Entry 24

Declaration of Dependency

Ever since I started working on the Oligoamory-project – which is part of the larger context of ethical non-monogamy – I wanted to write an article on the subject of “codependency“.
And since I’m constantly inviting to nearness, commitment and identification with the relationship as a whole (see Entry 3 and Entry 4) I also think that it is important to give an opinion regarding that specific topic.

However, there is already plenty of literature concerning this neuralgic field of research, both analogue and digital – furthermore, this phenomenon is the subject of both socio-medical and psychological health care – and because of my limited expertise I will restrict myself to a personal statement.
That’s why I want to outline my point of view here as a participant of multiple relationships and in this way share my thoughts and my own questions.

First of all, I am sometimes still confused by the occasionally inaccurate use of terms regarding the subject.
The mainly qualifying word “codependency” had originally developed during the 60s and 70s of the 20th century, especially in the self-help movement among relatives of addicted persons. Within organisations such as the “Alcoholics Anonymous” and in particular the Al-Anon family groups, which began to form in Germany since 1970, the term eventually entered a broader linguistic usage. The principal use of the term in the context of addiction refers to “a behavioural condition in a relationship where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”. It was recognised early on, that in this way relatives and friends of an addicted person could become “accomplices” of a dependent person, thus creating a dynamic which in my opinion, however, should be designated more appropriately as a warped kind of “interdependence”. Regarding this, especially the American psychiatrist Timmen L. Cermak (starting 1986) called attention to the fact that “codependency” of this nature should be treated as a separate personality disorder.

Nevertheless, when the issue of “interdependence in intimate relationships” was discovered as a marketable topic in the sprawling self-help wave of guidebook literature and workshops in the late 1990s, the original context of addiction, which applied only to a limited range of customers, was soon somewhat blurred. As a result, the term “codependency” remained – thereby covering several issues of malfunctioning “interdependence” in various social contexts.
This development was quite marketing-oriented since it introduced “codependency” into the public dialogue regarding unhappy relationships at large – but quite often the criteria were biased by viewpoint or even school of thought (scientific, socio-critical, self-help, esoteric).

Because of that the term “codependency” remained attached to a tragic fate that requires immediate treatment – and a statement like “You are codependent!” will always imply pending doom.
The same is true for terms like “toxic” and “pathological” (in social networks all too readily added), which also give the appearance of diagnostic vocabulary, thereby containing no tangible description and often brandished to provoke resentments and negative feelings – yet being arbitrary estimations.

Concerning the relationship level, this disease mongering sometimes creates a problem of understanding. Following Cermak’s initiative, what might be the problem?
According to him, among the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. Regarding the relationship? Regarding love? Regarding ones personal amount of freedom?
If that is the case, we have to look closer on the interdependent connections in a relationship-system like e.g. Oligoamory:
For in my opinion, of course, we renounce part of our (absolute) personal freedom when we become part of such a (loving) relationship. We are doing that because we want to contribute with our commitment to an additional value, which is created by the contributions of all the potentials of possible participants – and thereby the whole relationship becomes literally “more than the sum of its parts” (see Entries 7, 9 and 14).
Accordingly “entering a relationship” always goes with a certain desire to assume responsibility (which, by the way, is an attribute of being grown-up!) and the endavour of predictable integrity (I recapitulate: that the individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles).
This works, even if we consider an arrangement in some respects, more or less unvarnished, purely as an exchange, for example: One person works, the other takes care of the household. By fulfilling their part of the (emotional)contract, both parties release each other from the reciprocal tasks, and that way a common gain is created. And, of course, these two (unromantic) participants are in a sense immediately mutually dependent on each other. For if one side wouldn’t act committed or responsible, the previously balanced arrangements would immediately be shifted to the disadvantage of the other party, and the added value of e.g. shared free time or additional resources would vanish for both.
At this point, therefore, I urge you to have enough honesty as participants in loving relationships, that you are aware of this mutual dependency, which you entered voluntarily, be it conscious or implied. In everyday life, in every connection between people, a whole bundle of reciprocal, jointly committed liabilities and self-commitments quickly accumulate – and it would be a somewhat shameful self-deception if we were tryingto persuade ourselves as adults that “we would not know how they came about”.
And at last when we are speaking about loving relationships, we are (hopefully!) not referring to chain gangs which are forcibly shackeled and who are discharging their duty curtailed by each other – but rather to a balance of dynamic tension, like children on a seesaw: It only works if no-one jumps off or is dragging her*his weight (regarding multiple relationships, readers may now simply imagine an ingenious multi-seesaw, which works the better, the more the players cope for all-round equilibrium…).

According to oligoamorous standards, “mutual interdependency” per se is therefore not a deficiency in need of treatment which has to be eradicated, and it is neither toxic nor pathological in its conscious form.
Such a well-adjusted, or even better: well-established, reciprocal joint venture is rather a committed, dynamic and open relationship that benefits from regular negotiations and (re)adjustments.

But alas – since we do not always exist in a conscious and well-conceived ideal state, I nevertheless have found myself in situations in which there were signs that my relationship of intended beneficial mutual cohesion still had entanglements of codependent nature. Because in a sense, of course, we can in deed be “addicted” to a person, to a relationship or to individual importance. And this is almost always the case when our (unfulfilled) neediness gains the upper hand and gets the better part of us. And neediness can be an extremely powerful motivator that impels us for a long time, without us taking notice – neither deliberately nor knowingly. And worse: It can make us cling to the illusion that – for good or bad – we have “earned it” all along.

