I remember watching Cinderella as a young girl and dreaming about the day that I would find my own true love. After all, who wouldn’t want a prince to save them from the mundane tasks of everyday life? But it turns out that those Disney movies, and the relationship expectations they created for future relationships, held me back from establishing healthy relationships early on. I expected that relationships would be easy and that they would fulfill me. But to have a healthy relationship takes time and commitment. Below are the most common relationship expectations that hold us back from having a healthy relationship.
Are These Relationship Expectations Holding You Back?
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghFebruary 1, 2023 borderline personality disorder, expectations, fairytale romance, healthy relationships, jealousy, narcissistic personality disorder, sexual chemistry, soulmates0 comments
Love Should Be a Fairy Tale
In the beginning of a relationship, it’s common to mistake the feelings of excitement and attraction for someone as love. But love is not a fairy tale in which things “just work out.” Each relationship has hurdles to overcome which take communication, trust, and vulnerability.
With The Right Person, The Relationship Will Be Easy
All relationships take work! Even with the right partner, relationships can be difficult, and differences of opinion are sure to arise. It is important that we communicate with each other and try to understand each other’s point of view. Even with the right person, it takes communication, commitment, and understanding to make a relationship succeed.
My Partner Should Always Make Me Happy
It’s important to feel happiness in our relationships, however your happiness should not be dependent on your partner. Each person in a relationship is responsible for their own happiness. When we expect that someone else will make us happy, this often leads to disappointment.
Sex Is The Most Important Part of a Relationship
While sex is an important part of intimacy in a relationship, it is not the only part. Emotional intimacy is equally important in a relationship. It is important that we discuss physical and emotional expectations with our partners to ensure satisfaction in our relationship.
If Someone Loves You, They Won’t be Attracted to Anyone Else
Humans are biologically wired to find others attractive. This does not end because we enter a relationship with someone. Even when our partner finds someone else attractive, it does not change the way they feel for us.
Jealousy is a Sign of Love
It is common to feel jealousy in a relationship from time to time. But overwhelming feelings of jealousy and the extreme behaviors that can accompany it (i.e., overwhelming questions, invading privacy, and controlling behavior) are a sign of a partner’s insecurity about themselves.
Please note: Irrational jealousy is either pathological, meaning related to a perceptual, biological, or mental health related diagnosis such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. If you suspect that your partner has irrational and pathological jealousy, you should exercise caution as some people have even escalated to highly aggressive and dangerous level of anger over jealousy.
If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, reach out to a therapist near you.
Love Conquers All
Love does not conquer all. There will always be differences of opinion and issues that arise, and assuming that love will fix these problems only leads to disappointment and resentment. To conquer all, a couple must have trust, respect, understanding, and healthy communication with each other.
Written by Rayeann Milne, Counseling Intern. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with Rayeann, please call us at 412-322-2129.
LePera, N. (2022, December 24). 7 Expectations that hold you back from a healthy relationship. News
People with Personality Disorders Do This In Relationships
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 8, 2020 borderline personality disorder, Bowen Systems theory, healthy relationships, narcissistic personality disorder, Personality disorders, Unhealthy relationships0 comments
People with Personality Disorders Do This In Relationships
Differentiation of Self: Learning to balance Self Needs with the Needs of Others
We can all agree that balance is a key component to healthy living. Sometimes it comes naturally, but more often than not, balance is really hard to maintain. One of the most difficult places to find balance is in our relationships. If we want to find balance, it is worth taking some time to think about the things we are trying to balance between. Being in relationships is like walking a tightrope. There are some people who have a pattern of relating where they have not developed coping strategies that help them work through strong emotions. These people, often personality disordered as defined by their rigidness and complex unhealthy ways of understanding themselves and others, cut off anyone who challenges or counters them. We are constantly balancing between our own individuality on one side, and our desire for a sense of togetherness on the other. Whereas emotionally healthy people welcome differences in others, personality disordered people have not moved beyond the immature way of viewing the world that understands not everyone is the same. Entering into relationships fulfills the human desire for a sense of belonging or togetherness. Once we are in a group or relationship, learning how to navigate around individual differences often proves to be quite difficult. It is easy to succumb to charged situations and react based on emotions rather than a thoughtful choice. ‘Differentiation of Self’ is the ability to interact with others while, at the same time, regulating your own emotions. Think of how narrow your world would become if your default was to run away from every person who you cared about who said or did something you didn’t like. This is however the reality that individuals with borderline personality disorder and sometimes narcissistic personality disorder create.
