ERP 375: How To Maintain A Sense Of Self Within An Intimate Relationship — An Interview With Amber Price

By Posted in - Podcast June 8th, 2023 0 Comments

Intimacy in a relationship is a beautiful and fulfilling experience, but finding harmony between a deep connection and maintaining a sense of self is a delicate dance that many couples strive to master. It’s a journey of self-discovery and growth that requires navigating the fine line between connection and autonomy.

In this thought-provoking conversation, relationship experts Amber Price and Dr. Jessica Higgins, unravel the complexities of this subject, offering valuable insights and practical advice for individuals seeking to preserve their individuality while fostering a deep bond with their partner.

The discussion delved into the concept of emotional fusion, sharing personal stories and exploring strategies to break free from its grip. With a focus on open communication, self-awareness, and conscious decision-making, this conversation provides a roadmap for cultivating a strong sense of self within the context of a loving and intimate relationship.

Amber Price is a relationship expert, educator, and researcher who teaches people to build better relationships without losing who they are. She is currently finishing a PhD in Marriage, Family, and Human Development, and she’s also a mom to four boys and wife to a chemistry professor who loves baking and eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate.

In this Episode

6:32 Amber’s journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

9:07 Unpacking grumpiness: Overwhelm, exhaustion, and the need for self-care.

10:51 Balancing relatedness and autonomy.

14:23 The role of relationship security in developing autonomy.

17:07 Challenging cultural expectations particularly among women or individuals who identify as women.

19:34 The fine line between conscious choice and unhealthy pressure in caregiving.

23:32 Accessing conscious choice: Stepping back and examining priorities.

25:26 Recognizing and challenging unconscious patterns for personal growth.

30:40 Rediscovering authenticity: Exploring personal values and joy.

37:21 Connecting through shared experiences: The power of authenticity.

41:14 Finding balance and cultivating emotional autonomy.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Recognize moments of emotional fusion in your relationships and take ownership of your own emotions instead of projecting them onto others.
  • Practice having open and mature conversations about expectations and desires to avoid emotional fusion.
  • Engage in self-reflection and mental/emotional processing before sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner.
  • Embrace the ongoing nature of finding balance and emotional autonomy, understanding that it is normal to face challenges along the way.
  • Explore resources and courses to deepen your understanding and practice of emotional autonomy.
  • Understand that cultivating emotional autonomy can positively impact intimacy and desire in your relationships.

Mentioned

Reclaiming ME (mini-course)

Authentically YOU (course)

Type Of Relationship Support (survey)

Connect with Amber Price

Websites: amberaprice.com

Facebook: facebook.com/amber.a.price.authenticallyyou

Instagram: instagram.com/amber.a.price

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Let’s get started in today’s interview. Amber Price is a relationship expert, educator and researcher, who teaches people to build better relationships without losing who they are. She is currently finishing a PhD in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. She’s also a mom of four boys, a wife to a chemistry professor who loves baking and eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate.

Amber, thank you for joining us. 

Hi, I’m happy to be here. 

Yes, and I’m so grateful about what you’re going to be speaking about today. I’m really looking at, I’ve called them sometimes conflicting needs, and so you’re referencing them as two fundamental needs. 

Before we get started into that, would you be willing to share with people who are just getting to know you or want to know a little bit more about you, what got you interested in supporting couples? Then even maybe more specifically, with this aspect of relationship? 

I mean, I think that for myself, I’m very highly family-oriented. I’ve got four kids, I love spending time with my husband, I love spending time with my kids and things. But like a lot of women and moms, I think I found myself, through the years, kind of slipping away and losing a little bit of who I was in the context of my relationships, and actually, in some of my friendships too. There’s a lot of voices in the world that tell us who to be and how to act and things like that, and I found myself in a place a few years ago where I felt like, “I don’t quite remember who I am. I’ve lost some of what makes me Me, and I just need to readdress that.” I also found that I was starting to feel pretty grumpy about some of the people in my life. I mean, grumpy at my kids, because one of them was always grumpy; kids forever, one of them is going to be grumpy. Or grumpy at my husband, or grumpy at my friends. Just finding that I was feeling edgy more often than I wished I was, and I felt like I needed to address that. 

I think that in knowing that I needed to address that, I found that I was kind of the common denominator in all of those things. So I knew I needed to do some work on myself, and just that exploring of: who am I, who is this person that I’ve lost, and developing her. As I did that, I found that my relationships really became better. So that led me back to school to study this. Because it feels so good, and I just wanted to be able to help other people do this also.

