My new book is an attempt to collect all that I have learned about life as a man, a spiritual seeker, a medical doctor and homeopath and as a psychotherapist. I have written chapters about how awareness can be be brought to virtually every aspect of life, including relationships, sexuality, dying and parenting. The chapter on Dealing with Emotions gives a detailed account of how we can learn to feel and process our emotions, instead of suppressing and projecting them. I offer this book to all who seek to grow into the fullness of their authentic selves.
The book can be downloaded from Amazon at:
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Paperback: order at: http://www.xlibris.com
There follows a table of contents and a sample chapter:
Table of Contents:
The Four Functions
Parenting Your Inner Child
Being a Man
Femininity and Being a Woman
Dealing with Emotions
Independence and Dependency
Relationship as a Tool for Growth
Being True to Yourself
Honor Your Father and Mother
Parenting Your Outer Child
Anger and Assertiveness
Spirituality and Religion
Boundaries and freedom
Change Yourself – Change the World
Pleasing Others – Pleasing Yourself
New Age Religion
On Death and Dying
Following Your Destiny
Independence and Dependency
We can love only in proportion to our capacity for independence
To be self-reliant is a great thing. It develops strength of character, and gives the self-confidence to face new challenges. Being self-reliant means we don't need to depend on others who may let us down, and an attitude of self-reliance generally helps us to attain our goals. Those who are self-reliant, whether through upbringing, natural constitution or a determined effort to become so, will generally fall into two broad categories. Some will be open in their relating to others and some will be closed. Some will have an open heart and others will be shut off from close relationship. The ideal is to be independent and open. However, most people tend to be either independent and closed, or dependent and open.
Independent and Closed
A great many people who prize their independence have trouble keeping their heart open. This is because their independence is actually a pulling away from people as a response to being hurt. This process starts in childhood. The child finds she cannot receive the nurturing she needs, and so she has to become strong to support herself. Unfortunately, this usually involves closing down the heart to avoid the emotional pain of abandonment. Consequently the majority of independent people are somewhat closed emotionally. To need someone else is to risk being vulnerable and hence feeling hurt. Many single mothers have this pattern. They attract a man who is unavailable to father their child, so that they do not have to be in relationship. Or they push the father of their child away after the child is born. These dynamics are usually unconscious, so if they apply to you you may not recognize them.
Single mothers may exaggerate the faults of their partner in order to justify pushing him away, and the anger they felt towards their parents as a child for abandoning them is then projected onto the partner. Such mothers tend to appear tough and independent. Usually they do not realize to what extent they have closed their heart down to all but their own child, who is seen as a safe source of love. Ironically, these independent women are actually very dependent on their bond with the child. They rely too much on their child for emotional support, and the result is a child who ends up looking after the mother and who resents her for it.
Similar dynamics often underlie the choice of independence over relating in men, and in women who are not single mothers. A great price is paid for such independence, so great that it may lead to depression.
If you have a tendency to turn down opportunities for relating to other people, you may be choosing independence over connection. If so, you will probably tend to avoid showing weakness and vulnerability, even with close friends. To show weakness would invite others to treat you as a vulnerable person, and that in turn would make you feel your vulnerability. If this sounds like you, ask yourself if you are happy avoiding emotional connection with others.
You may be the type that is good at listening to the troubles of others and giving advice, but not very good at telling your own troubles. You project a strong personality that is reliable and caring, but by hiding your own vulnerability you keep other people out. This is a kind of compromise whereby you feel secure because you are needed, but you avoid deeper connection because it is scary. If you really want to be emotionally healthy and open you can choose a better way of relating.
There is a way of connecting and being independent at the same time. However, it requires the wounds of the heart to be felt. As long as you close yourself to the pain in your heart you also close yourself to being open to others. It is fear of emotional pain that keeps us closed; fear of pain that is already inside our hearts. As a child the pain was too overwhelming to be felt and so it was suppressed. In order to suppress the pain we had to put a callous around our hearts, which keeps the pain hidden even from ourselves, but also stops us feeling love. To reverse this process takes courage. If you have been hiding from emotional pain all of your life it must be pretty scary. But the fact is, you are an adult now and you can cope with a lot more pain than when you were a child.
It is necessary to feel the suppressed pain in order to let it dissolve. That’s the bad news. The good news is that with practice you can learn to feel and process emotional pain without feeling threatened or overwhelmed. I have dealt with the process of feeling suppressed emotions in the chapter ‘Dealing with Emotions’. By following this process you will at first feel more vulnerable, and hence more dependent on others for support. But here we come to a very important choice. That is the choice of whether to rely on yourself for support, or rely on others. That fact is, if you believe that you can feel these painful feelings by yourself, without involving others, then that is usually correct. You strengthen yourself emotionally by being adult enough to feel pain without running for comfort. This is not the same as suppressing and avoiding your pain. You feel the pain and get on with it. You don’t avoid the pain and get on with it.
