The Paradox of Genuine Love: Why Loving Your Self Equals Loving Your Partner (And Vice Versa)

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

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The permission to fully love and embrace your self and life with wonder, a compassion love and acceptance is no small matter. Paradoxically, you need your own love and acceptance to fully and genuinely love your partner (and vice versa..).


Several reasons. For one, it is impossible to be in a love relationship and not hurt each other. It is par for the course (in any close relationship). You are two different persons. You each bring unique strengths, gifts, intelligences and energy to the relationship. Each also brings past wounds, hurts and painful experiences in addition to “new” ones (that tend to build up when not felt, expressed, handled in healing ways) from interactions in your relationship. Each yearns to feel valued for their strengths, and yet at some point tends to get lost or loses hope, belief in their partner’s capacity to love them or resolve issues.

Second, nature seems to love to bring together two persons in a couple relationship that have seemingly opposing approaches in several areas of growth, especially in the area of how they deal with pain or stress. Pain is part of growth, learning, and stretching out of old comfort zones to realize new possibilities. The cliche “no pain, no gain” is more than true, it is law of physics. Pain is not the problem however. The real problems stem from how each partner reacts (defensively) when dealing with pain, i.e., extremes of either wallowing or detaching from pain.

Third, the fastest, most efficient and effective way to prevent defensiveness from taking over and controlling the outcome of a situation, or your life together for that matter, is to develop your own ability to activate a sense of conscious-love presence in moments that normally trigger you, so that your own body does not unnecessarily activate your body’s survival response.

All of the above and more are evidence that, from nature’s perspective, two persons come together to form a couple relationship not because they found the “perfect” one, rather because each brings matching qualities (and wounds) that serve to draw the other to participate in healing processes for both. Genuine love is a growing capacity that is cultivated as a result of the inner driven efforts of two partners to nurture a healing relationship as they participate in process that teach them how to authentically love self and other with their whole heart — and conscious mind.

What self-love is not.

First let’s look at what self-love is not.

  • It is not a choice to put your “wants” first without thoughtful and conscious consideration also to your “needs,” physical, emotional, relational.

Self-love cannot be merely “giving” your self whatever you want or indulging in whatever you feel like doing or makes you feel good or comfortable. There is a host of things that feel good or comfortable, such as junk food and gossiping, which are dangerous or harmful to every aspect of your life. You’re wired with emotion-drives, or needs, that are relational in nature.

To test this, imagine that you’re with a new trainer at the gym — or a potential employer who’s interviewing you for a dream job; then, imagine yourself telling them that your approach to success is to only or mostly do what you want and makes you feel happy, and also to avoid what is uncomfortable, etc. How do you imagine the trainer or interviewer will respond? They’re likely to point to the door, right? This attitude alone guaranteed both: an end to a potentially beneficial relationship with a new trainer or employer; and failure to realize your goal of getting fit or landing the job of your dreams.

Similarly, this approach in your couple relationship guarantees the relationship cannot fulfill your wants or needs … primarily because … you’re not invested in participating to produce the outcomes you desire. On the bright side, it points to what you can work on that is hindering you from realizing your own yearnings in the relationship.

  • It is not a solution that emphasizes autonomy or can be summed up with “you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

The Western emphasis on autonomy as a value teaches us to associate independence with strength and status. This value system can put pressure on couples to turn to solutions that lead partners to live separate lives.. The partner who upholds this stance may also feel increasingly upset or entitled to feelings of anger or resentment toward the partner who complains. Naturally this can lead to increases in loneliness, alienation, divorce and separation or infidelity, as well as physical and, or emotional violence.

If you owned a business partnership, would you expect to be successful if your business-partner took the approach of “you do your thing and I’ll do mine”? Similarly, it takes two persons to create a secure and vibrant couple relationship.To grow a fulfilling relationship entails that you fully participate in partnering side by side with that special person in your life. The emphasis on independence will not work to form a healthy partnership. Genuine love is a commitment between two interdependent individuals.To ignore your partner’s feelings and in particular, their sense of security in the relationship is to ignore your own.

  • It is not a belief that “there’s nothing you can do” until “the other” changes or “appreciates you” before acting in caring and thoughtful ways.

There is perhaps nothing more damaging to a couple relationship than this waiting game of blame-and-punish. Whether partners express blame outwardly in angry attacks or sarcastic comments, or merely stew inside feeling increasingly resentful of the other, blame always leaves each blamer feeling powerless inside, not to mention also unloved, misunderstood, unsupported, unfairly criticized or unappreciated, etc. These feelings will not go away with time; they may instead intensify to states of rage or bitterness. They must be handled thoughtfully with love and care, and a commitment to ending both the “waiting” and “blame-and-punish” games that erode the fun and intimacy.

What self-love is.

Ultimately, your own love is a cultivated capacity to remain a conscious presence of mind and body in moments when you face challenges or triggers. Without doing your part to self-activate your body’s relaxation response (thus prevent your survival system from taking over), your mind and body cannot work together on your behalf.

