How to Stop Losing Yourself in Relationships

Check out this article I wrote from marriage.com:

https://www.marriage.com/advice/relationship/how-to-stop-losing-yourself-in-relationships/

How to Stop Losing Yourself in Relationships

KERI VERIFIED EXPERT

There’s something about losing yourself in a relationship that is abstract as it sounds. Left-brainers and pragmatists might argue: “How can you lose yourself? You’re right there.”

If you’ve experienced it though, you know it.

It might take some time before you realize it. It might hit you in the face suddenly like a ton of bricks. Or it might nag at you every day, whispering in your ear “this is not who you really are”.

Either way, losing yourself in relationship is a dangerous path that can only lead to a disempowered, less-fulfilling existence and experience of life.

A disempowered and less-fulfilled you.

What does losing yourself look like?

While it’s true that losing yourself in a relationship doesn’t mean that you turn into a ghost or leave your body, it does mean that you lose your connection to your inner self – specifically to your desires, wants and needs that make you a unique human being.

Here are some sure signs that you have lost that inner-connection to yourself within your relationship:

  • You often act, think, and communicate in ways that you feel your partner will approve of and desire instead of being your true, authentic self.
  • You consistently ignore your own needs and desires within the relationship.
  • You sense the relationship is “bringing you down”.
  • You frequently look to your partner to bring you happiness instead of looking within to be content.
  • You lose interest in your own hobbies, goals and dreams and give more attention to your partner’s hobbies and goals instead.
  • You’re uncomfortable being alone and prefer spending time with your partner, even if it means consistently engaging in activities that don’t resonate with you.

So why do we lose ourselves in relationship?

Reading the list above sounds absolutely awful and begs the question: How does this happen? Why do you lose yourself in relationship?

The answer is Attachment.

You became attached to your partner and addicted to them under the false pretense that they could fill up something that is empty within you.

Many Spiritual teachings say that this empty feeling began at birth. You felt whole and complete in your Mother’s womb, but when you came into the world you had to separate from this feeling of wholeness (sometimes known as ‘Oneness’) only to spend the rest of your life searching for the wholeness again.

So the most fascinating part of being attached to your partner is the reality that the longing isn’t even about them. It’s about you.

It’s you wanting what feels good and chasing that feeling.

Maybe your partner made you feel amazing at the beginning of your relationship. You felt wanted, desired, loved, and whole. Then, like a drug addict who turns to stealing in order to support their habit, you kept chasing after that amazing feeling even though it was no longer there. You kept running to your partner thinking they would bring you that good feeling again when in fact you were only running farther and farther from yourself.

You might have also adopted the habit of acting in ways you think others want you to act from your relationship with your parents (or primary caregivers) in early childhood.

Perhaps at a very early age you decided that you would do anything to please your parents — including deciphering which version of you got them to love and acknowledge you the most. You learned to play a role with those closest to you in order to win their love instead of simply being yourself, and this behavior was repeated in your romantic relationship(s).

Another explanation is what we call in the field of psychology an “Insecure Attachment”. This means your primary caregiver was not able to meet your unique desires and physical or emotional needs when you were a baby.  

You were most likely fed according to schedule (or maybe even an “expert’s” schedule) instead of simply when you were hungry.  Or maybe you were forced into bed at 7pm every night, regardless of whether you were tired or not. Perhaps you had no choice of what clothes you wore from day to day. From these kinds of occurrences, you learned to defer your instinctual needs and desires to your caretakers and loved ones.

Most likely you weren’t given the space to articulate your own needs. As a result, you involuntarily submitted them to your parents, became too scared to be (or take care of) yourself, and then “re-enacted” or repeated this pattern in romantic relationships later in life.

How to find yourself again

Now that you understand more about why you lost yourself in your relationship, it begs the question: How do you connect to our own internal needs to find yourself again?

You practice.

Practice getting in touch with yourself and connecting to your own needs every single day.

Here are some tips and tools for you to practice finding yourself again:

  • Ask yourself each day, “What do I need today?”

Check-in with yourself regarding the day’s activities including feeding yourself, attending to your work, interacting with others, being active or nourishing yourself.

You might feel you need to only drink fruit smoothies for the day or that you need indulge in that piece of chocolate cake. You might need to take time off from work to hit the beach, or put in a 12-hour day to get a task complete. You may need to call your best friend or turn off your phone. Or maybe you need a sweaty kick-ass yoga class, a bath, a nap or an hour’s worth of meditation.  