In order to process pain in a healthy way, it is important not to think about the cause of the pain. That will usually get in the way of fully feeling it. Pain will arise when you are ready without you having to go looking for it. There is no need to dig for it. And it is very important to avoid feeling like a victim by blaming others or feeling sorry for yourself. These are just ways of avoiding the direct experience of emotional pain. When you take the thinking mind out of the equation the quality of pain changes. It becomes a pure energy that is actually easier to bear than the combination of pain and resistance that we are more used to feeling.
There may appear to be a contradiction in what I am saying. On the one hand I have described people who avoid opening up by avoiding sharing their feelings with others, even though they may be good at listening to the feelings of other people. And on the other hand I recommend dealing with arising pain alone, without seeking comfort. Whilst at first there appears to be a contradiction, a closer investigation reveals that there is no inconsistency. Those who avoid talking about their feelings out of fear of becoming vulnerable would benefit from being more open, with close friends or partners for example. In speaking about feelings they would become more aware of their own feelings, and more willing to risk fully feeling them. Those who reflexively turn to someone for comfort when they are feeling emotional pain would benefit from learning to process their feelings without being comforted.
When pain is being felt fully and cleanly without any mental avoidance there is no need to become more open. Furthermore, seeking comfort tends to short-circuit the process of feeling the feelings that are arising. Group therapy facilitators are familiar with the phenomenon of participants seeking to soothe and rescue a person from feelings of deep emotional pain. The facilitator steps in to prevent the participants from short-circuiting the flow of emotional pain that is arising in the client. In this case, soothing from fellow participants encourages the client to regress to a child-like state where pain is avoided by seeking comfort. This is a disservice to the client, who is capable of processing pain as an adult, without intervention.
The above discussion touches upon a very real danger in the processing of emotions during counseling and psychotherapy. Whilst therapy can encourage a closed person to open up to their suppressed pain, the misguided offering of comfort by the therapist can then keep the client in an infantile state, unable to fully face the pain that arises. In other words the therapist becomes Mummy, and the client hides from her pain in the folds of Mummy’s skirt. This danger is especially great when the therapist is codependent, that is, he derives his security from being needed.
There is a proper place for the provision of comfort during therapy. An inexperienced client who is just learning to contact suppressed pain may need the encouragement of a comforting therapist to continue the process. This is similar to the hugs a mother gives to a child to help it through its first vaccination. It is, however, essential that the therapist gradually withdraws this comfort as the client becomes more confident in the process of feeling emotional pain. Many clients become addicted to therapy as a means of suckling on the symbolic breast of the therapist. They remain infantile emotionally, and the therapist is an unwitting collaborator in this. If you have been seeing a therapist for years and have a wonderful closeness to your therapist, and miss them painfully when they are away, you are likely to be falling into this trap.
The second situation in which it is helpful for the therapist to offer comfort is in cases where the client has just been traumatized or re-traumatized, particularly when the client is not experienced in processing pain. At such times the client may feel overwhelmed, and their need is more for a sense of safety and containment than for feeling all the pain that is arising. A comforting therapist can help contain the client and prevent regression due to emotional overwhelm.
Learning to Do Without Mummy
For most people there is still some work to do regarding achieving emotional independence. Remember, emotional independence is not the same as emotional closedness. On the contrary, it is only when we have achieved emotional independence that we are ready for mature, open relating. Until then our relating is at times coming from the level of a needy child. Whenever we are looking to get something emotionally from our partner or another loved one such as love or security we are coming from a needy space, and hence we tend to act unconsciously and in a driven manner. When we are needy we tend to be clingy, demanding and oversensitive to rejection. We feel vulnerable, and there is a danger that we hold the other person responsible for making us feel secure. This is not their responsibility. A parent is responsible for the emotional security of their child. No adult is responsible for the emotional security of another adult. (One might argue an exception in the case of a mentally retarded adult, who is still a child emotionally).
In our society it is considered normal for couples to need each other emotionally, to lean on each other and rely on each other for emotional support. Of course it is normal, but that does not mean it is healthy. Couples in which both partners are emotionally mature and hence able to give without taking are a rarity. Notice I use the word taking and not receiving. An emotionally mature adult gives and receives love without taking, that is, without sucking something they need from the other.
Does this mean that it is really unhealthy to seek comfort from your partner when you are going through a difficult time emotionally? Yes and no. The ideal is emotional independence with openness. Here the partner who is processing difficult emotions feels up to the task, and knows how to process emotions without feeling a victim, and without thinking there is anything wrong. They also know that when they seek comfort from their partner they are short-circuiting the processing of their emotions, just as a child seeks to soothe the pain of a grazed knee by getting a cuddle from Mummy. With this knowledge they may still choose to seek comfort as a break from feeling emotional pain, and this is not necessarily unhealthy. It is rather like someone on a diet who breaks the diet once in a while and allows himself to eat something fattening. It is their choice, made with full awareness.
More commonly, a person going through a difficult time emotionally will react unconsciously from the level of the needy child within. He or she will become clingy and perhaps demanding emotionally, without fully realizing what they are doing. Their partner may be quite tolerant and understanding of this behavior, and willingly offer comfort. Nevertheless, such dynamics on the part of the needy one belong within the spectrum of dependent, immature behavior, and the long-term goal for anyone seeking emotional maturity is to eventually transcend such dynamics.