You may think you’ve “tried everything and nothing works,” however, it’s not possible to solve relationship issues when you’re not connected to your own mind and body in “real time” when a trigger gets activated. It’s not loving to think you should be able to problem solve when what’s really happening inside whenever your survival system takes over is you get tossed around back and forth – into the future one moment, anxiously worrying about something that may never happen– and back in the past the next, fretfully dwelling on past regrets.

The ability to feel painful emotions and remain present, rather than defensive, is self-love in the highest sense.

It’s an essential skill both partners need to express or handle emotions of fear and anger in particular, in ways that support them and one another to grow and strengthen their relationship.

When your body’s survival system is activated automatically, you lose your ability to make choices and shape outcomes. And this means that, at a time when you most need to connect to the amazing capacities you have inside, i.e., for making optimal choices, reflecting on past and future experiences, or imagining new possibilities, etc., you lose your connection to energies that are ideally yours alone to command. For example:

  • Findings in attachment research show that our brains get wired with early relating patterns to primary caregivers, and that these enduring patterns, if not altered, can have an effect on our key relationships throughout life.
  • Many of our triggers are emotion-command neural pathways that were learned in childhood. We bring these old programs into our adult relationships, and they seem to be particularly active when we form a couple relationship.
  • To realize fulfillment as an adult involves coming to terms with certain realities of life, such as more deeply understanding (integrating) certain childhood wounds (frustrations, neglect, trauma, complaints…) with greater compassion for our self, as well as key persons in our life, especially our parents or caregivers.

This may not sound like good news, initially. Consider the possibility however that nature has “higher plans” for you and your partner, to grow and heal and transform you to realize your full capacity to love with your whole heart through processes that may be painful, yet perhaps necessary to challenge and replace the “old childhood ways” of thinking/feeling/experiencing your life.

This requires us to stretch our reflective abilities to see the paradoxical nature of our life, and the significance of our relationship with our self and with our parents. For example:

  • As an infant, it was only natural to yearn for your parents’ undivided attention, care, warmth, and so on. You had no need, or ability, to understand that your parents also had lives of their own (along with problems, issues, and among others, it’s quite likely they had unhealed wounds of their own…).
  • As an adult, however, you need an expanded awareness and understanding of your self, a new worldview would allow you to reflect more deeply to understand yourself, and your parents, first and foremost as human beings (and not merely the parent or child that failed, wasn’t good enough, etc.0.

From this place, you may extract deeper understandings of your self and your parents by exploring a 360 degree view of your life, your story and present status. This is an exercise of the mind that increases your ability to accept that each person in your life, like you, is at the center of Universe we share.

A small child’s vantage point is inherently narcissistic. Indeed, an infant’s survival depends on beings the center of a parent’s universe (the focused, loving attention of a mother, father or caregiver, ensures they survive). Conceivably, whereas the infant’s greatest need is to receive love, as adults, our greatest need is to give back to life, to meaningfully contribute.

For each partner in a couple relationship, conceivably, their greatest need (not want) is to give and meaningfully contribute value to their relationship, and to the aliveness (awakened love) of their partner.

So whether your life story is that your parent(s) failed to love or give you what you needed, or that you failed your parent(s), try the following two-step process:

  • First, remind yourself that the pain you feel and have felt is not about them; it’s about you, and healing yourself in the context of the relationship.

This is essential so that you focus your attention on seeking to learn and better understand your self and life … with an expanded conscious awareness and capacity for compassion and wise action. To do so, ask reflective questions, such as: How did you respond to perceived hurt, wounds (i.e., parent who “failed” you, or how you “failed” them)?  What did you learn from how you responded — or what does it say about you? How have your habitual responses shaped the direction of your life? And, how you currently approach your partner? What does this pain say about what you most need, value and love? What does it say about what you most yearn to create or change in the future? How has the painful yearning helped you grow? How or where did you get stuck in one or more areas?

  • Second, remind yourself that the pain your parents felt is not about you, it’s about them.

This is vital so that you can let go of emotion-command neural pathways that keep you stuck, thinking and treating you and your life as if you’re still 3 or 5 years old. At some point, once you’ve processed and validated the pain you experienced (and you may wish to skip reading step two for now, if this suggestion intensifies your pain at present), you must shift your focus to doing what you need to get your needs heard, validated (in healthy ways!). Do not think venting to friends and family is going to heal you however! Seek a professional therapist to process your feelings in ways that heal you, not intensify your anger, rage, feeling not good enough, etc.) Set an intention to grow your understanding and compassion for your self, and you may find it makes it easier to do the same for all persons in question.

So for example, though you will likely always want and prefer to enjoy the warmth and attention from key loved ones throughout life, the point is that: you no longer “need” (have to have, are dependent, etc.) on having their love to survive, as you did when you were a small child.

This is a key realization.

It invites you to no longer experience your self and life from the vantage point of an infant or small child. Like it or not, you no longer “need” anyone’s love as a prerequisite to feeling your own love, and radiating loving compassion for your self, and thus also them.

Compassion is a form of love that ever seeks what is in the highest interest of self and other — and that expresses itself in consciously wise actions that potentially grow and strengthen your key relationships.