The psychotherapist, clinical psychologist and feminist Anne Wilson Schaef outlined in her book “Co-Dependence, Misunderstood – Mistreated ” (1992) the following characteristics of codependency:

  • Imbalanced emotional situation and (self-)dishonesty
  • Strong outward orientation and self-centeredness
  • Need for clinginess, over-controlling and manipulation
  • Lack of flexibility and dogmatism (caused by fear)

Note: When I tackled the approach of Anne Wilson Schaef during the composition of this article, I briefly came to a dead end because I could not immediately understand the linking connection touching the context of dependency. Finally, I understood that Wilson Schaef and her co-thinkers want to draw attention to a global problem inherent in many social systems:
Most of us still live in circumstances which facilitate and reward dependency (and the preservation of it) by means of manipulation and control. What’s more: The structures and mechanisms, by which this is accomplished on a huge scale, are widely established and approved. Thus, to this day our political systems, our societies and accordingly our relationships are endangered by denial, depression, compulsion, anxiety, lack of self-esteem, over-controlling, external referencing and the like (In the feminist discourse, it is criticised above all that mostly women suffer from this kind of “preservation of dependency” [see also the last paragraph of Entry 5!]).

Since it is very easy for our minds to discount such stern descriptions as inappropriate concerning ourselves, I would like to encourage all those sensitive people, who strive for a life in harmonious multiple relationships, to take a deep breath and ponder for a while on their motivations by considering th following questions – which are not always pleasant (I recognised myself to a certain extent in each of them):

Why do I long for (multiple) relationships?
Should activity on the outside distract myself from inner unfulfilledness? Or am I experiencing unfullfilledness in my current relationship? Do I therefore need the attention that I can get by multiple connections in many different ways?
Do I want to confirm my value by potentially recurring relationships? Do I need this confirmation to feel self-assured?
Am I “in love with love” – do I need a strong emotion like infatuation to feel alive (see also Entry 23)?
How much do I try to hide my shortcomings? Or do I rather employ those to get empathy?
Do I posess a self-ascription as an “indispensable provider and problem solver”? Am I quite sure that without me everything would collapse and the others “would be lost”?
Do I sometimes like my role as the “rational one”? Am I sometimes tempted to believe that I should “watch out” for the other(s) and occasionally even see myself as a kind of “guardian”?
Do I particularly value any appreciation concerning my day-to-day efforts? Do I regularly pay attention to these because I’m thinking I’m not being appreciated enough regarding my workload?
Am I standing back “for the sake of love” because otherwise recognition, affection and respect for me are in danger?
Which style of attachment (secure, anxious, possessive, dismissive [see also Entry 14])) has been instrumental in my growing up? Do I therefore establish a certain personal style in my adult relationships over and over again (see also Entry 21)? Do I want princes to share my life, but am I getting only frogs – and do I throw them hopefully against the wall just to find out that I spend my life mostly with damaged frogs¹?
Do I tend to think sometimes in categories like “We against the rest of the world”?
Am I irritated by routine changes because they seem inharmonious and disturbing to me? Do I whish for “light and love” and lingering lightness, because aggressive potentials or questions that I can not immediately answer often feel like shattering, fundamental criticism?
Do I believe that my relationship to other persons can positively influence them?
Does my responsibility for the overall relationship correspond to the responsibility that I am willing to spend on myself?
To what extent have I “settled in my life”?
What about my zeal, the energy, and the degree of my emotional state when I want to communicate or clarify my point of view or one of my qualities? With what intensity do I experience the emotions of my counterparts – and do I occasionally lose track of who feels what (Hello HSP!)?
Where do I stop when I read “diversity means differences, differences mean deviation, deviation means contestation”?

¹ The author Vicky Gabriel wrote in her book “Ways to the old gods” (Arun-Verlag 2002): “Anyone who thinks as an aid […] to know exactly what is good and right for the person seeking help, or what s*he must do to get out of her*his misery, obviously can not release her*him into her*his own freedom and maturity because the helper needs unfree and immature individuals in the surroundings to feel valuable in comparison. Oh, I’ve been wondering for years why in my surroundings never someone turned up »like me«! Why? Because I did not admit these people – because of my own lack of self-confidence, I gathered »poor, needy souls« around me, whom I could »support« with devotion and self-sacrifice and compared to whom I performed incredibly well.”

Thanks to Manfred Antranias Zimmer on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 23

The Highly Sensitive Person

It was this description, by which the American psychologist Elaine N. Aron in 1996 depicted for the first time in detail a psychological and neurophysiological phenomenon affecting about one in six people (between 15 to 20% of the population) worldwide.
In this entry, I wouldn’t like to ponder too much on the physiological prerequisites of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) – and thus evade a hitherto ongoing dispute of experts, whether sensory processing sensitivity (also known as heightened sensitivity or hypersensitivity) is primarily a condition due to differently connected neuronal stimulus transmitters in the brain, an excessive release of messenger substances at the synapses, a deficit in the relevant/irrelevant filtering of sensory input or rather a purely psychological conditioning due to certain experiences while growing up (or something of everything).
Since the beginning of the 21st century, SPS has been a much-noticed subject of research which, thanks to intensive efforts, has produced a large number of studies and professional publications – and which, thanks to the dedication of diligent non-fiction authors, has been made comprehensible in its various aspects to a broad lay public.

