There was a moment, about a month ago, when I felt like a hypocrite. I was giving advice to a friend who had hit a low point in an abusive relationship. While the details of her life are not mine to share, my task at that moment was to convince a wonderful girl who felt discarded that no matter how imperfect she considered herself, she was still a great catch (brains, body, the whole package), that she had done nothing wrong (except maybe trust the wrong person), and that no one deserved to be mistreated by someone who claimed to love them.
I felt like a hypocrite because I was doling out advice from one insecure girl to another. We both knew it was good advice – difficult, but sound – yet the kind of advice that is much easier to give than to take.
I am a perfectionist. I have been for as long as I remember. Perfection earns you an A+. It earns you smiles and compliments and awards. People respect and admire perfect work. Perfection gets what you want. It is easy to buy into the idea that perfectionism not only garners praise, but earns praise. Everything else somehow feels unworthy. Perfection must be attainable, or else it wouldn’t exist as a standard. Imperfection is simply your failure to meet that standard. Typing these thoughts out, I realize how ridiculous it sounds, but I can’t help believing that everything would fall into place if only I could be perfect. At everything. All the time.
As someone who is incredibly self-critical, it is very easy to fixate on my flaws. I have family baggage – sometimes I feel emotionally/behaviorally broken by my upbringing. I’m socially awkward – I say the wrong things to the wrong people, or say nothing at all. I wish I was more athletic, I have trust issues, I can’t hold my liquor, I don’t work as hard as I’d like, I emotionally close off when I’m upset, I overanalyze to the point of neuroticism… And all the time, I compare myself to those around me.
To return to the topic of insecure girls and relationships, I believe that insecurity sabotages romantic relationships in two major ways. The first way is through distrust and jealousy. They’re lying when the say they’re over their ex. They were definitely cheating when they had dinner with that unnamed opposite-gender ‘friend.’ You always text first. Do they do these things on purpose? To mess with your head and maintain the upper hand? Withholding affection and attention, doling out just enough and just often enough to keep you hooked. You become needy and possessive and hate yourself all the more for it. Somehow you believe that they deserve to be dating the perfect person (the person you are striving and failing to be) while you are willing to accept much less for yourself. There’s a quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” and we don’t believe we deserve much.
The other form of relationship sabotage happens when affection is given freely. When they’ve clearly fallen for you and give you nothing but love and support and affirmation, even when you share the darkest most twisted parts of yourself. When communication at all emotional levels is transparent and thorough. And this makes you pull away – because you’re so sure that anyone who loves someone as messed up as you couldn’t be someone you’d want to be with. Suddenly their love – their seeming blind devotion – becomes stifling. If they are truly that good, then they deserve someone far better than yourself. Someone who appreciates what they can give.
And insecurity doesn’t only sabotage romantic relationships. It can strain friendships and just about any other relationship. I recently spoke with one of my best friends who admitted to being emotionally overwhelmed. He said that problems would start when he’d get upset at someone over small things, and instead of speaking out he would hold those incidents against people and become more upset with them. And then he’d expect them to realize why he was upset, despite never having protested. But whatever initially caused the upset was usually so trivial he’d feel petty bringing it up – he didn’t want to be “that guy” who cared too much about everything. Or maybe the incident really is no big deal, and whatever grief or suspicion has arisen entirely from a dark and paranoid place. So the feelings stay bottled up. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that it’s really hard for some people to express their feelings. There’s never a casual or easy way to tell someone you care about that they’re upsetting you. You’re scared you’ll just be dismissed, or maybe they’ll overreact, and you’ll wish you had never said anything to begin with.
Insecurity is crippling. We see others around ourselves succeeding with apparent ease. We see them happy and functional. Our lives are all fine (we’re young and live comfortable, middle-class, first-world lifestyles) yet we wonder why we’re so miserable. We fight within ourselves about wanting to change – to take more risks in speaking out and trusting others – or sometimes we just want to get over it – to push it all to the backs of our minds and stop caring. It’s exactly the advice we give all the time. The advice we give, but never take.