Well, thank you for sharing that. I think I’ll say for myself, my own personal journeys spawned some of my deeper study, and then being of service to others. So I know that’s not an uncommon story. As you speak about the grumpiness, I would imagine, even as you’ve come into this work and developed it and transformed this dynamic of finding yourself and really being clear, I’m assuming that grumpiness has waned or is not as present. Is that true?

Yes, for sure. That is not to say that it’s gone, because we’re all grumpy some of the time. But I feel so much better than I used to. Just more comfortable with who I am, less prone to fluctuations in my own mood based on other people around me.

Absolutely. That really does speak to, when we’re not necessarily in great contact with self, that we are much more. I’ll speak, I can recognize this. I’m much more persuaded or influenced by outside forces or sources. Also, when you’re talking about the grumpiness, that in some ways, perhaps that was a signal or a sign for you: “Hey, something’s happening here.” As you talk about the common denominator, you were able to reflect on that, and then that was an entry point for you. Is that right?

Yeah, absolutely. I would say maybe not even just grumpiness, but maybe overwhelm or just exhaustion from caring from other people, and then that starts to manifest as grumpiness. Just that feeling of, “I’m carrying the world on my shoulders as a mom. Everybody wants something from me, when do I get time for myself?” That kind of thing, it can be a lot on your shoulders.

Oh my goodness, I’m grateful for you even unpacking the term of grumpiness a little bit more specifically. Because it does seem to be often the case that when one is for everyone else, it’s likely to feel like, “Well, hey, what about my airtime? Or what about my fresh air, and what about what I need?” That’s a natural impulse. I think there’s health in that, to your point, around what it really cultivated for you and your development. So sometimes that grumpiness or that edgy can be a protest of like, “This isn’t quite balanced, or this isn’t quite the way I want to be living.” Would you agree?

This doesn’t feel right, yeah. 

Sometimes it’s even an unconscious way of getting attention from other people.

Yeah, and that takes some work to find that one. Like, oh, what is going on here? 

Okay, great. So let’s just back up a little bit. When we’re talking about these two fundamental needs, how do you describe them?

Okay. So the first one would be relationships or belonging, or researchers sometimes call it just relatedness. 

“It’s just, we all have this desire to connect with other people too. To feel like we matter, to feel like we’re needed. I mean, this starts from the moment we’re born; we seek attachments with our caregiver. Totally normal, natural. We want relationships.”

But we also have another fundamental need, and that is to belong to ourselves, and to feel like we can develop who we are, to feel like we have ownership of who we are, that we can make choices for ourselves. Just that sense of agency. Like you said, sometimes those get pitted as opposites, like these are opposing factors. When in reality, they actually can really go hand in hand. When you have great relationships, you’re probably more able to develop yourself, to develop that sense of autonomy. And when you have that sense of autonomy or sense of self, you’re able to have better relationships. So really, we can stop thinking about them as opposites and really work towards both of them.

Yes, thank you so much. I want to unpack this a little bit. Because when I term it as potentially conflicting sometimes in life, it doesn’t necessarily seem easy around how they both get airtime, or they both get priority. I do remember coming across, and maybe you came across this, I think it was someone who was studying or in the field of somatic psychology, and it was her dissertation. She was looking at the place in which people initiate closeness or initiate separateness, and that tended to be a place of tension. Because not everybody is going to be in the same desire point for closeness or separateness at the same time. So it can feel like a pushing away or rejection, or it can feel like a deep risk to really say, “I need you, and I want you.” So there can be tension around that. Have you found that to be true?

Yeah, I haven’t heard of that story, or that study before. But that’s really interesting. I usually think of it as kind of like a balance. Ideally, we’ll have both of those things going on, both the relatedness and the autonomy. But like you said, on any given day, it’s not likely that we probably have both of those things happening at the same time, and it may fluctuate from one day to the next. There may be some days where you’re heavy on the autonomy, and other days where you’re heavy on the relatedness. We probably all have kind of a tendency towards one or the other. But I do think it’s a constant battle to balance those, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s just a normal part of being a human, is to try to work through balancing those. So I think you have to take a look at yourself and say, “Where am I at on this, and which one do I need to work on more?”

Well, I’m so appreciative of your bringing just attention around how these are so interconnected and supportive in developing. Because oftentimes, in the beginning of this show, as I do the intro, I’m referencing that the terrain of long-lasting intimacy is both growing relational intimacy, like we’re developing relationship, but we’re also developing ourselves and that internal intimacy or that growth. So these do really support each other, and I think you’re going to help us understand that when we can be more authentic, we can enter into more genuine connection with another. Then also, typically, it’s hard to feel that sense of autonomy when we don’t feel secure in our relationship. Do you want to speak to that at all?

