Can’t Live WITH Them / Can’t Live WITHOUT Them: The Symbiotic Dysfunction Of Intimate Relationships
Boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, life partners or friends with benefits – whatever the situation might be or whatever name you use to describe it – THIS is where the horror show of our emotional addictions play out on REPEAT and here’s what you can do about it.
From the moment you open your eyes in the morning until the last blink of your eyelids before you fall asleep, your subconscious thoughts are commanding your body (+ with it your voice, body language, and feet) to solicit interactions to feed neuroreceptors sprinkled throughout your body. Here’s the problem – these neuroreceptors were built from years of childhood emotional experience and reinforced through biofeedback over the course of your life. What does that mean for you? Whatever emotions you experienced with the highest frequency between birth and 15 years old are likely screaming out behind the scenes EVERY day in the form of neurorecptors craving their neurotransmitter fix.
BYPASSING YOUR PROTECTIVE MECHANISMS IS KEY
If your brain is already tempted to proclaim that you had a perfect childhood … POP DOWN. Any attempt your brain makes at immediately serving up vehement proclamations of a perfect childhood are typically indicative of what we call OVERRIDE MESSAGING in Break Method. Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you’re broken – it means you’re human.
For the children turned adults reading this now – maybe the problem IS that your childhood was truly “perfect” and maybe out of that perfection your parents celebrated mediocrity destroying your barometer for measuring effort, dedication or drive. Maybe you experienced “shiny object syndrome” where your life seemed perfect on the outside but you had a baseline level of awareness of dysfunction existing in the background or being hidden from you creating a low-level mistrust for the people around you. Whatever the case may be, I assure you that each and every one of us, perfect childhood or not, didn’t make it out of our journey to adulthood without a trail of emotional addictions, adaptive social behaviors and core beliefs that trigger our behavior each and every day of our lives.
When we start to look back at our childhood experiences to draw cause and effect relationships, it is important to remember the following:
1) we are NOT looking back at the events from our current perspective – you HAVE to do your best to jump into your perception at that age [even if the feelings or emotions that come up don’t seem logical now]
2) We are ONLY chemically patterned with what we PERCEIVE happens to us and other people’s accounts of the events have NO relevance whatsoever [ if we believed something to be true or real at that childhood moment – we were patterned as if it was – all objectivity out the door here]
3) To survive into adulthood, we often create false narratives or more flowery versions of our experience to keep trucking. Dismantling these false narratives can be tricky but easily accomplished through Directed Storytelling®.
During childhood, our closest relationships (energetically speaking) are typically parents, siblings and other primary caregivers. Moving into adulthood, these spots are often replaced by intimate relationships and close friends. Unless significant effort has been taken to identify patterns of emotional addiction, these subtle messages begin running your brain on autopilot and are often responsible for attracting the NEW people in your life replacing the spots once taken up by parents and siblings. In the simplest terms, this is how it works:
Sally grew up around two loving parents that we were passionately in love AND also fought like cats and dogs. Dad worked hard and Mom was a stay at home caregiver. Sally craved her Dad’s recognition but Dad was seemingly uninterested in taking the time to secure a strong bond with his daughter – instead opting for a secure relationship with his son.
From this brief explanation, we can already clearly see the following:
- Sally’s first experience of passionate love / romance ALSO included fighting and aggression
- Sally’s first experience of intimate relationships is that someone can be passionately in love AND be cold, withdrawn and deny affection or attention
- Sally craved a close relationship with her Dad – the first man a child loves – and she likely adapted certain behaviors that allowed her to get more affection or attention than most interactions with Dad
- Sally experienced her MOST positive and MOST negative emotions with her Dad – LOVE / HAPPINESS but also DISAPPOINTMENT / FEELING INVISIBLE OR IGNORED
We would likely see the following in Sally’s adulthood:
- Because Sally experienced HIGH-POSITIVE + HIGH-NEGATIVE emotions with Dad, her search for a male counterpart now MUST include passion, love, happiness WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY getting ignored, pushed aside and made to feel invisible
- Sally will subconsciously feel PRIDE for exhibiting the adaptive behaviors that get her partner to STOP ignoring her or give her affection (just like with Dad)
There are a million and one scenarios that people experience and they all have slight variations in how they affect adult relationships. There is, however, one UNIVERSAL TRUTH – ALL adult relationships mirror the emotional addiction sequence of one or more close relationships from your childhood. So, let’s keep it simple and do the following exercise to get some data inputs to work with for this post.
So let’s do this quick + dirty.
Step 1: What were the Top 5 Emotions you experienced throughout your childhood (i.e. the highest frequency)
Step 2: What 5 people (FF = family + friends) did you spend the most time with? Which relationships took up the most energy / thoughts or emotional bandwith over the course of your childhood?
Step 3: If you summarized the beliefs or culture that your parents infused into your life either explicitly (on-purpose) or implicitly (passively or by accident), what would they be and how did they impact what type of adult you grew into?
