Life is a series of learning experiences and many of its lessons come in the form of human experiences. Most of us think that the relationships that are pleasurable are blessings in our lives. But every single person we come in contact with provides a unique opportunity for our inner self to either evolve or degenerate. Relationships, especially those driven by conflict push us outside our comfort zone. Often the principles taught by these encounters are ones that would be hard for us to grasp on our own…things like forgiveness, humility (not being defensive and really listening to someone else’s needs/ reality) and compassion.
So in the big picture even relationships that we would describe as “bad” can be good if we are willing to learn, be vulnerable yet also have boundaries that protect ourselves. If we are not strong in these areas, this relationship gives us an opportunity to work on these areas.
What happens in our intimate relationships when things aren’t working and we aren’t able to resolve issues/ problems. When one person voices their concerns, what happens when another reacts rather than responds…what is going on? Could one of our fears be activated? How do we take a step back and get compassionately curious about what is happening within ourselves? Sometimes there are deep wounds in this area. If this is activating childhood trauma, does distress equal shame in our relationships? We will often see that if we were over-corrected as children and didn’t talk about our feelings with a safe adult, we may not know what to do when we have hurt our partner. If your experience is that you hold your feelings in, how do we learn to face our partner’s disappointment and still believe we are worthy and loved. Are their addictions that keep us walled off from our partner as well as our own vulnerable feelings? What happens when one partner shuts down and doesn’t face the difficulties? The other partner feels alone/ abandoned…how does this person react or respond when they experiencing these feelings? Counselling can create a safe place to explore these issues and understand more about what each person needs.
What are a couple’s main fears?
- Fear of
- Making things worse
- Financial insecurity
- Losing your sex life
One thing to remember is what hurts is not so much not being understood by others in the content of our experiences, but rather in our desire and our attempts to reach the other and open up in a meaningful way. Needing to have the courage to express oneself to the other. We need to be able to create emotional safety for relationships to move forward in a healthier direction.
Addiction and early childhood experiences are connected. Developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld says that 75% of our emotional mapping happens in early childhood. What if we didn’t talk about feelings in our family, didn’t get warm hugs and the words “I love you?” Or a parent was rigid and over corrective? How does that play out in our lives?
We don’t get through this lifetime without wounds, but what did we learn about attachment? These experiences set up the wiring of our emotional brains. We learn about attachment/ closeness in our families. This means unconditional acceptance and to be known in our relationships. When we have some of these emotional roots broken, we see the consequences of our early childhood experiences. By the time kids become adolescents and have some freedom, they ordinarily will try to feel better and hence initiate what we call high risk behaviors. This includes being connected to other high risk peers, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, food, sex, internet porn etc. We medicate with these escapes to avoid fear, anxiety, depression and anger.
I believe that when someone is struggling with addictions, they are also struggling with how to form emotional bonds and to connect with other people. They also need to develop a stronger sense of self that connects them to their own feelings and intuition. Life is an emotional experience yet sometimes people have learned in early childhood that loving someone means that I will get hurt, I won’t feel valuable or my needs don’t count. All these beliefs and ways of thinking get in the way of creating intimacy and closeness. When we come to counselling, we learn about relationships/ fears, we are accepted without judgement and we can explore new ways to show up in our lives that honour our true values. Sometimes life will try to teach us these lessons through trial and error; we need to start listening and opening up to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the relationships that we develop on this path called life.