Think about a disagreement that is currently causing you frustration in one of your close relationships. You probably share commonalities with the person you disagree with, but at the same time your individual differences create tension. What do you do? If you are afraid of creating distance in the relationship you might just blindly agree with the person. You wouldn’t lose your closeness, but you would sacrifice some of your individuality. On the other hand, you could cut the person off emotionally, and distance yourself in the relationship. This would allow you to maintain your independence, but you would lose your closeness and possibly the relationship. Both of these responses are irrational and extreme, a product of all or nothing thinking that are often related to several personality disorders. Neither of these options are really healthy. Each is an escape in reaction to the emotional pressure of disagreement.
Differentiation of self is an idea that describes the ability to regulate your own emotional climate rather than getting drawn in or overwhelmed by the emotions of others. It also has to do with a person’s ability to interact with others without losing their sense of self. This is because a well differentiated person is able to hold the tension between their needs and the needs of others without becoming overwhelmed and acting purely on the strongest emotional push. Someone who is “well differentiated” is able to realize the difference between their own emotions, and the emotions of the people around them. Their choices are thoughtful, taking their emotions into account without being ruled by them. They are able to find peace even in difficult situations and respond thoughtfully in moments of pressure.
Think of individuality and togetherness like two sides of a coin that are distinct, but at the same time inseparable. One side has to do with our concept of self. It is the aspects of our personal life and experience that make us unique and different from others. On the other side, we have a desire to share similarities with others, and to be a part of a group. This is the desire for togetherness, or a sense of belonging. When we are differentiated, we have the ability to enter into a relationship and not lose ourselves. We are able to identify our own emotions and thoughts when responding to tension in a relationship, and we do not react to the emotions of others, but rather intentionally respond. We do not give up ourselves to be with someone, but rather we learn how to truly be ourselves with someone. Learning to regulate our emotions in charged situations is the skill that allows us to hold the balance between our needs and the needs of others. It is a necessary to be able to experience tension in order to have difficult conversations. Healthy relationships rely on our ability to express ourselves in a way that is authentic to ourselves, and at the same time sensitive to others. Being well differentiated protects you from getting uncontrollably pulled in by your own emotions or the emotions of other people. Ultimately, it allows you to enter into relationships fully, in a healthy way, without having to sacrifice your sense of self or losing your own identity.
Differentiation of self develops in our family of origin as we learn how to view ourselves as individuals, but also learn to maintain intimate relationships. It was first described by Murray Bowen, one of the pioneers of family therapy and the founder of Family Systems Theory. He discovered that in a healthy family, members develop the ability to have a sense that “I am my own person, but I am also a part of my family.” Ideally, the family is the place that we learn this skill of balance and integration. In learning about the similarities that unite me to my family members, I am able to have a sense of belonging. In learning about my own uniqueness, interests, and beliefs, I learn that I am also my own person. The challenge of the family is to teach this balance to children and cultivate a balance between our head and our heart. When we don’t learn this balance, we learn instead to be emotionally reactive.
Emotional reactivity is the key distinguishing aspect between people who are well differentiated or poorly differentiated. Differentiation of self is an ideal that we aim for and being aware of how we react to others is the first step in becoming more differentiate. Learning to manage our thoughts and our feelings has a direct result on how we are able to authentically enter into and navigate relationship. If we are not able to differentiate our thoughts from our feelings, then we become vulnerable to being overcome by the pressure of other people, or our own impulses in the present moment.
What can we do about it? None of us are as differentiated as we could be. In fact, even Murray Bowen said that he would not consider himself perfectly differentiated! We can all chose to be dedicated to growing in differentiation. It will benefit us, our friends, our families and especially our close relationships. It is easy to get caught up in the past, or the future, but the only thing we can change is right now. Differentiation begins with thoughtfulness and consideration of the present moment. Why don’t you try to do a quick check in with your emotions? Take a few deep breaths. Just notice, what is it you’re feeling right now? Has there been any strong emotions welling up as you read this post? Just try to notice those feelings, the more aware we are of our feelings, the less likely they are to overwhelm us. By simply paying attention to the present moment we give ourselves the chance to be more differentiated. Next time you are in a frustrating situation with someone try to do the same thing, just notice your feelings. Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you and listen to them while taking a few deep breaths. Rather than reacting to the situation, try to respond thoughtfully after checking in with your emotions. If your knee jerk response is to ‘cut and run’ every time you experience an emotional reaction in a relationship, notice this too and try to adopt healthy self soothing techniques instead of running away from inevitable heightened emotions that come from having close relationships. The key to change is always and only in the present moment. By paying attention to the present moment we allow ourselves to truly enter into what is going on around us, without being swept off our feet. Relationships are difficult and require a lot of work. By paying attention to our emotions, we can learn to enter into relationships in a deeper, more meaningful way. Differentiation of self is what allows us to truly be ourselves in an authentic way, and at the same time meaningfully enter into relationships with others.
