatable. I see that so often in my clients. I'm hearing that they're these two pieces of it. First of all, it’s one that is so common — it’s looking for this feeling and expecting to feel a certain way that ultimately wound up not being a reliable indicator that this was actually a good person in our relationship. But can we unpack this for a second? Because I think especially with women — sometimes with men, but like I see people do this so often. What was that feeling that you thought you should have? 

Sarah: I, now, can recognize it as an unsteady and unstable — dare I say like insecurity-ridden feeling, “Wow, this person will complete me. I'm only half of a person. I'm looking for someone to make me whole”, have nearly unrealistic expectations of how the relationship will pan out whenever you don't even know them for that long, whenever you are unsure of one another's moral compass — or if you guys want the same things, are they thinking of you the same way that you're thinking of them. 

But that spark, that feeling is just butterflies — it's the nervousness, newness of it all, the magic of meeting someone new. It can't rely on a single spark. I know that I'm listing a bunch of different things aside from dating. 

Lisa: Oh no, it's wonderful. I appreciate you unpacking all this perspective. I'm hearing that there's that spark, that kind of chemistry feeling. Then, I think I'm hearing that it bloomed into a lot of fantasy. You talked about having a hope that you found the person that could “complete you” potentially. 

Can you say a little bit more about that? I know that you have a different perspective now because you've worked on yourself, obviously. But what can you take us back to that time of what would be some of the things that you would be imagining or telling yourself about one of these people who wound up not being a good partner for you? 

Sarah: One person I can think of in particular would be my ex. He immediately swept me off my feet. At first, I felt, “Wow, he has a good head on his shoulders. He seems like he knows what he wants in life.” He seems very sure of himself — and it wasn't so much a confidence thing. It was more like, “Wow, he seems like sure about me”, at the very beginning. It made me feel wanted, and I deserve someone who's very loving, and caring, and compassionate about me. 

But the way that someone appears to you at first is all you know of them. It doesn't give you much time to really make a good educated guess on how the rest of the relationship will transpire. It is easy to fantasize. But a lot of times, I found that I was let down by the discussions that we'd have and where I thought, “He was everything I wasn't”, or “He was super similar to me in certain ways.”

I thought that, “Oh, well — maybe he could very well complete me. Maybe, he could be that one piece of my jigsaw puzzle that has been missing and arrived for so long.” Struggling to figure out how to fit him in was where a lot of conflict arose. 

Lisa: No, I get that. Then, to understand, there's so many people who are creative, and intelligent, and conscientious is that you used the word “fantasy”, but imagine these things, imagine qualities that you had and qualities that he had, especially in the early stages of the relationship where he was making you feel really good. He came on strong, he said all the things, you're like, “Wow, I am loved! This is it! I'm having this experience.” 

But then, you're saying that there were ideas about what should be happening, expectations that you wanted him to fit into, and then that is when it started feeling hard sometimes. Is that it? What would be an example of that? 

Sarah: An example would be, I think, whenever he was so chivalrous and charismatic at the very beginning, but then maybe there'll be an instance where I found that, “Oh, he didn't do that thing that he did once before. Why isn't that happening anymore? Why am I not getting a good morning text? Was that just at the beginning? Should I keep on expecting that?” I dug myself into a deeper hole because I was not as communicative as I am proud to say that I am now. 

I was not as upfront in saying — just sitting down, having a one-on-one with him, and having a very intimate, serious discussion on, “Hey, I feel like these are some of my needs.” But then, there'll be instances where that didn't happen anymore, where it didn't happen all over again. To make matters worse, there would also be some fights that came out of those things where we would have disagreements. It didn't start off at the biggest problems, possibly. 

It would also be various things such as we had a huge difference of opinion on certain civil rights movements, or I was very proactive, and I want everyone to be with who they love and for all the reasons that they can provide. As long as you're not hurting yourself or anyone or anything else around you, I think you're living your life. That's like my philosophy. He didn't like that. 

He didn't like that I didn't have enough structure in my life. He didn't like that I would try and be communicative, but then it felt like attacking and accusatory to him — even if I would try and phrase it as civilized, and as diplomatically, and as heartfelt as possible. Truthfully, sometimes it wouldn't be enough to avoid the bigger confrontations and to try and see past the differences. I was a little bit more optimistic about our relationship. Honestly, I can admit now that I saw a lot of red flags, and I completely bypassed them. It was like — I saw a red light, ran it every time. 

Lisa: Get swept away by those big feelings in the beginning. What I think I'm hearing in your story is that there was that first kind of relational piece that just felt so good like, “This is the way it should be.” Then, I think I'm hearing that he has stopped saying or doing some of the things that had felt nice to you in the beginning, and you were trying to get him to do that again. Then, that was leading to tension. Maybe, that went the other way, as well. 

But I'm also hearing that as you two got to know each other better over time, that there were some fundamental differences and four defining values that started bumping up against each other. We never know what those are really until we get into the pool with somebody and have opportunity. That takes months, sometimes years, to really understand what those pieces are. Is that what I'm hearing? 

Sarah: 110% accurate. You're right. If you were to go on a date and be like, “Okay, so what's your stance on religion?”

Lisa: Holding a clipboard. Right. 

Sarah: I can be like, “Are you really a potential suitor?” I guess that's one way to do it. You'd be a very forward person and much more ballsy than I am.

Lisa: It's sort of like an assessment before the first date, “Here are 200 questions — true or false?”

Sarah: “We’ll get to you in a month.” Exactly. But it's not always like that. Maybe what he really meant to say was this, maybe what he really meant to do was this over here, maybe he's trying to show me that he loves me even though we had that disagreement that made me feel unheard and unseen — maybe there is hope for us. I would just keep on holding to that little bit of hope that I kept on trying to… 

Lisa: That's also really common. As we've talked about on this podcast in the past — early-stage romantic love has a very intoxicating quality. It actually changes the way that people think, and part of what it does to our brains is idealize that other person. I think I'm hearing that there was that disconnect — that you were seeing things and observing things, and things like, “I don't really like that.” 

But there was this other part of your brain that was in that space of hoping. But it sounded over time, you didn't really like the person that you were getting to know. You wanted him to be different than what he was. Is that the right way of saying it? 

Sarah: Very true — it totally became that. I had fallen in love with a version of him that he was only going to be for so long — why not look past some of these things? 

Dating A Jerk Advice: Red Flags

Lisa: But the feelings are so powerful in the beginning. I think that we're also trained by the culture to follow our feelings, and it's like hard insight and life experience. That is not always really helpful. We need to not follow some feelings — but it's so hard to do, especially when they feel so powerful, like in that early stage relationship. 

But a moment ago, you mentioned that, as things went on, you were noticing, what you described as “red flags”, and you were like, “Oh, maybe it will be better.” But what were the red flags? 

Sarah: Red flags, they came in waves sometimes. Sometimes, it would be like we had a great day, and there was no fighting, there were virtually no disagreements whatsoever. Then, there'll be other days where we had a ton of disagreements, red flags. He began to start to say some things that were borderline very questionable to my moral compass and the way that I view individuals on a worldwide global scale, saying things like, “Women don't have an opinion on that.” 

Yes, I was flummoxed whenever he would say some of these things. I figured I really hope that we can come together and bridge the gaps because of our differences — not have to break up in spite of them. But certain things kept on rolling around. But anytime that we couldn't talk it out, it would turn into him screaming at me, yelling at me that my opinions were inadequate, that I didn't have the right to think certain ways. I wish I was making this up. I wish… 

Lisa: Wow. No, I don't want to make you relive all of that on a public forum here. It got really nasty and really abusive. 

Sarah: These are the most tumultuous relationship of my life. 

Lisa: Definitely. Then, I think you're also describing something, though, that is so common, which is the old idea of the frog in the pot of boiling water. Have you heard that? If you turn it up slowly, the frog doesn't know when it's hot enough to jump out? Like doing that with yourself, “Okay, I don't like this — but can we work through this? Is it something that can be repaired?” And legitimately not knowing in some ways, which I think is really valid. 

Especially for a younger person, it can be hard to see this stuff come in — even in an abusive relationship. It's not like somebody just punches you in the face on the second date. Any of us can be like, “I think…” at that point. But that's not what happens. The heat goes up slowly, and then you're emotionally entwined with somebody who is officially being really damaging and toxic. At what point were you finally, “I’m not doing this with you anymore, buddy.” 

Sarah: Even while I was still in the relationship, I wasn't looking for better. I was trying to really stick with it no matter what. But to really put myself through so much turmoil, and emotional abuse and neglect, and everything else possible that could have gone wrong in the relationship, I kept on thinking to myself, “Maybe it's best if we end this, and I hope you find who or what you're looking for because I could never make you happy, I could never be enough for you in this.” 

Because even if I didn't subconsciously or even verbalize it to myself, I wasn't enough for myself in that moment because I didn't choose myself right from the beginning. I didn't verbalize the way what he was saying was making me feel. He didn't take any of it into consideration to begin with. There was going to be no resolve ever that we were going to reach. Some people like that simply, as sad as it is, you cannot reach. 

Lisa: Oh, I absolutely hear you. I'm so glad that you arrived in that space, as painful as it must have been, to get out there, Sarah. But it just says so much about you, and just what a fundamentally healthy person you are. No, really! You'd be like, “Ah, this does not feel good”, “I had hoped it would be one way, but this is not good for me”, recognizing, “That isn't good for me”, and also I think recognizing — this is the hard part for a lot of people, but there's like a self-betrayal component in a lot of these. 

There was a lot of learning that happened through this experience, and not that anybody would have signed up for — but valuable, nonetheless, to be on the other side. Then, I'm curious to know, because you had mentioned that this was a significant relationship. But then there were other people that you sort of started to do this with is what I got the impression of, that same sort of pattern of that attraction and fantasizing, and then feeling really disappointed by people. 

