Developing A Greater Sense of Self. When establishing a romantic relationship looking for a partner should ENHANCE you not COMPLETE you. I can’t appreciate that statement in the Jerry McGuire movie (“You complete me”) as I believe it set women back years. No one person completes another who has a sense of self. Growing up as the eldest child in my family I quickly learned to become a caretaker. I made it my lifetime ambition to ensure the success and happiness of other household members. Piggy backing that behavior into adulthood I came to “do” for those who were able to “do” for themselves. Everyone relied on me to take care of things and I felt significant. In getting everyone else’s needs met over my own I’d often time wonder why I was becoming more and more of an irritatable and angry person. As a young woman, I thought it was my responsibility to make sure everyone was ok and when they were not, I felt I had disappointed them in some way and often times felt guilty.
As a Marriage Counselor, when someone tells me a similar story I inform them that “guilt” is an irrational feeling. Guilt according to the Cambridge English Dictionary is a fact or state of having done something wrong or committed a crime. Or is a feeling of anxiety or unhappiness that you have done something immoral or wrong, such as causing harm to another person. Making sure everyone is “ok” is not only an unhealthy way to think but feeling disappointed about not making sure everyone feels “ok” and feeling guilty about it is definitely not a healthy perspective. I didn’t do anything wrong by not getting their needs met. It’s not my responsibility if what I do or do not do makes them feel a “feeling.” This is referred to as “Co-dependency” where one takes on the feelings of others when it is not our responsibility to do so. Everyone needs to function for themselves and have clear boundaries in which to do so.
Developing a Sense of Self is essential to growing up. The path of this goal is Differentiation. Differentiation is the ability of a person to maintain one’s own identity, belief, and feelings while others do the same. Differentiation within a relationship is the process through which you can live in close proximity to a partner and still maintain a separate sense of self.
Developing a Sense of Self starts with understanding and working with Boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits we set in all our relationships. This allows us to protect ourselves. Boundaries come from having a good sense of our own Self-Worth. Boundaries enable us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others and to take responsibility for what we think, feel and do. As a Marriage Counselor, I emphasize the importance of developing internal and external boundaries to allow us to get close to others when appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close. Internal boundaries are what prevents us from saying “yes” when we really mean “no” and being able to think and speak for ourselves. Good boundaries enable us to know where we end and the other begins.
When I was a young woman and before I became a Marriage and Family Therapist I didn’t know what boundaries meant in relationships. I knew boundary lines kept neighbors from entering your yard but no one taught me personal boundaries. In my dysfunctional family, and we all come from some kind of dysfunction, having personal boundaries could be misconstrued as disrespect because we were suppose to share EVERYTHING with one another. You could imagine the problems that stem from that kind of thinking. Thoughts and especially feelings were sometimes left to be thought and felt by other family members leading to much disharmony and co-dependency.
Learning how to sort these things out leads to respect for the other and equality in a relationship and a mutual flow of feelings between two partners. This is what makes for mature love. With a stronger Sense of Self, you’re able to recognize and be more cognitively available to be in a relationship where no one partner is in control and the other is needy and helpless. This way there is always room for give-and-take. With a strong sense of self, you can objectively assess whether or not a partner is good for you. You won’t be deciding solely on emotions. You won’t need to say that phrase…”you complete me,” you can say with pride “you enhance my already great qualities!” The lyrics from the song “This Is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman gives me chills whenever I listen to it because it pretty much wraps up what I’d been feeling for most of my young adult life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV9BmH0tuH4
Developing a greater sense of self enables you to trust your intuition and keep you from making bad decisions and behaving in desperate ways.
Whether you are working on issues in a new relationship or looking to revive the spark in an established one, I can help you and your partner build a relationship that works for both of you.
For more information on developing a greater Sense of Self please contact me at (858) 735-1139 or email me at Sarah@CouplesCounselorSanDiego.com