The following are extracts which resonated with me. Any typos are dictation errors.
We feel loved when we receive attention, acceptance, appreciation, and affection, and when we are allowed the freedom to live in accord with our own deepest needs and wishes.
Is there a way to increase our capacity to give and receive these essential elements of love? Yes, we can do it through mindfulness, an alert witnessing of reality without judgement, attachment, fear, expectations, defensiveness, bias, or control.
The main psychological tools are working through personal and childhood conundrums with a commitment to identify, process, and resolve issues so that you may change and grow. The spiritual tools are letting go of ego, increasing mindfulness, and cultivating an ethic of compassion. We achieve mindfulness when reality takes precedence over our ego.
A relationship can force us to revisit every feeling and memory in the legend of ourselves. In our psychological work of addressing, processing, and resolving emotional blocks and problems, we pay attention to feelings, explore their implications, and hold them until they change or reveal a path that leads deeper into ourselves. In our spiritual practice of mindfulness, something very different occurs. We let feelings or thoughts arise and let go of them... Each of these approaches has its proper time, and we need both of them... Therapy without mindfulness takes us only to the point of resolving our predicament. Mindfulness with therapy helps us to dissolve the ego that got us into it in the first place.
The home we leave
No one relates with perfect ease without learning the skill, just as no one dances with perfect ease without instruction... A relationship may look successful, but it may not be providing true intimacy or commitment. As dancers we can refuse to improve our skill with little consequence to anyone else, but if we do the same thing in a relationship someone may get hurt.
...It is our responsibility to expend the energy it will take to practise and become skilful at relating well. It does not come automatically. We will have to learn, be taught, grieve our past, work in therapy, get to know our true self, undo years of habits, practise with a partner, follow a spiritual practice – and read and work with a book like this.
If we can mourn the past and thereby diminish its impact on our present lives, we can then maintain our boundaries while still bonding closely to a partner.
Those who love us understand us and are available to us with an attention, appreciation, acceptance, and affection we can feel. They make room for us to be who we are.
...The neurotic ego, on the other hand, is the part of us that is compulsively driven or stymied by fear or desire, feeding arrogance, entitlement, attachment, and the need to control other people. Sometimes it is self-negating and makes us feel we are victims of others. This neurotic ego is the one we are meant to dismantle as our spiritual task in life. Its tyrannies frightening intimacy away and menace our self-esteem.
Mindfulness is an elegant Buddhist practice that brings our bare attention to what is going on in the here and now. It does this by freeing us of our mental habit of entertaining ourselves with ego-based fears, desires, expectations, evaluations, attachments, biases, defences, and so on... Meditation is the vehicle to mindfulness in all areas... Mindfulness is not meant to help us escape reality but to see it clearly, without the blinding overlays of ego.
Mindfulness is being an adult. It is unattainable for someone who lacks inner cohesion, personal continuity, and integration. Being a fair witness requires a healthy ego, because distance and objectivity are unavailable to someone with poor boundaries, no tolerance of ambiguity, and no sense of a personal centre.
Both psychological work for individuation and spiritual practice for egolessness will always be required as dual requisites for the enlightenment of beings... Meditation is not to be attempted in any serious way if we are not psychologically ready for it. At the same time, we can begin simple meditation daily as an adjunct to psychotherapeutic work. This book advocates working on the psychological and the spiritual simultaneously and in bite-size chunks.
The Self is unconditional love, perennial wisdom, and healing power. We are never without it. To find ourselves spiritually is to acknowledge our destiny to use our ego skills to serve the purposes of the Self... After all, we cannot expect from a partner what can only come from the Self/universe/higher power.
(In childhood) we learned to stand guard over our unique wishes and needs in early life if showing them was unsafe. We learned to defend the delicate and vulnerable core of ourselves from humiliation, depletion, or distrust. Those were skills, not deficits... We may still feel that way and still be using our old defences... many of us have unrelenting longings for whatever was missing from our childhood. Every intimate bond will resurrect these archaic yearnings, along with the terrors and frustrations that accompany chronically unmet needs.
