Many people crave all the good that comes with being in a loving relationship, like having someone who'll be there through life's ups and downs. But for some people, accepting love isn't always easy. Understanding why people can feel unworthy of love is the first step towards letting go of this toxic thought pattern. Although most people can probably think of a situation where they felt they didn't deserve the love, praise, or compliments others were giving them, if you frequently find yourself feeling inferior to others, or unworthy of love, this is something that shouldn't be brushed under the rug. According to Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, feeling unworthy of a loving relationship is much more common than you might think.
"Many people have the feeling that they are not deserving of romantic love, but this is not a healthy, productive, or useful feeling," Klapow tells Elite Daily. "So while it is common, it is something that needs to be addressed or it will have a negative influence on all your subsequent romantic relationships." Unfortunately, there isn't a quick fix when it comes to dealing with negative emotions — especially when they are the result of childhood baggage or toxic romantic relationships from the past. "Very often it is a combination of our experiences in past romantic relationships, along with our attachment style [that dictates how someone experiences love]," says Klapow. "Our approach to relationships (particularly romantic ones) is most heavily influenced by our developmental attachment experiences as children."
Children who grow up in stable homes have the opportunity to cultivate a healthy attachment style that allows them to give and receive love in functional and sustainable ways. "As children, if we form secure attachments with our parents (or caregivers) through their consistent love, presence, and attention, then we come to see relationships as relatively stable," explains Klapow. "Having a secure attachment style means we're more likely to feel we're deserving of these kinds of relationships as we grow into adults."
If your childhood involved instability or a lack of consistent love from your primary caregivers, this can have a massive impact on how you respond to relationships as an adult. "When parents are inconsistent in their emotional presence, ability to both love and soothe, or couldn't always be counted on emotionally, then we tend to form anxious attachment styles," says Klapow. "This can translate into adulthood where we look at relationships as being unstable and feel the need to cling or pull them close. This can also cause someone to question their deservedness of a secure, loving relationship."
The third attachment style is known as avoidant, which is typically a result of family dysfunction and emotional manipulation in childhood. "If our parents were emotionally unavailable or made intense love emotions manipulative or coercive, we tend to develop avoidant attachment styles, where we grow scared of intense emotional connection and will develop reasons why we don’t want it, deserve it, or need it," explains Klapow. According to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health in 2008, being a survivor of emotionally or physically abusive romantic relationships can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.
Healing old wounds is the only way to ensure that negative experiences in the past don't affect your ability to carry out healthy and happy relationships in the present. According to Klapow, seeking out help from a mental health professional is key because low self-worth can impact so much more than your romantic life. "It is something that is extremely difficult to think our way out of on our own and something that needs reflection, a developmental review of our relationships, and some guidance in how we think about ourselves, others, and the world," says Klapow. "If we are feeling we are not deserving of romantic relationships and that is a core, strong belief, then it is important to get help as it can forever affect our approach to romance and love."
Unlearning deeply ingrained thought patterns is an ongoing process that is necessary if you want to start living your best life. If paying for therapy out of pocket isn’t an option for you, be sure to check with your health insurance provider, college health center, employee benefits, or reach out to a community mental health center near you to find out about more affordable options. Even if being in a romantic relationship isn't something you're actively looking for, dealing with past trauma can help you become a stronger and more confident individual. So, if you've ever felt like you don't deserve love, just know that you can learn to let go of this toxic mindset.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show