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.

hand in hand

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

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

Welcome to Our Practice

Welcome to the psychology practice of Dr. Karen Scarth and Dr. Jeff McKillop.  Our offices are located in London and Woodstock Ontario.  We are pleased to offer assistance to individuals, couples, and families.

karenscarth

Dr. Karen Scarth

I graduated from Queen’s University in 1994 with my doctorate in clinical psychology. I came to London Ontario in 1993 to complete my pre-doctoral internship at the London Health Sciences Center and stayed on to work in the community. I am interested in working with individuals across the lifespan and I have a broad range of clinical interests.

I started a private practice in 1996, providing treatment and assessment services to children, adolescents and adults as well as couples and families. In 1999 my husband Dr. Jeff McKillop (also a psychologist…..I know….) joined my practice and since 2002 as our practice expanded we have been pleased to work with very talented associates.

In addition to my private practice, I have worked with The Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System, Madame Vanier Children’s Services, the Child and Parent Resource Institute as well as the Prison for Women in Kingston. I have co-authored a treatment manual for Conduct Disorder and resource manuals for individuals working with Child Witnesses. I have provided consultation and supervision services to local treatment agencies as well as supervision of psychologists entering the profession. I have also conducted workshops and training seminars on a variety of topics including trauma, domestic violence, anger management, stress management and Conduct Disorder.

My primary interest is providing treatment services. My approach could best be described as integrated. I use a client centered approach which is informed by cognitive behavioural and psychodynamic theory. I make use of techniques associated with experiential and mindfulness approaches. With young clients I use play and art therapy techniques to facilitate expression.

I see clients who experience difficulties with depression, stress, anxiety, intimate relationships and parenting. I work with many individuals who are dealing with traumatic experiences ranging from accidents to child abuse. I provide couples counselling and I work with families undergoing separation and divorce. I provide treatment to children and adolescents dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, and social/peer issues.

jeffmckillop

Dr. Jeff McKillop

I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at Queen’s University. In 1993, I moved to London Ontario for my residency at University Hospital. Following residency, I was fortunate to join the practice of Dr. Michael MacDonald. In 1999, I was doubly-fortunate to join the practice of Dr. Karen Scarth.

I have worked for the St. Thomas-Elgin Association of Community Living, Queen’s Counselling Services, Lennox-Addington Addiction Services, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, and the Homeless Outreach Clinic at the London InterCommunity Health Centre. I have served on the Board at Changing Ways, the London InterCommunity Health Centre, and the London Regional Psychological Association.

My approach to treatment is strongly influenced by client-centered theory, attachment theory, and existential theory. Most of the people that I help are experiencing distress due to past, current, or pending loss. I try to help people identify their strengths and then use those strengths to gain resilience when coping with challenges. I believe our capacity to withstand and rise above is enhanced through choice, responsibility, and support from those we love.

wendylewis

Wendy Lewis MA

I completed my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology in 2000. Prior to graduating with my M.A., I also completed my Ph.D. course work, published a number of articles, and received scholarships and grants to support my research. I have a broad range of experience and interests which include pain management, rehabilitation psychology, forensic psychology, and the psychology of human sexuality. During the past ten years, much of my clinical work has involved helping individuals and their families recover from the loss associated with injury, chronic pain, and accident-related trauma. I also have experience in conducting psychovocational and medical-legal assessments.

My clinical orientation to intervention is primarily cognitive behavioural, informed by mindfulness, with a healthy dose of humour. I see my role as that of therapist-coach. I am currently developing and expanding my clinical practice to include working with children, adolescents, families, and couples. Outside of work, I maintain (with the occasional lapse…) my own meditation practice and, since 2008, I have been volunteering annually at a youth leadership program at a yoga retreat in Northern Michigan.

tatianamurkin

Tatiana Murkin MA

My doctoral training in Clinical Psychology and Health Sciences has prepared me for working with individuals experiencing crisis, providing individual and group psychotherapy, and facilitating personal, professional and academic development. Having completed a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, as well as all pre-dissertation requirements for a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, I began a Ph.D in Health Promotion at Western University, where I am currently studying resilience within individuals exposed to trauma. I am registered as a Psychological Associate with the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

Guided by insight-oriented therapy, cognitive behavioural principles, and mindfulness practice, I work with adults experiencing depression, anxiety, panic, trauma, grief, anger, irritability and impulsivity. I am also interested in working with individuals focusing on stress management/burnout prevention, academic success, self-esteem enhancement, interpersonal effectiveness and mindful living. I am experienced in conducting group psychotherapy for anxiety, stress, performance enhancement, emotion regulation and distress tolerance. I also offer psycho-educational seminars on a variety of topics related to mental health and personal success.

I believe that physical and mental health are interconnected and therefore take a holistic approach to helping people access health-promoting resources within themselves, their families, their work environments and their communities. In both individual and group contexts, I support my clients while they navigate a path toward health.