Oligoamory is the topic of this website, I am the author of this bLog – and if someone would asks me “SPS and Oligoamory – is there a connection somewhere?”, then I will answer “In every letter – because I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) too!”.
Accordingly, why do I think that Oligoamory is a relationship-philosophy that is favourable in respect to highly sensitive people, why do I deem it beneficial, helpful and even appropriate? Or rather, why does a highly sensitive person like myself approach the issue of multiple relationships and ethical non-monogamy by accessing a project like Oligoamory?

However, I will not be able to avoid a bit of “theory” when answering these questions. Of course, I wish that some of my readers, when they are discovering this entry, are already somewhat familiar with the phenomenon of SPS, although there still exists a lot of confusion and a heightened sensitivity is still more often than not connoted in terms of hypersensitivity, sentimentality, or delicateness.
Therefore some clarification might be helpful to outline the phenomenon. For the intently curious, who want to know immediately whether the characteristic of “SPS” could also apply to them, the Internet offers various online-tests:

The original by Elaine N. Aron:

On a webspace focussing on introverts:

And in the media:

In my experience, one should actually muster the persistency and take several tests in different moods, though many questions seem to have a similar tendency. However, it has turned out for me that a “reasonable suspicion” concerning one’s own SPS really does exist when one regularly completes these quick tests with a probability of 90+% – and then the time has come to further explore this fascinating matter.

For this purpose, some books have gradually accumulated in my library, I’d like to introduce you to the best of them:

For beginners:
Judy Dyer, “The Highly Sensitive: How to Stop Emotional Overload, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Energy”, Create Space Publishing, 2018
A comprehensible introduction to the topic, self-help and tips for everyday life.

Elaine N. Aron, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You”, Broadway Books, 1997
The book which started it all, written by the “Mother of SPS”; thorough, extensive and covering almost any aspect of life with heightened sensitivity.

Books by Ilse Sand, e.g. “Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World: How to Create a Happy Life“, Kingsley Publishers 2016
A book series providing inspiration, research, and encouragement concerning SPS. Written lifeward and approachable.

Elaine N. Aron, “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook”, Harmony Publishing, 1999
Get off the sofa and hands on! Explore every aspect of your potential yourself. A challenging experience, I have to say…

Ted Zeff, “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: Essential Skills for Living Well in an Overstimulating World”, New Harbinger, 2004
Another hands-on guide abound with practical help and a good sense of humour.

With these basics in mind, we can finally approach the question why highly sensitive persons are in good hands when choosing Oligoamory as a mode for their relationships – and why Oligomory benefits people with SPS.

First and foremost there is the aspect of non-monogamy. Personally, I believe that multiple relationships are particularly suitable for HSP, because in those connections they are encouraged and allowed to explore and experience the diverse nuances and facets of their rich inner being, especially in its social dimensions.
However, this potential is always provided with an obvious “BUT” concerning any HSP due to the high sensorial input in social contexts and their often deep internal reflection processes. To the same extent that HSP gain a tremendous quality of life by acting out their natural role as a “social lubricating oil” in partnership and group-related contexts, they also need an appropriately defined shelter and retreat for themselves in order to – let’s stick with the “lubricating oil image” – to “clarify” when too many confusing impressions and alien energies have exhausted them. In such a case a model like Oligoamory, with its committed as well as sustainable approach, can provide exactly the framework that guarantees the important mixture of freedom and closeness a HSP needs as counterbalances.

Overall, many HSPs have problems with their rather unstable, somewhat “shimmering” outer boundaries in a lot of situations. Imposing stimuli on all sensory portals, be they optical, acoustic, aromatic, olfactory or haptic by their nature; an occasional, veritable infatuation with details (and, as a result, often a certain severity towards oneself on the verge of perfectionism); foreign emotions and feelings which are perceived like own impressions (and thus an occasional over-attribution of responsibility) are always recurring challenges.
Since the neuronal “constitution” of a HSP can easily be put into a state of excessive activity, even on minor occasions, they are prone to fall in love more quickly – a result which the husband of Elaine N. Aron, Art Aron, proved in his well-known “Bridge-experiment” (I mention the experiment already in Entry 15). Such spontanous infatuations can lead to self-doubts and hangovers if a HSP starts to realise that such “inflammations” often lack seriousness and commitment after a few days. Nevertheless, an “open” kind of relationship is in any way favourable in this respect concerning HSP, as they are regularly confronted with the fact of presumably having intense feelings for more than one person. But since highly sensitive individuals literally “lose the ground under their feet” because of the very same mechanism and are susceptible to embark on a steep ascent to “cloud nine”, they also need stability and the ability to ground and center as a counterweight.
Because of the “hormonal kick” there are two dangers regarding HSP: On the one hand to be “in love with love” and thus to approach relationships too idealistically; whereby potential partners, if they dare to show earthly-human weaknesses, are rashly “sorted out” – because they no longer fit into the romantic idealisation or the perfect partner. On the other hand, the phenomenon of becoming a “NRE-Junkie” [NRE = New-Relationship-Energy, an approximation to describe the overwhelming flash of initial infatuation]. That way, a HSP may turn into a kind of addict, who at some point starts to tumble from relationship to the next relationship, to renew and experience the hormonal flash again, never getting enough of these “kicks”.
Clearly structured, small relationship networks by contrast, as the Oligoamory tries to establish, provide HSP with opportunities to play off their much better trump: the chance for intense and deep connections offering long-term imbuing and satisfying experiences – thereby providing insights and perceptions which constitute those silent but powerful climaxes in the life of any HSP.
I agree at this point that, of course, that even small (relationship)networks at some point start with a first encounter – exactly in that case it is particularly important for HSP to immediately pay attention to the “sustainability factor” (see also Entry 3) in order to connect with people who are appreciative concerning the attribute of SPS, so that a viable basis can be created. To use an illustration: It makes little sense to establish a sophisticated and full-scale organic diet, but to prepare the food each time on a disposable cooker…

