Controlled Flight Into Terrain, Or How Low Self-Esteem Can Sabotage Your Relationships

My husband has decided to become a pilot. As a result, a lot of our conversations lately involve at least one...

My husband has decided to become a pilot. As a result, a lot of our conversations lately involve at least one trivia about aeronautics, or a trick question about atmospheric pressure I can never answer. Needless to say, I’m super proud of him for going after such a big goal, but more so I’m thankful for the challenge, and new learning this brings into our home.

What aviation can teach us about self-esteem

The title of this post, controlled flight into terrain (or CFIT, usually pronounced cee-fit), is an actual thing. In aviation it refers to

an accident in which an airworthy aircraft, under pilot control, is unintentionally, and without awareness of the crew or pilot, flown into the ground, a mountain, a body of water or an obstacle.

When my husband taught me the meaning of CFIT, I immediately pictured a woman (me), unknowingly piloting herself into relationship crash (like the time I knew the guy was really bad for me on day one but decided to stay three years anyway), and was struck by the element of control in the definition. I couldn’t help but make the connection with all the harmful things we do to ourselves – and others – when we lack self-esteem, all the while unknowingly believing we’ve got things covered.

I say this without blame. In a lot of cases the sense of control we have is genuine, because we don’t know any better, or don’t want to know. That was certainly the case for me.

Low self-esteem often means you don’t know what’s good for you

When I look back on the relationships I had when I lacked self-esteem, and the behavior I took on and accepted from others within those relationships, I have to admit that I thought I was doing pretty good. Even when things were really bad, and I was treated like shit, I still rationalized my friend’s or partner’s behavior, excused it, and saw no harm in what I was doing, or what I accepted was done to me. Overall – at least on a conscious level – I believed the relationships and situations I had were actually good for me.

I was wrong.

These relationships where toxic. Harmful. Bad.

And I was not in control at all.

It’s hard to have a good relationship when you think you’re not good enough

Low self-esteem can have different effects on your relationship. In my case, because I had this huge lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love, topped with the belief that I wasn’t good enough (yeah, a wonderful combo I know!), I often chose partners who would prove me right, treating me in a way that would match how I felt about myself.

In other cases, low self-esteem can hurt good relationships, or relationships that show promise. One way this happens is for the partner with low self-esteem to sabotage the relationship, in the self-fulfilling prophecy way. So that the “I’m not good enough” belief about the self can be verified. Another way this happens, and I’ve seen this often, especially with women, is for the person with low self-esteem to test the partner, again in an attempt to verify the “I’m not good enough” belief, “so why would he/she be with me in the first place?”

Low self-esteem doesn’t just sabotage your relationships, it sabotages you too

The previous examples are common ways low self-esteem can manifest in relationships. But there are other, subtler ways of sabotaging relationships due to low self-esteem. And more importantly, other, subtler ways of sabotaging yourself.

What I did to myself, by being or staying in bad relationships because I believed I didn’t deserve better, had a huge impact on all other areas of my life. Looking back, I see how unhappy, and depressed I was, how I lacked the motivation to move forward with my life, how the relationships I was in made my lack of self-esteem even worse.

My last toxic relationships ended almost ten years ago. I’ve accepted that I treated myself badly for a long time. I take full responsibly for it, and I forgive myself. I’m happy that I mustered the courage to leave, and that I grew into the strong, self-confident woman I am today. What I’ve learned from these experiences more than anything else is that self-love is key. I believe this to be true for almost any aspect of our lives, relationships included.

Had I loved myself more, I would never have been in those relationships to begin with.

Self-love is the path to good relationships, and real control

Self-love heals. I know because it’s changed my life. Transformed me from a scared, insecure girl into a self-confident, happy woman. It changed my relationships too. The more I learned to love myself, to less I wanted to hurt myself with toxic people. Eventually I came to a point where I only wanted good things for myself, and started choosing my relationships that way too.

Of course, there are other things at play where good relationships are concerned, but working on loving yourself more will always be beneficial, and better any relationship that you have, with yourself, and with others.

If you’re not happy with the romantic relationship you’re in right now, or with any relationship that you currently have, here are some tips on how to gain more self-esteem (and more self-love) that might help you:

  • Realize that you are good enough: with more self-love comes a greater awareness that there actually isn’t anything wrong with you to begin with. It took me a long time to accept this for myself, but eventually I understood that we are all struggling with the same insecurities, and fears. We are all worthy of love.
  • Take care of yourself: the more I lacked self-esteem, the less I felt the need to take care of myself. This only made me feel worse. When you think you’re not worth it, it’s easy to slip into a state of neglect where you ignore yourself instead of listening to your needs. That’s why taking good care of yourself has a way to counteract low self-esteem. The more you take care of yourself, the more you convince yourself you’re worth it, the better you’ll feel.
  • Find your limits and protect them: when you have low self-esteem it can be hard to protect your boundaries (or even know what your limits are for that matter). That’s why you need to be vigilant by becoming aware of your limits, and safeguarding them. The more you’ll do this, the more resilient you’ll become, and the more your confidence in your capacity to protect yourself will grow. This, in turn, will give you more self-esteem.
  • Say what you really need: the less self-esteem you have, the more difficult it becomes to express what you really need. I know, I’ve been there. For a long time in my life, my relationships shaped my entire existence. I wasn’t living, I was being lived. During that time, it was really difficult for me to express what I really needed, mostly because I didn’t know. I had to dig deep, and really learn to know myself to be able to do so. And the more I did, the more my self-esteem grew, and the less I wanted to give away my power.
  • You’re the pilot of your own life: if you were an airline pilot, I’m sure you’d do everything you can to avoid a controlled flight into terrain disaster. It shouldn’t be any different with your relationships, or your life. You’re the pilot, and you can take control. But to do so, you need to be aware of the course you’re flying, and the obstacles you’re facing. If not, you’ll keep on engaging in relationships that aren’t good for you, and you’ll keep on believing that’s the best you can get.

I hope that this post has made you aware of that, and of the strength that lies within you, that only you can nurture and grow.

And below, do let me know. How has low self-esteem influenced your relationships? What have you done to love yourself more? What is keeping you from being the confident woman that I know you’re meant to be?

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