I think that one can be tricky if you’re not feeling supported in a relationship. Because again, that’s a fundamental need. We all need that feeling of being supported and things. Unfortunately, we can’t really change another person though. So if somebody’s not supporting us, we don’t have a lot of options to force them to support us. We can look for relationships that do. If your spouse isn’t supporting you, maybe you have a friend that does, or a parent who does, or sisters or a brother; somebody that supports you and can help cheer you on through the hard times. Because that really will help. Developing a sense of autonomy and stretching yourself and growing is hard, and if you can have somebody that’s your cheerleader, then yeah, that’s going to be extra helpful. But I do think it’s important to remember that you can’t actually change the other person in what they’re doing. You’ve got to focus on developing yourself.

Yes. I do think sometimes it’s a dance and a cycle, but to stay focused on what you’re describing. It sounds like, Amber, you’re really helping people who have gotten out of balance, you’re using the term balance, and have maybe not been paying as much attention to the differentiating or the autonomy. Is that right?

Yeah, that is definitely where my focus is.

Okay. So there might be a part of this conversation that we’re not going to spend as much time on, which is maybe the one that’s a little more gravitating towards the differentiation and the independence. That desires closeness, but struggles to cultivate that more. They just tend to live in this more independence fear. So we’re not going to be talking about that as much, we’re going to talk more about…

Yeah. I feel like we have an idea as humans, what it looks like to be too autonomous, to have all autonomy and no relatedness. That’s self-centered, that’s narcissistic, whatever. We know that. I wonder if sometimes we don’t know what it looks like to have the flip side, to have almost too much. 

“I don’t know that you can never have too much relatedness; relationships and connection are a good thing. But you can have relatedness and have forsaken the autonomy entirely, and I don’t know that we always recognize when we’re doing that.”

So I like to really talk to people about that. Because it can sometimes be like this silent killer of relationships that’s going on for us, where we find that we’re struggling in our relationships. So we lean in even harder on that relatedness piece, when, in a lot of cases, maybe it’s actually that we need to lean in on that autonomy piece and develop ourselves, in order to then feel comfortable in that relationship.

Yes. You talk a bit about serving more women or people who identify as women, and that there’s a cultural context to this, sometimes. I can even say for myself, I felt like somewhere along the line, I got, as it relates to relationships, the more that I love, the more that I’m going to give. So it felt very counterintuitive to me to come across some of these concepts of investing in my own sense of self, and actually like, “Oh, that’s actually more supportive for the relationship.” So let’s turn towards that. I also want to say, I think another version, before we go there is, there could even be somebody that fears, for good reason, has trauma or something about the connection, and so tends to avoid. Even though they long for it, there’s certain things that interfere with that. 

Okay, so let’s talk more about what the imbalance looks like for someone who has forsaken the autonomy, I love that language, or has prioritized the relatedness so much more that the other has gotten so dim. So talk to us a little bit about what that could look like if it’s so imbalanced.

Yeah. I think you just described it well, where sometimes we just almost feel guilty taking care of ourselves. This is a big problem for a lot of women, I do think it can happen for men too. It probably happens in slightly different ways, but I think it’s there for them also. But there’s a lot of pressure on women, or especially maybe moms, to take care of other people endlessly; your needs are always deprioritized. Maybe you’re caring for your spouse, you’re probably caring for friends, other family, just this endless caring for other people. It’s almost seen as virtuous to sacrifice yourself continually, and in a lot of ways, it is. 

“It is a really great thing to love and serve and care for other people. I would never tell somebody not to do those things, those are wonderful things. Something that can be really important, though, is to look at why you’re doing that. Why am I serving and caring for other people? What’s my motivation? If it’s to prove that I’m worthy, and worthwhile, valuable as a human, that’s when you’ve probably stepped into something that’s not very healthy.”

But that probably takes some digging to realize that that’s your motivation. You’re probably not doing it telling yourself “I’m doing this to show that I’m a good mom, or a good wife, or a good friend.” But if you do a little bit of digging, you may find that “Oh, actually, that might be the motivation behind my behavior, my choices.”

I want to dig into that really quickly. I also just want to acknowledge, you said something about men that might also resonate, and I know that there’s a whole body of support around the nice guy syndrome. I think it’s very fitting here. Also, it occurs to me that when one, or in this case, if we are speaking more specifically to parenting and a mother, that there could be developmental phases, where one is consciously choosing to be more self-sacrificing for the interest of caregiving and investing in the children. You’re describing something that I want to dig into here, which is the unconscious, and maybe even the under motivation. How would one know that they’re doing it? You’re saying it’s not always apparent that it might be for a sense of worthiness. How might one get in touch with that?

