Addictive Relationships; Reclaiming Your Boundaries
By Joy Miller
A. "if I Tell Him I Love Him, He Will Change" (Tunnel Vision)
Our destructive relationship is like traveling through a long airtight grey tunnel interspersed with a few brilliant specks of bright light. Despite the knowledge that we can leave the tunnel at any time, we continue searching aimlessly for another speck of iridescent light. Intellectually we know that the bright light might not be found for days, weeks or ever again — but the allure and challenge is too captivating. Despite the feet that the light brings joy for just a few moments, we find comfort in knowing that we can "feel" for those moments. Our fear is that the discontinuation of our journey might leave us empty and hollow, unable to feel anything except pain and agony. With each thought of discontinuing the search we feel a force within us that compulsively mandates us to continue our search forward.
The tunnel above illustrates a focus which totally encompasses another person. All of our thoughts seem to center around the significant person. Our mind races uncontrollably, dreaming of fantasies of our focused person. Despite our knowledge of the pain (broken promises, broken dreams) experienced in the relation ship, we continue along the path. We find ourselves focusing on our dreams, or on the significant person's magnificent illusive words and not on the behaviors we have witnessed. We continue down the grey tunnel, searching for something outside ourselves to give us our inner serenity and the love we have always wanted.
"I settle for a crumb of what he has to offer. I hold on to that crumb like it is gold," described the sobbing Dodie. "If he lias only five minutes in his busy day to give to me, I feel ecstasy of unbelievable proportions. The reality of the small pittance of time doesn't seem to matter. It is what he gives me. I can't live without it. I guess I don't think that I deserve any better, so I find myself settling for whatever I'm given. Men always have this effect on me — I have no control. Don't you understand? All I can think about is being with him for just one moment!"
Dodie's explanation of tunnel vision expresses the common threat experienced by destructive lovers. The mind appears powerless to attend to any other business except the fantasy of our lover. (This is not limited to lovers and can be experienced by any focus person who may be our spouse, friend or perhaps our own child)
I give myself the gift of discovering a relationship of love with myself.
I am whole. I am complete. I am perfect just as I am right now.
B. "He Belongs To Me" (Propertyism)
Susan trembled as she spoke before the group. "Bill must share everything with me and no one else. 1 think that's what a perfect marriage is all about. Your husband tells you everything he does and feels. I am his wife you know?"
Engrossed with the need for control, Susan sees her husband, Bill, as her property. Marriage becomes suffocation. Independence, privacy and personal growth is deterred, in fact — feared. As long as Susan believes that Bill's disclosures will ensure the perfect marriage, she will continue to believe that this is the means to be "as one." United "as one" implies wholeness in Susan's mind.
This distorted thinking sets up a system of dependency and crippling effects. Our need to control and have a hold on another person is our means of protection from our fear of abandonment. The focus of our lives is outside ourselves, which consequently leaves us feeling scared, terrified and needy without our focus person. Consequently, if we hold someone tightly enough, we believe they won't leave us. Our fear unfortunately pushes that person into submission or further away.
Betsy, a member of an Adult Children of Alcoholics group, told of an incident in her childhood that reminded her of this truth. When she was six years old, Betsy spent what felt like years persuading her parents into getting her a bird. Although Betsy really wanted a dog or a cat, she came to love her bird even though she could not "play" with the bird. Betsy felt distant from the bird, talking to it through the limiting bars. She kept hearing her parents instructions echoing in her mind, "Don't let it out of the cage, it will fly away!" One day Betsy could no longer stand the bars that held the bird she loved. She reached inside and grabbed the bird, pulling it out of its cage. Immediately the bird attempted to fly and get free. Betsy, panicked at the thought of losing the bird, squeezed harder and harder as the bird attempted to fly away. Suddenly the bird stopped its struggle and went limp. Betsy's heart stopped beating as she became aware that in her attempt to restrain the bird, she had squeezed the life out of her beloved helpless pet.
Many times we do the similar squeezing in our relationships with people. The "object" of the "propertyism" (or should we say the "victim"?) feels the pain of strangulation. Being held too tightly, the victim eventually needs to escape because she feels like a captive — even if it's a captive of love. Ironically, we get just what we did not want. We find that our possessiveness sabotages our goal.
Sue Ellen told the group that being the victim of her husband's "propertyism" made her feel beaten down, useless, powerless and hopeless. She continued to explore the feelings which led to her passivity.
"I felt as if I couldn't breathe anymore. I tried to fight for air but I kept feeling as if I was continuously being held under water. I gasped for air, but I kept being pushed under over and over. . . again and again. I gave up trying to get away, it was just must easier. Now I don't know who I am — except a reflection of my husband. I don't think I have the power to find myself."