Not all of us have had phenomenal dating experiences and many of us have had our fair share of stress, anxiety and frustration in the process. We often resort to rehashing our latest dating highs and lows with dear friends. While a little sharing is obviously normal, how do you know if you are really dating in a secure, emotionally free way?
A simple answer is, if you have to call at least five friends to rehash every detail — you are not dating from a place of emotional freedom. You are participating in one version of toxic insecurity — also known as high levels of anxiety.
Why I Believe Anxiety is Part of the Toxic Insecurity Spectrum
Many people with anxiety believe that they are victims of other people’s behaviors or of insensitive people. And to a certain extent, this perception is based in reality. Anxious people often do interact with emotionally avoidant and insensitive people on a regular basis as insecurity of one type attracts insecurity of another type. Anxious people often do not know how sensitive they actually are and struggle with using their intuition and discernment when meeting new people.
The real problem, however, is not just with the other person. The problem is in how much personal power we give over to our anxiety and thus the insensitive person. We get to a place where we expect others to take care of our anxiety without realizing we also need to do our own healing work. The healing process is definitely not easy but anyone who has figured out how to curtail their anxiety, especially as it pertains to dating and relationships, can tell you that it is one of the most emotionally freeing accomplishments that have personally achieved.
Recently, I ran into a friend who gave me a brief update on her dating life. She was one of the ones who used to call every day to rehash every detail of every date and analyze what was right or wrong with the person she was seeing. This time was drastically different. She had recently met a great guy who indicated he may not be ready for a serious relationship. She is ready for one so she set some boundaries about how often she would see him. End of story.
She wasn’t upset about his distancing behaviors (e.g. longer times between texts, waiting to make plans when he used to be very available etc…) She simply decided to keep her options open and explore other connections in hopes of meeting someone who values emotional freedom and security as much as she does. She thanked me for encouraging her to be honest with what she wants and to being open to practice the skills in real life. In the past she would have waited months before saying anything out of fear of scaring someone away. Now, she simply respects other people’s decisions and uses her discernment and intuition to guide her choices about who she dedicates her time to.
In short, there was little drama and not much to talk about. We moved on to talk about work and the hobbies we enjoy. We had a wonderful time without being distracted by the energy of other people and we work on our relationship!
Why Emotional Security Matters
Emotionally secure individuals are capable of engaging with others, are able to communicate their needs and desires, and understand that it is not their fault if someone is acting inappropriately. They can listen without judgment and often make sound relationship decisions. They take what their dates say at face value and do not over-analyze things. People who value their emotional freedom also value their time and try to process interpersonal situations in healthy ways — which could be in therapy or simply limiting the amount of time they spend venting about a particular person! They don’t allow the setbacks and desire for a relationship to overtake other areas of their life.
When was the last time you were able to approach your dating life in such a grounded manner? If you answer is almost never, it is okay. Most of us don’t and we aren’t really encouraged to either. Many of us have to go through the process of healing some form of insecurity before we get to a more grounded place in our dating lives. We’ve had one too many experiences of people disappointing or hurting us. Those of us who can use these experiences to continuously improve our emotional security will, one day, reap the benefits of emotional freedom.
Unfortunately, too many of us avoid doing this kind of work and sit in a lower level of emotional torment where we believe relationships are simply out to hurt us. It has taken me a long time to realize that the anxiety that used to manifest in my relationships was something I had to work on and that it was not the pure fault of the person triggering the anxiety. That person was simply the messenger and I was refusing to hear the message for a long time.
Relationships are our biggest learning opportunities and dating has a given us a new way to speed up the learning process. We honestly should be grateful for the opportunities for modern-day personal development but we are not taught to see real life in this way. With my Venus in Cancer, I truly understand how hard it is — my emotional resilience when it comes to dating had to been learned and it was only in the process of adding tools to my emotional regulation toolbox (a commitment to nutrition, dancing, yoga, meditation, etc…) that I was finally able to break free from my own insecurity and (finally!) trust my intuition.
What Does Toxic Insecurity Look Like (from the anxious perspective)
If it has been awhile, take an inventory of your dating behaviors. Are you currently engaging in or experiencing any of the following?
- Having trouble thinking about anyone or anything other than the person you are dating
- Underestimate what you bring to a relationship and put your partner on a pedestal
- Have an overall anxious feeling that only goes away when you are with your partner
- Believing that your partner can change and deciding not to end a relationship for that reason
- Making excessive attempts to contact your date or partner
- “Keeping score” with regard to how long it takes someone to respond back to you
If you are engaging in these behaviors, you are operating from a place of toxic insecurity and anxiety. As anxious types, we are very triggered by our counterpart, the avoidant. We spend a lot of time blaming avoidants for the pain we are going through instead of learning how to move from this place of insecurity to freedom within ourselves. If you are at the point of complete and utter exhaustion and tired of meeting the same type of person over and over again, it is time to listen to the lesson you need to learn.
What is Really the Lesson that Needs to Be Learned
People suffering with toxic insecurity of the anxious type need to learn to be grounded, strong, and speak up from a place of true inner confidence. It is about learning assertiveness. Every relationship that triggers insecure behaviors is an opportunity for healing. Sometimes it will be therapeutic to tell a date to never contact you again. I, have found however, that most people are too quick to jump to this conclusion before they have explored actually asking for what they really want (which is usually more connection). The other person is often simply reacting to your insecurity and giving you the reaction that you fear the most (self-fulfilling prophecy).
One Simple Way to Learn Assertiveness
Getting started with learning to manage your anxiety is not easy. Many people go to therapy (which is a wonderful start) but therapy is not the only way to get started. One simple way is to begin to look around at the people in your life and consciously decide which friend is adding value to your life by checking in to see how you feel after you spend time with that person. Spend more time with that person if you feel invigorated — this is the first step to living an authentically confident lifestyle.
Toxic insecurity continues to breed when we walk our lives in a mindless manner. If we are not checking in with how we feel around certain people, we are inviting the wrong people in. This can have a devastating effect on our overall health and wellbeing. As someone with anxiety, you are likely much better at tuning into how you feel before and after you spend time with your friends, coworkers or people in a support group. Consciously choose to follow your joy.
If you find that you do not have many people who are bringing you joy, it is time to try new activities in settings with positive energy. It may be time to try yoga, meditation or dance — even if it is to put yourself in a new, hopefully, more positive environment.
Real healing does not come in avoiding relationships. It comes with doing the internal work of getting to a place of true emotional freedom and then learning to be more discerning about who gets access to your world. Some of us need less boundaries, other of us need more boundaries. The overall purpose, however, is not to keep everyone away (that will attract narcissists) but is to value yourself and the importance of relationships as part of your experience of living your life.
Relationships are here to help us learn. The pain we go through is just part of the process of learning to take better care of ourselves. We are all capable of moving to a place of emotional freedom and the work to get there is completely worth it.
. . .
Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.
This post was previously published on Mind Cafe and is republished here with permission from the author.
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