In a healthy relationship, we are able to ask for what we need without a paralyzing fear of conflict or of the potential reaction of the other person. This is far easier said than done. It can be scary to assert ourselves in a relationship, exposing our authentic vulnerable selves to another human being. While this can be frightening, it is a necessity for true intimacy.
When we keep parts of ourselves hidden from another person, we avoid the potential for pain or rejection inherent in being truly open and authentic. The risk that we take in hiding parts of ourselves from someone that we care about is that we cannot feel truly open and fully accepted by them. There is always the looming question of, “If they knew me, would they still love me?” This may even come down to a deeper question of, “Is the real me lovable at all?”
Paralyzing Relationship Myths
To help along the path towards engaging in a healthy stable relationship (romantic or platonic), you can learn to overcome the following four paralyzing relationship myths, outlined in The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2007):
Myth #1: If I need something, it means there is something wrong or bad about me.
We all “need” things from other people, be it love, support, or kindness. We cannot pretend that we are an army of one, an island onto ourselves. Human life is built upon interactions and negotiations with others – it is built into our programming. To deny that we “need” things from others is to deny a basic part of what makes us human. Try contrasting this myth with the healthy alternative coping thought, “I have a right to want things.” The next step is learning how to balance our own wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. As with most things, it is about balance.
Myth #2: I won’t be able to stand it if the other person gets mad or says no.
It is undeniable difficult, even painful, to hear an angry refusal from someone important. It can even hit so hard that it feels like it takes your breath away … but, is it really true that you cannot bear it? Think of past experiences in your life when you’ve suffered a rejection or an angry outburst from someone you cared about. It may have been incredibly painful, but you’re still here. You made it. Try remembering difficult times in the past that you’ve made it through.
A healthy alternate thought is: “I have a right to ask for things – even if the other person won’t give them.” So, the worst thing that might happen is a “no.” Even an angry “no.” Maybe even a fight. But the price you pay for bottling it all up is living with years of pain caused by never asking for what you want. What will you choose?
Myth #3: It’s selfish to say no or ask for things.
Many of us get the message growing up that its selfish to ask for things that we need, perhaps because important people in our lives told us (directly or indirectly) that our needs didn’t count or were less important than the needs of others. It’s normal to ask for things that you need. That doesn’t mean that you’ll get it, but your needs and feelings about them are valid.
Without the ability to ask for what you need, survival becomes quite difficult. While people often sense that something may be “wrong” or that you may be hurting, people cannot read minds and “know” what you need. It is up to you to assert yourself and communicate directly. Try this alternative healthy coping thought: “It’s normal and healthy to ask for things.”
Myth #4: I have no control over anything.
All you can really control is your behavior. While this seems like an obvious statement, people everywhere act in ways that indicate they have forgotten this simple truth. Trying to control other people will drive you nuts. Begin letting go of the belief that you have this power. Through letting go of the fantasy that you can control the behavior of others, you can begin to build on the knowledge that you are in control of your behavior. Really.
Acting in passive or aggressive ways in attempts to control others usually results in negative consequences. It often ends up with you feeling frustrated and helpless because the person hasn’t changed – in fact, the situation may feel like it has gotten worse. When you practice asserting yourself in healthy ways, you might just notice people responding to you differently – more positively. A healthy alternate coping thought is: “I can choose to behave in more effective ways.”
How can you begin to integrate this knowledge about asserting yourself in healthy ways and taking control of your own behavior in your current relationships? Do you find yourself operating from the assumption that any of these relationships myths are true?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
McKay, M., Wood, J.C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Day 3/366…..Fire, Wood & Stone by Denise Cross / CC BY 2.0