Healing and Integrating our Lost Self and Creating Better Relationships
I have been into healing since over 6 years now and have worked in healing various areas of life for self as well as others. It was when I started working in the area of healing relationships that I realized that it perhaps holds the key to our growth and development as well as is the source of most pain and heartache. Nothing hurts as much as a failed relationship. Nothing drives us more in life than our most intense and intimate relationships. This is where we experience all the things that make us human like love, anger, pain, sadness and joy. It is surprising that we as a society teach so little to our kids about having and sustaining healthy relationships.
All that we do and the way we do it – our behaviour, the way we interact with others, the way we perceive life – is all learnt from our parents and environment. Majority of the learning has happened by the time we reach the age of 7 years. Belief systems and patterns to live our life have been learnt and embedded in our brains in neural networks. If we had a nourishing childhood where the basic needs of a child – time, attention and affection – have been adequately received, child grows up to be a healthy adult capable of handling majority of situations and relationships with ease and awareness. But if there was some lack in the childhood in fulfilling those 3 needs adequately, then the child grows up fixated on one or more of those needs, majorly it’s the need for attention.
Consequently, all his/her interactions, behaviours and relationships are geared towards fulfilling that subconscious, yet driving need. The life begins to be governed by that compelling need to be validated, attended to and to be supported emotionally. This gives rise to behaviours and strategies that we learnt as kids to get our need for attention fulfilled. When adults start using those behaviours subconsciously (because that is the only way the subconscious knows and is trained in to get its needs met – these are often called survival strategies or skills), it creates lopsided and unhealthy relationships and interactions that are known as toxic relationships.
Thomas L. Cory defines toxic relationships very precisely:
“By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner. While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy. A healthy relationship involves mutual caring, respect, and compassion, an interest in our partner’s welfare and growth, an ability to share control and decision-making, in short, a shared desire for each other’s happiness. A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can be ourselves without fear, a place where we feel comfortable and secure. A toxic relationship, on the other hand, is not a safe place. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control. We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship. To say a toxic relationship is dysfunctional is, at best, an understatement.”
Normally the name “toxic relationship” sounds heavy and feels like something like that cant happen to me. It is for people who are into abusive relationships. I believed that when I first heard this term. But when I started reading into it, it came as a disbelief that I had been a victim of this. The bigger shock was that I too was indulging in behaviours that can be termed toxic. It was initially difficult to handle this truth – I went through stages of denial (I don’t do this), to blame (I did this because they did that), sadness and guilt (how could I have done this) to acceptance (I did this because I didn’t know any other better way of having my basic needs met). This is when my journey into healing my toxic relationships patterns started and I began to understand relationships, life and most importantly – myself.
As I began to work in this area, I realized that most people I know and I look around have been into toxic relationships and behaviours. Going into the depth of this, I realized its root is in the way we were parented. First step towards forgiving myself and stop finger pointing was understanding that there are no perfect parents and it is impossible to parent someone perfectly. Our parents were also not parented adequately and so on and so forth. The healing started when I realized that parents are and cannot be perfect. It takes a lot to be a good parent (I am sure every parent is doing the best they can with the given resources and understanding. I have no doubt about it).
So where did things go wrong?
As Shari Schreiber states, “Childhood experiences always predict the nature of adult relationships; show me where you are, and I’ll know where you’ve been.”
It is well known that every child is a reflection of the parents. Children don’t learn what you tell them, they learn what you do. How many times have you been very conscious of your behaviour as parents?
A common misconception we hold is that if we change our behaviour, our life will change. However if you go deeper into this aspect, behaviour is just a symptom of the patterns of your thoughts and beliefs. Any change in behaviour will be a conscious change. But majority of our life and actions are run by our subconscious mind (literally its running the whole show. Have you ever experienced driving to a destination and reaching there without any consciousness of the whole drive and yet reaching safely unhurt?) The moment your consciousness shifts away from the present, the subconscious takes the wheels in its hands and your consciously learnt new behaviour goes out the window and you go back to your old ways (Think about new year resolutions and their success?)
Unless the behaviour is supported by repetition and a change in the cause that’s driving that particular behaviour, any real change is impossible. For example, whenever I would shop, I would choose only a particular kind of dress and colours discarding the rest. When I looked deeper into this behaviour, I found that while I shopped, I would hear my mom’s voice in my head judging every dress I chose even if she was not with me and I would invariably choose the one that she would approve of. This drove my choices so much that it took me 30 years to realize that the choices I made were not my choices at all, they were hers’. So I consciously began to pick and choose colours that I think I would like. But guess what, whenever I was not too aware or in sleep mode (more on that later), I would go back to the default choices I had learnt to make.
I know this example is not significant. But if you generalize this example into everything I do from choosing a profession to choosing a life partner, the consequences can be huge. Because that is what happens. The way you do one thing shows how you make choices and decisions in other areas of life. So it is important to understand what’s really driving your choices and decisions.
What Drives the choices you make and the behaviour you do?
