The Healthy Relationship: 6. You Have to be Completely Open and Honest, and Tell Me Everything

| Karen Scarth |

In the last post of this series, we reviewed the relationship rule: “You need to feel the same way I do. Otherwise you don’t care about me or understand me.” In this relationship dynamic there is an intense need by one partner to be constantly reassured that their emotions are not just validated but shared without reservation. This may lead to the other partner feeling a loss of sense of self and maintaining the demands of this form of relationship may be emotionally exhausting.

The next relationship rule we will focus on is:

  • You have to be completely open and honest, and tell me everything. I need to know what you are thinking and feeling at all times.

This relationship rule can create a profound sense of intrusion and emotional control. You receive the message that you need to open up and be honest yet, invariably, what you have to say can often lead to conflict. Individuals often feel like they are secretive and dishonest if they keep anything to themselves and start to feel they no longer know what is the right thing to do. Their judgment regarding what needs to be shared and what they are entitled to keep private gets eroded. They do not feel that they are entitled to any privacy of thought.

Individuals who have learned to operate within a relationship this way can become highly vulnerable to manipulation. They learn that if they are not completely forthcoming they may be later punished. At the same time, they also learn that if they are truly candid about their feelings, they may face conflict in the present. A common coping strategy is to present only thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are acceptable to the other person and, therefore, bypass conflict.

However, in the process of trying to avoid conflict, one’s sense of self becomes lost. A person who feels compelled to say and do whatever it takes to please the other starts to lose clarity about what they really think and what is real. Their gut tells them something is wrong with this scenario but they cannot figure it out intellectually.

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The Benefit of Listening, Connection, and Touch

| Jeff McKillop |

I read a lot of journal articles.  Most are dull and sometimes hard to slog through. Every now and then, however, I come across an article that is somewhat beautiful and charming.  One such article is a recent one by Alan Bonsteel published in the November 2013 edition of the Canadian Family Physician.

In this short article, Dr. Bonsteel reflects on his relationship with an early mentor, Dr. Zane Kime, and how that relationship shaped Dr. Bonsteel’s future practice.  What struck Dr. Bonsteel the most was Dr. Kime’s capacity to provide a kind and gentle approach to all that he helped.   Dr. Zane had the ability to understand and listen to the needs of those he was helping and he understood that the prerequisite to any change is to first establish a caring human connection.

Dr. Bonsteel also described a brief clinical study that he and Dr. Zane conducted.  Dr. Zane asked those he was helping if they might consider possibly improving their diet and level of exercise.  For one-third of these people, the request was face to face.  The next third, Dr. Zane sat beside each person when making his request.  And for the last third, Dr. Zane placed his hand on each person’s shoulder when asking for a change in diet and exercise.  The best outcome was with those whom Dr. Zane touched on the shoulder.

The point here is to highlight the importance of a caring relationship and the role of both verbal and nonverbal communication.  Touch, within a caring and nonthreatening relationship, serves as an emphasis and a method of collecting the other person’s attention.  It is a way of focusing the other person and highlighting that this message I am sending you is important.  It is a simple, yet powerful, way of communicating.

Keep in mind that we rarely change or alter our behavior for just ourselves.  Instead we change for others and in their presence, because they have asked us to and it is important to them.

All change begins with and within a relationship.

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The Healthy Relationship: 5. You Need to Feel the Same Way I Do. Otherwise You Don’t Care About Me or Understand Me

| Karen Scarth |

In the last post of this series, we reviewed the relationship rule: “Don’t expect anything from me and I won’t expect anything from you.”  That relationship dynamic involved avoidance of expressing any personal need coupled with failure to recognize the emotional needs of others.

Now we turn to the next relationship rule:

You need to feel the same way I do. Otherwise you don’t care about me or understand me.

This is a common dynamic in a relationship in which one person has borderline personality disorder. There is a very intense need on the part of this individual to be emotionally validated in this way. Seeking emotional connection this person needs others to be with them both physically and emotionally. They require not just empathy but a full engagement by the other person in the same emotional state. Anything short of this is seen as emotional distance and even abandonment.

