If every relationship is "a vehicle for emotional and psychological growth,” ...
...then I was trading in one vehicle for another--hoping to get one that was safe and reliable, but driving a clunker that was repeatedly breaking down. My relationships didn't last
Of course, for a while, I blamed my partners for not being "the right one."
I would find some reason to jump ship. If they dumped me, I blamed myself for being "too much' or "not enough." But to look back at the situation with precision, compassion, and honesty, the only common denominator with all my relationships was me! Why was I unsuccessful at love?
At 18, my first serious love relationship was very hurtful and left me deeply apprehensive about ever really committing to someone again. Not only did I fear someone hurting me, I was afraid I couldn’t trust myself to choose a terrific partner. And I understand why I I had stayed so long with someone who was so "bad' for me, or why it had been so difficult to leave. My subsequent relationships were a repeat of this pattern--idealizing and devaluing each other, over and over again.
To add to that, my parents' marriage had ended when I was 13. I didn't have many positive role models for a successful marriage. Seeing how my parents suffered in their marriage, during and after their divorce, and in their attempts at new relationships, I desperately didn't want to be alone nor unhappy in love.
Now, I realize--with the clarity of age, experience, and hindsight--that my previous relationship efforts were honest attempts (although
unconscious to me at the time) to replay the past hurts and try to achieve a different outcome--to succeed at fulfilling my deep desire and my ever-out-of-reach hope that the "happily ever after" ending that had eluded my parents could be mine. In fact, I longed for this!
Three Reasons I Became A Therapist
Looking back, I realize three things led me into the field of counselling:
1. the deep longing for a "happily-ever-after" relationship that would soothe the pain of my own parents' divorce and the break-up of my family
2. wanting to understand my relationship failures and myself more completely so I could get out of my own way
3. most importantly, the need to not keep repeating the same pattern of behaviours that led to unhealthy relationships, hurtful break-ups and loss of time and energy.
I entered the profession of counselling, first as a client who needed help; then later, as a clinician helping others to change their relationship patterns.
During my undergraduate degree in university, I examined how relationships, in general, worked and didn't work. The prevailing thought at the time was that people wouldn't stay in unhealthy relationships if they had a way out and that the reasons that people stayed in "bad" relationships were because of external pressures: legal barriers to divorce, financial or religious reasons, because they had children and didn't want to break up the family, or because they were threatened with violence if they left. But I knew from my own experience --and from the experiences of my friends and family--that wasn't the entire truth. The majority of people that I knew who stayed in unhealthy and unhappy relationships did so for internal reasons!
Many people stay in hurtful relationships--despite having the mental sense and the physical means to leave--because they don't have the emotional ability to leave. Like a powerful magnet pulls a piece of metal, the attachment patterns we have formulated deep in our psyche, keep us emotionally attached to the ones we have loved--whether we want to keep loving them or not! And if we do manage to break away, it is highly likely we'll turn toward someone who has the same characteristics of the one we just left and we repeat the pattern of hurt all over again.
How Our Emotional Patterns Keep Us Stuck
I began to see in my personal life, in the relationships of my friends and colleagues, and in my professional work, that people stayed together because they could not leave emotionally! Couples break up without fully understanding (and therefore never repairing and replacing) the emotional attachments that:
a) compelled them toward each other and the relationship in the first place, and which
b) eventually contributed greatly to and likely caused the breakdown of the relationship, then
c) they become attracted to another partner, who eventually appears to have the same characteristics and qualities of the first partner, creating the same behaviours and defenses to collide and creating the same dance of dysfunction and hurt with the new person in the relationship.
Is it any wonder, then, that in Canada, we have a divorce rate that keeps steady around 40%? And of divorces finalized in 2008, 20% were finalized after 5 years of marriage, another 22% finalized after 5-10 years of marrriage, 42% finalized after 10-25 years 16% after 25 years of marriage. And the rates for second marriage failures (67%) and third marriage failures (73%) are even higher, leading credence to the belief that we don't get better at marriage but rather we keep repeating our same mistakes. So if we are unconsciously compelled to do that same dance over and over again, then, as a teacher from Texas once said to me, "Ya might as well dance with the one that brung ya!" Unfortunately, this is not always feasible, or safe to do.
Sometimes, you get a chance to work out these hurtful attachment patterns in your relationship and to create new ones, but sometimes you have no choice but to leave the relationship before that can ever happen. Other times, you are the one left by your partner. But always, the attachment patterns have to be understood, repaired, and new patterns established in order to find success at true health and happiness!
Couples Counselling to Individual Counselling
My research and training in relationships also led me to become interested in how people’s relationships to themselves could be abusive–not only staying in hurtful romantic partnerships, but in terms of hurting themselves with depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders. I spent many years as a counsellor in the field of eating disorders and addictions and I listened to the damaging relationships people had to substances (food, drugs and alcohol, shopping, pornography, sex, shopping) and their bodies. In fact, addictions and eating disorders were often connected to hurtful relationships people had with others--from early attachments with parents, siblings, and others, to current relationships and the feelings stirred up by relationships.
This ignited a passion. I committed to not only learn how to alleviate the symptoms of relationship difficulties, but more importantly, how to address the underlying causes of them--or relationship to our emotions and our patterns of avoiding intimacy that stirs up these emotions !
In my Master’s degree, I concentrated on the factors in relationships which are therapeutic and which foster healing from a lifetime distress and/or trauma. My graduate studies and on-going clinical training revealed how early family learning, society’s beliefs about love, and our own biological wiring to seek comfort and attachment influence our relationship patterns--both toward others and toward ourselves.
Upon completing my Master’s degree, I became a Registered Clinical Counsellor and a proud member of the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. My clinical training includes:
Imago Relationship Therapy (New York, NY)
Self-Regulation Therapy (Vancouver, BC)
Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (Los Angeles, CA)
Substance Abuse Counselling ( Vancouver, BC)
Trauma Studies and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Vancouver, BC)
I am a life-long learner and maintain my professional development with annual attendance at conferences, workshops, and trainings to keep honing my skills and to increase my effectiveness with my clients. I am a professional member of the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, and a founder of a training institute here in Calgary (Western Canada Institute for ISTDP).
It's Never Too Late to Live Happily Ever After!
Love relationships, one's relationship to self, early hurts and traumas in parental and childhood relationships, and our painful and disruptive experiences throughout our lifespan are all connected to our ability to attract and create healthy relationships. We can heal and grow and begin to create the loving, sustaining, exciting, safe and passionate relationships we long for.
If you'd like to work on your relationship patterns, call me or book online now! We can schedule a time to talk briefly by phone and to see how we can work together. It's never too late.
Oh, and as for me...I live by the saying, "physician, heal thyself!" I practice what I teach and I continued to apply my clinical training, study and research to my own life. I gained experience in healthier relationships. And I fostered and applied a healthy dose of self-compassion to my own relationship attempts--growing and healing my relationship patterns as I went along. It wasn't easy and in some darks times I despaired and thought, "Maybe love just isn't for me." But, I just couldn't give up!
And luckily, I didn't give up. Although it arrived a little later in my life than I'd preferred, I found the relationship I'd always wanted! It meant a move from Vancouver to Calgary--and I happily traded in the ocean, big trees and February flowers for the mountains, endless blue skies, bright sunshine of Calgary!
We enjoy our time surrounded by close family and friends. We know that a chance at love like this doesn't come along every day and we appreciate all of our successes and failures. I feel very fortunate--and I appreciate the hard work of my long journey to get here.