Unhealthy relationships and the value of therapy

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I’ve been thinking people who come from backgrounds that were dysfunctional, toxic, abusive, difficult and neglectful and how this interferes or affects their capacity for open loving caring relationships and whilst possibly making them more susceptible to equally dysfunctional or damaging relationships .


How do people from these kind of backgrounds become more aware of this? break family patterns, dysfunctions and develop the capacity to connect with higher levels of functioning? How do they develop a self-awareness of the patterns, malfunctions and not get drawn into them , whether that is in their friendship groups ,family’s or love relationships ? How do they build a resilience and a higher expectation in human nature? What enables that to happen? What’s the process ?


One way in which people can learn to grow and change and become happier and healthier is through therapy and coaching


I trained as a therapist about 20 years ago and worked with adult’s, young people then families. What always came up across all of these groups were the struggles that people had in all their relationships. I heard a lot of story’s of  family stress, unhappiness, low respect to sadly outright aggression and violence. The pattern of dysfunction played through many of the “problems ” presented by the child or family .


The role for therapy can provide a space in which to discover more about who you are ,were and what you want. If you do not know what you want, especially what you value and believe about friendships, relationship and family life then its hard to envisage it, its then tough to make the changes needed.


If you’ve not had it you have to learn to create it.

In therapy (or coaching) the therapist is trained to provide the right conditions in a space in which the client enters. The therapist knows that they are able, through a range of tools, explore with the client what their concerns are and what they would rather have instead.


In most therapy approaches the key emphasis is on the client and therapist relationship or on the relational component in the therapy.


The therapist has also learned a set of skills in which enables him to facilitate a conversation, and with each step, the client can start to explore areas beyond what is known as the presenting issue that may be unresolved and causing them pain.

Initially, they aim to help the client to feel comfortable, so much that they can share aspects of themselves that they may never have done before., They can do so within a safe space explore those situations that have caused them pain as well as the range of emotions that all of us as humans experience. Some of these experiences and the feelings associated with them were unacceptable at the time. Each person is different, and their range of resilient factors vary. Therefore what issues they bring into adulthood and the way in which it affects them also and their life also varies. Therefore, therapy enables the past to be brought forward cleared, processed and transformed: leaving the client with a new clear energy in which to be able to engage with the world in a happier and healthier way.


Part of the process is sharing with another, is so that they can experience the healthy components of a healthy relationship. Good therapy models the levels of respect and value for another. It highlights how someone can be real and expose those parts of themselves that create conflict or distress, as well as their actual values and beliefs so that they become more self-directing. Its a place where you can express and hear yourself and have this witnessed and validated. The tough parts of the therapy can be when the client start to feel feelings of anger, frustration or annoyance through something that occurred in or out of the therapy room. These can feel very negative however it can be where the transformation occurs.  Unlike some close friendships where there are agendas and different beliefs about what people expect and want from each other, the therapy can help unearth what the client is experiencing and the underlying beliefs and perceptions of themselves, others and the world. As a therapist we also go through the same process in our training and after and develop this awareness . It doesn’t mean were free from all negative experiences after and that life is one filled only with joy . Being human comes with a continuous journey of growth.


If you have ever grown in a family where your family was indifferent or your voice was small this aspect of the therapy can be very beneficial .It can be hard for some people to accept this space and start to share however its their space and one that doesn’t get dominated by the stronger personality’s of people around them.


People can then learn to make decisions that are aligned with who they are. And in this process, they are heard and received. The more you notice how you feel, what fits with who you are, what you want the more discerning you can be and this is even more important when in the early days of a relationship


The stories, pattens and insights shared with the therapist are heard, valued and are not exploited.


In unhealthy relationships, the interactions can be geared towards one person. Dysfunction shows itself up through a range of interactions, sometimes those are abusive, yet people don’t recognise this. There can be several reasons why, but the client will now be able to see these from a different standpoint as time goes on.


Once the client has experienced the process of being heard and valued in therapy (and sometimes with a new friend or mentor at work) his set points and capacity for deeper experiencing with another without becoming lost can get stronger. They will have developed the insight needed to remain aware of whats going on rather than getting caught in dramas or the day to day transactions. They will also learn to remove themselves when feelings are high or heated while having the strength and emotional resilience to return at another time later.


Clients can be exposed to the darker nature of others yet not realise because sometimes it’s hard to comprehend or we focus on the small aspects of the relationship that feel good, or feed us. We can also doubt our little voices, gut feelings that there is something not right. Sometimes this voice gets stronger.


These experiences are not only for those who are more vulnerable to them but sometimes very strong independent woman who have full lives have also , almost overnight ,been left traumatised and devastated after becoming involved with someone who was able to get under their radar.


I was recently reminded of these potential abusive scenarios  after watching an episode of Dexter. This sits on the extream end of the spectrum but an area that people rarley discuss. The whole idea of relationships has been glamorised, and the idea that someone can be so cruel and hurtful is to much for many to comprehend. We have been sold and amazingly unreal dream that many people can never live up to. The scripts of many relationships are so far off reality that when people realise this, they have no method create a new set point, therefore trot along in monotonous unsatisfying and sometimes soul destroying situations.


How you perceive and manage this experience will depend on your belief system. Once involved they may feel that they are so far down the road that turning back or starting again evokes huge fear.


I once watched an episode of Dexter that reminded me of the extreme end of the spectrum. He had taken on a case of investigating the suicides of several strong independent women. He found that they all had a common factor. They had all gone to see a therapist ! and before you freak out and classify anyone in the helping profession as a psychopath, read on. It was illuminating what this programme highlighted and led me to explore further. Dexter decided to go and visit the therapist. He searched the therapist’s office and found tapes of the therapy sessions. All showed how the therapist manipulated the information that the clients had shared with him. The therapist had enabled the woman to talk and as the woman entered deeper feelings of depression and hopelessness he manipulated this process to take them further into even darker spaces.


(talking about your low mood and suicidal feelings isn’t wrong, however you don’t want to do it for too long)


Over the weeks the therapist, through his knowledge of the tools used to build relationships and create dependency, created a dependency on him .When the woman explored being down and not coping he elicited more of this thinking. Some of the women explored the suicide and the questioning style he used meant they explored it with more fervour and seriousness.


Unlike the way that therapists would deal with these low feelings and mentions of suicide, he exploited the information for his own psychopathic desires and dark tendencies.


Dexter also started to go through a process of learning about himself in the sessions he had with the therapist. Dexter was playing at being the patient, but the line between his reasons being there became blurred.


The therapist being as acute as Dexter was able to get under Dexter’s skin and make him question himself. The therapist got right into his psyche with the laser-like precision that unhinged Dexter. This had never happened to Dexter before. Before this Dexter was able to keep people at arm’s length.


Therapy is a process was about helping people grow and change.


What this episode dramatised and highlighted was how the therapist was able to use his tools to draw the very vulnerable woman in toward much more darker consequences. They were learning and discovering themselves but only the aspect that elicited low feelings and anxiety-not the resources that would help them get through, build resilience and start to feel hope for the future.


Strangely this leads me to explore psychopathology and the world of dating. For a time I discovered several stories about how woman had been drawn into relationships with men who had gone on to take everything the woman had. The same process had been utilised, often in a very subtle way to tap into their deeper needs – and of course this happens to men too.


Before you start to explore the internet and look at what the traits are of a psychopath . Its more about knowing who you are, what your needs and vulnerability’s are and taking each step, at a pace that feels right for you. Its about knowing the subtle signs and being aware of someone else behaviour and possible agenda.


Someone can have the capacity to draw you in for their own needs only, who have no real interest in you as a person. You are purely there for their benefit. What’s important is being aware that humans look to get their needs met, some do it for themselves, some do it through others.


However when we know we can meet our own needs and that a relationship compliments us and the both gain a lot from being together ,then the need to find your other half or have someone else fill you up can put you in a vulnerable position


Some people can make us feel incredibly important and valued. We can enjoy this process of being the focus of someone else. After all, it relates to the human need for attention. The risk, however, is that if we have some elements of our child hood were deficit in any of these areas it can make us somewhat susceptible and vulnerable to the more astute unscrupulous characters.


Dexter’s story highlights even for him; he could meet someone like him, another psychopath; the therapist could get into the cracks and expose him to his weaknesses. He was uncomfortable with being exposed, or intimate and in this case, it would have been the best decision of his life not to do so as his life  depended upon it.


I’ve met several women in my work that spent years in relationships that existed on different parts of the spectrum from low-level dissatisfaction to outright abuse and neglect. Their poor self-awareness , low self esteem and understanding of themselves and their boundaries, meant they were at risk of meeting friends and associates that were toxic, malfunctioning, or just plain wrong for them .


The journey from dysfunction to function can be a tough one, but those who were motivated by the deeper belief in something better and their own strength and integrity are able to do so.


If this is you get some help from a relationship or family therapist, coach or mentor. Finding space to talk about what is happening and what you really feel about it can be a good start.


As Hollywood still sells us woman the princess dream ,the prince who swoops us up and rescues us and tells us that our wedding day has to be perfect and full of things for people to admire are continuing to set many men and woman up for disappointment.


Being aware of the desire to fall into social pressures to meet someone and raise a family can mean that sometimes your vision is skewed and if you havnt had great role models learn about yourself, what you like and don’t like, want and need and where your boundaries end and begin before contemplating anything serious .


There is a lot of information on the internet now that highlights what a healthy relationship looks like. None of us are perfect , and if we have been married and divorced we may now have some battle scars , this can be normal .


Look up enlightened relationships , this model explores how each partner can explore their own interests and joys whilst being in a healthy union that opens up the potential for growth, openness, vitality, love and caring .


Learn how to spot if your partner is emotionally literate and switched on and become that person yourself.


There are questions that you need to ask even during the phase when the feel good chemical are coursing through your veins , in the early stages of your relationship.


Therefore the message in this story is to pay attention to your intuition, those small grumblings that stir, sometimes we need space and quiet in which to do this , but never ignore this part of you.


Our emotions are there to help us spot things in our energy field that either feel good or not and help us be discerning about what and who we give attention too.


If you have experienced any difficulties as a child with relationships and parental issues or any types of adversity (domestic violence, trauma ,family splits, loss and death) then sometimes you might need some help and support from a professional, someone whose role it is to keep to their boundaries, listen to you and help you speak about those things that might blight the potential of a new relationship.


Some people meet people who are great and loving and kind however if our past experiences were fraught and we grew up in unhealthy places we might not see the signs of someone who is also genuinely ok.


All relationships bring us challenges from time to time , its how we are able to communicate and grow with that person which is important . How they look out for us when we are at our most vulnerable .


Last point – avoid sharing your issues with some of your friends . We often leave out either positive information  when we are miffed by our partners or omit some very worrying things occurring within that relationships .


It sets us up for feedback that might not be both useful nor helpful. If you cannot talk to your partner , then you really need to be able to share it with a trusted non biased independent mind .


If you are experiencing aggression, abuse or violence then seek out help -no one should live that way …..


for a nice course on enlightened relationships check out