December 19, 2011

It is normal to want things and to get attached to that which is important to us. People, places, and things share our existence and enrich the quality of our life, or at least they should enrich our lives. Disentangling is not about ending the good attachments we have in life. It is about shedding unhealthy and dysfunctional attachments that detract or take away from the quality of our life.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - IV (DSM-IV) indicates that a disorder exists if whatever condition present causes significant distress or problems in one or more important areas of one’s life. These important areas of life include health, relationships, work, etc. A few examples of such problems that can come from unhealthy attachments include:
Loss . . . of job, of temper, of friends, of family, or anything else we deem important.

Neglect. . . of spouse, of children, of ourselves, of our health, of our work, financial, or school-related responsibilities.

Failure. . .to prepare for the responsibilities of life or to show up for life, for example by isolating or staying in bed all day or all week not due to a physical illness. 

The result of these losses, negligence, or failures on our part is that they take up space in our mind, and our mental preoccupation with them drains us of our life’s energy. The preoccupation of our mind will cause us to engage in unhealthy behaviors. Pursuing, watching, sneaking, and above all waiting, drains us causing us to neglect other more important areas of our lives. Our focus narrows, and we concern ourselves only with the needs of the other person. As this preoccupation with the other person grows, our Self will wither and die deep down inside. When given the choice of meeting our own needs or that of another, we will choose to neglect ours in favor of those of the other person. As the unhealthy attachment continues to grow, we sink deeper into the hole we have dug for ourselves.

Unhealthy attachments rob us of our peace of mind. This concept is not new. The Buddha (563-483 BCE) discusses attachment in his Four Noble Truths. Essentially he said that suffering arises from attachment and it ceases when attachment to desire ceases. The damaging effects of attachment are documented throughout human history. How many conflicts are fought because a leader becomes fixated on taking, gaining, or having something…anything? How much mayhem is caused by someone whose romantic aspirations became larger than life and yet they chase the affections of another to the brink of insanity? Things can easily get out of hand without the ability to objectively view what is happening. It can happen…you can get hooked…on anyone or anything. The key is to recognize the attachment so you can begin to reverse the process.  

It is no surprise that attachment to another person can be so damaging to our health and welfare. Yet it can happen, and we may be unable to comprehend what is happening or when it is happening. We definitely feel its effects, whether physical or emotional, yet we still think we can handle it if we just try a little harder.

For now just think about the relationships you currently enjoy and ask yourself if any of them have become unhealthy or are draining you. Have any you used to enjoy become just too difficult and yet you can’t figure out what changed? Whatever you do, acknowledge it, but don’t dwell on it.

If there is an unhealthy attachment to another person in your life, there is still hope. You can disentangle, but in order to do that you must find YOU! And in my next blog I will discuss how to go about finding YOU.
December 6, 2011

In my last blog I introduced The Basics of disentangling. In today’s blog, I will discuss the first Basic: It’s about the experience of losing your Self.

Notice in this first Basic the word “Self” is capitalized. This is the first important concept for you to understand. Your Self is the real you, the spiritual you, deep down inside. Your Self is what is lost when you become entangled in relationships with others. This entanglement may not have been apparent when the relationship(s) began; it developed over time. As more and more of the “true you” went underground, you became emotionally drained and spiritually disconnected. Reversing this process so as to retrieve, connect with, and develop the true you is why I wrote Disentangle.

Losing your Self in someone else can happen quite easily. Enmeshing or entangling emotionally with someone else chips away at your sense of self and your individuality. This often happens in dysfunctional relationships that are familial, romantic, or can be professional. Living vicariously through someone else, and being emotionally consumed with another person can turn your life upside down. Worry, anger, confusion, anticipation, hopes and dreams—always centered on another person—is unhealthy.

Entangling is common among codependents and/or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). Many professionals in the counseling and addiction fields have differing definitions of codependence. However, regardless of the definition you choose, one similarity remains. That single similarity is the continued investment of one’s sense of self in the other person. This investment is damaging because when one links his or her sense of self to their ability to meet another’s needs—and those needs are dysfunctional and unstable—the result is suffering. Suffering comes in emotional and physical forms. The desire to change the other person, the desire to control them, or fix them is the root of much of the insanity. You cannot make them well or make things better by loving them more.

The other person with whom you are entangled may well be ill. That illness is often addiction-related but need not be. Controlling or care-taking behaviors may or may not be present. However, the insanity experienced when you are entangled keeps you hyper-vigilant or on a heightened state of alert. You can’t really take a break from the worry and stress if you are always attuned to the needs of another. Losing your Self causes emotional difficulties and can make you physically ill.

Stress and worry can manifest in many physical forms, including chest pains, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, body tension, and problems with sleeping and eating. If you have reached the point where you have physical problems associated with entangling you may need more help than this book can offer. There are many excellent options available to address the physical symptoms of the stress and worry.

However, if you are entangled you must also address the underlying loss of Self through the process of disentangling. Admitting that you have a problem—recognizing you have lost your Self—is the first step in getting well. I have helped many individuals along this path, and every journey and every story is unique. However, they all share a few common threads and they are a loss of Self, a desire to find it, and a desire to take the necessary steps to begin the process of change. Change is not always easy but it is vital if you find that you have lost your Self in someone else. Begin your journey today and look for future blogs addressing nine more of The Basics which explain the underlying processes of disentangling.