In healthy intimate relationships we do not seek more than 25% of our nurturance from a partner; we learn to find the rest within ourselves.
When we did not receive fulfilment in one or more of the five A’s, a bottomless pit was created in us, an unfulfillable yearning for the missing piece of our puzzling and arid past. Mourning an unfulfilled childhood is painful. We feel grief because we know we will not be able to control its intensity, its duration, or its range, and so we look for ways around it. But engaging with our grief is a form of self-nurturance and liberation from neediness. Paradoxically, to enter our wounded feelings fully places us on the path to healthy intimacy.
...Two children are tugging at each other’s sleeve, shouting in unison “Look what happened to me when I was a kid! Make it stop, and make it better for me!” In effect, we are asking an innocent bystander to repair a problem he has no knowledge of and little skill to repair. And all the time and energy that goes into that transaction distracts us from the first part of our work: repairing our own lives.
The recurrent fantasy of, or search for, the “perfect partner” is a strong signal from our psyche that we have work to do on ourselves... A relationship cannot be expected to fulfil all our needs; it only shows them to us and makes a modest contribution to their fulfilment.
It is a given of life that nothing is permanently and finally satisfying. Despite this fact, many of us believe that somewhere there is a person or thing that will be permanently satisfying. Such a chimerical belief, and the restless, desperate seeking that follows from it, can become deeply disheartening and self-defeating.
...Faulty attunement in early life may lead to fear of standing up for ourselves later or keep us from trusting that others will come through for us. We fear exposing some regions of our psychic typography because of our inbred despair of ever finding the requisite human mirroring.
...When others give you attention, they also confront you directly when they are displeased, harbouring no secret anger or grudges. But they always do this with respect and a sincere desire to keep the lines of communication open.
To accept their children, parents must be free of preconceived plans or agendas for them... this means not being disappointed with us for breaking a bargain we never made.
Most of us know just what it takes for us to feel loved. What we have to learn is how to ask for it. A partner is not a mind-reader, so it is up to each of us to tell our partner what our brand of love is. And if we have to teach a partner how to love us, we also have to learn how to love him. Knowing this makes it clear that love is not a sentimental feeling but a conscious choice to give and receive in unique and often challenging ways.
As adults, we may see a beautiful body and think: “Having that to myself will make me happy.” What happened to us that made us so confused as to think our needs could be fulfilled by a pretty face?
...Affection is not love but only part of it. To be held and cuddled but not allowed later to make choices freely and without blame will soon be revealed as inadequate and untrustworthy.
Mirroring freedom means encouraging the liveliness and passion in others rather than squelching it for our own good or safety. True allowing also means letting someone go. To allow is to stand aside when someone needs space from us or leaves us.
Spiritual commitment to the five A’s:
Attention means consciousness of the interconnectedness of all things
Acceptance means saying an unconditional yes to the sobering givens of existence, the facts of life
Appreciation means the attitude of gratitude
Affection means the love we feel for others and for the universe
Allowing means that we grant to others and protect in ourselves the right to live freely and without outside control
Love and less
We all have what it takes to feel, but to experience our feelings fully and safely they have to be “installed”, in a sense, by someone through mirroring... When our feelings as children are minimised, proscribed, or disregarded, we can’t hear the full range of feeling tones, and a part of us becomes inert and numb.
Imagine the joy we feel when someone comes along who welcomes and loves us with all our feelings... On the other hand, how crushed and disappointed we feel when we attach ourselves to someone whose love turns out to be a hoax, who shows no real acceptance of what we feel or who we are. Who can blame us for numbing ourselves again?
“Transmuting internalisation” provides us with an inner nurturant parent, a coherent adult self that can protect the inner child.
...I may have decided in the midst of the unalterable deprivation in my past: I just won’t need what isn’t there.
Mindfully loving partners never consciously engage in hurtful behaviour toward one another. They police themselves and place under arrest all the pilferers from the ever so pregnable hope chest of intimacy: vendetta, violence, ridicule, sarcasm, teasing, insult, lying, competition, punishment, and shaming.
