Posts Tagged ‘self esteem’

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

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT 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.

Progress not Perfection

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog


PERFECTIONISM : a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable (Merriam-Webster)

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, notions of perfect or imperfect are simply constructs of the mind created by our thoughts. Even so, striving to be perfect is a dangerous dance that can render our lives constricted and lonely, and rob us of all kinds of opportunities.

As I work with clients, I’m repeatedly struck by how harshly we can treat ourselves, and how expectations of perfectionism impose tremendous limitations on our ability to live healthy and happy lives. This is because shame is almost always the sister of perfection. Anxiety, fear of loss of control, procrastination, and depression are close cousins waiting in the wings.  Often the self-imposed demand to “be the best I can be” is a way to compensate for traumatic early life experiences that damaged our self esteem and left us with a sense of being unacceptable for who we are. Thus, pursuit of perfection is most often rooted in feelings of inadequacy that may be coupled with denial of anger, sadness, fear and a desperate need to avoid rejection at all costs. Striving to be perfect can threaten our mental and physical health and even take our life if we become consumed with having the perfect body, being the perfect student, the perfect wife/husband, son/daughter …

Our culture fuels a paradigm of achievement, productivity, and goal attainment and the upshot is that we can easily lose perspective on what it means to live well. We become more absorbed with our children’s grades than by their enthusiasm for learning and immerse ourselves in measuring our looks, our waists, our pocketbooks, our paychecks, our academic and professional accomplishments. Ironically, in the excessive amount of time spent judging ourselves for our perceived shortcomings, we miss the splendor and magic of the moment. We disconnect from living—humans doing as opposed to humans being. And when we’re not present centered, we can’t authentically connect with others.

My mother used to tell me, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” While I know she intended well  and was urging me to adopt high standards, I had the good sense to replace that phrase a long time ago and adopt a kinder mantra. “Progress not Perfection” is a saying I learned from working in the recovery community. There’s freedom and encouragement in this approach to living that spurs me on to try new things, set realistic goals, strive with balance, and focus on the experience, not the outcome.

Life is messy and relationships are messy, and that’s okay. The truth is we’re on a fantastic journey that is about exploring, unfolding, and expanding our minds. Our spiritual and psychological growth depends on making mistakes. Frustration and failure are really our friends, not our enemies. They stimulate perseverance, patience, compassion for others, and creativity. To be the best we can be, paradoxically, requires that we choose to relinquish the limitations of self- imposed demands, surrender to the process of life, and fly free.

“What I am is good enough, if I would only be it openly.” ~ Carl Rogers

Recommended reading on perfectionism: When Perfect isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism. Martin Antony, PhD