Why Insecurity & Approval-Seeking Lead to Unhealthy Relationships

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” ~Robert Holden

As a child I was carefree and enthusiastic. Aren’t most kids? At some point, though, life began to impact me and to affect how I felt about myself.

For as long as I can remember, I was a chubby kid. I began using food as a means of coping, and my family didn’t seem to see it as an issue. Coming from an Italian family, food was correlated with love.

As I moved into my adolescent years, being chubby was no longer “cute,” and other kids picked on me consistently.

I began to realize the world was not so kind. My peers were mean, and so were some people who should have been mentors. I began to feel isolated and alone.

I couldn’t understand why people were so cruel, and I began to turn my pain inward. I thought there had to be something wrong with me.

I began trying to change in an attempt to win people over. I was able to do this easily, largely because I was very giving. Looking back, I realize I was buying friendships. I still know many of those people today, but I’m sad to say they eventually became acquaintances.

Though I wasn’t attracting bad people, my relationships with them negatively impacted my sense of self because I wasn’t being authentic. I now know that trying to prove our worth to others increases our feelings of isolation and shame, because it reinforces that we aren’t valuable without their approval.

My dysfunctional relationship with food continued throughout my college years. Eventually, I stopped coping through overeating and began to restrict and over-exercise instead—again, trying to change myself in and attempt to gain acceptance from others.

Yet I never felt accepted. I continued to attract relationships that were not healthy for me.

When we feel insecure, we often will attract people who feed into that insecurity.

In my case, I attracted people who were either emotionally unavailable or critical of me. I would make them a priority, even though I was only their option. Because I had low self-worth, I gravitated toward people who treated me the way I saw myself, and ultimately, felt more alone.

All my relationships were codependent, and this bred insecurity and pain. If healthy individuals crossed my path, I repelled their love and their support.

I just wanted to be liked. I just wanted to be loved.

I married the first person who showed me a taste of what I thought love was, and nine months after we said “I do,” we divorced. I was walking through the script of what I thought was supposed to happen in life, without any connection to whom I was and what I needed.

Needless to say, divorce was a rough time, but it was also a blessing in disguise. I was forced to get acquainted with myself. I went through terrible financial strain, lost friends, got into some legal trouble, and really just lost myself. But, did I ever have myself? I don’t think I did.

I never knew what it meant to be a true friend because I wasn’t being a good friend to myself.

During this time, I became even more scared and lost. I disconnected from people that potentially cared for me, and I couldn’t blame them for ending our friendships.

Many assumed I was disingenuous because I was constantly shifting who I was around different people. They also assumed I was being selfish and a bad friend when I skipped social gatherings, when in actuality, I only stayed home because I felt anxious, insecure, or depressed.

Though their rejection hurt, I understand why they didn’t trust me. When we don’t know and trust ourselves, how can we expect others to do so?

Through years of falling down and getting back up, I learned what it meant to be there for myself. I was looking to others to give me worth, without trusting that I had any.

One of the hardest things we have to do in life is get to know ourselves and love ourselves through that process.

Once you learn about yourself, you learn what and whom you need in your life.

It takes honesty, humility, and accountability to develop a true relationship with yourself. You have to be able to dig deep and recognize your faults. You have to show yourself the loving-kindness you show the people you care about.

I became very familiar with myself. It took time, and it was painful, but I truly have become my own best friend.

When we learn about what makes us tick, what motivates us, and what we will and will not tolerate, the right people come into our lives.

People treat us the way we allow them to treat us. When we love ourselves, we set healthy boundaries with others. We don’t accept, tolerate, or reinforce what is potentially harmful to us.

So, how do we start loving ourselves? How do we stop trying to change who we are to get other people to like us?

First, we need to become acquainted with ourselves.

We need understand our feelings and learn to listen to our intuition.

We cannot run away from our feelings through self-judgment, numbing, or lashing out. We have to meet our feelings with compassion.

Moreover, once we hear our intuition, we have to be able to honor that by setting boundaries with others. We cannot be afraid to say no. The best rule of thumb is that saying yes to others should not be saying no to yourself.

We need to make time for ourselves.

It’s important to fulfill our own needs. We need to do things that we love and take good care of ourselves. We need to learn to enjoy our own company. We need to learn how to dig deep and be honest with ourselves so that we don’t lose ourselves in relationships with others.

We have to practice forgiveness.

We have to learn to forgive ourselves and others. We need to process old wounds and resentments. We have to trust that our mistakes bring lessons, and understand that we are all ever-changing works-in-progress.

We have to be able to accept where we are right now, while striving for where we may want to be.

The person at the top of the mountain did not fall there. It’s important to be patient with ourselves through the different chapters of our lives. We cannot compare our beginning to someone else’s middle.

We have to realize we are beautiful just as we are.

There is no need for a mask, and no benefit of pretending to be someone you are not. You have nothing to prove to others. Dr. Seuss once said “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

We have to love the parts of ourselves that brings no applause from others.

Our beauty lies in our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. When we embrace who we are and show up authentically, we open ourselves up to real love, relationships, and happiness.

I have learned that I am worthy of love and acceptance regardless of my past.

Once we fully grasp this, we only allow people into our lives who reinforce our worth.

My circle has changed regularly and has become quite small, but the quality has improved greatly.

When you love yourself, you won’t allow anyone or anything to get in the way of that love.

About Lauren Golombek

Lauren is a therapist specializing in co-occurring disorders. She helps people process their shame and their pain, aids in stopping self-defeating patterns, and helps others build resilience and hope. You can find her on Psychology Today here.

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  • With the exception of the divorce, it is like you wrote about my life. I’ve just begun to learn how to be my best friend and it scares the hell out of me. Your statement though, about saying yes to others while making sure you are not saying no to yourself, is just the focal point to get me started. Thank you.

  • fragglerock

    It’s tough to come to these realizations, even tougher to realize our parents did not provide us with what we needed. It’s important to recognize our caretakers’ faults so that we don’t continue blaming ourselves for what we had no control over. This piece could have been called “Why unhealthy relationships lead to more unhealthy relationships.” Insecurity comes from not having any growing up. Many parents believe it’s sufficient to provide for a child’s physical needs while never really meeting their emotional needs.

  • Ashley Frankland-Spicer

    Love this so much! So beautifully written and hits so close to home. Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Lauren Michelle

    I am so glad it was helpful <3

  • Lauren Michelle

    I agree. It is important to return that shame to the appropriate carrier. It is important to also be honest with ourselves on ongoing shame we are responsible for re-creating in our adult lives, too. It is a process, but re-parenting that inner-child is a beautiful process.

  • Lauren Michelle

    I believe awareness is the first step, and then practice putting the boundaries in place. It is a journey. We are all we really have in this life, and criticizing ourselves could only motivate us so far.

  • Jess Ritchie

    This is a wonderful article and truely resonates with me. I have gone thru almost all the same things and am just starting to realize I need to work on me before anything else will change! It is a very scary realization but I am willing to work on finding out who I am. Thanks so much for this article, it came to me at just the right time!

  • Annalisa

    Dear Laura

    Thank you for this … it is the story I am living right now. My divorce will hopefully be finalized by December. In spite of all the pain, I know I did the right thing by leaving.

    Reading your article has given me hope.

    Thanks for that.

  • Lauren Michelle

    I am grateful to hear of the hope. It is hard to see it in the midst of the storm. Hang on…it will get better.

  • Lauren Michelle

    I don’t know you, but I know you are worth it. Developing the relationship with yourself will be the best thing you will do in this life. I have been awesome being my enemy. Becoming my friend was difficult, but truly liberating. I wish you the best.

  • Supriya Rao

    Nice article Lauren!

  • Lauren Michelle

    Thank you!

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message! Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Love when you said “Our beauty lies in our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. When we embrace who we are and show up authentically, we open ourselves up to real love, relationships, and happiness.” AWESOME! 🙂

  • Rebecca Zienkowicz

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have been going through a lot and definitely needs this today.

  • Lauren Michelle

    I am glad to have been of help 🙂

  • Lauren Michelle


  • Gretchen Phoenix

    While I agree with much of what the article says, i am a person who has a lot of shame and dysfunctional relationships in my past. At times my “picker” was broken at other times expectations were unrealistic. in my experience my relationships have been transactional and ended when i no longer was able to provide the other person with what they needed or when I made a request of them. I’ve come to learn if you’re not what the other person is looking for no amount of growth, discovery or change in behavioral patterns will matter. So for now i am enjoying keeping my circle small.