In a functional family, parents separate if one of them is an addict or an abuser and refuses help. The other parent does not let abuse go unnoticed, and the children never become objects of inappropriate need fulfilment by either parent.
Often the feeling of loneliness results not from a lack of people to entertain us but from the absence of an adult self to nurture our inner child who feels abandoned in some way. (Loneliness is also an appropriate way to feel as we make transitions, take a stand, become more spiritually aware, or find ourselves.)
Natalie Goldberg: “Use loneliness. Its ache creates urgency to reconnect with the world. Take that aching and use it to propel you deeper into your need for expression – to speak, to see who you are.”
Mindfulness shows that a hole is a tunnel not a cave.
Can this relationship provide a zone of security where the submerged parts of me can surface?
Mature adults bring a modest expectation of need fulfilment to a partner. They seek only about 25% (the adult dose) of their need fulfilment from someone else, with the other 75% coming from self, family, friends, career, hobbies, spirituality/religion, and even pets.
Chekhov: If you fear solitude, don’t get married.
Intimacy entails openness to others’ feelings. However it does not mean allowing ourselves to be abused. We speak up and say “ouch!” directly to someone who hurts our feelings.
Struggles along the way
...Even more important than finding a partner is taking care of our hearts in a dating game that can be a devastating enterprise of broken promises and disappointed expectations. Caring for ourselves while dating means not betraying our true nature in a desperate attempt to get someone to want us. We have to retain our boundaries intact if the process is not to end in self-abandonment and self-deprecation.
A healthy person is not one in a relationship but one in his own skin... The issue for a healthy adult is not which choice she makes but whether it reflects her true desires and is carried out with integrity... once we love ourselves, people no longer look good to us unless they are good for us.
Trust flourishes when partners are committed to working on themselves. The personal information we exchange then is not scary but becomes grist for the mill. Thus, commitment to personal work is the equivalent of commitment to intimacy.
We sometimes seek a sexual relationship not to share an adult passion but because we believe that a sexual response from another person fulfils our unmet emotional needs or even grants us a sense of security. When we sexualise our needs in this way, we are recruiting our genitals for tasks they are not designed to fulfil.
Euripides: “If your life at night is good, you think you have everything.”
When we feel the absolute need for a one-to-one love relationship, we are really meeting up with a strong need for personal work on ourselves... It is not that erotic and intimate love are not worthy human pursuits, only that they seem to work better if we approach them with mindfulness.
Is your partner working on herself? Does your partner love you sanely rather than need you desperately? Does she keep agreements? Does she collaborate with you to handle obstacles together? Can she handle your strength, your feelings, and your freedom, can you share with this person what troubles, excites or delights you?
Would you eat strawberries you knew to be deliciously sweet if you were seriously allergic to them? Would you stay in a relationship with someone you loved if you weren’t happy? Would you blame the strawberries for your allergic reaction? Do you blame your partner for your unhappiness?
Romance is real but temporary.
There are two ways to approach romance. I can meet you in love while we both remain standing or I can fall for you. To fall is to get hurt or to be in danger. Falling in love sounds like falling into quicksand. The Romance languages do not say it this way; English does. We also say fall into a coma, fall from grace, and the market falls. To speak of falling in love implies powerlessness, permission to go out of control, to be foolish, to become the slave of emotions, to be carried away as if no longer in possession of one’s faculties. Love is a conscious tie not a bewitching trance.
Yet real love does not happen by accident. Neither are we its passive victims. It requires a choice in response to an attraction. Granted, we have no control over the attraction or our initial reaction to it. But thereafter we choose one response after another, and for those choices we are accountable. We always have the power to make them responsibly and consciously.
This falling in love contrasts with the reality of rising in love with conscious choice, sane fondness, intact boundaries, and ruthless clarity. We were taught that some enchanted evening we would feel fascination and fall head over heels for someone special. But that kind of reaction is actually a signal from the needy child within, telling us what we need to work on, not directing us to our rescuer.
There is actually a phase preceding romance. It is investigation. This is the time to ask for disclosures of all kinds, to ask about past relationships and what works or did not work in them. No one would think of hiring someone for a job without checking references and carefully interviewing the candidate. Yet we often hire a partner without much enquiry except from parts of our bodies that do not always make the wisest assessment.