What is essential for a mature lover, is a confident connection to your own wisdom, a growing sense of self-efficacy, a belief in your own capacity to remain centered, confident, and calm knowing that your most trusted, reliable and regular source of warmth and care for your self and life lies within. Thus:

  • No one can take it away.
  • Though high levels of fear may hide or block it temporarily, like the sun behind clouds, it’s always there, perhaps just a breath away.

Balance is life, and a healthy life is balanced to avoid toxic extremes of, on the one hand, emotional detachment or dependency on another.

The former says that you cannot handle the pain — thus cannot love the part of you that hurts — or cannot love others when they do not act or feel exactly how you “need” them to in order for you to feel loved.

Both extremes separate you from your own inner sources of love and sustenance when you ignore or shun the work needed to cultivate your capacity to love both self and other. After all, who is with you 24/7?

Self-love is a form of self-acceptance and self-agency, a critical lesson that life teaches along the way.

If self-love is where you are stuck, however, it may not be reasonable to expect yourself to move quickly from hatred and self-doubt to love. It may work better to do so incrementally. First, for example, look for things about your self and life that you like or at least do not dislike, i.e., “I like or do not dislike …such and such… about myself.”

A healthy life and relationships are all is about balance, and balance is a question of avoiding extremes of too much or too little, both of which hinder your healthy growth and happiness in some way. Even if one or both of your parents could have doted upon you around the clock, this wouldn’t have been healthy for you.

Paradoxically, this would have stunted your ability to develop your own ability to soothe your self, and later in life, to soothe both self and others. What is really missing is your own understanding love that:

  • Cultivating the ability to give is as critical as to receive.
  • It’s the separation of you from you that causes discord.

Make a decision that you’re going to express the entirety of who you are, affirming your reason and purpose. In this state of mind and body alignment, you are more likely to co-create optimal results in your interactions with others. When you face a triggering moment, give yourself time to pause, breathe and feel your feelings. Look inside to ask what you really, really want to create. Shift away from old toxic thought patterns of lack that can lower your expectations. Check whether you’re resonating with what you want to receive or bring into your life.

Here’s a radical statement. Loving your life, your self and others, is who you are—anything less is resistance to your highest good. Limiting beliefs birth illusions of love, on the one extreme, that you are a rock and do not “need” anyone or anything, or on the other extreme, that your life and happiness depend on another’s approval or love to survive.

These mindsets both fail to create lasting peace of mind and balance.

To avoid pain is to avoid relationships. Since your brain and life are all about relationships, to avoid pain is to avoid life. Both extremes of either wallowing in pain, on the one hand, or pretending you are above pain, and that your ability to emotionally detach is evidence of strength, on the other, are illusions that prevent you from experiencing life in and around you in its full glory.  It’s like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

It speaks to a lesson waiting to be learned at ever deeper levels.

The Shadow Side of Falling In Love: The Power That Drives Addictions to Love, Sex and Romance

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Forever-April-1__97671_zoomWhereas genuine love fosters a mutually empathic connection between two persons, one that nourishes the mental, physical and emotional growth and capacity for compassion and self-actualization of each, the neurochemistry of love relationships can morph into a dangerous mix of drugs more difficult to part with than alcohol, cocaine or heroine.

Notably, we use many of the same words to describe the personality shift observed in those (our self included) we experience to be “in love” and those with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, such as: impulsive, foolhardy, dependent, obsessive, compulsive, heedless, cavalier, negligent, reckless, irresponsible, and so on.

A meta-analysis study by researchers at Syracuse University revealed for example that the state of “falling in love” takes only about a fifth of a second to occur, and is potent enough to impair the higher thinking areas of the brain. Its potency lies in its ability to elicit the same euphoric feeling as cocaine.

In a word, the wiring of our sensory brain and body — when not modulated by our ability for conscious-mind awareness to influence decision making — can leave us susceptible to falling in love with the state of “falling in love” itself. It has to do with the power that certain sensory cravings have to switch off the frontal cortex (ability to consciously think and make optimal choices). This explains why an addiction can be such a controlling factor in a person’s life (and relationships).

Biologically, the human body is wired to gravitate toward what produces comfortable, feel-good sensations in us – and correspondingly to avoid what produces pain and discomfort. Conceivably, the highest purpose of this design feature is to prompt us to stay on track (to both survive and thrive). Ideally, our body reminds us, on the one hand, to avoid what is unhealthy, harmful or a threat to our survival, and on the other hand, to keep reaching to fulfill core drives to matter and live meaningful lives.

In the state of falling in love, these sensory signals consist of a potent mix of chemicals, which have the power to relegate our otherwise amazing human brain and body — a sophisticated communication system like no other — into a slave driver that steals our ability to make healthy choices (consider costs) with vehement and intoxicating demands for quick feel-good fixes.

Out of fear and mistrust, the sensory system takes over.

When it comes to fulfilling the emotion-drive to matter, to feel loving and loved, the subconscious mind mistrusts the capability of the conscious mind’s thinking and decision-making– and puts it on hold, or offline position.

