Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

As a practitioner in the helping profession, it is my job to help people thrive. None of us can truly thrive if groups of us are being singled out, mistreated, attacked, harmed, and killed. The Black members of our communities continue to experience this.

 

It is my responsibility as a member of this community, health practitioner, and white-presenting person to use every platform I have to address issues of injustice and inequity in my community to communicate that this community cares about what happens to you and we will fight alongside you for your rights and your lives. Racism oppresses, harms, and kills.

 

Yes, all lives matter, but here in the United States, Black lives specifically are historically and consistently undervalued. It does not devalue anyone’s life to say that Black lives matter. If it offends you or is uncomfortable for you to hear the phrase, “Black lives matter,” consider the reasons why a group of people in our community feels like they need this movement. Consider why this movement is criminalized. What must their experience be like if they are so vocal about this movement? One group is saying, “All lives matter,” while another group is saying “Stop abusing and killing us.”

 

White people are often afraid to talk about racism. Many of us feel uncomfortable around it and silence ourselves. Our silence is unacceptable and is a very real, harmful symbol of our agreement that some lives are more important than others. It is a clear sign of our privilege that we are afraid to have uncomfortable conversations about race while Black people are afraid for their lives. As people who hold privilege, it is our responsibility to talk openly about racism and how we can work to eradicate it. It is our responsibility to keep learning and unlearning, growing and changing, and to be better for our community members who deserve our respect, our voices, and our solidarity.

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

A while back, I wrote a post directed toward parents who regret parenthood. And I don’t just mean sometimes. I don’t mean that “Ugh, I hate this part,” feeling. I mean the whole thing, the conflict of loving their children but hating the entire process.

I’ve received a lot of feedback about it. Many people were grateful and expressed that they’d been feeling alone with their guilt and regret. Feelings are complicated, people are complex, and our culture is still learning how to accept and hold all of this. My message was that it’s ok to regret or hate parenthood, that it’s ok not to feel as though you were cut out to be a parent whether your kid is 3 months, 2 years old, 6, 10, 16, 22, or 27 years old. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

There’s a theory developed by Donald W. Winnicott called “The Good Enough Mother.” It was developed in the culture of the 1950s which is why it only refers to the mother. It’s more complicated than the title suggests, but basically, he tells us that parents should slowly titrate the soothing to their children’s frustration, that parents should slowly and methodically transition from immediately meeting a child’s needs to letting the child self-soothe and learn how to get their needs met. But that’s not all. Upon further study of his theory, we find that Winnicott talks about the dangers of chasing perfect parenting. He cautions that striving for perfect parenting does a real number on developing brains.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of parents, families, and children. I’ve seen parents who wanted children from the time they were children, parents who somehow found themselves suddenly parents, and parents who figured they’d want kids some day, so they had them. A significant amount of these parents realized that they didn’t like being parenthood. Not only was it different from what they’d envisioned; it turns out the whole thing (or much of the thing) felt completely contrary to everything they wanted.

These parents have struggled with regret, guilt over the regret, anger over what they feel they’ve missed, and angst over how this might impact their children. (Although, there have been some parents who swapped their angst and guilt for denial.)

These parents need to hear that they don’t have to love parenthood to love their kids.

There are a million reasons not to love parenthood- poverty, any and all of the –isms, trauma, lack of a support network, disliking our own children, resenting the responsibility and experiencing it as an unwanted burden.

If you are a parent who regrets or hates parenthood, you’re not alone. You deserve compassion and respect. I know it’s taboo to regret something society tells us is the pinnacle of love and value and meaning. If you would like therapeutic or referrals for adjunct support, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Women: Thank you

Women: Thank you

“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”
-Bell Hooks

 

I’d like to take this time to say thank you to women and girls; everywhere, from every walk, of any and every identity and orientation, of every experience, past and present. Thank you for your fight and your love, for your contributions and your sacrifices. Here’s to you. Here’s to us. To the fed-up and the tired, the scared and the hiding, the activists, to the women and girls who still believe it’s their job to perform conventional femininity and gender in exchange for male acceptance, to the sex workers, the Queen Bitches, the nonconformists, the people-pleasers, to the women who believe that we aren’t supposed to need anything, to the women who provide and meet needs and nurture and care and allow themselves to receive, to the women who provide and meet needs and nurture and care and don’t receive or cannot allow themselves to receive, to the loud and proud, to the silent and ashamed, to the women who have complicated relationships with womanhood, the mentors, the novices, to the women who embrace their sexuality and the women who haven’t felt safe embracing their sexuality, to the women who don’t give a fuck and the women who don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, the leaders and the assistants, the loudmouths, the reserved, the comfortable and the vulnerable, to the women we’ve been and the women we’re becoming, the poets and the engineers, the emotionally unbridled and the emotionally subdued, the women fighting to survive and the women who are thriving, to the ones who have elevated themselves and the ones who are heavy with burden- thank you.

