Love is blind, and this can be dangerous. When you love someone, you don’t just overlook their shortcomings, you can actually miss major character flaws that end up coming back to haunt you. So many of us find ourselves in long-term relationships that don’t work, and then we stay beyond what is healthy. Although people stay for many reasons, it’s possible that you’re being fooled by a partner who has a very strong defense system designed to trick you into seeing only what they want you to see.
These aren’t lies, or even forms of betrayal. The character traits listed here lurk way beneath the persona that has been created to hide them; they are often unalterable defects that stem from a deep historical place. These buried personality skeletons can only be seen if you know what to look for, and they usually become exposed in darker moments when the person feels threatened or that they are at risk of being discovered.
Your best strategy is to open your eyes and heart in a way that allows you to see the truth of what’s happening. Easier said than done, but once you learn what these kinds of defenses can look like you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re dealing with.
The Inadequate Person
Deep down inadequacy is one of the most painful feelings someone could have, and this is particularly true for men. Inadequacy in women often takes the form of shame, but regardless of gender, it’s always defended against, because who wants to admit that they feel inferior? The defense against adequacy can be pretty overt and can show up as contempt or criticism of you. More mysteriously, however, it can show up as confidence and competence. Overcompensation is a common way to bury the feelings of inadequacy. You might be most familiar with this as it relates to narcissism and someone who has a “big ego.” Inadequate people are never wrong, know everything, and need a lot of affirmation to feel whole.
The Self-Deprecating Person
By definition this is the act of reprimanding, belittling, undervaluing, or disparaging oneself, or being excessively modest. Self-deprecation is a kind of self-sabotage that comes from a feeling of unworthiness, and these people use manipulation to get their own needs met. A self-deprecating person will come across as being giving or generous because they are always putting the focus on you and your needs. Their mantra is usually “don’t worry about me” or “I’m fine.” They will defer to you for everything, including where to have dinner, what vacation to take or what movie to see. Don’t be fooled however; they are storing their “giving gestures” as ammunition for when you express an overt need of your own. You’ll hear, “I do so much for you” or “nothing I do is enough.”
The People-Pleasing Person
People pleasers have one goal, and that is to keep others happy so they don’t have to feel that they’re a disappointment. In the people pleaser’s mind, you should never be unhappy because they are ensuring that you always are. They will do anything for you and will drop their own needs to make time because their only goal is to please you. This will feel like kindness and generosity on the surface, but resentment is brewing, because with every act of kindness they expect something in return. When the time is right they’ll say, “you never notice what I do for you.” If you feel guilty or like your partner is too nice, you’re probably picking up on this defense.
The Envious Person
Envy—one of the ugliest (but natural) human emotions—can easily feel like love. The envious person is “obsessed” with you because they believe if they get close enough you’ll rub off on them. They don’t just want to be like you they want to be you. Envy can feel like admiration or adoration until you start to see the truth come through. The truth shows up when they feel inferior and say things like “you think you’re so great” or “you’re the expert on everything.” The envious person is never really happy for you, and they avoid building you up because ultimately they want you to fail.
If some of these traits sound familiar you’ll have to determine whether you want to be with someone who walks through the world in this way. We all have defenses, and it’s healthy to have a few. But when you find yourself dealing with defenses that are protecting character flaws, you have to accept that these don’t change. Keep your eyes open and trust what you feel, because the only truth you need is your own.