The Startling Reason We Sabotage Love


distant-couple-in-bedMost relationships fail and nearly half of American adults are unmarried. Why can’t we find love and why don’t relationships last? As much as we want love, paradoxically, we also fear it. Fear of not being loved is the greatest reason we don’t find love and sabotage it in relationships. Ironically, we can create our worst fear by trying to avoid it. This may sound ridiculous if you attract distancers.

We’d all like to blame our partner or bad luck, but that’s only half the story. There are hidden reasons we thwart love. Our fears aren’t usually conscious. They include fear of physical or emotional abandonment (not being loved) that includes fear of rejection and fear of remaining unloved and alone. Toxic shame is the main culprit that feeds these fears that sabotage love. It takes many forms.

Shame Thwarts Love

Shame fosters the belief that we’re unlovable and unworthy of connection. Our beliefs motivate our feelings and behavior. They’re like the operating system in our mind-ware. Unfortunately, many negative beliefs run in the background and, like viruses, derail our conscious intentions. Shame-based ideas that we’re undeserving of good, happiness, and love can sabotage our desires and block or push love away. Bottom line: We won’t believe we’re acceptable to others if we don’t accept ourselves. However, we can change our beliefs.

Low Self-Esteem and Judgment

Shame creates an inner critic who judges us harshly. Our critic also judges others. It can convince us that we’re being judged. This anxiety further proves that we’re unworthy of love. In fact, we’re so anxious about not being loved that we make false assumptions, filter out positive feedback, and misinterpret things to reinforce our negative self-judgments and fears of rejection. Not surprisingly, research shows that the level of our self-esteem is predictive of the longevity of our relationships.


Shame also creates guilt. Guilt is anger turned against ourselves. It makes us feel unentitled to success, to happiness, and to love. In relationships, guilt blocks intimacy. We avoid closeness and certain topics to hide what we’re afraid or ashamed to reveal for fear of rejection and abandonment. This is especially true when we’ve been dishonest in the relationship. Until we’ve forgiven ourselves fully, we won’t feel worthy of love. We can’t move forward and may even attract negative experiences and unsuitable partners. Self-forgiveness is entirely possible and is encouraged by all world religions.


When we feel flawed and not enough, we might cope by trying to be perfect and beyond reproach. Perfectionism is a compulsive attempt to attain unreasonable standards and expectations. This is, of course, impossible, and leads to anxiety, fear of failing, irritability, and unhappiness. Perfectionism obscures our innate worth and makes us focus on the negative. By looking for what’s wrong, we’re unable to enjoy pride and appreciate our attributes and accomplishments. Because we’re always failing to achieve the unattainable, perfectionism gives ammunition to our critic and separates us from love of self and others. It also impairs our ability to take risks and be vulnerable and authentic, all of which are necessary for giving and receiving love. Instead, we feel more inadequate and self-critical. Perfectionists are hard to live with, especially when they’re critical of others and expect them to be perfect, too. They can sabotage love and relationships.


Shame makes us embarrassed and afraid to reveal what we really think and feel. We’re more concerned about not being judged or rejected. However, authenticity is actually more attractive and makes effective communication possible. It builds trust and allows for real intimacy. Dysfunctional communication that’s dishonest, indirect, passive or aggressive prevents closeness and damages relationships.


Shame and feelings of inadequacy lead to comparisons. Rather than recognizing our own worth, we evaluate whether we’re doing better or worse than someone else. Feeling superior is a defense to shame, and envy stems from not feeling that we’re enough. When we negatively compare our partner and relationship, we end up dissatisfied. However, when we accept ourselves, we have humility. We don’t think we’re better or worse. We accept others and realize we’re all unique and flawed individuals.

Distrust Blocks Love

Many people, especially codependents, have a dysfunctional relationship to trust. They’re too trusting, which can lead to disappointment and betrayal; or, they build walls of mistrust to keep love out. People often say that they trust someone until they’re given reason not to, while others who have been hurt expect to be hurt again. They fear rejection and abandonment and expect the worse. They’re suspicious and imagine untrue things about their partner that are hard to disprove. We trust too quickly because we’re impatient for love and fear being unloved and alone. A wiser position is to be neutral, allow a relationship to unfold naturally, and build trust based on experience.


When we sacrifice ourselves to please our partner, it’s to maintain the relationship due to fear of abandonment.  We may feel unworthy or selfish when asking for our needs and wants, so we continue to accommodate our partner. This establishes an unhealthy relationship dynamic by ceding power and control to him or her.  We end up feeling trapped, like a victim, and resentful. No matter how we justify it to ourselves, when our behavior is not aligned with our standards, we feel guilt or shame that whittle away at our self-esteem and self-worth. By abandoning ourselves, we jeopardize the very relationship that we’re trying to spare.

Find out how these issues show up behaviorally in relationships in my blog, “8 Ways We Sabotage Love.

You can Beat Perfectionism, find Freedom from Guilt, and Raise Your Self-Esteem. Follow the steps to heal from shame in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.

© 2019 Darlene Lancer      







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4 years ago

Hi Darlene, do you think it is possible to have these traits to come out in a certain relationship but not another? I found myself having many relationships in the past but never felt as insecure as the one I recently had. Relationships are all quite different to me in my case. I feel also different partner could mirror out different issues we may or may not know that was hidden till it gets revealed… which is hard to identify what the real issue is we have and need to work on… because they are all different with different partner… what do you think?

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

It’s true that we’re often different in various relationships, and a secure attachment brings out the best in us. We learn different lessons with different people. See my blog, “Self-Esteem Makes or Breaks Relationships” and “How to Change Your Attachment Style.

Say so
Say so
4 years ago

My family. They are sick. They haunt me. Will not accept any distance. so I estrange them. so they send in a hundred flying monkeys. Its a never ending cycle!

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Say so

See my blog, “Toxic Parents.”

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