Happy Independence Day weekend. It is a lucky coincidence that this is our topic, because emotional freedom is truly about personal revolution. It is an end to collaboration with and submission to abuse. It is an end to the emotional slavery of feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and other things that are beyond our control.
Emotional freedom is something that might be difficult to imagine when we are in the first stages of healing – especially if it’s the first time we’ve ever processed an abuse-related trauma all the way through to the end. At least once, we need to go through all the stages to take a good look at patterns of denial or bargaining that made us vulnerable to abusers or tolerant of their behavior. We need to develop internal strengths – like easy access to anger and confidence in our rights to defend ourselves – that might have been suppressed before. We need to learn for ourselves that we can live through loss and letting go, and actually learn something from it.
But if we get to this point – thinking about the idea of emotional freedom and working on developing it in ourselves – we are close to the end of fully integrating this experience. Turning it into a gift rather than a disaster, and coming out of this long tunnel with our new selves in a new world.
What does respect have to do with it?
In the last article on self-love, the concept of respect was introduced. It is connected to self-love, because as we come to love, trust and believe we are entitled to care for ourselves, we develop a sense of separateness. Of boundaries. We come to realize that we have private interests, concerns and needs. They belong to us. They are our responsibility. They are also the sources of good in our lives. And we are entitled to explore them, define them for ourselves, pursue them, and plan our lives around them.
If anyone reading this finds the last paragraph triggering an emotional reaction, a feeling like you really need to get away from this article, go find something else to read here on LoveFraud, you have clear evidence of something important in yourself. Because that paragraph contradicts all the emotional training of abusive, enmeshed, victim-rescuer environments that demand loyalty, silence and compromises of identity and self-respect in order to be loved or simply survive.
The first time I ever encountered information like that, I read it over and over. The words made sense. But they didn’t compute. I had phrases popping up in my head like “easy for you to say” and “you don’t live with the demands and pressures that I do” and “I would be rejected by everyone I need to support me, if I thought like that.”
If you are having a reaction like that, I understand and respect the reality behind it. This push-back is coming from a normal strategy for survival that works. If we are willing to give up pieces of ourselves – our independence, our individuality, our ethics, our expressiveness – we can get paid for it. One of the real challenges that every person faces in life is to walk a fine line of balancing what we can do, need to do and are willing to do to fulfill our survival needs and our discretionary (but important) wants.
Where this becomes dysfunctional and self-destructive is when our sense of what we can give away – and still survive as whole people – is broken. When we have been “trained” in some excruciating and threatening situation to deny important aspects of our identity or fundamental human needs in order to get through it. When that situation is finally over, we are often left with warped ideas of relationships. But more important, our relationships with ourselves are damaged . Because it felt like a choice, even we perceived it as life or death. Some part of us holds us responsible and simply does not trust us anymore. We may live around it. We may develop all kind of strengths to compensate. But it feels as though some wires have been pulled inside of us. As though the lights have gone out in certain rooms of our mind.
This is why, for so many people, it is necessary to find a good therapist, experienced in trauma or childhood abuse, to help us untangle these situations. The “cure” is to go back and reject the deal we made. Not reject ourselves, but to reject the unfairness and inhumanity of the circumstances that forced us to do this damage to ourselves. Do it in memory, but also in our emotional systems. To identify the causes as abusive and wrong and not respectful of our normal human needs to maintain our own integrity. And to say to ourselves, and possibly the people involved, I no longer agree to this deal. I am taking myself back.
Integrity, like respect, is one of those words that many of us barely understand. We talk about integrity in terms of ethical issues, and that’s part of it. But integrity is much more than that. The world means wholeness, like “integer” means a whole number, rather than a fraction of a number. For our purposes here, we can imagine it as having all the internal “electrical” parts that we are supposed to have – all the natural emotions, open connections among the various parts of our brain, a balanced and high-functioning nervous system, vivid sensory awareness – adding up to keen animal survival instincts and the full range of sentient consciousness we have as human beings.
If something disrupts or corrupts our integrity in any way, we feel it deeply. We live with the pain of knowing something inside of us is not right. For many of us, that pain is the way we know ourselves best. But as we start to resolve these issues, to go back and reject those deals and repair ourselves, we become more conscious of something we have mutely longed for – the simple but powerful feeling of wholeness. Our integrity.