By: John Paul Dombrowski- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg.
Foose, K. (2018, February 07). Differentiation of self through the lens of mindfulness. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/
Baney, D., 5, J., 3, O., 28, E., & *, N. (2015, September 14). Differentiation of Self. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/
Eight Concepts. (2017, November 22). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. New York: W.W. Norton.
Nichols, M. P., & Davis, S. D. (2019). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Hoboken: Pearson.Learn More
14 ways to tell if a relationship is toxic.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 28, 2019 abuse, anger, borderline personality disorder, BPD, BPD Relationships, domestic violence, jealousy, narcissistic personality disorder, Personality disorders, relationship conflict, signs of a toxic relationship, toxic relationship signs, Unhealthy relationships0 comments
14 Toxic Relationship Signs
According the great writer Leo Tolstoy “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Our sources say, ‘Not true Tolstoy’, of course when psychologists and social scientists put their noses in the matter we can quantify and define the exact toxic relationship signs to look out for.
A healthy marriage, friendship, or relationship is supportive, stable, and enriching. Use our relationship wellness checklist to learn more! A relationship that makes us feel bad sometimes isn’t enough to reach the criteria of toxic, it literally must ooze with the stuff, consistently embodying certain patterns of relating. Unfortunately, there are some people due to their own emotional traumas or psychological profile that do have a proverbial sign on their back for attracting toxic people as they really are more easily victimized by a toxic persons strategies. This article is for you, the people that dig in and remain a part of the toxic dance which twirls them way past their comfort zone, for the quick to forgive, and the long winded in making excuses for their beloved others. Let us look at what the cherished whispers of your intuition might be trying to convey to you as you wonder if its you, or is it them? Read on for 14 Toxic Relationship Signs.
- Invalidate. There is a lot of research on the effects of the invalidating environment, if you wonder what that means. Think about this, when you try to share your feelings or thoughts with this person, do they become defensive and tell you that you’re completely wrong? Do you have to continually work to get them to see your side of things or do they never see your perspective at all? While two people in a healthy relationship will sometimes not see things the same way, that is different from trying to convince a person that their perception is inaccurate and the only way to see things is theirs. One of the things that many couple’s therapists coach couples on is that, “there are two valid perspectives in the room.” People in healthy relationships set out understand each other’s feelings, that means that your partner tries to see your side even when you’re in the throes of a disagreement.
- Uses Guilt. Are you walking around like a stick in the mud feeling like you’re always regretting something in the relationship? Maybe you’re being victimized by endless attempts at guilt. Try to tell them that you can’t make it to the holiday dinner this year and she says, “Well shows how much you care about this family!” We need to have the freedom to pursue what is right for us and the encouragement to express it without buttressing up against endless guilt trips
- Uses Manipulation or Gaslighting. Do you try to talk to a partner about feeling hurt or anxious over their drooling at the handsome guy at the cocktail party last night and they call you clingy and crazy? Does your loved one say things to you that are outright not true and sometimes you end up wondering if you are going crazy because their perception is so entirely different from yours? Does your friend or partner outright lie when you catch them doing something inappropriate? It is common for Narcissists and Sociopaths to use Gaslighting. Gaslighting is defined as purposely telling someone things that are totally untrue, this is even more sinister than lying, it is a form of brainwashing. It is intended to throw off your intuition and make you doubt your reality and the validity of your feelings. The sad truth is that those who are most vulnerable to gaslighting are those people who value others feedback more than they trust their own intuition, those who have grown up on high doses of manipulation, and especially the ‘people pleaser’ dependent personality type.
