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.”

hand in hand

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.
man therapy

The Healthy Relationship: 3. Your Needs Don’t Matter, Only Mine Do

| Karen Scarth |

In the next few posts we will be looking at how some relationship rules develop and why someone may tolerate harmful boundary violations. These rules are not meant to be exhaustive but they do highlight some common patterns.

Your Needs Don’t Matter.  Only Mine Do.

With this relationship rule the message is: “Your needs don’t matter, mine do.  Your job is to look after my needs.  It is not okay to say no.”

Individuals who have been exposed to childhood abuse and family dysfunction often learn that their purpose and value (at least in the abusive relationship) is to be at the disposal of another’s needs. This can also occur if a parent is ill or disabled and the child is in the role of caregiver.

This type of relationship has many faces. It can be the parent who needs you to pretend you are happy or fine in front of neighbors and friends when they have just finished a physical and verbal blow out with you behind closed doors. It can be the sister who chronically calls in a crisis and expects you to drop everything and come sort out her life for her. It can be the father who sexually abuses his daughter. It can be the friend who relies on you to comfort and support him or her but is never there when you need something.

If this becomes the accepted rule within in a relationship, then one person may find him or herself tolerating mistreatment. This kind of harmful imbalance in a relationship may be viewed as normal and the only way to secure much needed connection. In the trade off between a painful relationship and no relationship,  individuals in these relationships often choose the painful relationship.

Indeed, individuals who have endured these kinds of relationships believe relationships and emotional pain are synonymous. In these circumstances, people do not view relationships as sources of support and fulfillment. Instead, for them, relationships are a necessary chore or obligation they must endure.

For some individuals, their only emotional connections are within dysfunctional relationships. It becomes very risky for them to insist on more appropriate boundaries with loved ones because they fear the loss of very important attachements or they fear a crisis for the other person if they do so, such as suicide or other self-destructive behaviour. This is why many adult individuals will tolerate unreasonable and sometimes overwhelming demands from others.

Alternatively, sometimes a relationship can occur in which one partner assumes their needs don’t matter (based on their own past experiences with relationships) while the other partner does not operate this way. If the person who feels their needs never count  is fearful and has a distorted sense that the relationship is fragile, they may not attempt to place a boundary on their giving within the relationship. The person whose needs are being met may not be aware that the giving person is spending all of his or her energy attempting to please the receiving person  at the expense of the giver’s needs.  This can go on for years until the giving person feels fed up, used, and angry and leaves the relationship much to the shock of the other.

In the next post, I will discuss the relationship rule: “Don’t expect anything from me. You need to look after yourself.”

hand in hand

The Healthy Relationship: 2. Why Do We Create And Need Relationship Rules?

| Karen Scarth |

Why do we seem to create and need relationship rules? The ultimate purpose of relationship rules and boundaries is to create security in our relationships.

A key psychological and developmental challenge is how to best balance between our needs for independence, autonomy, and personal control and our needs for attachment, connection, and belonging.  Healthy relationship boundaries allow us to balance these sometimes competing needs.  They allow us to establish a secure attachment or connection to someone but preserve our need for some degree of control over our choices and decisions. Having a set of mutually understood rules that define a relationship tells us that as long as we operate within those rules, the relationship will be secure.

In other words, if we follow the rules then we do not expect a high level of conflict that might lead to an end of the relationship.  A good example of a common relationship rule is that when you are married or in a long term committed relationship, you are sexually monogamous.  If one person breaks this rule, they understand that this might lead to severe conflict and a possible breakdown in the marriage or relationship.

However, if these rules are not healthy, fair, or reasonable then one member of the relationship may feel violated, misused, trapped, or unwanted.  When boundaries are dysfunctional we experience a range of things directly associated with the nature of the boundary dysfunction.  For example, if the boundary is too rigid and distant, we may achieve high levels of autonomy and personal control but we lose intimacy.  Individuals with these kinds of relationships often feel unloved, lonely, and empty, and life can feel meaningless.  These types of relationships may lead to the feeling “Is this all there is?” If this pattern of relationship is pervasive for an individual they can suffer from symptoms of depression.

On the other hand, if the boundary is too permeable and enmeshed, we begin to feel trapped and experience a loss of our identity and sense of control. This pattern can set us up to be at the service of the other’s needs while our own needs go unmet. We may feel used, unappreciated, and angry in these circumstances. We may wonder why others are not there for us when we go out of our way to support friends and family. This pattern can be associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger. This pattern can also lead to a loss of self since confusion can develop over whose feelings and needs belong to whom. The message in these relationships is sometimes: “If you feel the same as I do, then this is a reflection of your attachment to me. If you don’t feel the same, you don’t care about me.”

Our approach to the dilemma of autonomy versus connection is shaped by our lived experiences and our own relationship models. These include key relationships in our life such as the relationship between our parents and our own relationship with each parent or caregiver as well as our siblings and other family members.

In the next post, I will discuss how relationship rules develop.

hand in hand