It’s a coup d’etat d’amour.

Essentially, this means in certain circumstances feel-good hormones have the power to steal our ability to make optimal choices, and hold our authentic wise-self (frontal cortex) captive, in a virtual prison of sorts, deceived by limiting subconscious beliefs … and mere illusions of love and power.

Whether the “drug of choice” is sex, love or romance, or substances or activities such as gambling or spending for that matter, a common experience of all addicts is an inability to stop behaviors they themselves recognize at some level as destructive or harmful, and yet feel powerless to stop.

Without conscious-thinking and discernment, however, our subconscious body-mind cannot distinguish between pain — or pleasure — that threatens rather than promotes our growth and wellbeing and aliveness.

Pain is an essential part of all growth, physical, mental and emotional; unnecessary pain leads to suffering. Pleasure is a emotional and physiological yearning for health and wellness, a sense of feeling good about our self and our capacity to contribute to life, create healthy, vibrant relationships that sustain us, and so on; pleasure at the expense of our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is a trap that leads to needless and endless suffering of an addiction.

To learn how to receive and bring love in relation to both self and the other is no small feat. It is  not for the faint-hearted.

It takes courage, stamina, hope, believe, and the willingness to face challenges that will keep stretching our ability to love with our whole heart. As infants, we could not survive without some love from a caregiver, however imperfect. The need for love to survive of a small child is only half-hearted love. It will not serve us in our couple relationship. As adult lovers, we must go to our love relationship for the purpose of learning how to become an ever better version of our self and capacity to love both self and other … just because … love is the essence of who we are. It is our highest need in infancy and early childhood to survive. It remains our highest need to give and receive in adulthood to thrive and meaningfully connect, to contribute our love to life in and around us.

What snaps us out of love: the shadow side
Even before the recent findings in neuroscience, no one would argue that a good relationship can be a great source of energy and fuel us to soar to previously unimaginable heights. At the same time, most would also agree that our key relationships with loved ones can the greatest source of mental and emotional suffering and anguish.
There’s also consensus that couple relationships are in a category of their own when it comes to the highs and lows of pleasure and suffering they produce, the desperate things we do to get and keep them as sources of security.
What snaps partners out of a state of being in love often has to do with the following two factors at minimum:
(1) An event that introduces “doubt of the other’s love” in the mind and imagination of one partner.
What breaks the bubble state of have “fallen in love” is always an “event” in which one of the partners gets triggered, and this introduces “doubt of the other’s perfect love” into their mind, which in turn introduces “judgment” of the other or self, or the relationship that, tarnishing the mental image of “perfect love,” deflates the initial state of euphoria.
As soon as one person introduces “doubt” of the perfection of one, the mirror neurons in the brain of the other partner automatically mirror back the same doubt. The opportunity to hone our amazing human ability to empathize and be a compassionate presence for the other, in this case, is not only activated, it works in the opposite direction instead to activate the survival system and its aggressive (or passive aggressive) defense strategies.
What each partner needs and wants are in conflict. They want to be loved according to their own survival-love map. They need however is to break the hold of this early map to be free to see, love and value the other as a separate human and unique human being, and not merely an extension of who they want them to be. As part of their early survival-love map, each person brings their own personal triggers and triggering-emotions into the relationship. All of this is subconscious. For a relationship to mature, this shadow side needs to become conscious, accepted and integrated as part of the experience of the person’s whole-hearted love in life.
(2) Not knowing how to optimally respond in ways that (consciously) thoughtfully amp up the love and at the same time lower the fear.
In other words that learn how to express their pain in ways that feel loving and caring when they get triggered., and consciously do so in order to prevent their body from automatically activating their survival system and protective defenses strategies.
Up until that point each person felt a sense of self as unconditionally loved and accepted, a sense of their love as a contribution of immeasurable value or worth to the other…
What if when we think about our partner, we have formed habitual thought patterns that intensify our emotion states of anger and fear inside, whether conscious or subconscious, as a result of ongoing frustrations in the relationship? How common or likely is that in a couple relationship? Without doubt, at least 100 percent. Think about it. What are the chances that in the course of your couple relationship (or any relationship with someone you live and deal with daily…) that you have to deal with:
  • Sense of unfulfilled expectations of longings you had at the start?
  • Anger at your partner’s unresponsiveness to your requests?
  • Feeling not appreciated for your contributions?
  • Judging your partner as needing to be fixed when they get upset with one of your actions?
The secret to personal health and happiness, in fact, may come down to how we manage our sensations of pain and pleasure, more specifically, identifying situations in which we are vulnerable, to remain aware and ensure our wise-self (frontal cortex) remains in charge of our choices when dealing with the pain and pleasure sensations of our body.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” noted Mahatma Gandhi.
Awareness of our own thoughts, choices, emotions, sensations, wants, dreams, core needs and drives etc. is essential to understanding both self and the other. Happiness is inseparable from health. Health is inseparable from wholeness, a love that permeates every aspect of our being mental, physical and emotional. We are intricately connected by emotion-drives that are arguably at the same time relational and spiritual yearnings. Only a love that is wholehearted, understanding, empathic and compassionate can create a meaningful connection between two people.

