When dealing with a certain problem or when trying to realize their goals, most people don’t have a clear idea of what it is that causes their problems or blocks them from reaching their goals. The causes are usually hidden, buried deep in the realms of the unconscious mind, and our imagination interprets them in many different ways, creating varieties of prejudice. Nevertheless, it seems that most of our problems and blocks to success come from one of the two basic needs we have as human beings. Both of these needs are instinctive and automatic; they are part of human nature and are impossible to avoid or neglect. If these needs are not satisfied or become twisted, we will have problems that will block our happiness, our success, and fulfillment. Therefore, the problem-solving process has to consist of methods designed to enable us to satisfy these two needs. They are:
1. The need for connectedness in relationships.
2. The need for wholeness, or to be who we are.
Being connected in a relationship seems to be our primary need. Humans want to be emotionally bonded with the people that are closest to them. The need for connectedness is so strong that most of us will connect to others in the worst possible ways just to satisfy this need. So the paradoxical thing here is that even the so-called “toxic bonding” is better than none. That is, the actual connection with the people we are intimate with goes through energy cords that link two persons together. Although of energy origin, these cords resemble physical organs, and it is better to have an organ that is sick than to have no organ at all. That’s why some forms of popular psychotherapy that are directed merely towards “cutting the ties that bind” are not complete and cannot give us the desired results. Toxic bonds definitely need to be dissolved, but afterward, we have to re-create healthy connections, not only with abstractions such as the “higher self”, but also with the actual people with whom we were toxically bonded. The rule says – a healthy connection sets us free, and disconnectedness bonds us. As I have already mentioned, through healthy connections with our family members and the other people we feel close to, we express the most important purpose of our existence, which is the actualization of the potential to create completely fulfilling relationships with other beings and the world around us.
Together with connectedness, everybody has the need to be who they are and to be accepted by others for who they are. We want to be whole, and we want to express ourselves freely and openly; we don’t wish to be forced to give up some of the aspects of our true selves. If this, for some reason, isn’t possible, there will be a slowdown or a stop in our development. People become obsessed with things they are not allowed to do or be, and they cannot continue their development until the need to be who they are and to express themselves freely is finally satisfied. The need to be whole expresses the next important purpose of our existence, and that is self-love and the development of our own potential. Besides self-realization through harmonious relationships, we have come to this planet to realize ourselves creatively. We are definitely not here to just be a cog in the artificially created economic machinery, or a robot without contact with the deeper aspects of its own being.
How did we become incomplete, and why did we create toxic bonds? Our need to relate and be loved is so strong that we try to realize it by any means. We want the people who are closest to us (our parents, partners, children, or friends) to love us and support us emotionally. This need was especially strong when we were small children. Even unborn babies living in their mother’s womb have this emotional need, although most people are not aware of this and think that the prenatal phase serves only for physiological development. If our parents are able to love us unconditionally, accept us as we are, and enthusiastically support us in our efforts, then our psycho-energetic connection with them is going to be healthy. On the other hand, if parents put conditions on their love and accept a child only if those conditions are respected, then the connection becomes unhealthy, burdening, and “toxic,” creating blocks to success and the inability to realize goals, both during childhood and later on when a child grows up.
Together with unhealthy connectedness, a child faces an identity loss of some kind because he rejects a part of himself that is not acceptable to his parents. For example, if there is a rule in the family that says that free thinking is not acceptable, then we shall reject, cut off, or forget about the part of ourselves that wants to be an independent thinker. If the rule says that expressing our emotions openly and freely is not desirable, then we shall suppress our emotions and forget about the part of ourselves that is able to feel. If creativity is not acceptable, we shall probably view creativity as dangerous and eventually forget about it. So, if parents do not accept a child as a conscious being and see him merely as a tabula rasa or a blank slate that can be programmed according to their ideas, then the child can make the conclusion that “to be who you are is not good.” And since our primary need is to be loved and emotionally connected, in an attempt to deserve parental love and acceptance, we shall reject, suppress, or forget about the part of ourselves that is not acceptable. Our connections with our parents then become a kind of sale contract based on strict rules – we know exactly what is allowed and what isn’t, what part of ourselves we need to keep hidden, and what mask we have to wear for the outer world.
