Healthy Relationships

One of our deepest needs is to belong, to feel connected to others and to have close nourishing relationships. Having open, honest relationships in which we are truly accepted for what we are (not necessarily for what we do), is a tonic for the soul and a key contributor to our emotional well-being and mental health
 
What is a nourishing relationship?
 
A nourishing relationship is any relationship between two people that is based on openness, honesty, respect and emotional intimacy. The bond that is created involves understanding and support and is associated with feelings of warmth, care and connectedness. The key to a nourishing relationship is for each person to relate to the other as an equal.  Of course it’s not realistic for these qualities to exist all of the time, but within a relationship, whether a friendship or coupleship, they should be present more often than not. One of the keys to developing nourishing relationships is to realise that it requires time, patience, effort and persistence. Nourishing relationships rarely happen naturally, they require work and regular attention.
 
In contrast to a nourishing relationship are toxic relationships. A toxic relationship is predominantly based on defensiveness, dishonesty, disrespect and lack of or absence of meaningful emotional contact. Whilst toxic relationships might look ok on the outside, on the inside they prevent you from fulfilling your potential and expressing your true self.
 

The following are defined behaviours within relationships that will both contribute to and help grow a relationship, or destroy intimacy, trust and connection.

 

Nourishment                                                               Toxicity

 

Appreciation                                                 Criticism

Positive Attention                                          Negative Attention

Listening                                                      Ignoring / Interrupting

Joking                                                          Character Assassinations

Intimacy                                                       With-holding

Fun                                                               Lack of Fun

Respect                                                         Disrespect

Keeping promises                                           Breaking promises

Compromising                                                Refusing to compromise

Supporting                                                      Ridiculing

Encouraging                                                    Putting Down

Treating as Equals                                           Parenting

Compliments                                                  Insincerity

Offering advice                                                Forcing unwanted advice

Confronting                                                     Attacking

Facing reality                                                   Denial or avoidance of reality

Open                                                              Defensive

Flexibility                                                         Rigidity

Authenticity                                                      Lack of honesty

Turning towards your partner during stress           Turning away

Solve problems together                                    Solve problems separately

Giving/receiving love                                          Closed to love

Balanced Closeness/Separateness                       Separateness/Enmeshed

Appreciate their differences                                 Resist their differences

How Nourishing Relationships Benefit Your Health

 

Fulfilling your basic human desire for connection and experiencing intimacy through partners, friendships, religious groups, self-help groups, women’s groups, social or sports groups, your community, animals and nature is essential for deep healing and emotional well-being. Here are just a few snapshots of some of the research that has explored the influence of love and intimacy on health:
 
  • In a study conducted by researchers from Yale University, 119 men and 40 women answered questions regarding their feelings of love and being supported, a factor which was independent of the effects of diet, smoking, exercise or genetics. The angiography tests that followed showed that the men and women who reported being loved and supported had significantly less blockage in their arteries.
  • The American Journal of Epidemiology reported a study that reveals the correlation between love and physical health. For a five-year period a university research project studied 8,500 men who had no previous history or symptoms of ulcers. By the end of the study 250 of the men developed ulcers. What was the variable? Men who reported a low level of love from their wives were more than twice as likely to have ulcers as the men who reported a high level of love from their wives.
  • Individuals who have a positive, nourishing relationship with a loving and responsive God or equivalent experience on average better mental health, more satisfying relationships, less stress, better physical health than people without a positive spiritual believe system. Developing an empowering spiritual / religious practice can significantly improve your overall emotional well-being by providing a support network, positive meaning and context for life’s challenging events and a life enhancing relationship with God.

 

1 • identify the presence of co-dependency or counter-dependency

 

One of the most common barriers to emotional well-being and healthy relationships is co-dependency and counter-dependency. At least 95 per cent of the people who come to me with mental health problems and/or addictions have patterns of emotionally immature behaviours, attitudes and emotional management styles that are limiting their emotional well-being potential, happiness and ability to experience healthy intimacy. Whilst it’s tempting to think or ‘joke’ that its just down to not ‘emotionally growing up’, clinicians and researchers have discovered that these are actually symptoms of a failure to complete two of the most important developmental processes of childhood: emotional bonding and psychological separation.
 
Deep, secure bonding with our caregivers provides the foundations upon which emotional well-being and self-esteem are built. If our parents were able to reliably and consistently provide the cuddles, respectful touch, positive affirmation and emotional nurturance and responsiveness that we needed, a strong emotional bond between us and them gets created. This provides the internal sense of trust, safety and security that is then necessary to exploring the outside world and in doing so, start the process of emotionally and psychologically separating from their parents. By the age of three and given the right conditions, most children should have completed the second birth, the ‘psychological birth’. A child completing this will have a healthy and positive sense of self, be able to regulate their feelings and behaviour, experience self-confidence and be able to engage others cooperatively and as equals.
 
If this natural process is interfered with or blocked, two patterns of behaviour and relating will emerge, depending on when and how the interference took place. Those two limiting patterns are called co-dependency and counter-dependency.