Were there others after this relationship, or going through that one relationship where you’re like, “I don’t learn enough about what not to do again, but I'm done with you people.” 

Sarah: A really good question between my ex and my current significant other, there was nobody. I really took a lot of time to reflect on — I was wondering and questioning my worth for weeks, if not months on end, and it took a decent amount of soul searching for me to be able to say, “Even if there is no one out there for me, that is not the end-all-be-all of Sarah. That is not my composition.” 

Lisa: Totally. Really spent some time stopping, and really spending some time connecting with yourself, “Who am I? What are my values? What do I care about? What do I want in my life? How can I serve the world?”, and these anchors to bigger things. I'm so glad that you did that. I see, so often, people are just jumping right back into a very similar feeling situation. I just think that says so much about you that you really slowed down, and just got really clear and okay with like yourself — like rebuilding yourself. Is that the sense I hear? 

Sarah: Kind of what you were saying, this is another pattern that I noticed throughout my dating and up until the ex. I was not only attracting, but attracted to, and giving all my time, attention, effort, energy, even too emotionally unstable, if not entirely unavailable individuals. These were people who had — in more than one way and maybe not entirely verbally at that, they had said, “Hey, I'm not looking for anything long-term.” 

But maybe it was with their body language, with their actions — because actions really speak louder than words. Just the way that no one really ever cared about what I was needing and what was best for, not just themselves, but for myself as well in and out of the relationship until I was to be single, and to really reflect on everything that had happened, and how much turmoil I'd experienced and to reflect.

Attracting the Wrong People

Lisa: There was a recognition of this pattern over time that you had been attracted to, as you say, most emotionally unavailable or unstable people. Can I ask you the zillion-dollar question here? I'm hearing that once you became aware of that, “I can't do that anymore”, that things change for you. But the zillion dollar question that I think so many people struggle with to define and articulate for themselves — can you say, “What if it was about those people in the beginning that was actually so attractive?” 

Sarah: This is going to be a bajillion, bazillion dollar answer for you because as we're talking more about this, the more I'm able to be more specific. At first, I thought that they were very mysterious — and mysterious can always come off as attractive. But mysterious, in a dark, “I probably need help”, and I thought that I could help them kind of way. But first off, they did not act like men. They acted like children, and they most often had troubles and experienced something early on in their childhood with their parents, specifically their mother. 

I wanted to swoop in, and make them my build-a-boy project — that's how I coined it. It's very — oh my gosh, this is not build-a-bear, but this is like the revamping and the refurbishing of someone who has been broken before, or rather bent. In order to get them back into shape, I figured maybe I could help them with that. I didn’t think about the fact that, “I'm not a therapist.” 

Lisa: No, I totally get it. But how much insight? Because I think there's like an archetype for that — the wounded bad boy who's saying, “I'm not really emotionally available, I don't want to be in a relationship.” This can happen with men, too. I've seen this happen all the time with men who have wonderful values around helping and service, and who really are fundamentally nurturing people. 

It's almost like that becomes a way to express those values, and get to be this person that you want to be — like the helper, the empathetic, the compassionate person, like, “I can help you grow and heal in that space. That was that attractor factor, it sounds like. 

It's very intoxicating, isn't it? There's power, there's value — and I think all of us have been vulnerable to that. We can almost get trapped sometimes by our most noble virtues and gifts when they're in directions that are ultimately not good for us. Does that sound familiar? 

Sarah: I couldn't have phrased it any better. That sounds 100% accurate to me. 

Lisa: And everybody because there are a lot of people listening to this right now. I don't want to suggest that everybody's hook would be the same as the one that you've described. But I think the point is that you are able to do this marvelous reflection around, “What was it that was leading me to be attracted to that kind of person, and gain that insight and self-awareness?” 

Because when things are happening subconsciously and automatically, we don't get a chance to do, “Oh yeah, there's that thing again, I'm going to do a manual override because I know that is going to not take me in a good direction.” But you were able to do that, and I would like to encourage anybody listening to this — that's how we break out of these patterns, is not being angry with yourself that, “Yes, I date these kinds of guys, and I need to stop doing that”, but really, with compassion, visiting with that question, “Yes, but why does this make sense?” And you did that. 

Sarah: I feel like a lot of this pattern that had developed for me in my romantic relationships, more specifically, had been something that was not always in place, but was the majority of my time as a young woman actually dating — not just stating my kindergarten crush or anything. 

To actually see people who had lived and experienced things, and to try and make sense of why they felt like they could treat me the way that they could, I felt like I'm such a giver. I so rarely in life feel like I want to actually take from people. I say that to totally not sound like self-centered, but I really do think that's like… 

Lisa: Aware of your worth. 

Sarah: But it took a lot of learning for me to be able to say and realize, “Maybe I need to really look deeper and wonder, ‘Why am I going after these specific kinds of guys? What is it about them that makes them mysterious, toxic — I'm willing to overlook all of your red flags and your stop lights just to be with you? What is it about that makes me attracted and that I'm attracting them?’” 

Lisa: It's marvelous. I think, again, such a common element of these situations is that I think we can look to the other person as like this seductive force. But I think that there's less awareness that we are seducing ourselves in some ways by our own internal narratives and becoming intoxicated. Exactly. This is good stuff. 

I know our time together is limited, so I also want to pivot because you had all of these marvelous awarenesses. I'm sure that we could unpack so many other things with additional time together — I know there's more to the story. But over time and after having a particularly bad experience, you're like, “I do not want to do that again.” You spent some reflective time. It sounds like you became more deeply connected with yourself, and I'm guessing kind of your internal values. 

This is a question — did you find yourself being more intentional when you felt like maybe you were ready to try again? If so, how was that experience different in — not so much in terms of the person that you dated, but in terms of your process, like who you were attracted to? How you connected with them? What parts of your feelings were you listening to? And what parts of your feelings were like, “That's actually not as important as I used to think it was?” How would you describe that? 

Sarah: I want to say, first and foremost, I love this question. It's one that I don't really think about — I think about, but I don't think about it. I don't think about how I'm going to answer it, but I'm very grateful for the way I'm dating after the really nasty breakup I experienced. I wanted to really take some time, after reflecting, to make a list of all the qualities in someone who I really do want to have. I want to share my time with someone who builds me up. 

I want to share my time, and my love, and my energy, my body even — everything — with someone who is willing to try to get to understand me. Not have just a one-line response to what I have to say, but to really try and understand where I'm coming from and to build a connection with me that goes beyond the physical appearance. That will fade one day — I will not look the same that I look right now. 

In 10 years, even much less 50, I feel like I'm so thankful for having the time to really reflect and be more intentional about dating. That way, I wasn't just going to put myself right back out there and not know what I wanted. I wanted to make a list — not based on the physical appearance, but to make a list of the qualities that I want to work on finding in someone else, see for myself, not have to dig it out of them, and then really try and work on those same things on myself. Why would you ask of certain qualities and someone else, and not have them yourself? 

Lisa: Absolutely. “I want somebody who's compassionate, and trustworthy, and fun”, but then you turn it into, “So how do I be compassionate, and trustworthy, and fun”, of whatever those things were. 

Sarah: Yes. There were all these — I was building a better version of myself, not for someone else to love, but for me. That way, I knew the most important relationship in my life is always going to be with myself. 

How to Date a Nice Guy After Dating Jerks

Lisa: Ironically, having a better relationship with yourself is also the pathway to being a better partner — they're the same thing. I just wanted to mention that because I think when we hear people say, “Oh, focusing on me, my needs”,  I think that it's easy to interpret that as being self-centered — and that is not how I took what you said, by the way. But it's a very generous act because that is how you become a better partner, and that's what you were doing. 

Sarah: Precisely. 

Lisa: How would you describe the difference in your process when you finally met the person that you're dating now that you described it as being a really positive relationship? I'm curious to know — if it's okay to say — did you feel the same kind of attractions with other people, or was it different for you? Were you looking for different things? How long did it take to get to that pool? 

Sarah: I love this question so much. I'm so thankful for him. I wanted to experiment with myself, if you will, and I put myself out there. But I would only ever swipe right on people who I thought had a nicer, kinder demeanor about them. Even if I felt like, “Oh, man, maybe we were two different people, but I want to not just jump to the assumption or the conclusion of that. But I want to actually make good conversation with them, and see how they interact with me in just trying to get to know me.” 

Lisa: You were prioritizing kindness — your perceptions of kindness over other things. 

Sarah: Another big one is — I swiped right on my boyfriend specifically because I just thought that something about him was different. Then, when we started talking, he was very kind, very positive, optimistic, career-driven, and he was very slick too. A day or two into talking, he was like, “Wow, this is so great. I love your career interest. We can talk about it more on Friday or something.” I was like, “Ooh, slick.” 

Lisa: Just out of curiosity — do you think that you would have been attracted to him prior to having done all this work on yourself?

Sarah: No, because I wouldn't have been attracted to who I am today. I wouldn't have loved her first. I wouldn't have gone through all the mess, all the heartbreak, the turmoil — everything. I needed the turbulence to be able to show me and appreciate what was good when I had it good. 

Lisa: What would you say was different about the way that early stages of your relationship unfolded compared to the experience you had in a relationship that wound up not being a good thing for you? 

Sarah: Wonderful question. I told him right from the start, “I do not feel comfortable with us making open-ended promises. It really makes me get my hopes up. If we don't follow through, if no actions are done to set those parameters in place, I don't feel comfortable following through on actions if I know that the other person isn't. Blanket statement — please don't make me any promises, and I won't make you any promises. 

Lisa: That we're just getting to know each other. Any promises made are incredibly premature — “I don't know you yet.” 

Sarah: Exactly, “I can't rely on you, I cannot trust you because I can't trust myself in this just yet.” But we both talked about was that in our previous relationships, we did not verbalize. We both had breakups right around the same time — so ended up working out. But through everything we had gone through in our previous relationships, we came to the conclusion that, “Oh, a pattern that we're noticing with one another is much more healthy than these previous relationships.” 

