Category: <span>Relationships</span>

4 signs of friendship burnout

4 signs of friendship burnout
Losing interest in the other is a sign of friendship burnout

Despite its severe connotation, friendship burnout is an actual thing. We are all susceptible to it, but recovering codependents, or people who find it hard to honour their boundaries, may experience it with greater frequency. Here are 4 signs of friendship burnout to increase your awareness of its effects on behaviour:

You feel exhausted: the relationship has become too intense and/or one-sided. You feel drained from spending too much time with your friend, even if they do not feel the same way. This can lead to a sense of overwhelm, especially when boundaries are not respected. You often feel guilty when saying no to your friend, and a sense of obligation to keep prioritising their needs.

You have lost interest: you struggle to connect with your friend in a way that feels pleasurable, meaningful, or rewarding to you. Your values, ideas and interests have changed and no longer match your friend’s. You start making excuses not to see them or worry about coming up with “good enough” reasons for not meeting up with them.

You have outgrown the friendship: you have grown and developed as a person, but your friend has not. As the current version of you no longer suits the friendship, you feel pressured to act inauthentically in order to maintain it.

You feel powerless: as you have changed, but the relationship dynamic has not, you feel a growing sense of pessimism about the future of the friendship. You consider expressing how you feel to your friend, but you feel hopeless about the outcome. As a result, you start fantasizing about reducing or even cutting contact.

If you have identified with the above, it is a good time to revaluate your friendship. While connecting with others can promote life engagement, dysfunctional relationships make us feel disconnected from our true selves. Consider taking a break from the friendship if it feels like too much hard work. Remind yourself that you are allowed to change your preferences and lead a balanced, peaceful life.

Unattainable validation: when to give up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents

Unattainable validation when to give up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents
Is it time you gave up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents?

Emotional neglect – despite being more commonly experienced than verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse – has painful and lasting effects on one’s development. Greatly misunderstood but ever so present in the narrative of those who grew up in dysfunctional and toxic families, emotional neglect is often a silent but very real self-esteem killer. It is naturally challenging for those who were made to feel like their emotions did not matter to nurture love and respect for themselves. How can one even build a reliable sense of self, when what they experience in their bodies is consistently ignored, denied, and discarded by those whose role is to model (emotional) maturity, congruence, autonomy, and intelligence?

When you grow up in a family culture of emotional neglect, you carry an emptiness that is felt strongly in your body. Emotional emptiness, as a result of failure to connect fully with others, makes one feel heavy, alone and alienated. Some may even feel numb and dissociated, as if they inhabited a body or lived a life that were not theirs. Because we all crave a sense of wholeness to experience happiness, those who suffered emotional neglect are particularly prone to relying on external factors, such as others’ reassurance, approval, and validation to feel good about themselves. Even when their parents are unable to give them what they want, they keep seeking their validation and support in an exhausting and, at times, obsessive fashion.

So how do you know when enough is enough? At what point can you state with confidence that your parents are truly unable or unwilling to validate your suffering?

In Burnout (2019), the Nagoski sisters advise on the following questions to determine a goal’s worth (my comments are in brackets):

What are the benefits of continuing? (Is there a realistic probability of your parents genuinely recognising their neglectful behaviour? How likely are you to feel better in pursuing that recognition?)

What are the benefits of stopping? (What effect would stop chasing your parents’ validation have on your mental/emotional health? How likely are you to feel better as a result of quitting that habit?)

What are the costs of continuing? (What effects feeling unseen and unimportant over and over may be having on your self-esteem? What influence would that continue to have on your self-confidence in relational contexts?)

What are the costs of stopping? (How stopping trying to connect emotionally with your parents may make you feel? How much do you trust your ability to process and accept that loss of connection?)

Even if the idea of not being able to rely on your parents for true emotional support and connection brings up great sadness in the short term, it is worth grieving that loss as an investment for authentic happiness in the long term.  Once you have given up on insisting on fixing dysfunctional and toxic relationships, you will feel freer to focus on more rewarding and satisfying ones.

