About Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your Own, Own Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression.

How dare you?!

That’s so unlike you!

I can’t believe you would do/think/act like that!

I’m so disappointed…

Have you had one of these interactions (or internal experiences) lately? Our relationships — to each other, to systems, to groups, and even to ideas, are coming up for review. We are seeing the true colors, and sometimes the shock can cause weeks of ripple effects as we process the feelings of betrayal. But are we really being victimized or did we just not want to see, acknowledge, and accept the full truth of the dynamic previous to a given offense? Did we somehow play into a fantasy of what we thought was going on only to be taken aback when the truth was exposed?

When it goes from all good to all bad, that plummeting fall from grace can be referred to as a rupture of idealization.

This rupture is the end of the childlike illusion that merger, sameness, and agreement equal love. Embedded in the seeming harmony is a promise: that she is who you think she is and she will stay that way. This is why you can “rely” and “depend” on those you have love relationships with. You know them and you expect them to be that person that you know, for good. The promise of this kind of love soothes the nervous system. It feels like safety.

But what happens when there is an event so shocking, so distressing, so inexplicable that it turns the lights on in the room? And you can’t NOT see what’s in front of you?

When the fantasy is compromised, you have an experience of the true separateness and individuality of the person you were bonded with. And you have an opportunity to recalibrate around an interdependent rather than codependent relationship, or to end direct connection, entirely.

So let’s pause and take a survey of the interpersonal anxieties you are experiencing:

  • Do you have relationships in your life that are marked by a nagging fear that the other will die?
  • Do you have relationships in your life where you feel repeatedly betrayed or disappointed?
  • Which entities/resources/people in your life need to be present for you to feel safe: your spouse? Your parents? Your sibling? Maybe your doctor? The police department? The president?
  • Who or what can do “no wrong” in your eyes?

What is love?

I’m not sure I’m in any way qualified to address the question of what love is, but I have amassed some experience to inform my understanding of what love is NOT.

Love is not control. It is not manipulation. It is not a shared vision, belief, opinion, nor an agreement.

Of course it’s not! you might eyeroll…but the truth is that’s the only love we are raised to know. In fact, we are so wired for compliance, obedience, and abandonment of self that a number of experiments have demonstrated that we will conform to senseless behaviors, harm others, and violate our own judgment in service of obedience. Check out this amazing compendium on the subject as relates to mask wearing and other aspects of the current psychological operation. It makes sense that we would feel the power of merger — it is truly an opportunity to create reality together.

We were raised to expect attention and affection based on conditional approval of behavior. Which is to say, when you act the way I want you to, I’ll show you love through gifts, gestures, words of affirmation, touch, or my presence. We (I’d wager that includes all of us) were raised by parents or caregivers, who, themselves, did not know what love is, did not love themselves, and so, naturally, could not possibly have actually loved us in fulfillment of our deepest human need.

This conditional love is fundamentally hierarchical control-based love, and it inspires the pursuit of safety through management of external variables rather than honoring, devotion, respect, or the sharing of a resonant field of beauty between individuals.

We didn’t experience reverence from our caregivers, we experienced the power of compliance and obedience. We didn’t experience the nurturing of our intuitive compass. We experienced shame and self-suppression. We didn’t experience the unfoldment of our unique, boundaried personhood…our emergent self-ness. We experienced the wholesale adoption of inter-generational programs, beliefs, and ideas without room to question. And this is why we find ourselves, as a human society struggling with the sequelae of an unquestioning, obedient, compliant, fear-based populace relating to parentified Mommy Medicine and Daddy Government.

Because of this conditional access to our caregivers’ heart energy, we naturally curated a strategic arsenal of behaviors to gain as much love and avoid as much rejection as possible. This, my friends, is called, your personality. This personality gets us far in life. It keeps us from feeling the pain of rejection, abandonment, or betrayal through reflexes that keep us “in the right’ and someone else in the wrong. Personality defenses keep us at an arm’s distance, withdrawn or avoidant, slinking in the shadows of another’s dramatic flourishes so that we learn to retreat into numbness when things feel uncomfortable. Your personality keeps you dancing, anticipating, and guessing what your loved one wants and needs so that you can fulfill, appease, and manage expectations to keep the peace, even if it means silencing, ignoring, or otherwise disassociating from your own needs.

