Category: <span>Relationships</span>

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.

3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life

3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life
When we suffer the effects of relationship trauma of any kind, we often start seeing ourselves, the world and others through a very biased, negative lens

Most of us who have a history of relational trauma struggle or have struggled int the past to have a rich and fulfilling love life. This is because relational trauma is one of the most painful and hardest to overcome. When we suffer the effects of relationship trauma of any kind, we often start seeing ourselves, the world and others through a very biased, negative lens. As a matter of fact, one’s traumatised and overprotective brain has the potential to harm or even destroy our ability to find fulfilment in life through loving relationships. In order to raise your awareness of dysfunctional thinking that might be making you unhappy, here are 3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life:

1- I need to feel 100% confident and centred to start dating again

This is one of the most common perfectionist beliefs that, even though idealistic and incoherent with human nature, still leads to a lot of loneliness and life dissatisfaction. As social beings who are wired for connection, our healing path is through it. Nobody is perfect and a 100% anything, especially when it comes to relationships. We all learn together and from each other, with time and experience.

2- I cannot get hurt again

If this is what you repeat to yourself when you consider dating again, you suffer from emotion phobia – or a great fear of emotions such as sadness, anger and shame, for instance, as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment. We are equipped to handle painful emotions and overcome our grief. So yes, you can stand your pain, get over a relationship that has not worked out and try again with a better fit.

3- If I am to get involved romantically again, the relationship must work

As we learn mostly through experience and trial and error, if you consciously stop yourself from trying because you are too afraid of “failing” and feeling unlovable, your love life will suffer as a result. As in the professional and academic realms, success in your love life requires practice – what truly promotes knowledge and change – not inertia.

If you have identified with the above, I urge you to stop wasting precious time and start challenging negative thinking that is damaging your love life. When you embrace your imperfections with courage and tolerance and, therefore, every part of you and your humanity, you become more emotionally mature and prepared to face the challenges of modern dating.

What is a dysfunctional relationship?

What is a dysfunctional relationship
Dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth

No relationship is perfect, but some are more functional than others. If that is a fair reflection of reality, what makes certain relationships less healthy or more dysfunctional than others? The answer lies on the quantity, intensity and frequency of the dysfunctional behaviours that shape and define relationships as such.

As a first and universal principle, dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. One’s needs, wants, vulnerabilities and negative feelings are not expressed clearly and with confidence for a fear of rejection and abandonment. Therefore, the authentic self does not flourish in the presence of the other, but it is hidden behind a facade of togetherness created to comply with his or her expectations.

Even though such expectations have a major influence on the dynamic and health of any relationship, in the dysfunctional modality they tend to be high and unrealistic. As they are not openly talked about, negotiated democratically and with reasonable compromise, they do not correspond to individual differences, needs and limitations of the authentic self. Failure to live up to one’s own idealised standards or the other’s expectations culminates in feelings of not being good enough, incompetent (fear of making mistakes/not pleasing the other or “getting it right”) and unlovable. The permeating inadequacy brings about a tendency to fault finding, blaming and holding grudges.

Due to emotional neglect, dependency and immaturity, emotions are not processed autonomously or through the empathic presence of the other.  As a result, behaviour is largely motivated by unconscious feelings of fear, shame, anger and anxiety that have great negative impact both on an individual and relationship level. Lack of adequate emotional support, validation or willingness to listen and change one’s behaviour leads to a building resentment that makes one seem to explode over “nothing” from time to time.

In dysfunctional relationships, boundaries are not clear or respected, as well as one’s wishes, likes and dislikes. As values and personal roles are rigid, the dynamic is highly uneven and favours a dominant/active and submissive/passive dyad, which is frequently kept through denial and in an unconscious fashion. In such scenarios, the relationship is used as a weapon of manipulation and control. Refusal to conform with the dysfunctional dynamic and play its rigid roles is followed by threats of abandonment, be them overt/verbal or covert, through emotional distancing and passive aggression.

In cases where there are attempts to address problems and solve them, motivation is weak and tends to wither over time. For that reason, the trajectory of dysfunctional relationships is marked by ups and downs. While one takes on the responsibility of the relationship wellbeing, the other refuses to fully acknowledge the effects of his/her attitude and quickly reverts to a habit of denial, neglect or resistance to change. Because dysfunctional relationships are made of two highly independent units that do not work cooperatively, they are also filled by feelings of powerlessness, shame, discontent and isolation.

If you would like to refrain from feeding a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, be it with your partner, relative, friend, colleague or boss, self-awareness is key. While it should not be anyone’s responsibility to carry the wellbeing of any relationship solely on their shoulders, by addressing and changing your own behaviour you can become a model of self-esteem and emotional maturity.