I don’t feel comfortable being away from him. Like now, we are apart. I’m waiting for him to call so I know what I am doing. That’s sick. I’m sick. I’m fucking angry as hell at myself. I just want to say fuck it and learn to be happy with myself. But then again, I want to work this relationship out. Everything I am doing; I’m just hurting myself. It’s gonna take so much to get out of where I’m at.Personal Journal Entry, June 1990, 18 y/0
This person I was in a relationship with punched me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. I don’t recall what I did immediately after this, but I know I stayed with him for a while longer. I also remember telling my dad he hit me. I wanted my Italian father to pretend “he knew some people” and go after him. But instead, my dad asked me this: what is it in you that attracted you to him?
This is not what I wanted to hear. However, his question changed everything for me. It took the focus off the abuser and onto me, where at some level, felt I deserved it. Now, I know this isn’t popular and some may see it as blaming the victim. Further, I am not here to say that my situation is like all others. Mine is mine and my father’s question helped me to begin a journey that allowed me to explore what I bring to a relationship. When we take responsibility for our part in all of our experiences, we have the opportunity to understand and grow from what we learn about ourselves.
The words of my 18-year-old self were right on: It’s gonna take so much to get out of where I’m at. It has been almost 30 years since I wrote that sentence, and just this past year I finally feel like I am out. Although this one article cannot hold what I experienced and learned about myself these past 30 years, here are a few lessons I’d like to summarize:
- The root of psychological suffering in relationships is unworthiness.
According to Melody Beattie, who wrote the book Codependent No More, said “..our low self-worth or self-hatred is tied into all aspects of our codependency.” I am not a huge fan of labels, but I would consider myself a codependent who is in recovery. Melody’s definition of a codependent is: “…one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
We often try and control who and what we fear and what we don’t understand. We can spend years, and sadly, our entire lives, doing this. I learned that my controlling behaviors were both a sign and a symptom of something deeper happening within me and served as a distraction from going deeper. The deeper issue I was avoiding was my feeling and belief about being unworthy. An experience of unworthiness is quite common and often originates from childhood neglect and trauma.
- Relationships are a vehicle to help us grow.
I posed this question on social media recently: Is it true we must leave certain relationships in order to grow? Or is that we use this more than we should because our discomfort about facing ourselves and our own dysfunction in a relationship scares us?
My answer is: both are true. According to the Imago Relationship Therapy model, developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, we attract partners who carry psychological and emotional patterns from our childhoods. As we move deeper into relationships, these patterns are exposed, and often erupt. The relationship dynamic itself is a vehicle in which we have the opportunity to uncover, and therefore understand and heal from our childhood traumas. Therefore, it is important to investigate the reasons for leaving a relationship that makes us uncomfortable or we may find the same kind of relationship, only with a different face. Also note, I am not at all saying, in the case of an abusive relationship, we stay in order to learn and grow. This article does not address the specifics and dynamics of domestic violence.
- The fear is emptiness. The gift is self-love.
When they are away, it is the emptiness I feel. It is this emptiness that makes me do crazy things and act in crazy ways. It is this emptiness I must embrace, but I am afraid to be with it, to be with myself. I don’t want to use them to fill the emptiness that is within me. I need to fill that myself so I can be secure within myself.Personal Journal Entry, July 1990
The emptiness many of us fear is an unknown experience for most of us, yet we fear it anyway. Why else do we fill ourselves up with information, activities, noise and addictions of all sorts. There are two experiences of emptiness I have found: one that we run from and resist and one where we finally settle into it and find everything we are looking for.
When I was younger and working through my codependency, I feared I was only my dysfunction and scarier, who would I be without it? Empty. Nothing. But this is far from true. The gift we receive from self-discovery and understanding is self-love. We begin little by little to be self-contained and self-reliant. We seek what fulfills us from a greater sense of self-value and clarity, and a foundation is built on worth, not unworthiness.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, struggles and experiences in relationships. If you’d like to expand and deepen understanding here are a list of resources:
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
- Codependents Anonymous, CoDa.org