The Big Question
“How can I feel both secure and free in a relationship?”
That was a question a woman asked me recently. In truth, if I think about it, it’s a question every person I have worked with as an intimacy coach asks at some point on their journey.
It’s quite a koan and I can’t imagine one little article completely answering it, but I felt called to offer you a little something to nibble on in an attempt to help resolve the conundrum.
In order to properly address the above question, I’d like to ask another question, “How do you feel both secure and free within yourself?”
Sphere of Sovereignty
When I drop into meditation and ask myself that question, “How do I feel both free and secure within myself?”, an image of a bubble appears in my imagination. It actually feels like a sphere surrounds me, envelops me, protects me and supports me. It’s like a semi-permeable membrane made of light. The edges of the sphere define my personal space.
What I am seeing and feeling is something I call a “Sphere of Sovereignty” (a key concept in self-love skills class.) Within its boundaries I have complete agency. I know I have agency over whatever thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviors, stories and shifts of attention that are going on within this sphere. It might not feel like that all the time, but if I look at the situation with clear eyes, what goes on in here is my responsibility and nobody else's.
Making the Delineation
In contrast, what is happening outside of this sphere-- other people’s feelings, opinions, behaviors and thoughts are not in my control. The movement of the stars, the state of the world, the likes on Facebook-- I have no power over any of that. I might have some illusion that I have control over some of that stuff (as I may influence some of it), but when I look deeply at the situation, I have to say that I have no agency in that dimension whatsoever.
There is something very freeing in acknowledging what I have power over and releasing what I have no control over.
There is also something in that delineation that helps me feel more secure within myself and comfortable in my own skin. I may not have any control of what you may think about me, but I am completely at choice on how I respond to any opinions that might find their way to my sphere of sovereignty.
It's a Matter of Choice
I could focus on the positive opinions and take them deep into my heart... I could appreciate the negative opinions, note some kernel of truth and move on... or I could grab a negative opinion and beat myself over the head with it until I devolve into a shame spiral.
The choice is mine and mine alone. I can do whatever I want with those opinions once they enter my sphere. Recognizing the truth of my choices helps me feel more secure. I am protected and held by my sphere of sovereignty.
The Path to Insecurity
Now, if one of us tried to leap out of our sphere of sovereignty in an attempt to control something that we don’t have control over (like whether or not someone loves us), then what would typically happen is that we’d drain our energy, get frustrated and feel powerless. This hardly describes a state of security, in fact, it looks a lot like insecurity.
You certainly have the power to make requests of your loved ones, but doing so with the intention of trying to control versus honoring their sphere of sovereignty creates two entirely different experiences. One feels like empowered interdependence, the other feels like powerless co-dependence.
Resilient Empowered Focus
People that have learned to truly focus their energies on what they can control and stay within their sphere of sovereignty, feel both free and secure within themselves. It’s a state you could call "resiliency."
The Challenge of Old Wounds
That illusion of not being free tends to be most acute when relationship dynamics trigger the physiology and emotional reactions of old childhood wounds. In childhood, our literal survival was dependent on our bond with our caregivers.
As adults, that sense of helplessness is an illusion. It’s an honest mistake created by the nature of implicit memory; where the past feels like it is happening in the present. But ultimately that sense of dependency (that feeling of not being free in the relationship) is not the truth.
Creating New Pathways
In order for you to cultivate more resiliency and thus feel both free and secure within yourself, I recommend trying to show up with presence and curiosity to the emotions and sensations that arise when those young, vulnerable states get triggered. Leaping out of your sphere and trying to control your partner will take you down a path of insecurity.
By owning your power and meeting those old childhood emotions and sensations with as much love and presence as you can muster, you will start to create new neural pathways. You start to reparent yourself and thus unhook yourself from the tendency to attach to imaginary parental units. Making a request for support to help you do just that could be one of your most responsible choices. However you chose to meet the task, your young, vulnerable self will sense your empowered and present adult self holding them. When you practice in this way, integration happens.
The result; more freedom, more security and more resiliency.