Anyway, regarding (multiple)relationships, there is another factor that can be both a talent and a curse to HSP. The Dutch poet Margaretha Vasalis (being HSP herself) called this occurence “tentacles that are slipping into the other being“. It is quite easy to recognise in this description the desire for confluence and intensive connection, which corresponds to the very nature of a HSP.
In fact, by being so “naturally”, it is also a mode that HSPs have little or no control over (unless they are very much involved in researching their own SPS – and even then it would be as if one would voluntarily tie an arm on the back…). Literally they “can barely help it”.
But – of course – this can be problematic in many respects concerning the relationship quality. In the first place there is the aforementioned issue of the amalgamation regarding emotions and feelings of own and foreign origin. Secondly, there is always a certain factor of involuntary incapacitation towards the person the “tentacles are slipping into” – which is most often subconscious and self-forgetful. Nevertheless, as Marshall Rosenberg expressed in Nonviolent Communication, “involuntaryness” is quickly perceived as coercion and can trigger conflicts (or lead deeper into them). The responsibility that HSP have for their particular condition is rather substantial at this point – and in such a case, again, a kind of relationship that is conducted within the scope of a predictable and committed oligoamorous framework can greatly support all parties involved:
HSP already have a very “high-resolving” perception thanks to their sensory system, which is excitable and delicate. For each community or relationship-network, they represent an extremely sentient heart as well as a sensitive early warning system. At the same time, concerning the HSP itself, this ability quickly becomes a kind of tightrope-walk – and the HSP is in danger of reflecting in its behaviour any aspect of its surroundings, or prone to giving good advice like “I know what’s bothering you…!”. Because of their special talents of observation and empathy, some HSP (but not all!), often hit the bull’s eye. However, remembering the last time somebody gave us a painfully accurate piece of advice, we easily realise that such a kind of marksmanship may not always be enjoyable. It is therefore also important for both the HSP and the environment – especially if they are engaged in a loving relationship with each other – to carefully practice communication concepts such as Nonviolent Communication or Radical Honesty (see Entry 20) in order to maintain all-round well-being.
HSP who are stressed, poorly recovered or who are plagued by worries/fears can, when their precise perceptions mingle on the emotional level with a mixture of self-generated and foreign feelings, literally drown in their “sensations”. In that case even the observations of a HSP are mixed with interpretations and evaluations that are influenced by own filters of negativity, such as abandonment, envy or jealousy, and such an emotional momentum immediately leads into an inner chamber of horror of assumptions and fears. This mechanism isn’t happening out of malice, but in such a case a HSP literally falls victim to its own, otherwise often so useful, potentials.

At this point it is easy to see why I have already written a bLog-entry like No. 11, in which I have dealt in detail with the “good personal reasons” that are underlying almost every one of our day-to-day actions.
Because we HSP ourselves also have to realise at any time that we are all humans, who exist in a universe of abundance and possibilities – and that we all are incredibly complex beings. Therefore, we should limit our experience as little as possible with interpretations and assumptions and instead cultivate our immense skill of openness and fascinated curiosity.
In addition it is enormously conducive, if we HSP in particular preserve our excellent perception organic and viable: Do I really experience today “the same things as always”? Or is it just supposedly “always the same”? For a truly neutral camera, for a child, or for a being from outer space that has never been on earth before, any sunrise is new and unique every day. Regarding that it is important to remember not to confuse supposed wisdom with (bored) expectation.

In this way – and by a mixture of good and less good experiences – I as a HSP have noticed bit by bit that “less” (of everything) is much more favourable to me, but that I am still able to savour this “less” intensely, in depth and on a broad spectrum. The vast majority of HSP are all their lives engaged with a similar “fine tuning” due to high stimuli in their perceptions and strong inner sensations – and therefore we are busily trying to equilibrate between “…further deepening…?” or “…rather omit…!”.
By developing my Oligoamory-project I would like to invite you to create a playing field with your chosen loved ones, which is based on mutual respect and the joy of discovery so as to ensure for all parties mainly nurturing and safe experiences. This applies in particular to all the self-experiences and “foreign-experiences” that are so important to HSP, which in this way can lead to self-awareness and the best experiences of all: familiarity-experiences.

Today I give thanks to my readers who have joined me on this short journey into the realm of SPS and HSP, regardless of whether they count themselves among its inhabitants or whether they have a loved one to whom this characteristic applies. We all benefit from our common understanding for each other.

And thanks to MartisFuksu on pixabay.com for the photo.

Entry 22

On steep ground

There are times in life where things involuntarily come to a halt. Stagnation. That can be somewhat unhinging – especially if issues are involved which are dear to you. Enthusiasm, creativity, progressiveness, self-initiative, joyful anticipation – and suddenly it’s like being a car without gears: The engine is still running at high speeds, but nothing moves in any way. Worse: the engine is noisy and consumes energy yet – but you’re not getting anywhere though.
That’s frustrating – and “frustration”, according to lexical definition, is “an experience of (actual or perceived) disadvantage or refusal that is perceived as an emotional response to an unfulfilled or unfulfillable expectation (disappointment), e.g. due to the failure of a personal plan or to the complete or partial lack of satisfaction of primary and secondary needs. On the one hand, frustration can lead to a constructive change in behaviour, but often triggers regressive, aggressive or depressive patterns of behaviour.

