Five Relationship Patterns That Rule Your Dating Life

What are the pervasive relationship patterns that we repeat over and over?

It’s important to know that often the relationship patterns we are entrenched in are largely unconscious to us.  Suddenly, we find ourselves entangled in something and not sure how we got there, or how we didn’t recognize it sooner.  We are unaware that these patterns exist, so we can’t extricate ourselves from them.  We have been observing other people in our lives doing them since childhood.  They become the normal background of our lives; never questioning the veracity of these assumptions.  We come to assume that everyone is like that.

So, these relationship patterns are especially sneaky because they rule our lives without us knowing it, like a subliminal message under a television show telling you to eat chocolate.  You know something is amiss, but you can’t put your finger on it.  You feel powerless over your inability to find a healthy relationship.  If you want to change how your life is ruled by your subconscious thinking, you first must get to know your pitfalls!

Here are 5 examples of relationship patterns that rule your dating life:

Relationship Pattern #1:  “I must be polite no matter what.”

Maybe you’ve watched nasty behavior being accepted or going unchallenged.  Everyone sort of tiptoes around that behavior, so it appears that it is okay to behave in a rude manner.  You now ignore bad behavior.  However, it can be deadly if we ignore bad behavior in someone we are dating.  Instead of it being a warning sign, we view it as normal.  Suddenly, you wake up after years and realize that you are with someone who has been abusing you for years.

Sometimes we think it’s okay to treat people poorly.  Occasionally, couples come to me and are shocked that they are not allowed to be mean to each other.  They get into this habit because over years, their trust and love have eroded by daily doses of meanness.  The other problem with this pattern is, if you are always being nice, you never say what you really think.  If you do that in a relationship, your spouse will never really know who you are.  In reality, you will remain strangers living in the same house.  If you got the message that it was never okay to be angry, then you could wind up being in an unfulfilling relationship with no true connection to your deeper self.

Relationship Pattern #2:  “I don’t talk about myself.”

If you are a very private person, or you feel that what you have to say is unimportant or might be ridiculed, you may have decided to keep quiet.  This sets you up to be the perfect person for a very narcissistic mate!  Narcissistic people are more than happy to talk about themselves and dominate the conversation.  You think this is great, because you don’t really like to talk.  You feel uncomfortable opening up, and they can be very entertaining!  Then, oops, you realize later, sometimes much later, that the person you are with really only cares about themselves.  This makes for a lonely life, one where your needs are ignored.

Relationship Pattern #3: “I must rescue and fix others.”

One example of this is if your father was an alcoholic who always got himself and the family into trouble.  Now, you try to head off any problems at the pass.  You always try to predict what could go wrong, then try to fix it before it happens.  You pick people who need lots of help.  They become your project, like someone who likes to purchase fixer-upper houses.  In the end, you wind up feeling unappreciated and exhausted.

The hope is that one day these people in your life will be finally fixed and then you’ll get your needs met.  However, no matter what you do, it backfires because you can’t fix them. People who need that kind of help need to work with a professional to get beyond most of their issues.  Your assistance in many cases enables their behavior because you bail them out and unknowingly allow them to continue in their pattern of doing the same things.  Only they can resolve their issues and only in their own time. Your work is to realize that the only person on the planet that you can fix, is yourself.

Relationship Pattern #4: “I choose people who put me on a pedestal.”

This can start off wonderfully, because you feel like you are a million dollars when they are with you; all the attention feels so great.  It’s seductive to be worshipped, especially for people who never received approval from their family growing up.  Perhaps you came from a huge family or a single parent family where you didn’t get a lot of attention from mom or dad. You may feel like you need someone who pays lots of attention to you, shares regularly how they feel about you and has lots of time for the relationship.

Problems arise when this loving attention turns into treating you like a possession.  Your partner can become extremely jealous of anything you do.  They seek to control your time and keep you locked away for themselves.  As this pattern evolves, any attempts you make to pull away cause your partner to become more possessive and controlling. Resentment builds as your world shrinks down to the four walls of your home and often people become secretive and afraid.  The worry that your partner will explode with envy at the mention of friends, coworkers or any activities that don’t include them, keep you pushed down and alone.  When this happens, it’s common for your self esteem to plummet, often causing increased depression and anxiety.

Relationship Pattern #5: “I could be betrayed, hurt or abandoned, so why bother getting  close to anyone at all?”

The thinking here is that if you never get close to anyone, you won’t get hurt.  The problem is that this tactic, which is really an attempt to avoid being abandoned, causes you to actually abandon yourself making it impossible to get your needs met.  No matter how right a person is, you always find a reason to dump them before they dump you.  Your dating becomes a series of preemptive strikes against the opposite sex.  You really don’t trust anyone to be there for you, and you don’t trust your own ability to pick a good mate.

