“I don’t want to end up with someone like my dad.” “Why do I keep ending up in unhealthy relationships/friendships?” “We just keep doing the same thing over and over and it’s not working.” “ I don’t want my kids to repeat my mistakes.” “We feel stuck and we don’t know what to do- we have tried everything.” “I should know better by now.” If you have found yourself thinking similar thoughts, you are not alone in the frustration, discouragement, and confusion they can bring.
The CNM (Codependency No More) Podcast (1) episodes 46 and 47 present an idea that can help explain these confusing patterns: We can only know, understand, and feel love as we have experienced it. For instance, many of us may not know love without hurt, shame, anger, perfectionism, etc. because of our past relationships with family, partners, or others. Therefore, we are stuck in a pattern with the kind of love we know. Thinking about it in this light tells us that we need to relearn how to love and bond with others. Here are some tips for starting:
One tip given in the podcast is that you have to start with giving yourself the healthy love that you did not receive from your family of origin, past romantic relationships, etc. grace, stability, emotional safety, validation, loyalty, and trust are some common things people are often missing in the love they have received throughout their lives. Becoming in touch with your own body and mind can begin building these qualities of greater self-love.
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. teaches that The Body Keeps the Score (Reference 2). In other words, our bodies, emotions, and minds remember what it feels like to not get the kind of love and bonding we needed. We must, then, include all of these aspects in our healing. Yoga, deep breathing, art, mindfulness, and sleep are some examples that might help engage your body in your healing process. You might start practicing healthy socializing by asking someone trusted for help, practicing empathy, building a support system, setting healthy boundaries, and working on appropriate vulnerability (References 3, 4). Healthy psychological functioning may be implemented through things like therapy, meditation, positive self-talk, or reading a helpful book. Finally, you might exercise healthy spirituality through music, nature, or living your values. Because the mind and body are interconnected, engaging both in your healing process will create better self-love and understanding that leads to healthier patterns.
In addition to working on a better experience with self-love, finding a new way for connection or attachment will break unwanted patterns. This starts with finding new ways to connect and be vulnerable with yourself, including the parts of you that you are carrying from your childhood or past relationships (Reference 5). One of the biggest reasons it is difficult to become vulnerable with ourselves is shame. As Brene Brown puts it, “we all have [shame]” (Reference 6). Working on remedying shame through things like self-love, as discussed above, is transformative. However, in order to begin working through shame and other emotions, you have to gain awareness of them, including your relationship with them and how they affect your patterns. As you gain awareness of these emotions and learn to be with them and process them, you will develop a relationship with them rather than a fear toward them and you will be able to stay in charge rather than emotions taking charge of you. You will learn that feeling is not failing and emotions are not liabilities (Reference 3 pg. 35).
To break patterns, we must create a new relationship with love because we cannot give or have what we do not understand or have not experienced. Without doing so, our hearts will remain at war and “…when our hearts are at war, we not only invite failure, we invest in it” by continuing hurtful patterns (Reference 7 pg. 50). As we work on creating a new relationship with and understanding of love, we we will find ourselves breaking old patterns and creating new experiences. Instead of saying things like, “Why am I always in this position?” you will find yourself saying things like, “I have a choice. I can use my creativity. And I am grateful I did the work to create new patterns by gaining a different relationship with love.”
If you would like to talk to a clinician about taking these steps or learning more about how your relationship with emotions and your experience with love might be affecting you, please contact us.
Please check out these resources referenced in the post:
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Bonds that Make us Free: Healing our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves
Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard C. Schwartz
The Power of Vulnerability Ted Talk by Brene Brown https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en#t-1076182
The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute