Tag Archives: Codependency

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships With Others

 As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve been honored to work with countless individuals, couples, families, and athletes over the years.  In addition, I’ve had the privilege to facilitate a Men’s Group, a Women’s group, a Facilitation Skills Support Group, athletic teams, and business teams too.  As I’ve counseled and coached others, I’ve often sensed that many of my clients are longing to cultivate more meaningful relationships in their lives.

Many of my clients  feel ill-equipped to do so, however,  and many others feel weary and disillusioned with the shallow, superficial friendships or romantic partnerships they have that leave them feeling empty, unfulfilled, and disconnected, and alone even after they’ve have spent a lot of time in their friend or lover’s company.   I was recently asked by one man in the Men’s group that I facilitate, ” How can I develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends and/or potential romantic partners?”

After a lot of reflection and thought, I wrote this article in the hopes of shedding some light on many of the ways all of us can cultivate the kinds of relationships in our lives that feel deeply enriching.  As you read my article, please note that I do not profess to know all of the ways that people can go about co-creating rich, meaningful relationships.  I do believe, however, that the ideas I’ve shared in my article cover many ways to achieve this goal.  With this in mind, I want to invite you to read this article and consider my suggestions so that you find yourself, sooner than later, surrounded by friends, family members, and romantic partners that provide you the sense of belonging, significance, and authentic connection that you long to have in your life.

I’ve shared with you my thoughts on how to cultivate meaningful relationships with others below.  Please note that some of my suggestions may sound familiar in some ways to other suggestions that I’ve made in this article.  While some of my ideas may appear to overlap with others, please note that each suggestion that I make is unique and different, no matter how subtly.  Alas, please carve out some time for yourself to read this article if you’re longing to acquire the insights, knowledge, and skills that will assist you in manifesting the kinds of meaningful and lasting relationships that you want to have in your life.

  • In Order To Have A Successful Friendship Or Romantic Partnership, Befriend Yourself First.

In your endeavor to cultivate deeper relationships with others in your life , I invite you to first engage in a “befriending practice” for yourself:  Take a few moments to imagine you are being nourished by something larger than yourself. Nature, god, love, anything that is not you, breathe that force in, imagine it filling you up, like the most delicious meal or warm golden sunshine. If your logical mind says, “Bull,” ask it, “Did I make gravity that is holding me to the earth? The oxygen I am breathing? I am part of the larger whole, I am always supported and I can consciously draw on that support to befriend myself.” Relax into life, and delight in the deliciousness of who you are and who you’re becoming.

  • Engage In Constant and Never Ending Improvement. 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, and Dharma Life Coach, I wholeheartedly resonate with the spirit behind  Tony Robbins’s acronym, CANI, which stands for Constant And Never Ending Improvement.  As you endeavor to invest time in your own personal growth, you will acquire the relationship tools, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and even more solid sense of self to forge meaningful bonds and relationships with others.  In addition, you are far more likely to feel as though you’re brimming over with with self-confidence, self-love, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and an intrinsic sense of self-worth.  As you feel whole, grounded, and self-assured, you will  respond to the challenges that arise in new friendships or partnerships without becoming reactive and saying or doing regrettable things that will undermine the spirit of safety, trust, and goodwill that you’ve been cultivating with that person

  • Become Emotionally, Psychologically, And Spiritually Independent.

According to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there is a maturity continuum that people fall under.  The most immature people are highly dependent on others to feel worthwhile, lovable, and safe. Dependent people also rely on others to get their needs met, and they engage in learned helplessness to compel others to rescue them and/or take care of them.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist,  Master NLP Practitioner,Group Therapist, and Certified Dharma Life Coach, I have found that the people that are emotionally, psychologically, and  spiritually independent represent the next giant leap on the maturity spectrum.  These people are resourceful, proactive, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, emotionally articulate, self-motivated, empathetic, self-disciplined, capable of regulating their emotions, and lead purpose-driven and principle-centered lives.

The third and final spot on the maturity continuum represent those people that are interdependent.  Interdependence is a phase of maturity that reigns supreme over the other two.  In order to engage in synergistic, interdependent relationships with friends and romantic partners, however, one must be emotionally and psychologically independent first.  Independence precedes interdependence.

A lot of people who are dependent wish to skip over the process of becoming independent and throw themselves head first into an interdependent relationship.  Unfortunately, this attempt to bypass the independent state of personal development will doom a person’s attempt to participate in a healthy, interdependent relationship. That person and his or her friend or partner will soon discover that they’re engaged in a parent-child dynamic or co-dependent relationship, and their endeavor to grow closer will quickly turn into a lose-lose proposition.

  •  Friendliness Begets Friendliness.  

According to Dale CarnegieAmerican writer, lecturer, and developer of famous courses on self-improvement and interpersonal relationships who wrote the world famous book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, always begin your new friendships and/or potential romantic partnerships by being kind.  Smile.  Be happy to see him or her, and show a genuine interest in that person.  Never neglect a kindness, and look for ways to do or say something nice.

  • Emphasize Areas Of Agreement.

If you and your new friend and/or new lover have a disagreement, make an effort to de-escalate the potential conflict first by emphasizing the areas in which you both agree. When you’re both in a more receptive, non-defensive, and resourceful state, you’ll have an opportunity to explore the areas in which you disagree and make mutually agreeable compromises.

  • Turn Towards, Not Away.

According to John Gottman, PhD and author of the research based book on marriages called The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, it is imperative that friends, romantic partners, and husbands and wives turn toward each other when their feelings are hurt, they want to air a grievance, they have needs that are not being met, they are struggling to reconcile their different perspectives on a matter, etc.  When friends and romantic partners turn towards each other to resolve conflicts, or at the very least have a dialogue to “declaw” a conflict, they are actually strengthening the bond of their relationship.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, a courageous willingness to turn toward your friend or partner and work through conflicts will bring the two of you closer together. More often than not, breakdowns precede breakthroughs!!  On the other hands, when friends or potential romantic partners turn away from each other and become cold, distant, and uncommunicative, they are burying their thoughts and feelings alive.  In turn, their buried thoughts and feelings become reincarnated and morph into feelings of resentment, contempt, and a wish to emotionally cut their deepening friendship or romantic partnership off.  The person that turns away will likely have thoughts of innocent victimization or righteous indignation, and soon enough he or she will create a negative internal script or dark narrative about his friend or partner that provides them the justification they’re seeking to abruptly end a relationship that may very well have enriched their lives.

  •  Be Open, Honest, and Real!

We may think we have to present a faultless picture of ourselves to the rest of the world, but why? No one wants to be friends with someone who is perfect!! We simply need to be our best selves and allow people to know the real us.

  • Be Discriminating and Discerning.

