So much focus in the field of spiritual, mental and emotional health has been dedicated to the healing of dysfunctional relationship dynamics. Essentially a dysfunctional relationship is one where two people make an emotional “contract” and agree to meet each other's needs in what ends up being self-destructive ways: For example, one person feels unable to take care of themselves and the other feels inadequate. And so, they make an emotional contract that if the other person takes care of them, they will make them feel better about themself. A dysfunctional relationship is a relationship that is destructive instead of constructive. It is a relationship that ends up being powerlessly dependent instead of interdependent. As a result, it is never secure. It is never secure because it is a transactional relationship. The relationship is only ever as secure as the ability to fulfill on the subconscious contract involved in the transaction.
The most common form of dysfunctional relationship is the classic relationship between the narcissist and the codependent. This classic dynamic can appear in a non-alcoholic home with a person who suffers from what mainstream mental health professionals would call a mental illness or personality disorder for example. But it is nearly always the dynamic that is occurring in an alcoholic home. I encourage you to do your own research on the narcissist/codependent dynamic and how it creates the dynamics of a dysfunctional home.
Regardless of how much your parents or family defend the idea that they are healthy and it is you who are dysfunctional, it is a sure thing that if you have dysfunctional relationships as an adult, it is because you witnessed or experienced dysfunctional relationship as a child. You have learned that this dynamic is how to have a relationship. You don’t know any other way to be in a relationship.
The reason I am doing this video today is that I am going to expose another dimension relative to transcending this dynamic. Much of the focus of healing from dysfunctional relationships is placed on establishing independence. It is essentially a strategy of meeting your own needs. What I want to expose today is that this strategy does not work. In fact, it re traumatizes people and makes them twice as likely to never get out of dysfunctional relationships and here is why…
When a child is born, that child cannot conceptualize of themselves as separate from their parent. Obviously to have a ‘relationship’ a person has to have a concept of a self and something other than the self. They have to be able to conceptualize of something other than the self to be in relation to. Therefore, relationships are part of development. The heart of relationship development begins at the age of separation and individuation. Mature differentiation resolves the relational tension between agency and communion. In other words, healthy individuation involves both autonomy and connection, whereby one can be a separate autonomous self without being isolated, alienated or not having their needs met.
From a spiritual or more inter-dimensional perspective, a human baby is in fact born three month premature. Coming out of the womb too early is a collective contract people have which immediately creates separation trauma. Because of this premature birth, the phase of separation and individuation actually begins at about 3 months old. For the rest of our life, we work with the contrasting energies of togetherness and separateness. There are several developmental stages where we are particularly focused on individuation. In my opinion, if I were to generalize it, the most fundamental happens from 3 months to 3 years old. We are familiar with this phase because we usually say a kid has “the terrible twos”, meaning they are defiant because at this age they are establishing a sense of what they want as separate from what the adults in their life want. The second happens when we enter teen hood and develop independence from the adults in our life within the context of our home. And the third, when we enter young adult hood and develop independence in the world when we leave the home.
When we begin this life, we cannot meet our own needs. Our physical and emotional needs are met by other people. It is by having these needs met that we feel the sensation of them being met and then become curious about meeting those needs ourselves. We develop a desire to meet those needs ourselves. Beings initiate their own autonomy because it is in alignment with expansion, a progression from powerlessness to empowerment. And this is where developmental trauma comes in.
Developmental trauma is essentially trauma that effects one’s ability to progress, develop or mature in a certain area of their life where we would normally see progression, maturation or development. We see developmental trauma clearly in situations where a child is completely abandoned and because they are not spoken to, they fail to develop language and speech in their adult life. You can think of a person as a garden. Each aspect of our lives are like seeds that then grow into a tree. When we experience trauma that we cannot find resolution for, it halts our development in the area that trauma effects. So, if that portion of ourselves were a seedling growing, when we experience that trauma, that seedling stops growing and stays a seedling even if the rest of us matures.
For example, say our self-concept were a seedling, if we experienced our parent repeatedly shaming us, this self-concept seedling would stop growing. Our need to feel good about ourselves was not met and we couldn’t meet it ourselves, so that aspect of our life halts in its progression. We progress into adulthood with an underdeveloped self concept and no way to create healthy self esteem in and of ourselves because we have no reference for it.
Why is all of this this important? Because dysfunctional relationships in adult life are the result of developmental trauma revolving around the separation and individuation experiences you have in your life. What I have seen is that individuation trauma experienced in the phase from 3 months to 3 years old is the trauma that creates the bulk of dysfunctional relationships in adulthood. Of course, it is repeated separation and individuation trauma that creates the very worst developmental damage.
Let’s dive even deeper. The very earliest phase of separation and individuation is a phase where you recognize yourself as separate from your mother or caregiver, but you have a desire for that person to meet your needs. You have no capacity or even desire to meet your own needs yet. It is trauma experienced in this phase that creates the biggest problems in adult relationships and in fact causes things like personality disorders, attachment disorders and co-dependency. When we experience a trauma at this phase and thus experience a developmental delay, like a very small child, we experience ourselves as being unable to meet our needs even as an adult.
What’s more than that, we do not even feel the desire to meet our own needs. We feel the desire still for someone else to meet those needs. This is why we enter into a dysfunctional relationship in the first place with someone who also has likewise trauma. In fact, we find the idea of meeting our own needs traumatizing because it is often a mirror of the wound we received growing up when we were expected to separate before we were ready or experienced a consequence as a result of trying to individuate with an adult that found our individuality threatening.