How did you fail to take care of yourself in this drama? What are your feelings, and are these the very feelings you have been avoiding for a long time? How can you feel them now in ways that are safe and cathartic? Is this a time for therapy?
We do not know ourselves, nor can we integrate our experience until we meet our own shadow and befriend it by struggling with it.
In this phase we instinctively bring up the issues we are now ready to grieve and re-enact the past to show what happened to us and to master it.
Commitment to a relationship entails addressing, processing, and resolving our personal and mutual issues. If we fear real closeness, we will run from the thought of such a process. We have to feel safe enough to look at what we may have kept hidden in ourselves or avoided addressing in our partner. Of course, most of us have the knack of not heeding what we know will require a difficult or painful response. But such denial can cost us our own sensitivity and vulnerability. And, like any virtue, the courage it takes to address painful issues is easily accessed by practice.
Cooperation – partnership – is the heart of conflict resolution... This non-resistant, non-dominant, non-passive, non-violent love arises from unconditional disarmament and thus has no place for I am good you are bad or I am right you are wrong. If we get caught in such dualism, we project the face of an opponent onto our partner, and both of us have already lost.
... if she sees her life in context and cohesively, she recognises her pattern and its connection to her childhood. She then is more likely to explore the organising principles of her life and look for ways to reconfigure them so that she may have healthier relationships.
Attempting to establish intimacy while personal issues remain to be cleared up is like attempting to construct a seaworthy vessel while at sea. First we have to make an individual commitment to address, process, and resolve our own problems and demons. Some of us have personal issues so deep that we may require many years of working on ourselves before we can relate intimately to someone else.
We deal with our past issues so that they do not come up over and over in our present relationships – or if they do, we notice their appearance and take responsibility for it. Without consciousness of our past, we may appear to be involved in an adult relationship, but underneath we are playing out a scenario from long ago.
How can we tell whether the issue that is troubling us in an adult relationship is a present day issue or a carryover from the past? By mindful self-examination.
All of us experience moments of feeling powerless, scared, trapped, compelled, and out of control. We are hearing the voice of the inner child calling for our attention and our adult intercession. The inner child does not know how to make her case directly, so she stammers her message through diffident acts and pitifully awkward feelings. Once we understand this consciously, we automatically become more adult and more compassionate towards ourselves. When consciousness connects our present experiences to its childhood determinants, we gain a sense of expanded meaning in our life experience. This is part of our capacity to self-soothe.
Processing grief, which makes us feel isolated, is our toughest task in life, so we try to avoid it by configuring past losses as present inconveniences. As long as we think our uneasiness has to do with a partner in the here and now, we do not have to face an old grief.
An introvert is well trained in self-reliance and less well trained in cooperation... An introvert will also most likely have to fight for the right to be himself... Part of the work of becoming healthy is knowing our authentic psychological type and then making choices that are consonant with it. If we cannot think on our feet, we need to ask for time to make a decision or give an opinion. In any case, we acknowledge that as introverts we automatically have to be more assertive than most people, even though assertiveness doesn’t come naturally to us... If introverts and extroverts require such uniquely tailored responses in daily life, are they also to be loved in diverse ways? These charts may help…
Make a commitment to yourself and to your partner that you will bring up all your concerns rather than covering them up or disregarding them. To address an issue is to make the implicit explicit. This includes what gnaws at you from within and what you keep feeling but fail to mention.
Let go of control over others. Every unit of energy that we invest in changing others is subtracted doubly from our own lively energy. We may be controlling not so much to prevent bad things from happening as to prevent ourselves from feeling grief, anger, or disappointment. Ask for what you want 100% of the time. Confront or turn away from those who bring you down, put you down, or try to control, abuse, or scare you – no matter how close they are to you. Be yourself sexually – responsibly, of course. This may include enacting the fantasy or lifestyle you have kept inside too long. Tell the secret you have complicated your life to keep.
