Healthy Relationships: The Responsibility Trap
16th August, 20110 Comments
Do you worry a lot about hurting other people? Or do you often get scared you might get trapped into being someone other than yourself? Do you feel responsible for other people’s feelings or do you cherish your independence to the point that other people have deemed you to be insensitive? If you have said yes to the any of the above you may have to re-adjust your understanding of what the healthy amount of responsibility is to be taken when it comes to our loved ones.
“You always hurt the one you love” goes the saying. But why is that?
Of course nobody wants to willingly hurt the ones they love. By the same token nobody wants to hurt themselves by losing themselves into a relationship to the point that they don’t know who they are anymore. The good news is there is no need to swing from one extreme to the other, and the trick is to find a balance between taking too much and too little responsibility for other people’s feelings. But how do we find this balance?
Before we even start thinking about others and how they respond to us we first need to be honest with ourselves and the way we feel about them.
In order to do this we need to be self aware, which means that we need to pay attention to the way we truly feel about other people . Once we pay attention we will start to notice how we feel and once we do that we need to accept it. There is no point in denying the truth to ourselves because whether we like it or not the truth will always come to the fore, sooner or later.
But where do our emotions come from? Are we to believe that we should be victims of our emotions, and let them have tyranny over us? Luckily it is now understood that most of our feelings are a by-product of our thoughts, whether we are conscious of them or not. Thoughts are responsible for the way we feel, and since thoughts can be positive or negative, if we feel positively about something it is because of what we are thinking about it. By the same token if we tell ourselves something negative about something the resulting emotion will be negative too.
But then where do thoughts come from? Why do we have a specific thought and not another about something or someone? The answer is simpler than we think: our thoughts are a direct result of our deepest beliefs about who we are, which in turn are formed mainly during childhood and to a lesser extent during our teenage years. Sometimes these beliefs are based in hard fact, and sometimes they are a result of misconceptions which came into being as a result of past unpleasant situations out of our control. These beliefs are stored in our subconscious mind and whether we like it or not they shape our identity, the way we perceive the world around us and the way we relate to it.
Now, if we are to be honest with ourselves about our feelings, we need to be as aware as possible of our thoughts and beliefs too so that we can be truthful with ourselves and so in turn be truthful in our communication with others. Of course this is not always easy, as most of our thoughts are habitual and unconscious but still, we can only do our best, and our best is all that is required of us at all times.
Let us assume we have a working knowledge about our feelings in relation to our partner. We are open to change our opinion, if we get more information about it, but for the time being we are pretty sure about where we stand.
The next step is to be honest with them about the way we feel about them and to act coherently in accordance to that. That is, we need our actions to be in line with our feelings. This might sound scary and might make some people anxious, especially when we have negative emotions and we are afraid that communicating these emotions to our partner might result in them not liking us anymore.
If we feel this way chances are we are taking too much responsibility for our partners feelings and we will end up losing ourselves in relationships. This in turn will make us feel resentful to others and cause us to want to break away from them.
Why do we act this way? Because to us being approved of is more important than being truthful to who we really are. This is a dangerous game to play. In fact, nobody wants to be with someone that seems to shift their shape according to the where the wind blows. In the end our partner is likely to lose faith and respect in us because we have lost our sense of identity and they do not know how to relate to us anymore. If this weren’t enough, a relationship based on dishonesty is never going to stand the test of time.
If we belong to this category of people, what we need to realise is that our only responsibility is in being truthful first to ourselves and then to others. Once we have communicated our feelings honestly our responsibility ends there. Of course communication should be carried out with gentleness, tact, love, and without laying blame and our actions need to reflect our words, but provided all of the above is done, the matter is then out of our hands.
If, notwithstanding all of the above our partner still chooses to react negatively to what we have communicated we need to realise that’s what they choose to do and it becomes solely their issue. It is essential that the “it’s my fault” trap be avoided, because that only leads to emotional manipulation.
If , on the other hand, we are to have a healthy relationship the other person has to learn to accept us for who we are and to appreciate our honesty. If they cannot do that, we need to acknowledge that the relationship is unbalanced. In fact, when the other person is ready for it, the truth will create a strong bond between two people without anyone losing their sense of self , because healthy boundaries are put into place. After all, if done with love, truthful communication is ultimately positive and will only build bridges between people.
The opposite of the approval seeking behaviour just described is the one taken by those of us who are so scared of losing their sense of self that they over-compensate by refusing to take any responsibility for other people’s feelings. If we belong to this category chances are we will appear selfish and insensitive to others, while we may harbour deep, sometimes secret feelings of guilt. We may even believe ourselves to be “bad” because that is what others have told us countless times.
In reality we are just trying to protect ourselves from being smothered and suffocated in relationships. Perhaps, during our own infancy we experienced a primary caregiver who was too fearful and that reacted to their fear by smothering us with too much “love”. As a result of these early imprints we have come to equate closeness with danger and therefore we will end up again and again acting in ways that sabotage closeness and that make other people feel rejected. Of course this behaviour does not do us any favours because it makes it impossible for us to maintain a relationship for very long. In order to correct this error we need to understand that acknowledging and caring about someone else’s feelings need not mean we have to deny our own. In fact we have to realise that being assertive does not mean doing whatever we want regardless of how our partner feels about it. On the other hand we need be able to clarify to each other what each deems to be acceptable behaviour so that we do not fall prey to emotional manipulation.
As an aside, it is interesting to notice that often these two types of people attract each other and end up in relationships that recreate familiar negative patterns. Each partner acts in ways that alienates the other by “pushing their buttons” and a drama is created where each person’s negative beliefs are confirmed by the other’s behaviour. This kind of relationships is often very painful but it also offers great insight and as such an invaluable opportunity for growth for all parties involved, because it exposes the fallacy of both partners habitual thinking patterns.
To summarise, if we want to avoid the pitfalls of caring too much or too little for other peoples feelings, first we need to pay attention and become aware of our habitual patterns of behaviour: whether we try to fit into the idea of who we imagine the other person wants us to be or whether we ignore our partner’s needs and feelings we have one problem in common: we are following an erroneous habitual pattern of behaviour which needs to be changed.
Once we consciously recognize our need to change we can tackle the causes for such behaviour and explore the erroneous beliefs which caused it to emerge in the first place.
Since beliefs and habits have their seat into the Subconscious Mind and Hypnosis grants us access to the latter, Hypnotherapy can be highly effective in isolating such erroneous beliefs so we can confront them and correct them.
Once we do this we are free to be ourselves and to relate to others in healthy ways because we learn to respect ourselves and others; we accept and love ourselves and others for who they are; we stop demanding from others that they be what we want them to be and we stop demanding that we ourselves fit into other people’s idea of who we are. We become conscious of our choices of partners and we only relate to those that can relate to us in healthy ways. We take into consideration other people ‘s feelings but we do not let them overwhelm us to the point of losing ourselves in them. We learn to love without expectations and projections, and our relationships cease to be battlegrounds for our unconscious conflicts because we understand that our duty to each other is one of honesty and support. And so we grant others the same rights we have and grant ourselves the same rights we give others.
This kind of relationship is bound to create a deep sense of trust between two people and is therefore healthy. A healthy relationship may take many forms in its constant development but nonetheless it will always grow into something beautiful and positive which will benefit all parties involved.
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Liz Sharpe BSc (Hons), Dip Hyp, Adv MIBWRT, Dip CounsNovember 24th, 2016