- If we do not have a conscious and close relationship with ourselves, it is even more difficult or impossible to have one with others.
- Being in an intimate and interdependent relationship with another person is one of the most challenging tasks in life
- As we strive to strengthen our relationship with ourselves, finding people who are attuned and attentive can offer the circumstances for healing.
Though social distancing separates us physically, it brings us closer in other ways. During the pandemic, Facebook has proven to be one of the most popular ways to stay connected and reach out to friends and family safely.
Recently, I ventured into this virtual world to engage with those in my close circle. Many of the posts were filled with pictures of happy faces, food, political commentary, and birthday/anniversary announcements. We sent each other emojis of hearts, hugs, and congratulations to show our support and friendship.
Lately, while scrolling through this virtual world, the therapist in me has been particularly drawn to what women have been posting or re-posting to convey some deeper truth within themselves. As I read through, I realized I am not just reading someone’s shared poem. I was, bearing witness and gaining a glimpse into their inner emotional world.
The following two poems posted on Facebook gave me pause.
Ashes of Love
You couldn’t see how she pulled another
chance out of her bones and laid it at your
feet, hoping you could see the sacrifice it was
wrapped in and
treat it as an act of bravery…
You couldn’t see all she did to be with you
after seeing all the reasons, she shouldn’t be.
r. m. drake
drink the ocean
just to make sure
you do not drown
I recognize that these poems reflected the current challenges in my friends’ private lives - their lives behind the happy pictures and celebratory announcements. The poems reflected the pain they were experiencing because of a significant love-related loss. I noticed that the poems mirrored the stages of grief, such as feelings of anger, sadness, and denial. Amid this evidence of pain, I did not notice any posts indicating that they were moving forward towards resolution and well-being.
Many women have revealed the sentiments found in the two poems throughout my private and professional life, all about this altruistic belief that sacrificing oneself is how you show love. They share in the idea that “If I can be loyal, loving, and fully accepting if I can see someone’s unspoken needs and meet them, I will be valued and loved back.” This belief makes women hyper-aware and overly attentive to the needs of others while dismissing and sacrificing their own needs and ultimately losing themselves.
As my very wise mother would say, we fall in love to the same degree that we are lonely - "fall” being the operative word. If you fall in love out of distress, to squelch the emptiness, or fill a void, there is a good chance it will only lead to continued distress.
Many problems in relationships are fueled by the belief that another person can fill your emptiness, replace your pain with feelings of love and passion. John Fogarty, a family therapist, disputes this, asserting that our emptiness is related to our unhealed relationship with our most distant parent. If this is true, then healing our emptiness and fulfilling our desires comes not when we “fall” in love with someone, but when we can reclaim the hurt child of the past and repair the wounds where they originated. If we do not go on this journey to heal, we risk letting history repeat itself in our adult relationships – all hoping that the current relationship will be different.
In my practice, many women who struggle with feelings of loneliness have impaired ability to practice good judgment and be discerning. They repeatedly invite undesirable people into their lives and the lives of their children. This is a major error and a significant cause of pain in women’s lives. Bringing people into your circle incapable of giving and offering kindness and friendship only perpetuates the ongoing cycle of betrayal, loneliness, and abandonment.
Being in an intimate and interdependent relationship with another person is one of the most challenging tasks in life. Relationship conflicts are what overwhelmingly drive women into therapy. If we do not have a conscious and close relationship with ourselves, it is even more difficult or impossible to have one with others.
With this in mind, one of the tasks in therapy is to identify what it means to be in a relationship with oneself. For women who have been socialized to see themselves in relationships with others, this mission is more confusing than most of us have.
Women have been taught to see themselves in context with others and in a “We” instead of an “I” position. This “We” vs. “I” paradigm is further exacerbated because mutual, and long-lasting connections are imperative to our biological and psychological wellbeing. Thus, increasing the degree of urgency to be in a close partnership. However, in this urgency that “blindness” thrives, interfering with our sound judgment when choosing an intimate partner or close friend.
Despite the pain and challenges, mindfulness practices can guide us through life’s journeys and teach us how to sit and be present in our emptiness, offering the space to understand what motivates us and why we feel, think, and behave the way we do. Sitting in our emptiness offers us the opportunity to heal our childhood wounds and reclaim the forgotten and disconnected parts of ourselves, putting us on the path to rebuilding the most important relationship – the relationship to self.
Over time, I have come to value the difficulties that life presents as a gift to support us in our liberation and joy from what we've worked through. However, I do not believe one’s journey towards healing can be made alone. For many survivors of abuse, isolation and silence were major contributing factors to experienced pain.
As children, we were wounded in dysregulated and discordant relationships with caretakers; but as adults, our way back to ourselves occurs in compassionate relationships with others. As we strive to strengthen our relationship with ourselves, finding people who are attuned and attentive can offer the circumstances for healing. For some, this relationship is with a skillful therapist that understands the long-term impact of childhood trauma. Inner child work and close affirming relationships with others can increase self-worth while teaching skills to enhance self-care, discernment and ultimately bringing us to a closer union with ourselves.