In the case of falling in love, what can feel like love, in effect, may be merely a state of body-mind that is so disconnected from the primary directives of our body’s operating system, the subconscious, that it steers us to want and go after (automatic default-choices) what is, literally, 180 degrees in the opposite direction of what we need (physically and emotion-drives to matter and meaningfully connect in life) to live fulfilling and healthy lives and relationships.

This is particularly true in the case of infidelity, whether sexual and, or emotional.

On the shadow side of falling in love, how we manage our sensations of pain and pleasure can put us at risk of developing addictive habits. For example:
  • Not all feel-goods are healthy, i.e., junk food and a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Similarly, not all feel-bad sensations are unhealthy, i.e., studying for a test or confronting an issue.
  • Our subconscious mind forms “beliefs” automatically all the time on the “simple” principles of pleasure and pain. These beliefs can be limiting, false and in conflict with some of its directives, i.e., the directives to ensure we survive and prompt us to thrive.
Thus, our body manufactures chemical highs in response to what we perceive makes us feel good and less anxious, loved or loving; and this can deceive us into rationalizing risky activities.
As with all addictions, the key factor is the good-feelings the activity produces and how the addict produces them. In short, this is what a person gets addicted to – and must be addressed for healing to take place. (In similar ways, this also applies to the co-addict or codependent, the person who’s unwittingly in an unhealthy relationship with the addict.)
If the addict, co-addict or professional working with an addicted client fails to see the high as the key driving factor, they may underestimate its power, or miss a necessary aspect of treatment.
The high is what makes addiction ultimately about power, or defined as a healthy, human yearning to have primary control over their choices and ability to feel good about themselves and life. Power is ultimately about who has a choice and who does not. Someone who feels they do not have a choice in general or describes themselves as feeling controlled by their partner, for example, can be a prime candidate for addiction.
In the pure sense, to “control” something is to feel one has a choice. Personal power is “the ability to take action,” states Anthony Robbins, a best selling author and recognized authority on leadership and peak performance. This means personal power is a perceived ability (or adequacy) to act in ways that are effective in realizing goals, feeling happy. Ultimately, how good we feel at any moment is based on how overall loved, valued, connected, recognized, heard, understood, appreciated, right?
Addiction is all about power because power is a perceived ability to control how good we feel in body and mind. In personal relationships, especially with a spouse, it’s often about having the power to block the power of the other, such as a parent, spouse or child.
In relation to the co-addicted partner, the addict feels powerless in their ability to influence the other. Their addiction however is evidence that they have the power to limit or block the other’s attempts to control them.
This is why asking the addict to give up a destructive behavior can cause them to feel attacked. To an addict, at visceral levels, it feels as if they are being asked to relinquish control and power, even though the opposite is true. In truth, addictive substances or activities are what render an addict powerless; they have no power to say “No” to the chemical demands of their body for instant gratification.
So, the actual fixation is on the production of feel-good feelings, and the means are merely ways that feel physiologically, emotionally and mentally “proven” to work.
And, it’s all about power because pure power lies in our perceived ability to control in certain situations or moments how good we feel physiologically, mentally, emotionally.
There are at least three hormonal chemicals that the body produces to make us feel we’re in love — whether we are or not. Persons addicted to sex and love spend a lot of time in varying states of arousal, depending on the stage of the cycle, for example, indulging, recovering or planning for the next fix. There is also excitement in getting increasingly better at obtaining and sustaining the high. Additionally, there’s arousal in getting good at blocking obstacles to getting the high, such as spouses or family members’ attempts to circumvent from achieving their high.
This feeds the entangling power struggle between the addict and the co-addicted (co-dependent) person
When love comes together with addiction, the result can be a witnessing of immense and prolonged pain and needless suffering of the addict as well as their loved ones. The news is replete with accounts of people’s lives that lead to scandalous loss of reputation, career, relationships with partner, family, children, and even health and life.
Most addicts will easily say that their drug of choice is dependable and people are not. That’s why it’s all about control and power.
The drive to feel good about our self and life and relationships is not only natural, it’s a motivation that is as real a drive or hardwired need as food and water. This drive is not the problem. The drive can be thought of as a “healthy” pain, such as hunger or thirst, that reminds us of core inner strivings (emotion-drives) to matter, to meaningfully connect with life in and around us. The pain that arises when our nourishing supply runs low calls us to take action.
It is akin to physical pain of hunger or thirst. It prompts us to take action to nourish our self, to fulfill our own need.
It reminds us of the physical laws that govern our nature and life, in this case, the principle that can be described as “use it or lose it” or “no pain, no gain,” and more commonly known as Wolf’s Law. Though this Law is mostly applied to observations of how to strengthen the human body, muscles and bones, etc., our brain’s mental and cognitive skills have been shown to follow the same “Use It Lose It” law.
Arguably, our emotion-drives to matter also follow the no pain, no gain principle. In part, we have a plethora of addictions because the prevailing beliefs we hold about emotional pain do not serve us, they mislead us to avoid emotional pain and regard those that express it as weak, defective, and so on. On the whole as a culture, most of us still learn to regard emotional vulnerability as a weakness not associated with strength, status, success, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth.
These feel-good hormones are not to be trusted as they can:
  • Steal our ability to make conscious, healthy choices.
  • Hold our frontal cortex (wise-self capacity for real thinking) captive, in a virtual prison of sorts.
  • Deceive the otherwise amazing mind of our body, the subconscious, with illusions of love and power.
  • Turn our body – a highly sophisticated communication system — into a slave driver that steals our ability to make conscious, healthy choices by making vehement do-or-die demands.
  • Focus our energy on seeking feel-good sensations for the sake of feel-good sensations, now, without regard to costs.
  • Get us addicted to quick and easy ways of feeling good, thus over reliance on our body’s natural inclination to taking the path of least resistance.
  • Silence or block communications coming from the natural wisdom of the body, in particular, the primary directives of the subconscious mind to ensure we survive and thrive, so much so, that in confusion, our body literally steers us directly toward what blocks — and 180 degrees away from what we really, really, really need — to live happy and healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally, nourishing lives and relationships.
A new understanding of addiction as a pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding, quick-fix sense of power (albeit temporary and false sense) that helps us avoid dealing with our shadow side (fears and doubts in our capacity to  create the happiness and meaning we yearn for that activate our defenses, survival system),  helps us better see the nature of “falling in love” as a beginning stage of the promise of creating genuine love together. From this view, power is defined as a perceived ability to feel effective and confident in our ability to make choices that lead to living the purpose-driven and meaningfully connected life and relationships we are driven by our nature to create.

