My college boyfriend made me feel bad about myself for the most random things. According to him, my favorite movies weren't "weird" enough (because I like rom-coms, I guess), my music taste wasn't "alternative" enough (I un-ironically like Top 40), and I was "too loud" (I'm from Jersey, OK?). I also didn't smoke weed, which made me "uptight." I felt like, in his eyes, I was a vapid, ignorant child who knew nothing about being cool and embracing culture, and I've brought this screwed up sense of self to every relationship after him. Learning how to overcome insecurity in a relationship, especially when every insecurity I feel has nothing to do with current partners and everything to do with my ex, has been the most challenging thing I've ever done.
My insecurities turn couples' activities that should be fun and light-hearted into deep existential crises about how lame I am. Here's an example: If I'm preparing to go out with a guy I'm dating and he wants to pre-game to, say, an indie band, while I'd prefer to pre-game to "Sorry" by Justin Bieber, I would keep that preference to myself because I don't want to be judged for loving such a "basic" song. Mind you, I've yet to date someone after college who would judge me for something as absurd as that. In fact, everyone I've dated after my college boyfriend would easily bump to the Biebs right alongside me. But I'm so scarred from being judged by my ex that I project that fear onto current partners and stay quiet.
Lots of us have insecurities from past relationships that we carry with us into new relationships. Maybe your ex made you feel like you needed to lose a few pounds, so every time you're in bed with your partner, you try to cover your thighs. Maybe your ex cheated on you, so now you panic every time your partner goes hours without responding to a text. Whatever your insecurity, there are ways to overcome it so it doesn't ruin your sense of self or your current relationship.
Here are some things that work for me, as well as suggestions from relationship expert Susan Winter.
Remind Yourself That You're Not Dating Your Ex
It's really important to remind yourself, every day, that just because your ex cheated on you doesn't mean your current partner will do the same thing. Just because your last partner thought your thighs were "too thick," believed you were "unintelligent," or thought your music taste was "basic" doesn't mean your current partner feels the same way. "You need to consciously remind yourself of that fact and not let the bogeymen of the past make you see bogeymen in your future," Winter says. The more you tell yourself that you're dating an entirely new person right now, the more your subconscious will believe it.
If you feel yourself begin to respond to a situation in your current relationship like you're dealing with your ex, regain control by engaging in "positive self-talk," Winter says. "That's code for a litany of positive arguments to counter your fears."
Here's a great example of positive self-talk from Winter:
For example: 'He's not answering my text messages. Where is he? He must be with someone else.' The positive self-talk argument to correct this fear would be, 'Josh has given me no reason to distrust him. Maybe he's busy or focused on something else. I'm going to let this go and not borrow trouble. I'll find out soon enough what happened.'
Reminding yourself that you're dating an entirely new person will also help you realize that your current partner isn't even thinking about that thing your ex made you feel so insecure about. Your new partner doesn't think your thighs are thick. They don't think you're stupid. They don't think your music taste sucks. They think you're awesome! That's why they're dating you. "Whatever your issue and whatever your fear, don't assume this is a big deal for your new mate," Winter says. If you start to spiral, though, positive self-talk will help you out: "[Say,] 'OK, maybe this is just my issue. He/she doesn't seem to care, so I'm going to do myself a favor and quit borrowing trouble. They chose me. They care for me. And I'm going to trust that what I think is a deficit isn't even on their radar,'" says Winter.
What this entire point comes down to is this: Humans are different. What applies to one person does not apply to another. This realization, I assure you, is very, very freeing.
Don't Boil Yourself Down To One Quality
My ex believed that girls who smoked weed were cool and desirable. Girls who didn't, like me, were neither cool nor desirable. I know, it's dumb. But because of this, I can get super insecure about the fact that I've only done it, like, three times in my life (and low-key hated it every time). It makes me feel like an anal-retentive, straight-edge loser, and something as simple as seeing a bowl in the apartment of a guy I'm dating can trigger me. I start imagining all the chill stoner girls he's probably gotten high with, and how I've never been that girl, and oh my God, does he wish I was that girl???
However, "historically not a weed smoker" isn't my only quality. I'm also pretty, smart, interesting, and fun! I may not be "chill," but I am a package, damn it, and reminding myself of this helps me feel more secure in my relationships when I'm starting to spiral. "You need to consciously remind yourself of all the qualities you have, not limit your entire worth to this one particular area," Winter says. You, too, are more than your "thick thighs," your "lack of intelligence," or any other area in which your ex made you feel inadequate. You have so many other qualities that make up the entire package of who you are that your current partner loves. Don't boil yourself down to just one quality, especially when that quality is the one your ex made you feel bad about.
Which leads me to my next point...
Gain Some Good Ol' Fashioned Self-Esteem
The simplest solution, and yet the most complicated.
To continue with my weed example: Yes, I have days where I'm insecure about not being chill with weed. But then I have days where I love making fun of myself for it. I laugh at the fact that I've said things like, "Do you do weed?" because I literally don't know the lingo. When I fully embrace myself for who I am, nobody can tear me down — not even the inner self-hatred monologue that threatens to sabotage my relationships.
It's cliché and eye-rolly, but true confidence really does come from within. I know how easy it is to fall victim to the voices inside your head telling you that you aren't good enough, but you need to remember that you're not actually not good enough — your ex just manipulated you into believing that. Don't let them have that power over you! In fact, take the power back by empowering yourself with the knowledge that your ex does not determine what is cool, sexy, or desirable about you — you do. You get to decide what's awesome about you. Nobody else.
And when you silence all the outside noise — when you choose to listen to yourself instead of other people telling you who and what you should and shouldn't be — you become unstoppable in not only your relationships, but in your life.
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