Yeah, it’s tricky. It’s tricky to start to notice it. But I think if you’re feeling that grumpiness, that over overwhelm, or resentment, you can kind of stop and say, “Okay, let me just think through my day and the things that I did that made me feel overwhelmed, and why did I choose to do those things?” For an example, I mean, I said I have four kids, so it’s busy. It is spring sports season right now, and they’re all teenage aged. So it’s running to soccer games, and tennis matches, and weightlifting, and things like that. I want to go to all of those things, and I want to support my kids. But sometimes when it’s starting to be too much, and I can’t do all the things for everybody all the time, I have to stop myself and say, “Okay, am I moving into that place where I think I have to be at every single thing that they do, or I have to be there for them every moment, in order to be a good mom? Have I shifted my mindset into that, versus owning it and saying, I really do want to be at this soccer game today, or I really do want to sacrifice whatever I was going to be doing to go to their event?” It is a fine line, though. You have to stop and think. But I do think that that overwhelm and resentment can be a trigger point that can lead you to start to engage in that digging in a little.

Yeah, and it sounds as if there’s even a conscious choice that one is prioritizing. “I want to go to these games. I realize that maybe I’m not getting whatever time I would have allocated for my own self-care or whatever that might be.” Which is a very different quality. Because I imagine for myself, if I’m showing up for a child or a family member, I can feel the desire, like, “Yeah, I’m excited to be here. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I really am choosing in on this.” Then the difference, as you’re describing, around this have to, and if I don’t do, the cost of that and the pressure of that I’m not a good mom, and that kind of slippery slope that that might take me and feel. It’s not a place of joy, and this is where the resentment is like, “Ah, I am dragging myself here, because if I’m not here, I’m not a good mom.” That’s the fallout of that, is that right?

Yeah. I actually was having some social media conversations about this recently, saying, a lot of what we do, if we take ownership of it, all of a sudden, the resentment is going to go down a lot. Sometimes, shuttling kids around to their various activities, we think, “Well, I have to do that, because who else is going to do it if I don’t?” Which might be true. But you are making a choice to do it. Your kids don’t have to be in all those activities. It’s okay to say, “I want my kids in all those activities, and I’m willing to sacrifice to take them to those activities.” But when I can have ownership of that, there’s that autonomy piece. Now all of a sudden, the resentment is going to go down, if I’m saying “I’m choosing to drive my child to this activity, and I’m glad that I get to spend time with them.” Just having that ownership can really make a difference, I think, and how you feel about it.

Oh my goodness, I’m loving what you’re saying. I’m also realizing there’s probably people listening that are like, “Okay, even if I just said that to myself, it doesn’t shift how I’m feeling.” So how does one access this conscious choice, and really the way you’re describing? Because I mean, it sounds like it’s a little bit of a stepping back that okay, I’m going to lay this out. Maybe there are choices that I can make, and there is more flexibility around what gets prioritized. Help me here, what do you think?

Well, I have to admit that I have had to have this conversation this week with my husband, so that he could help me through this. I study this all day, every day, and I still fall prey to it all the time. I’ve got so much on my plate; I’m a mom, and I’m trying to get a PhD, and I’m trying to start a business, and doing all these things, which is somewhat ridiculous to even be trying to do all those things. But I can get myself into a place where I don’t know which thing to put down, which to deprioritize. It can start to work into a frenzy, and then you go into that overwhelm and resentment. So for me, and maybe this goes back to the part where we were talking about the support from somebody who cares, I just had to say to my husband, “I need you to help me be the outside eyes that takes a step back and helps me see what things I am putting on myself that I could take away from myself, where my expectations are unrealistic that I need to pull back on those.” Because a lot of times, it’s the expectations we have.

Like, it’s got to be this fresh-baked thing, versus like, okay, maybe I bought it.

Yeah. “I’m going to have dinner on the table after all the people do their sports activities, and I’m going to have the house cleaned, or the laundry done.” I mean, we put so many expectations on ourselves.

And the stress that is often a part of delivering. If we don’t look at it from a different perspective, like you’re saying, it might be very compelling or seductive to get wrapped up in trying to make that happen at whatever cost. But maybe it doesn’t need to be that way.

Yeah, and it takes some solid reflection to just take a step back and work on that. So I guess if you do have somebody that can be that voice of reason, that can be really helpful. It was for me, I mean, I just periodically need that outsider’s perspective to help me take that step back and see more clearly what I could be doing that would work better for all of us, for me and my family.

