Some people work hard to be the center of attention. They may do this by flaunting possessions, like their car or clothing. Or they might show off their social status through touting their income, body shape, or the size of their home.

Sometimes they simply remind you frequently about how smart, successful, or great they are. And they may have friends or colleagues that admire them.

Does this sound like you or your partner? Ask yourself: are these behaviors driven by ego or self-esteem?

Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell, but there is a distinct difference between the two. And while self-esteem is healthy, ego isn’t.

Self-Esteem

Here are a few signs that someone has self-esteem:

  • They are connected to their real authentic Self, expressing their thoughts and emotions in appropriate, connected ways.
  • They behave in a way that aligns with their core values.
  • They treat themselves and others with respect, compassion, and empathy.
  • They are comfortable setting, maintaining, enforcing, and reviewing healthy boundaries.
  • They are confident, connected, open-minded, and curious.
  • They embrace ideas, people, culture, and customs different from their own.
  • They do the right thing even when no one is watching.
  • They take responsibility for their actions and behavior.
  • Their behavior matches their internal goodness and Core Values.

You could compare someone with self-esteem to a rock: solid. What you see on the outside is also on the inside.

Ego

Here are a few signs that someone is behaving based on ego and has low self-esteem:

  • They are disconnected from their real Self, showing a false self to the world.
  • They don’t behave in a way that aligns with their Core Values.
  • They are often thin-skinned, quick to become angry when someone has a different point of view.
  • They make claims about themselves without having the accomplishments to back it up.
  • They call a lot of attention to themselves when they are doing the right thing.
  • They blame others for their own failures and missteps.
  • They often feel personally attacked and lash out.
  • They often devalue other people in an effort to feel more powerful.
  • They are addicted to Criticism (and ALL criticism is self-criticism, as all love is self-love).

You could compare someone with low self-esteem to an egg: fragile. Empty on the inside.

People often develop a large ego because their caregivers did not support their real self during childhood. They may have been treated as though they were incompetent, inadequate, unimaginative, or disappointing.

So, they create a false self to show the world that they are the exact opposite of these things. Creating and maintaining this false self takes a lot of energy. And since it is based more on appearance than action, it is an incredibly fragile façade. It is there to protect the person from feeling bad about themselves.

Does This Sound Like You?

If this rings true to you, you should know that your real self is still there. It’s inside you. Your ego is just acting as a placeholder until you can connect with your real self.

To access and accept your real self, you need to start by letting go of the negative labels and images that were fed to you during childhood. Then work to behave in ways that match your core values – even when no one is watching.

This won’t be an easy process, but it will help you to develop a deeper connection with others. Instead of using your energy to maintain that fragile false self, you can work towards building relationships with others who will love and support your real self.

As you reconnect with your real self, your self-esteem will rise. And as your self-esteem rises, your ego will fall. It won’t be needed anymore!

All of this individual work can best be done in couples therapy versus any other individual mode being a distant second. So, if you’re blessed now with a current partner and have a competent Couples Therapist, and especially if you both have Imago’s Couples Workshop under your belts, you’ll be able to build a stronger, healthier, and happier relationship with yourself and your partner.​

“I would be so happy in our relationship if only you would change your behavior!”

I hear comments like this all the time from couples in therapy or IMAGO workshops.

And it’s usually followed by a statement that starts with either “You always…” or “You never…”

The truth is, things will never change with this approach!

Every time you use an “always” or “never” statement, you are actually encouraging your partner to view this behavior as a part of themselves. It must be who they are, after all, since they are “always” or “never” engaging in this behavior.

And you are certainly encouraging yourself to view your partner in this light. You will notice each instance of the behavior – and you will be less likely to notice when the behavior isn’t present.

Instead of encouraging change, you are effectively “freezing” your partner in this image. And you’ll just become stuck in a pattern that’s painful for both of you.

Understanding the Source of This Frozen Image

Have you ever taken a step back to look at why this particular behavior frustrates you so much?

It goes back to your childhood. With your caretaker, you had a particular back-and-forth interaction at an early age. From that, a pattern was formed.

You learned that this is what a love relationship should look like, sound like, and feel like.

Fast forward to today.

You are subconsciously steering your pattern toward that very same image of a love relationship. That “frozen image” you wish could change so much, yet you are also unintentionally encouraging.

But the truth is if your partner suddenly did change the behavior you dislike, you would find it uncomfortable, even terrifying.

That’s because subconsciously you would worry about your ability to be in a relationship with your partner. You’d lack the relationship skills to be with this new person.

You know one particular pattern, and if that pattern was suddenly gone, it would throw you off balance and make you feel anxious.

