Individuation – Holding on to Our Sense of Self in Loving Relationships

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Holding on to our sense of self in loving relationships is a tough act. The process of individuation is the key to our emotional maturity and renders us able to balance our desire to please another with our drive to do what feels right for ourselves. Family dynamics either hinder or support our individuation. Think about it: As a child, were you encouraged to think, feel, and act as an individual? (Do not confuse independence with individuality). Or did your family demand for the most part that you cooperate and that you please them in order to be accepted and loved?

If this balancing act were not difficult enough in our families of origin, it becomes more precarious as we move into adult relationships with partners and spouses. As our partner grows in importance to us, so does the struggle to cooperate with him/her and stay true to our sense of self discovery and innate need for expansion. It’s easy to understand this dilemma when we recognize that of all the needs we have, loving relationships are the most critical for our happiness and well being. We are social beings who desire and require connectedness with others to thrive.

The struggle to remain connected while holding on to our sense of self can cause great confusion for couples because they are unaware of what is transpiring. When one is repeatedly succumbing to the needs of the other for the stability of the relationship, the toll can be physiological and emotional. In truth, the “pleasing” partner is out of integrity with him or herself because cooperation is taking place at the expense of individuality. A therapeutic term for this kind of relating is fusion or emotional dependence – not to be confused with love. The more emotionally dependent we are on our partner, the more we are going to be threatened by their potential rejection.

What makes this dynamic even more complex is the fact that we tend to choose a partner who possesses a similar level of emotional maturity to our own. One partner may predominantly acquiesce; one may predominantly control; and both may frequently disengage, but all these behaviors reflect an emotional dependence that slowly erodes the relationship.

If this is sounding like you or your relationship, take a breath. With awareness and the willingness to take action, change is always possible. The following are some ideas to consider if you recognize your weak sense of individuation is hurting your relationship and requires work:

1. Learn ways to manage anxiety/hurt instead of running away from it or putting oneself/another down.
2. Become aware of tendencies to catastrophize and awfulize situations. Check out your motives for doing this.
3. Look at your boundaries. Are they healthy? Are you able to speak up for yourself in a respectful way and state a difference of opinion?
4. Get to know yourself better – your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses — and see them as opportunities for expansion.
5. Find ways to increase your self esteem.
6. Practice communicating your needs with others – friends, family, and your partner.
7. Stop taking what your partner or another does personally – then you can better understand what’s going on.
8. Become aware of tendencies to withdraw in your relationships and explore what’s happening—what emotions are coming up for you when you do this.
9. Consider your childhood experiences and how some of those may be triggered today – especially with your partner.

Welcome the difficulties that arise in relationships – don’t panic. They are your indicator and opportunity for growth and personal transformation.Take responsibility for becoming a better YOU — you’ll be amazed how your partner and others around you change as a result.

What’s the #1 Thing that Sabotages Relationships?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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For those of us who have courageously sat on the therapist’s couch, terms such as “co-dependency,” “differentiation,” “individuation,” and “holding on to yourself” may be all too familiar. The important point is, did we understand these terms and that they’re all essentially ways to describe aspects of emotional dependence? Did we identify how they’re operating in our lives? And did we take away tools to incorporate positive change in our relationships? If your response is, “somewhat” or “I’m still confused,” read on.

Am I emotionally dependent?

Many factors from childhood and adolescence play a part in promoting emotional dependence or inhibiting it. Some examples that interfere with our ability to foster a strong sense of self may include: needy parents, helicopter parents, instability in the family, trauma/loss in the family, low personal resilience, and high personal sensitivity. These factors all play a role in our ability or inability to foster healthy relationships and our degree of emotional dependence.

What emotional dependency looks like:

1. Wanting to constantly please others.
2. Putting others’ needs before my own.
3. Difficulty asking for what I need or want.
4. A pattern of taking what another person says to me as personal criticism.
5. Not being able to tolerate anxiety in relationships (often resulting in “giving in,” trying to control the other, or running away–literally or metaphorically)

Sound familiar? The price we pay for these learned behaviors is that we’re caught in a “catch 22.” Maintaining these patterns leads to communication breakdown, resentment, and anger with those we wish to be close to—especially those people who mean the most to us, like our romantic partners and family members. On the other hand, we may not know how to change, and we may fear our changing will result in the loss of relationships that are incredibly important to us.

