Tag Archives: emotional fusion

Intimacy:
“I want more intimacy, validation, and to feel closer to you.”

"Marilyn Silver Screen" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Marilyn Silver Screen” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Some people claim they want more intimacy, but what they seem to really want is total agreement and constant validation, which are antithetical to intimacy. Long-term, passionate intimacy requires that two people have a strong enough sense of self that they can have differing opinions without expecting all-encompassing closeness and validation from each other.

Intimacy based on accommodation

People often find it uncomfortable to deal with their partner’s insecurities. It is easier to simply appease them, agree with them, and validate them. So they often validate their partner simply to accommodate the partner’s fears and insecurities. It is often really their own anxiety that they cannot tolerate when their partner is under stress.

For example, you may choose to respond by nodding agreeably when you don’t agree rather than saying, “I think you could have handled this differently.” As a result of hiding your true thoughts, the result is a deadening of the soul, resentment, and a loss of passion within the relationship.

Codependence

Validating your partner can temporarily improve your partner’s mood and functioning. However, it often creates long-term problems, such as increased codependency. Each partner feels increasingly burdened by an obligation to ease the other person’s anxiety. When couples become codependent, they are increasingly vulnerable to the other partner’s manipulation. They also become anxious about saying and doing the right thing in order to get a positive reaction.

Intimacy based on candor

True intimacy evolves when you don’t manipulate your partner to validate you. When you don’t need your partner to accommodate your insecurities, it’s easier to show parts of yourself to your partner that he or she may not agree with or validate. The benefit is that your partner then truly sees you without feeling an obligation to shore up your insecurities.

This requires a certain discipline, confidence, and courage to look at yourself objectively and to accept your partner’s authentic response.

While it’s nice to be validated by others, you are more likely to get true validation when you are not trying to attain it. When you’re willing to accept a person’s honest response, then you can meet that person on a deeper, truly intimate level. Ironically, less push for validation means greater intimacy and the possibility of a long-term passionate relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Intimacy vs. Agreement: ‘I better not disagree with his point of view, or he’ll get upset.’”

Emotional Fusion: “Whenever I’m in a long-term relationship, I lose all of my passions, desires, and goals in life, simply to make the other person happy.”

“Sorcery” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I have always been very, very close with my mom. However, her constant complaining and negative attitude has always taken a huge toll on me. When I was younger I would have violent outbursts and hit objects because I became so frustrated. The concept of emotional fusion might explain my inability to be in real intimate relationships. Whenever I’m in a long-term relationship, I lose all of my passions, desires, and goals in life, simply to make the other person happy. I was wondering if you had any advice going forward regarding intimate relationships as it is something I crave yet am utterly and completely terrified to enter one again.”

Emotional Fusion

Yes, it sounds like emotional fusion may be the issue. When you are a child and dependent on a parent, especially when there is only one primary parent taking care of you or you feel very close to that parent, it is natural to focus excessively on tuning into and accommodating your parent’s needs.

As you grow up from childhood to adolescence and into young adulthood, it is natural and healthy to gain more independence, both in action and thought. A self-centered or unhappy parent is likely to feel threatened by a child’s natural drive for independence, and thus, become volatile and controlling. The child, as a result, will feel constrained or manipulated by the parent, while simultaneously needing the parent. These contrasting emotions create a great deal of inner conflict, which can lead to outbursts, tantrums, or depression.

Both drives are natural: 1) the desire to accommodate and avoid disappointing the parent, and 2) the drive toward independence and attaining your own happiness. But if these two drives are not allowed to coexist, the result will be great tumult and frustration. These drives will conflict when a parent unconsciously or consciously tries to suppress their child’s independence and need for emotional separation. The child senses that independence in emotions, thoughts or actions is risky and dangerous, which leads to feelings of resentment, anger, guilt, or depression.

Ideally, a parent balances rules with freedom, that is, having boundaries and guidelines with compassionately allowing their children to develop emotional and mental separation and autonomy. Of course, there is no such thing as an ideal parent. Some may tend to smother their children in some respects while others tend to neglect them, at least to some degree. The greater the parent’s emotional reactivity is to the child’s emotions and actions, the greater the emotional fusion.

Future relationships

A person who is emotionally fused with their parent while growing up will tend to become emotionally fused with others in future relationships. They tend to assume they are responsible for the other person’s happiness. As a result, they lose sight of their own desires and goals.