It is imperative that you be discriminating and discerning as it pertains to who you choose to spend your valuable time with.  George Washington offered some wise words about friendship when he said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” I would like to add that as you endeavor to cultivate meaningful relationships with others, take note of how they treat others, how they treat themselves, how they treat their family members, how they respond to moments of adversity, etc.

By doing so, you will learn about their character, values, behavioral patterns, and guiding principles. If someone mistreats others, refrain from falling into the common trap that misleads you to believe that you’ll be the exception to the rule and that you will treat you differently by that person than everyone else.  In the beginning, that new friend or lover may treat you differently than they treat others, but it will only be a matter of time before they turn on you too.  If their character and integrity is questionable, you’re barking up the wrong tree, and you’ll be trying in vain to cultivate a meaningful relationship with someone who may be incapable of having one in the first place.

Finally, please keep in mind that your friends and/or romantic partners have the potential to shape your character, behaviors, emotions, and beliefs for the better or for the worse.  Surround yourself with friends and potential romantic partners who lift your consciousness up.  According to the Universal Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy and Vibration, higher consciousness has the power to transform and convert lower consciousness.  Likewise, people of lower consciousness can potentially pull you down and erode the essence of who you truly are.

  •  Build on Common Interests.

Take advantage of the common activities and interests that you share with others, and be sure to carve out time in your schedule to engage in these activities with new friends and/or potential romantic partners.   If you and a friend both like to exercise, go work out together!!  If you both like to read, go to the bookstore together to pick out your next book, grab some coffee, and talk about the last book you read and what you loved about it.  Welcome in the energies of levity, joy, laughter, and fun into your new friendship and/or partnership.  It’s important that your potential friend or partner associate you with feelings of joy and fun.

Please bear in mind that if the two of you only remain in the deep end of the emotional pool and speak only about traumas, losses, and other heavy topics, your friend or potential romantic partner will likely associate being in your company with feeling flooded, weighed down, and uncomfortable.  In time, that person may dread seeing you because they are anticipating that their mind, body, emotions, and spirit will feel spent during and after your get-together.  It’s imperative that you be mindful to find a healthy balance between talking about substantial topics and cheerily chatting about things that lead to shared laughter, levity, and joy.

  • Appreciate The Differences In Others.

Variety is the spice of life. I’m so glad that when I walk into an ice cream store, vanilla isn’t the only option! I’m glad, too, that our universe created people with a variety of personalities, talents, and interests. Each one of us is a unique creation.  If you and your new friend or potential romantic partner have different perspectives or paradigms about some things, see those differences as opportunities to potentially to learn and perhaps even see some aspects of the world anew. John Gottman refers to this openness to your friend or partner’s different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, guiding principles, and paradigms as “being open to another’s influence.”

If you remain stubbornly entrenched in your worldview and discount everything your friend or romantic partner is saying, then you are unwittingly dismissing his or her unique “map of the world” outright.  If you choose to disregard your friend or new romantic partner’s different perspectives on life, then that person will inevitably feel unheard, shut out, disconnected, invalidated, insignificant, and painfully alone; your  relationship that was busy being born will soon be busy dying. If you happen to unequivocally disagree with your friend or partner’s point of view, then I invite you to agree to disagree agreeably with him or her.  It’s important to remember John Gottman’s research based assertion that 69% of the problems in our relationships are unresolvable.  Learning to make peace with and accept your differences is the more enlightened path to take.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I would like you to please note, however, that if your values, beliefs, and paradigms are too dissimilar, then it is quite likely that you and your potential new friend and/or new romantic partner have incompatible maps of the world.  In turn, the two of you will likely clash more often than not, and your relationship will be bereft of synergy, connection, and harmony.  In these instances I would strongly encourage you to move on and find friends or potential romantic partners that share worldviews, core beliefs, and values that are more similar to yours.

  • Treat Others As They Would Want To Be Treated

There’s an old adage that encourages people to “treat others as you would want to be treated.”  To some degree, this adage is right on the money.  For example, in light of the fact that I wouldn’t want to be cheated on or gossiped about behind my back, it would serve my relationship well to offer my friend or partner the same degree of fidelity and loyalty that I would want in return.  That being said, there are times when it will serve your relationships even better if you treat your friends or romantic partners as they would want to be treated.

For example, you might prefer to resolve conflicts in the heat of the moment and presume that your friend or romantic partner would like to do the same.  Its’ entirely possible, however, that your friend or partner would rather have space to pause, reflect, and calm down before making an effort to resolve whatever conflict has arisen between the two of you.  If this is what your friend or partner needs or wants, I would encourage you to honor their conflict-resolution style and give them the time and space they  and/or prefer to process things first before reuniting to work through your disagreement or conflict.

If your love languages are time spent together and physical touch, and  your friend or romantic partner’s predominant love language is words of affirmation, then it may very well backfire on you to  empathize with that person by giving him or her a hug and offering to take a day off from work to spend time together. Instead, I’d encourage you to  support your friend or lover by offering him or her words of  reassurance and affirmation. In this instance, you would be supporting or loving him or her in a way that resonates with him or her the most.

  • Be Loyal.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in today’s world, but it’s an absolute requirement in deep, meaningful, and long-lasting friendships or romantic partnerships.  When you are loyal to your  friend, you  prove ourselves worthy of many. One way you can show your loyalty is through your words — or lack thereof. In fact, a key to being loyal is keeping a tight rein on your tongues.

When we choose to be loyal, we won’t tear our friends down behind their backs or share their personal stories without their permission.  If someone else passes judgment on our friends romantic partners, we can demonstrate our loyalty in these moments by sticking up for him or her. In romantic relationships, it is imperative that we remain loyal to our partner and make a choice to remain exclusively intimate with him or her.  If a person chooses to stray,that person is actively undermining the trust and safety in his or her  relationship.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can tell you that mutual feelings of trust and safety are two of the most important cornerstones that support the foundation of thriving relationships.  Without trust and safety, your friendship and/or romantic partnership will be fraught with mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, volatility, contempt, withdrawal, distance, and isolation. Making an effort to win back the trust of your partner may prove to be an unwinnable and insurmountable task. In addition to being loyal with your words and your deeds, I also want to encourage you to pay less attention to attractive others. When you conspicuously turn your head and notice other attractive men and women, you’re inviting that other person’s energy into the sanctuary of your exclusive relationship.  Although it’s certainly not comparable to the breach of trust that takes place if you choose to be sexual with someone else, it is a subtle breach of trust or a sign of disrespect to your partner never-the-less.  The kind of commitment that appears in flourishing relationships activates an implicit “attentional block” against the allure of attractive alternative partners.

  • Refrain From Passing Judgment on Your New friend or New Romantic Partner.