Yes, me too. I can get quite attached to a vision of what I want something to be, and I think my husband is really great at doing less and having it be less stressful, and also a better sense of time management. So his voice can be really helpful and supportive in that regard. Because I think if I’m really stressed, I’m not as relating, I’m not as available to feel connected as we’re moving through life together. Versus me being really tight and caught up on getting X, Y, and Z, or whatever the thing is, to make it happen. But I’m missing connection along the way. At least that’s how it shows up for me sometimes when I get really pressured into some situation to make something happen. 

So one of the things that I’m also hearing, as we’re talking, is the ability to perhaps say No. Tell me a little bit about that.

Yeah. I mean, people-pleasing is all tied into this. That, I think, stems from a crucial piece that we sort of touched on, but we haven’t really delved into. That’s from a research, and they call it externalized self-perception. But that’s a fancy way of saying worrying too much about what other people think. We are so prone to that in our day, especially with social media, and just so many voices in our head, which we sort of talked about. 

“There’s just so much noise telling us who to be and how to act, that all of a sudden, we’ve got this externalized self-perception where we’re looking to other people to give us validation and tell us, yeah, you’re doing a good job.”

Then comes in those expectations and that frantic pace, that we’re trying to live up to everybody’s standards and trying to be who we think everybody else wants us to be. It can break us to living in the way that we actually want to live.

No kidding! My husband and I have been watching the series with Brene Brown and the Atlas of the Heart. She’s talking about social comparison, how we are wired up to do that, and we can’t not do that. But it’s actually, again to what you’re saying, around having conscious choice. I’m so curious, how do you catch this? How do you invite your clients or people you work with around when they are doing this externalizing, so I’m always thinking of the older term of like locus of control is outside of ourselves? How do you help people work with that? 

Two things come to mind. You mentioned the social comparison, and there are some research studies. There’s one research study that I loved reading. I think it was actually done in 2012, so less social media pressure and things at that time. So I feel like this is telling that we’ve only moved forward probably in the pressure of it. This person had college students write down every time that they found themselves comparing throughout the day. They knew that they would find a lot, what they didn’t realize is it was almost constant. These college students were like, “Oh my goodness, I was just constantly writing, that’s all I could do.” Because It’s just this pattern of everything, it’s just measuring up to other people. You see somebody else and you evaluate their body compared to yours. Or you’re scrolling through Instagram, and you’re comparing yourself to other people. Even when you’re not fully conscious that you’re doing it, but it’s happening almost constantly.

So I also like to use an analogy of like, when you see something that you’ve never seen before, and then you start to see it everywhere. So I think about a car, when you buy a new car and you’re like, “Oh, I never actually noticed how many people drive the same car that I just bought, and now I’m seeing it everywhere on the road.” I think sometimes when you could just tune yourself into paying attention to the things that we’re talking about, you will start to see it more and more in your life, which can be challenging. It’s not fun to see it. But it can be helpful if you can start to see it and realize how regularly you might be looking to other people to define who you are, to tell you that you’re good enough. 

Then when you start to see it, you can just stop and challenge yourself in that moment. Say, “Oh, there it is. I’m doing it.” You don’t have to be judgmental of yourself. You can just see it and recognize it and say, “That’s not how I want to do this, and I’ll try again next time” Then you’ll probably catch yourself again and again and again, and that’s okay. It’s just part of the process of starting to see what you’re doing, so that you can develop into something else.

I love that. It’s almost habitual, it sounds like, and these unconscious patterns and paradigms that we perpetuate. So one of it is bringing awareness to the habit, and then it sounds like, also giving room for choice, which you’ve spoken about. I’m also getting a sense of what we replace that with. So if the gravitational pull, like I do think there’s something about media, whether or not it’s social media, or even certain types of advertisements, there’s a certain hook around, “Oh, you’ll be loved or you’ll be successful, or you’re going to be sexy, or whatever it is.” It’s part of this human psychology that these are real desires that we have, and that’s compelling. Hence, we might be more interested in a certain product or whatnot. So if we are replacing it with, where’s my value, who do I want to be, the character, the virtues, the values? Help me with what do you help people orient towards, if they’re a little lost or grappling?

That is so tricky. My husband has been working on this a lot lately, too, and he says, he feels like a ship that’s untethered all of a sudden; the anchor is gone, and he’s not sure who he is now, because he’s been really used to looking to me for validation, or to his parents, or to other people. Just tell me I’m a good person. He is a good person, and he’s a high achiever and things. So he’s used to relying on that as a sense of worth. 

