These exercises are designed to help you separate your own personal lovestyle from the styles of your parents and others who influenced you.
They’ll help you understand what you’ve been doing until now.
Before you make changes, it’s wise to fully understand the current process.
Individuality Exercises For Individuals
Individuality Exercise No. 1: Letter to the Past
In your journal, write a letter to your past, your childhood, thanking it for its lessons, expressing any anger, pain, appreciation, regret, and other emotions you feel as a result of your experience there.
Add some gratitude to yourself as a child for surviving as well as you have. Perhaps you’d like to mention some things you’re particularly glad you received, and also some things you wish to leave behind or change. Even if you don’t like some of the choices you made in your past, you can thank yourself for surviving and wanting to learn.
Close the letter by saying good-bye to the past and hello to your life as it is today. In this way, you can symbolically “own” your current life and give yourself “permission” to be totally in charge of what happens now, regardless of how things happened then.
If there’s too much inner turmoil for you to do this, then first write a rough draft, in which you outline all the turbulence, all the pros and cons, anger and resentment, confusion and fear. After you’ve done that, refine it down to a letter which will let you achieve some resolution. Do as many sessions of writing as you need to complete it.
The letter is a way to take responsibility for creating the life and relationships you want from now on. If writing a letter is too difficult or uncomfortable for you, you can talk into a recorder, or to a trusted friend. If you find this overwhelming, it might be wise to seek a counselor.
Individuality Exercise No. 2: Your Uniqueness
Have another reverie: this time, go back into your past to see how you were unique.
– What made you feel different from all the other people in your family? School? Friends?
– When did the differences feel good?
– When did the differences feel bad?
– How did you know you were special?
– Can you remember anyone talking about how different you were?
– Did anyone ever urge you to “be like your brother (sister, cousin, neighbor’s child)”?
– How were you being different when they said that?
After you’ve explored these unique aspects of yourself for a while, make some notes in your journal about the positive and negative ways you learned you were special as a child. If you like, you can make two separate lists. Take time to absorb this information before going to the next exercise.
Individuality Exercise No. 3: Game of Life
You may want to read the following instructions into a recorder and play them back, or have someone read them to you.
Get comfortable, sit back and relax and take a “magical journey” through your life from your childhood up to now.
Imagine your life as a game board.
On it, there’s a winding pathway with brightly colored cartoons along the way symbolizing the events in your own life that feel significant to you. In the center of the board are two piles of cards: one is marked “lessons” and the other is marked “gifts.” Choose a game piece to represent you, and travel the board. Each time you arrive at an event, draw a lesson card, read it and notice what it says. Once you’ve understood the lesson, draw a gift card and read it.
Let your imagination run free, and don’t censor what the cards tell you. If a card is blank, just put it aside and draw another. Repeat until you reach the point on the board that represents your life now; then open your eyes.
Review the game, then record significant parts of it in your book. Once you’ve done that, review the game again, and this time watch yourself change as you pass along the journey.
– When you were a child, did you believe you’d turn out as you have?
– Would the child you were recognize the adult you are now?
– What would be the same? What would be different?
– Do you think the same way about play as you did?
– How has your definition of friends changed?
– Has your idea of what’s fun or pleasurable changed?
– Have you forgotten or “lost” anything you’d like to reclaim for yourself?
– How have you improved yourself?
Consider the changes you’ve created in yourself throughout the magical journey of your life, and make notes in your journal. Focus on the powerful changes you’ve made in you and give yourself plenty of credit. Also, note changes you’d still like to make.
Individuality Exercise No. 4: Your Perfect Relationship
In your journal, write a description of your “perfect relationship.” One way to do this is to make a series of lists or paragraphs about it, listing the necessary characteristics, such as:
– Good communication: when we make a joint decision, there’s no confusion.
– Playing sports together: tennis, backpacking, bicycling. Lots of quiet time together.
– Financial security; we both have similar goals, and we work together to meet them.
If you use the “list method,” be specific and accurate enough to have a clear picture of the relationship when you’re done.
The other method is to write a story about a perfect week together.