In other words, be a light, not a judge.  Be a model, not a critic.  Furthermore, if you feel judgmental towards your friend or romantic partner, embrace whatever “charge” you’re having with him or her and see it as an opportunity to reflect and discover how he or she is a mirror for your own frailties, shadows, or parts of yourself that you dislike and would like to disown.  It is very likely that when you feel compelled to judge your partner, you are projecting onto him or her traits or behaviors in yourself that you don’t particularly like. In light of this, kindly consider that your friend or romantic partner has actually gifted you with an opportunity to engage in introspection, develop even greater self-awareness, and actively participate in doing additional personal growth work.

  •  Take A Genuine Interest In Others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” As we listen to others and show an interest in what is important to them, we begin to truly love and understand them. Every person has an invisible sign around his or her neck that reads, “I want to feel important.” Everyone has something to offer this world. We need to search for it, find it, and bring it to the surface.

One author suggested that scheduling an “Other’s Hour” is a good way to make time to be attentive to others. What is an “Other’s Hour”? It’s a sixty minute period of time that we can choose to reserve on our schedules each week to focus solely on our friends and their needs. I know that for a lot of people, if something is not on their calendar, it typically doesn’t happen. An “Other’s Hour” is a time when we can write a note, make a call, deliver a gift, or do a favor on behalf of our new friend or partner.

  •  Be An Active, Empathetic, and Inferential listener.  

To become a Master Listener, listen to what your friend or lover is saying between the lines.  Listen, for example, for unspoken emotions, unmet needs, unaired grievances, etc.  In addition, take the time to reflect back to your friend or partner what you’ve heard him or her say, and make a sincere effort to validate his or her feelings, experiences, grievances, etc.  Please note that when you validate another person’s experience,  you are not saying necessarily saying that you agree with their point of view.  You can validate and empathize with their feelings, experiences, and grievances while  holding your sacred ground and maintaining that their experience is not yours, and that while you hear, understand. and genuinely empathize with their feelings and grievances (given their vantage point), you have your own thoughts and feelings about the very same matter, given your vantage point.

  • Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.  

Seeking first to understand, then to be understood is a principle championed by Stephen R. Covey, educator, businessman, keynote speaker and author of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey is essentially saying that one significant component to building rapport and cultivating meaningful relationships with others requires of you a willingness to “Hold Space” and listen first to him or her, if you want to be heard.  Active and empathic listening requires you to listen without judgment and without defensiveness, seeking instead  to hear other’s point of view and  let the other person know that you understand the content of what they are saying as well as the feeling behind it.  It is often helpful to reflect back to your friend or potential new romantic partner what you’ve heard them say, what you’ve heard them reveal about how they’re feeling, and what you’ve come to understand more about who they are, what they’re wanting, what their dream is within a conflict, etc. To actively listen to a friend:

  • Get rid of distractions. (No multitasking with reading a menu or looking at your phone while your friend is talking.)
  • Watch for what is said, how it is said, and what’s not being said. (Communication is verbal and nonverbal. In order to pick up on the nonverbal, you need to watch as well as listen.)
  • Clear out preconceived notions of what you think your friend is going to say. (This is especially important between people that have known each other a long time, because you’ve probably heard them talk about things a bunch of times   and think you know them. To truly listen, pretend you’ve just met them.)
  • Before commenting or offering advice, determine if your friend is asking for this. (They might just want to vent and figure it out without your help.)
  • Go with your gut. (Is something off about what your friend is saying? Are they using a tone that isn’t like them? Are they failing to mention something but you can’t put your finger on it?
  • Spend some time on reflection. What did you miss when your friend was talking? What was implied?
  • Ask him or her for clarification if you don’t understand something that they’ve shared with you.
  • Be Thoughtful.

This includes offering your emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual support to someone that you would like to potentially cultivate a meaningful relationship with.  If you sense that the person could use some emotional or psychological support, offer to sit down with them, “hold space”, empathize with them, and seek to understand, hear, and see them.  If that person mentions a book they’ve been meaning to purchase or a movie they’ve really wanted to go to, take the initiative to purchase the book for them or treat that person to the movie that they mentioned in passing that they’ve been wanting to see.  Being thoughtful goes a long way toward making a profound impression on someone; your thoughtfulness will separate you from most people that are prone to thinking only about themselves.

  •   Remember.

This principle overlaps with the principle of being thoughtful.  If a potential friend or potential lover shares something with you, take the time to remember what they’ve shared. Remember the name of their dog, or remember that their dog has been feeling sick or is undergoing an operation.  Remember their names, even if you’ve only met them once; A person’s name sounds beautiful to them.  Remember that your potential friend or lover said he’s vegetarian, for example, and therefore treat him to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant.  Remember that they were playing in a tennis match two weekends ago or that they were visiting their parents on the East Coast, and ask them how it went.  People often feel invisible or easily forgotten in society today.  When you take the time to remember the details of their lives, no matter how big or small, you’re likely to sow the seeds to a meaningful friendship or partnership sooner than later.

  •  Be Inquisitive.

Ask your new friend or potential romantic partner  questions about themselves, their lives, their work, their family, their passions, their dreams, their childhood, their greatest accomplishments, etc.  Be mindful to be curious and inquisitive without overstepping your boundaries and playing “therapist”, being judgmental, trying to rescue him or her, or creating a parent-child dynamic between the two of you.  Be inquisitive and curious about their lives, their feelings, their dreams, their gifts, at a slow and steady pace.  If you ask too many deep questions about their inner world too soon, you may unwittingly push that person away.  Timing is everything as you deepen your relationship with someone else.  You must establish a rapport and cultivate a feeling of mutual safety and trust with your friend or partner before asking him or really personal questions.

  •   Be Authentic.

In other words, be yourself through and through and stand your sacred ground in your relationships.  If you shrink, puff up, engage in people pleasing, appeasing, become a chameleon, walking on eggshells, or repressing your true thoughts and feelings with your friend or partner, you’re creating an in-authentic friendship or partnership that isn’t worth cultivating in the first place.  Seek out like-minded people who value your thoughts, feelings, values, and guiding principles.  In turn, you will feel safe to be yourself.  If you choose to befriend someone or  partner with someone who has views, values, thoughts, feelings, and guiding principles that are diametrically opposed to yours, be sure that person is capable of honoring your different paradigms.  It is worth noting that two people can experience the same thing, see and/or experience it entirely differently, and still both be right; it’s not logical, it’s psychological!!

  •  Seek Out People Who Actively Participate In Reciprocal Relationships.

As you offer your time, attention, words of affirmation, fondness, admiration, thoughtful gifts, and acts of service to someone you’re growing closer to, be mindful that your new friend and/or potential partner shows you that he or she is capable of and wants to reciprocate these openhearted overtures back to you.