Take the time to truly listen to yourself for what’s in your own best interest, regardless of your partner’s needs or what you feel like you “should” be doing. Trust your own internal messages to develop a strong sense of yourself and your desires.

You can also practice checking-in with yourself at several times throughout the day, “What do I need in this moment?” What are my needs right now? What do I desire?”

If you find that you are often putting your partners’ needs before your own, stop yourself and see where you can at the very least create a balance within the relationship.

  • Become your own parent

If your own parent wasn’t able to attune and be attentive to your personal needs and you looked to your partner for direction, start to be there for yourself the way you would want the ‘Ideal Parent’ to be there for you. If you could be your Ideal parent, you would probably do some of the following things:

Give yourself space to explore Life. Acknowledge yourself for a job well done. Have true compassion for yourself. Love yourself unconditionally. Get to know yourself and how you respond to Life. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Be your own best advocate. Listen to your needs and respond to fulfill them if they are in your best interest. Show yourself how special you are. Appreciate yourself and celebrate your gifts.

  • Become your own lover

Instead of always looking to your partner to satisfy and fulfill you, practice fulfilling yourself. Take yourself out on dates. Buy yourself flowers. Touch your body lovingly. Make love to yourself for hours. Be attentive and listen to yourself. Be your own best friend. Practice not looking to others to find your way.

This is a great tool to connect with yourself if you are currently lost in a relationship. You can maintain your relationship with your partner and at the same time strengthen (or start) the relationship you have with yourself. No one else can work on your relationship with yourself but you.

  • Be with yourself

Ask yourself: What is it that I like to do, independent of my partner?

Explore different hobbies and activities. Spend time with yourself so that you can get to know yourself and what you need. If you find that it’s difficult being with yourself, stick with it. Sometimes you have to spend time alone hating yourself in order to learn how to really love yourself fully and enjoy your own company.

It’s important to note that you losing yourself in your relationship is not the fault of your partner. It’s not the fault of your parents or caregivers either. They did the best they could with what they learned or knew, just like you.

Instead of placing blame for your own behavior, practicing taking responsibility for all the choices in your life (conscious or unconscious) outside of the framework of the judgments of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Trust that you lost yourself so you could gain a valuable life lesson.

Perhaps you went through the experience of losing yourself to find yourself in a way that’s even deeper than before.  

To know yourself even more.

To master yourself even more.

Lastly, if you are currently in a relationship where you have lost yourself, only you can decide whether to stay in your relationship or not. If you’re confused or ambivalent, trust that time will tell you what to do. It’s always helpful to work with a therapist who can hold space for you while you get clear on what to choose, so reach out to someone who resonates with you. Just remember: a healthy relationship allows you to become more of yourself, not less.

Keri

  VERIFIED EXPERT

Keri has a Masters in Clinical Social Work from New York University and holds a social work license in both the State of New York and Hawaii. She worked as a trauma talk-therapist and taught Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to graduate students in the LMHC Program at Brooklyn College. Keri currently combines energy-healing, past-life regression therapy, and transformational tools with talk-therapy techniques to assist others to remove emotional and energetic blocks from the past and Unlock Who You Really Are.

More by Keri

How Attachment Styles Affect Relationships

The Cycles of Life

Just spent the past five days at a 5Rhythms dance meditation workshop in Philadelphia called "Cycles". 

It was beautiful opportunity to honor humanity...to take the time to explore and investigate the Cycles of Life through movement and dance, and dance our stories about our own families and lineage. 

In preparation for the workshop, I sat down with my Mom and Dad and created this family tree. I learned some pretty amazing stuff, including that my Great Grandmother Katie (who I am named after) was a seamstress and a fortune-teller.

The picture on the right is Katie's daughter, my grandmother "Nanny". Nanny was one tough Brooklyn broad. She died when I was in High School, but I've always felt connected to her...One day a Hawaiian woman working at the Hele gas station saw my Nanny's energy around me and told me she's always with me.

Im about 10 years old in the picture on the left with my parents, and it pretty much sums up my relationship with them: lots of love and care and they totally have my back. 

I came out of this workshop with more compassion for my parents, a deep appreciation of my own story and really such a reverence for Being human. 

We may all have different experiences of how Life unfolds, but we were all born and take a very special and specific journey through childhood, adolescence and maturity to death. 

Life maybe painful at times, but it is certainly nothing less than truly beautiful.