Like I mentioned earlier, children/infants have three basic emotional needs that need to be fulfilled for them to grow in a healthy manner:
- Attention and
In an emotionally healthy individual, these needs have been fulfilled by parents adequately and thus the child/individual is no longer fixated on these and becomes capable of having healthy fulfilling relationships and life. However if these needs are not fulfilled or attended to by the parents, the child internalizes beliefs like “I am not good enough”, “I am not lovable” or “I am not worth loving/deserve love.” For a child love = time + attention + affection. There is no other way the mind of the child could interpret the unfulfillment of needs because for a child, the parent is like God and god cannot be wrong. So there has to be some fault with the child for the parent to not give them time, love or attention. So if there is something not right, the child tends to believe it’s his/her own fault.
Lack of time, attention and affection could be due to any reason – the parents are busy, emotionally distant, physically unavailable, perfectionists, overly critical, self-absorbed, sick, addicts etc. But the child does not have the understanding yet and it believes everything is his/her own fault.
When he/she doesn’t receive enough time/attention/affection, the child experiences the pain of abandonment or rejection. The understanding that the child’s mind picks up (“I am not worthy or deserving of love”) creates a core of shame. If the child experiences this shame repeatedly, it causes serious damage to his/her self worth and self esteem. This becomes the core-trauma for the child. The child associates love with feelings of pain and abandonment. Along with this, the child also learns strategies and skills to get its needs met after experiencing rejection like tantrums, sulking, anger (attention drawing behaviour). This behaviour along with the core-trauma gets embedded into the neural networks of the brain strongly.
So whenever the child/individual experiences any form of rejection or lack of attention, that learnt behaviour gets activated and acted out. We call it our impulse.
In the background, the self-sabotaging beliefs are constantly running like a tape along with the beliefs and behaviours we took on from our parents and environment, driving the choices and decisions we make throughout life until those beliefs are actively and consciously changed. When we grow up with these belief systems and patterns, we tend to attract situations and people into our life that only tends to prove them true. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The subconscious is a very powerful device and it works for us 100%. It will make sure that whatever happens, your beliefs are not proved wrong. Hence any real change seems elusive because we are still seeing the world through the lens of our old belief systems and identities.
These belief systems are like a broadcast into the universe that attract matching set of vibrations and thought forms. This is when we attract someone with a matching or similar set of beliefs and patterns, we feel like we “click” with them. (Talk about soul mates). Don Carter puts it beautifully into the metaphor of
“They know how to dance your dance.”
“Let’s say that this person has somehow ended her most recent codependent relationship (Toxic Relationship). She is currently looking for a new partner.
She walks into a room full of 50 available men… Only one of them is alcoholic. The other 49 are all very healthy. Who do you think she ends up with?
That’s right – because thought creates reality she soon finds herself wrapped up with another alcoholic partner. She asks herself… “How does this keep happening to me… Do I have a stamp on my forehead, or what!?”
No, she doesn’t have a stamp on her forehead – she has radar at the base of her skull called the reticular activating system (RAS)… and all her filters are set for codependency. It can be no other way because that’s how her “map of the world”… her neural network for relationships or “Love Map” is set-up.
When she walked into the room her doorman began sifting through 2 million bits of data per second – allowing in only that data which fits her codependent neural network.
Consciously she had no intention of coming anywhere close to another problem-person… Consciously she is looking for Mr. Right and the happily-ever-after scenario.
It just so happens that a person with a codependent map is extremely compatible with someone who has a map for alcoholism or other similar dysfunction… So, his mental filters draw him to her just as she is drawn to him.
Her “Love Map” subconsciously synchronizes with his and they dance the only dance they know… Until someone has a wake-up call and begins to change their tune.”
Thus the cycle of love and pain continues. Wounded individuals only tend to find relationships where love comes with pain (emotional, mental or/and physical). They may even attract emotionally unavailable partners. If someone does come along who is capable of giving love and nurturing, the wounded individual would subconsciously reject them or leave them eventually, as they would not find any “spark” with them. Love becomes associated with pain and the wounded individual keeps searching for that elusive love through a series of failed or painful relationships.
The Journey into Healing and Wholeness
If we want to manifest and create healthy nurturing relationships in our life, we need to change the patterns that drive us and attract the right kind of people into our life. Healing is coming into wholeness. It involves healing the mind-body-spirit. The healing does not just involve healing the relationship or finding someone new. It involves healing our core-traumas and self-sabotaging patterns because the reality is that we cannot change anyone else, we can only bring change in ourselves and most often, that is enough!
As we heal, integrate and become whole, we begin new broadcasts into the universe and begin to attract individuals who are in tune with our new vibrations and patterns.
- Healing begins with Honouring our Feelings.
Feelings are a communication between the body and the mind. They are the message bearers that tell us about what is going on inside us and our environment. The work of feelings is to bring our consciousness into the present. It is an important mechanism for human beings to interact with the environment. Our feelings are an accurate barometer to judge, perceive a situation and take action accordingly.
If we have been with toxic parents, chances are we have been trained or have learnt not to feel. This becomes a major stumbling block for us as it hinders our ability to perceive whether a situation or person is suited for us or not. We majorly then rely on our conscious mind to do the thinking but the conscious mind can only do so much. It misses a lot of information that is needed to make sound judgments or decisions.