  •   Be Mindful That The Two Of You Put Deposits In The Emotional Bank Account Of Your Growing Friendship/Partnership.

As you make deposits, your relationship with inevitably deepen and the level of safety, trust, loyalty, care, concern, warmth, and love will grow exponentially.  Deposits in a relationship’s emotional bank account create a commerce between two hearts.  Emotional deposits include spending time with your friend or partner, offering him or words of affirmation, buying them little gifts, offering them acts of service, and being physically affectionate. Too many withdrawals from your relationship’s emotional bank account can lead to an overdrawn bank account, and sooner or later your relationship will be overrun by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  These 4 Horsemen lead friends or partners to feel hostile, lonely, isolated, and disengaged.  With an overdrawn emotional bank account,  the smallest problems in relationships become exaggerated out of proportion, and one or both people find themselves drowning in puddles.

  •   Keep The 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse At Bay in Your Relationships. 

According to John GottmanThe 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse that often corrode the goodwill in relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  In addition to the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse, Stephen Covey encourages people in relationships to refrain from allowing the 5 metastasizing emotional cancers into their relationships.  These cancers include criticizing, comparing, contending, competing, and being cynical.

  • Communicate With Courage and Consideration.  

The truth doesn’t need to hurt.  You can speak your truth openly and honestly while still being considerate of the other person’s feelings.  I strongly invite you to do so!!  In addition, when you have a grievance with your friend or partner, address their behavior, not their character.  In other words, it’s far more effective to say, ” You’re behavior was hurtful rather than say, “You are hurtful.”  I imagine that it would be far more effective and considerate to say, ” You made a mistake” rather than say, ” You are a mistake.”  According to John Gottman, When you address a person’s behavior rather than criticize their essence, you are making a healthy complaint vs. making a harmful complaint.

  •   Be Proactive And “At Cause”  In your Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In other words, take accountability for your mistakes, listen non-defensively, and refrain from being at “The Effect” of another person, blaming him or her for how they are “making you feel.” According to Stephen Covey, when you take responsibility for your actions, your mistakes, your choices, and seek out opportunities to grow from the inside out, you are choosing to be “at cause” for what you’re manifesting in your life.  This approach will leave you feeling empowered because you can only control how you show up in the world; you cannot make your friends or lovers change if they don’t wish to. When you endeavor to introspect and choose to learn and grow from your experiences, you are taking an “inside-out” approach to life; you are recognizing that  you “create our own reality, and you are responsible for what you create.”  In the event that you feel that you are “the effect” of someone else’s behavior, I invite you to become resourceful and make new choices to that you can be “at cause” for your life as soon as possible.

  • Be Vulnerable When The Timing Is Right.

In other words, I invite you to share your thoughts, dreams, feelings, painful memories, etc. with your potential friend and/or lover.  Be mindful, however,  that you’ve established enough rapport, trust, safety, and goodwill to be vulnerable with that person.  If you’re too vulnerable too soon in the beginning of your relationship, the other person may run for the hills. They may feel overwhelmed by too much of your vulnerability coming too soon.  In turn, they may wonder if you’re not emotionally self-reliant enough, or they may fear that you may have  emotional wounds and scars that haven’t healed enough yet, compelling you to turn them into your confidante, counselor, life coach, etc.  If you flood them with your vulnerabilities too soon, they may feel weighed down by your disclosures. I believe that in the early stages of cultivating new relationships, it is wise to share vulnerabilities with someone in droplets at first.   That being said, renown speaker and author of the book, Men, Women & Worthiness, Brene Brown, has astutely said that “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” When there are opportunities to let that person into your inner world and share your vulnerabilities, courageously do so!!

  •  Engage in Self-disclosure.

When you talk about your own frailties, “failures,'” family conflicts, triumphant moments, etc. you are giving your potential friend and/or romantic partner permission to do the same.  Your willingness to engage in self-disclosure is incredibly disarming to people.  They realize that they, in turn, can  share their frailties, regrets, losses,  and traumas with you.  Give yourself permission to share your triumphs, proudest moments, greatest accomplishments, and peak life experiences with them too.  In turn, they will likely share the most joyous moments of their lives with you in return. When you self-disclose about challenging times in your life, however, I’d invite you to remember to share how you’ve grown from your past trials and tribulations.  Share what you learned from those experiences, how you’ve grown and evolved, and how the vicissitudes and challenges in your life have strengthened you.  If you disclose something of a very personal nature and sound frozen in time, your potential friend and/or lover will strongly suspect that your past wounds remains wide open.  In turn, that person will wonder how those wounds and the pain you carry with you from those past experiences will manifest in your current relationship.

  •  Be Honest.

It is better to be trusted than liked, and it’s far more likely that you will be liked when someone trusts you implicitly.  Therefore, refrain from justifying your behavior, rationalizing away your behavior, minimizing your behavior, and/or lying about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  People are forgiving by nature, especially when someone is humble enough to acknowledge their mistakes and take full and complete responsibility for them.  On the other hand, people have little patience and tolerance for deflection, blaming others for their actions, conjuring up excuses for their behaviors, and lying.

Be forthcoming instead.  Your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and honesty, and they will more than likely forgive your mistakes if you take full ownership of them. In addition to being honest, I implore you to show up in your relationships with integrity so that you demonstrate that you are trustworthy.  In other words, be sure that your intentions, words, and actions are in alignment.  If you choose to live a double life, cheat, betray your friend or romantic partner partner’s confidences, say things you don’t really mean just to appease, placate, or win the favor of someone else, then you are building your new relationship on top of a hollow and broken foundation.  In addition to being honest with your friend or partner, earn their safety, respect, and trust by being trustworthy.

  •  Say, “I’m Sorry.”

Summon the courage and strength of character to say that you’re sorry when you’ve erred or hurt your potential friend or lover’s feelings.  When you sincerely apologize, your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and character.  In addition, you will earn their trust because you’ve demonstrated your capacity for humility, introspection, self-awareness, and emotional attunement as it pertains to how your words and actions impact others.

  • Be fair.

When you’re cultivating a potentially meaningful relationship with someone else, always be mindful to be fair with them.  In other words, do your best to arrive at win-win solutions, co-create agreements that feel good to both of you, and create limits, boundaries, and parameters for your friendship or romantic relationship that you both feel good about.

  • Be A giver, Not A Taker.

When you give to your friend or partner, you’re showing that person that you’re a giver and not a taker.  Takers tend to exploit others, use them, objectify them, etc.  When you’re a giver, that person is likely to give back in kind.  This aligns with the Law of Reciprocity.  We receive back from others what we put out. Be a giver, though who enjoys receiving back as well.  If you are giving to a friend or potential lover but refuse to receive in kind,  you are demonstrating an unwillingness to unwrap the gift of kindness and thoughtfulness that your friend or lover has given you.  In turn, you are denying that person the joy that accompanies giving.  This denial can arrest the bi-directional flow of your growing relationship.

  • Say Thank You.

Express your gratitude  and appreciation for an overture that your friend and/or lover has made on your behalf.   People yearn to be appreciated.  When another person’s overture is greeted with your silence, they will feel unappreciated and unacknowledged.  In turn, they will no longer make efforts on your behalf, and a stone wall of resentment and disconnection will rise between the two of you.

  •  Support Your Friend Or Partner’s Dreams.

Take a moment and encourage your friend or romantic partner to keep going after their dreams; affirm their courage, praise their persistence, applaud their willingness to march to the beat of their own drum, and acknowledge what’s laudable and praiseworthy about the dream they’re going after.

  •  Affirm Your friend And/Or Lover.

When your friend or lover says or does something praiseworthy, offer that person words of affirmation.  Reflect back to them the gold you see in them, and acknowledge their gifts, talents, and anything else that you think is beautiful about their essence or character.   Your new friend and/or lover will feel truly seen and valued.  As they feel cherished, they will want to share more and more about themselves with you.  As you affirm and bless them, they will also want to spend more and more of their time with you.  Sooner or later, I don’t know when, the two of you will be well on your way to co-creating a deep and meaningful relationship.

  • Share Your Own Needs And Wants In A Burgeoning Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In addition, honor the needs and wants of the other person.  If their needs and wants feel unreasonable to you, then find your voice and communicate with courage and consideration how come those needs and wants don’t resonate with you. Ultimately, you and your friend and/or partner want to feel free to in your relationship.  Do your best to encourage that person to fly.  If you spend too much time clipping their wings, they will fly away before their wings are entirely gone and they find themselves dying on impact as they hit the hard, unforgiving ground below.

  • Focus On Humility.

Just as courage is the Father of all virtues, humility is the Mother.  Those who keep their ego in check are more attractive and are evaluated more positively by potential friends and partners.  According to research done by Daryl Van Ton-geren at Hope College, “humility may be an important ingredient for relationship success.  In addition, humility is tied to forgiveness, a powerful tool in happy unions.”

  • Treat People As Though They Have The Virtues That You Wish They Possessed.  Give Them a Reputation To Live Up To, And They Will Work Like Crazy To Live Up To It.  

When you’re cultivating a meaningful relationship with a new friend and/or potential new lover, that person may behave in ways that you find unsettling, irksome, or out of integrity.  If you believe the relationship is worth investing in and cultivating never-the-less, I invite you to speak to their higher self and reflect back to them with effortless conviction that you see the gold glimmering brightly inside of them.  If your new friend is prone to drinking excessively, reflect back to them that you wholeheartedly know that they have the self-discipline and desire to stop drinking so that they can be fully present in their lives because, after all, you know that they want to realize the fullest potential.

If your new friend or romantic partner is prone to being stoic and guarded, reflect back to them that you have a very strong intuition that the deeper truth is that they are sensitive, deeply connected to their hearts, and possess all the courage in the world to let their walls down because, after all, you both would agree that he or she yearns for and richly deserves deeper connections with people.  As you speak to that person’s higher self with an unwavering confidence that you know who they truly are, he or she will feel inspired, and they will come to see themselves through your eyes and show up in your relationship in ways that align with their most praiseworthy values, conscience, and optimal set of guiding principles.

In conclusion, I want to share with you that there are countless ways to cultivate rich, deep, and meaningful relationships with others.  My hope is that I have touched on many ways to do so that you haven’t thought of or considered until now. While most people are capable of creating superficial connections with others, they often struggle to deepen and strengthen those connections.  In turn, their shallow relationships often leave them feeling hungry for something more.  As you learn how to cultivate more meaningful, substantial, and authentic connections with others, you will discover that your life has been enriched ten-fold.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article on how to cultivate meaningful relationships.  I hope that you found it informative and illuminating.

Warmly, John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Certified Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)

Human Needs

Image taken from everydaylifeandhappyiness.com

Image taken from everydaylifeandhappyiness.com

Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was a famous American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.  He believed that there are  fundamental needs that everyone has in common, and all behavior is simply an attempt to meet these six needs. These needs explain how come  human beings do the things they do;  they are the underlying forces that drive and shape all of our emotions, actions, qualities of life, and ultimately, our destinies.  According the Maslow, these fundamental human needs include the following:

Image taken from glosgster,com

Image taken from glosgster.com

1.Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.  * Please note that while we all have a need for love and belonging that comes from our community and relationships, we must also love ourselves first and foremost, and we must come to realize that our sense of belonging resides in us; we belong to ourselves, the universe, and if you’re spiritual or religious, you’ll come to realize that you belong to a higher power or God as well.  Our house of belonging resides within us.

4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.

6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Although we are all, theoretically, capable of self-actualizing, most of us will not do so, or only to a limited degree.  Maslow (1970) estimated that only two percent of people will reach the state of self actualization. He was particularly interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as persons.  By studying 18 people he considered to be self-actualized (including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein) Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of a self-actualized person.

Characteristics of self-actualizers:

1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty; As a marriage and Family Therapist, NLP Practitioner, Certified Dharma Life Coach, Sports Psychology Consultant, I believe that this characteristic is very similar to a person’s ability to master the art of achieving a state of equanimity even in the midst of life’s unforeseen viscissitudes, trials, and tribulations.

2. Accept themselves and others for what they are; They do not reject parts of themselves or others that they do not like. Instead, they compassionately improve on the parts of themselves they do do not like and understand, feel empathy for, and even forgive other’s limitations.

3. Spontaneous in thought and action;

4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);

5. Unusual sense of humor;

6. Able to look at life objectively;

7. Highly creative; Self-Actualizers choose to think outside of the box. In fact, they are often visionaries and innovators.

8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional; In other words, they are willing to individuate from their family of origin and separate themselves from the “trance of unworthiness” that is so pervasive in our culture and discover and embrace the truth of who they truly are.

9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity; they choose to be of service to others,and they deliberately provide the stepping stones that benefit other people’s lives.

10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;

11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;

12. Peak experiences; Instead of avoiding pain, they turn toward having enriching, peak life experiences that bring immense pleasure to their lives.

13. Need for privacy;

14. Democratic attitudes; They believe in the principle of fairness, and they understand the Law of Requisite Variety, which states that the person who with the most flexibility of mind, heart, spirit,and behavior cultivates an aura of moral ( not to be mistaken with formal) authority.  In addition, they believe in creating win-win agreements with others.

