Pressure and Accommodation
We spoke yesterday about how unresolved emotional attachments from our early lives leave footprints on our psyches long after we’ve physically left home. In our adult lives, these footprints take the form of tension in our closest relationships when we either pressure our partner to meet our unconscious expectations or we accommodate too much to meet the expectations of our partner, or both.
The good news is that we don’t have to be slaves to this process, and becoming aware of it like you’re doing right now, is the first step to more responsibly and effectively managing yourself in your relationships. Once you’ve identified the role/s you played in the emotional system of your family of origin, you can then identify the ways you’ve emotionally and/or physically cut yourself off from those early relationships in an effort to escape the tension there.
An Unconventional Approach
Now here’s the hard part: opening up to those old relationships with the intention of changing your role in the system. We’ll call this defining yourself within the context of relationships, AKA actively participating in the differentiation process within your family of origin. Strangely, defining yourself more solidly in those early life relationships automatically impacts your adult relationships without your even consciously trying.
Of course, defining yourself to yourself is the first step. Who are you really? Not who are you as a daughter/son, or husband/wife, or mother/father or employee/homemaker, but who are you regardless of all the hats you wear? What makes you cry, laugh, sing? What makes you feel alive? What activities bring you into “the zone” where you lose time because you’re so engrossed?
A Family-of-Origin Example
Before I could define who I really am, I had to name the role I played in the emotional system of my family, and I realized that I played the role of the compliant one, the peacemaker, the one who tried not to make things worse. I didn’t get actively involved in the family tension, which left me available as a dumping ground for the tension of others who did.
When I realized I was still in this position as an adult in my family and that I could now change this pattern, I was both relieved and terrified. Making this shift wasn’t easy, for my family members or for me. People in emotional systems get used to whatever’s familiar, and changing an entrenched pattern that had worked for other family members, although at great expense to me, was met with resistance of various kinds. But I kept at it, envisioning and believing in a time when I would be free to just be me, not someone to watch helplessly by, bearing the overflow of family tension.
A Dating Example
I didn’t learn about how cutting off from family of origin relationships impacts nuclear family relationships until after I was divorced, and I was just beginning to learn this, and to re-connect with cut-off family members, when I entered the dating world again. Becoming conscious of these natural human processes helped me to see that the work I was doing to define myself in relationships with my family members actually translated into my choices with the first man I dated post-divorce. How his unresolved attachments and mine resulted in tension became clear to me, allowing me to define myself in that relationship, just as I was doing in my early life relationships.
Defining myself in that first post-divorce romance cost me the relationship because I was no longer willing to accommodate to expectations that didn’t align with my most treasured values, and my date was unwilling to own his contribution to the dynamic. Making the necessary but painful move to break the relationship off was a direct result of being able to define myself more clearly and more boldly in family-of-origin relationships. If I could do it there, I could do it anywhere.
So can you.