Over the course of our lives, we develop a sense of self. We discover what we like and don’t like. What we value. What we think and feel. What we really want. What other people think about us, etc. We form our self-concept. But sometimes this process of development is interrupted. And when this happens, we never form a strong sense of self. It is as if our core is missing. And this creates all kinds of problems in our life, most especially in our relationships.
In childhood, some people grow up in environments where the reality is to have a self that differs from others is unacceptable. It implies unsafety, rejection, disapproval, isolation, the withholding of needs, punishment etc. They adapt to this environment and cope with it by giving up any aspect of themselves that is in conflict with the person they need to feel aligned with. They suppress, deny, disown, reject and try to change these parts of themselves so as to establish confluence with that specific person… Usually the one who holds the power regarding their needs.
To imagine confluence, think about two separate streams of water coming together to flow together as one stream. As the waters mix, you can no longer tell which stream is which stream. In this state of being, the two waters are relaxed, in accord, in harmony and are flowing in an easy-going kind of way. The opposite of conflict. Confluence is a blissful state of being. A profound togetherness. And to generalize, people desire and seek confluence. But not no matter the cost. When confluence becomes dangerous is when it becomes a coping mechanism or social strategy that a person uses, no matter the cost to themselves. They develop the pattern of feigning confluence where confluence does not actually exist, simply to avoid what they fear will be the result of conflict. They become inauthentic and give up their personal thoughts, feelings, desires, needs, preferences, values and whatever else for the sake of achieving confluence. Which is not true confluence. And it is by doing this that they slip into the Human Hyphen Pattern.
The Human Hyphen Pattern is when a person is so committed to confluence as a coping mechanism and relational style that their persona changes in accordance with whoever their primary attachment figure is. Therefore, you will see many different versions of them and not know what the truth of them actually is, separate from whomever their current primary attachment figure is. They are like a living breathing hyphen. For example, if Justin exhibits this pattern and he is with Rachel, you will not be meeting Justin. You will be meeting Rachel-Justin. And if he is with Sarah, you will be meeting Sarah-Justin. And Rachel-Justin and Sarah-Justin are VERY different men. Because each is simply a reflection of the specific woman he is with. Each is what she wants him to be and what he must be in order to be in confluence with her, even though he will fight you that each new version of him is the “real him”. The reality is, with the Human Hyphen Pattern, the only access a person has to a sense of self is when they are alone. The minute they are with another person, especially someone they want togetherness and harmony with, their lines between ‘me’ and ‘you’ begin to blend.
So that you can understand this pattern better, I’m going to give you two examples. Brody grew up in a household with an incredibly domineering mother. She had mirrors and paintings that she had drawn of herself all over the house. She had no interest in children. In fact, the reason she had children was to secure the specific man that she wanted. Brody grew up knowing that the universe revolved around his mother. It was her way or the highway. She ignored Brody. The reality is that the only way he could ever get her attention or stay safe was if he was doing something that met her needs or enhanced her ego. As a result, he wore the clothes that she picked out for him. He behaved exactly how she wanted him to behave. He adopted her views on everything. He stopped doing anything he liked that she didn’t approve of. He validated her, even when a little voice inside said that he didn’t agree. He said yes, even when he wanted to say no. He made himself into a male version mini-me, despite considerable pain to himself. But as a result, unlike his brother who failed to find a way to please her and who committed suicide, some of his needs were met by her. It was his only chance at emotional survival.
Subconsciously, Brody has learned that he has to choose conformity to have a relationship. And he does this so naturally, it is terrifying to watch. But to Brody, the belief that conformity is what is necessary to have a relationship is so painful, he lies to himself. Each time he ends up in a relationship with a woman and he changes like a chameleon, he tells himself and everyone else that the new version is who he really is. That he is getting more authentic to who he really is with this new woman and that anyone who can’t accept that, can’t accept the real him. But his friends have been through this with him so many times, they know it is BS.
Brody was in a relationship with Tori. Tori was a very driven girl. She was obsessed with self-help and had big goals for herself. She was a super social go-getter with leadership qualities who loved skiing and cooking. When Brody was with Tori, he was business oriented. He wore his hair short with no facial hair and dressed in business attire. He spent time self-reflecting and figuring out his own patterns. He was a very positive and easy-going man. He was very social and spent lots of time in the kitchen and reveled in living in the snow.
When Tori ended the relationship with Brody, he ended up in a relationship with Jocelyn. Jocelyn loved travel, leisure time and horses. She had a strong sense of right and wrong, should and shouldn’t. She believed that people should be approved of exactly as they are, not changed. She had a small group of friends, but preferred to spend most of her time one on one with him. When Brody got into a relationship with Jocelyn, he grew out his beard, gave up his business attire for outdoor clothing, cut off all his friendships to focus solely on her and her friends, started looking after her horse, despite having a severe allergy to horses, quit his business-oriented job to start his own business in the travel industry where he could take weeks off at a time to do leisure activities with Jocelyn. He started suddenly expressing strong ideas of what is right and wrong, despite having been such an easy-going person before. And he suddenly got into intense conflicts with the people he knew from his time with Tori over their belief that life is about growth and change. Suddenly, his new belief was that he should be loved and approved of exactly as he is and that personal development was both abusive and a waste of precious time on earth. He told himself that because they kept trying to tell him that this new version of him was not ok, they never really loved him and he never really belonged with them. In fact, his time with them was abusive to himself. Seeing them as the bad guys with Jocelyn and himself united against them only served to further enhance the feeling of confluence he so desired to have with her.
