The problem of feeling unlovable is a deep and complex issue for many people, often for those you would never suspect have a poor sense of self in how well they hide it. There are also those who behave in ways who clearly demonstrate a lack of self love in self-sabotaging behaviors. Feeling unlovable is a highly influential core belief, setting the stage for how we show up for ourselves and for others.
Consider some of the ways; bouts with depression, anxiety, relationship problems and the endless list of behavioral tactics one might use to defend against the ultimate perceived outcome, being alone. Feeling unlovable also underlies other more commonly talked about relationship fears like fear of abandonment, fear of rejection and fear of not being good enough.
What if those who feel unlovable at their core have it all wrong? What if it’s all been a big misunderstanding, a big lie they have mistakingly internalized into the deepest crevices of their minds and hearts?
If you are open to this possibility, you can change. There are steps you can take to unwind out of this narrative, one that likely has not served you for a long time. Whether with a therapist or on your own, you can free yourself from your unlovability myth.
Step 1: Understand the reasons why you feel unlovable
Consider your history going all the way back any related family of origin issues. Your story came from somewhere so getting clarity around this will help you begin to question how. Perhaps the most important people in your life said terrible things to you about or behaved in ways that were scary, unsettling, rejecting or abandoning. Or maybe you received messages (direct or indirect) that your lovability was attached to your performance. Some experience an absence of messaging all together and are left to fill in the blanks. Because children tend to perceive the world revolving around them, they can inappropriately internalize blame for adult actions. The most important takeaway here is to consider the possibility, maybe for the first time, that it wasn’t your fault.
Reflect upon your school experiences, friendships, intimate relationships and other environmental factors and your general trajectory into adulthood. Did you have experiences that reinforced your “unlovability” story? The more they occur, the more they can get infused into how you see yourself, others and the world. A pattern can set in by choosing people or scenarios where the wounds are reinforced.
This is the part where you need to consider your role in recreating the situations you fear most. Have you gravitated towards certain types of people? Have you made choices that ultimately harm you? When you’re in your own weeds, it can be tricky to see clearly. This is why seeking a therapist with a specialty in family of origin work can be helpful.
Family of origin work involves examining each person’s history as a whole, that is, the quality of their parental relationships, their environment, the presence of traumatic experiences and how they have shaped themselves as individuals. The goal of this type of psychotherapy is to guide clients through challenging unhealthy belief systems, developing coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms, along with improving their emotional and relational well-being.
– Eman Almusawi, LMFT
Step 2: Identify the ways you have coped with feeling unlovable.
Once the reasons why you have felt the way you do comes more into focus, your next task is to get clarity around the ways you’ve reacted. It’s human nature to find ways to cope with distress, consciously or unconsciously. Because of the dire threat that feeling unlovable brings, you would of course want to avoid feeling this way at all costs. You have probably found ways to protect yourself emotionally from this.
Some defense mechanisms include:
- numbing (substance abuse and other addictions)
- avoiding connections (isolating, extreme independence, emotional unavailability)
- people pleasing
- engulfment of partners
The sad irony is that the result of the above and other related behaviors tends to ultimately reinforce the very thing you are trying to defend against, in this case, feeling unlovable.
Step 3: Be open to the possibility that you’ve had it wrong this whole time!
Another mindset shift to make is a deep understanding that your experiences don’t define you. Understanding none of this was your fault empowers you to rewrite the story of you and your inherent value. Dig into self compassion practices to help cultivate this.
It’s no wonder I’ve felt this way. But it’s not my fault! I can change!
Step 4: Practice new ways to be with yourself and in relationships
Once you have some ability to see who you really are with more clarity, understand how you have coped with feeling unlovable but now have tapped into a softer and more kinder view of yourself, it’s time to do something different.
Ways to practice self-love:
- take care of yourself (identifying what self-care look like for you)
- live more authentically (find more alignment between your internal world and outward presentation)
- make life choices with more consideration of you
- being open to a growth mindset, understanding learning and changing can occur across the lifespan
A few characteristics of healthy relationships:
- emotional safety for both partners
- open communication
- awareness of prior wounds and if/how they play out in the dynamic
- each partner’s willingness to take responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings
Take time to reflect upon how you can show up differently and make different choices in the framework of a growth and change mindset. Perhaps choosing not to be in a relationship for a while can create the needed space for this. In this time you can focus on new habits with friendships or other relationships which tend to have less emotionally at stake.
Consider the relationship changes you’d like to make. Are there unhealthy relationship patterns you’ve engaged in? Have you been drawn to certain types of people then ignored red flags? Prepare to practice new healthy relationships skills when you are ready.
With enough kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, we can absorb whatever gets stirred up again and again from the mucky bottoms of our psyches. With enough acceptance and trust in the goodness of our own true nature, the old afflictive fears of being unlovable hardly ripple. – Linda Graham, MFT from The Neurobiology of Feeling Unlovable
The problem with feeling unlovable is the way it is so deeply impactful to your life experience. Doing this deeper personal work can free you from your past and the obstacles you put in front of yourself. Seek further education on the topic or a therapist to help be your guide, as needed.
You ARE lovable.