However, in the same way as conditional love doesn’t diminish our need for bonding, cutting off a part of our true self doesn’t diminish our need for that part. The desire for the lost part is still there, but since it cannot be expressed directly, it finds other ways of expression, and those ways can sometimes be pretty destructive. The actual dynamics of that might look like this: if we have learned that a part of ourselves is not desirable or acceptable, we may try to suppress it; this could work for some time, but slowly we become obsessed (consciously or unconsciously) with it and may try to satisfy our obsession by creating some vice; later on we become addicted to that vice.
For example, in some families, it is not acceptable to be a strong person and to defend your integrity by confronting others in ways that may include anger or healthy aggressiveness. Those are usually families of victims who see healthy integrity as undesirable or even as tyranny. Our reaction to this could be to cut off our integrity or to lose the part of ourselves that has the need to confront those who don’t respect our integrity. But by doing this, our need for that particular part will not disappear; we are just not allowed to express it when appropriate. Therefore we may express it in some other situations, mostly when it is absolutely inappropriate. We may start drinking and become violent when drunk. We may occasionally engage ourselves in unnecessary fights with other people and justify it by saying that “it was their fault.” Some people take drugs in order to establish contact with “forbidden” parts of themselves. Some become TV or movie addicts, emotionally identifying themselves with the roles actors play, having no idea that by doing this, they are actually searching for the lost parts of their own souls.
All primary aspects of bonding become the role models for our secondary aspects of bonding. Primary aspects are the types of bonding with our parents that were established in the prenatal phase of development and in the earliest childhood. Secondary aspects are the ones we create through the relationships we consciously choose – those with our friends, partners, and children. For example, a child may have a parent of the opposite sex who tyrannizes him emotionally. Although parents have a duty to create rules and obligations for children, the parent-tyrant sometimes does not allow for the child to have even the minimum amount of free will. He or she makes every important decision and determines which school the child will go to, what he will do during his free time, and what kind of friends he will have. What this child learns from such a parent is how to become a tyrant. He may have a younger brother or sister and constantly tyrannizes them in both obvious and more sophisticated ways. He can behave the same way with friends and, later on, with partners. Sometimes this person finds partners who are able to love him unconditionally, but he is not satisfied with them. For him, unconditional love does not equal affection but tyranny, so he needs someone who will tyrannize him in order to feel loved. And these people eventually find tyrants for their partners. They become dependent on them, and although constantly complain, they do nothing to change or end their relationship. So, this is how primary bonding may affect the secondary aspects.
What happens when these people come for treatment? They usually decide to visit a therapist not because of “primary bonding problems” but because of some other difficulties that they face, which are almost certainly going to be the consequences of primary bonding. For example, they might be unable to realize themselves professionally, so they may say that “something is blocking them” from finding an adequate job, but they don’t know what. Although their psychological profile may show a potential leader, the influence of an authoritarian parent may have completely confused them. All they know about the causes of that block are their feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that come from an unknown source. They may try to satisfy their professional needs by accepting jobs that push them into the second row, but they always lack something – the job may be paid well, but they cannot be creative, or they can be creative but cannot get paid adequately. Often they are neither paid well nor creative; they work for an authoritarian boss who misuses them in almost exactly the same way as their parent(s) did. So, what is this “something” that blocks these people? Is it their boss, destiny, or bad karma? No, it is precisely that: the toxic bond with their parent(s).
Should we think of these people as unhealthy? I think not. They do the best they can under the given circumstances. Losing the part of their identity that would otherwise confront the parent-tyrant was probably the only possible way to stay mentally stable in the crazy environment of their early childhood. As I have already mentioned, being connected with one’s parents is the primary issue for a child, and the same goes for having a perception of our parents as sane and good. The worst thing parents can do to a child is to make him see them as evil or insane. A child will fight this perception and do anything he can to interpret his parents’ behavior as good and positive, as being motivated by love. That’s why toxic bonding is still a healthy reaction to unhealthy, or even insane, family influences. The good news here is that this kind of bonding can be transformed into a positive and healthy kind. The methodology presented in this book gives the possibility of the transformation of unhealthy connections into healthy ones, together with the re-integration of the lost part, its emotional maturing, and its integration into everyday life. In this way, we also have an opportunity to solve our problems permanently because we take the role of the active subject of our change. This finally enables us to learn from our own experiences because learning the lesson hidden behind the problem was the underlying reason for its creation.
© Tomislav Budak, April 2004.