From a practical point of view, now is always a good time to begin becoming conscious of your emotional responses. Once you become conscious that you are feeling insecure and seeking comfort from another you have a choice. Knowing that there is a choice is a vital element, one that is usually lacking. This is very similar to the situation in which an alcoholic realizes that he has a choice; whether or not to reach for the next bottle. The soothing of pain that you are seeking from your loved one (or even from a stranger) is no different from the soothing that the alcoholic seeks from his drink. Both are addictions, and both trap the addicted one into dependency and into remaining immature emotionally. One addiction is considered normal, whilst the other is considered a disease.
Once you are aware that you have a choice you can choose to feel the emotional pain inside fully, instead of turning to your partner/friend/relative for relief. What happens then is usually something of a surprise. As soon as you turn and face your pain it becomes bearable. And you feel almost immediately that you are stronger for facing the pain alone. There is nothing wrong with talking about your pain with your partner, but only if you can do so without making yourself a beggar again. Generally, it is better to feel the pain on your own, and talk about it after you have processed it. The habit of seeking comfort when we talk about our pain is so strong that it takes some time to break.
In my own life I had practiced feeling my emotional pain for years before I realized that I was still depending excessively on my partner for comfort. In fact, as a result of consciously processing my emotional pain (what Eckhart Tolle calls clearing the pain body), there came a time when I became more and more sensitive to being hurt, because I was finally directly in touch with very early feelings of abandonment. Truly, I felt like a little boy in need of his Mummy, and every time my partner was a little bit aloof I felt devastated by the pain in my heart.
Despite all the years of conscious emotional clearing that I had practiced, when it came to this primal pain I reacted unconsciously, blaming my partner for being insensitive to my needs. The hunger for love and security was so strong that I followed her round like a baby following its mother, even though a part of me knew this was not healthy. The adult in me knew that I was seeking the love I never received from my mother, but the child’s need drowned out such logic most of the time. The situation was seriously affecting my relationship, to the extent that I felt I could not receive what I needed from my partner, and wondered if the relationship was worth continuing with.
At this point, I knew I had to do something to develop emotional independence. I started practicing feeling my pain without blaming my partner. The pain was intense, but passed quickly when I felt it directly, alone in my room. But there was always more pain the next day, and the next. I oscillated between facing my pain and seeking comfort, or between facing my pain and blaming my partner. Eventually I decided to go on a Family Constellation workshop to work on my relationship to my mother. I knew that I had not ‘taken my mother in’. This vital step in turning back to the mother and accepting her fully is a cornerstone of Family Constellation practice. And I had been facilitating Family Constellations for several years, and yet had not been able to take in my mother. Every time she was represented in a Constellation she appeared either cold and unavailable or clingy, and neither seemed like the kind of mother I could fully embrace. And so I went along to yet another workshop, with the express intent of closing this gap. My reasoning was that as long as the Child within could not take in his mother’s love, I would go on feeling needy.
When it came to doing the Constellation the outcome was a surprise to me. The woman representing my mother was quite unable to be there for me, her son. This part was not a surprise. But how the facilitator handled it was. He told me to take my mother as she was. Up till then my understanding was that you cannot take your mother in if she is not open to you. But he told me to take her as she was. And so I told her that I took her as my mother, just as she was, unable to give me what I needed. It was perhaps what happened next that was the real turning point for me. The facilitator knew that I was having trouble feeling needy with my partner, and after I took in my mother, he said that now I must look to myself to find the emotional support I needed. Something inside me shifted, and from then on I ceased to lean on my partner for emotional support.
For the first few days it felt strange, and I felt more distant from my partner, but I also noticed a settling inside myself, a calming and a strengthening. Very soon I started to feel close to her again, but this time without feeling needy. When pain arose I felt it cleanly, without blaming her. The sense of being fully adult in my intimate relating was new and very satisfying. When my Inner Child was hurting my Adult was able to hold him. (I did not need to visualize this, it happened automatically without any volition or any visualization).
My own experience illustrates two important points. Firstly, to grow up emotionally I first had to stop looking to my (long dead) mother for comfort. Secondly, by finally accepting her as she was, unable to give me unconditional love, I was put in a position where I had to find another source of emotional strength. The facilitator then showed me the way, by pointing to myself as the source of the emotional succor I was seeking. It seems I had to give up looking in the wrong place before I could look in the right place.
Everybody is different, and each person will have a different path to emotional independence. However, I suspect each path will include the step of stepping away from the mother as a source of comfort, and the step of stepping toward oneself as its source.
What Emotional Independence Looks Like
For many people the idea of being independent from a partner emotionally seems strange, impossible or just wrong. Seeking support is such a natural and normal part of a partnership that not doing it seems like deleting an important part of the relating. The fact is, we can seek support as an adult or as a child. The two feel very different. When an adult seeks support for dealing with a problem, he or she does not react emotionally if no support is given. When a child in an adult’s body seeks support and does not receive it he or she feels hurt, and will usually either withdraw or blame or beg in some way. Check it out for yourself. You may be surprised to find that you are coming from the space of a child the next time you seek support from a loved one.
