Dear Sahaj: I am a 24-year-old woman, and I have been in a hetero relationship for three years. It has been going well, yet I have an unshakable fear of being dumped — like it’s the worst thing that could happen, no matter how respectful or rational that decision may be.
This is my first relationship, but it feels like a deeper problem, and I don't want it to drive my relational habits going forward.
The fact that I have this fear means even small and normal amounts of conflict in the relationship are really loaded for me, and as a result for him. We have something beautiful, which I want to learn to enjoy more by being mentally and emotionally present. I don’t want to be driven by the fear of losing it.
How do I keep the fear of rejection at bay?
Wondering: While it’s perfectly normal to want to belong, to be loved and to have successful relationships, a chronic fear of rejection may indicate something bigger — like a past trauma. Consider where this fear of rejection comes from, and how it manifested for you as a child, growing up or in other relationships. If the fear is deeply rooted in something more painful than your present relationship, I’d encourage you to seek out a professional to work toward treating that wound.
When we believe something about ourselves, no matter how much we don’t want to believe it, we may start to subconsciously act in ways to make it true. I hear insecurity and a lack of confidence in your question. Take a second to digest these next two questions:
Do you believe you are lovable? Do you believe you are worthy of love?
While you want this relationship to work out, reflect on if you are behaving in ways that may be self-sabotaging your relationship. This may look like placing unrealistic expectations on your boyfriend. Additionally, consider if there are any realistic needs that aren’t being met, like verbal validation, that can help you feel more secure with him. While your boyfriend can be supportive, you will need to go solo on self-reflection.
First romantic relationships often have a steep learning curve. However, three years is a long time! This isn’t new, which means that you and your boyfriend have attained some stability in your relationship. Yet, you still worry about it ending. This makes me wonder if it’s the happiness part that makes you so uncomfortable or concerned with the end.
You deserve to be happy. Don’t gloss over that …. You. Deserve. To. Be. Happy. If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, or are somehow convinced you don’t deserve this, then you’re not really being present in your relationship. This isn’t easy to learn, but you can practice implementing a few things in your life to help you learn to accept happiness, build confidence and focus on the present.
You can schedule worry time in your week and only during that time allow yourself to freak out about getting rejected. You can practice mindfulness through focused breathing and noticing your emotions and body sensations that provide exemptions to this fear of rejection. You can say affirmations in the mirror every morning and evening to remind yourself that you are worthy. You can ask your friends and other relationships what they like about you and keep the list handy to remind yourself that you are deserving.
You may want to also learn to reframe conflict resolution as something that is beneficial for your relationship rather than something that is harmful. By caring enough about one another to work through any conflict, you and your boyfriend are actually allowing yourselves to grow together, and that is beautiful.
Sahaj Kaur Kohli, creator of Brown Girl Therapy and a mental health professional, is answering questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for her, please submit it here.