Even if the damage is not too deep and we do allow ourselves to feel, the series of toxic behaviours has created a damaged self-worth and we doubt our feelings and perceptions.
When you can’t feel or can’t trust your feelings, you lose the ability to experience love, comfort, security and relating. Also there is a lot of stored and repressed pain inside due to childhood experiences. There is this fear that if feelings are allowed, the pain will also be felt and maybe will have to be dealt with which can be quite over-whelming. So the feelings are numbed out with externalizing behaviours like being too busy, intellectualizing, resorting to comfort food and addictive substances etc.
The key to healing the core trauma is honouring the emotions and feelings. Blocked and suppressed feelings keep the core-trauma locked in place and makes real change impossible. So the first step is honouring the feeling by acknowledging them and dealing with them in a safe manner. EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is an amazing therapy that I have found immensely useful in handling the painful emotions safely and effectively as you begin to wade through the waters of stored emotions and pain. This provides an opening to explore the blocked feelings that have been running the show from behind the curtains.
Behind the Curtains
These repressed feelings of pain, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt, shame and anger have never been dealt with since the time we experienced them. Whenever the subconscious perceives rejection in any social or human interaction, it experiences the pain that adds on to the pain received in the past. Because it perceives that it is unsafe to experience this pain (because it hasn’t yet learnt to handle or deal with it safely and effectively), it represses the emotions deep into the subconscious and activates the survival skills (set of attention-drawing behaviours) that it learnt during childhood as mentioned earlier.
When this behaviour cycle passes and you realize what happened, you are plunged into more guilt and pain that again goes into repression adding to the existing hurt and feeding the ongoing cycle of toxic behaviours and causing even more damage to the self-worth.
When you begin to deal with those stored and repressed emotions, healing can finally begin to happen. When feelings begin to be honoured and healed, it loosens the grip of patterns in the sub-conscious mind so that deeper change can happen.
- The next step on this journey is Re-Parenting.
The wounded individuals often experience a lack, an emptiness or a deep void within that they seek to fulfill through meaningful relationships. But a vibration of lack will only attract lack, so that the partners that they attract also have this same feeling within them. Such a person cannot give fulfillment to someone else. This feeds the cycle of expectation and disappointments until a point comes when the wounded individual rejects relationships altogether or resorts to behaviours that draw his/her attention away from this feeling of emptiness.
This emptiness is a feeling of low self-worth, lack of individuated identity and pain of loneliness and abandonment. It comes up strongly whenever our conscious mind is free of any activities for example at bedtime at night. If it begins to be felt even during activities or when we are with our significant other and friends, it means the subconscious repression is so much that the repressed material has begun to spill out into the conscious awareness. This is often the case with Depressive Episodes and Anxiety Disorders.
Addressing the Emptiness
The feelings of abandonment were initially put in place during childhood or infancy when the child felt ignored by his/her parents. At that moment the child experienced trauma. Since the subconscious did not know then how to handle this feeling, it repressed this feeling/memory or froze it to avoid feeling that pain.
Re-parenting is about giving your self (your inner child) all that it felt was missing and addressing the frozen parts of you. It is basically about reclaiming your lost self. As you begin to free up the frozen memories, it releases huge amounts of energy that was stuck or blocked making it available for you to use in your daily conscious living.
Thus re-parenting process helps you acquire healthier, more nourishing/productive methods of relating to and treating yourself. Think of this as a corrective emotional experience, wherein you begin to accept and integrate a brand new template for what a trusted relationship is supposed to feel like. This directly influences your romantic selections, and affects all interpersonal dynamics.
The capacity for delayed gratification accompanies adult development. When emotional growth is stunted in childhood due to neglect and abandonment experiences, instant gratification always reigns and brings you pain, because the wounded self can’t make responsible decisions! It does not consider the ramifications from its choices–it just wants what it wants in the moment, without any thought about potentially harmful consequences. Re-parenting is about learning healthy boundaries and filling up the emptiness from within.
- The final step is Evolving
Any change brings with it an adjustment period. Since you have been used to the old way of living for so long, it is going to take some time and work to adjust to the new patterns. It’s like learning to walk again or learning to dance a new dance. There will be moments when going back to the old pattern will seem tempting and easy way out, yet you know that it would bring with it more pain than pleasure.
At this stage, you begin to sense a feeling of contentment and absence of pain. The way you look at life begins to change. You begin to treat yourself better and you begin to understand compassion for all those who were a part of the old cycle because you understand that they too are stuck and afraid the way you were.
Your choices of relationships begin to shift and it becomes easier to look into the dramas that people are creating. You really begin to have the choice of whether to participate in their drama or walk away!
This is a journey towards wholeness, towards reclaiming your lost power and sense of self. It seems like a long arduous walk but when you come out of the swamps of old emotions and feelings, it begins to feel worthwhile having taken this journey. You begin to experience human relationships as much more enjoyable and meaningful. It becomes easier to understand life, situations and respond to them rather than reacting to them. It brings you to a point where you do realize that you really are a spiritual being having a human experience here.