It is not that there is anything wrong with seeking emotional support from someone else. It is a question of degree. The more you learn to look after yourself emotionally, the more you have to give and the less you need to take. Someone who is truly adult emotionally in the way they relate to loved ones will still experience times of insecurity and early emotional pain. But the adult inside will ensure that the pain is felt and processed, instead of being bypassed. It is very difficult to seek soothing and to feel your pain fully at the same time. It is basically a choice one has to make. Most people never make that choice, because they don’t know there is a choice. If you know you have that choice, you may sometimes choose to seek comfort, and at other times choose to feel the pain and process it. And with practice you can lie in your partner’s arm enjoying their touch, and still feel your pain cleanly.
If this all seems new and strange, but you would like to try being more independent emotionally, here is what you can do; the next time you feel you are hurting inside and you find yourself moving towards your partner/loved one for comfort, stop and make the choice to feel the pain instead of soothing it. Then go somewhere where you can be alone, like your bedroom or bathroom, and focus on your feelings. Your thoughts are not your feelings. If in doubt, focus on the feelings in your chest and abdomen. This is where most emotional hurt is felt. If you stay focused, you will feel sadness or fear or hurt. Stay with it, and it will become clearer and probably stronger. When thoughts come, pay them no attention. If the pain you feel is strong you may feel that you can’t bear it. Stay with it.
By letting go of resistance emotional pain actually becomes easier to bear. You begin to have a ‘yes’ inside to feeling the pain, and that takes away most of the suffering. You may cry and that is fine. Just stay with the pain until it subsides. Then you will feel calm, and you will have taught yourself that you don’t need anyone to comfort you when you are in pain. That is a big step to becoming emotionally independent. And notice that there is no need to close off from your partner. This is your business and you are taking care of it, just like you take care of your finances or your personal hygiene. It is not your partner’s business, so you are doing nothing wrong by taking care of it yourself. On the contrary, you are growing up. There is nothing wrong with telling your partner about it afterwards if you want to. Or not.
By practicing taking care of your own emotions you are becoming an adult emotionally. Most people are still children emotionally some of the time. Some are children emotionally all of the time, some only occasionally. And most people are somewhere in the middle. They function independently until something triggers deep emotional pain, and then they seek comfort to soothe it. Again, there is nothing wrong in this. But it is not the way to emotional independence.
Your partner will certainly notice after a while if you are no longer coming to them so often for support. They may like it, or they may feel threatened by it. If they feel threatened try and explain what you are doing, and emphasize that you don’t love them any less. Tell them that you are going to stay just as open to them, but in a less dependent way. It may take time for them to understand, and they may need reassuring for a while that you are not cutting off from them.
If you find that you are feeling more distant from your partner after practicing emotional independence there are two possible reasons for this. One is that you are closing off from your partner in the process of trying to do it all by yourself. If this is the case, you need to try to stay open in your heart towards your partner when you practice feeling your pain. You are most likely to close off from your partner when you feel that they have hurt you. You do it to protect yourself from pain. But now you do not want to protect yourself from the pain. That was the old way that kept you immature emotionally. Now you can stay open and really feel the pain when your partner does something that makes you hurt. But not if you blame them. As soon as you blame them for hurting you you have become a victim and avoided facing your pain directly. So if you have become more distant from your partner in the process of feeling your pain, check to see if you are in any way blaming them. It can be very subtle. And if you find that you are blaming them for hurting you, remind yourself that you are responsible for everything that you feel, and that you are attracting exactly what you need from your partner. So there is no place for blame.
You may also cut off from your partner without blaming. This is also to be avoided. Many people feel very vulnerable when they decide to face their pain instead of running from it. And in response to this feeling of vulnerability they automatically close down their heart, especially to loved ones. Obviously this negates the whole purpose of the exercise. If you have shut down, you cannot feel your pain. So if you find that this has happened, consciously open up again to your partner. This may involve opening up by sharing your process with them, but that is not a necessity. What is needed is the attitude of risking being emotionally open to your partner again. Once you are open again, practice feeling a small pain on your own, and gradually you can increase the intensity of the pain that you process alone without shutting down to your partner.
The other possibility is that you feel detached from your partner after practicing feeling your pain because you are used to feeling connected on the Child’s level. You have been connecting from a needy place that hooks in to the other, and now you have detached some of these hooks. If this is the case you may feel rather neutral towards your partner for a week or two until you make the adjustment. We are used to relationship based on need. Much of what we call love is actually a mixture of the warm feeling of security and a sense of ownership over the other. When these are removed there can be a sense of detachment until we become sensitive to feeling adult love. This is a little like the feeling of flatness that comes when we are on a diet and we have given up the stimulation of the sugar and fats that we are dependent upon. After a while our palate adjusts, and we start to be sensitive to the fine flavors of other foods like fruits and vegetables.