Be as specific as possible and involve all your senses. What do the scenes in your story look like (private, in a crowd, wilderness)? Sound like (music, conversation, ambient sound)? Feel like (peaceful, exhilarating, and congenial)? Taste the foods you’d eat together; smell the outdoor air, the ocean breeze, the fireplace.
Perhaps you can begin with a regular working Monday:
- What’s the first thing you’d do in the morning? Would you get up and jog together? Make love? Maybe you’d cuddle till the last minute and then rush off to work. Or perhaps you prefer lots of “space” when you get up.
- Would you go off to work together? To your joint business? To separate jobs? Would one of you (or both) stay home with the children? The only limits here are the ones you set.
- After work, would you go out to dinner? Eat at home? Take classes? See friends? Relax alone together?
Imagine a whole week and weekend like that, and perhaps a vacation or a holiday.
Remember, this fantasy is not about what you think you could have or what you think you deserve. It’s about your perfect relationship. You may surprise yourself when you get into this exercise.
Go back to the results of the other exercises and use that information to help do this one. How do you know when you’re being loved? That is an important aspect of the perfect relationship. It’s also valuable to know when you feel loving. Create plenty of chances to give and receive love.
Take some time with this, ponder it, and revise it frequently as you learn. This fantasy will help you recognize when your real relationships are working for you.
Stick with what you want, not what you think you should want.
Consider practical, economic, educational, social and cultural factors, as well as romance and sexuality. Live with this exercise a while before going on to the next. It deserves time and careful thought, because it’s a key to achieving contentment and recognizing success.
Individuality Exercise No. 5: Your Perfect Partner
Still working in your journal, consider the perfect mate. This will naturally be someone who would be comfortable in the lifestyle described in your perfect relationship.
Considering the relationship before considering the person makes sense because when you’ve put certain shared hobbies and interests into your ideal relationship, then someone who is already interested in these activities would be a good person to find. If you’re looking for a mate, then look among people who fit your desired lifestyle. Such people will probably fit you better, too.
If you already have a mate who is interested in those shared things, recognize the importance of that. If your mate is not interested, consider other ways you can bring those activities into your life—playing tennis with friends, for example.
It’s OK to consider characteristics such as looks and dress style when outlining your perfect mate, but remember that living with a person on a lifetime basis involves a lot more than just how he or she looks.
It’s also OK to be vague about some of these qualities. You may not have a preference about blonde or brown hair, but you may want a particular body style. Or you may not care too much about looks, but education may be very important.
Be specific about the things that count for you. Consider whether you’re too focused on external things.
For those of you with mates already chosen, consider how your partner is already perfect for you. Most of us chose well enough; we just haven’t figured out how to use what we’ve got. If you’re already paired up, this exercise will give you a starting place to begin to bring your ideal and your real relationships into alignment.
Sort through your impressions of people, friends, relatives, public figures, and former loves, for the qualities you find desirable in your mate. Pick and choose until you come up with a description that works for you.
Live with the idea a while, then revise it if necessary. Discuss it with trusted friends, sharing selected parts of it, and get their ideas. It’s worth spending some time on this: If you’re single, it’ll greatly influence how you look at possible candidates from now on. It will also cause you to look a bit deeper than just appearance before deciding who’s appropriate for you. It will also influence where and how you look.
This description of your ideal mate is not going to be used in a pass or fail sense. It’s possible that your true mate will vary widely from this description. What you have here is a starting place, to give you some idea of criteria, and to make it obvious to you when you’re staying with someone who will never satisfy you only because you’re afraid to move on. It will also help you recognize a good possibility when you see it.
When you have a description that suits you for now (you can always revise it as you learn), pause a moment and consider what you’ve learned from doing this.
– Are you surprised?
– Is what can work for you different from what you thought you wanted?
– What is the difference?
– Has this helped you clear up confusion about the difference between what you “should” want and what would really satisfy you?
– Did you have images of an ideal that actually belongs to someone else?
Add these conclusions to your journal, and give yourself some time to absorb and process this material before going on to the next section.
Adapted from: Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences and published with permission.
About the author
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty and Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.
Dr. Tessina is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for LoveForever.com, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.
Connect with Dr. Tessina online:
Dr. Romance Blog: www.drromance.typepad.com