Confusion is a totally legitimate phase of working things out. We may need a period of ambiguity, uncertainty, or lack of clarity before we can see what is going on. When either or both partners are confused, the time is right for mindful sitting with the confusion. This means no attachment to it or attempt to control it or insistence on ending it.
Probably the only issues that we treat matter-of-factly without melodrama or strong reaction, are the ones with no connection to our past. Admit to yourself that there is an element in most of your charged issues that harkens back to your past.
The shadow is the part of us that we disown, repress, and deny while projecting it onto others. It may be our shadow speaking when we notice another doing something that we would do, but we cannot admit that we would. We despise seeing in the other what is unconscious in ourselves. Our work is to befriend our shadow by acknowledging our own projections and reclaiming them as ours.
The ego is neurotic and inappropriate when it is driven by fear of not being accepted or by arrogance, retaliation, or entitlement. We have a bruised ego when we say: “How dare you do this to me?”
Early life issues: We may be reacting to early unfinished business if we find ourselves thinking: You are replicating what was done to me in childhood. I see you creating a scenario from the past that is highly charged for me.
Ask yourself: Does he upset me because I am projecting my shadow onto him and seeing the worst of myself in him? Am I reacting this way because my entitled ego is outraged? Am I having all these feelings because something from my early life is being resurrected?
Sometimes we act upset, and it is not the shadow or ego or even early material. Upset sometimes means grieved. We are sad because something has not gone our way or something or someone has hurt or disappointed us. Grief is a reaction we often fail to recognise, admit, or feel. We prefer to use anger to cover it up.
Fears rush in – and dangers, too
Close relationships arouse fear. We fear the perilous givens of relating: betrayal, hurt, love, confrontation of egos, self disclosure, abandonment, and engulfment. The last two of these are the central fears in relationships.
To fear engulfment means to fear that if someone gets too close to us physically or emotionally, we will feel smothered or lose our freedom. This is the equivalent of too much attention or affection and not enough acceptance and allowing. To fear abandonment means to fear that if someone leaves us, we may be so bereft that we will not survive emotionally. This is the equivalent of a loss of attention, appreciation, or affection. A healthy person may feel both abandonment and engulfment fears, though one or the other tends to predominate in any one person or relationship.
A fear of engulfment may be the result of a parent’s having tried to use us inappropriately to fulfil a need.
Jealousy is a combination of three feelings: hurt, anger, and fear. We are scared by the possibility of losing a source of nurturance and of never being able thereafter to find another – the paranoid belief that makes jealousy so poignant. Jealousy stands at the threshold of grief, which our ego does not let us cross. Instead of weeping in sadness and fear, our arrogant, affronted, possessive ego enters the fray and we lash out and blame, engaging in abuse instead of healthy anger as we declare our indignation about the perceived betrayal.
Ego-driven jealousy exposes our possessiveness, our dependency, our resentment of another’s freedom, our refusal to be vulnerable. Deep down, we know we’re not really democratic, not really free of the old style of hierarchical ownership in relationships, not really ready to admit a fear of facing the sometimes harsh conditions of the relationship. Our ego demands that our partner save us: “Stop doing what I do not want to grieve for.”
In the healthy adult style, I go from one to none, and while alone, I work in therapy, addressing, processing, and resolving issues in myself with a plan to make changes. Endings that lead to self-exploration are painful but profitable to one who is committed to personal evolution.
Disappointment is as crucial to our inner life is reliability, the same way that cold is as necessary to the life of a lilac bush as is the sun. When Buddha taught that the first noble truth is the unsatisfactoriness of life, he was not being a doomsayer, but pointing to a necessary ingredient of our common humanity... while receiving the five A’s is gratifying, disappointment may also be a grace, “the fastest chariot to enlightenment“ as the Tibetan saying goes.
To experience disappointment consciously is to embrace it, learn from it, and go on loving, to accept that all humans are a combination of contradictions. Anyone can please and displease, come through and fail, satisfy and disappoint. No one pleases all the time, yet we do not give up on others. Projections about another person's perfection or trustworthiness collapse as we grow up and arrive at realism.
