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So many of us spend our lives fantasizing:
I’ll be happy when…
>> My partner changes
>> I meet the right person
>> I make more money
>> I lose the weight
>> I achieve the next milestone
This type of disconnect from the present moment via hopeful projection into the future is completely normalized in our society.
Yet, inability to stay in the present moment is a trauma response.
Escaping into an idealized future that’ll happen someday is avoidance, a form of coping with the less-than-desirable present moment. This is what often leads us to feeling stuck—in our relationships or in our lives—because the present moment is the only space where our life actually unfolds. Fantasy is avoidance of reality.
I know how this works because for many years I lived in a fantasy of a better future, without actually doing anything that could make that future possible.
When I realized that my husband was not the knight in shining armor, but a human with his own trauma and maladaptive survival strategies—just like me—I was so uncomfortable that all I could do was find refuge in an escape. I spent a lot of time hoping and demanding that he would change in order to satisfy my needs better or imagining how I’d leave one day if he didn’t change.
I only recently understood that the heightened emotional discomfort I experienced in my relationship was due to a combination of my outdated beliefs, unrealistic expectations, and my disregulated nervous system, and was not caused by my husband. It was old pain that I hadn’t dealt with: somatic tension (trauma) that’s been trapped in my body since childhood and hasn’t been given the opportunity to be resolved and released.
The dance I’d (unconsciously) co-created with my husband helped me access the pain of my old wounds. As in the past—during the time of original wounding some time in childhood—the emotional pain was flooding my system and was extremely uncomfortable. I distracted myself from what was happening in my body by focusing my attention on judging and criticizing my husband.
This is how I observed people in my environment deal with strong emotions for most of my life: putting the responsibility for our emotional state on others. This maneuver is also promoted by most relationship conversations where we try to focus on and pathologize the perceived flaws of our partners. This is why so many of us feel stuck in relationships: when we blame and project our emotional pain on others, we continue deflecting and escaping it, rather than looking within to make sense of and process our own feelings, resolving them rather than postponing.
I recently learned that resentment, righteousness, and nit-picking are symptoms of an agitated nervous system in a state of fight. So are anger and frustration. Worry and an urge to flee are our flight. Helplessness and shame are our freeze. Care-taking and over-responsibility are fawn.
Living from a stress disorder has been so normalized in our society that we are not even aware that we spend most of our life disregulated. Most of us were not aware that the state of our relationships has more to do with the state of our nervous system than with our partners. We were never taught or modeled how to self-regulate and instead deal with emotional angst or discomfort by resorting to coping mechanisms, such as doubting and criticizing our relationship partners, numbing our feelings via addictions, or escaping in fantasy.
Meanwhile, our precious life is passing us by.
“I do so much work on me and he isn’t really. What if he doesn’t change?” is a phrase that I hear often in my conversations with women. The combination of words may vary, but the meaning is usually the same: He is not doing enough. He is not good enough.
Enough for what? Enough for whom? When we are used to deriving our sense of value from people outside of ourselves, we tend to take their weaknesses and failures personally.
This enmeshment starts in childhood, when we form our self-concept and sense of worth according to how others behave with us or around us. As adults, we continue determining our worth from outside factors: from our own achievements and possessions, as well as from how our partners and children fit into ours and societal expectations.
It took me a long time to identify the poisonous feeling in my system when I would dwell on my husband’s imperfections. I only recently understood that it was shame. I felt ashamed to be with a less-than-perfect person.
I now see that I am not alone in feeling this way. When the messy humanness of our partners activates our own feelings of inadequacy and not belonging, we’d rather focus on them. We are ashamed to stay with partners who are not fitting into the box we’ve conjured up for them. Because how does it reflect on me if I stay with this regular traumatized and flawed human?
Then the question arises: Am I settling?
I believe this is the wrong question. The question to ponder instead is: How do I measure my value?
In a world where our sense of “not enough” fuels global economy, the relationship advice further promotes intolerance. The long lists of red flags to watch out for teach us how to disqualify people from coming close to us, and downloadable scripts of conversations to have before we consider dating promote further disconnect, suspicion, and judgment of others.
We do not give people space to be human. I see it stemming from our inability to accept our own messy humanness.
Common relationship expectations lead us to dehumanize our partners as need-fulfilling, validating machines. Expecting the pacifying and nurturing love of a parent in our adult relationship is the re-enactment of unmet childhood needs. Such expectations leave no space for our partners’ own complicated humanity, and ignore the fact that they exist outside of their relationship with us.
Moving out of mental fantasy and into embodied present moment allows us to actually get to know people who may already be in our life. We can then build real relationships with these real people, rather than comparing them to our idealized mental projections.
However, to see, hear, understand, and accept another human being, we need to complete our own emotional development (disrupted in childhood) and learn to see, hear, understand, and accept ourselves.
When we connect to what it feels like to be a sovereign being—happy on our own, happy with a partner—togetherness and separateness start holding equal appeal. Because we remain connected to our own life no matter what the other is doing, there is no loss of self when we are together and no need to change our partner for us to feel better about ourselves.
The yearning for love, for connection, for relationship, for communion is an inherently feminine energy. The masculine counterpart is independence and pragmatism. These traits exist in all of us. Inner marriage is our individual ability to marry these two parts within: anchored in pragmatism (meeting needs, taking care of life) and openness to meeting and being with another.
To re-pattern the dysfunctional relationship dynamics we’ve inherited, reparenting our inner child and cultivating a harmonious inner marriage (healing and balancing the masculine and feminine energies within) are powerful tools.
A dose of realism reminds us that no one will ever be an ideal partner. Instead of looking for our perception of perfection, which perpetuates our disconnect from reality, we learn to love the person who may already be in our life. When we reparent our own inner child, we learn to create safety for others to reveal to us who they are, while we learn to embrace and even love the quirks and imperfections in all of us.
Ten years into reparenting my inner child and rebalancing the distorted and wounded feminine and masculine energies within me, I am learning what it means to honor my husband. I no longer live in a fantasy that there’s a better man for me. I’m invested in learning to love the man whom I chose to share my life.
As our 33rd wedding anniversary approaches, I’m practicing communicating about things that do not work, rather than silently keeping a list that would justify my departure when I can’t take it anymore. I am learning to address subjects that still carry emotional charge for us from the place of a calm nervous system. It takes skill to express myself in a way that increases chances for me to be heard. When I blame and judge, I see how he closes off in defensiveness. When I treat him in the same way I want to be treated, he hears me and I see evidence that my words make an impact.
Learning to self-regulate helps me to remain in the present moment. The present moment is where I can take concrete steps toward the future of my dreams.
The future I’m building is no longer to avoid my life. As I integrate all the previously discarded painful parts, I am learning to be fully present in the now. As I learn to relate to real people in my life, I am able to innovate and to find creative solutions toward fulfillment. As I learn to live in reality, I am able to process the pain from the past, where so much of my energy used to be diverted. I now use this liberated energy and the access to personal power it gives me toward enjoying my precious life. While I engage with my life and people in it as fully and as truthfully as I can, I live on purpose.
By being in presence, we have the capacity to make peace with and integrate the past, so we can embody wisdom from our life experience. This allows us to innovate, to be creative, and to change what no longer works so we can build a different future than the one we’ve inherited.
And by all accounts, there is an undeniable need right now to build a future that does not resemble the past.
Learn how to solve your relationships problems by prioritizing your relationship with yourself. Contact me for a free introductory conversation.