How ever you Woman, I extend to you my deepest and most profound gratitude.

We are courageous. We are stronger together. We don’t always take ownership of ourselves and our experiences; we’re growing. We fight for ourselves when we fight for any of us. We resist. We love. We fight. We create. We push. We are a pantheon of voices. We are a cauldron of gifts and strengths. We expand consciousness. We risk it. We surrender to our purpose, to our love, and to our power. We have the right. We keep going. We are here.

Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for all the times you have done anything, said anything in support of us living the way we want to live. You provide hope and life and love and light. You are the reason I do what I do every day. You are my inspiration to keep connecting to my power and the reason I fight for others to connect to theirs. You are the reason we’re all still here. You are my favorite part of us. Thank you.

 

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
-Audre Lord

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Really Need

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Really Need

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy.”

(Eric Hoffer; longshoreman, philosopher)

 

I’ve felt it. You’ve felt it; that compulsion to eat more, drink more, buy more, acquire more, make more money, set our sights on bigger ticket items. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to drive a car we like or liking what we put on our backs or aiming to make enough money to live in a place we really enjoy. The problem comes with the meaning we make of all this stuff. And what we hope our stuff means about us.

We all have the same basic need for safety, clean water, food, and shelter. And we all have the same need for love, joy, belonging, freedom, and a sense of purpose. While these are more secondary needs, they’re still pretty basic to our life’s happiness. Once our most basic needs are met, we have the capacity to focus on our secondary needs.

Many of us run into trouble here. It’s easy to see how it happens. Love, joy, belonging, freedom, purpose- all of these things can seem so elusive. What does any of it even mean? And how do we… get ourselves to feel any of it, to be any of it?

We want to feel confidence in ourselves, in our abilities, so we buy expensive jeans or bags or shoes. They make us look the part. It gives us the shot in the arm we’re looking for, so we do it again. We want to feel loved, that we belong so, we use the buzzwords, buy the luxury cars, and redecorate the house. We send our kids to the schools and preschools we think they should go to so that they can belong, too. Some of us aim to buy yachts and become billionaires. Some of us aim to have the “perfect beach body.”

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting our children to attend good schools or aspiring to see how our bodies could look and feel at maximum fitness or wanting to buy that pair of jeans because we know just how glorious our butts look in them. The problem lies in the meaning we make; that if we can swing this stuff it means we’re lovable, joyful, free, we belong, and that we have purpose.

We end up buying a lifestyle and never really living our lives. We keep searching for ways to meet our needs, so we look for more- more clothes, more treats, a bigger house, a fancier car, more vacations. We feel lost, so we get more. We feel more lost than ever so we turn up our acquisitions frequency all the way up and, you guessed it, get even more stuff.

Those of us who have grown up in or experienced deprivation of basic and secondary needs at some point probably feel even more confusion as we try to navigate our relationships with these symbols. To some of us, it might even have felt like acquiring the next thing, the best thing, more things was a matter of survival.

It won’t shut itself off over night. It won’t shut itself off at all. We have to be the ones to turn the dial back down. It’s a slow and often painful process. But the alternative is profoundly more painful.

I recommend starting at square one. Just notice. Notice when you feel the urge to acquire something or more of something. You won’t always notice right away. That’s ok. Keep plugging away at it.

Then stop. Don’t buy it, eat it, drink it, whatever. Just stop.

Ask yourself:

Do I need it?

How will this enrich my life?

Is buying (eating, drinking, ingesting, acquiring, keeping) this item in direct integrity with my values?

The more we ask ourselves these questions, the more thoughtful we allow ourselves to be about the way we live our lives. We can start to make the critical shift from collecting society’s symbols of love, joy, belonging, purpose, and freedom to actually experiencing these things firsthand. We can live deliberate lives.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie