Tag Archives: codependency

Approval seeking in relationships

Approval seeking in relationships

Approval seeking or authentic generosity?

There’s a difference between authentic generosity and approval seeking. There’s a difference between an act of sacrifice based on having much to give and an act of sacrifice that is based on your inner bereftness and desperate need for acceptance.

The trouble is that while the differences and the implications of the differences between these two sets of motivations are huge, it’s still easy to confuse one for the other. This confusion happens when we mistake our own intentions and motivations and it happens when we mistake the intentions and motivations of our partner.

Abundance vs scarcity

Authentic generosity is an act of abundance. A generous partner is in touch with their own self worth, so they are not seeking it from their partner.

Approval seeking is an act of scarcity. An approval seeking partner abdicates their own needs and desires repeatedly, in the hopes that by giving what they don’t actually have they will one day feel “good enough”.

Authentically generous partners are rich with positive self-regard, and so they can afford to make compromises and sacrifices in order to support their partner’s needs and desires.

Approval seeking partners are lacking in positive self-regard, and so have little to really give. They operate at an ongoing energy deficit, constantly giving more than they really have to give, hoping that one day their sacrifices will pay off.

Authentically generous partners are honest (with themselves and others) about their giving abilities, and they give with no strings attached. They can also choose not to give when giving would harm or deplete themselves, and they can be straightforward about their decision.

Default giving

Approval seeking partners are not honest with themselves or their partners about their giving abilities. They will bleed themselves dry, and there are always strings attached. Approval seeking partners operate in a giving default.

It’s worth noting, the kind of generosity or “giving” I refer to is broad and multiple: time, energy, attention, sex, money, etc.

Two different worlds

An authentically generous person will likely be confused and disbelieving when they discover that their approval seeking partner gives only in hopes of gaining something in return. An approval-seeking person will likely be confused and disbelieving when they discover that their authentically generous partner is able to give without reservation and without hopes of obtaining self-esteem in the exchange.

The approval seeking partner is likely also to feel bewildered at their authentically generous partner’s ability to say no when needed and to reserve their time, energy, sexuality, money or praise in times of deficit. Saying “no” for reasons of self-care is not in the approval-seeking partner’s lexicon; instead they blame their partner for their own exhaustion and lack.

Approval seekers wonder “Am I lovable?”

Approval seeking in relationships very often comes down to a worry that one is not fundamentally lovable. The approval seeking partner is constantly testing their lovability, constantly trying to prove or secure their lovability. For this individual the stakes are very high.

The authentically generous person knows they are fundamentally lovable. They do not doubt this.

When I work with couples where one partner reveals their doubt of their own lovability, the other person is often shocked. They can not imagine such a sad state. It takes some time for them to consider the ramifications, to come to terms with their partner’s view of themselves and of the world. There might also be a sense of relief; certain behaviours are finally understood.

The approval seeking partner in a relationship begins to make strides in their own development (and integrity) the moment they recognize their motives. From here they might change not only their behaviours in the relationship, but they might also confront their own inner world, their emptiness, their grief, their rage. This is important work.

Broadening the lens

For the sake of clarity I’ve sketched out one particular dynamic in its simplest form: The authentically generous partner who believes in their own goodness and lovability and is able to give (or not) from a place of abundance, integrity, and self-respect, and the approval seeking partner who constantly has to test or prove their own goodness and lovability and gives only from a place of scarcity and self-doubt.

I’ve used an extreme either/or polarized relationship dynamic here for showing contrast, and this dynamic shows up a lot in real relationships, but other variations also show up, ie – authentic generosity and approval-seeking are not necessarily hard-wired, mutually exclusive absolutes; a person may fluctuate between these two states at different times. Two people in relationship may fluctuate between these two states at different times, sometimes “tagging off” one for the other based on unconscious cues shared between one another.

Sometimes there is no authentically generous person in a relationship; both people are stuck in approval seeking mode. When the limits of this dynamic are reached the relationship implodes with a particular intensity.

The point here is to identify when you are giving from a place of true abundance and integrity, and when your giving is fused to approval seeking, with its correlated exhaustion and resentment. Consider this individually, and also have a conversation with your partner. What insights do they have for you? How do they experience your giving, and their own?

To learn more about approval seeking in relationships read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples.

Have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.

All My Best,
Justice Schanfarber

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Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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Differentiation and enmeshment in relationships

Differentiation and enmeshment in relationships

Differentiation is not distancing

Most couples therapy in North America today prioritizes attachment, partner soothing, other-validation, and empathizing techniques, and so people are sometimes surprised when I talk about the need for differentiation in relationships.

