Your Quest for Wholeness
- Tuesday, October 01, 2002
Let’s be honest. Many of us, at some time in our lives, have felt as though something is missing. All of us have struggled with loneliness. We’ve all felt detached, unaccepted, separated from the group we’d like to be part of. And when we find ourselves in this empty space, we typically search outside ourselves-often compulsively-for something or someone to fill it.
We shop, we drink, we eat, we do anything and everything to distract ourselves from the pain of feeling alone. Most of all, we tell ourselves, If I find the right person, my life will be complete. Too bad it’s not that simple. If it were, we’d have friends that never failed us, and marriages that never fractured. The truth is, the cause of our emptiness is not a case of missing persons in our lives, but a case of incompletion in our soul.
In order to build healthy relationships, you must be well on your way to becoming whole or complete. You must be establishing an identity, a sense of self-worth, or a healthy self-concept. Here's how we put it in a single sentence: If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself.
So allow me to show you the ins and outs of achieving a healthy sense of identity or self-worth. The journey begins with a look at our innate hunt for wholeness. Consider Stephanie, a student in her mid-twenties, who came to our office to talk about her current relationship, the third in a series that had lasted almost a year. This one was with Dan, an older, confident college grad. She was nearly trembling with happiness as she spoke about their relationship. "I’m so in love with Dan," she told us. "Last weekend he gave me this adorable little teddy bear to celebrate our ten months of dating." She went on to describe his good qualities. "He’s amazing; I just hope . . . ," Stephanie’s chin started to quiver and before she could finish her sentence, she was crying. I (Leslie) handed her a box of tissues and asked her what was wrong. She wiped the tears from her eyes and blurted out that she was terrified of doing something wrong and "ruining it."
"I’ve done it before," Stephanie confessed. "I get in a relationship, things go pretty well for a while, and then I do something to mess it up."
"Like what?" Les prodded. "What might you do that would make Dan leave?"
Stephanie, still sniffling, confessed her fears of being stupid, irresponsible, lazy, or just about any other undesirable trait she could think of. She told us that she always feels better about herself when she’s dating a guy. "It’s like I’m somehow more complete," she said.
Les looked at me with knowing eyes. It was obvious. We’d heard this same story with different names and faces many times before. Stephanie was riddled with insecurity and desperately afraid of losing her boyfriend because, for the time being, he’s what was giving her a sense of self. By being attached to Dan, Stephanie felt more whole.
"I’d do anything for Dan," Stephanie volunteered.
"Maybe that’s the problem," Les boldly replied.
Stephanie looked surprised, but at the same time, inquisitive. The rest of our session was spent holding up a figurative mirror to help Stephanie see what she was doing. Like an anxious child dreading a parent’s departure, she was trying desperately to avoid a slip-up that would cause her boyfriend to leave. With Dan and all the rest, Stephanie was more concerned about pleasing her partner than she was about building a relationship. Why? Because, like everyone else lacking a solid sense of personal wholeness, she was looking to another person to complete her identity.
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