In fact, if there are times when your partner does stop the frustrating behavior, you may even find yourself feeling anxious, “knowing” this will end soon. In fact, you may even unconsciously do or say something to make it end sooner!

That’s just one way that you may subconsciously work to maintain this pattern and “frozen image”. The ways you are steering your partner’s behavior can be subtle or extreme.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you came from an alcoholic family. As a result, you are desensitized to that environment.

So, if your partner has just one drink every month, you might tell them, “I think you have a drinking problem.”

Your comment doesn’t really match reality. But it comes from your past. You are seeing a pattern that isn’t really there. And that can damage your relationship.

Breaking the Pattern and Unfreezing the Image

Here’s the good news: you can change both subtle and extreme freezing behaviors. You can break the pattern. But it will require you to do a few things.

Actively listen. Really hear what your partner has to say. Get to know them on a deeper level.

Mirror their exact words. This process will allow you to see the “real self” of your partner. And that’s the only way you can develop the necessary skills to be with your partner.

Be kind to each other. It will take time to change the old pattern. Don’t expect a “quick fix” overnight. It’s a process. Be patient – with yourself and your partner.

Remind yourself that you can do this. It is a necessary skill to develop. The old pattern kept you safe as a child, but today it is only damaging you and your partner.

Trust that you have the ability to learn. You can grow outside of your comfort zone. You can learn new ways to be in a love relationship with your partner.

The process of learning and growth will serve to strength your connection – and help you build a happier, long-lasting relationship. If you need help, seek the guidance of an experienced Houston marriage counselor.

When you think of love, do you imagine that moment where Cupid hits two people in the heart? They then look at each other and fall instantly, forever, in deep, true love. Then they ride off together into the sunset to live happily ever after.

If so, you are falling for a myth. It’s one that is perpetuated by the books, TV, and movies we consume.

It’s not that this type of love doesn’t exist. You likely experienced this type of intense connection with your partner at the beginning of your relationship. You both fell for one another, and everything seemed perfect for a while.

But this isn’t “true love.” Don’t believe me? Consider that you can encounter this type of love on any middle school campus. That’s because it is driven by hormones. These love chemicals help us feel a connection to one another, and they are powerful… until they fade away.

And when that happens, you may feel like the love is slipping away. The relationship becomes stuck. Each person thinks the other needs to change to improve the relationship. When that person doesn’t, many couples think this is a sign that they haven’t found “the one.” And they split up. Then they repeat the pattern with someone new – and end up in the same place.

Love isn’t mean to be easy. It takes work. Even when you are with the “right” person.

It’s okay to mourn the loss of that beautiful infatuation stage, but if you want to discover love, you need to let go of the myth and break that pattern.

How to Embrace the Real Meaning of Love

Here are a few tips for doing that:

Think of love as an action, not a feeling.

You don’t feel love; you do it. Commit to demonstrating your love to your partner each and every day. Don’t wait for love to happen. Bring it into being.

Be intentional with your behaviors and expressions of love for your partner.

Shift your thinking.

Do you find yourself thinking, “What has my partner done for me lately?” But what if you changed that mindset to, “How can I demonstrate my love for my partner today?”

And don’t be afraid to ask exactly that question. Make it your mission to discover what behaviors and expressions make your partner feel the most loved by you.

Then put that knowledge into action. Give those “gifts” freely. For some, it may be literal gifts, but there are so many ways to express your love.

Remind yourself what love really does mean.

It’s about so much more than that infatuation you experienced at the beginning of your relationship. And it is so much more meaningful and profound.

  • Love is about gratitude. You are so grateful that this other person wants to join you on this journey. This person wants you in their life, even on your worst days.
  • Love is intentional. It’s not something that just happens. You choose to give it. And you intentionally go out of your way to share it and show it.
  • Love is action-oriented. You don’t just sit bit and wait for it. You don’t just assume your partner “knows.” You take actions every day to express your love.
  • Love is unconditional. Your partner may have seemed so perfect at the start of your relationship, but over time, you uncovered flaws. And you are choosing to love your partner despite those flaws – because of them.

And let’s be honest: you, too, are a human being. Your partner is choosing to love you – flaws and all – as well.

That is something to be deeply grateful for. It’s something worth working on and fighting for. So, embrace the true definition of love. And make love an action – each and every day.

If you need help making love an action, seek the help of a marriage therapist in Houston.

Maybe it’s a pointed comment from your partner. It could be a look. Or even a certain tone.

But it just sets you off. You can’t help but respond with a harsh comment.

Your partner does the same. And suddenly, things have escalated into a heated argument.

You both walk away feeling angry, frustrated, confused, and disappointed.

Does that sound familiar? That’s because it is a common pattern for couple interactions, and it is all caused by how our brains are wired to protect us for survival. Read more