Going with the Flow – Is it Serving You?

Going with the Flow, is it serving you?

“I’m really easy going” is something that I hear quite often in Counselling sessions. Yet it hasn’t delivered the positive and easy life that might be expected. It often comes up from one partner in Couples Counselling when the relationship has reached a crisis point and they have reached out to me for support.

Some of the scenarios described are; “I just go with the flow, whatever he/she wants”, “I don’t mind that I don’t get any time for myself” or “I just watch what my wife wants to watch on the TV even though it’s not really my thing”.

The always easy-going persona suggests surrender, laying down, becoming a doormat. Sooner or later going with the flow is accompanied by an empty feeling, which we might try to fill up with addictions or busyness. This is the opposite of the healthy ‘Flow’ which Csikszentmihalyi defined as being at one with everything or Peak Experience.

In a relationship always going with the flow, places us in a disempowered position, it can feel like we just don’t matter. In my own experience this manifested in relationships as not speaking up, or voicing my opinion. My ‘Felt Sense’ or embodied experience, of those situations was awkwardness, tension, anger, frustration and resentment. Like a pressure cooker needing to let off steam, when this erupted it was often conflictual.

Psychotherapy, Focusing, reading, yoga, and other embodied practices, raised my awareness and helped me to connect with a healthier personal power. Although I do feel that I’ll need to be aware of it lifelong as it was a deeply ingrained pattern from my developmental years.  These are three of my 3 key learnings, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.

  1. Developing healthy boundaries
  2. Developing an awareness of my own psychological needs
  3. Attending to the Fawn response

1. Developing healthy boundaries

To speak up, have an opinion, stand your ground or pushback, can feel risky. We feel that it may come at a cost, what if my partner gets mad or rejects me? Often there is an inbalance that has been neglected:  “I’m working 50 hours a week with no time for a hobby, whilst my wife gets to see her friends twice a week”. It’s about being brave, having the conversations that lead to connection and listening. Pete Walker (1) says “Boundaries are about protecting something that is important to us” in this case our time for rest and relaxation. When we continually give in, we lose our own sense of identity.

A change of habits begins with awareness. Notice how you feel, the next time you say yes when internally it’s a NO. Psychotherapy woke me up to the concept that having boundaries is a strength. Focusing  helped me further to turn towards these feelings and help to know how to manage them. Non Violent Communication (NVC) is a skill which helps you to develop healthy boundaries, check this video about boundaries from Marianne Cup of Empathy

2.Developing an awareness of our own psychological needs

In developmental stages of childhood our needs can get shut down. Let’s say our mother has a lot of children or is not emotionally responsive to us. When our needs for example for comfort or reassurance are not met, we begin to adapt, to swallow our needs, so that we fit in to our environment. We internalize the message that our needs are not important, so we become the people pleaser, the one who takes care of others, we might judge our needs as being too needy and therefore stifle them.

A common need that goes unmet between couples, is that of having time for our own interests. Couples arrive in Counselling having invested a lot of time being a family and neglecting a key ingredient that makes them feel alive for example hobbies or time with friends.

I remember when learning NVC that I discovered a way to ask for personal space. For example, at a family event explaining to my partner that I was just going to take a walk for an hour. When the other person is not left guessing about your emotional state it’s much easier for them to cope with. It feels empowering to make a choice that meets our need.

Identifying our feelings and needs is a foundation of NVC, take a look at this from Marshall Rozenberg

As we practice tuning in to our needs it becomes easier to react in the moment. Focusing shows us how to tune in to the ‘Felt Sense’ Let’s say I’ve had a long day at work and I’m invited out. I pause with that, how does my body respond, there is an internal knowing and maybe the ‘stay home and rest’ answer feels just right’. This is a clip from Ann Weiser Cornell which describes learning to attune to our needs.

3.Fawn response

Alarm bells ring when I hear one part of a couple say; ‘I just went along with it’ ‘I don’t do anything for myself’ I consider whether this is the Fawn response with which Pete Walker expanded the Fight, Flight and Flee responses to fear and trauma. When a child feels its safety is in danger it has to develop adaptive behaviour in an attempt to continue meeting its basic needs. The Fawn response describes the smiley, pleasing always agreeable no matter the circumstances persona. This develops into a non-authentic self as we fawn around other people and often deny our own needs, like the need to be able to say no. Pete Walker says his fawning pattern was so ingrained that he would say ‘sorry’ to an inanimate object as he bumped into it. My mother positively encouraged my Fawn response ‘Just humour him’ so as not to upset my father, she was invested in keeping the peace at all costs.

Working with a psychotherapist helps to create a safe environment in which we can explore our patterns of behaviour. With psychological reflection and commitment, we are able to transform the Fawn response, so that we may develop healthy boundaries, assert our needs whilst still being able to care for others.

Easy going-ness is a very broad subject and touches on many psychological threads. I have addressed just 3 possibilities:  Developing healthy boundaries, Being aware of your own needs and The Fawn response. I’ve talked about how it impacted my life and how I believed that change was possible. I’ve mentioned just some of the skills which have helped me maintain an ability to go with the flow whilst attending to my needs, create healthy boundaries and notice when I may not be showing up as the authentic me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts & feelings on this, feel free to comment below

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Pete Walker : Complex PTSD From Surviving to Thriving (2013)


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