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Nancy L. Johnston
In my last blog I introduced The Basics of disentangling. In today’s blog, I will discuss the first Basic: It’s about the experience of losing your Self.
Notice in this first Basic the word “Self” is capitalized. This is the first important concept for you to understand. Your Self is the real you, the spiritual you, deep down inside. Your Self is what is lost when you become entangled in relationships with others. This entanglement may not have been apparent when the relationship(s) began; it developed over time. As more and more of the “true you” went underground, you became emotionally drained and spiritually disconnected. Reversing this process so as to retrieve, connect with, and develop the true you is why I wrote Disentangle.
Losing your Self in someone else can happen quite easily. Enmeshing or entangling emotionally with someone else chips away at one’s sense of self and individuality. This often happens in dysfunctional relationships that are familial, romantic, or can be professional. Living vicariously through someone else, and being emotionally consumed with another person can turn your life upside down. Worry, anger, confusion, anticipation, hopes and dreams—always centered on another person—is unhealthy.
Entangling is common among codependents and/or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). Many professionals in the counseling and addiction fields have differing definitions of codependence. However, regardless of the definition you choose, one similarity remains. That single similarity is the continued investment of one’s sense of self in the other person. This investment is damaging because when one links his or her sense of self to their ability to meet another’s needs—and those needs are dysfunctional and unstable—the result is suffering. Suffering comes in emotional and physical forms. The desire to change the other person, the desire to control them, or fix them is the root of much of the insanity. If this sounds familiar, please understand that you cannot make them well or make things better by loving them more.
The other person with whom you are entangled may be ill. That illness is often related to addiction, but need not be. Controlling or caretaking behaviors may or may not be present. However, the insanity experienced when you are entangled keeps you hyper-vigilant or on a heightened state of alert. You can’t really take a break from the worry and stress if you are always attuned to the needs of another. Losing your Self causes emotional difficulties and can make you physically ill.
Stress and worry can manifest in many physical forms, including chest pains, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, body tension, and problems with sleeping and eating. If you have reached the point where you have physical problems associated with entangling you may need more help than this book can offer. There are many excellent options available to address the physical symptoms of stress and worry.
However, if you are entangled you must also address the underlying loss of Self through the process of disentangling. Admitting that you have a problem—recognizing you have lost your Self—is the first step in getting well. I have helped many individuals along this path, and every journey and every story is unique. However, they all share a few common similarities. These similarities are a loss of Self, a desire to find it, and a desire to take the necessary steps to begin the process of change. Change is not always easy but it is vital if you find that you have lost your Self in someone else. Begin your journey today and look for future blogs addressing nine more of The Basics which explain the underlying processes of disentangling.