Tag Archives: fusion

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

"First Encounter" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“First Encounter” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Guessing game: Cycle of fusion

People often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness and “being one” that comes from all-encompassing agreement and approval, similar to the feeling of falling in love. So in their quest for intimacy, they will anticipate the other person’s response to decide whether to avoid saying something controversial or to show a new side of themselves. If they foresee disapproval, they will screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they will pressure the other person into agreeing with them.

Unfortunately, too much self-screening and manipulation start the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence) and lead away from growth and intimacy in a relationship.

Agreement vs intimacy

People do not get to know one another intimately when they conceal who they are and what they think. When two people are always in complete agreement and busy soothing each other’s egos, their relationships become tedious.

Intimacy develops when people express who they are more fully, even when it does not lead to a feeling of oneness. People may say they want more intimacy, but in fact, real intimacy may be too much for many to tolerate.

Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy

To deepen intimacy, two people must get to know each other more deeply. They each have to be able to express who they are, what they feel, and what they believe. This requires being able to handle the possibility of not getting approval, and that can trigger anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen intimacy.

Of course there is some limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling. There is a point where consideration and discernment count more than blunt honesty and openness. You also don’t want to bore others by expressing every thought you have. It’s important, for example, to avoid expressing every criticism or self-criticism that comes to your mind.

Get comfortable with discomfort

If you get comfortable with discomfort, you no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down your conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Your relationships will be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity rather than sham consensus.

Respectful communication

Intimate relationships develop best when you express your honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when you really listen to another person’s message without shutting him or her down. This means not being reactive — sarcastic, angry, or cold — when someone has an opinion that you disagree with. When you attack someone aggressively for their ideas, you are not encouraging them to be open and honest with you.

Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are validated, but it also does not make the other person feel rejected or attacked.

Learn to reveal yourself, your opinions, and feelings respectfully, and to listen with equanimity. You will find that, with the right people, you will truly get to know one another, and develop meaningful, intimate relationships that are much more fulfilling than those based on self-screening and validation.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Passion vs. Predictability: The Problem with Emotional Fusion.”

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

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


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

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye by Mimi Stuart ©

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye by Mimi Stuart ©

Guessing game: The cycle of fusion

People often think they want more agreement in order to gain a feeling of intimacy. They often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness or “being one with their partner.” So in their quest for intimacy, they anticipate what their partner’s beliefs are in order avoid saying something incompatible or controversial. If they foresee disapproval, they screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they pressure their partner into agreeing with their own position.

Unfortunately, this kind of self-screening and manipulation starts the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence), which curtails growth and intimacy within a relationship. Fear of disapproval leads to one or both partners striving to be in complete agreement with the other and avoid rocking the boat. As a result, the relationship becomes tedious and lackluster.

How intimacy develops

Intimacy develops when people get to know each other more deeply. When two people conceal who they are and what they think in order to get along, they do not get to know one another well. Intimacy develops when two people are able to express who they are more fully, and when they are able to change and grow while within a relationship, even though this does not always lead to a feeling of oneness. Passion requires friction, albeit not hostile friction.

Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy

To be able to express who you are, what you feel, and what you believe requires being able to handle rejection, which often triggers anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen the intimacy in your relationship.

Of course there is a limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling, because you don’t want to become a bore. Moreover, there is a point where consideration and discretion count more than blunt honesty and openness.

Get comfortable with discomfort

When it comes to more significant thoughts and feelings, we need to learn to express ourselves despite the other person’s potentially-negative response. If we learn to handle discomfort, we no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down our conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Our relationships can then be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity, rather than sham consensus.

Respectful communication

Intimate relationships develop best when we express our honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when we really listen to another person’s message without shutting him or her down. This means not being reactive — sarcastic, angry, or cold — when someone has an opinion that we disagree with. When we “correct” or attack people aggressively for their ideas, we’re not encouraging them to be open and honest with us.

Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are endorsed. Yet he or she will feel understood and respected.

“I understand what you’re saying. I see it a little differently though.”

“I’m interested to hear why you see it that way.”

“Interesting. I have a different perspective.”

Intimacy develops when we learn to listen with equanimity and to reveal ourselves, our opinions, and our feelings respectfully. Only by truly getting to know one another, do we develop meaningful, intimate relationships.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

How to Deal with 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 destructive 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 child or 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 Dr. Alison Poulsen

“I try so hard to make her happy.”

"Noble Love" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Noble Love” by Mimi Stuart ©

Responsibility for another’s wellbeing

People who put excessive energy into trying to make others happy tend to lose their sense of self and the accompanying groundedness and objectivity. The suppression of their own values, needs and desires often leads to growing resentment and a lack of vitality.

The more compelled a person is to promote someone else’s wellbeing, the more anxious that person becomes. People who put excessive energy into “helping” others and to making them happy are often completely unaware of the anxiety which drives them, because they are projecting their own anxiety onto the people they are trying to help.

Dependence on validation from others

The opposite dynamic also leads to trouble. The more your own wellbeing depends on validation from others, the more anxious you become. Thus, when people are desperately seeking validation, they tend to use emotional manipulation to get it. The resulting validation isn’t very gratifying because it has been coerced. Thus, their craving for validation is never satisfied, and becomes a drain on the relationship.