Before it becomes too theoretical, first of all a personal example:
Moved to a rural area three years ago and optimistically hoped that my self-chosen lifestyle of multiple-relationships would subsist and progress. And of course, thanks to the internet you are connected everywhere with the whole world…
In 2018, however, after the non-monogamy-friendly dating platform OkCupid had changed their search heuristics, I deleted my profile there (being stranded without results anyway). But I showed my colours sedulously on JoyClub and on Facebook… Concerning my experiences with these two internet presences I could write a detailed history here – but I’ll leave it at last month. Then I dissolved the Joy-account to the day after exactly two rather inconclusive years. And three weeks ago, I also got out of the last polyamorous Facebook forum (Weekly recurring questions – and especially the subsequent antioligoamorous debates – such as “And how do you proceeeeed with your chiiiildren…?” or “And wheeeen do I have to tell my new date that I’m leading another relationship…? ” will eventually crush even the toughest cookie…).
The closest monthly Polyamory-Meetup is located 50 km away in the next major city – and anyway: It’s a regulars’ table and no contact-exchange where constantly most interesting potential mates and sweethearts walk through the door.
Therefore: Poly-Single again. Yep. No, nonsense – well, allright I live in a relationship… – but even as a “duo” you’re just not a polycule, in any case no proper multiple relationship, dear, whatever, I just hope you understand what I mean.
And now the mobile phone is silent, the mail inbox remains empty and the data stream of the daily dozens “XYZ has shared a post” messages (finally ?!) dried up…

Now what?
Now the moment has arrived to deal with the above-mentioned emotional response to an unfulfilled or unfulfillable expectation.
And knowing me that’s not so splendid, because instead of the above-mentioned chance for a “constructive change of behaviour”, I personally tend to lean towards the also recited “regressive and depressive behaviour patterns”.
Oh, great.
Frustration, a severe shortage concerning need-fulfilment (among them connection, community, exchange, friendship, intimacy, togetherness – to name but a few…) – and on top of that, depression.
Colourless, joyless, hopeless, lifeless.

Depression – and I know my bit about depressions, because they likewise have afflicted me outside of potential multiple relationships for all my life to a greater or lesser extent – have in my opinion their most annoying virtue by being so “sticky”. Or – as a friend called it some times ago – by feeling “caked”. And that’s what I feel is just the right picture: Depressions muster a vicious tenacity, as if you had made a yeast dough on a non-greased baking sheet – and now the whole thing “sticks” like a sedimentary conglomerate. With such a thorough and ingrained attachment that on some days one can no longer distinguish “Where do I end and where does ‘It’ begin?”. That’s why I empathise a lot with those people who identify themselves on some days with their “black dog”, with those for whom everything seems to be doused in darkness or, as Rainer Maria Rilke once put it , “there seem to be a thousand bars and back behind those thousand bars no world”¹.

The most terrible thing about such a situation is that we – who live in such a performance-oriented world today – are quickly convinced that depressive states and those who are suffering from them them are both economically and otherwise rather useless. In western industrialized nations, this view is so widespread that even those affected judge themselves in such a way – which usually aggravates their condition and very often chronicles it. In western industrialised nations, this view is so widespread that even those affected judge themselves in such a way – which usually aggravates their condition and very often chronifies it. The word is “widespread disease” – there is little we can do.

And yes, with such a firmly established belief, with such a judgment, such a pathological diagnosis – I would also say: There is little you can do.

But what if this appraisals were incorrect?
What if depression had an “important function” – or, more gently, “a value” that could be of significant impact for leading committed-sustainable (multiple)relationships?
The American psychiatrist and psychotherapist Scott Peck, whom I have sometimes quoted in recent entries, calls the the long dark tea-time of the soul² “The Work of Depression”.
By this description alone he explains, as I have mentioned at the beginning, that depression is by no means inevitably equated with lifelessness. Because – as I stated in my initial picture – deep down there is still an engine running, though it seems as if in vain – and one is getting nowhere.
Nevertheless, Scott Peck, for his part, is also perfectly clear in his evaluation that “depression” is definitely one of the borderline states of human existence. And to illustrate this, he refers back to the findings of the death-researcher Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified in her book “On Death and Dying” (1969), “depression” as one of the five stages in the process of dealing with the own (inevitable) death: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and, possibly, 5) Acceptance.
In that respect Scott Peck drafted an example:
»Say, e.g., there is a flaw in my personality, and my friends are beginning to criticise me for that.
My first reaction is that I deny it: She probably got up this morning on the wrong side of the bed, I think, or: He’s just angry because of his wife. So I tell myself that their criticism really has nothing to do with me.
But if my friends are keeping it up, then I get angry with them. What gives them the right to poke their noses in my affairs? They do not know what it’s like to be in my shoes. “Why do not you keep your nose to your own affairs?” I think or even tell them.
If they love me enough to insist on their criticism, then I start to negotiate: I really have not slapped their backs lately often enough and told them how well they are doing. And I stroll around, smile at my friends and am in a good mood and hope that this will put them to silence.
If that does not work – if they still insist on criticising me – then I finally start thinking about the possibility: Maybe something is really wrong. And that’s depressing

Anyway, both Scott Peck and Elisabeth Kübler Ross agree of course, that no one passes through such a process simply by waving a magic wand. Accordingly, both confirm that most people die either in denial or angry or negotiating or depressed – or keep o living in such a way.

