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Why You're Still Single (And How to Change That) Part II: How to Break the Subconscious Contract

04/07/2015 10:42 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

If you're having difficulty forming a love relationship of your own because you're subconsciously putting your parent's emotional needs first, I'm going to ask you to perform an "Emotional Parental Amputation."

The reason I call this an amputation is because it'll feel like you're losing a part of yourself (an "emotional limb"), which is very traumatic. If you don't perform an emotional parental amputation, you'll never be free.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have a relationship with your parents. I think our relationship with our parents is extremely important. However, you need to shift the way you connect with them so the connection becomes adult-to-adult, versus child-to-parent.

At first, you may worry you're creating a situation that will be difficult for your parents, but this will be just as hard for you. As you take these five steps, be prepared to grieve and feel loss. It's all part of the process.


Five Steps to Breaking the Subconscious Contract:

1. Commit to breaking the contract.
This isn't an overnight gig. Although it's helpful to find someone to confide, a friend, a therapist, or family member, what's most important is that you hold yourself accountable for this change.

How to Make the Change
:
Sign a "conscious contract." Be conscious of this previously subconscious problem. I cannot emphasize enough how important awareness is in order to shift this. It'll be a lot of work at first, but the day will come when you can take action, which leads to change. Click here to see the subconscious contract. Right click to save it to your computer so you can print and sign it!

2. Acknowledge that you're a full participant in this contract.
Your parents may have started it, but you're the one carrying it through. You need it as much as they did when it began. You're used to being the "golden child", the one who makes your parents feel fulfilled. This major part of your identity is essential to how you function, gain approval, and feel loved.

How to Make the Change
:
The first step in one of the most well-respected programs today-Alcoholics Anonymous-is admitting you have a problem. The same thing applies here. You must accept your participation in this contract in order for this to work. Recognize the emptiness you feel when you start to relinquish this role you've perfected. Sit in the discomfort of your pain. This will be tough because you're breaking down your old identity and forming a new one. Acknowledge that this will be the most difficult part of your journey.

3. Know your feelings matter just as much as everyone else's.
As someone who's always in the service of your family members, you're able to hide your vulnerabilities. It's time to be seen for who you are, imperfections and all. Acknowledge you also have needs that have to be met. Until now, no one has been looking out for you, including you! I'm asking you to start to count, at least as much as everyone else has counted around you.

How to Make the Change
:
Feel. Ask for emotional support. Cry to your loved ones. Be vulnerable. Stop being the rock, and allow someone to take care of you. Let go of that "golden child" image.

4. Set boundaries.
Do this with everyone; parents, lovers, friends, and co-workers. We play this contract out everywhere. This may involve saying no to a favor, giving your opinion on where you'd like to eat, not having a holiday with your family, or declining an invitation. You'll be pleasantly surprised that most of the time, people will respect the boundaries you set.

How to Make the Change:
The barometer to use when setting boundaries is whether or not what's being asked of you takes something away from you emotionally. There's a huge difference between being there for someone you love, and compromising yourself in order to be there. Ask yourself, "Am I doing this because I want to, or because I fear the consequences if I don't?" If your motivation for saying yes isn't coming from a genuine place, but from a place of worrying about the consequences (you won't be loved or get approval, you'll be seen as imperfect), it's okay to say no.

5. Take responsibility for the breaking of this contract.
Be patient with the fact that your parents might not be so open to this change. Be prepared for them (and others) to think you're selfish.

How to Make the Change:
Know this is all up to you. Don't expect your parents to be the ones to change. Risk feeling like you're betraying them or not getting their approval. Sit with those feelings of loneliness and powerlessness. And understand your parents aren't the ones who need to change; you are! They got married; you aren't there yet. They haven't been unhappy with the contract; you have! The good news is they'll most likely start to catch on and change with you, and in the service of you, because they love you and want you to be happy. After all, they had no idea this contract existed, either!

By breaking the subconscious contract with your parents, you'll be able to separate from your family in a healthy way, open yourself to a freedom you never knew existed, and in turn, find the love you're looking for. Six months after one of my clients broke the subconscious contract, she found her husband. How long this process takes depends on you. But you can turn this around. And you'll come to realize how much happier you are when you put yourself first.

In case you missed it, read Part I of Why You're Still Single (and How to Change That).

Dr. Debbie is the go-to psychologist in NYC for the single, thirty to forty-something crowd. She is the author of All the Good Ones Aren't Taken. Visit her at DrDebbie.com.