To the uninitiated, differentiation is often confused with distancing, but it actually makes the opposite possible: In order to remain in close proximity to others (especially our primary partner) when emotions are running high, we must have achieved a certain level of emotional differentiation. Differentiation is what allows us to remain close to others in emotionally turbulent times.

If we have not yet achieved a sufficient level of emotional differentiation one of two things will happen when we are faced with a partner’s emotional volatility –

We withdraw. Without sufficient differentiation our nervous system can not handle our partner’s strong emotional experience, and so our body sends us a visceral message: Retreat!

or

We become enmeshed. We lose hold of our own emotional equilibrium as an individual and we merge emotionally with our partner. We can no longer differentiate between their emotions and our own emotions. We become a single emotional unit.

Withdrawing, distancing, or avoidance is sometimes mistakenly associated with differentiation because these behaviours appear to be the opposite of enmeshment, but withdrawing (distancing, avoidance) is generally a symptom of too little emotional differentiation rather than too much.

Enmeshment and co-dependency: The dark side of empathy

Emotional enmeshment (commonly called co-dependency) is often conflated with empathy. Actually, co-dependency IS a form of empathy, it’s just not a very favourable form of empathy. Empathy, often touted as the cure-all in couples therapy, has a dark side too; without emotional boundaries (differentiation) empathy devolves into co-dependent feelings and behaviours.

Dependence, Independence, Interdependence

Another way to understand differentiation is in terms of dependence, independence, and interdependence in relationships.

Long term relationships move through a set of predictable stages: dependence gives way to independence, independence gives way to interdependence. These are developmental stages that we all must navigate in sequence. They mirror the developmental stages of infancy and adolescence. In early life we are enmeshed with the mother (dependency). Slowly we develop our independence, sometimes as a reflexive action or protest against our dependency (think teenage rebellion). Eventually, if we do our personal work, we arrive at interdependence.

Flexibility is the key to interdependence in relationships: The people involved are strongly rooted in their own emotional autonomy AND they are able to meet each other empathetically. They can show up for each other emotionally without being blown away or drawn into the other’s emotional storm.

Differentiation and desire

In relationships characterized by interdependence and high levels of emotional differentiation the need for either enmeshment or distance has been effectively resolved, and the way is now paved for desire to flourish. The issue of desire is an interesting sidebar to the idea of differentiation –

Low levels of emotional differentiation are associated with neediness in relationships.

High levels of emotional differentiation are associated with desire in relationships.

Neediness preempts desire. There is generally not room for both. We don’t get to experience much real desire until we have sufficiently attended to our neediness. I’m not talking exclusively about sexual desire here (though that is definitely a part of the picture); I’m talking about knowing what you want as distinct from what you need. The difference is profound, and profoundly confusing for those who have little direct experience with emotional differentiation.

Need Vs. Want

Something I see again and again with client couples is that people who lean heavily toward the enmeshed end of the spectrum think mostly in terms of getting needs met, and do not know how to respond when asked for specifics about what they want or desire.

I recently suggested on my facebook page that “Sometimes our most difficult relationship issues boil down to a personal ability to say yes and no and to feel solid in either. This simple-sounding thing causes lifetimes of distress.” What I am speaking to here is the presence or absence of emotional differentiation.

Without sufficient differentiation we are not connected to what we truly want, to our genuine desires. In our enmeshment with our partner, we are always playing a guessing game, trying to manipulate outcomes to get our needs met, and so we are never able to stand solidly in what we are a YES to and what we are a NO to. A solid yes and a solid no are rooted in knowing what we WANT, and that want gets obscured when we are scrambling to get what we believe we need.

About the image at the top of the page

The image at the top of the page in some ways exemplifies what we are talking about here. In order to strengthen the connection between the ideas in the image and the ideas in this article we might add a developmental lens, ie – in the first quadrant (upper left) we could say that yes, our boundary is breached, but it’s also quite likely that we haven’t yet developed the differentiation boundary. Differentiation is of course a boundary, a very important and particular kind of boundary.

The next image is captioned “Rediscover Boundaries”, but it’s quite possible that differentiation boundaries have not yet been developed, so for our purposes we could also say this is about developing or discovering boundaries for the first time.

In the final image (lower right quadrant) we see a visual example of differentiation in action.

[Note – I do not know who created this image and so unfortunately I can not provide attribution.]

To learn more about differentiation and enmeshment in relationships, read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples.

Do you have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2
Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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