For the other person, this relationship is emotionally exhausting and confusing. There are often high levels of emotional intensity and lability. Sharing these intense emotions is the basis for intimacy and connection in these relationships. There is also a significant emotional punishment when the individual fails to feel the right way or enough. This often leads to conflict and emotional withdrawal.

Loss of identity and self becomes an issue for the person navigating this type of relationship. They may become depressed or anxious since there is no room in the relationship to experience their own emotions and be themselves. All their energy is required to monitor the emotional state of the other and be in a state of perpetual readiness to respond as required. They may learn that they can only get their needs attended to if they are in more emotional distress than their parent/partner.

This relationship can be especially destructive since in an effort to avoid punitive emotional “events” a person can find themselves engaging in behaviours that go against their core beliefs, values and morals.

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Unmet Mental Health Care Needs in Canada

| Jeff McKillop |

On Wednesday September 18, 2013, Statistics Canada released new data stemming from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health.

In this survey, Statistics Canada reviewed the degree to which mental health care needs were being met in Canada based on a sample of 25,000 people.  This sample focused on Canadians living within the community but excluded Aboriginal communities, Canadian Forces personnel, and individuals in long-term care, hospitals, and correctional facilities.

Among those surveyed, approximately 1 in 10 Canadians reported mental health symptoms or substance abuse issues in the past 12 months.  Overall, 1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental health or substance abuse issue in their lifetime.

The most commonly reported need was the need for counselling.  Unfortunately, this need was also the most likely not to be met.  Barriers to accessing mental health counselling were due to lack of information regarding how to get help, affordability, absence of insurance coverage, and stigma.

Recent Publication

| Jeff McKillop |

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with two exceptional students: Vanessa Hazelwood from Western University and Maha Alvai who is attending Brescia University College.  The project that we worked on was a review of websites of psychologists in private practices across Southern Ontario.  That review has been recently published in the Summer edition of Psynopsis.  Psynopsis is a quarterly news magazine published by the Canadian Psychological Association and is available both in print and online.

The Healthy Relationship: 4. Don’t Expect Anything From Me and I Won’t Expect Anything From You

| Karen Scarth |

We are discussing the “rules” that guide relationship dynamics. In the last post, we looked at relationships that operate based on the following rule: “Your needs don’t matter, mine do.” Relationships that operate this way require the giving partner to meet all of the other person’s needs to the exclusion of the giver’s needs.

Another common relationship dynamic involves avoidance of expressing any personal need coupled with failure to recognize the emotional needs of others. The rule that might describe these relationships would be as follows:

Don’t expect anything from me and I won’t expect anything from you.

Children who have experienced emotional absence or neglect learn this relationship rule, and often carry around the belief of “Don’t expect anything from anyone – you can only rely on yourself.” Individuals whose relationships have operated based on this rule often find themselves struggling to trust and communicate with others. They have learned to avoid rejection by ensuring that they do not make any demands on others, don’t ask for help, or say what they need. They may avoid relationships or ensure that those relationships they do have are not too intimate or cannot work (for example, an affair with a married person or person who lives far away). They make sure that they don’t express any emotional needs or wants.

This distant stance from all relationships is difficult to maintain since our need for attachment is a powerful one. Individuals who take a stance of being without need choose safety from rejection and loss over connection. These individuals may present as high functioning but lonely. They have often invested their energies into establishing high levels of economic security and self-sufficiency. Sometimes they can’t understand why life feels like it has no meaning for them when on the surface they seem to “have it all”. If you ask a person who lives by the un-needy rule: “Whom did you go to as a child when you had problems or worries?”, they often answer: “No one.”

In the next post, I will discuss the relationship rule: “You need to feel the same way I do. Otherwise you don’t care about me or understand me.”

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Man Therapy: Australian Style

| Jeff McKillop |

From time to time, we like to point you to superb mental health websites.  This website, Man Therapy, is an Australian mental health care initiative attempting to reduce depression and suicide among men.

It uses both humor and facts to send the message that suicide rates among Australian men are high and that help is available.

This a well-designed website and clearly understands what appeals to men and how to begin the conversation without shame.
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