 

Co-dependency

 

In their course Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap Barry and Janae Weinhold describe co-dependency as a pattern of dependency, neediness and low self-esteem that is caused primarily by traumatic bonding breaks within the first six months of life. Being separated from your mother, physically neglected or having a mother who wasn’t sensitively attuned and responsive to your needs and cues are just some of the experiences that could result in a child subsequently developing co-dependency pattern of behaviours
 
Counter-dependency
 

In their follow-up course The Flight from Intimacy, the Weinholds describe how counter-dependency behaviours result from a failure of psychological separation to take place because of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse or neglect

 

  • Emotional abuse occurs anytime a parent interacts with their child in a way that undermines their emotional development – this includes denial of affection, using the child to meet their own emotional needs, criticising, humiliating the child, being over controlling of the child, verbally abusing the child.
  • Physical abuse involves the use of hitting, pushing, kicking, shaking, punching, suffocating, slapping, pinching, giving harmful substances (drugs, alcohol etc), or causing them any physical pain or injury.
  • Sexual abuse occurs anytime a child is pressurised, forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with an adult or young person. This can include kissing, touching the young person's genitals or breasts, intercourse or oral sex. Encouraging a child to look at pornographic magazines, videos or sexual acts is also sexual abuse.
  • Neglect is the persistent lack of appropriate care of children, including love, stimulation, safety, nourishment, warmth, education and medical attention.

 

Unlike people with co-dependent behaviour patterns that tend to come across as needy, weak and insecure, individuals with counter-dependent behaviours cover up their neediness and low-self esteem by projection an aura of calm, confidence and strength. The following chart from The Flight from Intimacy highlights the behavioural differences between someone with co- dependency and counter-dependency.

 

Co-Dependant Behaviours                      Counter-Dependent Behaviours

 

Clings to others                                 Pushes others away

Acts weak and vulnerable                    Acts strong and invulnerable

Is overwhelmed by his/her feelings     Is cut off from his/her feelings

Is other-centred                                 Is self-centred

Is addicted to people                          Is addicted to activities and substances

Is easily invaded by others                  Is ‘armoured’ against others attempts to get close

Has low self-esteem                             Has falsely inflated self-esteem

Acts incompetent                                 tries to ‘look good’

Has depressed energy                          Has manic energy

Acts insecure                                       Acts secure

Acts weak                                            Acts strong

Feels guilty                                          Blames others

Craves intimacy and closeness               Avoids intimacy and closeness

Acts self-effacing                                  Acts grandiose

Has victim behaviours                            Tries to victimise others first

Is a people pleaser                               Is a people-controller

Suffered neglect as a child                      Suffered abuse as a child

 

Whilst it is normal to have some of the behaviours from both lists, if you look back over your lifetime one pattern, co-dependency or counter-dependency will usually jump out as being dominant. The good news is that you can grow up and become free from these patterns of behaviour, by completing the uncompleted process of bonding and separation yourself.

 

Are you co-dependent or counter-dependent?

 

Co-dependency Questionnaire

 

Do you                                                                                             no = 0, occasionally = 1, yes =2

 

Worry that other people will reject you?                                                                                                         
Tend to assume responsibility for other people’s feelings and/or behaviours?                                     
Find it hard to trust yourself and/or make decisions?                                                                             
Experience repeated emotional crises and chaos in your life?                                                                
Try and please others through what you say and do?                                                                             
Have few or more physical, emotional or intellectual boundaries?                                                      
Get overwhelmed by your feelings?                                                                                                                 
Have perfectionist tendencies?                                                                                                                         
Judge yourself harshly?                                                                                                                                 
Have a tendency to experiencing guilt?                                                                                                          
Tend to feel victimised or act like a martyr?                                                                                              
Tend to take care of the needs of others, rather than yourself?                                                              
Feel anxious and insecure without knowing why?                                                                                     
Tend to value other people’s opinions more than your own?                                                                
Need to be in relationships in which you feel needed?                                                                             

 

TOTAL SCORE:                                                                                                        ___

 

Counter-Dependency Questionnaire

 

Do you                                                                                             no = 0, occasionally = 1, yes =2

 

Have a strong need to be right?                                                                                                                        
Need to look successful, secure and competent?                                                                                          
Rarely allow yourself to be vulnerable or weak?                                                                                     
Find it hard to be aware of your feelings?                                                                                                  
Have difficulty relaxing and doing nothing?                                                                                            
Rarely ask others to meet your needs and wants?                                                                                     
Struggle to be intimate with another person?                                                                                               
Get bored easily and seek new thrills?                                                                                                             
Feel that you are entitled to special treatment by others?                                                                      
Dislike asking for help?                                                                                                                                      
Feel a strong need to have all of the right answers?                                                                                      
Struggle to know what you need or want?                                                                                                   
Find it hard to admit mistakes or to apologise?                                                                                           
Fear being controlled or smothered by other people?                                                                               
Have a tendency to deny, discount or underplay the problems in your life?                                

 

TOTAL SCORE:                                                                                                        ___

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