Letting go of ego
...When we act assertively, with clear boundaries and respect for others’ rights, it is likely that others will allow us the freedom to be ourselves.
The arrogant ego fights intimate love because we keep trying not to lose face. This F.A.C.E. of the inflated ego is fear, attachment, control, and entitlement – the most vicious enemies of intimacy... we cannot easily show authentic affection when we are driven by fear.
The ego is not a stable identity. It is an assumed identity, based on injury or love that we respond to with fear, attachment, control, or entitlement. Since any of these reactions happen so habitually we imagine it is who we are. We confuse rejoinder with agency.
What is the difference between ego entitlement and a legitimate sense of one’s rights? Retaliation is not justice. It is mean-spirited comfort to an indignant ego and despair of human change and of the power of grace. In contrast, we ask for our rights legitimately when we do it directly and nonviolently, fighting fairly but not inflicting reprisals if we are denied.
Victim. “I do not control my life. I’m a victim of people and circumstances. Everything that happens to me is someone else’s doing or fault. I am powerless to change anything.” Behind this attitude lies the fear of being held accountable as an adult.
Combining the five A’s with mindfulness builds confidence in ourselves because it shows us we can handle reality without distractions from it and without embroideries around it. It contributes to our power to be intimate because it is a way of being present in a truly attentive, accepting, appreciative, and allowing way. It makes us more realistic because we acknowledge a world that exists beyond our wishes and manipulations. It teaches us how to love the moment, which is all we have, and to love in the moment with all we are.
To be an adult means expanding the effort to become conscious of how much ego underlies our behaviour, thoughts, and motivation.
People dislike us for what they uncover not about us but about what we hide. Indeed, they like and respect us for our disarming admissions about our limits and inadequacies. Knowing this gives us yet another chance to articulate our truth, to drop a pretence.
As adults we consider everyone our teacher and no one our competitor. Thus, to act defensively means losing out on useful input. To defend how we are is to stay as we are, and it ruins our chances are personal development and intimacy. Instead listen to feedback in such a way as to find a useful truth in it. Nothing is so disarming as receptivity. Receiving feedback willingly soon reveals itself as a way of receiving more love. Make a commitment to ask for and open yourself to the feedback of others.
We may use blame and criticism to cover up needs that we have not expressed or that have not been met. To state our needs rather than blame others for not fulfilling them leads to the very openness and vulnerability that makes for authentic intimacy. Apply this knowledge by understanding the impulse to blame as a signal of some unmet need and stating the need instead of blaming. Change “You were wrong to do this” to “I need your attention/acceptance/appreciation/affection/allowing.”
Mindful, loving justice in a relationship is not retributive but restorative. It moves us from alienation to reunion in an atmosphere of mended failures.
A person who was humiliated, insulted, belittled, criticised sarcastically, and so on may do the same things to others later, a poignant and pathetic way of showing to the world how – and how deeply – he was wounded.
When relationships end
...Ironically, the worse the relationship was, the worse the grief will be. This is because when we end a very difficult relationship, we are not only letting go of a partner but of all the hope and the work we invested in trying to keep alive something that had expired long before... but we feel the pain most severely when we uselessly fight against a necessary ending. The most painful element of grief may be this last realisation that what we expected was not there to be had. How familiar and especially tormenting that may be if we had the same experience in childhood.
Therapy is crucial during this period; it can assist us in addressing, processing and resolving issues/planning change. Since we are never mourning only the current issue, therapy will also help us work on buried issues from the past.
The time for re-contact is when you no longer need contact but are ready to normalise relations. That happens when the charge is gone.
Every grief has an element of inconsolability. There will always be something unresolved, ineradicable in a major loss. Such inconsolability is familiar from childhood. It is what fuels the longing for the perfect partner.
Returning the blessing
Once we realise that we are capable of anything that humans do, we are not so threatened by the hurtful behaviour of others, and compassion flourishes.
“I have avoided allowing my true self to emerge by always making sure that I have someone in my life. I use relationships to find out who I am, which means I never find out who I am.“ A person with self-trust knows that a healthy relationship is not based on absolute trust in anyone else. No one is trustworthy all the time. Adult relationships are based on acceptance of that given of human fallibility, not on rigid trust but on flexible, unconditional love that allows us to get angry about betrayal but then leaves us enough heart to forgive it when a partner apologises, makes amends, and truly changes.
Ask for what you want and listen to your partner. Asking for what you want combines the most crucial elements of intimacy. It gives the other the gift of knowing you, your needs, and your vulnerability. It also means receiving the other’s free response. Both are risky, and therefore both make you more mature. You learn to let go of your insistence on the yes, to be vulnerable to a no, and to except a no without feeling the need to punish.
... closely connected to anger, the desire to retaliate is ingrained in us. This is not a sign of moral degeneracy but a natural, automatic survival reaction to threats and abuse. Our work is to accept this as a given of human nature while choosing not to act it out. This does not mean not acting at all but rather finding a way of expressing anger without hurting others. Such nonviolent resistance flows from higher consciousness rather than instinct.
When we are adult, we can hold and experience apparently contradictory feelings or conditions. For instance, we can be committed to someone and maintain personal boundaries, have a conflict with someone and be working on it, feel anger and be loving.
Boundaries protect our commitment and ourselves. A person without boundaries makes her commitment to the maintenance of the partnership, not to its workability... Dogged determination is not commitment. Marriage is not commitment. Living together is not commitment. A healthy person loves unreservedly but does not make an unreserved commitment. A healthy person can decide the extent and length of his commitment. If it were not this way commitment would mean submission, no boundaries, no sense of self-worth, and no sense of self.
An adult makes a commitment to a person with whom things are working or workable. She withdraws this commitment when things are no longer workable. Unlike a commitment, a vow is a promise to remain attached to a relationship whether or not it works, whether or not it is workable, since the purpose of a relationship is human happiness not conservation of an institution – such as marriage – commitment is reasonable and vows are dangerous. Moreover, vows can be subtle attempts to exempt ourselves from the painful givens of human relating: the other may betray, hurt, or leave. As adults we realise that vows and plans are really nothing more than wishes. They are certainly not the laws by which relationships operate.
When we finally accept the impermanence that characterises human existence, we stop looking, stop asking, stop manipulating in an attempt to achieve permanence or perfection. Instead we are immensely thankful for the moments.
Zen saying: “This being the case, how shall I proceed?”
Do I wait for her to change, who do I find a way to take care of myself and attend to my concerns using my own resources? This is not a way of distancing ourselves from her but of taking responsibility for our behaviour and predicament.
Is your present behaviour in your adult relationship a response to your original experience with your parents? Are you trying to re-do or undo the past? What keeps you from addressing, processing, and resolving all this in therapy rather than acting it out in your relationship?
“Hurry or delay is interference”, Winnicott.
“You do surely bar the door upon your liberty if you deny your griefs to your friends”, Shakespeare
The less we can feel, the deeper the wound must have been. We or that shutdown partner who barely expresses feelings may be full of unprocessed grief from childhood.
When we use the tools of psychological health and spiritual practice to focus on ourselves, we become parents to ourselves and are no longer so needy for what parents or parent surrogates can give us. To say we have duly completed our grief work, we need to achieve not only catharsis of feelings but also self-nurturance and fearless intimacy with others. To grieve is to pay attention to the weeping, frightened part of ourselves and to console it. When we do this, we parent ourselves, and we show the vulnerability that leads to healthy relating.
Self-parenting means granting the five A’s to ourselves: we pay attention to our pain and to our inner resources for healing. We pay attention to how our past has interfered in our relationships and how it has helped us find ourselves. We practise self-acceptance, embracing all our talents, virtues, failings, and inadequacies. We feel appreciation for our journey and the steps and miss steps we have taken on it. We appreciate our parents and our partners for their contributions to our character, for better or worse. We love ourselves as we are and feel respect and compassion for our past selves and openness to our future. We allow ourselves to live in accord with our deepest needs, values, and wishes.
Self-parenting also means opening ourselves to our inner resources and to a support system of loving, wise, and compassionate people.