Adult love is simply love without need or expectation or any sense of ownership. It always feels fresh, but it can be a little scary at first because it is unpredictable. The feeling of love comes and goes, just as a flower opens and closes. When you don’t feel it you still love your partner, but you are not registering love at that moment. This takes a little getting used to. In contrast, the feeling of ownership over your partner used to be constant, as was the (usually unconscious) feeling of dependence. So standing on our own two feet is like giving up the training wheels on a bicycle. It can feel a little scary until we get used to it.
What Adult Love Looks Like
It may help at this point if we take a closer look at what it feels like and looks like to be in a relationship and yet to be emotionally independent. First of all, you feel strong when you are being adult emotionally. There is a sense that you can take care of whatever comes along without having to lean on your partner. There is nothing to stop you sharing decisions and sharing your feelings so you can stay connected, but without needing your partner to look after you.
Many people notice that when they come back home to their parents they start to feel like a child again. When this is not happening, you as an adult can feel close to your mother or father without feeling dependent upon them. You are both adults, and you feel like equals. If your mother is sad she can tell you about it and she can cry, without you feeling you have to put your arm around her. You can feel empathy towards her without feeling that you have to save her from her pain. Similarly, if you are sad you can talk about it and cry, without expecting or needing your mother to soothe you. This is truly adult relating. It occurs when both parties are feeling emotionally strong (as opposed to emotionally closed).
If you are feeling strong and your mother is feeling needy, you have a choice. You can care, but choose to let her look after her own pain, or you can care and offer soothing and comfort. It is important to realize that both of these are valid choices. Neither is wrong. Which you choose depends upon the circumstances. For example, if your mother has just lost her husband you may chose to offer comfort, whereas if she has just realized that her best friend has betrayed her, you may choose to stand back and allow her to process her feelings alone.
So basically, if one of you is feeling strong and the other is feeling needy, then the strong one has the choice of whether or not to offer comfort. And there is no right or wrong in this regard. If you offer comfort the other will feel better. If you withhold comfort the other is forced to find strength within themselves. You may feel guilty at first if you withhold comfort, but with time you get used to a new way of relating, where you treat the other as an adult instead of a child. Whether they can cope with that or not is a big question.
There are several things that can happen when one partner begins to practice emotional independence. Firstly, the other may understand, and either start the same practice, or at least cope well with less emotional support. Secondly, the other partner may feel abandoned. In this case, he or she may protest or withdraw or both. At this point it is important to offer warmth and explanations. In time your partner may adjust to the new way in which you relate. If they cannot adjust, then you have several choices.
1. To remain adult and be with a dependent partner
2. To leave the relationship.
3. To give up being emotionally independent.
I do not recommend the third option. It is a betrayal of your own self. The other two options are both difficult, but they both allow you to continue to grow in maturity and strength. Whichever one you choose, there is no right or wrong.
If you are dependent upon your partner emotionally and they begin to practice emotional independence, you may start to feel insecure. This is natural. If you have some insight you will not blame your partner. Instead you will be glad for them - that they have found the strength to be more independent, even though it makes you feel insecure. You may even recognize the opportunity it brings you to face your own dependence and learn to process your own pain independently.
It is quite likely that you will, from time to time, fall into the trap of feeling like a victim (poor me), and blame your partner for being cold. Hopefully, you will then recognize what you are doing and apologize, and take responsibility for your own feelings. That way your relationship has more of a chance of surviving and thriving. The surest way to push your partner away is to keep on blaming them, and clinging tightly to them won’t help much either. Whether you like it or not, you are being forced to be more adult emotionally. The easiest path is to go with the flow and learn to practice emotional independence. Anything else gets pretty messy.
Being emotionally independent is very freeing. One effect it has is to free you from being controlled by guilt. Suppose your partner asks you to go on holiday with her in June, but you would really like to go on a seminar by yourself. You may feel guilty if you refuse her request, but if you look closely, this guilt feeling is really a feeling of fear. You are afraid of the consequences if you say ‘no’. One consequence is your partner’s anger. Another is the fear that you will hurt your partner. And a third is the fear you will lose your partner. All of these fears are commonly tied up together in the guilt feeling you get when you say ‘no’ to someone you love. And these fears can be so uncomfortable that you give up going to the seminar and do what your partner wants instead.
So what is the adult way of proceeding in this scenario? First of all, when your partner asks you to go on holiday in June, you can reply that you would rather go on your seminar (you may or may not want to soften it by saying you will go on holiday with her another time). Then when the guilt/fear arises in you, you face it head on. In other words, you drop all the defenses you would normally put up to lessen that guilt and fear. You just feel it. You feel it without thinking about it, until it has subsided. If it does not subside quickly (in, say, half an hour) it is being maintained by a belief that what you are doing is wrong. This belief has to then be identified, questioned, and dropped before you can act without unreasonable guilt blocking your options.
Your partner will probably come back with reasons why you should change your mind. You consider each one (either at the time, or later on, on your own), and decide if they are valid, bearing in mind that rescuing your partner from uncomfortable feelings is rarely a valid reason. During the process more fear or guilt may arise, or sadness or anger. Again you feel these feelings directly, and when they have subsided, decide whether any of your partners objections are valid. And if not, you tell your partner that you have decided to go on the seminar. If she then creates a scene or threatens you, she is reacting from an immature part of herself. You can appeal to her reason, that is, the adult in her, but if this fails you have to behave as if she is a child, by being clear and firm in your expression of your intentions. You would not (I hope) let a child tell you that you should not go on the seminar. Neither should you give in when the child in your partner tells you the same thing.
The freedom you gain from being emotionally independent means that for the first time in your life you can do what you want. It is your choice, not anybody else’s. That does not mean that you do not consider what other people want, or what is best for them. If you are a parent and you are becoming healthy emotionally, you will naturally consider whether your choices are good or not for your children. And sometimes you may choose a path that you know is not good for your children, because it is good for you. Not often, because that would damage your children, but sometimes, just because it is good for you. For example, you may decide to leave your kids with their grandparents whilst you go on holiday with your partner. Your kids may not like this, but that does not mean it is wrong. It is a question of timing, of feeling what you need, what you want, and what others around you want and need from you, and reaching a balance that you can live with peacefully. Once you have learned to confront and dissolve guilt the process is so much easier.
Couples who are emotionally mature tend to spend more time doing things separately than couples who are dependent. This is because each individual has their own interests, and there is no need to do things together all the time in order to feel secure in the relationship. Holidays may be taken alone, with the partner or with friends. One of the partners may move abroad for several months or more to pursue personal interests or for work. They may miss each other whilst apart or they may not. To some this independence sounds like aloofness, but that would be a mistaken impression. Two people can love each other deeply and be in a committed relationship, and yet enjoy spending long periods apart. It only looks strange because we are used to relationships between emotionally dependent people.
Just because two partners are emotionally independent, that does not mean that they are financially independent. They may be, and they are more likely to be than other couples, but they may also not be. For example, one member of the couple may own a house and the other may live in it for free, or may pay their partner rent to live there. One partner may have a high salary, and agree to pay for their other partner to attend university. Generally in the latter case there should be some recompense in order to preserve the balance of give and take. When this balance is not preserved, the receiver tends to feel guilty and may leave the relationship because of this. An example of recompense would be for the one attending university to pay back the money once they are working, or to work for the other for no pay after finishing university.
The question arises as to whether relationships between emotionally mature individuals are more or less liable to require fidelity. One can argue that fidelity is required in most relationships in order to protect both individuals from feeling insecure, and it would therefore not be required in a mature relationship. I believe that true fidelity is always required in meaningful relationships. And by true fidelity I mean being true to the agreement that you enter into with your partner. That agreement may involve monogamy or it may not. You cannot generalize. The more mature a person is emotionally, the less they feel the need to follow society’s expectations. So there are relationships between mature individuals where sexual exclusiveness is not expected, and others where it is. But fidelity to the agreement is always expected.
This also raises the question as to whether mature relationships are longer or shorter on average than less mature relationships. It is hard to answer this question, because mature relationships are not very common. However, there is no reason why a relationship between emotionally mature people could not last a long time, as long as it continues to be satisfying to both partners. Equally, there is no reason why it could not end after a short time. Every relationship is different, and fulfils different purposes. What is different in mature relationships is that neither partner expects the other to complete them. Furthermore, emotionally mature individuals tend to live in the present and tend not to assume that the future will continue like the present. In other words, they do not take for granted that the relationship will last indefinitely. This makes them more present to their partner, and more able to see their partner as a separate individual whose wishes and needs do not necessarily coincide with their own.
When you are living in an emotionally mature way, there is a certain space between you and your partner (or friend, or parent, or child). You each have your own space, and you come together to share experiences. This separation helps you to appreciate your partner’s uniqueness and individuality. When you are too close you cannot see the other. You have to step back a little. This does not entail loving any less. On the contrary, once you fully appreciate your partner’s uniqueness, love tends to grow even stronger. But it is not a clinging kind of love. As Khalil Gibran’s Prophet famously said, ‘the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow’.
It is common to confuse need and love. Feelings of love for a partner or a child are often mixed with feelings of neediness, and the mixture is called love. It is the only love many people have ever known. This is a little bit like mixing milk and alcohol and then calling the mixture milk. It is not completely wholesome, but it is addictive.
A lot of us consider that our love for our children is pure love, and it may be. If we received what we needed from our parents we will not be needy with our children, and we will be able to feel pure love. However, if we did not receive the loving that we needed as children then there is usually a needy element in our love for our children. When we feel pure love for our child it is not difficult to let them go, but when we feel needy love it is.
There is a pure kind of love that expects nothing and demands nothing, but it takes emotional maturity to feel it. It is felt as a fire in the heart, a delicious fire that burns up the sense of ego, leaving only pure awareness and love. It can be painful to feel at first, because this love burns away the dross of pain and resistance that keeps the heart closed, and this burning hurts. It is only when the dross has gone that the love is felt free of pain. Nevertheless, this pure form of love is so delicious that it is well worth the pain. It can be felt for a lover, a friend or even for a stranger. There is no knowing when it will arise, and when it will fade. But whilst it is felt, it is the most exquisite feeling the heart can know.
Such intense love is not the only form of pure love that can be felt. Milder forms of pure love can be there in the background almost constantly. They are a felt as a warmth when we are with certain people. And again they demand nothing.
The above description of intense pure love can resemble the intense love felt during an infatuation, when we fall in love. It is, however, quite different. When we fall in love there is an intense feeling of love, but it is mixed with a mental identification with the other. The other becomes idealized, and we feel a merging with them. This merging is not a feature of pure mature love. In the latter we remain ourselves, separate, and we feel intense love. When we are in love our sense of self becomes merged with the other, hence we lack clarity and objectivity. When we are in love we feel that the other completes us. When we feel pure love we feel independent of the one loved. Falling in love is a wonderful experience, and I am not criticizing it. But it is not a mature loving, and it cannot last.
Dealing with Guilt
When you begin to practice being emotionally independent guilt feelings may arise, particularly if your partner feels threatened by your change of behavior. Guilt can make us feel that what we are doing is wrong, but it is not a reliable guide to the moral value of our actions.
Bert Hellinger, the founder of Family Constellation Work, has made an in-depth study of guilt from the viewpoint of the whole Family System, and the larger systems of Community and Society. What he has discovered has profound implications for our personal freedom and our response to guilt feelings. Basically, Hellinger discovered that we feel guilt whenever we do anything that threatens our sense of belonging to the group. Think about this. A child feels guilty when she does something she has been told by parents not to do. The guilt stops her from doing it again, and so ensures she is accepted by the group (her family). In this sense guilt is a basic survival mechanism that is thousands of years old. It helps us to belong to the group.
In ages past if we got rejected from the group we died, even if we were adult. The feeling of guilt developed in tribal societies to keep the tribe together. So did the various taboos or prohibited behaviors that determined what was and what was not acceptable to the group. Neither the taboo nor the guilt has anything to do with absolute morality. One tribe’s right is another tribe’s wrong. Even today one family’s right is another family’s wrong. Once we realize that guilt is not a good guide to what is wrong or bad for us it becomes easier to deal with. Guilt is a conditioned response, and it should not be allowed to rule our lives.
If guilt arises to help us remain in the group, we will have to face guilt whenever we want to do anything that our group disapproves of. In fact, we are facing our fear of being expelled from the group. If this group is our immediate family and we are a child, then the consequences are too scary and we have to tow the line in most cases. But if we are an adult we can look after ourselves and consequently we needn’t be a slave to guilt. In other words, we can risk being expelled from the group, or from the relationship to our partner in order to do what we want to do.
Many of us have to break free from our family or our community or our religion in order to be ourselves. In the process we will face feelings of guilt which can be very powerful. Knowing why they come up will enable us to face them, feel them and move beyond them. Once we have moved beyond our family in this way we are free from the restraints of our family values and free to follow our own values without feeling guilty. Similarly, we can move beyond the restraints of our culture, our religion or our community, and in fact we have to if we are to become free individuals, following our own will.
This does not mean we have to turn our back on our family, culture or religion. In most families, following our own values will ruffle some feathers and upset some members, but it will not result in our exclusion from the family. It may mean that we mix more with some members of the family than others, but that is a price worth paying for the freedom to be ourselves. The same goes for our culture and our religion. In most cases we can follow an independent line and still remain a member. For example, many Catholics use contraception in contravention of the religion’s teachings. But they still go to mass and remain in the Catholic Church. Some will feel guilty when they use contraception, and others will have gone beyond guilt feelings. The bottom line is, we have to risk offending the group in order to be ourselves. Not that we want to or seek to offend the group. But if that is what it takes to be free, then it is worth it.
Moving Beyond the Family
Moving beyond the family or the larger group can be scary. There is a feeling of insecurity that arises when we risk our belonging to the tribe. Will we survive and thrive on our own? This is a bit like leaving the security of home to start school when we are 5, or leaving home when we are 18 to live with friends. It is a necessary step in growing into who we really are. Nature is efficient but it is not sentimental. When the mother bird shoos her chicks out of the nest, they either fly or they die. We humans either fly or we limp along. There is no guarantee that we will thrive outside the security of the group, but if we don’t try we will never grow our wings and be free.
Some people are in situations where they are truly dependent upon the group. In addition to children there are physically and especially mentally disabled people who cannot manage without support. But even here, they can often move beyond the family and be supported by the community. There are also many people with inadequate personal resources who are needy out of weakness. Again, most of these people can very gradually increase their independence by taking risks and being more self-reliant. And then there are the majority of us, who have made compromises here and there, giving up true freedom to belong to the family or the community. If you are one of these, you have to decide whether you want safety or freedom. If you choose safety that is fair enough. If you choose freedom the rest of this chapter is aimed at supporting that choice.
One of the consequences of choosing freedom over safety can be loneliness. Since most people have compromised their freedom, usually without even knowing it, there are not many fellow travelers on the road to freedom, and the ones we come across may be difficult to be around or find us difficult to be around. The more we develop our individuality, the more we know what feels right for us and the less willing we are to tolerate relationships that do not serve us. This means we will have to be alone at times. For some being alone is a torture. If that is the case, it is good for you. Just as the people in a yoga class that hurt the most are most in need of the yoga. (The instructor calls it intensity, but we know it is pain).