We want to keep up the good behavior and continue to have open discussions — just laying it all there out on the table. It's not to say that we say ugly things to one another. That is not the way that we discuss things, but to allow for the conversation. For all cards on the table, it's always up for discussion. If you set a boundary in place, and you're thinking about maybe changing that boundary or revisiting it to say, “Hey, here's what I'm now feeling comfortable with.” 

Anything that we can discuss, it's not like we have to approach it with fear or an insecurity of, “Oh my God, my partner might leave me. What if I say this, and the whole world comes crashing, comes tumbling down?” 

Lisa: That's so wise — let this sort of mutual commitment to being honest and authentic, and really talking about how you feel because that is, I think, always one of the most important things any of us could do to avoid getting into a relationship with a jerk. Because as soon as you do that with a jerk, you'll know quickly that this person isn't going to be a good partner for you. 

If you're authentic and talk about how you feel, and it is met with hostility or defensiveness, or minimization and reset, you can be done. That's what dating is for. I think that idea — let's fail as quickly as possible by being authentic, and you guys did that from the beginning. You took those chances. You're like, “How does he act when I say this about how I actually feel?” And it was a positive experience, which is a green light — we keep going. 

Sarah: I love the way that you phrase that beginning because we do have the most genuine, honest, and respectful relationship I've ever been in — will probably ever be in because of the way that we talk to one another, and the way that I feel so revered, and he will clarify with what I've said. Very similar to you actually, “I'm understanding what I'm hearing — the whole nine yards, right here. I'm like, “Yes…” 

Lisa: Emotional intelligence, communication skills. But you gave yourself the time to get to know that those things were true about him. I think what is very easy to do, and what I hope some of our listeners take away, is that we can have that flash — like exciting feeling, and skip over that whole getting to know who you actually are part, and develop a very serious attachment to somebody. 

Oftentimes, there's like a sexual component, which not in a morality-based way, but because we have a physiological attachment to people with whom we're sexually intimate and can get emotionally welded to people, and then start to find out that, “Oh, I can't communicate with this person in a healthy way. We don't have values that are in alignment”, “This person is not a good friend to me. I don't actually like this person, but there's this emotional thing that's already happened that's very difficult to get out of.” 

I think what I'm hearing you say is that it was a more gradual process, more akin to building a friendship where you are getting to know who he was as your emotional connection was beginning to build. Is that how you would describe it? 

Sarah: I would. There was a moment where I wasn't too sure because he had asked me to be his girlfriend, and I was still newly out of my last relationship, and still trying to figure some things out even though I did really like him. I love his personality, and I liked his friends. He just asked me and I was like, “I don't really know. Maybe we should just take a little bit slower than that.” But I remember specifically… 

Lisa: But how did he react to that? 

Sarah: He was like, “Okay, I don't see how things could go wrong.” But I said myself, “I don't want to mess this up. I really do want to take our time because there's no due date on this. There's no expiration date either. There's nothing telling us that we cannot take as much time as we can. I feel like we should just get to know each other better.”

I got to know a decent amount of him, and the way that he follows through on his actions with the way that he would treat me in the first month or so like us even knowing each other — very appreciative of that. Before we even established what we even were, he wanted to hear about what my day was like, and wanted to try and see what the future could look like together. 

I love that we've taken the time to do some of the dirty work. I feel so much better with him. He doesn't complete me, but he's definitely something that complements my life, and I love that about him. 

Lisa: Well, that's wonderful. Sarah. I'm so happy for you. Thank you so much for coming and just sharing your story with our community here today. I think it's one thing to have somebody like me — they like, “Okay, here are things to think about, and tips”, or whatever. But I think there's something so relatable in your story. I think so many people that have struggled with this just — I could imagine them nodding their heads and being like, “Yes!” 

But I think it can be difficult to identify things in ourselves because we have blind spots. It's hard to see ourselves. But I think when we do hear other stories and insights of others, and we can resonate with them, it's such a powerful experience because then you can say, “Yeah, me too”, and start connecting some of those dots. 

That is 90% of the work — is just bringing this stuff into awareness. I think that you helped a lot of people do that today. I heard you mentioned earlier that some of your core values were around kindness, and generosity, and helping others. I just want you to know that I think you probably helped a lot of people today. 
Sarah: Thank you.

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

 

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Feeling connected to your cultural identity can be an important part of life satisfaction for many people, and it can be a large part of one’s identity as a whole. In my work as a therapist and online life coach, I have the opportunity to sit with people who are on this journey. Knowing one’s cultural identity and embracing it is not a requirement for feeling satisfied and it does not have to be a necessary part of happiness or contentment, but the key piece here is whether that is an intentional choice for you. 

For many people living in the United States, and across the world, knowing and embracing your cultural, racial, or ethnic identity can be a complex task. For the purposes of this article, I will use ‘cultural identity’ as a broad term to include race and ethnicity (although culture and cultural identity are not limited to these 2 areas), but it is important to note these terms are different and distinct from one another. Cultural identity can also include language and location among other things, and is largely socially constructed.

Embracing Your Cultural Identity 

Why might embracing your cultural identity be important anyway? There are many answers to this question, but from a therapist and life coach’s perspective, a big factor are the emotional impacts that can arise when we don’t. 

Feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, disconnection, and emptiness may arise when we feel confused or cut off from our cultural identity, and this can be especially complex in the face of white supremacy. It would be a disservice and unrealistic not to address the role white supremacy plays on how our cultural identity forms, how culture is communicated to us, and what it can mean to us. 

Embracing your cultural identity can help you feel more satisfied, more connected to yourself, your relationship, and your loved ones and give you more confidence in who you are. 

White Supremacy and You

Connecting with your cultural identity while fighting the current of white supremacy is no easy task, and has been something our ancestors have been doing for many years whether they are conscious of this or not. As America is generally recognized as a nation of immigrants, the issue of striving to feel connected and validated in our culture while being a part of “American culture” can feel like a balancing act. 

This is particularly salient for first and second generation immigrants, and immigrant families as a whole regardless of how many generations have come forth since immigrating. Walking the tightrope of trying to assimilate into a new country and culture while holding on to your own racial and ethnic culture is no small feat, and can lead you to feel criticized or invalidated at every turn when you aren’t “American enough” or “white enough” and you also aren’t “____ enough” for your cultural group. 

Understanding this for ourselves can be challenging enough, much less in the face of colorism and microaggressions that can permeate every day life. Colorism is a way in which white supremacy can show up within racial and ethnic groups, where proximity to whiteness is met with either giving or taking away power and privilege based on the tone of one’s skin. 

Families may have learned or had the experience that embracing their cultural identity, and not hiding it in the face of white supremacy, is dangerous. For many people across the globe, embracing and embodying your cultural identity is not always safe. This is an unfortunate reality, and being able to discern when you can embrace your cultural identity and when you can’t is a critical skill. 

However, what I see as a beacon of light in these situations is that you can cultivate and embrace your cultural identity in the privacy and sanctity of your own home or living space, as well as in your mind. Now that we have been able to acknowledge the role of white supremacy, let’s talk about ways to embrace and cultivate your cultural identity even in the face of challenge so that healing can begin.

Cultivating and Connecting with Your Cultural Identity

In order to begin cultivating and connecting with your cultural identity, you first have to identify the parts that make you, you. There are many routes you can use to discover your racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup, depending on how deep you’d like to go. 

Trace Your Family Journey

If you are able to speak with family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins they may be a great place to start tracing the journey your family has made across different states, countries, or cities. Depending on your relationship with them, this could be an opportunity to connect and share stories about family members and the history of your family.

Research Your Family Tree

Another great option is to complete genealogical DNA testing, or to complete some genealogical research on your own via a family tree. You could complete this yourself, or outsource to hire someone else to do this research for you. As mentioned before, culture can be broad and comprise the various parts of your identity, which may include your geographic location, the way you speak, and your personality. Regardless of how you define your cultural identity, it starts with identifying the major pieces of you that may or may not be visible. 

Explore Your Identities

Once you have started to recognize your identities, it is time to explore them and be curious about what they mean to you. This may be a little more challenging than it seems on the surface, as you will have to sort through the messages you may have received about a particular identity compared to what you actually feel or believe about it. 

This process is not always linear, clear cut, or easy, and it may be a continual process until you feel firmly rooted in what you think and feel about your identities. I also use identity in the plural sense, as we are all intersectional in that we are made up of many identities including but not limited to: gender, ability, age, race, ethnicity, and sexual identity. 

Connect with Others On a Similar Path

As you are exploring and integrating these various pieces of you, it may be helpful to engage with others who are similar to you to either share in the struggles of this work or find that you are not alone in how you feel. Many times we may feel isolated or misunderstood in who we are, but from my experience as a therapist and coach, all of us can relate to one another more than we may think. 

As you are doing this work, your emotions may range from joy, surprise, and excitement to confusion, frustration, or disbelief. At the end of the day, I encourage you to give yourself patience and permission to stand in your truth and not try to force yourself into neat and tiny boxes. People may share different opinions than you, but no one can define you or tell you who you are, only you can do that. 

Embracing Your Cultural Identity While Combating White Supremacy 

Embracing your cultural identity can be freeing and satisfying, but does not come without its own challenges, as white supremacy can be insidious in its various forms. As you are going through your own journey, doubts and inner criticism may arise as you’re exploring your emotions and beliefs about your identities. 

Paying attention to these emotions as they come up and exploring what may be beneath them can also help you better understand yourself, your fears, and anxieties about showing up in this new way. The tools you will need in your toolbox as you are embracing and understanding your cultural identity will be:

  • compassion
  • patience
  • kindness
  • curiosity

You will be using each of these tools often, so be prepared to keep them accessible to you. 