I don’t know that there is any easy solution to feeling lost on who you are. If somebody else fills that in for you, somebody else is filling that in for you. You actually have to do the work for yourself to go through that and figure out who you are. So you may feel a little untethered for a little bit. I know I did also when I started this work. I had some relationships that changed when I started to develop myself, more people who cut me off from their life and stuff. So that left me, like, who am I, what is it that I want out of my life? In the beginning, you may not know. But if you can do small things, try new things, things that maybe you haven’t ever wanted to try before, or that you have wanted to try but you haven’t tried. They don’t have to be big, it can be just little things. Try a new restaurant on date night, or taking class at the local community college on art, or whatever, just little things like that. I feel like just testing some of those things out can start to move you towards having a better sense of autonomy over who you are, because you find the things that really resonate with you and that make you feel good.

Yes, the word resonate was something I was feeling. Because it’s almost like trying some things on or having some questioning of like, what matters to me, what would be meaningful and fulfilling? Sometimes we have to stay in that wandering, and not curiosity, to get it. Or even look to other people of like, what are some options, or what do people typically value, and does that fit for me? Then also, similarly, but slightly different, is this sense of, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the Marie Kondo, and she talks about what sparks joy, and really giving some quality attention to what brings joy. I think that is more powerful than it probably seems. It seems like it fits with what you’re describing of like, well, what would my vote be, or what would I prefer, what would I love, what would I enjoy? Like, that’s not something that I think we’re always in the habit of wondering about.

Yeah, and sometimes it’s easier to just go with the flow. We joke about, “Oh, it’s date night, and I don’t know where I want to go out to dinner or whatever.” But it’s almost like we’ve lost a sense of who we are and what we even want, and we have to stop and dig for that a little. What do I want for dinner, and am I strong enough to say what I want for dinner even if the other person is like, “Oh no, I don’t want that?” Or what if the other person doesn’t like what they ordered there? Can I still enjoy that I made that decision, that I don’t have to take responsibility for their emotions and things? That can be tricky to develop.

I struggle with that. 

Yeah, we all do. It’s okay. 

Yeah. So just really not only being in the place of practice of giving voice, but being able to hold even when someone doesn’t like it. I mean, this is what we talked a little bit before we started recording, Dr. David Schnarch, and this self-validation, even in the face of someone disagreeing or having issue with you, and being able to hold to that.

Yeah, and that is such an important piece of developing who you are. But it is so challenging, because we’re not used to that. We’re used to the people-pleasing. We’re used to wanting the approval or validation for the things we do. 

“When you’re seeking that validation and approval, you’re not really being who you are. That’s where the connection can break down. Because who is anybody connecting with, whether that’s your spouse, or your friends, or family or kids? If you’re not being you, who are they actually connecting with? Some pseudo-version of you. It just breaks down all your relationships.”

Then I think that cycles into that overwhelming resentment. So it all ties together. But yeah, that clincher is holding on to who you are, even when other people invalidate that. That can be so hard.

Yeah, and just really liking it. Like, well, I like it, or to be in the place of like, well, this is what I want. So there’s definitely areas where I can do that, and then there’s other areas where, I don’t know if it just doesn’t mean as much, or I get a little wobbly, for sure. But it’s a practice, I don’t think really what we’re speaking about is anything that we just get, and then we’re just good. It’s just this continual being in connection with. I love what you’re describing, it’s so, so important, which is, if we’re in the act of people-pleasing in relationship, what is that connection to? It’s almost like if two people are people-pleasing, it’s like, you’ve set this facade or this illusion, and we’re out in space projecting on each other and spinning around on our projections. But not the real authentic, we’re not really maybe relating.

Exactly, yeah. I mean, there’s just no authentic connection. 

“There’s no real vulnerability if you’re not willing to let somebody see the parts of you that maybe aren’t going to be met with approval or validation, that are more challenging. That’s when real connection happens, when you really get vulnerable with someone or you go through something hard with somebody, and they see the sides of you that you may be protected from other people sometimes. That’s when real connection, a lot of times, happens.”

Would you like to share a story with us? Because I know we know what vulnerability means. It’s something that I would say, most people feel like they have access to, and probably think that they show others. But I think I’ll raise my hand here, there’s times where I’m like, I think I’m good with vulnerability. Then there’s other times where I’m like, if I’m doing my own therapy, and I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t wanted to be vulnerable about this.” It’s just things that I’m protecting, not even aware of. Do you have a story that would maybe help us understand what this looks like in practice with vulnerability?