People who crave a lot of validation may be aware of their own anxiety, but they believe it is up to others to take care of them. Their efforts to get others to relieve their anxiety are ineffective in resolving the ultimate problem—that is, learning to tolerate their own anxiety.

Escalation of anxiety

Anxiety increases when you have less control over achieving your goals. Since you are not in control of someone else’s wellbeing, and you are not in control of someone validating you, anxiety for both parties increases. Hence relationships between emotionally fused people tend to generate considerable chronic anxiety.

The more anxious people become, the more reactive and intolerant they are of others. They become more frantic to “fix” things. They may feel alternatively overwhelmed and isolated, needing more emotional connection, but rejecting all but the “right” kind of connection, that is, total validation. A lack of response or the wrong kind of response hurts or angers them, which causes them to say hurtful things or withdraw, leading to an escalation of anxiety and conflict.

It is paradoxical and unfortunate that undifferentiated people have more need of emotional support, but are less likely to get it or to be satisfied by it.

Healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, people are helpful, considerate, and care about the one another’s wellbeing. They will do things they think might make the other person happy. However, they are emotionally differentiated, which prevents one person’s anxiety from infecting the other and spiraling out of control. Differentiation means that you avoid emotionally manipulating another person and you avoid walk on eggshells. Instead you respect that person as autonomous, though perhaps interdependent. This requires being aware of and tolerating your own anxiety when someone else is not happy or when you are not receiving the validation that you were hoping to receive.

Murray Bowen, who developed the notion of differentiation, puts it this way: “The goal always is to work on oneself, not to attempt to change one’s family. The goal is not to get the family to “accept” you, to “love” you. The goal is to be more of a self, which is not contingent on acceptance.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Recommended Kerr and Bowen’s “Family Evaluation.”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

Read “I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

“You like going surfing more than you like me!”

"L'Amour dans l'eau" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“L’Amour dans l’eau” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So… what I really meant was…

“Let’s spend some time together. I know you love surfing and I don’t want to take that away from you. But I would love to spend a little quality time with you. How about going out to dinner or having a picnic at the beach tonight?”

It’s easy to manipulate someone into spending more time with you, but you won’t enjoy your time together using guilt and complaints to coerce him or her to do so. You want your partner to be fully present and appreciate spending time with you. So entice your partner with a positive suggestion. Remember that it’s an opportunity to spend time together not a burden. You will be more effective if you show compassion while reminding him how important it is for you to enjoy time together.

Balancing individual pursuits and togetherness

It’s important to balance spending time together with pursuing your passions. Brain research shows that desire and passion for your partner fades if you spend all your time together. However, if you spend too little time together, you risk drifting apart and losing your energetic linkage. The ideal balance differs from person to person. To avoid ongoing disappointment and frustration, it’s best to find out what that balance is for each of you before making a long-term commitment.

In any relationship, there will be periods of time where things get out of balance. Candid discussions about this balance are key to avoiding becoming too onesided. Yet such discussions are most effective when each person shows compassion for the other person’s desires and needs while discussing his or her own wishes.

Responding to your partner

While you do not want to develop a pattern of being manipulated by the use of guilt or complaints, it is important to have empathy for your partner’s position and to respond to him or her without getting angry, defensive, or become compliant. You can be compassionate without being controlled.

Have a conversation with your partner and take into consideration your partner’s desires. Find out how he or she envisions spending more time together. Consider whether you are neglecting your partner. If so, discuss with him or her when you could spend more time together and plan to do so. You might also suggest that more positive communication would be more inviting, and perhaps to leave comparisons between your love of surfing and the relationship aside.

Responding to controlling behavior

If the complaint is unwarranted, you might just say, “I love surfing. I hope you want me to do something that makes me happy. I want the same for you.”

When someone is generally controlling and feels threatened easily because of his or her own insecurities, it’s best not to become emotionally reactive. You shouldn’t become hostile, churlish, or apologetic. Instead, keep your cool, and perhaps say, “I love you, but surfing is great exercise, feeds my soul, keeps me balanced and connects me with nature. Loving someone means supporting their passions not restricting them.”

Not buying into his or her emotional heat is key. Keep calm and reasonable yet do not allow yourself to be controlled by his or her fears. If you do, you are walking down the path of emotional fusion toward resentment. Consideration in a relationship is necessary but you shouldn’t start giving up reasonable things that you love to do and you shouldn’t want your partner to do the same.

When people are not differentiated, they lack emotional separation. As a result control and manipulation increase, which leads to greater conflict or over-accommodation at the cost of one’s own desires going underground. Both are unhealthy for the long-term enjoyment of a relationship.

Successful relationships require improving your ability to balance consideration for your partner with respect for your own desires. Consideration engenders the warmth of togetherness, while individual pursuits foster growth and passion. Seeking the right balance for both partners requires an ongoing effort that is well worth it.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a Doormat.”

Read “I’m always walking on eggshells. I don’t want to upset my partner.”

Read “Pursuing passions or partnership? ‘You should spend time with me instead of going fishing!’”