You will need to give yourself compassion as you feel conflicting emotions, patience as you feel confusion or stuck-ness, and kindness towards yourself all along the way. Curiosity will be important to combat feelings of judgement, and to explore every thought, belief, or emotion. 

Curiosity may look like, “Where did I learn this?” or “What is the origin story to this reaction or belief?” and, “Do I really believe/think/feel this, or did this come from someone else?” Feelings of shame or pain can be difficult to process, and here is where giving ourselves compassion and kindness is crucial. 

Going along with society or those in power is a survival strategy, and yourself and your family did what you had to do to get to this point and there is no shame in that. However, at any time we all have the choice to pivot and make the choices that best serve us now, which may include opening ourselves up to integrating all of who we are. 

I may make this sound easy, but please give yourself patience in understanding this, like everything else, it is a process that takes time. There is just as much value in the journey as there is arriving at the destination, and you may need to remind yourself of this often. 

When confronted with white supremacy or microaggressions, you have the power to remind yourself of your truth and who you are. You are able to reassure yourself of your identities and what they mean to you and about you, and no one can ever take that away from you. 

Embracing your cultural identity may look like not censoring yourself or contorting yourself to fit the majority, but it is important to recognize you may not always have the privilege and safety to do so. In those cases, reminding yourself of your values and identity in those moments will be important to insulate you from the effects of that. Giving yourself compassion in those moments and recognizing the strength and skill it takes to adapt and protect yourself is a huge aspect of this work, and will cultivate resilience within you. 

Embracing your cultural identity is not the path of least resistance, but is a trek worth embarking on. You can utilize these tools along with the support of friends, family, and people in your community you feel safe sharing with along the way, as social support is invaluable throughout this process as well. Please know, people across the world and all around you are working to embrace their cultural identity right along with you.

 

Warmly,

Josephine

 

 

 

Josephine M., M.S. MFTC Couples Counseling + Therapy

Josephine M., M.S., MFTC is a warm, kind, and direct therapist and couples counselor who specializes in communication, compassion and connection. She can help you reach your goals and create positive change in yourself and your relationships.

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

Related Post

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Feeling connected to your cultural identity can be an important part of life satisfaction for many people, and it can be a large part of one’s identity as a whole. Online therapist, Josephine M., shares more here…

How to be Successful Online Dating

The online dating world can be a jungle. Online therapist and dating coach Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT shares her top tips for online dating. From creating your profile, avoiding red flags and disappointment, to setting yourself up for success!

Boundaries in Relationships

Happy, healthy relationships are built on healthy boundaries. If you struggle to establish boundaries, understand your boundaries, or even define your boundaries to others, this episode is for you!

I am talking with Denver Therapist, and Boundary Expert, Kathleen Stutts and we are going to cover the basics of boundaries and then dive into the nitty-gritty of establishing your boundaries in relationships so that you too can feel empowered in your most important relationships!

Trust Yourself

It can be hard to trust yourself, particularly if you're struggling to tell the difference between your intuition and anxiety. Your confidence will grow when you learn the difference between worry and inner wisdom. Learn how, on this episode of the podcast.

Finding the Right Person

Are your subconscious “thinking traps” getting in the way of your finding the right person? On today's episode of the podcast, NPR's dating expert Damona Hoffman is here to help you get out of your own way and find the love you're looking for. Join us!

How to be Successful Online Dating

How to be Successful Online Dating

How to be Successful Online Dating

Dating Profiles, First Messages, and Red Flags

[social_warfare]

As a relationship therapist and dating coach, many of my single clients who are looking for that forever love, come to me asking, “What am I doing wrong?” expressing feelings of confusion, hurt, and even outrage at the current state of the dating world. Today I want to share with you dating tips to navigate the online dating pool of uncertainty and discomfort so that you can enter the dating world with confidence and assuredness that you’re not alone in feeling this way. 

It’s Not You…It’s Your Dating Platform

Okay, you’ve decided to jump in – to try out this online approach to dating, and what better time than now when social distancing is in full swing? It’s not like you can go to the bar or join a club to meet someone new these days, you have to get a little more creative and with SO many people circulating on and through dating apps and websites…where do you even begin?

When it comes to online dating, there are apps and websites galore for you to choose from. The biggest difference between using an app like Tinder vs. a website like OkCupid is that dating sites that require a questionnaire (or a financial commitment) tend to attract people that are more serious about looking for a relationship. Where it is more common to find people that are looking for a relationship as well as causal hookup up on swipe apps. 

Using an app or website is not necessarily better than the other but it may be helpful to think about what you are looking for and to choose a site or an app depending on the type of person that particular platform attracts. I often recommend that people join more than one platform to increase their pool of people.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Dating profiles are intimidating – they’re intimidating to create and they're even intimidating to read. Dating clients will ask me, “How can I trust that this is real?” And it is true…people have a tendency to answer personal questionnaires as they would like to be, not as they really are. 

We all want to put our best foot forward, especially when it comes to meeting someone new. So, it’s likely that there will be embellishments on dating profiles. Consider the profile similar to a first impression – while you aren’t getting the full impression of the person, you are seeing (typically) who they want to be or believe they can be if they aren’t that person already.

My advice here is to not jump to conclusions. Don’t assume that what you read in the profile is completely true, but don’t discount what the profile says because it seems to good to be true. So while the personality questionnaire may not be 100 percent accurate they may at least give some idea of who that person is or at least who they aspire to be.

Use the dating profile as a jumping-off point to get to know the person, not to judge who they are or aren’t based on the answers they filled out. 

Finding Your Perfect Match: More than a Questionnaire 

For many online dating sites, the questionnaire will allow you to connect with similarly minded people – those who have a high percentage of matching with you based on the answers that you filled out. 

The truth is, there is no foolproof way to succeed in finding the perfect match but there are definitely things that will increase your chances such as having a great profile, clarifying for yourself what you are looking for in a partner and how to assess others for that quality, having a positive mindset about dating, having a positive mindset about yourself, identifying your shortcoming when it comes to dating and taking steps to improve those things, and obviously being willing to go on lots of dates!

Don’t discount a potential match because your “match rating” is lower than others. Dating requires getting to know people – talking, listening, and seeing where your compatibility is outside of the questionnaire answers you both filled out. 

Your Dating Profile IS Your First Impression

You may get the opportunity to turn your matches into real-life dates, but the relationship ultimately starts from your profile. As mentioned before, dating profiles (creating and reading) are intimidating! Some of my tips for creating a standout dating profile are: 

  • Include good quality and thoughtfully chosen pictures. The pictures may be the only thing someone looks at – each picture should have a purpose that gives information about you (no selfie bathroom shots!!!!). It should also be easy to identify who you are in the photo (keep it simple, don’t include a bunch of group photos). For more tips on taking outstanding dating profile pictures, see: Denver Dating Coach: How to Get The Best Online Dating Profile Photo
  • Share something unique, interesting, and important. Give people enough interesting information in your profile that they have something for a conversation starter. Saying “I like dogs and beach volleyball” might be an easy way to plan that first date, but ultimately doesn’t share anything about who you are.
  • Don’t complain. I cannot stress this enough, don’t complain and especially don’t talk about how much you hate online dating in your profile (you’d be surprised at how often this happens). 

When you find a match – or someone you’re interested in getting to know a little more, you may have the opportunity to send them a message. When messaging others, ask a specific question or comment about their profile, don’t ever a start a conversation with nothing but a “hey.”

Avoid Appearing Desperate

Dating apps are often used for casual hookups and brief interactions – and when you are looking for more than just a one-night stand it can be hard to come off as fun and flirty when you know that ultimately what you want may not be what 99% of your matches are looking for. 

Be honest about what you are looking for in your profile, and then behave in ways that are consistent with what you want. If you want a serious relationship then don’t engage in behavior that is consistent with hook up culture – meeting up late at night, texting when drinking, etc.. Also remember that the main purpose of a first or second date is only to see if you’re interested in a second or third date. Relax and enjoy getting to know people without interrogating them about future plans on the first date to avoid coming off as desperate. Be patient, these things take time.

Beware of the Bright Red Flag 

The biggest red flag is someone that waits extended periods of time between responses (days to weeks). People that are committed to this process tend to be responsive and make themself available. People that are looking for a partner are not wanting a pen pal. Limit your messaging to a couple of days and then find a time to meet in person (in public), that way you don’t waste time messaging someone for weeks only to find out that there is no real connection when face to face.

Dealbreakers – What Matters Most

Dealbreakers are specific to each person. You need to decide what are YOUR dealbreakers are before you begin dating. Some people feel like a difference in politics is a dealbreaker where that is totally fine for someone else. Be thoughtful about what you are ok with and what will end up destroying a relationship in the long run. 

If you are looking for a serious relationship, a long-term commitment, you have to be honest with yourself about what works and doesn’t work for you. To say, “Oh, I can grow to love that about them,” or “It’s not that big of deal, really” will only hurt you in the long run. 

Dating More Than One Person at a Time

Your matches are lining up, you’re feeling pretty good about your prospects and the conversations that are unfolding – but is it okay to date more than one person at a time? How many people you choose to date at a time needs to be dependent on each person. If you tend to jump into relationships quickly and put all your eggs in one basket, you’re better off dating multiple people at once. If you tend to struggle to commit, and dating lots of people supports that avoidance, try dating one person at a time. 

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to go about online dating – show up as yourself and be honest with yourself throughout the process. When things start to feel like “too much” know it’s okay to walk away, and if things start to “fit” then move forward. The wonderful thing about dating is you get to choose how you’ll move forward or when you’ll walk away based on your wants and needs. 

