Monday, October 30, 2006

Inner Critics, Boundaries, and Relationships

This is part of my Daily Om horoscope from one day last week. I've been mulling it over in my head since reading it, unsure of how to work with the info, but sure that it was important.
Understanding our feelings first allows us to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. There is the inclination for many of us to keep using the same defense mechanisms over and over again. Since each situation is different, it is important that we reflect upon what we need to do to communicate our needs and establish boundaries that work for us in each given situation. This means that instead of learning to guard ourselves, each time we feel uncomfortable we must learn to evaluate what would ease communication so that we feel better. Knowing your feelings today will help you create an environment that works well for you.
Knowing what I feel has been an ongoing challenge for me. I've been working on it for years, and I have seen a lot of progress, but it has been slow. Among other places, I've blogged about this here and here.

What follows is my perception of how things have been in my life -- it may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.

One of the things I've discovered in the last month or so, as I have looked back over my relationship history, is that I willingly accept the premise that I am flawed and in need of fixing. It seems that all of my partners have seen me (either explicitly or implicitly) as a work in progress, as wet clay they could mold. When I don't accept the premise, I withdraw rather than establish a clear boundary.

Few of them were so bold as to say it outright -- and most probably were not conscious of what they were doing. The worst version of it is when one partner repeatedly pushed me to "grow" in a way that would make her happy, while making me feel that I wasn't interested in being a better person if I didn't get with her program. That was a fun experience in emotional manipulation.

But what occurs to me, and I hate to use the New Age crap that we create our own reality (nothing is as offensive to me as blaming the victim), is that I draw these people to me.

In subpersonality theory, we project our disowned selves onto others, who then either are repulsive to us or appealing to us, according to how we relate to those disowned selves. For example, if I project my disowned slacker onto a coworker, I will be annoyed by his lack of work ethic. But if project my disowned child onto a woman I meet, I will be attracted to her playfulness. This is shadow work 101.

So apparently, I have been projecting a disowned self onto these women in my life. This self appears to want me to be more whole and complete, and it will manipulate me in whatever way necessary to get there. The problem is that no one can make me change unless I want to change -- not even my own subpersonalities. It can't be forced from the outside, and I can't be manipulated into changing, even though I usually go along with it in silence.

Here's part of what happens: I hear this subtle or not so subtle command to be more [fill in the blank], and my Inner Critic immediately latches on to the critique and starts using it against me. He loves to have new ammunition in his attacks on me. I'm sure he rejoices when I choose women who need to "fix" me.

So whether or not the criticism is valid does not matter, my Critic will be on board with it and I find myself going along with it. Another part of this situation is that I would rather suffer in silence than speak up for my boundaries.

My approach, and I think this is common to a lot of men, is that when I feel unsafe or attacked by my partner, even if it is subtle and never explicitly stated, I withdraw emotionally. Rather than establish a boundary that says you can't fix me, that says you can want what you want but you have to accept that this is who I am and deal with that in whatever way works for you, I silently withdraw.

Obviously, this hasn't worked out so well. The next time, now that I am clear about my lack of boundaries in this area, I must be willing to risk rejection in order to honor who I am and my own pace of transformation. This is a huge challenge for me. Risking rejection is like giving my Critic permission to fire freely, especially if I do end up rejected.

But what is the alternative? This old approach, which I probably learned as a child when I was being criticized by my parents, is not working and never has. It was appropriate to a young child who can't speak up for himself, but it does not work for a grown man who can set clear boundaries and ask that they be respected.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it you though who is rejecting their idea/want/need first? Not to put blame on you, but to give you another perspective. You reject her pushing and she might reject the relationship. I guess you have to remember that there is no rejection, there is only suitability. If she is not a good match to you does that say something about you or her? No. It just says there is probably someone out there better suited to fit your needs.

william harryman said...

Thanks for sharing your point of view, Pretty Girl.

The reality is that this isn't just one person, it's a pattern. I pick women who want to fix me, or make me "better." In shadow theory, this suggests something that I am projecting. They may have the best of intentions, and not be doing anything to harm me (or not), but the mere fact that they are trying to change me in any way sets off a retreat motion in my psyche.

I think you are right, though, they have a need in the relationship that isn't being met by me, so they do the natural thing and try to change things, which usually means trying to make me more emotionally available. Once that push begins, I retreat into silence, and eventually resentment. But the point of my post is that I should simply state a boundary around the issue rather than retreating.

Ideally, I would say that I see their need, but I am who I am for the moment, though I am always trying to grow. So if it doesn't work for them, they need to do whatever will make them happy, which may mean leaving. But it might also mean supporting me to grow in my own way and trusting that growth is important to me.

Every failure is a lesson. I've got lots to learn.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the most beneficial option be to figure out who you are first. To dissect yourself and figure out the things you love about yourself, the things you can accept, and recogize the things you want to change. Then, it seems to me that the part of you that seeks the "fixers" would cease. And you would then start finding people who would see you as you see yourself. You already feel a need to change yourself, THEY see that need too. They are seeing you as you see yourself. So it seems to me, the only option would be to see yourself differently.

william harryman said...

But do we ever figure ourselves out? I know myself better than most people I encounter -- a result of meditation, personal growth work, and some therapy. But I am always evolving. Change is the only constant. It's important to me to have a partner who values growth and change, but who is also willing to let me do that at my own pace and in my own way.

The problem arises when a partner wants me to change in the way she wants me to, not in the way that my natural process dictates. That's when I get resistant.

I don't see myself as flawed, at least not consciously. But my Inner Critic does, and that seems to be what is attracting/creating the projection. We all have various selves within us, some healthy, some not so much. My Inner Critic is not too healthy -- most aren't.

But I get what you're saying. I need to reclaim my projection and that will change the energy I put out into the world. Working on it.


Anonymous said...

Howdy Bill, I love the drawing. can you email me off line so I am able to discuss with you the possibility of using it for one of my projects. It is such a great representation of the inner critic in all of us. email. Thanks Lisa O