We have long known how much our physical and psychological well-being can wear down due to loneliness, and that the expression of affection is the main way to create bonds that bind us to others beyond formal relationships.
however, many people find it difficult to express affection, And they adopt a distant attitude automatically and involuntarily even if a part of them demands otherwise.
Why is this happening? Like virtually all psychological phenomena, there is no single explanation, as there are several paths that lead to the same result, depending on the path that each person has taken throughout their life. however, there are very common causes for this phenomenon which has such an impact on relationships, And then we’ll see one of them.
Problems expressing affection
The human mind is a bunch of contradictions, and that is why we may theoretically prefer one option over another when in practice we do the opposite. This happens, for example, by postponing dental visits or skipping gym sessions that we pay for, and it also happens on the emotional side of our lives.
We know that connecting emotionally with someone is a good thing, And yet there are many people who in their day-to-day life prefer to avoid it, rejecting invitations to date, shunning intense hugs, forgoing meeting people who show interest, or even showing an attitude. distant with the family which explained by major conflicts.
This curious phenomenon was tackled by a team of American researchers led by Anna Luerssen. They started from an initial hypothesis: that, in the management of couple relationships, each individual is driven by one of the two objectives mutually exclusive priorities.
These objectives are on the one hand to develop a satisfactory relationship and, on the other hand, minimize the risk of feelings of rejection. In general, expressing affection generates well-being, but if one interprets that affection is not reciprocal, a feeling of vulnerability and of little value which harms self-esteem can appear.
Luerssen and his family understood that a person with low self-esteem will tend to be more defensive in their romantic relationships, and therefore, anticipating the high risk of rejection, it will be easier for them to give up on the idea. to have a very intimate and fulfilling relationship.
For this research, the Luerssen team had the participation of 60 couples who were taken care of in a psychology laboratory. There, the members of each couple were separated and a role was offered to each of them: one person would be the “speaker” and the other “the listener”.
To participants who had to speak they were asked to choose 3 jewels or compliments to tell their partners. The people who received them, in addition to asking them to listen without giving an answer, were told that their partner had chosen to talk about “things that I really like about my partner” from a list of possible topics. That way, they would believe the flowers were something spontaneous.
After this phase, the two members of the couple filled out questionnaires about how the activity made them feel, underwent a test to collect data on their hormone levels at that time, and the “speakers” completed a questionnaire designed to measure their self-esteem.
The harmful power of vulnerability in the couple
Depending on the results obtained, people with lower self-esteem tended to offer less affectionate compliments and to manifest greater discomfort produced by the experience.
Progesterone levelsA hormone secreted in greater quantities in the face of affective behavior and related to disease, did not significantly increase in these people, as is generally the case with most people. In fact, both people who “hear” couples with low self-esteem and those related to couples with high self-esteem if they have experienced this sudden rise in progesterone levels. On the other hand, “speakers” with lower self-esteem tended to believe to a lesser extent that their partner would benefit from their accomplishments.
How is this interpreted? Everything seems to indicate that people with lower self-esteem are much more goal-oriented to avoid feelings of rejection, And that the actions which expose them to this kind of danger cause discomfort which is not compensated by the good which one believes to be done; hence the misconception that the other person benefits little from compliments even if hormonal tests indicate otherwise.
A big part of the solution to these kinds of emotional and relationship problems is therefore to work on self-esteem and to build a realistic and simple idea of oneself (a concept of the self). This way everyone will win.
- Luerssen, A., Jhita, GJ and Ayduk, O. (2017). Putting yourself in danger: self-esteem and expression of affection in romantic relationships. Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology, 43 (7), 940-956.