Here’s to you and your online dating adventures!
Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT

 

[social_warfare]
Online Marriage Counselor Denver Couples Therapy Premarital Counseling Online Family Therapy Postpartum Perinatal Denver Tech Center Therapist

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a couples counselor, premarital counselor, therapist, and life coach who is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

Related Post

Embracing Your Cultural Identity

Feeling connected to your cultural identity can be an important part of life satisfaction for many people, and it can be a large part of one’s identity as a whole. Online therapist, Josephine M., shares more here…

How to be Successful Online Dating

The online dating world can be a jungle. Online therapist and dating coach Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT shares her top tips for online dating. From creating your profile, avoiding red flags and disappointment, to setting yourself up for success!

Boundaries in Relationships

Happy, healthy relationships are built on healthy boundaries. If you struggle to establish boundaries, understand your boundaries, or even define your boundaries to others, this episode is for you!

I am talking with Denver Therapist, and Boundary Expert, Kathleen Stutts and we are going to cover the basics of boundaries and then dive into the nitty-gritty of establishing your boundaries in relationships so that you too can feel empowered in your most important relationships!

Trust Yourself

It can be hard to trust yourself, particularly if you're struggling to tell the difference between your intuition and anxiety. Your confidence will grow when you learn the difference between worry and inner wisdom. Learn how, on this episode of the podcast.

Finding the Right Person

Are your subconscious “thinking traps” getting in the way of your finding the right person? On today's episode of the podcast, NPR's dating expert Damona Hoffman is here to help you get out of your own way and find the love you're looking for. Join us!

How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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 feel 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

P.S. Pro Tip: Once you listen to this podcast, consider sharing it with your partner. Doing so can be an easy, low-key way to start an important, and necessary conversation about how to increase the emotional safety and security you both feel in your relationship. xo, LMB

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How to Feel More Secure in Your Relationship

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

Music Credits: Juniore, “Panique”

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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.

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Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice From the Blog

Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships

SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

Relationships, by definition, include two people. But sadly, there are times when people forget to take care of themselves because they prioritize others so much. They may slowly feel exhausted and lost, and this affects the energy in their relationships. However, you can prevent this from happening by learning how boundaries in relationships can be beneficial.

In this interview with Denver Therapist and boundary expert, Kathleen Stutts we discuss the significance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. Kathleen gives us her thoughts on how to maintain lasting relationships with others while respecting yourself. She also talks about the different signs of having poor boundaries in relationships.

Listen to the full episode to know how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships!

In This Episode: Boundaries in Relationships. . .

  • Learn the importance of having healthy boundaries in your relationships.
  • Learn the common misconceptions and fears about building boundaries.
  • Understand why it's difficult for you to develop your boundaries.
  • Know how you can help the people you care about while taking care of yourself.
  • Know the different signs that you're in an unhealthy relationship.
  • See examples of healthy boundaries in relationships.
  • Discover how to handle people who disrespect your boundaries.

Episode Highlights

What Are Boundaries?

For Kathleen, setting up boundaries is a “healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of and what you're not in control of.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about boundaries. Usually, people associate them with conflict or relationship barriers. However, it's the complete opposite, as boundaries nurture and protect relationships.

Many people are afraid of setting up boundaries in their relationships. Here are two reasons why:

These fears push people not to build boundaries in their relationships. However, they are just products of misconceptions of these limits. 

Why You Need Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships

We need to develop healthy boundaries in our relationships to honor and respect ourselves

To be a good and decent person means having boundaries in your relationships. When there are no boundaries in your relationship, you're just stretching yourself thin. You'll end up burned out and exhausted.

When we become assertive and build boundaries, we reach a compromise with people. For Kathleen, letting your foot down means “we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.”

Being a people pleaser and taking other's responsibility as your own will only leave you exhausted. You'll always feel anxious maintaining that sense of harmony within your relationship, even at the cost of your stability. 

Kathleen reminds us that it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. We must take care of the things we can directly control and let go of the things that we cannot. 

Examples of Setting Boundaries in Relationships

It is difficult to see someone you care about getting hurt or having a hard time. However, it does not mean that you should shoulder their responsibilities or that you owe them. Remember that a healthy and loving relationship and setting your boundaries aren't mutually exclusive. 

Kathleen tells us that “It feels bad to see someone hurting if you're a good, kind person and you have empathy, but acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do.”

In moments like this, you can do the following:

You can Show Them Support. Instead of owning what someone else is going through, you can instead let them know they're not alone. You can be supportive while establishing your boundaries in that moment.

Offer Help. Offering help if you feel they need it, is always on the table. However, only commit to assistance you can provide. Keep in mind that you also have boundaries to keep.

By being transparent with your limitations, you can help and support the people you care about while also taking care of yourself. Just as Kathleen says, “The beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody, it is letting them know what to expect from you.”

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

Boundaries must be present in your relationship, and it goes both ways. You must know the limits of your boundaries, and the person in your relationship must realize their boundaries as well.

Here are the common signs that you have unhealthy relationship boundaries:

You're taking other's responsibility as your own. 

When people you care about have a hard time, you step in and do everything for them. This action is a sign that you have unhealthy boundaries in your relationship because you're taking the opportunity from them to learn and grow.

Kathleen adds that “When we try to rescue people from them, we're taking away, we're violating some of their rights—their right to feel bad.”

Others don't respect your boundaries.

You must be aware if another person is always stepping on or over your boundaries. It's okay to follow through with your limits and let others know what they're doing wrong.

You need boundaries to establish what is and isn't good or okay for you. You can't brush off instances like these when your boundaries are disrespected or overlooked, they'll only get more frequent and hurt more in the end.

You might not speak up because you're afraid of conflict and/or making people uncomfortable.

When people have wronged you or have stepped on your boundaries, you should let them know right away. Keeping silent about what you feel will only make things worse. You and your relationship will suffer.

Remember that setting up boundaries does not mean conflict. You must steer away from this common misconception. 

What to Do When Someone Crosses a Line

However, there would be times when people would disregard your boundaries. You must be wary of these instances, especially if they happen more than once. If it happens almost always, then you might be in a toxic relationship.

Here are the things you can do when such situations happen:

  • Let them know that they're disrespecting your boundaries.
  • Show them there are consequences to crossing your boundaries.
  • Reach a compromise. 
  • If following through with limitations or the situation is too much, consider working with a coach or a therapist.  

Building Healthy Boundaries: Where to Start?

Kathleen has helped many of her clients build healthy relationship boundariesLearning how to create boundaries is a process. You cannot impose them in your relationships, especially if you were unaware of their importance. 

Luckily, Kathleen shared some of the things you have to consider in learning how to build healthy boundaries. Here are some of them:

Understand why you're feeling this way. Have some time to reflect and ask yourself why you're feeling anxious, exhausted, or inadequate.

Here are some of the questions that may guide you in your introspection:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?
  • Why am I feeling bitter, resentful, or angry?
  • What makes me exhausted and burned out?

Develop a sense of self-compassion. For Kathleen, this means stepping back and looking at the whole picture while being compassionate with yourself.

By seeing the bigger picture, you learn why building boundaries in your relationship is complicated. It may be because this is how the people in your life taught you to treat your limits. 

Learn how to self-validate. Once you know why you have difficulty building boundaries, you must remind yourself that what you're feeling is okay and valid. 

By learning these things, you get to shift your perspectives, seeing relationships and boundaries in a new light. Hopefully, you can start standing up for yourself and make healthy boundaries slowly. 

In the end, for Kathleen, building boundaries means being authentic. “That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person.”, Kathleen says. 

Sometimes we avoid building boundaries for many reasons, but you're developing deeper and meaningful relationships by having limits. 

Resources

Kathleen Stutts has shared with us the importance of building healthy boundaries in your relationships. What are the things you picked up in this interview? How did this interview change your perspective on building boundaries? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness! 

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Boundaries in Relationships

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: edapollo, “Relearn Me”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. 

[Relearn Me by edapollo ft. Akacia plays] 

That was the song Relearn Me by edapollo. I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it. But the song is gorgeous. And it's the perfect, I thought, introduction to our topic today because today we are going to be talking about how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. And I know that this is a topic of great importance because we hear about it all the time from our therapy and coaching clients. Here at Growing Self, a lot of people are working on this. And we've also had so many listener questions come through on Instagram, Facebook, on the blog at growingself.com around how to establish healthy boundaries in a way that allows you to have positive, high-quality relationships and maintain really good connections with others. 

That is where we're going on today's episode of the podcast. And I am so pleased to include in our conversation today, my dear, dear friend and colleague at Growing Self, Kathleen Stutz. Kathleen and I have worked together for many years. And Kathleen is a true expert on the subject of healthy boundaries. She is a licensed professional counselor here. And she also does team training for us from time to time. And we have people from all over our group come and sit at Kathleen's feet to learn how it's done. And today, she is sharing her wisdom with you. So Kathleen, thank you so much for being here.

Kathleen Stutz: Hi, thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I can't wait to talk with you about this topic of how to create healthy boundaries. I know that you frequently do this work with your clients. Again, you train others around this. But I can also attest to somebody who has had a personal relationship with you for many years, that you live it.

Kathleen Stutz: Thank you. Thanks very much. I take that as a very, very good compliment. That means a lot to me. 

Dr.Lisa: It's good. You really—you're like a role model for me. I'm like, “I wish I could be more like Kathleen.” Because you have so much clarity around what you can do, what you can't do. And when you say no to me, like I feel happy anyway. There's something about the way you say it.

Kathleen: Definitely one of my passion topics, a topic I'm passionate about. And I love to talk about it. So I'm happy to be here. 

Define Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. Well, what do you say we just, we take it from the top? Because I think sometimes just the term boundaries gets thrown around all over the place to mean all kinds of things. So from your perspective, what do boundaries mean? What is a boundary in the sense of, you know, what we do? Because sometimes, like an aside, sometimes I think people use the word boundaries. It's like telling people—telling other people what to do can be a boundary, or like, yeah. Like don't say this to me, it could be like a boundary. But what do you think of as being like a boundary? A reasonable boundary? Right.

Kathleen: Right. You're so right. I can't tell you how often I hear professionally, but personally, too, people have so many different, either negative associations with boundaries about you know that’s a barrier. It means that something is wrong. It means conflict, or just complete, you know, they come by it, honestly. But just misunderstandings about what boundaries are. So, to me, a boundary is, it's this healthy and clear understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself, what you're in control of, and what you're not in control of. 

It’s just this healthy, clear understanding of the things that I can empower myself around versus the things I need to practice radical acceptance around or letting go of. So having that understanding between you and any person in your life, in any situation. I know that sounds very abstract, right? But that's because we can use boundaries and we can assert boundaries in so many different ways, in different situations. And they do change and flux in different relationships as needed. Right? So we can get into the details of it more. But from a starting point, that's sort of the general way that I think about boundaries. 

Boundary Issues

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah okay. So then, let's start with this other question. Why do you think so many people, particularly women, but many men too, really struggle to have that clarity that you describe? Then also communicate that effectively to others that just the whole thing feels incredibly—to people? Why? Why is that so hard?

Kathleen: I think it's because, and I'm going to say we because I think this is a human experience, you know? I think it's because we're afraid of losing people, honestly. And whenever I talk with people about what is so scary about boundaries, that's always where they go. Now ultimately, “I'm afraid people won't like me.” “I'm afraid it's going to cause an argument” or “I'll lose that relationship.” 

Because we are wired to attach and we need people as the social creatures that we are, I think the fear of putting those relationships at risk is what underlies the fear of setting boundaries and being assertive. Because there are misconceptions around what boundaries are, what assertiveness is, and what it can do for us. People think that it is a threat to those relationships rather than something that protects them, which I think is a misunderstanding—an unfortunate misunderstanding. But ultimately, that fear of losing people I think, is really what makes it scary. 

Dr. Lisa: That is so insightful. There's almost a subconscious thing. It's if I say no, or if I ask for what I need, it's going to damage my relationship with you. You're saying that is a misunderstanding. This actually brings me to another question. So one of the things that I loved so much, I love so many things about your team training that you did with us on this topic. But you had this saying in your presentation, which is that “Good, decent people set boundaries.”You have this as like a concept. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think it's so important to teach people, to teach our clients that good people set boundaries? 

Kathleen: Wow. Because one of the misunderstandings that's so prevalent around assertiveness and boundary setting is that it is aggressive, or mean, or even overly confident, or bully-ish and that you don't set boundaries, if you're nice. Or you can't be nice to people and be liked by people, and be assertive. I think what's happening there is that there's a confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness. You know, you mentioned earlier people using the idea of boundaries is telling people, “You can't do that to me”, or “You can't say that to me.” That's not that's not really assertiveness. That's a little bit of bullying, actually. And so, I think, all of the confusion between assertiveness and aggressiveness leads to the idea that you can't be nice and set boundaries, which just simply isn't true. And as a matter of fact, to be nice, I think you really even need to set boundaries. Right? 

If I'm not setting boundaries, I'm going to grow and I think we're all good. I'm sure many people have experienced this personally. We grow tired, we get burnt out, we grow resentful. This can be in our personal lives, in our professional lives. We're not very nice, and we don't show up as our best selves. We don't have anything left to give the people that that we do care about. Right? So I think that the misunderstanding, or the confusion between assertiveness and aggression is the underlying cause there. But that in fact, to be nice, we actually need to set boundaries. 

Setting Boundaries in Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Oh, I love the way you say that. Like you're not doing anybody any favors by not setting boundaries. That really when you don't set boundaries, it's impossible to show up as I mean—I hate to use this phrase but this is what's coming to mind—but as like your best self in relationships because you're going to be exhausted, and resentful, and depleted, if you're not able to know what your limits are and communicate those. So that's part of having positive healthy relationships is actually being good at boundaries. Those two things go together. 

Kathleen: Yes. As a matter of fact, right? What can happen is if we are—if we tend to be people pleasers, and have anxiety in our relationships around that. Say around how our relationships are going, being liked by people, making sure there's no conflict, that there's always harmony, that we’re in a good space. If you find yourself feeling worried or anxious about that, and not saying “no,” or setting boundaries, because of that, what that actually tends to lead toward are the very, very fears and problems in those relationships that we're so scared of happening. Right? It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personal Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Oh. Yeah, I can see that. Well, and another theme that I'm hearing as we're talking is this concept of assertiveness. We could probably talk about assertiveness versus aggressiveness. But first, you've used that word a lot. What do you mean by assertive? 

Kathleen: We are assertive when we treat ourselves with respect, when we respect our basic human rights and means, while also respecting the rights and needs of others. When we do that, we're being assertive. We're also opening up the opportunity to have clear and open communication, and compromise, and negotiation with the other person on how we can achieve that win-win where we can both be treated with respect and both take care of ourselves in that situation. But in a nutshell, assertiveness is when we're taking care of ourselves while respecting other people.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Aggression, on the other hand, is when we are taking care of ourselves while not respecting the basic rights, or needs, or boundary of the other people in this situation. 

Dr. Lisa: That makes so much sense. I've never thought about it that way. That the core aggression is taking care of you without thinking about the person on the other end of it. 

Kathleen: Yes. On the other end of that spectrum, when we're being passive, when we're taking care of others and putting their needs first to the detriment or neglect of our own. Right? So we kind of end up with this sort of continuum here. With passive on one end, aggressive on the far other end. Assertiveness is that sweet spot—that balance right in the middle, where we can say, “I'm okay and you're okay”, and hold space for each other's feelings and needs, knowing that we're each responsible for ourselves. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, and I'm glad that you just use that word—that responsibility—because I'm hearing that to be assertive, it requires a high degree of like, self-awareness, respect for self, respect for others. There's like this responsibility component. Whereas, I kind of got this sense when you were talking about the passive perspective that it's people like, and well-intentioned, like really legitimately doing what they feel is best and trying to prioritize relationships. Maybe you're trying to be the “nice person”, but they're in some ways, like, by over giving or not having almost like having more respect for other people than themselves. There's like this abdication of responsibility a little bit. Have you found that? Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely.. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. Just that in itself is a new way of looking at things, I think sometimes. But absolutely. It's kind of like, if you're at work for example, and you try to do everything, you know? You try to do everything all at once, and you try to do everyone's job because you want to be really great at what you do, you end up not doing some of the basic things you really need to to get to, or a lot of things fall through the cracks. Right? Because we can't do it all. In fact, and this analogy, taking care of other people's basic needs and rights is not really your responsibility. Because it's not really in your control and it's not realistic. So trying to do it means that while you might have the best of intentions, you end up neglecting this core sort of foundational responsibility over here, which is you. That is in your control. Right? With the best of intentions. With that really important piece that sort of the foundation of the rest of your life gets neglected. 

Personal Boundaries Examples

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Well tell us more about the emotional experience of having that kind of, to use your word passive orientation—because I think that people who sort of leaned toward the aggressive end of the continuum are probably not the ones listening to this podcast. Except to that, I mean I have seen this as a therapist and as a coach, that sometimes people who have a really passive orientation can get to a certain point where they become aggressive.They kind of swing back and forth a little bit. 

For the benefit of somebody listening to this podcast, and trying to figure out where they are on that continuum. I mean, what have you heard your clients say that maybe come to you for help with boundaries? With who, or without maybe even realizing it, doing a lot of the things that keep them stuck on that passive end of the spectrum? I mean, like, what does that feel like? But also, what do you see them doing that is unintentionally creating that situation that… before they have the benefit of working with you, Kathleen, to get to get much better at this. But like, where is the starting point? 

Kathleen: Let me say that I can answer this question from a personal space. Right? Because the reason I'm so passionate about boundaries is because I don't always—I don't—I'd love to say that, “Yeah, this is what it's like.” Every, all the wonderful compliments you gave me at the beginning of our talk. But I'm always working on boundaries. I don't always set the best boundaries. And I've been a people pleaser, and can be a people pleaser. Right? So I… this is important to me. And I like to help people with it because I'd like to think I have some empathy around what it's like. Right? So whether it's from a personal place, or what clients have shared what, what family members have shared, friends, right? 

I think that being in that passive place where we're not taking care of ourselves feels really exhausting, and it feels really anxious. Anxiety comes to mind a lot because we're scrambling around trying to manage things that we don't have control over, trying to prevent the outcomes that we're so afraid of happening. So anxiety comes up a lot, and exhaustion and inadequacy. If I had to pick three big feeling words, those would be the three. Right? Because never enough, never good enough. Again, because we're trying to do the impossible, quite frankly. Right? So I think that's how people feel. 

To give you a short answer, there are a lot of emotions in that: guilt, shame, resentment, and anger as well. Because what we're doing, what it looks like, is now saying yes when you really need to say no. Stretching yourself too thin and taking on too much. I think a lot of those things that we might think of off the top of our heads when we think about people pleasing. Also, it looks like reading every little nonverbal cue, and your significant other when you think they might be in a bad mood and thinking, “Oh, no, that's not okay. I need to fix that.” Or keeping a long to-do list and beating yourself up at the end of the day because you didn’t manage to get enough things done. Aso help your neighbor, and your best friend, and run your parents’ errands for them. You’d do everything on your list to be that, be that exceptionally functioning person helps everybody right. 

Dr. Lisa: And showers.

Kathleen: And showers. Yeah, yeah. It also looks like I'm not speaking up too. Right? Not being so scared of having direct communication because you're so afraid of conflict, or making, or someone else feeling uncomfortable or unhappy, possibly with you that we don't speak up. We stay silent. We stuff our feelings and sweep things under the rug. Those are just a few examples that I think a lot of people can relate to. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No, definitely. I can certainly relate to the part abou—I think the guilt is always what gets me. That, like, I could do it? If I rearranged some of my personal priorities, I could do this for you, and therefore I should. Yeah.

