“I’m pretty horrible at relationships and haven’t been in many long-term ones. Leaving and moving on – returning to a familiar sense of self-reliance and autonomy – is what I know; that feeling is as comfortable and comforting as it might be for a different kind of person to stay.”
Carrie Brownstein, Musician
What is wrong with me…how come I need him so much?
Sally was a tall blond woman who worked for the federal government as a project coordinator. She was articulate and competent in many parts of her life…but she was also in another abusive relationship. She said the latest one was a sign of progress, because Todd was only verbally abusive…at least so far!
“Ken, why do I pick such jerks…what is wrong with me…and how come I feel like I need Todd so much?
“That is because your first relationship is out of wack!” I said.
“What has my first relation, with that idiot Jeremy, got to do with it?” she asked with a confused expression building on her face.
“I’m referring to your first relationship in life Sally, not your the first relationship with a partner!” I responded with a half smile to encourage her to think instead of feel.
“You mean my relationship with my Mom…or are you talking about my relationship with my Dad, the first man in my life?” she asked.
“Neither!” I replied.
She looked at me in total confusion. Then she said, “Oh…I get it now…you mean my relationship with myself.”
“Bingo!” I said.
“Are you saying the problem is my relationship with me…that is the real problem…and not my relationship with the men in my life?”
“Bingo again!” I said again. Then I added, “If you need a partner to be OK then the relationship usually doesn’t work very well. But if you want a partner, knowing you can be OK without that partner, then it can be a very successful relationship if you both are willing to work at it.”
“So needing a partner is more destined for failure while wanting a partner is destined for success?” she said summarizing the idea and getting it perfect…she was a quick study.
“So tell me how that works in the real world Ken because I hear all kinds of people saying they need someone to love or someone to feel safe and so on and so on…it all this just balderdash?”
“It simply suggests a lower level of awareness of how relationships work.” I responded.
“Please tell me more…because I don’t get it yet!”
“It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important.”- Soren Kierkegaard, Philosopher
“Let’s go back to your first relationship…have you ever noticed how newborns, and young children in general, seem to have plenty of self confidence…like when they are learning to sit up, crawl, walk, talk and so on?”
“Yes I do…Ken, just the other day I was watching my niece, Maggie, who is thirteen months, walking between the kitchen chairs at my sister’s. She was so determined and confident, even when she fell…she just got up and kept going!”
“So you noticed Maggie’s confidence…not in her Mom, her Dad or you to protect her…but in herself to protect herself. Maggie was born with that belief in themselves. Every child is born with that belief in self…including you.”
“Do you mean I once had total self confidence?”
“You still seem to be quite skilled at sitting up, walking and talking today!” I said smiling at her.
“Sally laughed for the first time since we had started this conversation.
Then she said, “What happened to that self confidence…I don’t see it much today!
“Well…you used it to learn to control your body as a child but also took it to other important areas…especially your relationships with others.”
“So are you saying I still have it?”
“Of course you do, you use it regularly in many situations such as with your family, your friends and your work. But you struggle to use your self confidence in your intimate relationships.”
I went further. “Let me offer you an example. You know, at some level of awareness, if one of your closest friends rejected you, moved away or died you would still be OK…you might feel sad for a while…but you would get through it…is that true?” I asked her.
“Yes, that’s true…in fact it already happened last year when a close colleague passed away suddenly!”
“But Sally, when it comes to an intimate relationship, you have not learned yet that, while you may want one, you don’t need one to be OK, or to be safe or to survive!”
“Baby’s know this intuitively…they want someone to nurture them but ultimately anyone can do it. This is why most children respond well to adoption…because they have confidence in their ability to deal with anyone who will nurture them.”
“Sally, some of your life experiences have led you to believe you need someone to protect you…but the truth is you only need yourself to protect you. You have been doing it successfully your entire life. If you rely on someone else to do it, you can endanger yourself unnecessarily.” I added.
“Are you suggesting I get involved with abusive men so I can rediscover the self confidence I had at birth in taking care of myself?”
“Exactly…your relationship with Todd has been a catalyst for you to stand up for yourself and rediscover the self confidence you had in your ability to be OK regardless of who is in your life.”
You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity. – Epicurus
Relationships are the hallmark of the mature person. – Brian Tracy
“Ken, that kind of makes sense!” she replied.
I added, “You may want Todd in your future but it will only be satisfying to you if you know you can be yourself and protect your future. If you believe Todd will respect you in that way you can negotiate a future together. But if you need him to be safe and OK you feel dependent, vulnerable and weak. This imbalance will undermine the relationship with him.”
“So I will have to stand up for myself with confidence I can be OK without him and with him…then I can build a more balanced and respectful future with him…is that it?”
“Sally, bingo a third time! Once you know you don’t need him… You can be OK with yourself…then you can negotiate a relationship with him with a future with him if he is prepared to respect you as you define yourself.”
“Then that’s what I am going to do Ken..because I do want a future with Todd, but it has to be different than the way we are now!” she replied with a renewed confidence in her voice.
Sally went on to do that. She had a long talk with Todd. Then they both came to work with me to develop a healthier relationship which enabled them both to set clear relationship boundaries.
And Sally rediscovered a confidence in herself which had been hidden from her as a result of some childhood violence she had experienced. She uncovered her old belief in herself she had used many years earlier to deal with the challenges of her life. It was a new form of walking and talking, by a older and taller Sally, and with Todd this time, and applied to a part of her life where she needed more control.
“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding…and relationships that have lost their meaning.” John C. Maxwell, Author
March has been relationship month. Here is another post about an abusive relationship. Next, watch for April’s posts which will be on “parenting”! We have several new contributors coming up with new ideas, tools and perspectives. Send us your feedback and any monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you!
If you have any specific questions about your relationships or any issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- You were born having total self confidence.
- You still have self confidence in many areas of your life.
- Your most important relationship in life is the one with yourself.
- You are attracted unconsciously to relationships which uncover more of your innate self confidence.
- Your abusive relationships are opportunities to rediscover confidence in your self which has been covered up over by past experiences.
- Your abusive relationships are hidden opportunities for self growth.
- You will be attracted to people and events to help you uncover the innate confidence you had at your birth.