“When you give another person the power to define you, then you also give them the power to control you.” ~Leslie Vernick
It’s coming up on the anniversary of when I left a relationship that was both my unhealthiest and my greatest catalyst for growth.
While I’m able to see that he was a spiritual assignment I needed in order to evolve, I can’t help but feel resentful. But what surprises me isn’t my anger at him; it’s my anger at myself. Let me explain.
Disastrous relationships are nothing new for me. My past is riddled with complicated, codependent, and crazy encounters. To cope, I’ve blamed my partners, I’ve blamed myself, and for a brief period of time, I thought I found the answer in couples therapy. Never before have I been more wrong.
Like any self-help junkie, I made it my business to learn everything I could about the philosophy behind what I hoped would save my relationship. I attended a lecture by Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Therapy. He spoke on how we can change the world by changing our relationships.
That sounded interesting, so I kept listening.
He went on to explain how we strive to connect with others in order to experience a taste of the joy and love we once received from our primary caregivers. This connection is our deepest desire and losing it is our greatest fear.
And then it hit me. It’s counter-intuitive to look to relationships to fix wounds from our past. Did I really want to continue that pattern?
The belief that I might find joy in a relationship because it might temporarily quell a deeper abandonment issue is the exact reason I remained codependent for most of my life. I’d been searching for a Band-Aid to cover a hemorrhage.
Like most people, I crave the feeling of safety. Whether through touch or through words, validation that I’m worthy was like a drug. And boy, was I an addict!
So it was no surprise in couples therapy, when our therapist explained to my then boyfriend that he needed to say that he “heard” me and that my feelings were “legitimate” and “made sense” that I felt like I had finally won.
But that victory was brief. In fact, it depressed me even more. Because none of it was real.
Why? Because in the midst of a heated battle about whether he was actually going to follow through on a promise he made, a light bulb went off:
I really don’t need him to validate that my feelings are okay. The fact that I need him to tell me I have a right to feel this way is exactly what’s keeping me in a relationship that’s wrong for both of us. Whether or not another person sees it, I have a right to feel the way I feel.
It turns out there is a fine line between wanting your partner to understand you and wanting your partner to validate your feelings. For years, I wanted others to confirm that my feelings were okay to have.
And ultimately, the belief that feelings need to be validated to be valid was the cause of my codependency.
Here’s what it comes down to: If you don’t believe your feelings are genuine, real, and legitimate, nothing your partner says will make a difference. Whether or not your partner gets you is secondary to honoring your own feelings.
And while I loved pathologizing what was wrong with my ex, what you give your attention to only grows.
Taking inventory and focusing on your partner’s inability to understand you will only create a deeper void to fill. All that negativity creates anxiety, blocking your inner guidance, strength, and resilience.
After all, your partner isn't going to fix your old wounds. You are.
For the record, I’m not saying couples therapy is bad or that it wasn't helpful for me. One just needs a strong sense of self and a clear picture of what they want to achieve.
So here’s the solution: Give it to yourself. Heal your core fears and wounds and stop thinking that someone else will fix it for you. You can spend the rest of your life craving a connection with others when what you’re really searching for is a connection with yourself.