Kathleen: Oh, that's a great example. 

Dr. Lisa: That's my Achilles heel, for sure. Okay, so—oh, you're about to say something? 

Kathleen: Oh, just just that's such a great example. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should. I think that even that idea that “I could,” even if it means, right, that I'm not taking care of myself, or I'm going to have these negative consequences as a result, but I could. I could do it so therefore, I should. I think, right, is one of those not necessarily accurate beliefs that a lot of us hold. Isn't it also connected to the idea that if somebody else needs us, needs help, is unhappy with us, or even just experiencing any kind of negative or uncomfortable emotion? That sort of trumps up most other things. Isn't that something that I think is sort of in the background, as a belief, or a feeling even? When we want to people please, when we feel guilty? 

Boundary Violations in A Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I'm hearing in what you just said. It occurred to me a couple of minutes ago, when you're talking about the anxiety component of that passive orientation. There's some kind of relationship here with codependence and having trouble setting boundaries. I think I'm hearing this. Is that true? 

Kathleen: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, codependency is another one of those terms that is misunderstood. Sometimes. That makes sense because it is a broad term that can refer to a lot of different things. Totally non-scientific, by the way. Codependence is nowhere in the DSM. It's a self help term, I guess. But I find it helpful to simplify it and think of codependency as a lack of healthy, clear boundaries in your relationships. So definitely, right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: I think, for me, I literally define codependency as a boundary issue. 

Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Well, it really is. It's that, you know, “Where do I stop and you start?” That “What is my responsibility and what is your responsibility?” “Can I function independently, even if…” like going back to your point just a minute ago, “even if you're upset, and not feeling good?” or, “Is that maybe not actually my problem to solve?” Yeah.

Kathleen: Right, absolutely. There are all these beliefs that we sort of take for granted that are at the root of codependency, of not having clear boundaries. That your feelings are mine to solve, that having uncomfortable feelings is just catastrophic. We've got to do something about it. That if I can do something, I should do something. None of those are actually necessarily always true. This is the part I'm just thinking out loud here. This is the part in our conversation where I have this feeling that people are wondering, “Yeah. But that sounds pretty cold”, or, “How do you be there and support somebody that you care about? Aren't their feelings your responsibility if you care about them? Or shouldn't you care about their feelings?” Those kinds of questions. 

I think it's just a good time to say that you can care about someone—what they're feeling, what they're going through. If they're struggling, you can even show up for them and support them without taking ownership, or responsibility for their feelings or situation, while having clear healthy boundaries. That those things are not exclusive. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What an important message. That you can care very much about how somebody is feeling, and even help them in healthy ways, but without taking on their problems as your own. That's huge.

Kathleen: Yeah. Look, I understand it's easier to talk about that than it is to do, as so many things are. 

Dr. Lisa: Right. 

Kathleen: Having healthy boundaries and being assertive while still caring for people and supporting them requires a lot of self-awareness, and mindfulness, and a lot of emotional regulation. To be able to feel your feelings and feel empathy, or concern, or worry, or for this person that's in your life from whomever they might be. Hold those feelings, carry them with you without them taking over, and sort of becoming the driver in the driver's seat. Feeling those feelings, but still showing up in your behavior in your words with assertiveness and healthy boundaries. 

How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, as you brought up, Kathleen, very much easier to talk about this than it is to actually put it into practice. I mean, I know that the path of growth in this area is far beyond the scope of what can be learned through a podcast. Right? I mean, I know that you have worked as a therapist and as a coach, for, I mean, years sometimes with people who are really working to develop these skills. So I just want to say that to people listening, because sometimes I feel like I am all for self-help and kind of advice and sharing ideas. 

I think sometimes people feel like if they heard it, or like, “Oh, this is what Kathleen said. So I should be able to do this.” Like it was easy. I don't want anybody to feel badly if they can't just magically do these things that Kathleen is sharing. Okay, this is a growth process.

Kathleen, if you were to start with a client as either like a life coach, or a therapist who is really working specifically on boundaries, what would you imagine the arc of the work would look like with that person? Like what kinds of things would you guys be working on or talking about first? Then how would that evolve over time? Not that you have to talk through every moment of the growth process, everybody's different. But like, what are some of the starting places that you've experienced with clients? 

Kathleen: Gosh. I think that one of the starting places is probably because if we struggle with assertiveness, we tend to beat ourselves up, quite a bit. Right? Compassion—self-compassion is in short supply. So one of the starting points is really understanding, “Why do I feel this way?”, “Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?”, “Why am I feeling resentful, jealous, bitter, angry, burnt out, guilty?”, “Why am I feeling that, and where did I learn these kinds of… just this way of showing up in my relationships?” Because it's important, self-compassion is stepping back and looking at the whole context, considering the full picture. To see yourself as with compassion. Like, “I learned this stuff, this was passed on to me. I learned to think about relationships this way I learned, this is how I need to be for people to treat me well or to get my needs met. These are the sort of unspoken rules that were taught to me about being a nice person, or finding love.” Right? And so that's usually where we start. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, there's this whole exploration process of unpacking. Like, “how do I feel?” “Why do I feel this way?” “Where did these beliefs come from?” So there's just, like a whole, like self-discovery is the word that's coming to mind, in a very compassionate way. That “how do I make sense?”

Kathleen: Yeah, and self-validation too. Like these feelings make sense. It's okay—not only is it okay and valid—and I'm still a good person and a nice person. But it makes sense too. That I'm angry or resentful. Those are the big feelings that come up a lot when we aren't setting boundaries that we then have feelings about. Even so, it becomes this negative snowball. So a lot of validation. 

Also, a lot of—this is one of the other sort of starting areas because they kind of do overlap. Surprising—surprises, I guess I'll just call it surprises. People are often surprised to learn new perspectives on this. Like the idea that we can be nice and assertive, or that we need to be assertive in order to be nice. Just even that process of shifting your paradigm, your perspective, and looking at boundaries, and assertiveness, and relationships in new and different ways. It can become sort of this eye opening experience. And I think—I don't think—I have seen what a relief it can be. 

Emotional Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, these new ideas can be so liberating. I'm thinking of a moment in my own life, where I felt like I'd been struck by lightning. It was this idea. I think, probably from my work and becoming a therapist, potentially. But I think also supported by like, the whole Montessori, and we Montessori families are very much around this idea. But the idea of like, that somebody else's emotional experience, like a painful emotional experience, can actually be an incredibly positive thing. Because if they feel badly, then they become motivated to do their growth work, or healing, or learn, or change something. That if I am trying to like rescue, and fix, and make it better, and overstep, and whatever, that I'm actually depriving them of the opportunity to have that motivation and to have that kind of self-directed growth. Like if I take away their natural consequences. 

That idea totally changed my life. And I think, made it a lot easier for me to set boundaries, personally. Just going back to what you're saying. And I hadn't thought about that, until you just mentioned those surprises. And I'm sure that they're very different for different people. But that was a huge one. For me this idea that pain is positive. Yeah. That changed a lot of things for me. So you're saying in your work with clients, you help them kind of work through those old beliefs and find new ones that are liberating in similar ways? Maybe? 

Kathleen: Absolutely. And that is such a good one. Right?

Dr. Lisa: For me, yes. Yeah. 

Kathleen: Yeah, I think I've definitely had that in my own way. I had that moment too, where I came to that emotional understanding. Not just intellectual understanding of… those really difficult feelings are good. They can be good. They're definitely necessary. That when we try to rescue people from them, we’re taking away, we're violating some of their rights. Their right to feel bad. Go through that growth process. A good—what is this—a metaphor that I found at some point and love and use sometimes is that of the butterfly in the cocoon. I don't know if you've heard this one but… 

Dr. Lisa: I don't think so. Tell me.

Kathleen: Your cats have heard the story. They would like to tell us their thoughts on this, that is setting boundaries with them. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, how do you set boundaries with cats?

Kathleen: To be continued, right. But do you know, when a butterfly—when a caterpillar has changed into a butterfly and is ready to break free of its cocoon, it will struggle to sort of shed that cocoon, and break free, and fly away. If we were to stumble across that and say, “Oh, wow. That butterfly is struggling, it needs help. I'm going to rescue it. I'm going to help it because it feels good for me, and I'm going to do that.” We steal away from the butterfly, the opportunity to strengthen its wings through that natural process, that flow process, that challenging process. It won't be ready to fly and it will possibly not make it. Right? It's at risk, it’s vulnerable because it hasn't gone through those literal growing pains. Right?

Dr. Lisa: You're saying that that's like actually how the butterflies muscles develop is through that exercise of liberating itself from the chrysalis. I did not know that. But what a perfect metaphor. That if you're like, “Oh, I'll save you.” Then the butterfly then like, “Thanks!” And crashes to the ground. Right? 

Kathleen: Like yeah, right. It feels good to help. It feels good for us to help people. It feels bad to see someone's if you're a good kind person and you have empathy. But acting on that is not always the right or nice thing to do for others or possibly for yourself too. Yeah, so that’s a good example. 

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

Dr. Lisa: This is such an important idea. I also—just knowing my listeners that are very practical folks—we are, and if we don't talk about this, Kathleen, we're going to get questions asking us. Can you please give us some examples of healthy boundaries in action? What does this look like? We should talk about this now to just go ahead and get out of the way. 

Kathleen: All right. Well, let's start with this example that earlier that we're talking about just now, which is maybe seeing someone that we care about struggle. How do we care and support with healthy boundaries? That looks like—I'm just full of metaphors today but let's imagine that they're swimming, and I'm gonna get practical and real here in just a second. So let's imagine that they're swimming in choppy waters and struggling. If we jump in there with them, right? We might both go down. 

