“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
? Maya Angelou
I’ll be the first to admit that I used to be emotionally weak in my relationships – not in a silly, desperate way, but in the same way that many of us are. I wanted somebody to make me happy, I blamed others for my sadness, and I sought to fulfill my emotional needs through other people’s constant validation.
This behavior created three distinct emotional difficulties in my life:
- I had lots of relationship problems, because if the other person’s behavior wasn’t satisfying my needs, I’d get upset and resent it.
- I’d often be unhappy, because I was looking for all my happiness outside of myself, expecting others to somehow fill my self-love deficit.
- I felt helpless and stuck in many cases, because if other people are supposed to fulfill my needs and make me happy, then what happens when they don’t? What could I do if they decided to hurt me instead? I hadn’t a clue.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s clear that I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades turning things around and cultivating my emotional strength. And it has made a world of difference – my relationships are healthier and I’m happier.
When Angel and I began our blog and our coaching practice several years ago, countless people started coming to us who were suffering from the same kinds of emotional weaknesses I used to have. So I began sharing the strategies that helped me heal and, not surprisingly, they worked for these people too. We’ve refined them gradually over the years into a very useful, simple process.
The first step…
Test Your Emotional Strength
Are you emotionally weak and dependent on others for your happiness? Ask yourself these simple questions:
- Are you looking for a partner to make you happy?
- If you’re in an intimate relationship, do you look to this person to validate all your needs?
- When you’re alone, do you feel pressure to fill your alone time with constant distraction? Are you always on your phone/tablet/computer/etc. when you’re alone?
- Do you get upset if your partner doesn’t do things your way?
- Is your relationship your entire world? What about your relationships with friends or other family remembers? Can you tell where their needs end and yours begin?
- Do you get upset if your partner doesn’t include you in what they’re doing 24/7?
- Do you struggle with jealousy?
Obviously, this list isn’t comprehensive, but I’m betting you can see yourself in a couple of those questions, at least to a certain degree.
And that doesn’t mean you’re broken. Most people struggle with several of these issues, though many will likely deny it, because they worry it might make them look inferior to others. No one likes to look that way, or to think of themselves as weak. But possessing any of these issues doesn’t make you anything but human – it simply means you have something positive to work on.
How We Become Emotionally Weak in Our Relationships
The kind of thinking that leads to emotional weakness typically starts in childhood. We rely on our parents for all our emotional needs – love, comfort, validation, etc. And thus, we don’t often fully develop the skills to independently support our emotional strength as children, because our parents, out of love, do their best to provide for all our needs.
Then we grow into adulthood without having learned how to stand strong on our own. So we look for someone else to hold us up and fill our emotional needs. We look for the perfect partner, and will likely go through several breakups because…
- We are not emotionally independent, and so we do “needy” things that hurt our relationships.
- Our partners are struggling in the same way.
If we’re ever hurt, we blame the other person for hurting us. If they aren’t there for us when we need them, we blame them some more. If they treat us poorly again and again, we become victims, because we can’t possibly move on with our lives if someone has done something cruel to us, right? Wrong…
If you can relate to any of this, there is a solution, and it requires you to look within for the happiness and validation you seek. But first, let me give you a few important points to think about…
What You Must Remember
- If your happiness is only ever dependent on the acceptance and approval of other people, then YOU are giving away far too much of your power. It’s human nature to want to be liked and admired, to want to be included, but it’s damaging for your self-esteem and emotional strength if it’s something you have to constantly fight for. (Read The How of Happiness.)
- At the end of the day, how confident you are is essential to the results you will see from your efforts (especially in your relationships). And on a deeper level, when you know you can count on yourself to do the things you say you want to do, it becomes easier to believe that you’ll be successful at bigger, riskier things. Remember that practice makes progress in all areas of your life.
- Happiness is something you decide on, on your own, in the present moment. Whether you like your home or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged – it’s how you arrange your mind. You have to decide to love it just the way it is. It’s a decision you make every morning when you wake up – you can spend the day in bed recounting the problems with the parts of your life that no longer exist, or get out of bed and be thankful for the parts that do exist. It’s up to you, and only you.
- All the validation you need is yours to give yourself. So the next time you feel pressured to impress someone, try taking a deep breath and remind yourself that you don’t owe anyone your justification. Revel in the reality that you get to choose. You have the authority to decide how to spend your time and energy. And here’s the real beauty of it: When you don’t owe anyone anything, you’re free to give and love from the heart.
- When you change how you show up to life, everything in your life changes. That’s the powerful part of the simple steps below. By becoming emotionally stronger, you not only have the power to change your world, but other people’s worlds as well. You have the power to change the entire world in some small way by showing up as the strongest version of yourself. The present and future are not set in stone, they are in your hands.
Becoming Emotionally Strong
At this point it should be clear that other people are an unreliable source of your own emotional needs – they will come and go, or they’ll be emotionally unavailable sometimes for their own personal, uncontrollable reasons.
The good news is, your emotional strength (happiness, validation, etc.) doesn’t require their involvement. It is within you, always. How can you find it and tap into it? It takes some inner searching, and lots of practice, but consider these simple strategies I’ve seen work wonders in hundreds of people’s lives over the years:
- Sit by yourself for 20 minutes each day, without a phone, tablet, TV or other distraction. Look inside – meditate. Notice your thoughts as they come up. Get to know your mind. See how fascinating it is, as you jump from one thought to the next. This in itself is an infinite source of entertainment and learning.
- Create something – come up with ideas for building something from the ground up and then do it – a poem, a painting, a song, an action plan, a business, etc. You don’t need anyone to do those things, and they give you added insight into your own abilities and passions.
- Curiosity is a boundless source of happiness for most people. Exercise it. Explore. Travel. Educate yourself. Read good books. Deepen your knowledgebase on topics you enjoy.
- Talk yourself through your own problems. Find a solution. If you’re bored, fix it. If you are lonely or hurt, comfort yourself. If you’re jealous, don’t hope that someone will reassure you … reassure yourself.
- Take responsibility. If you find yourself blaming others, tell yourself that the other person is never the problem. Of course, you can choose to believe the other person is the problem, but then you are dependent on them for a solution. If you believe that they aren’t the problem, then you are able to look inside yourself for the solution.
- If you find yourself complaining, instead find a way to be grateful.
- If you find yourself being needy, instead find a way to give.
- If you find yourself wanting someone to help you, help yourself.
As you can tell, these strategies don’t really have anything to do with your relationships, at least not directly. It’s about YOU becoming an emotionally strong individual who enters all future relationships, or re-enters present ones, with a newfound inner strength. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
You create your own source of built-in happiness and validation, and then you walk around as a whole, happy human being, needing nothing more.
Come from this place of wholeness, of emotional strength and independence, and then love others. Not because you need them to love you back, not because you’re desperate to be needed, but because loving them is a miraculous thing to do.
Which point in this post resonated the most with you? Do you have any related personal stories to share? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.
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