- Not Reciprocal. Are you always putting in work for the relationship and the other person simply isn’t? Whether friend, relative, or partner, healthy relationships are mutual, meaning both people put in the work to make each other a priority. If you have talked about this with them before or maybe are too afraid to talk about it because your intuition fears what you might learn, a good test is to stop putting in the effort and see what happens, do they reach out at all
- Minimizes your needs. ‘They might be toxic if.’ Do you have to work really hard to make yourself understood? Have you stopped trying out of hopelessness? Tell your friend that you have a lot going on and need to make it home right after your dinner out and they say, “You can stay out for a while longer, you will be fine.’
- Feel afraid to talk to the person. If any or all of the above has been happening for a while now, you may become consciously or unconsciously afraid to talk with this person. Maybe you start to turn toward others to talk out your thoughts. Perhaps you shut down and repress your authentic self completely because you fear that nothing will happen or that you will upset them if you try to talk about anything that they may not want.
- Hold the relationship hostage. Does your partner or friend threaten to break up, leave, never talk to you again as though it is a script in their relationship? Sometimes this is a symptom of a person who doesn’t know how to manage their emotions well or is poor at resolving conflict. Other times, this is a big fat red flag marking the territory of a toxic relationship. Healthy connection is grounded in trust and commitment that you will be there for each other even when times get hard. Of course, at other times there is a breaking point when it becomes so hard for so long that one of the people in the relationship wants out, ending a relationship is not toxic, that is just done.
- Uses the silent treatment.When something happens that is upsetting to them, they refuse to communicate for days, weeks, or even months? A person who uses the silent treatment is often trying to gain control over the situation or even more insidiously, they may be trying to hurt you by shutting you out. The antidote for the silent treatment is to develop a self-soothing strategy that creates enough calm so that life’s invariable relationship challenges can be overcome.
- Makes you feel that you’re never enough. You will know when you experience it, if you tell them that you got an A or promotion, they say get the “A plus next time” or “bet the promotion wont last long”. We must champion each other in relationships and encourage each others success and find pathways to overcome problems, that is one of the reasons people enter relationships, to give and receive support.
- Doesn’t apologize. When you have any relationship that’s more than a flip in the sheets or handshake, you’re going to mess up. Healthy people apologize when that happens and it takes a strong person to offer an apology when they are wrong. Toxic people will criticize, blame shift, deny and become defensive if you attempt to extract an apology from them.
- Doesn’t forgive. When the apology happens, loving people do their best to forgive. Forgiving can be hard, depending on what happened you might now be able to forgive, for instance if there was an infidelity in the relationship or some other betrayal, you may forgive or you may find the need to end the relationship. The choice is always yours, however, if you decide to remain in the relationship then you also are committing to forgive and not use the mistake as a launching point for endless criticism, guilting, and shaming. At other times, if the same apology has been happening for a long time, it can become meaningless and you may start to realize that the perpetual issue is a deal breaker, in that instance, working toward honoring your boundaries should be the goal.
- Uses name calling or makes you feel diminished. While we do end up feeling irritated with our partners behavior sometimes, healthy interactions focus on the behavior not the person. It is the difference between saying that you notice someone’s bedroom is messy and calling them a slob. Name calling can be outright abusive and is a sigh of a toxic person.
- Goes into rages or uses anger to control. Does this person have a quick temper and use it to wield their power, saying and doing things that leave a lasting scar. Of course if we are talking about physical abuse or safety concerns, that is more than a sign of someone who is toxic, that is violence. Same with pushing, chocking, pinching, blocking someone’s exit to safety, breaking their items to name a few. Having a temper is never an excuse to make someone feel unsafe or do any of the things above.
- Zaps your energy. Do you leave their company and feel depleted and out of energy? Is this the friend that always monopolizes the conversation, do you know so much about them but they know not so much about you because they barely ask? Or, does this person have more heads than the fabled medusa, constantly talking poorly about other people especially talking critically about others who they are supposed to be their friends or former partners? Do they constantly play the victim and come to you for rescuing? Chances are they are toxic!
The take home point is that toxicity is among us, others take on these characteristics out of necessity in their lives and they fail to integrate healthier strategies for relating to others. If we want a healthy relationship, we wont find it by accepting the above behaviors and dismissing our fears and intuition. Toxic behavior doesn’t change on its own, it does require professional intervention to support relationship health.
Written by Marriage Counselor and Founder of the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, Stephanie Wijkstrom.
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