Because in order to reach the stage of “Acceptance”, the previous stages are inevitable, including the completely obtained stage of “Depression”, about which Scott Peck, referring to his example, says:
»When I deal with these depressing thoughts, if I reflect on them, analyse them, deal with them, then I’m not only able to spot the flaw in my personality, but I can also name it, explain it, and finally be void of it. And if I succeed with this effort to let this part of mine die, I will emerge at the end of my depression as a new and, in a sense, resurrected person.«³

Thus, according to Scott Peck, the “Work of Depression” is the logical (and necessary) “final stage” of an inner psychic dying process – that always has to go through exactly these same stages, if we perform any significant change or step in our mental growth.

Why do Scott Peck and I, as the authors of this bLog, believe that this “inner work” can contribute to our relationship skills?
Because by accomplishing the “Work of Depression” there is a chance that we become willing to renounce and to surrender ourselves.
And this “self-renunciation” is an important prerequisite for Scott Peck’s so-called “void” of any community- or relationship-building process (briefly sketched by me in Entry 8).
He admits, however, that most of us nowadays struggle with the “void,” which implies a good measure of “non-certainty,” since today “knowledge” is literally equated with “power (over)” – and even in spiritual or philosophical circles at least the knowledge about oneself is esteemed as the highest goal of human experience (concerning the latter I have to clean my own backyard yet…).

Regarding my view of Oligoamory I have written several times that I value an ideal oligoamorous (multiple)relationship because of its potential to be “more than the sum of its parts“. To make this possible – and in order to keep their relationship alive – it would be important for the people involved in such a relationship to continually strive for the understanding that the relationship itself is a separate organism beyond their respective identities (the identities of the individual participants).
And that’s exactly why the “void” is needed; that’s where breathing-space has to be created.

If we go back to the level of relationship-building, then Scott Peck describes that the stage “void” is regularly preceded by the stage “chaos“: The stage in which we want to improve the others, where we would like to enforce our own viewpoints. Exactly a stage in which denial, rage and haggling takes place. Here, too, my car-example can be applied: The engine is howling loudly – but the occupants are still arguing about the access to the driver’s seat and all would like to indicate the direction; but because the controls are sometimes dragged in this direction and sometimes in the other, there is actually no measurable forward movement.

Thus, if the stage of “void” corresponds to the “Work of Depression,” then this is, to a certain extent, the not always pleasant realisation that we have to give something up, to let it die, in order to gain something better, by creating “space” for it. Accordingly, possible growth obviously requires it that we literally have to go through this “depression”.

If we are about to “create space” in our hitherto accumulated knowledge, it means that we have narrowed our perspective beforehand precisely by that knowledge – and its accompanying assumptions, prejudices and diagnoses.
It’s a bit like a cherished room, which we have gradually furnished more and more (or where people of our past and present have put things in) – until it is “overgrown” straight to the point of derangement. The problem is obvious: at some point there is no room left for something “different”.
What’s “different”? It is the extra-ordinary, the un-expected, the new.
And to us, who are thinking (and writing) in terms of ethical non-monogamy and multiple relationships, that can also mean human beings. And if we do not occasionally empty our hearts and minds thanks to the “void”, then we will have difficulties: To allow other people to come near us, to truly listen to them, to entrust ourselves, to surrender ourselves.
To us, who believe in committed human relationships, the value of the “void” is always twofold: On the one hand with regard to new, previously unknown people and on the other for our loved ones, who are already by our side.

And there is another aspect which may encourage us in periods of depression and apparent stagnation. If we truly dare to surrender to the “void” a phenomenon manifests in our psyche, which is known as “horror vacui”. As a matter of fact, “void” as “non-condition” is never an end in itself, even if we initiate it on purpose, e.g. with the help of meditation.
Because of that the void itself creates always an attraction that is not subject to our control: Thus, there is always the chance for the un-foreseen, the un-expected and the new.

Accordingly, if we sometimes literally experience ourselves as “victims” to our frustration and depression, when we feel anxiety, because we have lost any familiar terrain (or were forced out of it), when we feel abandoned and numb, we should be prepared to trace our “un-certainty” and “alienation”.
Beyond guarantees and safeties, beyond the void, the “new” emerges – and we can not know who or what it might be.

And if the aphorist Sophie Manleitner is right: “Loving someone who has depression is like London – it’s the greatest city in the world, but it rains every day…”, then I’m going to like my rain a bit more from today onwards.

* JoyClub.de is a German adult dating site (like e.g. fling.com) with a large nonmonogamous community.

¹ This line stems from Rilke’s most poular poem “The Panther”.

² Yes – that is the title of Douglas Adams’ famous novel from 1988 and its reference to the depressions of immortal beings in the face of eternity.

³ This is a random example to outline any optional issue! Scott Peck didn’t choose it to suggest that all depressed persons have personality-flaws! Please feel free to put in your own subject.

Thanks to Andy Dutton on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 21


There are some topics you simply cannot get around in multiple relationships.
One of these concerns one’s own self-image and one’s own role ascription(s).
Role-ascriptions from the outside – well – those are also abundant beyond multiple relationships: All we have to do is consult the TV program, a magazine, the Internet or our families – and we’ll get enough answers on how we “should be”.
Nevertheless, in the world of Mono- or rather Di-Amory¹, it is easier to manage one’s inner self – and thus our hidden conceptions of ourselves – as a private little kingdom, even to the extent of hiding our true motivations from our only life partner.
Why do I believe that this is difficult to achieve in multiple relationships in this way?

