And, as with all of the strategies we develop, mine created the very experience I was trying to avoid. Making yourself needed will never result in feeling wanted, chosen, important or good enough. Instead, overfunctioning sets a contract up with others that says ‘don’t worry, you don’t have to consider me because I will take care of everything. I will adjust.’ The cry of the overfunctioner is ‘I give and give, why does no one ever consider me?’ The answer is, because you teach them not to consider you.
Duane has his own story, which drove his strategies and defenses. We got stuck in a pattern, as most couples do. Catherine overfunctions, cheerleads, plans, suggests; Duane avoids and distances; Catherine gets passive-aggressive and subtly critical; Duane attacks and threatens; Catherine moves the goal posts, backs off, makes everything okay. Catherine overfunctions, cheerleads, plans, suggests; Duane avoids and distances… In a dance like this, both parties end up reinforcing their own and each other’s fears about self in the basement.
Duane and I were both well educated, well trained and experienced counsellors when this pattern played itself out in our relationship. I could have told you, from an intellectual perspective, exactly what was happening. I understood. I lacked courage, however, to really face my feelings. I would get scared and uncomfortable, and that anxiety would trigger the very behaviours that kept the whole cycle going.
Until I had a showdown with myself. Instead of letting anxiety drive my decisions, I decided to face my fear. To feel it, rather than kick in to fix it. When you are able to contain your emotional experience, it is an opportunity to reflect (instead of reloading your familiar strategies). The feelings that surface are a window to the past. In those moments, someone is knocking on the door to the basement, and you are the only one who can answer.
One day, after Duane had made one of his not-so-subtle threats implying that this relationship wasn’t working out, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. I answered the knock on the door to the basement, instead of running to my strategies. I realized that every time I overfunctioned, I was telling myself, “Who I am is not enough.” I needed to change my relationship with myself first, and let my relationship with Duane be the thing to potentially adjust, instead of me. I needed commit to believing that who I am is enough, flaws and all, and let those who may not agree continue on their way.
I said hello to my own soul, instead of looking for my soulmate.
From there, I knew what I had to do. I hung on to myself really hard, sat Duane down, held his hand, and said, “I love you. I want this relationship to work. And the next time you say to me that you don’t think this relationship is working, I will believe you.” I let go of my strategies: I was real.
Want to know more? Check out ‘REAL: The Power of Authentic Connection’ by Catherine and Duane O’Kane.
Catherine O’Kane is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, teacher, workshop facilitator and a gifted and entertaining public speaker with Clearmind International. She has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, and has been a practicing therapist since 1992, helping people evolve out of personal pain into purpose. She firmly believes that what we put out in all our relationships has the power to ripple out and effect positive change in our families, communities and beyond.