The gift of close relationships is that they force us to confront our degree of emotional dependence. The greater my emotional dependence on another, the more I’m going to take everything personally, become defensive, and “lose myself” when I connect with those most important to me. The lesser my emotional dependence, the more I can stay connected to people I care most about while holding my ground—and not “run away,” try to control the other person, or people please.

A critical key to lowering our emotional dependence requires that we become aware of our anxiety and learn skills to soothe that emotion when it arises. This is the only way we can stand on our own two feet and bring more of our real selves to our relationships. Learning to do this isn’t an event; it’s a process we have to learn and practice every day, just like if we wanted to learn a new hobby. Getting support from someone who can identify our particular unhealthy patterns and help us to learn new skills is important.

As a marriage and family therapist, struggles with aspects of emotional dependence and the way it sabotages relationships are the most common issues I see. So the next time you need space or your partner or friend needs time alone, try to view it as the need to take care of oneself. As Gestalt therapist Walter Kempler said, paradoxically, if we want to get more personal, we must stop taking things personally.

I invite you to take the first step on a new path to healthier relating and the freedom to be who you were meant to be while staying deeply connected to those you love.

To sleep or not to sleep — 3 Myths & Tips to leverage your chances of a good night’s sleep

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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3 Myths and Tips to Improve our Sleep:

As a psychotherapist, I am amazed by how many folks today are coming in with sleep issues. They have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and falling back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. During the day, this translates to increased anxiety, difficulty focusing, and lack of energy.

Sound familiar?

Sleep is a tricky thing. And it’s become trickier in our fast paced, high achieving, high tech world that is a recipe for anxiety – sleep’s enemy. The following are some tips to improve your “sleep hygiene.” That’s right. Sleep has become a huge area of study with its own fancy nomenclature.

Myth #1: I can catch up on my sleep if I don’t get much tonight.

Sorry — wrong. The body’s Circadian Rhythms work like a personal, internal 24-hour “clock.” These rhythms regulate the body’s temperature, appetite, hormonal changes, and sleep cycles. The body wants the sleep rhythm to be reasonably constant. When we miss a night’s sleep, the circadian rhythm is thrown off and we pay for it by feeling drowsy, tired, and grumpy the next day. Most likely our anxiety will be higher, too. Sadly, there is no “catching up,” rather, the body has to regulate the rhythm again which takes a few days.
Tip #1:
Schedule your Sleep. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every night.

Myth #2: It’s so comfy that it makes sense to use my bed as a sleeping area, office area, eating area, studying area, and TV/Computer station.

Wrong, again. Psychologically, it is extremely helpful to our ability to transition to a state of deep relaxation and sleep well if our mind associates our bed with sleeping, and ONLY sleeping.
Tip #2:
Create a sacred space. Your bed and, if possible, your bedroom, should be a warm, welcoming, comfy place that is associated with nothing but rest and relaxation.

Myth #3: If I’m tired, my brain should be able to shut off the stimulation of the day and just go to sleep.

You can probably guess the answer. Yep, sorry, wrong again. It would be great if this were true, but unfortunately it’s not.
Tip #3:
Unplug. We cannot stimulate our brains with vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, television, computer trolling, and texting and think we can just turn it off and go to sleep. Our brain is highly activated by the stimulation and light involved in these activities. We need to stop these activities an hour or two before bedtime.

 

Anything else that will promote better sleep?

1. Keep your room dark when you sleep.
2. Turn your clock away from you and resist the temptation to look at the time if you wake up.
3. If you wake easily, consider getting a white noise machine.
4. Keep a notepad and pencil by your bed. If you wake up and feel you MUST remember something, write it down and “let it go” to be dealt with in the morning.
5. Make sure cold or other prescription medications aren’t interfering with your sleep.
6. Make sure caffeinated beverages are drunk several hours before you go to bed.
7. Prepare mind and body to relax. A warm bath or shower will help your body relax before sleep and soft music will nurture this state, too.
8. A glass of warm milk is helpful because it contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps induce sleep.
9. Once in bed, practice focusing on scenes or memories that are joyful/calming for you. If your attention wanders to something anxiety provoking, take 3/4 deep breaths and patiently return to those happy thoughts. You may have to practice this a lot if you’ve gotten into the habit of focusing on difficulties when you go to bed.
10. Create awareness of YOUR body’s need for sleep. It may be less or much more than someone else’s.

NOTE: Severe lack of sleep can be seriously debilitating, and we can become very depressed, suicidal at worst. If you or someone you know is dealing with severe insomnia, consult a doctor or clinician who has expertise dealing with sleep issues.