Couple Communications: 5 Prerequisites to Unlock Imagination (And Get Out of Stuck Places), 3 of 4

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-846When it comes to healing your couple communications and relationship, there are at least five prerequisite shifts in perception that are critical to help you unlock your imagination, and galvanize the energy you need to take action – to break out of stuck places and let go of old comfort zones (thus making it more likely your partner will do the same).

Continuing from Part 2, the third prerequisite shift in perception allows you to take 100% responsibility for how you respond to life events, and thus who you become (and what you create) as a result of your responses.

3. See your self as fully equipped and capable captain of your life (thus own body’s relaxation response).

This is a choice you make to see your self as capable of creating a fulfilling life — i.e., making good decisions, learning from them, thoughtfully connecting to your wants and needs, handling emotions along the way (triggering ones in particular), etc.

You know that repeated actions form habits, or emotion-command neural pathways, that are automatically activated by the subconscious mind as “default” options. Old habitual responses must be unlearned, retrained or replaced by new optimal ones.

As captain you understand that energy is too precious to waste, and that taking the reins as captain is not a mere option, rather a prerequisite to realizing the fulfilling happy life you aspire. More specifically, this means that you now understand why you must (learn to) let go of such energy-wasting patterns as blame, denial, withdrawal, avoidance, comparing and judgments of self and others, etc., all of which were perhaps useful to ensure your physical survival in childhood, but are now simply blocking your personal growth and healing, as well as aspirations to create an emotionally fulfilling connection with your partner. Knowing this, you’re ready to do what is necessary to take command of the direction and energy flowing in your body.

  • This perception allows your body and mind to stay connected, thus, to work together on your behalf, disallowing your body’s “old” subconscious programs to take control and automatically put your frontal cortex (higher thinking capacity) in offline mode.

Conceivably, nothing matters more to living a fulfilling life, than realizing you have access to a powerful human capacity to bring, create and express love in your life and relationships. Stop waiting for this or that, or for a time when all problems go away. The option at any moment to allow your subconscious mind (emotion-body) to stay connected  your conscious mind (reflective, wise-self), however, remains dormant unless learned and cultivated.

Regardless the intensity of a trigger (except where the threat to physical survival is real), you have the option of responding in a way that goes opposite a fear-based defensive reaction that automatically occurs at present. Knowing how to self-activate your body’s relaxation response is a choice (power) you have, in any given moment: to optimally observe (rather than judge); to create new possibilities (rather than stay stuck); and to make informed decisions and learn from them (rather than repeating old knee-jerk reactions).

  • This prerequisite offers “new” instructions to your subconscious mind that can rewrite (heal) old programming imprinted in memory from childhood.

This necessary shift away from childhood dependency on subconscious defenses to conscious choices needs to occur sometime in adulthood for healing to take place. It is a choice that puts healing power in your hands.

Unlike the formative years of childhood when your subconscious mind had to to automatically activate certain learned defensive strategies, at a time when this literally ensured your physical survival, as an adult, the rules have now changed! True, your intimacy fears of rejection, abandonment, rejections are no doubt still be painful, however, they no longer pose a threat to your physical survival.

In fact, the opposite is now true. The cortisol levels produced by regular activations of your body’s survival system can physically harm your body.

Besides, if you’re about 25 years of age or older, you now have the cognitive development to do so. As an adult, the greatest need is to learn how to break out of old comfort zones, and in the process build the knowledge, understanding and confidence necessary to stretch your inner capacities for empathy and compassion, courage and determination — at a felt level — to remain in command of your power (choose) to thoughtfully respond (rather than react) to any triggering-emotion events.

  • This perception tells your conscious mind that, in “most” relationship contexts upsetting to you, you have the ability to increase your own sense of safety, to intentionally feel safe enough to love — so you can feel vulnerable emotions — and perceive them as useful information rather than (irrational) threats to your survival.

This is a necessary stage in human development where, like learning to ride a bicycle, at some point, you know you have to let go of “feeling you have to have” the training wheels (defense strategies) to protect you. It makes sense to not want to fall. If you had waited however until you felt sure you would not fall, you may have never learned to ride a bike. You learned to ride because at some point your desire to ride a bike was greater than the desire to prevent yourself from falling.

In other words, you reached a point where you were willing to fall and perhaps skin a knee. Similarly, when it comes to navigating the emotional seas of your intimacy fears, your subconscious mind needs to know at some point that, at a felt level, that your desire to become a capable and fully equipped captain of your heart and mind is greater than your dependency on your habitual defense strategies. You no longer want to be rescued by the old ways you learned to protect yourself because they are blocking you from growing and realizing your full capacity to love with your whole heart.

The capability comes alive however only when put into action and practiced in real life situations, that is, in opportune moments where you may choose between allowing old defense strategies to automatically activate by default (path of least resistance) or taking the helm as captain to steer in the opposite direction of an old programmed response, that is, to stretch out of an old comfort zone and self-activate your body’s relaxation response instead.

  • In a sense, this prerequisite is a form of self-love and self-acceptance that invites your subconscious mind to stop acting like an over-protective parent, and instead accept that you are now a capable adult who can take care of yourself and make life impacting decisions.

Safe to say, you are hardwired to become a consciously aware creator and choice-maker of thoughts and emotions. The choice to take the helm as captain puts your wise-self in charge of your choices (rather than the wounded-ego, ever ready to activate your survival system).

This is a form of self-love and self-acceptance, in which consious-you takes the reins, as a mature and wise parent (healed from early childhood survival-love maps) and wise parent, to retrain your brain (subconscious) with new conscious awareness of yourself, for example, that: you can be trusted to be charge of caring for yourself in previously “triggering” situations; you can remain connected to do your own thinking and reassess old triggers (frontal cortex); you can decide at any moment to self-activate your body’s relaxation response (parasympathetic division of autonomic nervous system) — and intentionally disallow any “unnecessary” activations of your body’s survival system (sympathetic division).

Like a smothering parent, it doesn’t trust you to take care of yourself, and automatically steps in to usurp the power of making conscious choices, at any moment, to thoughtfully respond rather than automatically react. To be fair, your subconscious is simply misguided into thinking you still need to be rescued to survive, believing old imprinted information (thus, it activates your survival system to lower the cortisol levels that are automatically released when your self-talk activates fear-based emotions).

An overprotective parent may mean well, however, they are hindering and not helping you, and you must lovingly let them know that: You are an adult. Your life is yours. You are capable. The power to choose, to learn from mistakes, to decide what is best for you, your life and relationships is your birth right. Thank your overacting “parent” (subconscious) for understanding and believing in you, and for meaning well and taking care of you to ensure your survival.

  • This perception gives you a new vision-led, action-orientation that says you own100% responsibility for generating the optimal states of mind and body that you need in key moments … to also respond optimally.

This puts conscious-you in charge of your choices and energy (emotion that fires and wires neurons!), more specifically, you understand that you always have a choice to allow your mind and body to remain at least relatively calm, centered, confident when a triggering event occurs, and that you choose the option that allows you to remain in charge of your own sense of safety from within.

As a capable and conscious choice-maker, you see life as a gift that continually invites you to ponder such big questions as:

Who will you become as a result of your experiences, an ever better version of yourself or bitter?

What possibilities do you envision the future you aspire to create, and will be the primary fuel that energizes your ship on course, love or fear?

In Part 4, the remaining two prerequisite shifts.

A Meditation to Awaken Whole-Heart (Conscious) Love

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-769Meditation and mindfulness are practices proven to strengthen our connection to emotions of the heart, in particular our ability to more easily and efficiently navigate the stormy seas of painful emotions, allowing us to thoughtfully respond rather than defensively run away or go into attack mode.

Based on recent findings in neuroscience, poets have been right all along: Love is the only antidote to fear, conscious love that is.

Brain research in the last decade inform us that empathy and aggression share the same brain circuitry, and that there is an inverse relationship between the two, in other words, when one goes up in intensity, the other goes down.

It takes love, a consciously empathic love for self and life at minimum, to stay present in the moment when a triggering fear shows up. Practicing empathy works to lower aggressive impulses (and, the opposite is true: a habit of aggressive reactions inhibits the capacity to respond with empathy).

