How many people have been in relationships that they knew weren’t right for them, but stayed anyway? My guess is more people have done that than haven’t. Such relationships may be boring, more work than they are rewarding, emotionally painful, lacking intimacy or sharing and feel forced. Instead of adding to the joy and happiness in your life, a bad relationship may find you feeling sad, anxious and thinking hopeless thoughts.
These relationships may even be neglectful or abusive. A big part of mindless relationships is you have to give up part, or most, of who you are to stay in the relationship. That’s a very high price to pay.
Most people know that not being true to themselves and what they want and need is a really bad idea. To stay in such a relationship they often have to numb themselves, be un-mindful of their needs and wants and un-mindful of the pain they feel. It’s like going into a cocoon; hiding and believing that by doing so they are safe in some way from what they fear.
Maybe those in bad relationships fear no one will ever love them so they settle for what isn’t safe and intimate to avoid living without a partner. Maybe they are afraid of being alone so they settle for being with “friends” who aren’t supportive or caring.
In her book, “Five Keys to Mindful Relationships,” Susan Chapman discusses relationship cocoons. A relationship cocoon is when you seek the illusion of closeness and intimacy but do so in ways that you also avoid what you fear. The problem is, when you avoid what you are afraid of, you are not being yourself. You’re also not allowing the other person to be who they really are, so intimacy and a true relationship is not possible. Emotionally sensitive people are particularly vulnerable to being in relationship cocoons or a fear-based relationships.
When you are in a fear-based relationship the language you use is deceptive. For example, love is confused with emotional hunger and neediness, and intimacy with possessiveness. In truth, you are not being loving or friendly to yourself, but giving up self-respect and self-compassion in exchange for a false sense of security.
You hold onto the other person and expect him or her to give you what you have not given yourself, to wipe out the emptiness, fear or aloneness that you want to avoid. The problem is that the other person cannot do that. When you realize this you are likely to be disappointed, angry and hurt. This leads to a kind of painful chaos in your relationships.
As Chapman describes it, the cycle begins with a mindlessness in craving connections. When the connection is made, you give your power away and lose your personal boundaries, believing that you have found what you have craved. When you realize the person cannot give you what you want, you suppress your needs and turn the other person into a object of disappointment and anger.
You then feel abandoned, isolated and alienated. Perhaps you remain in despair or start the cycle again.
Chapman suggests that unconditional friendliness is critical for healthy relationships. She defines unconditional as “having an open mind, the awareness and mindfulness of your everyday experience.” Friendliness means having a tender heart, the ability to feel joy when touched by the beauty of what you experience. Perhaps compassion for yourself and others would be included here.
Learning how to be aware of and take care of your own needs will allow you to learn to attend to the needs of truly intimate relationships. When you have unconditional friendliness for yourself, you can offer it to another person. When you are aware of your fears, mindfully find ways to be compassionate with yourself, and accept your fears as your own to cope with instead of for someone else to soothe or manage, you will be able to enter relationships in a different, more satisfying way.
Chapman, Susan Gillis. The Five Keys to Mindful Communication: Using Deep Listening and Mindful Speech to Strengthen Relationships, Heal Conflicts and Acceomplish Your Goals. Boston: Shambhala, 2012.
Note to Readers: Healing Hearts of Families is a Houston conference for those with borderline personality disorder and their families and friends. Please join us on November 10 for informative presentations by experts in the field.
My sincere thanks to everyone who has completed our second survey. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the survey questions about being emotionally sensitive.
Hall, K. (2012). Relationship Cocoons. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 12, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/emotionally-sensitive/2012/08/relationship-cocoons/