Relating to others, especially those we love, can be a rocky road. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs through it and I’ve come to see conscious relating as one of the most challenging and yet fulfilling and beautiful paths we can take towards self-awareness and spiritual mastery. I remember being in the presence of someone who I judge to be one such spiritual master, who remarked that of all the situations he’s faced in this lifetime, he’s found relationships to be the most challenging. However, that’s exactly why they have the potential to be not only beautiful and magical experiences, but also extremely powerful catalysts for our own growth.
When we relate consciously with people we open ourselves up to a very clear mirror of how we’re being. This can be very challenging and intense because we’ll be made aware of all our dark sides. However, in our willingness to be open and honest we not only build deep intimacy with others, we give ourselves the best chance for maximum growth potential. We put everything on the plate, ready to be digested and transformed into something new.
But it can be difficult to know where to begin on this journey. What to focus on, and how to transform any darkness that presents itself? After observing both my own and countless others’ experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to start is with emotional dependency (sometimes called co-dependency). Why? Because it’s a direct manifestation of core wounds that virtually everyone develops during childhood.
How is emotional dependency formed?
As a baby our experience is that of oneness with our environment. Babies only begin to perceive themselves as separate after 4-6 months. However, we carry this feeling of completeness deep down in our being. This is the feeling of unconditional love – the feeling of being totally complete with what is. However, as we grow older and perceive our separation, we learn more and more that certain parts of ourselves are not desirable. Even the most conscious of parents can’t walk their child’s emotional path for them and it’s inevitable that at some point the child will take on responsibility for their parents wellbeing. Thus, we shape ourselves to our environment.
This causes a core wound which makes us yearn for that feeling of completion again. Unfortunately, we are now conditioned in our separation to search for this in the outer world (the mirror). And what more powerful way of experiencing this completion than through the love, acceptance and approval of others?
Relationship dependency is when our wellbeing is significantly affected by either our relationship status or the behaviour of those we care about. When we make someone else responsible for whether we feel complete or not, we give away our own inner power. Or, we simply close ourselves off, giving the illusion of not being affected, but never being able to open up and be vulnerable with others.
Are you dependent?
Relationship dependency can be subtle, but it affects most of us regularly in our daily lives. It raises its ugly head every time you feel hurt by another’s behaviour, every time you try to please them in order to receive some love back, every time you base the way you express yourself on how you think they will respond, every time you look to another to take your pain away.
It also affects our mental wellbeing in a profound way. It’s every time you make yourself anxious waiting for a reply to a message you sent, it’s every time you feel lonely and search for the company of another to fill that hole, it’s every time your boundary gets crossed and despite feeling angry you remain silent because you don’t want conflict, and it’s every time you feel jealous because they’re connecting with someone else.
So, how to overcome this, possibly the biggest and yet most prevalent blockage to true conscious relating?
Laying the groundwork for relationship mastery
For me there are three crucial aspects:
1. Take responsibility for your own healing
First of all it’s about taking on responsibility for your own healing. When you do that instead of being the victim you empower yourself tremendously. Then, you can begin to unravel the core wounds that cause all of your dependent behaviour. For some that might mean some pretty heavy trauma so it’s important to unpack that in a manageable way.
I’ve found that the best way to start with that is to work with your triggers. When you get triggered you go into automatic reaction mode. It’s because an aspect of your trauma is getting ‘remembered’ and therefore coming closer to the surface. If you want to deal with triggers in a conscious way then you need to start recognizing when they arise and then working through them.
2. Learn to work with your pain
The second crucial aspect of working with dependency is knowing how to work with pain. That takes a whole breaking down of our conditioning around pain. Most people are conditioned to avoid their inner pain. In fact our whole society is geared around that – releasing the symptoms through medication rather than treating the cause, finding distraction through constant entertainment, and checking your phone for messages, thus getting that rush of dopamine.
Most people are conditioned to avoid their inner pain.
However, if you can learn to accept your pain as just another experience, part of you and yet not you at your essence, then you can begin to break that conditioning and truly heal. Rumi said “the pain is where the light enters”. And in my experience that’s really true! The pain you feel is the gateway to your healing because it shows you exactly where you’re not whole. By honouring the pain you experience and yet not identifying with it, you transmute all the blocked energy that keeps you in those unconscious behavioural loops. For an in depth look on how to work with pain, check out this article: Be as a Lake: A Fresh Perspective on Pain
3. Discover who you truly are
The third crucial aspect of working with dependency is to change the way you form your own identity. That sounds like a tall order but it’s quite simple. You just need a change of perspective. You see, most people operate with an outside-on approach. They judge their self-worth based on what happens in their environment and search for just the right outer circumstances to bring them that feeling of completion. In relationships this forms a kind of ‘stickiness’ to another person. It actually forms a very fixed and powerful identity called the ‘couple identity’.
This is all well and good, but any feeling of completion, of love, that you experience will not be autonomous. It will depend on the outer environment being a certain way. And we all know that the one thing that’s certain in this world is that things will change. So, we need a way relating to the outside, and thus to others, that doesn’t so dramatically affect our self-worth. This means a perspective switch from outside-in to inside-out. It’s about connecting with the essence of who you are. That intangible feeling of stillness and pure potential. THAT is who you really are. When you make your inner home here then you notice certain expressions arising: compassion, passion, creativity, curiosity to name a few. Then you simply express and what the reflection come back. Thus, the loop is complete without giving your power away to something beyond your control.
Of course conscious relating is a complex journey, taking many years to master. There are many facets to discover, but that’s what makes it so powerful and so worth it! It’s a truly awesome adventure! Here I’ve given you the basics to start on the journey to mastering relationships. I hope you can take this forward in your own lives.
For further support and learning
If you feel like you want to explore this further then check out my online course ‘Overcoming Relationship Dependency’. Packed with video lessons, workbook exercises and more, it’s sure to catalyse your journey. Or if you feel you need personal help from me then do consider an ‘Inner Completion Session’.
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