Last Wednesday I travelled to the US on my very first business trip since I launched Holistically Me almost a year ago. And what a year it’s been!
During my time in Colorado, I had the immense privilege to meet in person someone who has been so influential in my life. Sheryl Lisa Paul is a counsellor & coach informed by the Jungian tradition. She is one of the very first therapists to openly discuss relationship anxiety and how anxiety shows up in transitional times including during the engagement or pre-wedding phase. Her approach is nurturing, compassionate and challenges mainstream ideas around love & relationships. I cannot overstate the influence she’s had on me, my own challenges, and how it’s led me to be where I am today.
Relationships* are vulnerable terrain. On one hand, we live in a culture that promotes the idea of the one, AND the one who will make us feel whole and complete. What a set of expectations that is! On the other hand, we all come into relationships with an imprint we inherited including from our earlier life experiences. Some of which we are conscious of, some of which we are not conscious of. So no wonder romantic relationships challenge us in many ways and at different stages of life (pre-commitment, marriage/long-term partnership, parenthood, and beyond)!
When anxiety sticks to the theme of relationships, whether we are in one, or not currently in one and obsessing over having one, it can get very confusing. We are often wanting to pull the other person close if we feel they are escaping. Or we want to push them away if they get too close (the pull-push dance I call it). When we do so, we act from a place of fear and defence. We are trying to protect ourselves from potential loss, potential hurt, and from vulnerability, whether we do it consciously or not.
My anxiety latched onto the ideas of betrayal, the permanence of commitment, and finding certainty. While mainstream culture would want you to eradicate uncertainties, doubts, and fears, in the Jungian tradition, triggers are to be explored as they are growth opportunities. Indeed, when we are triggered, it’s like an internal alarm bell that says something within us requires our attention and needs to be addressed. When we ignore it, it morphs into anxiety. When we move towards it with the right tools and the right support, we can peek into aspects of us we didn’t know were there.
Only when we start approaching relationships and the challenges they bring in us with curiosity and openness instead of judgement and shame, are we able to see the gift they carry. Relationships are the pathway to creating a deep connection with ourselves and with our partners.
Some people go through life never experiencing anxiety in a relationship or never questioning their relationship, others think that feeling anxiety in a relationship is the norm. We are all different in that way. But when worries, fears, and anxieties around your relationship (or lack of relationship) prevent you from being fully present, or fully committing, or even finding someone (when you consciously want to), then you know there is something in your unconscious that needs to surface and be integrated.
It is not easy work and it involves sitting with discomfort, and real fears, but it is also the most rewarding work because once you peak into it, you see your wholeness. You can then step into a place that feels expansive where you can choose how you respond instead of reacting and start creating your ideal relationship.
*Note I am here talking about healthy romantic relationships that are based on mutual respect & care, not about relationships where emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and/or deep controlling behaviours are taking place (also called red flags).