For whatever reason, as soon as you feel like you are getting too close, an overwhelming feeling comes up that you must run away, or that you are trapped.  Maybe the other person suddenly becomes unattractive, or has some negative quality that you decide is a deal breaker.  The most important thing becomes: I must get free!

This situation is a double-bind because when your fear comes up, your impulse is to run away to avoid the possible pain of a broken heart.  But, if you force yourself to stay, your fear is always in the forefront of your mind and it can feel impossible to relax and be happy in your relationship.  The only way out of this is to dig into the real fears you have and this is often work you need to do with a professional therapist who has some experience helping clients deal with abandonment.

If you’re someone who has been in a relationship or two like the ones listed, that’s not necessarily indicative of a true pattern.  But, if you’ve been in multiple, repeated relationships that match these descriptions, perhaps it’s time to seek out the help of a professional who can help you dissect what’s really going on.  I can use tools such as Neurofeedback, Somatic Experiencing and EMDR to help manage the anxiety that often arises when dating.

If you’re curious about your relationship patterns, I may be able to help you determine why your relationships are not working out and what to do about it.  You’re welcome to send me an email mfoxmft@yahoo.com or call my office for a free phone consultation.  You can reach me directly at 310-314-6933.

Stress: Causes & Solutions

One method of dealing with stress is learning how to recognize and talk back to that internal critic you have in your head.  Write down all the self-critical thoughts going through your mind.  Write down why these thoughts are incorrect.  Then, practice talking back to them, explaining why they are wrong.  For example, if you are going to be late for a meeting, write down the negative thoughts you have about yourself.  The declarations of character flaws that being late represent:  laziness, thoughtlessness, and apathy.  Realize that just because you were late for a meeting, you are not a bad individual.  Being late and being bad are separate things that don’t necessarily correlate.

Perfectionism is another example of how people create stress out of thin air.  A lot of people are very hard on themselves, so how do you overcome perfectionism?  Accepting that you are not perfect or even above average can make your stress level much more manageable.  The way to defeat perfectionism is to accept that it is an illusion.  Realize that you are flawed.  Realize that everyone is flawed.  Perfectionism is often applied globally to a person’s entire existence.  You cannot possibly be above average, or even average at every facet of your life.  Being a perfect housekeeper probably won’t help you achieve fulfillment, so just get the dishes done and move on to resting and recharging after working all day.  What are you afraid will happen if you are not perfect?  Will my family abandon me if I’m not perfect?  Will my boss really fire me if I’m not perfect?  Dig into the fear reaction and figure out if the reasons you feel you need to be perfect have any rational basis.

The other way you can deal with perfectionism is to see things as a process—see the big picture.  Instead of trying to get each detail exactly right, see it as a process.  Don’t worry about making mistakes, that is how you learn.  Failure is the most powerful teacher in the world.  Most people are forgiving.  They understand and accept that all of us make mistakes.

Perfectionism paralyses you.  Many people claim to be writers, but never write a word because they believe that they must write the perfect novel.  They fear what critics will say about their book, or they fear that no publisher will buy it.  Those things are beyond your control.  Completing the novel will give you a great sense of accomplishment, whether anyone else likes it or not.  Most people are writers in their mind, but their idea of perfection keeps them from ever putting pen to paper and discovering what they are truly capable of.  Accept that the words won’t be perfect, but they will be yours and they will be real.

Some people are dealing with continual stress because they have something they need to say, but are afraid to say it.  They need to be authentic.  Why won’t they say it?  Again, the fear underlying the silence must be examined.  This will resolve the inaction or at least identify the cause.  Then, they must deal with how rational or irrational this fear is.  If it is a real fear, with real consequences, they must weigh the benefits of speaking versus the stress of silence.  Most often, being truthful and open far outweighs the benefit of silence.

Other ways to relieve stress include exercising or doing something you love.  Remember things that made you happy when you were younger and re-discover the joy of doing those things.  Pick one of the things you love to do and start doing that again.  Play cards, watch football, garden, cook, or watch a movie that made you laugh.

There may be something that you have to face head on.  Avoiding a problem is sometimes not an option, so eliminate the problem by attacking it.  Ask your friends and colleagues how they would deal with the problem.  Make a “to do list” of problems you have and figure out which ones need to be resolved and how you can go about solving them.  If it is not a solvable problem, then putting in down on paper and accepting its existence might also reduce your stress since you can mark it off your “to do list” as an unsolvable issue.