In my opinion, some of the values that underlie all forms of ethical non-monogamy (such as Poly- and Oligoamory) virtually exclude this, once a person really gets face to face with the implications of a genuine multiple relationship.
These “values” are no one-way streets: We do not only want our partners to (hopefully) acknowledge these, but we ourselves willingly choose the same canon of maximal integrity to bring the whole thing to life.
In particular, the values transparency, honesty and identification that I mentioned in Entry 3 will thus exert a certain interaction and reciprocity on us that we can hardly evade.
And while in a pure two-person relationship (i.e. as couples) we may be able to maintain a reasonably useful bond for several decades by hoping that our significant other will “guess” in a mystically romantic way all those things that would make us happy (which leaves us with an approximate 50: 50-chance to stumble from disappointment to fulfilment), this survival-mode will no longer be sufficient for multiple relationships.
That’s why “#communication” is so strongly emphasised in the world of non-monogamy, and that’s why I introduced in Entry 20 e.g. two communication philosophies behind which the principal realisation is: In order to communicate, in order to connect, I first of all have to figure out what those things are that I wish for myself.
And this pondering look into your own mirror will confront us with our self-image I mentioned at the beginning – and with our role ascriptions – whether we like it or not.

I’m writing “whether we like it or not” because every time we do this, even if only for a tiny moment, there will always emerge a radically honest “state of great clarity“, that will show us a glimpse of our own congruity or our ambiguity at that point in time concerning our deepest underlying motivation. However, how we will deal with this revelation, whether we quickly look away, lock it up and bury it, disguise it, ignore it, accept it, embrace it or even integrate it – that will have a significant impact upon our lives, upon our ability to relate – and thus, of course, upon (all) our relationships.
There is even a scientific basis for this. In his book “What we are – and what we could be” (S. Fischer, 2011) the neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther explicates, that our brains, which are adjusted by evolutionary alignment to efficient energy management, favour”congruity” (consistency / coherence) as ideal condition. Any “incongruity” is thus reported as stress in terms of (strenuous) energy consumption – and it does not matter “where” this “incongruity” is perceived: regarding the behaviour of others or regarding our own motivations…

What is it that I , Oligotropos, author of this blog, want to point out to you? I think it’s time for a personal example.
Of course, everyone of us has quite a few self-chosen role ascriptions. Literally, we are wearing lots of different “hats” in everyday life and we even change them – depending on requirements – to some extent in rapid succession. Accordingly, we recurringly are probably partners, possibly parents, employees, supervisors, subordinates, friends, (kitchen table)psychologists, clients, buyers, customers, neighbours, club members, event visitors, creative minds, problem solvers, organisers, siblings, daughters or sons, teachers or students, etc.
And concerning all these roles we routinely adopt, it is likely that to a certain extent our demeanour will be more or less a bit different from our internal self-image: As employee, we are a little bit more friendly when talking to a customer on the phone than we would be if our daughter would peeve us with the same vanity for the third time; if we present our volunteer work at the town hall in order to receive financial support, we will probably appear more courageous and competent than we truly feel; if we step into the breach for a friend and strengthen his / her back, our advice may turn out to be more pugnacious than we would heed it ourselves – and so on.
In all those cases the above mentioned potential “in/congruity” already causes us to feel either somewhat unsettled or – on the contrary – to be in one’s element.

But, in fact, I would like to push a layer deeper than these “everyday hats”, because our internal self-image is, as briefly indicated above, always an essential part of our personal motivation – and thus is directly connected to the existential core-issue “What are those things that I personally (deeply/truly) wish for?”. Therefore finally the promised example:

An oligoamorous native commemorating “Doubleface Day” – which is celebrated to honour the versatile nature of our inner self.

I myself e.g. have a role ascription which I would like to call for this purpose the “White Knight“.
This “White-Knight-role” did (and probably still does) play an important part in several relationship-inceptions of mine. Since I describe myself (see “About me”) as heterosexual, cisgender and male, the advances of the “White Knight” were dedicated in my case towards the heterosexual, cisgender and female sex and often shaped the starting position for the famous “First Steps”. Accordingly, the “White Knight” was initially looking for an alleged “Damsel in distress”. Concerning the definition of “distress” the White Knight wasn’t to picky in regard to the circumstances: An acquaintance with a pesky (ex)boyfriend, a female friend with difficulties in moving home, but also a sad maiden with a hopelessly dramatic biography would suffice to call my “Knight” to the scene. The knight then proceeded to save the life of this threatened maiden from the impending rigours, to counteract the approaching chaos with order and – of course – to finally serve the lady to the best of his abilities and in the most faithful manner.

Let’s now briefly shed light on the part of my self-image (since I am, after all, a “Hero in my own movie“, too): On the one hand, we recognise my loyal, reliable, trustworthy and conscientious qualities – which I actually own in good measure.
But if I’m that aware of these qualities – why do I not immediately display these strengths during the initial relationship-building-process and promote myself by them – but rather choose this strangely oblique approach of the “White Knight” and his emergency response?
Because the other side of my self-image is that of a person who is not very likeable at first sight, who thus does not believe that he can draw the attention of a potential partner on the “free market” by merits of his own – and who is instead secretly hoping to find among the “Damsels in distress” more grateful, somewhat undemanding and thus allegedly easier “prey”.
Which brings me straight back to my “White-Knight role”, which therefore also has a “dark” side, a hidden agenda, which of course isn’t displayed openly to the respectively courted “Maiden”.
However, if a relationship – the reason for which the “White Knight” was originally activated – intensifies, my inner chevalier can turn into a somewhat awkward companion and niggling participant in an emerging relationship, who expects a strange kind of enduring thankfulness and a persistent unobtrusiveness from his rescued object of desire (Phew. That was self-honest to a degree that probably by now every woman I’ve ever courted has recognised more than a just a bit…).
What I liked to show, nonetheless, is how a self-chosen “role ascription” is rooted in a deep internal self-image, which in fact consists of several components itself, which then in turn unite to generate our displayed role – where these hidden incongruences will cause quite an elusive demeanour. Which in my case can turn the initial impression of a welcome and loyal supporter medium-term into its shadow of a self-righteous nagger.

One layer deeper down than the meanwhile somewhat familiar and well researched role ascription of the “White Knight” I keep another role, which I have baptised the “Vampire Lord “. That this ascription possesses only few positive qualities already suggests its literally “undead” nature, for it “craves for the living”. Thus, the “Vampire Lord” is a role that I’m not fully conscious about yet and which I therefore still exercise with lesser awareness than the aforementioned “Knight-role”. The “Vampire Lord”, too, is based on my biographically grown conviction that I am an “unlovable being”. Its neediness for human love has increased since my childhood for more than four decades to such an extent that this role is potentially able to get me regularly into a real mess concerning any kind of relationship building. In the course of this it can even happen that I toss my true self-image completely overboard and – overcome by neediness and craving for any kind of human connection – push my limits to the edge of self-harm (compliance, self-abandonment, hangover included). Anyone who has read in “About me” that I qualify as highly sensitive (SPS), may know how dreadful the consequences can appear to me in the aftermath.
“Healthy relationships” – such as those to which I invite by means of my Oligoamory-project ” aren’t established by the “White Knight” or “Vampire Lord”. But both are not entirley useless as well – since they can serve as genuine examples here.

That Oligotropos, that guy has problems…“, some may now think. Well.
Concerning this matter and its psychic dimension I recommend the graphic novel and the movie “I Kill Giants“², in which the story of the15 year old teenager Barbara and her family are told (fiction): Her brother mentally and morally has immersed himself into first-person shooter gaming worlds, and her older sister has assumed out of necessity the role of “family caregiver”. Meanwhile, young Barbara has chosen the seemingly odd role of “village-shaman”, protecting the small town they all live in against a lingering threat of giant-attacks by means of runes, magic weapons, and protective charms. The role assumption and the identification of Barbara with her part as “protective shaman” is excellently portrayed in both novel and movie. She cultivates her “heroic” – and in parts even somewhat currish – image right down to her everyday language and her way of dealing with school and siblings. As a small-town resident with only a few mates of the same age to choose from, Barbara’s “shaman role” fulfills appropriately her need concerning creativity, spirit for adventure, strong self-esteem and non-normative (protest) behaviour. But, of course, even to her, this is only one side of the motivation behind her internal self-image and behind her compiled “role”. Because – the title already reveals it – she also has to face yet completely different monsters in herself, as one would usually suspect at first glance concernig that somewhat unkempt teenager…

How far our internal self-image and our deepest hidden motivations can deviate from our self-imposed role ascriptions, the fates of 28-year-old Anna Sorokin and 31-year-old bLogger Marie Sophie Hingst have revealed this year. Both had created a completely alternative personality, because their own internal self-image probably seemed too colorless, too commonplace and therefore not very promising to them. Both biographies, which in one case led to a long prison sentence and regarding the other case to a tragic death, prove the unbelievable energetic efforts we humans are able to muster to avoid facing our own inner truths, while on the outside the values of our nominal-actual self-comparison drifts further and further apart.
I do not consider the slight difference in the age of both women to be a coincidence, since we probably all have only a limited span in our lives, how long we can deny our inner realities before they become untenable for us or our environment.
Maria Sophie Hingst, who shortly before she committed suicide told her mother concerning her (false) self-image, which by then was dismantled by the press, she felt “as if she had been skinned” – and thus proved in a drastic way why transparency, honesty and identification are no negotiable marginalia in any kind of relationship (even in relationship with yourself!).

To really create “good” relationships, our self-acknowledgement is of the utmost importance. Exploring and examining our innermost motivations which are directly related to our self-image is a task that we should devote ourselves to with serenity and care. And yes, this concerns in particular those aspects which we ourselves do not think off as wonderful or exciting. It is fundamental in respect of our own sincerity towards ourselves as well as the very basis for the opportunity to entrust ourselves to our loved ones.

Because no matter whether we occasionally consider ourselves to be the black flittermouse-man, the White Knight, the rabbit-shaman or a millionaire’s daughter: Our chosen loved ones – or the persons we whish to relate to – instinctively invariably relate to the person we are in our deepest inner self.
That’s why it’s time – to quote Cindy Lauper³ – that we always dare to let our true colours shine.

¹ I call classic “Mono-Amory” in this case “Di-Amory” since it concerns a relationship-mode containing exactly two (Greek prefix “Di-”, two) persons.

² I do not want to spoil the experience of the content – neither of the graphic novel nor the movie – accordingly I put the Wikipedia-Link here in the footer:

³ Cindy Lauper “True Colours” (Song, Lyrics)

Thanks to Afrikit on Pixabay for the photo.