Here is an example of how this can go, Mary is two and she is just now learning how to say the word no. To her, the word No is a way of asserting boundaries, meaning that she is beginning to sense that she has a will separate from her mother’s will. This is healthy and normal. But Mary’s mother finds this threatening and invalidating, so every time Mary says no, she is shamed for it and put in a timeout. This is a trauma involving her sense of autonomy. Because her exploring individuation from her mother is met with the punishment of isolation, she stops becoming autonomous. Her desire for autonomy in fact becomes suppressed. She learns that she cannot have her autonomy and have connection with other people at the same time. For more information about this dynamic, watch my video on YouTube titled “I can have me and I can have you too”.
To continue, as a result of suppressing her need for autonomy, she only experiences the need for closeness. She becomes very clingy. As Mary grows up, she experiences separation anxiety and hates to be alone and fails to experience herself as someone who can take care of herself. She then gets into relationships based on a needs transaction. The transaction of “If you take care of me and never leave me alone, I will make you feel needed and appreciated all the time”.
There are so many trauma scenarios that can cause developmental delays that then translate into adult dysfunction within relationships. But what all this boils down to is that dysfunctional relationships are the result of developmental delay involving the development of individuation. Therefore, the area of life that is affected is the area of autonomy and connection. It is trauma involving needs. We do not know how to meet our needs involving autonomy and involving connection.
When people with developmental delays get into spirituality, self help or therapy, they are told that the way to heal is to realize that no one can be relied upon to meet your needs for you and that wanting them to is unhealthy dependence so they have to “meet their own needs”. But this does damage. Remember that the aspect of them that is still a seedling, not only experiences itself as being unable to meet it’s own needs, but also doesn’t have the desire to. And remember that the trauma is that even though it wants those needs to be met by someone else, that someone else isn’t meeting those needs. So there is no one there to even give them a reference for what it looks and feel like for those needs to be consistently met. This means the aspect of them that is stuck as a seedling is often not even developed enough to desire autonomy, much less have it forced on them by someone’s independence building technique. We are essentially skipping a step in our development that cannot be skipped in order to reach maturity. Doing so is like trying to build a house on a wet foundation.
So what must we do to heal dysfunctional relationships? We have to mentally and emotionally go back in time to resolve the developmental trauma and provide the unmet needs for our child self. I have developed a process for doing this; it is called The Completion Process. To understand more about this process, you can buy a copy of the book I wrote about it, which is available for purchase as of Fall 2016. You can watch my Youtube video titled, How to Heal the Emotional Body. And alternatively, you can sign up to my newsletter and contact a Completion Process Facilitator who can walk you through the process.
The second thing we must do is to follow a basic formula.
1. We have to realize and recognize the pattern of dysfunction in our relationship. 2. We have to become completely aware of what needs we are trying to have met through this pattern. 3. Instead of meeting that need in the way you normally would, the way that causes destruction, find a way to meet that need in a different way that is constructive. To do this, we must meet ourselves wherever we are in terms of our delay of development, not try to skip a step and to meet the need we have directly so that development can begin to progress again.
The main reason that any form of therapy is even remotely successful is that the secure connection provided by the therapist is healing a lot of individuation and connection trauma, which therefore causes those underdeveloped aspects of the client to begin to develop and mature.
We must begin to meet our unmet needs. For more information about this, watch my video on YouTube titled: Meet Your Needs! The fear that prevents people from ever getting out of dysfunctional relationship patterns is the fear that doing so means they are never going to get their needs met and that they will lose connection with the person who they want to meet those needs. How are you supposed to know how to meet your needs? Have someone teach you by first meeting them for you. Ask directly for those needs to be met by people in your life instead of going around the back door to try to get them. For example, ask for appreciation instead of becoming a nurse so that people will appreciate you. There are some very interesting new therapies developing that enable people to experience having their developmental delays addressed and unmet needs met. Some even go so far for example as to simulate being in the womb for people who were born premature or provide the experience of breast-feeding to people who were never breast-fed or were weaned too early.
And when you have needs that involve other people, needs that are not needs you cannot meet on you own (yes… those exist) look for healthy ways to meet those needs to that are not destructive, but are instead mutually beneficial. I know a bunch of you just recoiled at the idea that it’s possible to have needs that cannot be met independently of other people. But it is true, you want to know why? Because people need each other, we need connection and there is a bunch of very real needs that directly involve connection with each other. It’s ok to directly seek those needs out too.
A funny thing happens when you consciously meet a need that is perceived as an immature need. That need matures. The aspect of self that is developmentally delayed begins to develop. This means, a person will eventually gravitate towards progressively healthier and more autonomous ways of meeting the needs that they can meet and finding healthier ways of meeting the needs they cannot meet alone. I am becoming increasingly more and more convinced that therapies involving somatosensory healing are the way to treat developmental trauma because the most detrimental developmental trauma happens before we have a thinking brain, the body is forced to store the memories of the trauma somatically. So, I encourage you to seek out any form of somatic therapy that appeals to you. How are you supposed to know what a functional relationship looks like and how to create one if you’ve never experienced it? That’s right… you’re not. So stop expecting yourself to know what you do not yet know. You wouldn’t expect yourself to speak Spanish if no one ever taught you how to speak Spanish. All you can do is set out to learn.
Developing a healthy sense of self, your wants and needs, your likes and dislikes, your values and priorities along with developing the capacity to connect deeply with other people, will inevitably lead to healthy relationships that are not dysfunctional.