FamilyTree

Releasing our Attachments in Relationships

The first big love relationship of my life was one that was never going to last. It’s not that this love wasn’t unrequited; it was just with a man who was unavailable, a man who was already committed to another woman.

The relationship took me to the depths of feeling like a woman on spiritual, emotional and physical levels. When it ended, I swore I’d never find someone I was that sympatico with.  

I believed that I was destined to have a Soul Mate in this life who I ultimately couldn’t be in partnership with. I was certain that I’d be single and lonely forever…

Last month and over ten years later, I completed a romantic relationship with another Soul Mate. He was the first man I ever lived with. This man and I have been bonded for the past two years in a sacred contract that was written in the stars long before we both knew that “Time” existed.

We did not choose each other to be a couple forever. We chose each other to learn…

At one point in our splitting up process I sat in meditation and burst into tears when I realized how much being in relationship with this man has expanded my capacity to CARE. Nothing can change the intimacy that he and I have shared or the powerful lessons I’ve learned about Attachment from being together. Even though the relationship was not meant to last forever, this will forever be sacred and special and ours...

Someone once told me that Jewish spiritual folklore says we have 7 Soul Mates throughout a single lifetime. Since my first spiritual awakening, I’ve been blessed to be in relationship with multiple Soul Mates, each connection and attachment being completely transformative and wonderful (or tragic) in its own special way. Each relationship allowed me to know myself and what I want on a deeper level than before. And no matter how painful it is to look, each relationship has been a mirror reflected back to how I see myself in the world.

It wasn't until halfway between these two relationships that I really began to understand what Attachment is as a Spiritual principle as well as a theoretical framework for human connection.

My favorite class in graduate school as I was obtaining my Masters in Social Work was Attachment Theory. Even though my head was spinning throughout the entire semester and the information was very overwhelming, something inside of me knew how important the information was for me and my Life. Finally I felt able to organize and contextualize all the patterns I experienced within my closest relationships.

Around the same time I was processing what I learned in class, a woman who had become my first “official” Spiritual teacher taught me about Attachment by leaving our relationship and cutting off all communication with me. It was a devastating loss to me, and one that lasted for months. I sat on my couch and cried for hours at a time. The pain was so great that I would have to get up from my desk at work and go cry in the bathroom during several times throughout the day.

Because with Attachment, always comes loss.

Attachment comes from the yearning to return home to pure Oneness (a.k.a  Love, God, Source, Spirit). While everything IS God, we currently live in a reality full of separation and duality, which allows us to stray from experiencing true Love.

When we were born into this lifetime, we encountered our initial separation from Source. Yet on some level, we remember what this Oneness feels like. We may experience it in “doses” throughout our life. It may come through orgasm, through a moment of Spiritual Awakening, or in a moments of deep connection with others, nature or ourselves.

We yearn to go back to the blissful feeling that came with unending Oneness and Love. As a result, we attempt to re-create the experience of Oneness by clinging to those things in life that feel good and resisting things that don’t. This is why we live in a reality full of duality. We crave the sensations that feel good (and avoid the sensations that don’t) in an attempt to return to Source. This repeated craving creates attachment.

The things that feel good that become our attachments could be people, food, behavior/actions, or outcomes.

Many Spiritual teachings show us that the path to Enlightenment means a certain non-reaction to things that we crave (or avoid).

Yet, I believe there’s a big misconception in the “Spiritual culture” right now that the answer to living a non-attached life is to avoid any relationship where an attachment exists.

I’ve tried this myself. While it makes life easier, it is like treading on the surface of a lake. It may be pleasant to keep your head above the water, but you can’t ignore that all of the mud and muck still lies deep within the lake. There is no growth in going around the obstacle like the “Tragic Protagonist”. To grow, you must go through it.

Baba Ram Dass tells a delightful story of trying to avoid a person in need of his love because he was afraid of his attachment to them. Maharaj-ji (his Guru) tells him that being non-attached doesn’t mean cutting yourself off to love. It means loving fully, learning and then moving on when the loss comes.

To truly know ourselves we must engage with the muck, dig up all of our old emotional wounds and gain the awareness of how we re-enact them over and over again until that awareness naturally shifts us into a state where can relate beyond our old dynamics and style of Attachment in the psychological sense and we can also learn release our attachments in the Spiritual sense.

