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The Startling Reason We Sabotage Love

Most relationships fail and nearly half of American adults are unmarried. Why can’t we find love and why don’t relationships last? Paradoxically, as much as we want love, we also fear it. Fear of not being loved is the greatest reason we don’t find love and sabotage it in our relationships. In other words, we can create our worst fear by trying to avoid it. To people who pursue love but attract distancers, this may sound ridiculous. We’d all like to blame our partner or bad luck, but that’s only half the story.

There are hidden reasons we thwart love. Our fears aren’t usually conscious. They include fear of physical or emotional abandonment (not being loved) that includes fear of rejection and fear of remaining unloved and alone. Toxic shame is the main culprit that feeds these fears that sabotage love. It takes many forms.

Shame Thwarts Love

Shame fosters the belief that we’re unlovable and unworthy of connection. Our beliefs motivate our feelings and behavior. They’re like the operating system in our mind-ware. Unfortunately, many negative beliefs run in the background and, like viruses, derail our conscious intentions. Shame-based ideas that we’re undeserving of good, happiness, and love can sabotage our desires and block or push love away. Bottom line: We won’t believe we’re acceptable to others if we don’t accept ourselves. However, we can change our beliefs. 

Low Self-Esteem and Judgment

Shame creates an inner critic who judges us harshly. Our critic also judges others. It can convince us that we’re being judged. This anxiety further proves that we’re unworthy of love. In fact, we’re so anxious about not being loved that we make false assumptions, filter out positive feedback, and misinterpret things to reinforce our negative self-judgments and fears of rejection. Not surprisingly, research shows that the level of our self-esteem is predictive of the longevity of our relationships.

Guilt

Shame also creates guilt. Guilt is anger turned against ourselves. It makes us feel unentitled to success, to happiness, and to love. In relationships, guilt blocks intimacy. We avoid closeness and certain topics to hide what we’re afraid or ashamed to reveal for fear of rejection and abandonment. This is especially true when we’ve been dishonest in the relationship. Until we’ve forgiven ourselves fully, we won’t feel worthy of love. We can’t move forward and may even attract negative experiences and unsuitable partners. Self-forgiveness is entirely possible and is encouraged by all world religions. 

Perfectionism

When we feel flawed and not enough, we might cope by trying to be perfect and beyond reproach. Perfectionism is a compulsive attempt to attain unreasonable standards and expectations. This is, of course, impossible, and leads to anxiety, fear of failing, irritability and unhappiness. Perfectionism obscures our innate worth and makes us focus on the negative. By looking for what’s wrong, we’re unable to enjoy pride and to appreciate our attributes and accomplishments. Because we’re always failing to achieve the unattainable, perfectionism gives ammunition to our critic and separates us from love of self and others. It also impairs our ability to take risks and be vulnerable and authentic, all which are necessary in giving and receiving love. Instead, we feel more inadequate and self-critical. Perfectionists are hard to live with, especially when they’re critical of others and expect them to be perfect, too. They can sabotage love and relationships. 

Inauthenticity

Shame makes us embarrassed and afraid to reveal what we really think and feel. We’re more concerned about not being judged or rejected. However, authenticity is actually more attractive and makes effective communication possible. It builds trust and allows for real intimacy. Dysfunctional communication that’s dishonest, indirect, passive or aggressive prevents closeness and damages relationships.

Comparisons

Shame and feelings of inadequacy lead to comparisons. Rather than recognizing our own worth, we evaluate whether we’re doing better or worse than someone else. Feeling superior is a defense to shame, and envy stems from not feeling that we’re enough. When we negatively compare our partner and relationship, we end up dissatisfied. However, when we accept ourselves, we have humility. We don’t think we’re better or worse. We accept others and realize we’re all unique and flawed individuals.

Distrust Blocks Love

Many people, especially codependents, have a dysfunctional relationship to trust. They’re too trusting, which can lead to disappointment and betrayal; or, they build walls of mistrust to keep love out. People often say that they trust someone until they’re given reason not to, while others who have been hurt expect to be hurt again. They fear rejection and abandonment and expect the worse. They’re suspicious and imagine untrue things about their partner that are hard to disprove. We trust too quickly because we’re impatient for love and fear being unloved and alone. A wiser position is to be neutral, allow a relationship to unfold naturally and trust to build based on experience.

Lack of Integrity

When we sacrifice our values to accommodate our partner, it’s to maintain the relationship due to fear of abandonment. No matter how we justify it to ourselves, when our behavior is not aligned with our standards, we feel guilt or shame that whittle away at our self-esteem and self-worth. By abandoning ourselves, we jeopardize the very relationship that we’re trying to spare.

© 2019 Darlene Lancer      

The Startling Reason We Sabotage Love


Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author of Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People, and Freedom from Guilt and Blame - Finding Self-Forgiveness, available on her website and Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought-after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on Youtube.com, Soundcloud, Twitter @darlenelancer, and at www.Facebook.com/codependencyrecovery.

APA Reference
Lancer, D. (2019). The Startling Reason We Sabotage Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-startling-reason-we-sabotage-love/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Oct 2019 (Originally: 31 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 31 Oct 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.