15. Strong moral/ethical standards.  In turn, they create a list of their highest values and guiding principles and their actions consistently align with them.

16. *I believe that self-actualizers have an internal unity of mind, body, heart, and spirit governed by their conscience; You cannot have peace of mind without peace of conscience

17. *I also believe that self-actualizers subordinate their impulses, moods, and emotions and choose instead to align their actions with their highest values, guiding principles, and Universal Laws.

19  *As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve come to believe that self-actualizers are great listeners; they seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Behaviors leading to self-actualization:

(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;

(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;

(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;

(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;

(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;

(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;

(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above.  Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share in common many of these characteristics.

With the aforementioned in mind, it is important to recognize that  self-actualization is a matter of degree: ‘There are no perfect human beings.’ The growth of self-actualization (Maslow, 1962) refers to the need for discovery, fulfillment, and personal and interpersonal transformation through personal growth that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always “becoming” and never remains static in these terms.  In regards to self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.  It is not necessary to display all 19 of these characteristics to become self-actualized, and not only self-actualized people will display them.  Thus someone can be silly, wasteful, vain and impolite, and still self-actualize!!

As each person is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010). For some people, self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art, writing, painting pictures, and inventing;  for others self-actualization is attained through sport, in the classroom, within a corporate setting, being a loving and nurturing Mother or Father, developing extraordinary emotional intelligence, etc.

8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.  * In my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, NLP Practitioner, Dharma Life Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I wholeheartedly agree with Maslow that that helping and being of service to others includes helping them to find their own voice, being of service to them in a time of need, affirming them, and continuously reflecting back to them with such unwavering resolve, force, intensity and conviction your belief in their intrinsic value and potential that they come to see it in themselves.  Other self-transcendent acts include securing freedom for others, participating in organizations or causes that create paradigm shifts in governments, challenging and transforming antiquated local or international institutions that undermine the highest good of those they claim to serve, etc.  A person’s spiritual need for self-transcendence echoes the sentiments shared in the following quote by an anonymous source:

” I sought my God, and my God I could not find, I sought my Soul, and my Soul eluded me, I sought my Brother to serve him in his need, and I found all three; my God, my Soul and Thee.”

Although Abraham Maslow passed away in 1970, it is worth noting that knowledgeable Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychologists, Master NLP Practitioners, Certified Hypnotherapists, and Sports Psychologists agree that his Hierarchy of Human Needs are on point.  While human beings likely have more fundamental needs that he may have overlooked at the time, his list accurately contains the bulk of them.  In recent years, other people in the healing fields have shared many of Maslow’s fundamental human needs and added to them or simplified them so that people can benefit from understanding what these needs are.  As a matter of fact, world famous Life Coach Tony Robbins has recently reduced Maslow’s list of human needs  6 that he believes are most fundamental to all people.  I’ve personally found his abridged list illuminating, and I hope that you will too.

Image taken from businessinsider.comn

Image taken from businessinsider.com

According to Tony Robbins, The Six Human Needs include the following:

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure

2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli

3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, please note that looking for significance outside of yourself too much can lead to an unhealthy dependence on other people’s perceptions, judgements, and validation of you.  While our need for significance is real, I believe it is even more important to love and validate yourself, and it is imperative that you wholeheartedly know and trust that you are already intrinsically worthwhile, loveable, and significant in and of yourself.  This paradigm will spare you the emotional and psychological ups and downs that come with or without outside  praise and criticism.  I believe that if you don’t feel like you’re enough without it, you’ll never feel like you’re enough with it.

4. Connection/Love/Belonging: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something.

5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding.

6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to, and supporting others.

According to Tony Robbins, theses 6 fundamental needs and/or drives are encoded in our nervous system. The means by which people meet these six human needs are unlimited. For example, one of the six human needs is the desire for certainty so that we can avoid pain and gain pleasure (i.e. comfort). Some people might pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy of faith. Variety often contributes to us feeling alive, stimulated,  and engaged. Then there’s the desire for significance—a belief that one’s life has meaning and importance. Some individuals will pursue this need by competing with others, or by destroying and tearing down those around them. Others may strive to fulfill this need by working synergistically with other people, doing a great job at work, being a nurturing and loving son or daughter, sibling, or Mother or Father. People who are looking to fulfill their need for connection, love, and belonging will choose to cultivate deep, meaningful friendships, join a church or synagogue, participate in a Men’s or Women’s group, adopt a loving puppy, etc.

I believe that what drives our endeavors to meet our fundamental human needs is our penultimate drive for a sense of fulfillment in our lives; we all have a need to experience a life of meaning. Although the first 4 needs that Tony Robbins addresses are incredibly important for us to nurture, our need and yearning for fulfillment can only be achieved through a pattern of living in which we focus on the two spiritual needs: 1) the need to continuously grow; and 2) the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way. Most dysfunctional behaviors arise from the inability to consistently meet these needs. When our attempts to reach fulfillment fail, we will settle for comfort—or for meeting our needs on a small scale. I want to take this moment to invite you to look to replace any dis-empowering ways of meeting your needs with things that empower and support you and others. I sincerely believe that understanding your needs, and which ones you are trying to meet in any given moment, will help you create new patterns that lead to you to living a life brimming over with a sense of lasting fulfillment.

With this in mind, I want to encourage you to take a moment and develop your Peak Performance Action Plan and reflect on the following questions:

1. Which of these six needs do you tend to focus on or value the most?

2. What are the ways (good and bad) you meet these needs? For example, in your relationships, work, eating, exercise, etc.?

3. How can you increase your focus on growth and contribution? What are some things you can do, or new experiences you can participate in?

I hope and trust that after you’ve answered these questions, you will feel more self-aware, more enlightened as to what needs you’re predominantly focused on meeting, and newly inspired to take action that will support your own personal growth as well contribute to the well being of others!!

Thank you for taking your time to read my most recent blog; I hope and trust that you found it informative, illuminating, and inspirational.

Sincerely,

John Boesky, LMFT/Master NLP Practitioner/ Dharma Life Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist & Sports Psychology Consultant

 

5 Distinguishable Styles of Communication

CommunicateAs a Marriage and Family Therapist, I owe a debt of gratitude to the great psychotherapists and family therapists that have come before me. One such pioneer in the field of family therapy is Virginia Satir, who was widely regarded as the “Mother of Family Therapy.” One particular contribution that Virginia Satir made during her extraordinary career was her identification of 5 distinguishable styles of communication; she noted that communication has to do both with information and the style in which that information is relayed.

In light of this, Virginia named these 5 different styles of communicating as placating, computing, distracting, blaming, and leveling. The first four styles of communicating that I just mentioned are generally unproductive ways of communicating with others.  Satir saw leveling, however, as the healthiest  mode of communicating with others, and she and encouraged her clients to work towards becoming levelers in their interpersonal relationships.