Avoiding anger.  Who are you angry with and what are you angry about?  Is it something within your control?  Sometimes you are taking things personally that are not personal.  Most of the time, people act in their own self-interest.  They don’t even give a thought to how their actions affect you.  You have misunderstood the meaning of their actions and internalized an imaginary enemy, when in fact, no such adversary exists.  Often when we feel really hopeless about things, what is really happening is we feel extremely angry.  By confronting the source of your anger, you will often discover that it was just a misunderstanding and you can let go of your resentment.  If there is a real issue, then talking to the person may also help both of you come to a better understanding of where the other one is coming from.  Mutual understanding is a powerful ally when looking for peace of mind.

Avoiding sadness.  Sadness can be a normal feeling.  This feeling can enhance your humanity.  Try not to avoid feeling sad about things that are normal to feel sad about.  Running away from your natural feelings will often create more stress.  Examples of things it is normal to feel sad about include the loss of a pet, being broken up with, being rejected for a job, or even little things that you might not expect.  Surprisingly, if you talk about your sadness and accept it, it will often resolve much more quickly.

While you can identify and recognize some of these issues on your own, many of these issues can be examined and confronted more easily with the help of a professional therapist.

Self Acceptance: Election 2012

With the 2012 presidential election looming like a vulture over an antelope carcass, we often feel the need to justify our position on this important choice to those around us, especially our mates.  We can often plead the fifth when others issue political proclamations, but when you start reviewing your ballot at the kitchen table and your husband walks in and says, “So, honey, who ya voting for?” It is difficult to say, “No comment.”  Then, he disagrees with you and begins to give reasoned arguments about why your decision is irrational.  You get defensive and say, “You are just like my father, who thinks, blah, blah, blah!”  You then look at your ballot with self-doubt.  You read a few more articles, but your opinion remains the same.  Should you change your position because your husband is better at this and knows more about it?  First, you need to get to a place where you can understand whether your position makes sense or is based on insecurities that go deeper, but really have nothing to do with a reasoned argument, then you can make a reasoned choice.  Self-acceptance serves as an excellent way to know what you want and why you want it, freeing you from doubt when crucial decisions present themselves.

What is self-acceptance?  Why is it important?  If we deny any part of who we are, not only are we rejecting ourselves, but we are also making it impossible to improve.  By improve, I mean have more successful relationships, and a more satisfying work life.  In order to really change, we need to objectively look at the problem without judging ourselves harshly and being self-critical.  We don’t have to like what we see, or want to repeat it, but in order to really change, we must be willing to examine it from all angles.  To that end, we must take a step back and observe, like a scientist observes an experiment. This means retaining a sense of self-love, despite whatever uncomfortable memories arise.  Imagine how difficult it would be to truly have self-esteem, if we couldn’t analyze and correct our mistakes.  We must also look at our parents’ mistakes and those who influenced us to avoid repeating them.  This might require that we think about some painful experience, in order to come to terms with it, and figure out how it holds us back in our life.

Consider Debbie, a woman who lost her father when she was seven years old.  Once grown up, Debbie often wondered why she was unable to stay in a relationship.  She rapidly lost interest in any man she dated.  She became indifferent, avoided talking, and eventually, the relationship would peter out.  When she lost her father, it was too painful to talk about or to mourn.  She was expected to just live with it.  She was told to forget about it.  By non-judgmentally focusing on her lack of feelings for the men she dated, and trying to be curious about it, she slowly came to realize that she was still, after all these years, trying to forget about her Dad’s death, and just live with it.  She had never mourned, and to this day, was still scared of being abandoned.  She now suffered from serious difficulties trusting men.  Instead, she left them by becoming indifferent before they could abandon her.

By realizing why she did not allow herself to be close, she could then start processing her father’s death, and feel compassion for herself.  Feeling compassion for yourself is one of the first steps to self-acceptance and self-love.  Realize that there have been good reasons that you have been acting or feeling a certain way, even if the reasons are rooted in your childhood.  Once you consider what you’ve been through, acting that way takes on a new hue and makes perfect sense in light of your failure to deal with something meaningful that happened in your childhood.  However, you would like to change that behavior.  That behavior doesn’t apply to your present life, although it sure did apply when you were younger.  For Debbie, she never talked about her father’s death, so she did not want to get hurt again by getting close to someone and have it not work out.  She felt she had to protect herself by shutting down, but that was not working.  She realized that she did not want to spend her life without a satisfying relationship!  By dealing with her past, her present and future self could evolve into someone who could have a satisfying, close relationship.

