Often in my work I see people who are very advanced in their skills in particular contexts (like work) but who lack skills in other contexts (such as in certain aspects of their private lives).
This can be for many reasons, but sometimes it is because they formed an alliance with a person in their past and they feel disloyal if they change their behaviour and ‘break the pact’ they had with them.
For example, two siblings may have (against all odds) survived experiences of great hardship and trauma during childhood, but in the process of doing so, they both develop certain self-sabotaging behaviours like anxiety, smoking cigarettes and drinking excessively.
Even though the trauma is now long ago, the bond between them continues to apply pressure on both parties to ‘collaborate’ in their problematic behaviours.
In fact, often by a sleight of hand in self-deception, they see these self-sabotaging behaviours as ‘survival’ behaviours almost to be celebrated.
This provides a handy rationale for maintaining them, allowing both parties to sit chatting endlessly about their anxiety experiences (thereby entrenching them) while drinking and smoking.
This ‘collaboration and celebration’ makes the parties less open to influence to change the behaviour, as ‘change’ makes them feel disloyal, guilty and as if they are abandoning their co-conspirator.
This scenario can keep self-sabotaging behaviours in play for many decades.
It can even continue once one party in the alliance dies. When this happens, people often maintain their ‘defiant’ behaviours in memory of the deceased and to help ensure they always remember their ‘partner in crime’ to keep them central in their hearts – almost like an internal ‘shrine’.
The truth, though, is that these self-sabotaging behaviours make the distress worse and diminish chances of future success. While they were initially employed for survival, they have now become an addiction and habit that is a noose around both people’s necks.
In this situation, one person needs to fracture and disrupt the alliance and move forward. This requires tolerating the distress of potential ‘disloyalty, guilt and abandonment’. It means no longer acting like a child, but instead, stepping up into adulthood, where all adults have to tolerate the distress and guilt of making hard and complex decisions.
This can be helped by having the awareness that something much better can be created for both parties by abandoning the old structure which is now damaging everyone.
However, during the fracture process, there may be anger, hostility, sulking and immense pressure to come back to the fold.
But it is crucial not to cave in. This is because often enough the person ‘left behind’ will follow the one striding ahead – since without ‘company’ the self-sabotaging behaviours look much more ‘suspect’ and become less defensible.
Also, moving forward provides a ‘visible’ pathway for the other person to observe and study. It helps furnish the optimism and possibility that if you can do it, maybe they can too.
Where the person has already died, it is worth considering the very real likelihood that the deceased person who loved and embraced your mutual alliance would want the best for you. They would be proud to know that their love helped you liberate yourself (rather than kept you trapped) in their memory.