Something that is seldom talked about when considering how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others is the fact that in order to be able to participate fully in satisfying relationships, it is imperative that you know yourself. It’s more complicated than it seems.
During adolescence a significant crisis occurs which complicates the lives of many women in terms of their ability to provide self-care in the presence of conflicting needs. The crisis is between personal identity and role confusion. Role confusion is what happens when a woman does not differentiate between her personal identity and her role as wife, mother, employee, sister, friend, etc. Instead of seeing herself as an individual with unique qualities and abilities, she defines herself in terms of how well she accomplishes the tasks related to her role: mothering her children, for example. Role confusion is responsible for a woman’s experience of “empty nest syndrome,” because after a lifetime of devoting herself wholly to her role of mothering children, she discovers that she has not developed any part of herself besides the part that is a mother. Her identity and her role became fused until they were one in the same.
When woman has successfully negotiated the crisis of identity versus role confusion, she may able to identify herself as a strong, intelligent, capable, free thinker and involve herself in activities that allow her to enjoy those parts of herself. She may recognize that she is creative and pursue her creativity through painting, writing, dance or other creative outlets. When the crisis is successfully negotiated, she can more easily identify and develop the unique qualities that are hers and which can bring joy and fullness of living to her life and to the lives of her loved ones. She is aware of and personally responsible for the development of her interests and talents. She is courageous enough to know that developing those parts of herself that are uniquely hers will allow her to more effectively care for others in her charge, because developing herself fills the reserves from which she gives to others.
When a woman has not developed an independent sense of identity before engaging in relationship; her view of herself shifts from seeing herself as “daughter” to seeing herself as “girlfriend,” or “wife.” The shift in roles commands her primary focus. If, during her adolescent years, her pursuit has been toward finding someone to love her rather than developing a respect and love for herself, she begins her adult life in an other-directed fashion. She often goes from the mindset of wanting to please her parents and seeking their acceptance, to wanting to please her partner and seeking his acceptance. The desire to please is not derogatory, per se. It is only negative in the sense that without a personal sense of identity, a woman will seek to please in a childlike manner without insisting on the reciprocity that exists within healthy adult relationships.
If you are coming back to this website because you find the information helpful in your current circumstances, ask yourself these questions: Can I imagine myself as an independent, whole person? Do I know who I am apart from my partner? My children?
My question to you is this: Can you imagine being “okay” when your significant other isn’t happy about your choices?
One of the great difficulties of flying free comes because your situation causes confusion about where you stop and where the other person begins. Maintaining your confusion is the key to maintaining control over you. Begin to claim your own skin and your path to freedom begins.
Going back to your abuser is often the struggle made more difficult to resist by your feelings of love. However, a correct understanding of what you are feeling may assist you in keeping a clear perspective on what it is you really need. Click here to learn more.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.
In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.