Reference:

Nagoski, E. & A (2019). Burnout. Solve Your Stress Cycle. Penguin Random House: London, UK  

Positive beliefs and affirmations to help you overcome codependency

Positive beliefs to help you overcome codependency
Positive beliefs boost autonomy and self-esteem

Codependency is a common effect of both relational and developmental trauma. Adult children of dysfunctional families who did not grow up feeling felt, heard and seen, struggle to connect with a healthy sense of boundaries and self-esteem also later in life. Therefore, they are highly prone to resort to codependent behaviours to feel safe and accepted in relationships. Here is a list of positive beliefs and affirmations to help you overcome codependency:

I am good enough for myself

I am good enough for others

I am loved

I am loveable

I am whole, even when alone

My worth is unconditional

My feelings matter

My needs and wants matter

My opinions matter

I matter

I can tolerate others’ discomfort

I can separate from others’ feelings, needs and wants, and focus on my own

I can handle my own discomfort

I can tolerate negative emotions

I can recognise and validate my feelings

I am emotionally aware

I am self-aware

I have a great connection with my body

I am emotionally autonomous

I am emotionally mature

I am safe in my own body

My body is my best guide

I am aware of the impact others’ have on me

I am much more than my relationships with others

I favour relationships which foster personal growth

I favour relationships with those who respect my feelings, needs and wants

I know how to honour myself through assertive behaviours

It is okay to say no to others

Self-agency is a gift

I am wise

My wellbeing comes first

I can say no and honour my boundaries

I am competent

I love my own company

My time is precious

I am a survivor

I am strong

I accept my vulnerabilities and limitations

I accept others’ vulnerabilities and limitations

I respect others’ needs for autonomy

 Mistakes are sources of wisdom

I am worth of respect

I am worth being treated with kindness

I can tolerate rejection

I can tolerate inadequacy and insecurity

I am brave

Your values, or the views you hold of yourself as an individual and in relationships tell you about the role you play in them. When rigid and filled with negative bias, they feed dysfunction and create a psychological barrier between you and your authentic needs. In order to lead a more satisfying and authentic life, proactively challenge negative thinking patterns and feel free to use the positive beliefs and affirmations listed above as guides to a more functional approach to relationships.

Assertiveness as self-validation in dysfunctional relationships

Assertiveness as self-validation in dysfunctional relationships
Adult children and loving partners of highly neglectful and even abusive individuals do not feel felt, heard or seen

As I explain in my blog article “What is a dysfunctional relationship?”, relationships are considered dysfunctional when they do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. In practice, this is observed when needs, opinions, feelings and wants are not validated in a democratic manner. Controlling parents or spouses who lack self-awareness and emotional maturity and, therefore, focus almost exclusively on their own needs and feelings create relationship dynamics that are unhealthy for everyone involved. As a result of their (often unconscious) self-centred attitude, they neglect the wellbeing of their children and partners, which has a negative effect on their self-esteem, ability to honour their boundaries and feel confident in relational contexts.

For those who find themselves as the neglected ones, feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, powerlessness and abandonment are commonplace. As adult children and loving partners of highly neglectful and even abusive individuals do not feel felt, heard or seen, they might dedicate great time and effort in communicating their needs in order to make their voices heard in the hope that their assertive behaviour will lead to behavioural change. While some manage to achieve positive outcomes and affect their relationships favourably, others’ attempts tend to fall on deaf ears. For the latter, questioning the point of being assertive in such discouraging scenarios becomes worthy of consideration.

If cutting contact with difficult people or ending dysfunctional relationships that compromise your emotional wellbeing are not options you are willing to contemplate, I suggest sticking with assertiveness, but as your own personal “thing”.  If your father, mother or partner refuses to hear, see or feel you, that does not mean you cannot do all those things yourself and for yourself. As assertiveness is a gift you give to your true self, when you feel unimportant, invisible, incompetent and/or unlovable in their presence, continue to connect with your body and express how they make you feel, regardless of how you think they might respond. You can do that by saying the following, silently or out loud:

“When you _____ (behaviour), I feel _____ (feeling) and think _____ (thought)”.

Example: “When you ignore my opinion, I feel sad/angry and think I do not matter”.

Every time you repeat the above – even when it goes unnoticed by others – you validate your own feelings. By keeping the connection with your own body and reminding yourself of the impact others have on you, you become your own source of validation and empowerment, which also helps you break the cycle of dependency and dysfunction.