I’ll think through a good story. I don’t know that I’m always all that creative vulnerability either. I want to be, and I see that it’s like the gold standard that I’d like to achieve, and I’m not always that great at it. The first thing that pops to my mind, and this is maybe less, I don’t know that I was as good at being vulnerable in this situation as I wish I was. I’m in graduate school right now. But when I started, I started in my Master’s degree program, and I was in a program with a cohort with five other women. That program was not easy. Three of us were moms, and then three were 20 somethings who had just finished their undergrad degree. But going through that program together, which was hard, and there were definitely days where there were tears, and there were definitely days where there was stress and overwhelm and frustration. Then on the other hand, there were days where there was laughing and joking. But because we were going through something together, it was like a shared experience of challenge, I feel like we just connected a deeper level than I’ve connected with most people. It was almost instant, I felt connected with these ladies so quickly. I mean, we spent all day every day together, which that helps too. But just because we were seeing the difficult parts and going through the difficult parts together.

I’m referencing Brene Brown today. I don’t know why I don’t typically do that, but maybe because I’m watching her show with my husband. But that was one of her TED talks around her fundamental research, is really setting out to study love and connection and finding that what people were talking about was these vulnerable places where that’s when they actually felt the closest. It wasn’t in the pretty and the polished, it was in the raw and the real challenging parts that bring us to places that are really revealing and we can’t hide almost.

Yeah. I guess as I’m thinking about that, I’m thinking it doesn’t even always have to be the yucky stuff or the embarrassing stuff. Just when somebody is willing to like tell their story, even good stories. I just always think if you’re sitting in a class and a teacher is telling stories about their own life, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I understand what you’re talking about, because I’ve experienced that too.” All of a sudden, there’s that connection point. 

A lot of what we’ve talked about already goes to this emotional fusion. Actually, that’s Dr. Schnarch’s term, is emotional fusion. I think it’s pretty similar to codependency or enmeshment, which I think those are maybe more familiar terms to people. But it’s this idea that I’m unable to function if other people aren’t validating me, or making me feel like I’m a good person. I think that can manifest in several ways, and we’ve already talked about this. But just looking for that validation from other people, that externalized self-perception, make me feel good about myself, I think it can be kind of the merging of identities. Like, I’ve lost who I am into a relationship. I’m a mom, and nothing more, or I’m a wife, and nothing more. Again, being a mom is wonderful, being a wife is wonderful, being a husband; any of the relationships that we would mention are wonderful. But if you’re only that and you’ve lost who you are, again, you’re back to that pseudo-connection; who is anybody connecting with if you don’t know who you are? Then I think the third area is not having responsibility for your own emotions, which I think we’ve touched on also.

So as we start winding down here, I know we’ve talked about what it looks like to be out of balance, really prioritizing relatedness. One of the terms, and you’ve talked about David Schnarch using emotional fusion, and then you’ve really shifted into more balance and what that looks like. I’m hoping maybe you can speak to a little bit, if there’s anything else you want to speak to around the emotional fusion, and then also, what it could look like to be a little bit more imbalanced, like anything in practice, or any story that helps people have a better sense of that?

Yeah, let me start out by telling you kind of a silly story. But it was a time when I noticed emotional fusion happening in my life. So it was last year, and it was spring break. I was going to take three of my kids, and we were just going to go on a spring break trip to Arizona, because I wanted hot and sunshine. We got to the airport that Monday, Monday morning of the week of spring break. Our plane was delayed, and then it was delayed again, and then it was delayed again, and then it was canceled. We were like, you’ve got to be kidding me! Again, I’ve got three teenage boys with me who are not prepared to handle this well, emotionally. Frankly, I’m stressed out, because this is not a great situation. They were really getting angry and antsy about it; I could see that they were about to go over the edge. So I was like, “Here’s my credit card. I want you guys to go get yourself some food. Let me have some time to figure this out for myself.” So they went and did that. In the meantime, I was like, okay, what are our options? I kind of thought through things, ended up finding a flight that went into Tucson later that day, and then we just drove up to Phoenix. It worked out, it was fine. Anyway, that whole day was a series of unfortunate events. I lost my credit card for a little bit. I had to call the rental car company and change from where I was picking it up. Just a lot of things like that. But I’m watching myself through this, and I’m like, “I am handling this amazingly well, because I do not always handle stress like that.” Anyway, so I was kind of paying attention to that. 

