NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem? Part 1

At the beginning of any relationship, it's not unusual to have doubts about the relationship.  But if, over time, you continue to have doubts about whether your relationship is affecting your sense of self, you would be wise to ask yourself: "Is my relationship damaging my self esteem?"

The Myth that Heartbreak Is Inevitable in Relationships
In our culture, we see so many movies, TV programs and hear so many songs that give the message that heartbreak is an inevitable part of relationships.  But, while this might make for compelling songs and drama, the experience of continual emotional pain isn't the basis for a healthy relationship.  And if you're in a relationship where your self esteem is taking a hit, it's time to take a closer look at your relationship and its effect on you.

Answering the Question:  "Is my relationship damaging my self esteem?"
When I work with clients who come to therapy because they're not sure if they should remain in their relationship or not because they're experiencing a lot of emotional pain, I usually ask them how they feel about themselves in the relationship.
Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?

Often, people will respond by telling me how much they love their partner, and they know that their partner loves them.  At that point, I ask them again to think about how their sense of self has been affected by the relationship.

At that point, it's not surprising to hear, in many cases, that their self esteem has been eroded by the relationship because of the emotional pain that they've endured.  Having admitted that, many clients will go on to say, "But I know that he (or she) doesn't mean to hurt me."

But realizing that your experiences in your relationship diminish your sense of self is often a powerful sign that this might not be the relationship for you.

Let's take a look at the following fictionalized vignette:

Ann and Ted:
During the first few months of their relationship, Ted felt that he and Ann were meant for each other.  They were hardly ever apart.

But things changed quite a bit about six months into the relationship after Ted's mother, who was a widow, developed a chronic illness.   Ted and his sister were spending a few hours each weekend helping his mother with grocery shopping and chores around the house.  Ann resented this.  She complained bitterly that Ted was less available to go away on weekends.

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?
Ann and Ted Began Having Problems After Ann Became Critical of Ted and Refused to Hear Him Out

About once a month, Ted arranged for other family members to help his mother so he and Ann could get away.  But Ann still resented that he wasn't as free as he was before.  She criticized him, called him "a mama's boy" and made other derogatory remarks.

Ted understood Ann's disappointment, but he also felt annoyed that Ann wasn't being more understanding.  Her derogatory remarks were also hurtful to Ted.  It also bothered him that she refused to listen to him when he tried to explain why he had to help his mother.

His worry about his mother and the emotional pain he felt due to Ann's resentment and critical remarks brought Ted into therapy.  He felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

As we explored Ted's issues, it became increasingly evident that Ann's put downs were eroding Ted's self esteem.  Even after his mother got better and he didn't have to spend as much time helping her over the weekend, Ann continued to be scornful of him.  She also made disparaging remarks about his sister and other family members.

Even after his mother was better and no longer required help, Ted knew that she was getting older and would probably require more help from him and his sister in a few years.  It bothered him that Ann would be so unempathic, and he wondered what this would mean for their relationship in the long run.

Over time, Ted came to the conclusion that Ann was being selfish.  He asked himself if he could have done anything differently and he came to the conclusion that, for the most part, he couldn't.  Neither he nor his family could afford to hire someone to help his mother, so the responsibility fell to his sister and to him.

Ted tried to work things out with Ann, but she continued to be critical and dismissive of him.  At that point, he realized that he didn't want to be with someone who lacked empathy and had such a damaging effect on his self esteem so, with a heavy heart, he ended the relationship.

Are You in a Relationship That Is Damaging Your Self Esteem?
In my next blog post, I'll provide tips with how to deal with this issue.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner have tried, without success, to work out the issues in your relationship that have been damaging to your self esteem, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has the expertise to help you work on this issue.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples to work on self esteem issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem - Part 2