Regulating fear of abandonment: a closer look at the role of shame

Regulating fear of abandonment, a closer look at the role of shame
Fear of abandonment is felt when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy

Developmental/childhood trauma victims often struggle with fear of abandonment.  Fear of abandonment is felt in relational contexts when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy. Genuine self-expression, on the other hand, is experienced when thinking, feelings and behaviours occur in a congruent manner. When one is in the process of grieving a recent loss, for instance, and feels sad, looks subdued and avoids social contact, there is consistency between how he or she thinks, feels and behaves. Emotionally neglectful and abusive parents, however, do not foster a healthy connection with emotions, especially when negative. This is observed when they consistently criticise, blame and even punish their children for having and expressing emotions such as anger and sadness. Children exposed to this maladaptive parental attitude towards negative emotions, then learn how to associate their expression to feelings of rejection, shame and loss of affection.

If parental love is conditional and, therefore, not available when children feel frustrated and sad, make a mistake, or fail to fulfil expectations, their shame triggers a sense of unsafety. This mechanism is not only at play when they are young, however, but also throughout their adult years. In practice, this tendency is easily observed in adults’ emotionally dependant behaviours such as people pleasing and denial of individual needs to secure a partnership. The urge to be liked by everyone through repression of negative emotions and wants is highly motivated by a fear of the drastic consequences that would supposedly follow their emotional freedom and acts of self-assertion, namely, loss of love and attachment.

Since the link between shame and fear of abandonment is so intimate and detrimental to mental health, it is vital to highlight its influence on people’s ability to create functional relationships that allow them to be themselves and build strong emotional connections. If you do not feel good enough to connect with your own body, understand and honour your needs because you are afraid of the effect that that might have on others, I highly recommend to challenge the dysfunctional beliefs that are feeding your fear of abandonment. First, it is not your duty to make others’ existence free of emotional discomfort. Secondly, would you like to keep a relationship with someone who only validates their own interests, needs and wants? And finally, do you not think yourself worthy of your own? If you do believe to be good enough for you, practice tolerating the shame that arises from acting in an authentic way until it becomes a trait from a much more confident, happier you.

Is it your shame you are carrying?

Is it your shame you are carrying
Emotions like shame are highly contagious

Shame, as the other core negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear, shock and disgust), might become toxic if not identified and dealt with mindfully and proactively. Toxic shame is particularly detrimental to emotional wellbeing because it is experienced cognitively and physically in a great variety of ways, which makes it difficult to identify it. While you might underestimate how low you feel when comparing yourself to others, for instance, and fail to connect the attitude to shame, the feeling feeds off your inadequacy. Like a virus that takes over your body without your awareness, shame finds its way into your system and weakens your self-esteem and healthy sense of self.

Since emotions are highly contagious, they move from one body to another swiftly. When we consider that shame is mainly there to create discomfort when we fail to confirm to social norms and makes us aware of a threat to our group status, it can easily lead to a great fear of rejection and abandonment. As social beings who thrive in groups, feelings of wrongness and exclusion triggered by shame have the potential to stop us from behaving in an authentic fashion. A false sense of self is then created to secure membership, regulate the inadequacy and re-establish an inner sense of safety.

Therefore, catching yourself when affected by shame is key to protect self-esteem and nurture the authentic, autonomous self. You can achieve that by asking yourself “Does this shame belong to me?” when feeling inadequate, less than, unappreciated, criticised, judged or not good enough. Like anger, shame is easily projected as a dysfunctional means to emotional regulation. Despite the harm it causes to those who are directly or indirectly affected by that process, it is repeated in a highly unconscious manner, damaging not only our ability to love and accept ourselves unconditionally but the quality of our relationships. If you find your shame not to be congruent with the beliefs of your free and confident self, give it back to whom it belongs. You can do that by moving your hands as if you were throwing a shame ball back to its owner, or tell yourself, silently, that the shame you feel is not yours to keep. Use your creativity and have fun with it. For challenging negative thinking that leads to shame feelings, I also recommend filling out a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts during periods of vulnerability.