In that case, how would you support them? You might throw them a lifesaver, or perhaps they're, I don't know, swimming in a triathlon. You might stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, see if they need anything that you can give them. With that, having healthy boundaries might sound like, “I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I can see this is really difficult for you. I hate to see you in pain.” You know, empathy. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, “What can I do for you?” At that point, you may or may not be able to give that thing to them that they're asking for. That depends, and we—the assertiveness continues on from there—we can talk about that. How to say no assertively, and so forth. But supporting someone looks like, supporting them from the sidelines. 

Respecting Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yes, and offering to help in the way that you can. But I'm also hearing like the next thing here. So that would be like one example of setting a boundary. But I think like what I hear a lot from my clients, and I'm sure you do too, ss this question around, “Well, I've set a boundary with someone and now they're doing the thing anyway.” So like, going back to your example, you say, “Yeah, let me know how I can help you, friend.” 

The friend doesn't maybe say this, but they do start calling you at 11 o'clock at night, sobbing hysterically, and wanting to tell you all about everything, and texting you like nine times a day, and being annoyed with you when you don't respond right back. Or asking you to do things that are actually starting to interfere with your life and ability. You're like, so I'm imagining Kathleen would say being appropriately assertive would be like, “You know? 11 is pretty late for me. I'm usually in bed at that time. I'm happy to talk with you when I'm free. Can I call you on the way home from work? Sometimes in the afternoon, I'm in the car anyway.” You have this nice conversation. And the next day, your phone rings at 11:30 at night. I thought, “What would Kathleen do?” Because that's the thing that I hear a lot about my clients is like, “Well, I told my mother-in-law to not talk to me that way anymore”, or “I told so-and-so to not do this.” I think people sometimes feel that setting that boundary is like requesting something of someone else. Then when that somebody doesn't do that something else then they're like, “what do I do?” 

Kathleen: That they’re still stuck and feeling helpless. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So like, what's your take on that aspect of it? So like, “Please don't call me at 11.” 

Kathleen: Well. First of all, that was a great example—the way that you verbalize that was beautiful. Right? But they keep calling anyway. You got to, when that happens… the beautiful thing about boundaries is that it is not really requesting something of somebody. It is letting them know what to expect from you. This is what I'm going to do and this is what I'm not going to do. 

Dr. Lisa: There it is. 

Kathleen: Right? So if they're not respecting the initial boundary, and they continue to call you at 11:30. “I asked you not to call me that late because I'm usually in bed by then. I know that you're going through a really difficult time, I'm not able to talk at that time. Here are the—here's when I can support you, or I will call you during this time. If you keep calling me at 11:30, I’m gonna have to…” and then you can fill in the blank with a boundary that you feel you can follow through. 

I think that's really important with setting boundaries is that whatever you choose, it's something that you know, you can stick to. Whatever that is, wherever you are with that is okay. So maybe it's, “I'm gonna have to turn my phone off at night.” Or it may be something a little bit, let's say, more drastic. “I'm not going to be able to talk with you if you don't respect this boundary.” It depends on the person and the situation. If you have somebody who's really actually getting angry with you, and criticizing you because you didn't text back right away, or you're still not picking up the phone at 11:30, even when you asked them to call at that time. That's a pretty difficult situation. 

I just want to validate that if you're experiencing something like that, that's a pretty toxic relationship. Those are harder to be assertive in. It's giving you information. When someone doesn't respect your boundaries, it's giving you information about if that relationship is healthy for you. So I just want to context that.

Keeping Boundaries in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No. That's good to say that. That's actually a sign of an unhealthy relationship is like when you say, “Please don't do this” or, “Please respect me in this area.” Somebody continues not just to do it, but gets upset with you for setting boundaries. Like, you should actually be paying attention to that is what I'm hearing, you say.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That's a red flag. To answer your question directly, we set boundaries. When they're not respected, we need to up the ante and set a boundary that's, if you want to call it a little further out, if you will. Let them know, not to be patronizing, but just as you would be disciplining a child, “If you don't do this, here's the next consequence.” So, “If you don't stop calling me in the middle of the night, I'm gonna have to shut off my phone.” “If you don't stop talking to me that way, I'm gonna have to take a break from our relationship for a while.” Let them know what it is going to be. If you're having trouble upping the ante, so to speak, or finding a boundary that you feel you can follow through with, or struggling with a difficult person like this, that's something to work with a coach or counselor. Because it's pretty difficult at that level.

Dr. Lisa: It really is. I think also—many people experience these kinds of dynamics with their families. So it's sort of people that you're… it's hard to like, and it can be done. I mean, some people limit relationships with certain family members, and it's a positive thing. But it can be a sticky situation for many. So,but that's good advice. 

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

Oh my gosh. We could talk about so many different aspects of this, Kathleen, but I want to reiterate what I'm hearing you say, which is setting boundaries is not about controlling anybody else. It is about deciding what you're going to do, and what you're okay with, and how you're going to communicate that. You being responsible for your actions. That we can't actually control others. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Right. Healthy boundaries, non-codependent boundaries are assertive boundaries, rather than passive or aggressive ones. Or about taking care of yourself and making sure everybody knows what that's gonna look like. It's not about bargaining with people, or getting certain reactions out of them, or even asking things of them. Even when we compromise, again, that is, “Well, here's where I can meet you. Where can you meet me? Is there a place that overlaps?”

Setting Boundaries in Romantic Relationships

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. So much good stuff. Well, and I want to be respectful of your time. Do you have time to tackle a little listener question with me  for a couple of minutes?

Kathleen: Sure Okay. 

Dr. Lisa: So with all of these things in mind, we had someone get in touch. I'm not sure if it was through Instagram, it may have been. It may have been through the blog at growingself.com.

But this person writes, “My hope is to be able to have a healthy relationship where I'm not sabotaging things or letting my anxiety ruin it. But a big piece of this is me getting better, and my ability to maintain healthy boundaries, and also be comfortable asking people to meet my needs, while at the same time being able to meet theirs. 

What are a couple of things that I could do to get better around the boundary aspect of this?” Just as I read this question out loud to you, my immediate reaction is that this is not an answerable kind of question. This is, like, enter into this growth process that will probably take a while. Is that your reaction to this question? Or am I—maybe there is an easy answer. I don’t know.

Kathleen: Based on what this person is saying. I'm hearing that sabotaging relationships and anxiety. So I think I'm hearing—they're saying that their anxiety around asking for what they need, setting boundaries, etcetera, there might be other stuff there, creates the sabotage. So this is a complicated, multi-layered.

That being said, though, maybe this is because I've been reading Brené Brown. Maybe it's because it’s a quote that I saw earlier today. I wish I could pull it up real quick. But what's coming to my mind is that when we set boundaries assertively, which is so nice, and kind, and compassionate, and all of that good stuff. We are being authentic. Right? That means that we're opening up the opportunity to have intimacy and closeness with that person. That can be scary, and it can feel risky. Sometimes, when we avoid that, we end up sabotaging those relationships anyway. But sometimes we need to sort of dip our toe in that vulnerability pool and see how the person reacts. I'm not talking about “Let's move my boundaries based on how they react”, but rather, “Let's see, is this person safe?” 

If they do respond with love, and compassion, respect, empathy, validation, and respect my boundaries, then maybe next time, I can lean into my anxiety a little bit more and express a little bit of me that makes me little bit more scared, and see what happens. Like learning to feel less anxious. If your partner's a healthy partner for you and a safe partner, we can ease into the practice of setting boundaries and expressing our needs in relationships. 

Dr. Lisa: That is amazing. Yeah. You're saying to do reality testing. “What happens when I do ask for something?” Then there's almost like this exposure therapy component. Like, every time I ask—and it's positive—I'm kind of on, like, a healing those old ideas about who I need to be, and what boundaries mean, because it is actually okay. It's like that healing in the context of the healthy relationship. 

Kathleen: Exactly. Reality testing. Exactly. Especially if you've been with this person for a while already. You know them well, what… are they someone who can hold space for your needs and respect your boundaries? Still—what's the word I'm looking for—still have a strong sense of self and a hearty self-esteem in order to just stand by your side. That, if the evidence is there for that, then it's appropriate to slowly lean into that anxiety. Well, but yeah, that's the process. 

Dr. Lisa: Definitely. And if they can't, or they fall apart, or they get mad at you, or try to punish you, I will refer you back to the recent episode of the podcast in which I discussed narcissism. And there's also one about when to call it quits in a relationship. Just saying it. It might not be the case.

Kathleen: But that's a really good point. Right? All of those things are not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. 

Kathleen: Right? We can—we feel like we don't say that enough, right? Hearing things, like well, defensiveness. Even just defensiveness, right? We all feel defensive sometimes. I think that's a natural human emotion. But again, can your partner feel defensive and still be self-aware enough, and regulate to show up with love and respect?  “Oh, wow. I'm feeling defensive and I want to be here for you. So let me take a moment and come back.” Or “I notice I’m feeling defensive, and your feelings are valid, and really important to me.” Or something like that, right? But acting defensive with minimization, invalidation, blame shifting, that's not okay. 

Dr. Lisa: Not okay. Yeah. 

Kathleen: You don't have to live with it.

Dr. Lisa: What a powerful message and what a nice note for us to land on. It’s beautifully, just affirming, and empowering conversation about boundaries, and what they are, and the path to growth around them. But that also that's a big takeaway for me. That if you encounter these kinds of reactions in someone when you're trying to set healthy and appropriate boundaries, it's not you. It's that. Then to not get tricked into believing otherwise. That's an important message for a lot of people to hear, I think, especially for women.

Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great point. It’s not a reflection of you or the appropriateness of your boundary.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, we could talk for a much longer. So this is such an interesting conversation. And maybe we can revisit this topic and have a part two at some point. But I've really enjoyed your time today. It has been wonderful. 

Kathleen: Well, thank you. I really appreciate being able to be here and talk about this. And it has been, I think, fun. This is my idea of a good time anyway.

Dr. Lisa: We're letting our nerd flags fly, Kathleen. I love it. I had a good time too. Thank you.

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