My First Vipassana Experience: Fresno, California 8/17-8/28 2011

To get right to it, the Vipassana course was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done and it was a huge accomplishment to complete it. It was basically meditation boot camp. About 100 of us, varying in age, size, ethnicity and all those identity politics, joined two teachers and about fifteen volunteers to meditate every day for about ten hours a day, for ten days.  The first bell rung for morning meditation at 4am followed by meditation in 1 hour, 1.5 hours and 2 hour increments throughout the day until 9pm.  We rested only for a few hours each day for meal breaks and listened to a one hour discourse each night from the head teacher, S.N. Goenka, who is responsible for bringing this Vipassana technique from Burma into the West.

Gobi, the Hindu doctor from Fresno who was kind enough to drive me to pick up my rental car when the course ended, told me all about Indian politics and the history of conflict between the Hindus and the Buddhists.  He was pleased that the teachings of the course were not Buddhism and told me that I was fortunate to receive the teachings void of any prior knowledge of the religious controversy.  It seemed obvious to me from the first time the teacher gave his discourse that this wasn’t a religious experience. 

Instead of learning about Buddhism, we were taught the Buddha’s (Siddhartha and his friend Gotama’s) meditation technique from over 25 centuries ago.  Goenka told us that Siddhartha discovered this technique at age 5, while sitting under a tree.  He sat under that tree for 30 years and meditated until he reached enlightenment and died peacefully in his 80s and under the same tree, teaching the technique to anyone who was open to learning it.

The technique makes perfect sense to me.  In fact, I find it to be brilliant.  Just as Freud theorized in the constancy principle that the way to keep the mind in a state of peaceful Zen (Freud also called this space ‘zero’) was to expel all negative affect and thoughts, this technique works to bring an awareness to the negativity that gets contained in the body as well as the mind.  The technique creates the space for someone to realize that they are often generating sankara - a craving reaction to a pleasant sensation or an abhorrent reaction to something that the mind/body does not want. 

The idea of the Vipassana is to learn through the meditation practice not to react to either pleasant or unpleasant situations and to remain unattached or equanimous to whatever sensations arises within the body (and by extension of course, the mind).  Since everything in life is aneecha, or impermanent, if you remain unattached in each moment you can always find comfort in what is, because what is will forever be changing.  

Think about how much peace and love there could be in this world if we could truly accept what is and never generate disappointment or anger towards others, and towards ourselves…  

I digress.  The Vipassana technique brings awareness to the sankara. With practice and the awareness that comes with it, one can be mindful to stop generating negative sankara (and not cling to positive sankara).  Furthermore, to keep practicing is to eradicate old sankara until the old pain that has manifested throughout one’s body gets resolved.  This takes dedication, commitment, persistence and will ultimately lead to enlightenment.  During enlightenment, the body will be felt as the pure energy source that it is, one with the Universe and all that is.

It was amazing to feel the technique working.  I was able to witness a thought and the way that thought affected my breath or my heartbeat (negative thoughts speed up my heartbeat and make my breath shallow). 

The longer I sat, the deeper I went into the body to work through old negative sankara. The longest discomfort I felt was in my shoulders, where anxiety is stored (not to mention too many years of carrying a heavy bag throughout the streets of New York City) and in my lungs (with 12 years of smoking sadly under my belt).  With my lungs in particular, it was incredible to feel myself work through the discomfort from the top of my lungs down to the bottom.  I could almost feel the smoke releasing my body.

At one point during the course, I felt discomfort inside my nose only to revisit mentally the trauma I experienced when I had rhinoplastic surgery at age 16.  I cried from the memory’s emersion and then moved on with the psychical discomfort dissipating in tandem.  Thus, this past experience became complete in both body and mind. It was amazing.

While I practiced the Vipassana technique, I became more and more excited as my mind connected the experience to my professional interests.  In my world, it was not a coincidence that right before the course Somatic Experience  re-emerged as a therapeutic practice that I am interested in (for those of you who were with me in Costa Rica, this is the type of therapy Barbara’s sister travels all over the world to practice). 

Somatic Experience is used with survivors of trauma. It is a form of talk therapy where the therapist helps the client to become aware of the bodily sensations they experience while they share about their trauma.  Just like the Vipassana technique, the idea of Somatic Experience is that the trauma will be released from being stored inside the body, thus helping to provide closure  both  within the body and the mind.  An infusion of the constancy principle and Vipassana, if you will!

            As I will soon begin to work with survivors of trauma at Safe Horizons in NYC (yep, not time to leave NYC yet!), I look forward to deepening and implementing my experience, knowledge and understanding of the mind/body connection into the mental health field to help others heal.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

With Never Ending Love,

Keri 

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