Even if we get there by incremental resolutions of the sources of pain – which is how most of us do get there – every step forward delivers a breathtaking new awareness of who we really are. It’s not that we are special exactly, although we are. Or good, although we are. But that we are. The word “I” becomes different. It’s no longer associated with any sort of battle for recognition or acceptance or love. It is awareness of some central identity that is the backbone or hub or inner seed of everything about us.
And when we grasp this, this permanent center in us, it is easier to understand the concept of respect. Because as we look around us, we realize that every living thing is also organized around something like this. We could talk about this from all sorts of angles – genes, souls, whatever – but when we find it in ourselves, we recognize it in other lives. In this we are alike, but also separate. We can relate, and we also may find that we have a great deal in common. But our identity, our integrity is our own. As theirs are theirs. Knowing this is the cornerstone of respect. The knowledge that we have boundaries, that something inside of us belongs to only us.
Having grown-up relationships with ourselves
It’s logical that we can’t have adult relationships with anyone else, if we don’t have adult relationships with ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we lose touch with our inner child. Or that we don’t experience the less “practical” states of emotion or awareness that enrich our lives.
What it does mean that is that we take our own needs seriously. That we recognize our needs as needs. Necessary. Not optional.
A whole, healthy human identity has different layers of needs. Some relate to physical survival. Others are about emotional health, intellectual development, social connection, and more. The study of human needs has interested many brilliant people. But for me, the most helpful of them has been Marshall Rosenberg, creator of non-violent communication (NVC) and the man who introduced me to the concept of emotional freedom.
NVC is based on the premise that all people have needs, and ultimately the most effective type of communication is about sharing information about our needs. Rather than going more deeply into that concept, I recommend two brief videos on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dpk5Z7GIFs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbgxFgAN7_w&NR=1. If you find this article challenging, I guarantee these videos will help you make more sense of it.
Rosenberg points out that a lot of our language is basically about power and control. That is, keeping power and control in the hands of people who have it already. There is a lot of judgment in our language, ways to make people – including ourselves – wrong. And this language serves to separate us from our needs, or minimize the idea that everyone has normal human needs. As a result, compassion becomes subjugated to “rules.” Even though we are aware of our own suffering or the difficulties faced by other people, our responses are not compassionate or questioning of their (or our) circumstances. Instead, we are trained to assume there is something wrong with them, they are bad in some way, or they have some contagious problem we should avoid.
A few examples of this are racism, elitism and ageism – ways that we “name” other people that makes it easy to blames them or judge them, without having to consider their realities and how lack of resources may be contributing to their “lower than” status or behavior. Another example of this is the Magna Carta, the foundation of English law (and U.S law by extension), which is not about human rights at all, but only a concession by the Norman king of England to honor the property rights of Norman nobles who had come from France to claim and rule English land and the “serfs” attached to it. One of the difficulties we face as victims of sociopaths is that common law incorporates very little recognition of human needs, beyond our property rights to our own bodies, and even that is limited in many ways. The rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and free speech and religious choice in the U.S. Constitution were huge advances that shook the world of absolute monarchies.
To get back to needs, here is a partial list of needs from NVC website (www.cnvc.org), which has been developed over the years by people working with this type of communication:
Connection – acceptance, affection, appreciation, consideration, mutuality, support, to understand and be understood, trust
Physical well-being – air, food, movement/exercise, rest/sleep, sexual expression, safety, shelter
Honesty – authenticity, integrity
Play – joy, humor
Peace – harmony, order
Meaning – clarity, competence, contribution, effectiveness, growth, hope, mourning, purpose, self-expression, to matter
Autonomy – choice, independence
The first time I saw this list, I was mind-blown. It never occurred to me that I was entitled to even want most of these things. At the time, I was still struggling with whether I was allowed to feel angry, because the sociopath made me feel bad. The idea that I could unapologetically pursue any of these things in my life was staggering. All of a sudden all those internalized voices with comments like “You’re getting too big for your britches” and “No one likes a crybaby” and “You have to suffer to go to heaven” and (the monster of them all) “You owe us” became more clearly what they were. Coercive “rules” to convince me to forget about my needs.
But the needs didn’t go away, because I agreed to give them up in order to stay in that family. Unmet needs continue to generate demands and feelings. All of us are familiar with the how it feels to be treated with disrespect. You can find another list of it feels when our need are met or unmet here at the NVC website. If you want good reason to start thinking about getting your needs met, you’ll find it here. In a nutshell, would you rather feel happy, confident and fulfilled, or angry, helpless and despairing? Not a hard choice.