It is fine to want your partner to be happy, but when it becomes your primary motivation, you fall into a no-win trap. Your happiness and vitality become dependent on the other person’s happiness, which puts an undue burden on both you and the other person, because you cannot make another person happy. You are aiming for something which you do not control, and actually shouldn’t control. Also, there is often an unspoken expectation that the other person owes you, and should make you happy in return, which leads to further disappointment and resentment.

Advice

My advice is to start imagining specific past situations where you have either submitted to doing something you didn’t want to do, responded with anger, or felt a distinct loss of enthusiasm and vitality. Then think of a new way you could have responded using a calm and considered approach, while honoring your own needs. It is generally not good to dwell on the past. But by considering real examples, which tend to repeat themselves, you can practice and prepare yourself for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

The goal is to learn to speak up for yourself while still respecting the other person, but leaving it up to them how they will feel and respond. Let go of your desire to insure that the other person will be happy and pleased with everything you say and do. Be considerate without becoming responsible for their reactions and emotions.

Examples

Do you put up with ongoing complaints? Then practice your response. For example, “I’m so sorry you are unhappy. Let me know if there’s something specific I can do. But when you keep telling me how unhappy you are, it also brings me down, and it’s not helpful for either of us.” If that person gets angry, repeat yourself once, and then say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and drop it or leave.

Do you spend too much time together, or do you give up doing things you love to do? Then find a way to do what is important to you, and express yourself without feeling guilty. For example, “Thanks for inviting me, but I need to get some exercise,” or “I have a project I’m working on at home,” or “I have been out too much lately.”

Do you focus too much on what the other person wants? Then become hyper aware of your tendency to neglect your own needs while focusing excessively on the other person’s needs. Express and pursue your desires with a matter of fact quality, “Sorry I can’t be there tonight. I need to catch up on sleep,” or “I was looking forward to practicing the guitar,” or “I need to rest and chill.” Anyone who easily disregards your needs is not someone you should lavish your attention on.

Do you feel that you have to fix things when the other person is sad, frustrated, or in pain? Be kind and compassionate, but resist your impulse to be responsible for fixing another person’s problems and moods. Use a firm, kind, calm voice, make no excuses, assign no guilt or blame. Wish them will while respecting your own space and needs. Use words like, “I wish/hope/want you to be happy/feel better/have a good evening,… but I need/would like/want to get some rest/see my old friend/catch up on reading….”

If the other person gets angry or feels hurt when you state your needs, then you may need to disengage from that relationship. A relationship that requires you to suppress your own needs to satisfy another person’s is not reciprocal or ultimately, sustainable. Alternatively, a relationship in which each person is primarily responsible for expressing and pursuing their own desires while being considerate of the other person fosters freedom, vitality, accountability, and long-term sustainability.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Emotionally Volatile People:
“He can be so charming and then so defiant.”

"Out of the Rough" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Out of the Rough” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People who swing from one extreme to the other, from being pleasant and charming one moment to being angry and defiant the next often lack emotional resilience and autonomy. They tend to fuse emotionally both positively and negatively to others, behaving wonderfully when they feel good, and blaming everyone around them when things are not going their way. Their sense of self reacts to external circumstances, and their behavior fluctuates according to their unstable sense of self.

There can be many reasons for emotional volatility, including genetic influences such as bipolar disorder, parental indulgence that contributes to a lack of impulse control, dietary imbalance, narcissism, or brain trauma from injury or drug use. Regardless of the contributing factors, when we understand how we might affect, trigger, or play into the relationship dynamic with a volatile person, we can learn how to stop having to suffer at the whims of the temperamental people in our lives.

Emotional Fusion

Swings in mood are exacerbated by emotional fusion. The emotional merging together of two people often results in excessive attachment, manipulation, and reactivity. When two people are emotionally fused, there is insufficient emotional separation for either person to maintain a grounded and empowered sense of self. As a result, emotionally-volatile people tend to swing from being hyper-accommodating to recalcitrant. Autonomy and intimacy get replaced by a sense of isolation and oppression.

Problems with Emotional Fusion

1. Repression and Anger

The reason volatile people swing from good to bad moods is that the only way they know how to be “good” is to be completely accommodating of other people’s needs and desires. The problem with being overly accommodating is that you repress your own conflicting needs, feelings and thoughts.

