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“From the cradle to the grave, humans desire a certain someone who will look out for them, notice and value them, soothe their wounds, reassure them in life’s difficult places, and hold them in the dark.” ~ The practice of Emotionally focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection by Sue M. Johnson
Most of us enter relationships with a void—a blank space—hoping, wishing, expecting, and even being told that someone else is going to fill that for us.
And we don’t even realise that these ideas—that someone will complete us or is our better half, or being asked the perennial question, “What will we do without a partner?”—end up crippling our already existing sense of self, which is whole and complete in itself.
We have everything that we need for ourselves—within us. Yet, we fall prey to this fallacy that we are not.
Yes, we can’t meet all our needs on our own all the time. We, as human beings, are not designed to function completely alone and isolated. We are dependent on other fellow human beings for our needs, desires, and expectations. Therefore, we are “interdependent.”
But it doesn’t change the fact that we are responsible for our own needs as adults. Hence, finding the source to meet those needs is our responsibility. Similarly, the kind of dependence we foster within our relationships also comes from our self.
The more connected, integrated, and whole we feel within ourselves, the more we will be able to create “constructive dependence”: a secure connection with others that allows us to operate as a separate and autonomous being.
But when we come from a space of lack and need somebody else to validate our existence, then we create dependency—placing the entire burden of our existence and fulfilment of each and every need on that one person or relationship.
Then the boundary between self and the other becomes blurred or even nonexistent, and it gets exhausting for both people in the relationship.
The fact is that there are no right people or right relationships. We have to find people who feel right for us, who can offer that secure base from which we can go out and explore the world and come home to.
But how can we find such people if we are not in touch with ourselves? If we don’t understand what we need? If we don’t know what our home feels and looks like? Most importantly, if we keep deluding ourselves into believing that we are incomplete without someone else?
This simply comes from a space of lack. And that lack is for us to fill.
Because when we enter any relationship with this empty space and without the awareness of how we would like it to be filled, people will give us what they want and what they can and we won’t be able to do much about it.
This is why so many of us end up in relationships where the other person (not the other half) is emotionally unavailable.
The fact is that when we don’t know what we want, we eventually end up settling for what we are getting.
When we are not available for ourselves, we lose the capacity to gauge how available or unavailable the other person is. The problem is not that the other person is unavailable. The problem is that we fail to see that the other person is unavailable to our needs.
Imagine you favorite a kind of music that calms and soothes you and then imagine walking into a space that is playing the complete opposite of what you like and what you can even tolerate. How would it be for you if you were to spend days and weeks listening to such music?
Similarly, there is an emotional dance taking place in every relationship, and we decide what kind of music we want. So, if we don’t know what kind of music we like, we will be forced to dance to someone else’s preference. If we know the kind of music we like but don’t state it out clearly, we’ll be met with the same results.
Therefore, for a beautiful, smooth emotional dance to occur within a relationship, we need to find someone who understands the same music and is willing to dance together on that.
When we enter a relationship thinking and believing that we are incomplete, we operate from a space of a lack of self-awareness, insecurity, and fear, and to find that security, we end up dancing to tunes that don’t resonate with us.
So while we enter a relationship feeling “incomplete,” at the end, the self is exhausted, crushed, and dead.
The fact is that we all have our attachment patterns that bring in different kinds of needs and expectations in the relationship. We all understand, process, and regulate emotions differently. We all have our own ways in which we want to be held, loved, listened to, and cared for. We are the starting point of all those needs and the ways in which they need to be met.
Before we can expect or even ask someone to be available for us, we need to be available for ourselves. Only then can we truly end this cycle of getting into one emotionally unavailable relationship after the other.
“We only find emotional unavailability attractive when we are unavailable ourselves. When we are truly ready for love, we don’t tolerate people who aren’t ready to meet us there.” ~ Mark Groves
It starts with “I,” moves into “You,” and then blends into “Us.” Two unique entities, forming a whole, which is not perfect, but aligned. So then how do we become emotionally available to ourselves first?
We do that by understanding that every relationship has two elements: within and between—what’s happening within us (our inner world) and between us (the world of the relationship). Hence, we begin by going within and learning to be available for our own selves.
To become emotionally available to ourselves, we need to develop and allow our innate understanding and acceptance of the following to emerge:
1. Accepting and allowing our emotions to emerge and flow without questioning or judgement. We need to be emotionally brave with ourselves first before we can turn to someone else.
2. Being mindful of what kind of communication helps us to open up, makes us feel heard and supported, and what shuts us down.
3. Setting boundaries and saying no to what makes us feel comfortable.
4. Asking for what we want instead of ignoring or belittling our own needs and also judging what needs the other person is being able to meet and which are the ones they struggle with or simply can’t meet so that we can decide whether and how much to pursue. The idea is to get our needs across in a way that respects both people.
5. Being aware and respectful of our negotiables and nonnegotiables.
6. Accepting our own vulnerabilities and allowing them to be.
7. Engaging in self-soothing strategies when needed.
8. Noticing, acknowledging, accepting, and healing the parts of us that have been wounded, hurt, or were simply unseen and how they tend to show up in our relationships.
9. Spending time on our own personal growth and development. The more we evolve, the better our relationships become.
10. Last but not least, saying “I love you” to our own selves with all our heart to be able to receive it fully and completely from someone else.
It’s only when we don’t understand ourselves that we settle for less and give more than we should. When we do understand ourselves, we don’t need to settle, and we give and receive with an open heart.
After all, the quality of the relationships we choose is a reflection of the quality of the relationship that we have with our own selves.
Thus, the key that enables us to unlock the potential of a stable, secure relationship is this: being emotionally available to your own self.