Empathy and self-interest
Structuring our lives to meet our own needs means several things. First it makes us responsible for our own feelings, because we realize that they are generated by our needs. If our needs are not being met, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. This is part of survival and also integrity. It is the essence of compassion for ourselves. Thinking about our needs also helps us interpret our experiences in ways that don’t make us wrong, but simply people who trying to get their needs met, often in situations that are not particularly supportive and that force us to look elsewhere in creative ways to keep ourselves healthy and whole.
It also makes us less inclined to take responsibility for other people’s feelings. We may empathize with them. We may see that our mothers are dissatisfied with how their lives turned out or our fathers are suffering because they feel like failures. We can see they are expressing negative emotions at us, because they have unmet needs. Or trying to manipulate us, because they are trying to get their needs met. But we also see that this is their stuff. The language they use of disappointment, anger, regrets and demands is about them – their inner landscape, how they view themselves and the world – and not about us. Even when they are trying to recruit us to their reality by making it about us.
One of the ways we can define sociopathic interactions or N/S/P relationships is that someone wants us to take responsibility for fulfilling his or her needs, in ways that cause us to abandon our needs. All the love-bombing, gaslighting, guilt-tripping and various types of abuse are just strategies to obtain this result.
A reasonable question would be: if we become emotionally independent, does that mean we become just like sociopaths? If we don’t feel responsible for other people’s feelings, does that make us unfeeling monsters?
I think you already know the answer to that. Not feeling responsible is not the same as not caring. (Just as caring doesn’t mean that we are responsible.) If we choose, we can offer support in ways that don’t compromise our integrity or well-being. We may feel sorry for our sociopath’s hard luck story and sympathize, but not agree to help him murder his ex-wife. In less extreme situations, we may give our friend or family member the gift of sympathetic attention. The key is to decide what we can afford to do without compromising our primary responsibility to take care of ourselves.
For practice in emotional independence, here are possible responses to use with people who are pressuring us, complaining about our behavior, judging or naming us (“you’re always so selfish”) or using any confusing or indirect means to get their needs met through us.
“I empathize with you, but I’m not certain what you’re telling me you want from me”
“What do you need to make you feel better?”
“Is there something you want from this relationship that you’re not getting?”
You are looking for more concrete requests, so you can decide whether you can meet their needs without damage to yourself. Often, with non-sociopathic people, these discussions are very fruitful. Both sides come to understand each other better, and often find simple things they can do for each other that un-trigger the feelings of unmet needs. (“I don’t feel like you really respect me” often turns out to be nothing more serious than a request to share the dog-walking responsibilities.)
However when we’re talking to people who are cannot be honest about their feelings, needs or wants, or actually have a control-related reason for hiding these things from us, our questions may be treated like an invasion of privacy or cause an attack of criticism, more emotional acting out, or obvious dissembling.
If we choose, we can do some empathetic probing (“I hear that you’re angry, but I’m not sure what you’re asking for.”) or suggestions about what’s going on with them (“Is this about you feeling lonely?”). But if they still refuse to say anything that sounds like they are talking about their own needs (rather than talking about us) or making specific requests, so that we can make choices about what we want to do for them, we also have the choice to stop participating in their game.
We can choose that because we meeting our own need to participate in things that are meaningful, respectful and effective. (Or whatever needs are “alive” in us at that moment.)
This is just a brief introduction to emotional independence. It’s not all about self-defense. A lot of it is about being honest with ourselves about our needs, and specific with other people about what we are requesting from them. They are free to turn us down, just as we are free to do the same. But clarity is a wonderful thing.
Imagine how much different our lives would be today if we had said to our ex-S, “You’re a charming person, and I’ve enjoyed our time together. But before we go further, you should know a few things about me. I need fidelity in my sexual relationships, respect for my decisions about myself, appreciation for what I do for you and reciprocity in all financial arrangements. And I need to be able to trust you to be honest. Anything less does not meet my needs.”
Can you imagine saying this? If so, hooray for you. If not, practice in the mirror, with a warm smile on your face as you assume the other person will say, “Wow, excellent list. I’m very comfortable with all of that, and feel the same way myself. Except that I also need fun in my life. Are you down with that?” When you can do this without worrying about what other people think of you or how this makes them feel, you’ll be a lot closer to being able to manage healthy friendships and intimate relationships. The next article is will be about love.
Namaste. The happy independent spirit in me salutes the happy independent spirit in you.