Such repressed feelings can manifest themselves in depression, sickness or addiction, or they erupt unexpectedly in anger or self-sabotaging behavior. The inability to calmly and firmly withstand the pressure to acquiesce to another person or tolerate another person’s disagreement or disapproval often leads to anger, belligerence and sdestructive behavior.

2. Weak Sense of Identity

Excessive emotional fusion creates an increasing dependence on others, which will often result in self-loathing. From infancy onward, human beings possess the instinctive drive to become capable and autonomous. It is not egotistic for a child to say, “Look at me! I can throw the ball, paint a picture, tie my shoes.…” It feels good to be able to do something on your own.

Yet it can be tempting to allow others to do things for you or tell you what to do. Such dependence seems to make life easier, but also creates deep-seated resentment. Thus, emotional fusion leads to cycles of attack and capitulation, which cause bitterness and a diminished sense of self. The underlying problem is that neither person can maintain his or her sense of identity in the presence of the other.

3. Subject to Peer Pressure

When you accommodate others in order to get validation, you become subject to peer pressure, that is, you behave in order to gain the immediate approval of your peers. This can easily lead to engaging in behavior that is harmful to yourself or others.

4. Diminishing Boundaries — Fusion

With increased fusion, boundaries between people dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. Undifferentiated people, that is, people who tend to fuse emotionally to others, mistakenly assume that they are responsible for another person’s wellbeing. The expectation that they must “make somebody happy” ironically increases pressure, anxiety, and disappointment for both parties. It does not generate happiness.

We can only placate someone temporarily. While we can be kind and considerate, we cannot ultimately provide wellbeing to another person without diminishing that person’s independence and exhausting ourselves in the process.

Altering your role in a fused relationship

1. Disengage: Don’t Manipulate

Control your own behavior but don’t try to control the other person’s behavior. It takes two to become emotionally fused. Stay calm even if the other person throws a temper tantrum, tries to manipulate you, or withdraws suddenly. Those strong emotional reactions only have power if you give them power.

You may have to pull back, limit the relationship, or discontinue the offerings you provide, but don’t do so in a dramatic way. Actions taken without emotional heat are much more effective than histrionics in the form of pleading, lecturing, or giving the cold shoulder.

It is imperative to stop participating in the drama of trying to control, manipulate, or unduly accommodate the other person. If you become emotionally separate, that is, if you remain caring without becoming overly reactive or tied into the other person’s emotional state, the other person will lose the intense desire to provoke an emotional reaction from you. There will be less of an urgent desire to either please you or to rebel against you. In other words, their reactivity — whether smoldering hatred or sweet manipulation — diminishes when there is no dramatic emotional effect, including cold indifference.

Analogy

Think of a toddler’s temper tantrum. When parents bribe, plead, or make threats, they actually encourage more tantrums. The toddler, who is just starting to develop a sense of self, thinks “Wow, this is cool. Look at the commotion I am causing! I have power!” Moreover, the parents’ anxiety expressed by their frantic attempts to calm the child shows the child that the world is not so safe. Why else would the parents be acting so anxiously?

For those who lack self-empowerment, such as a toddler or a dependent adult, having power over others provides a substitution for the feeling of power over one’s own life. But it is a poor substitution.

2. Stop Tip-toeing Around: Don’t be Compliant

Resist the temptation to become compliant in order to modify the other person’s mood and wellbeing. State your requests or potential consequences in a matter-of-fact way. We want to be considerate of others in our interactions. However, we do not want to compromise our own lives by endowing emotionally-volatile people with too much power over our own wellbeing.

By not allowing other people’s anxiety to infect us, we remain more emotionally separate and objective. Our disappointment in others diminishes as we accept and honor our individual selves. Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the relationship will improve. Moreover, it makes it easier for the other to eventually own, enjoy, and be responsible for his or her own decisions, moods, and conduct. It will ultimately give the other person the opportunity to develop a substantial sense of self and empowerment.

Often people get sucked into their child or spouse’s power trip because they feel guilty for not having been a “perfect” parent or spouse — as though there were such a thing. This is a mistake. Trying to make up for past errors and omissions by submitting to your partner’s emotional manipulation hurts everyone involved. On the other hand, being caring yet emotionally separate allows people the freedom to take responsibility for their own lives.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD