Although you might not realize it, sometimes, you may use different strategies to avoid connecting with yourself or your environment. In effect, you try to avoid connecting with your emotions and needs and with the situation in front of you. Moreover, you’ve probably done so for decades. These unconscious mechanisms are studied in the field of psychology. Today we’re going to talk about one of them, confluence.
Think of a calm and obedient child, who’s become an extension of their parents. Think of a marriage in which there’s apparently complete and absolute harmony. Or, the individual who seeks, at any cost, to accommodate and agree with the opinions of a group. Some of these situations probably sound familiar to you. In all of them, the confluence dynamic is operating.
Confluence is one of the neurotic mechanisms proposed by Gestalt psychotherapy. They’re defense mechanisms that you unconsciously set in motion to defend yourself from an environment that you perceive as hostile or lacking. Since these kinds of situations threaten your psychological balance, the unconscious defense mechanisms help you maintain equilibrium.
As a human being, you’re part of an environment with which you have to come into contact to satisfy your needs. You do this based on three points: knowing what you need, knowing what external elements can help you, and understanding when to approach or move away from them.
When you feel confident and you’re functioning normally, you develop ‘normal’ behavior. On the other hand, if your relationship with your environment is conflictive or unsuccessful, you experience a series of negative emotions. Consequently, you choose to divert your energy in the form of one of these unconscious mechanisms.
They develop in childhood
As a rule, these tendencies develop in childhood, when the environment doesn’t offer the appropriate conditions for a child’s growth and development. Indeed, the child who grows up in a threatening environment, surrounded by danger, or who lives in a deprived environment that doesn’t meet their needs, develops these mechanisms to survive, both physically and psychologically.
To some degree, these mechanisms are useful, particularly when they merely fulfill their purpose. However, when they become excessively rigid or are used without the individual being aware of what’s happening, they can affect their well-being and their relationships. What’s more, when they continue to be used into adulthood, in situations that have nothing to do with the one in which they originated, they can be extremely limiting.
Confluence is one such defense mechanism. It arises when you’re not in contact with yourself, or with your experiences, desires, opinions, and needs. Instead, you join in with the needs or ideologies of others. Somehow, the boundary between yourself and the rest is erased and you fail to appreciate the difference.
With confluence, you lose your sense of self, and can’t perceive and feel individually. In fact, you seek to fully commune with whoever’s in front of you. In effect, you lose your identity and share, without questioning yourself, the desires, opinions, or emotions of others. You might even confuse them with your own. Although it sounds excessive, this is quite a common reality.
Examples of confluence
- You accept, without question, the opinions or proposals of your partner regarding your relationship. For example, if they express the desire to have an open relationship, you agree with the idea, without asking yourself if it’s something that you really want, seek, or that suits you.
- When you’re in a group, you feel unable to give your opinion on a subject until you hear what the rest think. In fact, your goal is to commune with others.
- Despite not feeling hungry, you eat with someone else because they ask you to or suggest it. Or, despite not wanting to consume alcohol, you do it to join in with the others.
- You need external approval of your daily decisions. Your clothes, hairstyle, or the way you spend your free time isn’t based on what you really like or want, but on what others consider to be acceptable or ‘fashionable’.
- You excessively blend in with others’ emotions. This isn’t because you’re empathetic but because you allow yourself to be taken over by the emotions or needs of others until you eventually make them your own.
Escaping the confluence trap
We all use these mechanisms at some point in our lives. However, if confluence becomes pathological it puts you in an extremely vulnerable position. After all, if you don’t know who you are and to what extent you’ve been affected, if you don’t know how to set boundaries, question others, or recognize your own needs and desires, you’re likely to fall prey to dependent, abusive, and harmful relationships.
In order to get out of this unconscious trap, you need to understand how confluence arises. It originated in learning, as a child, that you weren’t allowed to be who you were. You were probably taught that to be different or to have your own voice or thoughts would lead you to be rejected or abandoned.
For example, maybe you grew up in a home where you weren’t allowed to express emotions of anger, sadness, or frustration. If you did do so, your parents withdrew their affection or attacked you. Or, perhaps you experienced bullying and rejection by your peers at school or were heavily criticized at an early age.
If this was the case, you probably disconnected from yourself, so you could adapt to what others wanted and thus avoid rejection, loneliness, or aggressiveness. However, by not knowing who you are or what you want, you feel an emptiness that you seek to fill by joining in with the rest, and by throwing yourself into relationships with others.
Start paying attention to you
This tendency is extremely painful and has extremely negative consequences for any adult. Therefore, if you want to end this dynamic, you need to stop avoiding contact with yourself and start promoting it.
Instead of repressing what you feel, you must start by thinking of yourself in every situation. You must question the opinions of others before assuming them as your own. In short, you need to pay attention to yourself. Moreover, you need to recover your identity and rediscover your own boundaries, the ones you lost for fear of being rejected.
Of course, this is no easy job. In fact, it requires practice and perseverance. In addition, it may be necessary to elaborate on the previous experiences that led you to develop this defensive mechanism. Finally, if you identify with this situation, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance.
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