Here are a few examples to help you understand the context:
ex1: being raised in a Catholic household where is was NOT acceptable to have sex or live with a man before marriage and all older siblings were still living at home in their early 30’s attempting to achieve functional relationships
ex2: being raised in an achievement-focused family where it was consistently messaged (explicitly or implicitly by example) that your career comes before relationships or love
ex3: being raised in a religious household where femininity and sexuality were shamed either explicitly or implicitly
To expand on how these examples shine a flashlight on potential outcomes, let’s work through Example 1 together.
From example 1, we can expect that the child, once grown would either:
A) follow in sisters footsteps without question (likely with an internal emotional addiction to guilt, shame or rejection of identity),
B) engage in behaviors in opposition to culture and feel guilt, ashamed or hide behaviors from the family (emotional addiction would likely be to hiding, withholding or in some cased guilt / shame)
C) rebel against the perceived injustice of her culture and create an emotional addiction aligned with freeing herself from perceived oppression
Step 4: Draw arrows from the (FF) person to each emotion they activated in you
Step 5: Draw arrows the the Belief Passed On to which emotion it activates / activated in you
Step 6: Count how many arrows are going to EACH emotion (coming from FF person AND beliefs). Tally them up and circle numbers next to each emotion.
Step 7: Use the two emotions with the highest numbers for the next part of the exercise.
Take time to fill out the directives above. Remember that the brain is tricky and unwinding these emotional addiction patterns are even MORE tricky. When facilitating the connection between the brain and your hand during these exercises, it is imperative that you NOT allow your brain to steer you away from important information by allowing to consistently erase / second-guess or reorder. If your brain starts telling you what do and it’s in opposition to the directions I just gave you, take notes on WHAT it is trying to achieve and WHY it might be happening. It’s also important to note that this very message from your brain likely pops-up throughout the day re-directing your behavior subconsciously (+ that is NOT a good thing).
Of course we can’t talk about OUR emotional addiction patterns without talking about the people we are currently engaging with. On the other side of our emotional addiction, lies a person addicted to our reaction.
Using your two childhood emotions with the highest numbers of arrows, place them into this diagram above and match it with your INTIMATE partner or close friends, to see the magic (CRAZY) take place before your very eyes.
Do your best to be objective and get into the mental state of your intimate partner as much as possible to determine these next inputs. Remember, out of each EMOTION, we choose a response. This can either be verbal, thought, body language or through a physical action we take. Using this statement can make it easy to fill in the blanks:
When I feel ___________________(emotion), I _______________________(action taken). My (intimate partner) reacts to this action taken by _______________________ (emotion) and _________________ (action taken).
Let’s pop in an example:
When I feel ignored, I do something impulsive or destructive to get noticed. My partner reacts to this by getting angry and withdraws love and communication.
In this example, the action subconsciously taken in response to feeling ignored, gets this person right back to getting ignored. Do your best to go through this exercise completely before you move on to the next section.
For the purposes of this post, let’s keep it simple:
Each of the responses you currently give to your intimate partner that are involved in patterns that create discomfort or friction are now RED ICE CREAM CONES.
Your intimate partner, without knowing it, is ADDICTED TO RED ICE CREAM CONES.
To transform your relationship RAPIDLY and even without the other person’s participation is as follows:
1. Identify all of your emotional responses and actions involved in these uncomfortable or friction-causing interactions on a sheet of paper and categorize them as RED ICE CREAM CONES.
2. Bring awareness to what events or subject matter areas TRIGGER these interactions (yes, write them down – even the sneaky subtle ones)
3. Figure out how to turn these into GREEN ICE CREAM CONES – or choices, behaviors or ways of engaging that are in opposition to the RED ICE CREAM CONES (i.e. if your response is to withdraw love (and it’s what you’ve done for years and you’re now aware of it), the GREEN is to stay, communicate and acknowledge to this person that you typically withdraw and you’re NOT going to do that
4. Remember that your partner is ADDICTED to RED ICE CREAM CONES and by serving GREEN, he / she will have the following options:
A) Learn to like GREEN CONES (though it may take time- as you are slowly starving off their emotional addiction to RED)
B) Go find someone else that will feed them RED
5. Hold your ground with boundaries and logical self-talk. Be acutely aware of your actions, words and patterns and attempt to OBSERVE your own behavior instead of passively “emote + destroy” all damn day.
6. And finally, don’t judge or blame yourself for your contribution to these dysfunctional relationships as you inevitably start to notice the significant role YOU play in the dysfunction. Laugh about it and be sure to hold yourself accountable for staying the course.
Within 30 days of consistent RED to GREEN ICE CREAM CONE giving (+ honestly sometimes within the first few interactions after the intentional change) your relationship WILL look, feel and function differently. It can be easy to pass the blame or responsibility solely to our intimate partner but the cold hard truth is that if we want to transform our relationship, we have to actively investigate WHO WE are and WHY we’ve chosen this partner and then motivate ourselves to implement the big SHIFT.
Want to learn more? The next session of BREAK Online School of Sustainable Self-Mastery opens on 12/1 for registration. Space is limited. Couples-rates are available if you’re ready to make magic happen in your relationship.