People with the aspects of the Autonomy Survival Style do not trust themselves. They struggle to set internal boundaries and they struggle to understand how they can be loved if they make room for their own needs. They over-function in their relationships. They do not know how to let relationships breathe.
They are like this with good reason – they have had their trust in relationship destroyed and their survival style is to cling with all their might to anyone with whom they feel an emotional connection. Their biggest fear is to disappoint, or let down, other people but at the same time they (often non-consciously) resent the amount of work they imagine they have to do in order to maintain relationships.
They battle with their intellectual belief that they are doing the right thing (being super-friend; super-partner; super-parent) and their unacknowledged guilt at not wanting to do those things. They are subversive and quietly rebellious. When it comes to things that would help them get through their day/life more efficiently, they often procrastinate to the point of failure and self-sabotage.
This is part of a series that began here: Preventing Our Children From Developing Demons (And Healing Our Own).
I see many of the aspects of this Survival Style in myself and in our eldest son. I accept that the patterns have helped him and I get through some really tough times and I recognise that those patterns are no longer healthy and need to be broken.
Here are a few of the things that he and I work on:
1. Saying things like, “Stop it, I don’t like that.” When fun teasing or horseplay becomes intrusive or unpleasant.
2. Accepting that no healthy relationship (once a child is able to explore alone) is completely attuned and that it is unrealistic to expect it to be attuned. When things don’t go according to plan we use as much direct speech as possible – “ I feel X… I don’t like it when.. X” Because our son is older than 9, he is able to develop healthy conscious reflection around this issue and we celebrate imperfections in our relationship through humour. We both can admit when we’ve been out of step with one another and we can still love one another because of that, as much as despite that. We accept that benign neglect is a healthy state when we spend a lot of time together.
3. I often remind myself that my needs are as important as those of others around me and I make provision to spend time meeting as many of those needs as I can. My oldest son and I often have this discussion – quite frankly he doesn’t always have to concede to the wishes of his friends and if he does concede all the time, those friendships are not healthy. Now that our youngest is older than three years of age, I make a point of spending time away from the boys that is not kindy/school time – I expect all the children to sometimes wait when I am busy doing things I need to do either to keep the family running or for my own pleasure. They learn that they can manage when I am not constantly meeting their every need. They learn that relationships can survive and in fact, thrive, when people aren’t completely attuned (allowing for relationship repair when necessary). Remembering: attunement is our base state and the boys have had most of their normal dependency needs met.
4. Gauging our internal pressure levels. As procrastinators and self-sabotages we tend to wait until our internal pressure level is up around 8 or 9 out of 10 before we take action. In the past, our boy could be up for an hour or longer before he began his chores and then rushed to complete them in a panic. I did the same with paying bills. The best strategy I have found to deal with this is to automate as many things as possible. Bills are usually paid automatically and chores are now broken into very small chunks with small time limits.
5. We play at rebelling. We break some rules. We giggle hysterically when we do things ‘wrong.’ Subversive rule-breaking has been replaced by occasional blatant rule breaking.
When we set appropriate boundaries we give the people in our lives the space to be imperfectly human. We take the pressure off ourselves to be super-heroes. Our stress levels reduce and we can live happier lives with a greater sense of peace.