Brody has paid a heavy price for that confluence. And of course Jocelyn has no idea that he is so lost in a detrimental and inauthentic relationship pattern that one day, she herself will fall victim to. Instead, she thinks she has finally found a compatible man. Brody becomes some version of whomever he is in a primary relationship with. So no one, including himself, really knows what the actual truth of Brody is.
Cindy grew up in a very large family. A family with so many siblings and with such busy parents that life was chaos. And there was no way to feel like she mattered and no way to gain a sense of intimacy with anyone. She had no reflection and so, she did not develop a strong sense of self. As a result of all of this, she was emotionally deprived. When she was seven years old, she finally met a friend and for the first time, she had someone who cared about her. This friend wanted to be close to Cindy and wanted to make Cindy just like her. This friend encouraged Cindy to get the same hair cut as her, to get into girl scouts just like her and to become obsessed with cats just like her. Cindy did so and felt a kind of heaven in being just like someone. She modeled her movements and mannerisms and speech patterns and interests and everything after her friend. She finally had someone to do this life with. She had figured out how to be able to get someone to be intimate with her and be together with her and pay attention to her. She had figured out how to matter to someone… Be just like them.
Cindy now exhibits this pattern in her relationships with men in her adult life. Derek was a red neck from Nevada. When she was with Derek, she was a proper red neck woman who got into spin fishing, wore camo pants, a trucker hat and bleached the tips of her hair. She picked up smoking. She listened to country music and she temporarily gave her daughter over to her mother’s care.
Then, Cindy got into a relationship with Camden. Camden was a good Mormon boy from southern Utah. When she was with Camden, suddenly she was dressing in conservative blouses and skirts. She died her hair a tasteful blonde and curled it to make herself look classier. She moved into a family-oriented neighborhood with him and didn’t just start going to church. She decided that her life revolved around relief society meetings. She no longer listened to music. She brought her daughter to live with her again and modeled her behavior after the perfect stay at home mom. Baking cookies and doing crafts and making sure to teach her daughter about morally appropriate behavior.
Then, Cindy got into a relationship with Seth. Seth was a Harley rider from Colorado. When she was with Seth, suddenly she had died her hair black. She wore tight jeans and midriff shirts. She went from adhering to Mormon values and judging everyone who didn’t, to being a self-proclaimed beer connoisseur. She quit her job and started working for Seth at his garage brewery. She used to be a volleyball player. But her volleyball team learned they could no longer depend on her showing up because she was busy riding motorcycles most nights and, on the weekends, instead. And her daughter found herself alone in the house with her new step sister (Seth’s daughter) while their parents were out of the road.
Cindy’s family has distanced themselves from Cindy. She doesn’t have any long-term friends. Her entire social group gets replaced every time she is in a new relationship. And her family has learned that there is nothing you can count on with Cindy. It is better to just watch the charade from a distance. Cindy loves to tell herself that every man she gets into a relationship with is a Narcissist because she always ends up feeling like she can’t “be herself” with them. But the reality is that they aren’t actually Narcissistic. And all a man has to do to be considered a Narcissist by Cindy, is to have a solid identity. Because Cindy immediately conforms to any man she is with so as to feel a sense of confluence. But then later blames them for having lost herself, when they never pressured her into changing in the first place. They simply reveled in how compatible to them she initially appeared to be.
The reason that the Human Hyphen Pattern is so difficult to break free from is because of this: When you develop a codependent relational style, which the Human Hyphen Pattern is part of, you genuinely want that sense of closeness and harmony and confluence with someone. That is authentic. You want it so badly that you are willing to be inauthentic to get it. Therefore, when you are inauthentic, but get what you authentically want as a result of being inauthentic, your internal guidance system will tell you that you are in alignment with your authenticity, even if you are lying. To understand more about Codependency, watch my video titled: The Truth about Narcissism and Codependency.
Relational styles are so second nature to us, they are difficult to change. They become a kind of default for us and we slip into them without really realizing it on a conscious level. But realize it we must. Because staying stuck in the Human Hyphen Pattern will prevent us from every truly being authentic and honest with ourselves and others. It will make finding a truly compatible partner impossible. It will make it impossible to create a life that is right for us. And it will make it so that we will leave a trail of tears in our wake.
Consider that if you are giving something up or are suppressing, rejecting, denying or disowning something in order to feel that sensation of confluence with someone, you may very well be slipping into the Human Hyphen Pattern. You may be setting yourself and other people up for pain. The confluence that you feel, is not true confluence. It is illusion. And it is deception. And your relationships will only progress if you learn how to have yourself and have other people too.