Placators tend to engage in behaviors that are designed to please, soothe, and pacify others. They make unwarranted concessions to others and are prone to accommodating and pleasing others because they have an addiction to seeking out their acceptance and approval. In addition, they are afraid of being rejected or abandoned by others, fear that the people around them will become angry with them, and they therefore fear interpersonal conflict. Consequently, people who use a placating style of communication use language that is intended to win the favor of others, and they are constantly apologetic, and never confrontational or disagreeing. They also tend to walk on eggshells in their communication with others, and they tend to preface what they are about to say before they say it in the hopes that what they say won’t be misconstrued.  They do this to cover all their bases in order to preempt a misunderstanding that could unintentionally cause someone to be disappointed or angry with them.  As a result of this communication style, people who placate are often chameleons without a solid sense of themselves, or they are vulnerable to being codependent individuals or co-narcissists who give up their authentic voice because they’re too afraid of what’s at risk if they speak their truth.

Those who engage in a Computing style of communication tend to detach themselves from their emotions and attempt to respond to situations in their lives in a logical and controlled way that is not influenced by their feelings. They are intent on delivering responses that are dry, cool, and calculated, and they tend to keep their voices even and often make use of abstract language. These individuals are often prone to communicating in a computing style because they’ve often developed a fear regarding expressing their own emotions. People who use a Computing style of communicating tend to live in their heads, and they will even use language that reflects theirmore left-brained approach to experiencing relationships and the world at large.  For example, someone who uses a computing style of communicating is more apt to say, “that doesn’t compute with me,” “that’s illogical,” or “the facts and data that you’ve just provided for me simply don’t add up.”  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it’s often a goal of mine to help those who have a computing style of communication to drop down into their hearts and share their thoughts and feelings from that sacred, vulnerable space.

Those who adopt a Distracting style of communication tend to behave and respond in an unpredictable manner that jolts and interrupts one-self and others. They are known to say or do things that are irrelevant to the language and actions of others; they are not emotionally attuned to others, and they are therefore unable to hold space for others because they’re so disconnected from their own thoughts and feelings. When they speak, they are often prone to being tangential and  jump from one topic to another. Distracters tend to feel restless and panicked physiologically, and they often use a tone that is fast, erratic, and unstable, varying in pitch for no apparent reason. These individuals often appear to have significant psychological issues which make relating to them very challenging. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found that working with individuals and couples that have a distracting style of communication challenging because it can be difficult to follow what my client or clients are actually saying. As a group facilitator, I’ve found that individuals with a distracting style of communication can unintentionally interrupt the flow of what is taking place in my groups, and I’ve found that other group members become increasingly aware of this issue as time goes by.

Those who have a Blaming mindset are prone to looking for and seeing problems and fault in others, and they tend to boss others around and try to manipulate and control them. Blamers can often be quite narcissistic, and they believe that they are better than everyone else. They do not believe that they are accountable or at cause for any of the problems that they face in their lives. Instead, they see themselves as victims and believe that everyone else is to blame for everything that goes wrong in their lives. In addition, they tend to think in black and white, and they don’t see others or the world in shades of grey at all.  People who have a blaming style of communicating often distort events that have taken place, and their distorted, revisionist memories often serve to protect their fragile egos and preserve their pristine sense of self.  Sadly, they often  perceive that nobody is genuinely concerned about them, and as they become resentful and more angry at others, their tone can become loud, harsh, and abrasive. They can be insensitive to the feelings of others, and they are often very reluctant to apologize to those they’ve hurt because they sincerely believe that they’re the ones that have been wronged in the first place.  In addition, they are reluctant to say they’re sorry because they believe that doing so is a sign of weakness.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it can be very challenging to work with people who adopt a blaming style of thinking and communicating because they are rarely interested in personal introspection and personal growth.

Alas, the healthiest communication style that Satir highlighted is Leveling. Leveling refers to the healthy communication mode of expressing oneself in an assertive manner so that one’s language and behavior is direct, straightforward, and congruent with one’s honest and authentic self. People who adopt the leveling approach express themselves in a way where there is harmony between their actions, words, tone of voice, and posture/gestures. They engage in active listening, are comfortable with silence, and they articulate their thoughts and feelings in such a way that people truly hear and understand them.  Levelers seek first to understand, then to be understood.  They also tend to value partnership, and they  look to create win-win scenarios when they’re talking to people.  They are also able to empathize with others and  see things from their point of view, and they are excellent at diffusing tense discussions by letting the other person know that first and foremost they want what is best for everyone.

People who adopt a leveling style of communication also tend to speak from their heart, and they’re comfortable being vulnerable with others.  As a matter of fact, they believe that being vulnerable with others is an act of courage and serves as a bridge to deeper connection.  They also see conflicts that arise in their interpersonal relationships as opportunities for personal growth as well as opportunities to grow closer to that person after the conflict is talked through and resolved. Levelers also tend to be the first ones to take ownership for their mistakes, and they apologize to others when they’ve hurt them.  They tend to be easy to understand and relate to, and they project themselves as “What you see is what you get” kinds of people. Finally, they contribute toward relationships that are safe, mature, and capable of genuine intimacy.

Now that you’ve read about Satir’s 5 different communication styles, I want to invite you to consider the following question: Which of the five communication styles mentioned above typically represents your strategy for communicating with others?

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’m a firm believer that how we choose to communicate profoundly impacts our relationships and profoundly shapes the course of our lives. There are countless other nuances and insights into effective communication that I’ve written about in other blogs on my website. Never the less, I trust that you’ll find it useful to consider your particular communication style and whether or not it’s been serving you to date.

If you’d like to learn how to adopt a leveling communication style so that you can make the most out of your interpersonal relationships and ensure that you feel seen, heard, and thoroughly understood, please get in touch with me so that I can help you to acquire a leveler’s communication style and skill set. You’re very welcome to e-mail me at jboesky8@gmail.com or call me at my office at (619)280-8099 to set up a time to visit with me in person so we can get to work!! I trust that you’ll discover that learning a leveler’s style of communicating will be a very rewarding process for you.

Thank you for taking your time to read my blog on the 5 distinguishable communication styles. I hope that you found it interesting and enlightening.

Sincerely,

John Boesky, LMFT/MNLP
Marriage and Family Therapist/Master NLP Practitioner

What Is Codependency?

photo by Christiemanning.com

photo by Christiemanning.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve been keenly aware of the fact that the term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, it then became abundantly clear that family and friends also constituted a network of codependents whose lives centered around the alcoholic, or addict.  Researchers have since revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you’re likely codependent.