If you find it hard to be alone it is because you are forced to face painful feelings from the past. Usually the pain of being alone was experienced at some time in early childhood, and it was felt to be unbearable. And so it was suppressed by crying, keeping busy or by seeking out people. Now that you are alone the pain comes back up to be felt and fully processed. Once it has been fully processed (fully felt) it can be let go of. There is no easy way out. The pain has to be felt if we are to become strong and independent.
This does not mean our whole life has to be a misery when we are alone. We can still see friends, do fun things or meditate. But when the pain comes up it has to be felt. After a time our circumstances will change and we will no longer be alone. If we have used our time alone to its fullest we will be more emotionally independent when we live with other people again. In the meantime, the more we learn to parent our own Inner Child when he or she is hurting, the less need we feel to be in a relationship. Eventually it becomes a choice rather than a need.
Moving beyond the family means letting the family be exactly as it is. There is no point in moving physically away from the family and then harboring fear or resentment toward them. Then you are still caught. You can’t be free of an individual or a group if you cannot accept their reality. And acceptance isn’t some compromise where you say ‘Fine, I won’t think about you any more because you are not worth it’. That’s avoidance, not acceptance. It may seem impossible to come to a point of acceptance of your mother or your father if they have hurt you, but it is possible and many people achieve it. It may require quite a bit of therapy. And it will certainly require the practice of acceptance in the moment.
I deal with the practice of acceptance in the chapter on Religion and Spirituality, but let us just quickly recap on the practice of acceptance as it applies to someone you have not forgiven, say, your father:
The first pre-requisite for accepting your father is to accept what happened, however painful it was and however wrong it seemed. Accepting is not the same as approving of, but it is not so far apart either. The easiest way to accept what happened is to accept that we all have a particular fate. In other words, what happened had to happen. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. The point is, this attitude helps in accepting the past. A helpful addition to this attitude is the attitude that everything that happened to you happened for a reason, and there is a lesson in it for you. Again, it does not matter whether this is true or not. Adopting this attitude makes it easier to accept the past. And acceptance is absolutely necessary for freedom from the past. The ultimate attitude in this regard, the most helpful one, is the attitude that ‘Everything is supposed to be exactly as it is’.
It also helps to remember that your father was a product of his upbringing, and of the unseen family dynamics that affect several generations. In other words he was not acting freely, but was bound by conditioning and by unseen family currents. With the help of these four attitudes you can gradually come to accept what happened and what your father did. It takes practice, but you can do it. When resentment does arise toward your father, notice that you feed it with certain thoughts such as, ‘If you hadn’t done that, I would be fine today’. Or ‘You had no right to do what you did’. These thoughts are not helpful even if they are true. They keep you as a victim, and prevent you from accepting your father and your past. When you stop feeding the resentment with such thoughts it wanes. It also wanes when you feel it cleanly and directly without thinking. It usually changes first to pure emotional pain, and then it gradually dissolves. And then you are free from your past.
Once you have accepted your father as he was and as he is you will know, because thinking of him is no longer unpleasant. It is either neutral or pleasant. Even if he is still a murderer or a pedophile, once you have accepted him it doesn’t bother you anymore. (That doesn’t mean you would leave your children with him. That is another matter entirely). And once you have accepted your father, you are free to choose whether to see him or not, and how to be with him. There is no wrong or right. It is entirely up to you. So whether you engage with your father is no indication of whether or not you have accepted him as he is. You could see him every day and never accept him, or accept him but never see him. And everything in between. So it is very important not to confuse emotional independence with avoidance of people who have hurt you. You are independent when they no longer affect you negatively and you don’t have to avoid thinking about them.
Being Alone and Independent
The purpose of developing emotional independence is not to be better at being in relationships. That is one of its benefits, but the purpose is to feel whole whether you are in a relationship or not. And so being alone is no longer something to be avoided once you have achieved your independence. The need to feel supported and loved is probably the greatest force responsible for people getting into relationships. Take away that need and the pull to be in relationship diminishes. There is still a need, or at least a desire for company and love, but it can be satisfied by friendship or by brief affairs.
It can be peaceful being on your own. You don’t have to fit in with anybody else. This is particularly attractive if you are embarking on a period of creativity, for example if you are writing a book or if you are focusing more on meditation, or training for a sports competition. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about living alone and not being in a relationship. It depends on why. For many it is a period of recovery after being hurt. And for a few who have overcome the need for emotional support it is simply the preferred option.
People who have achieved emotional independence have an air of confidence about them. They do not need to please anyone and so they can just be themselves. This gives them a lot of freedom compared to most people. In most cases they enjoy the company of other people, especially more healthy people, and so they do not appear to be hermits. They can appear a little intimidating because they have a natural strength about them but they are unlikely to be arrogant. Arrogance is a defense mechanism against insecurity.
Emotional independence is a worthy goal, one that will challenge you to face your deepest fears and question a lot of your motivations. It is a prize that is not won lightly, but one that brings not only freedom from compromise and freedom to act according to your own desires, but also a heart that is ready to feel love fully, without conditions.