Actually, I said this was an example of bad, but that would be the good version. Like, I was taking ownership for my own feelings and not putting them off on anyone else. We went through the whole trip, things were great. Then we got back to the airport at the end of the trip. My husband came to pick us up, and I couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to go. They had changed the airport, and I couldn’t quite figure out where we were supposed to be, and I found myself getting snippy with him. He was on the phone, and I was like, “I don’t know where we’re supposed to be going. I don’t know what’s going on.” In that moment, I could see in myself, that emotional fusion. I was feeling angst and stressed, and instead of owning it and doing well with it like I had done earlier in the trip, there he was, and now I could put that angst and stress onto him. So that’s exactly what I did. 

Anyway, I was able to catch myself on it. But I think about that a lot. That’s an example of emotional fusion because I’ve lost that ownership of myself, I’ve lost that sense of autonomy, and it didn’t feel good. That’s not who I want to be. It didn’t feel good to me. It didn’t feel good to him.

If I can, in your defense, there’s a whole potential however many days that what went into that, and what you were holding and carrying. 

Oh, for sure. I was proud of myself for the good parts of that. It was just a moment though, where I could see clearly like, as soon as he was in proximity, I was like, “Oh, have my stuff, hold my junk for me.” I don’t know, maybe that was an example, though, of the positive and the negative.

Yeah, this is really speaking to what you started with and how it’s so related. Actually, probably in practice, it’s not we’ve arrived at one and we’re static with it. It’s just fluctuating and just being in practice. Well, in service of just the balance, is there anything else you want to speak to about? Anything around what it looks like to have more balance?

Yeah. I mean, maybe building on that story shows a little bit more balanced. If he in that moment could say, “I’m sorry that you’re stressed, but I’m not going to take ownership of that.” I mean, not maybe verbally saying that, because that probably wouldn’t go over well. But if we don’t engage in that, taking ownership of the other person’s, then that kind of breaks that fusion; you can still be supportive and loving and helpful. For us, it’s an ongoing practice. Like you said, we’re not perfect at it. But for whatever reason, Saturday mornings can be a little bit complicated for us, because we’re kind of tripping over each other on like, how do we want this day to go? Kind of just old habits of, “Well, I don’t know, what do you want me to do?” Like, what do you want? Instead of like, I think this is what would work well. That can be a big challenge for us. So we’ve had to consciously say, “Okay, this is a challenging point, we’re going to not do this emotional fusion thing where we put our emotions on each other. Let’s just have a grown up conversation about our expectations and what we each want, and see if we can find a way to make this mutually fulfilling.” More often than not, we are able to do that; not always, there still can be challenges.

Oh, I’m so grateful you name that. Because I think It’s such a common occurrence, and I can recognize, I really try to catch myself. I will freeze things in a question rather than saying, “Here’s what I’d like, what about you?” Or doing a little bit of a mental processing or emotional processing before I pitch it to my husband. So I just think that’s such a really important thing that you just named, I think it’s something so, so common that we all probably face. 

Well, this is wonderful. Is there anything else you want to say before we pivot towards how people can get in touch with you?

I mean, I feel like we’ve covered it all. I just always like to end with though, or just emphasize, it is so normal to be challenged in these things. I never want anyone to think otherwise. I, like I said, study this day in and day out, and still catch myself in it all the time. But I also have felt the changes that can come as you work on this in yourself, and it makes such a difference, in how you feel as an individual, and also how your relationships go.

Yes, it’s far and wide. I know that we’re not going to talk about this today, but that it affects the dynamic of attractiveness, and even the sense of sexual desire even. I mean, there’s so many places that this is really important to support the intimacy and the relatedness, as you’re describing. Well, Amber, what would you like to invite people to do or connect with you more?

Yeah. I’ve got a website, AmberAPrice.com. I’ve got some articles and things about a lot of this emotional fusion or self-silencing. We didn’t name it as self-silencing during this, but that’s what a lot of what we’ve talked about could be called. I’ve also got a course that’s geared towards women, especially women who maybe feel like they’ve lost some of who they are in caring for other people, exactly where I was years ago. Well, I’ve got two courses. I’ve got a mini version, if you just want to get your feet wet. Then I’ve got a deep dive version that can really walk through a lot of what we’ve talked about, and then beyond. So AmberAPrice.com on those, and then on Instagram, I’m Amber.A.Price.

Wonderful. Well, so on your website, people can find different versions of your material and your courses, and then also what you’re offering on Instagram. It sounds like you’re developing your profession in your PhD, and then as you continue to grow your business and supporting people, and this is just so helpful. I’ll make sure to put the link to your Instagram, your website, your courses on today’s show notes. 

Amber, thank you for spending your time with us here today on the Empowered Relationship Podcast.

Thank you. It’s been great.

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