Sometimes our early experiences continue to have an impact on our daily lives. Our patterns of relating to others and to ourselves are often laid down through how our family members interacted with us in our younger years, putting powerful programming, roles, expectations, self-talk, and limiting beliefs in place that can keep us stuck in repetitive cycles. We can also be influenced by patterns that go back generations.
When we are little, we rely on our caregivers to help our emotions and nervous systems regulate. We “ping” off each other and the quality of the attunement of our caregivers is what allows us to know we exist, have needs, and be soothed. We need strokes to survive: physical touch and emotional connection. We also need stability and consistency. This helps our brains and bodies to develop in healthy ways.
Unfortunately, if our parents or caregivers had unresolved trauma, mental health or addictions issues, they may have been unable to adequately respond to our emotional needs as children. If the parenting style we were exposed to was unresponsive, dysregulated, detached, unavailable, anxious, rigid, shaming, judgmental, abusive, chaotic, narcissistic, smothering or enmeshed with us, this can leave a lasting impression. The impact of our early experiences can influence not only the types of relationships we get involved in and our capacity for connection, intimacy and healthy, secure attachment, but how we perform at work, how we interact socially, and how we treat ourselves. For a review of different attachment styles in adult relationships, click here.
As a result, you may be struggling with:
- identity issues, fragmented sense of self
- low self-worth
- vulnerability and shame
- believing you don’t deserve better
- feeling unworthy of love
- dissociation, splitting off or difficulty “feeling yourself”
- taking ownership of others’ issues
- anxiety, depression or mood swings
- reactivity and defensiveness in self-protection
- fear of being abandoned or rejected
- poor boundaries
- tolerating poor treatment from others
- relying on others to feel better
- attaching to others too quickly or keeping them at a distance
- overriding your needs to please others
- difficulty giving yourself permission for self-care
- having to “go away” in order to maintain relationships
Attachment and dysregulation challenges can occur even in the absence of intentional abuse and neglect, when parents struggle with their own trauma, anxiety, depression, intergenerational patterns, or exposure to war, poverty or other extenuating circumstances. Thankfully, “good enough” parenting in which acknowledgment, empathy and repair occur can go a long way to mitigating the effects of these challenges.
Sadly, a parent’s lack of awareness, shame or defensiveness can lead to blaming the child for being the problem when the child acts out or has difficulties, when in fact the issue is far more complex and requires gentleness and compassion for all involved.
Thankfully, healing your core wounds is possible with the right support to address the emotional, behavioural and relational patterns, both current and intergenerational, that are preventing you from moving forward in your life.
Do you tend to constantly seek to fulfill the needs of others at the expense of your own? Are your emotions or mood dependent on others around you feeling of acting a certain way? This type of relationship pattern is known as codependency, and comes as a result of experiencing relationship trauma, often stemming back to challenges in one’s family of origin or other relationships that taught us that our needs and emotions did not matter.
People who have codependency issues typically form unhealthy or toxic relationships with people who have a limited capacity for intimacy and connection, who are not accountable for themselves, who are emotionally detached or who are overly needy or clingy. These relationships are often emotionally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive. Sometimes, people who are codependent form relationships with people who have addictions.
In codependent relationships, these people:
- feel responsible for other people
- fix or manage others’ emotions
- put in a lot of effort and put up with a lot while getting very little in return
- wonder why others don’t do the same for them
- feel guilty being happy when others are sad
- tolerate unending promises of change
- accept alibis and lies
- walk on eggshells
- say yes when they mean no
- feel hurt, unappreciated and victimized
- do not express their anger or set boundaries
- are enmeshed in a drama that feels out of control
- feel perpetually dissatisfied or frustrated but can’t walk away
- keep hoping endlessly for things to improve, or
- undermine or block improvement in order to preserve the codependent dynamic
While codependent people largely believe that their partner’s behaviours are the cause of their problems, codependency may be about their relationship with themselves — about being split off from self and one’s responsibility for oneself:
- low self-worth and/or shame
- believing one is unlovable or at best conditionally lovable
- believing one does not deserve to be happy or have needs
- taking things personally, reactivity and being easily offended
- not trusting oneself
- criticizing oneself
- needing excessive reassurance or praise from others to feel good about themselves
For a longer list of codependent traits, click here.
Our nervous systems and ego states play off each other constantly, whether we realize it or not. Activation in one nervous system or ego state can trigger revving up or shutting down in another nervous system or ego state, especially if we are used to feeling that way.
Insecure attachment and activation patterns in couples can be complex, ingrained and tricky to shift, as are our emotional attachment dynamics of relating and communicating, which are all just different sides of the same coin.
pinging off each other.
Are any of these scenarios familiar?
- You often find yourself giving a lot and receiving very little in return or the boundary between you and others is often blurred
- You find yourself hoping that if you try hard enough and are good enough they will stay and finally give you the love, validation and appreciation you have always dreamed of receiving (fantasy bond, longing without satisfaction)
- You have difficulty communicating your needs
- You both feed off each other and situations tend to escalate quickly
- One of you tends to escalate quickly and have uncontained energy, reactivity or drive (fight/flight hyperarousal), while the other is more constricted, small, shut down or disconnected (either freeze or hypoarousal), or a combination of both
- You find that communication in your relationship isn’t “adult to adult” but feels more along the lines of “parent to child”, or even “child to child” as your wounded ego states enter into conflict with one another
- You tend to find yourself in relationships that are abusive, enmeshed, toxic or have uneven power dynamics
- You find that relationships are a source of confusion or anxiety, and that intimacy requires a level of vulnerability that leaves you feeling fearful of rejection or abandonment
- You make others responsible for how you are feeling or for your reactions (external locus of control), and end up feeling helpless and at the mercy of others when in distress
- Finding yourself angry or frustrated that the other person is the way they are and hanging on in the hopes that they change or the belief that you don’t deserve better
- You find yourself in frustrating patterns of pursuing someone who is distant or avoidant (or you are the distant one finding yourself overwhelmed by the needs of your partner)
- You’ve stopped playing for the same team and want to get back on track to repair your bond
- You’re single but want to sort out lingering patterns to start your next relationship on the right track
The Refuge offers support to better understand and work through old patterns of relating and reacting that are no longer serving you, and to help you build your internal resiliency and capacity for self-regulation, self-soothing, and intimacy with others by healing your relationship with yourself. Developing more effective communication and parenting skills also hinges on your ability to modulate your arousal and have emotional awareness. Greater resiliency and secure attachment go hand in hand.