Self-protection begins to backfire at some point.  The root of our anxiety lies in not being able to express our true authentic self.  We try to cover up what we really think and feel.  This leads to stress and anxiety.  Once your anxiety becomes elevated, you cannot evolve out of unwanted feelings because you cannot accept having them to begin with.  This creates a cycle of anxiety.

As long as you hate or reject vital parts of who you are, you will be at war with yourself.  Your self-esteem will suffer.  You will struggle with personal decisions, like whether to stay in a relationship, and with more external decisions, like whether to vote for Obama or Romney.  Dealing with these issues can be painful, depressing, and stressful.  However, there are many excellent methods now for helping ease the path.  Talk therapy, EMDR, neurofeedback, and Somatic Experiencing can help.  Give me a call, so we can discuss what would work best for you.

Neurofeedback Therapy Helps Stress of Cancer Treatment

Tig Notaro’s recent diagnosis of cancer has shown how a well-known celebrity deals with cancer: she talks about it.  She has opened up and received support from friends and the world at large.  Not all of us have the ability to receive such widespread support, however, there are equally healthy ways that all people afflicted with cancer can cope and maybe even thrive.

Physical symptoms of cancer treatment, usually chemotherapy and radiation therapy are:  fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting, constipation and diarrhea, nutrition and eating problems, hair loss, confusion and memory problems, skin changes, and loss of libido.  Many of these symptoms are heightened by stress and anxiety.    In this article we will first deal with fear about cancer and the stifling effect this has on your ability to confront it.  We will talk about a treatment called neurofeedback, that might help you feel safe enough to then explore four techniques, aside from medication, for dealing with the symptoms of cancer.

Pain, fatigue, and the fear of what cancer is doing to you can lead to a great deal of stress and depression.  The emotional weight of living with cancer can negatively impact many areas of your life, especially social relationships and your willingness to take risks to make your life happier and healthier.

A key component for dealing with stress and anxiety for cancer patients can be neurofeedback therapy.  You can use this non-invasive therapy to decrease your stress levels so that you are inclined to take advantage of other non-invasive pain management techniques.  Since each person is unique in their tolerance for pain and what works best on their body, you may need assistance getting to a place where you feel confident enough to explore various techniques before finding the best method.  Neurofeedback often relieves anxiety so that you can really explore all possibilities.

Once you conquer your anxiety enough to venture out of your comfort zone, you might like to try one or all of these four effective alternative techniques for dealing with symptoms of cancer:  breathing exercises, guided imagery, developing a new hobby, and meditating on positive daily affirmations.  All of these techniques require patience and persistence before positive results occur.  In other words, give yourself a break and try to enjoy the process.

Breathing techniques are very effective for dealing with pain.  This is where you take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, while counting to three.  Then hold the breath for up to three counts, if you can.  After that, you let your breath out for a count of three.  Next, keep your lungs empty of air for up to three counts, again, if you can.  When you first begin this exercise, just do it for 2-3 minutes at a time.  Work your way up to as much time as you are comfortable with.  You can also set a timer to go off two to four times per day to remind you to practice breathing.  This will get you into the habit of relaxing, so that you release the tension as it builds up.

You can also try bringing to mind a time in your life where you felt peaceful, hopeful, or secure.  It could be many years ago, or in the recent past.  It could also be in an imaginary place.  In your mind’s eye, imagine yourself there.  Feel the positive sensations in your body.  This should only be done if you can feel safe, positive feelings.  There is a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that can be used to envision a safe place and help you feel positive and comfortable with the help of a trained therapist.

Developing a new hobby creates a sense of joy in the world as you meet new people and learn about things you never knew before.  Enjoying beginner’s mind gives you a feeling of youth and wonder that the routine of daily living sometimes saps.  Take up a sport, a game, or a craft that you are physically capable of engaging in without undo stress.

You may also read inspirational or uplifting poetry and affirmations that you meditate on daily to relieve your burden.  You can write affirmations that are personal to you.  An example of a good affirmation is, “I am strong, resilient, and love surrounds me.”   Once you find a good affirmation, find a quiet place.  Sit and repeat your affirmation with intention as you meditate on the powerful words.  Mediation has been shown to increase activity in the areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.

Putting your mind and body in constant touch with the best thoughts and activities will make your life more pleasurable.  First, you put yourself in charge by lessening anxiety with neurofeedback.  Then, through the use of imagery, affirmations, hobbies, and breathing, you might find that your cancer has less of a chance of survival than you do.

If you’re dealing with an issue like this, I would be happy to help.  Please reach out by calling my office at 310-314-6933 or sending me a private email.