Dysfunctional families often include family members that are narcissistic, borderline, emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive,  passive, helpless, dependent, manipulative, enmeshed, dramatic,  and prone to martyrdom.  In this unsafe and chaotic environment, children never have the opportunity to develop a solid sense of themselves. Instead, they develop a list of characteristics or symptoms that include many common traits.  Before I present this list of symptoms to you, though, I want to credit Darlene Lancer, MFT, for putting together the bulk of what’s in the list below.  In doing my research on codependency, I found her list to be so clear and comprehensive that it seemed foolish for me to try and reinvent the wheel.  Never the less, throughout the list, I’ve added additional insights on the traits that characterize codependents to make your understanding of this phenomenon even clearer.

Incidentally, before reading through the list below, please bear in mind that most American families are dysfunctional, and therefore most people have some codependency traits!!  As a matter of fact, I would offer that most people have unwittingly entered into a codependent relationship at some point in their lives.  Therefore, if you recognize aspects of yourself in the list below, you can rest assured that you’re in the majority!!  In addition, if you worry that believe that you’re a codependent person or that you’re in a codependent relationship, there are ways to get treatment and reverse this trend.  I will happily list treatment options for you at the end of this blog.

Alas, the following is a list of symptoms of codependents.  You needn’t have all of them to qualify as codependent.

  • Low self-esteem.  Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable, fraudulent,  or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.  Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
  • People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.  They usually engage in people-pleasing to seek acceptance and approval and to preserve their attachment to someone else; Their people-pleasing stems from their wish to keep their fears of imminent rejection and abandonment at bay.  Codependents who engage in people-pleasing often gravitate towards narcissists because they are all too willing to set aside his or her own needs to feed and fuel the narcissists ego. This gives the codependent a sense of purpose and a sense that they are needed, and codependents can’t stand the thought of being alone with no one needing them.
  • Poor boundaries.  Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. Their poor boundaries often stem from their underdeveloped sense of self and their lack of individuation and differentiation from their family of origin. In turn, codependents often responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.  When their boundaries are weak, codependents are willing to be victimized, abused, coerced, manipulated, etc.  When their boundaries are rigid, they may be too afraid of being victimized, enmeshed, or lost in yet another codependent relationship, and so they choose to withdraw become isolated from others.
  • Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Care-taking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
  • Control. Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control. Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
  • Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear of rejection or abandonment.
  • Obsessions. Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”  The assume that if they make a mistake, they will be cut-off, abandoned, or rejected.  Codependents often engage in mind reading, and presume to know that others are thinking poorly of them.  They are prone to projecting their own sense of worthlessness and fear of rejection onto others, and this in turn often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy where the other person eventually does leave them!!  Sometimes codependents lapse into fantasy about how they’d like things to be or about someone they love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps them from living their lives.
  • Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. As I’ve already mentioned before, they’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
  • Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem. Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy, for example. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy. By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
  • Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

In my experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve learned that when two people enter into a codependent relationship, they often enter into what is known as the Drama Triangle.  Imagine, if you will, the triangle below, and notice how at each of the three end points of the triangle are three separate roles that each codependent person in the relationship potentially plays at one time or another.  When each person in the relationship plays at least two out of these three roles often enough throughout the course of their relationship, it’s a tell tale sign that they’re in a codependent dynamic. These three habitual psychological roles include the following:  The Rescuer, the Victim, and the Persecutor.

photo by traumahealed.com

photo by traumahealed.com

The Rescuer, for example, plays the role of the care-taker, and he sees his partner as a victim in need of help.  He sets aside his own needs and becomes singularly focused on caring for his partner, who he believes is weak, helpless, wounded, and fragile.  The rescuer is not consciously aware, though, that by playing this part, he may be avoiding looking at his own anxiety, underlying feelings, absence of meaning in his life, hunger for a sense of identity and purpose, etc. In addition, he may be denying the sense of self-esteem and status he feels as he plays the role of rescuer nor the joy that comes with having someone depend on them. As he is rescuing his partner, his partner in turn is being treated as though she is a victim, incapable of caring for herself.  She is his damsel in distress, dependent on his heroic love, nurturing, and resources.  At first, his partner may welcome his wish to rescue her.  However, in time, she may come to feel smothered, and she may resent the tacit message that she is a victim who is unable to care for herself and therefore is in need of rescuing.  In turn, she may grow weary of his overbearing interventions and attempts to rescue her.  Soon she may grow more and more resentful of him, and she may finally lash out at him and reject his help all together.  In this moment, she has switched from playing the role of victim to playing the role of persecutor.  She feels angry, and she rejects his care-taking overtures and verbally accosts him instead.

In the aftermath of this confrontation, her caretaker may feel that his efforts to rescue her have gone unappreciated, and he may in turn feel very hurt.  Suddenly he finds himself playing the role of victim.  With his head bowed down and bent, he appears visibly wounded.  When the dust settles after this contentious fight, his persecuting lover may feel compelled to assume the role of rescuer again and make efforts to care for his hurt feelings.  If she doesn’t make this nurturing effort, he may take on the role of persecutor, and he will vent his anger and disgust at her for taking his rescuing overtures for granted.  In turn, she may feel victimized and wounded.  Seeing her in emotional distress, he may move away from playing the role of persecutor  and assume the role of her rescuer again.

Incidentally, Co-dependent relationships, of course, take on more patterns than just those presented above  in the Drama Triangle.  However, this dynamic is one that is very common among codependent couples and/or families.

Unfortunately, in my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen first hand how unresolved patters of codependency can lead to more serious problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, and other self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors.  People in codependent relationships are often more likely to attract further abuse from aggressive individuals, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed, and are less likely to get promotions and tend to earl less money than those without codependency patterns.  In addition, for the codependent person who lacks a solid sense of self and feels like victim at times in his relationships coupled with feelings of  intense anxiety and a profound fear of rejection and/or abandonment, his or controlling ways can eventually turn violent.

The great news is that there are treatments and recovery paths for individuals, couples, and families that struggle with codependency.  Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Group Therapy, Bibliotherapy,  Psycho-Education, Psychodrama,  Gestalt work, Hypnosis, EMDR, Assertiveness training, and support groups like Co-Dependents Anonymous ( CoDA) and AL-Anon are all powerful ways and places to go to overcome your codependency and feel happy, healthy, and whole again.

If you feel as though you’re a codependent person, stuck in a codependent relationship, or enmeshed and/or triangulated  in a codependent family system, please e-mail me or call me if you’d like help breaking free from this old pattern. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I know of tools and techniques that can help you to feel more independent as well as learn how to participate in interdependent, reciprocal, and happy relationships instead.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article.  I hope that you found it educational and informative.

Warmly,

John Boesky, LMFT