The good news is that there is an array of positively charged emotions, rooted in love, ever willing and ready to refresh and strengthen us. Meditating on love-emotions of the heart empowers a uniquely insightful experience that can open up new possibilities to experience our self and life around us more fully, with our whole-heart rather than the limiting view depicted by fear (which one do you wish to be in control your imagination?). This comes in quite handy, considering that negatively charged emotions can also be great teachers, for example, telling us much about who we are and are not as human beings, what we’re capable of realizing, what we most yearn to contribute as unique individuals, and more.

Continue reading… »

Wired to Heal and Create Love-Connections: Four Stages of Building New Competencies

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

iStock_000001216907XSmallEmpathy is a listening and talking skill that is critical to healthy relating. It creates a love-connection, a buffer of sorts that serves to absorb some of the shock or impact of a painful experience (emotions…). Without empathy (for self and another), we are less likely to feel safe enough to prevent our body from unnecessarily activating its survival system.

We are social creatures, whether we think of ourselves in these terms or not, simply because our brain is a social organ. We naturally move in the direction of increasing our sense of mattering in relation to life in and around us, an emotional connection that frees us to engage and grow, to heal and learn how to restore inner sense of peace, balance.

In moments when we feel securely connected, we have access to our brain’s reflective processing capacity (frontal cortex), and thus are free to consider optimal choices (self-regulate). When our frontal cortex is in learning or online mode, we feel safe enough to make eye contact, to touch or be touched, to love and be loved, to accept and feel accepted for who we are, all of which are emotions communicated by looking into the eyes of another.

Continue reading… »

Couple Communications: 5 Prerequisites to Unlock Your Imagination (And Get Out of Stuck Places), 2 of 4

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

couples comYes, resolving conflict is a worthy goal, and understanding “the problem” is also important. The biggest obstacles in couple communications, however, more often have to do with unlocking the heart and imagination of each partner to want to hear or listen to what the other says, to want to understand where each is coming from, and so on.

As discussed in Part 1, what you “see” subconsciously in your mind when you think of your partner and your relationship, or your “discussions” for that matter, may just be what you get.

There are are at least five prerequisites to unlocking your hearts — and subconscious minds — to break free of images and mindsets that keep each of you locked in reactive patterns, defensive showdowns, and the like.

Continue reading… »

What You See Is What You Get: 5 Prerequisites to Re-Envision Your Couple Communications, 1 of 4

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

COUPLESIt cannot be said too often to couples: choose words (and nonverbals) carefully in sensitive discussions, more specifically, to opt for ones that energize optimal emotional states. This can mean letting go of triggering words or actions, and breaking old habits is not easy. What if the life and health of your relationship depended on it however?

The fact is, words produce images in your mind. Images produce emotions, and emotions shape behaviors. 

Continue reading… »

Handling Fears: Seven Steps to Break Through to Optimal Results, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-768The fear response can be a great teacher. In Part 1 we looked at three ways fear is your friend as an action activating signal. So, how do we handle fear to produce optimal results and meaningful change, when we get triggered? As an example, lets’ say the fear has to do with going after what you most want due to a fear of failure.

This article outlines a seven step approach.

1. Recognize and feel your emotions courageously, pausing to breathe deeply and notice your experience.

This first step allows you to turn within to recognize your emotions as natural responses, as key information you want to connect to — rather than fear or dismiss. Taking deep long breaths and noticing your experience is a key way to be present, and it also helps to recognize your feelings with words that identify your emotions and describe what you feel upset about, such as,

Continue reading… »

Handling Fears: Three Ways Fear Is Your Friend, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-248When we get triggered by an event, it’s tempting to follow the accompanying thoughts down a rabbit hole to the useless world of doubts and negative forecasts, and other “oh no’s and “what if’s.”

Doing so is usually counterproductive however and likely to intensify fear instead, perhaps to the point of activating defense strategies, and other stuck, harmful patterns. When thoughts intensify fears to levels that flood the mind and body with cortisol, fear can virtually shut down most normal processes of the body to include higher-thinking brain functions.

At best, this can leave us feeling powerless, perhaps losing our sense of hope.

There are more effective, and proven successful ways to handle fears, to learn and benefit from them, perhaps even support loved ones to do the same by modeling healthy responses. Before outlining some steps, there are several things to consider about fear:

Continue reading… »

How to Argue to Strengthen Your Relationship: The Power of Giving the Love You Each Want, 3 of 3

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.


Speaking of breaking free of the criticizing habit, a step discussed in Part 2, it’s a lot easier to achieve when you also shift your focus to wanting to understand what you each want, then actively giving or supporting each other to realize your wants and yearnings etc. – at minimum with the energy you bring. These two remaining steps strengthen your relationship, and are the subject of this post.

Step 4: Know What You Each Want — and Why

Step four consists of two parts: clearly understanding what you (really, really) want and why, and also what your partner wants and why.

Knowing what you want makes it more likely you will: (1) be heard and understood ; (2) say and express what you want in ways your partner can “listen” (not get triggered); (3) stay on topic focused on what is most relevant; and (4) eventually come to a mutually satisfying resolution.

Continue reading… »


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