What it takes to feel safe

The truth is that safety does not come from outside and no one is obligated to make you feel safe. No one. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to create the conditions for your own personal experience of safety…in fact, that’s been my advocacy for years…send your nervous system a signal of safety through an empowered mindset, detox, meditation, and intelligent nutrition. But, it’s when we arrange essential figures, entities, and relationships around us that we feel we couldn’t live without that these power and control-based patterns emerge. Because you can’t truly love someone that you depend on. You end up trying to control them. Even if that’s through submission and generosity. Have you ever felt irate that someone didn’t appreciate all that you were doing for them? Yeah, that’s because you were trying to control them through those acts of “kindness.”

And this extends beyond human relationships. You can’t truly relate with sovereignty to a system — be it the medical, legal, law enforcement, educational system — that you can’t imagine living without. You can’t even live with joy and pleasure in a house you worry about being blown away in a hurricane…because this dependent attachment recruits old patterns of vigilance that obscure our ability to see with clear eyes who we are, what it is that we are relating to, and how and when they may be out of sync, out of alignment, or in need of reassessment.

There comes a point in life when the strategic game of unspoken power dynamics stops “working” or is exposed for the surrogate of love and connection that it always was. Love, as my therapist Alison Birnbaum told me many times, has two pillars – connection and individuation. And these two pillars emerge from the rubble of childlike merger and good/bad object relations. In this immature stage of connection dynamics, we are almost always in the vibration of helplessness and victimhood because we are blaming or holding responsible, another entity, for our experience of peace, happiness, or stability. We see the other as idealized or vilified and that can switch from hour to hour. In this field of connection, there is only a two-headed monster, not two separate entities expressing who they are and connection through that expression without manipulation. When love evolves to encompass individuation, it complexifies to the paradox of all-one and alone. And learning how to love with two sovereign individuals in the room…well, that’s what we came here for! I do believe we came here to remember love.

When we see reality clearly

Challenges to our expectations…incidents that feel “out of character,” and times when she may just not be acting “like herself” have the potential to generate unresolvable and conflicting impressions. We resolve the cognitive dissonance of these experiences by making light of them, spiritually bypassing… “we all make mistakes sometimes” or we take a more overtly critical approach and express our judgment and condemnation expecting that she will snap out of it, get back in line, or repent for bad behavior.

Sometimes the energy of betrayal creeps in with a little tap on the shoulder. Then the tap turns to a heavier hand. Then it turns into a punch in the face. But when the betrayal happens, embrace it because it is the beginning of a new chapter and the truth truly does set you free. Betrayal may be, itself, seeing something that you were unwilling to see previously. It is the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy and it feels like an assault of the heart that can launch you into the victimhood of the child. OR — it can invite you toward personal responsibility and self-ownership.

How can you narrate what “happened to you” through the language of empowerment? How can you own your part in this rupture? How were you holding this person, group, or system to an expectation that was never consciously declared. An expectation that you fabricated…or an understanding of what they were that was based on your own hopes rather than what was actually shown, demonstrated, and told to you over time?

Sovereign love

This personal exploration in the wake of rupture of idealization can take us through a terrain of anger, disappointment, and deep sadness, almost like a mourning. But once, we see clearly, and choose to actually accept the person, group, or system in front of us, for what it has shown itself (probably repeatedly) to be, then we can choose what kind of relationship we would like to have. This is also an opportunity to represent a personal truth, non-coercively, and without attachment to a particular response. Individuation and connection.

There is a phrase I’ve shared with our Vital Life Project community — “I’ll be ok if you leave.” To my mind (and heart), when we can say this about everything and every person we love and imagine we need, then we are arriving in the terrain of sovereign love. A kind of love that allows the other to be what they are and for the connection to be founded on freedom, admiration, appreciation, and acceptance.

For example…

Here’s how it seems to work. Because we carry our personalities well into our 30’s and 40’s, we are still hiding the parts of us that we don’t want to show the world AND we are projecting those bad parts on to those we judge and condemn as well as projecting our unclaimed amazing parts on to those we idealize, idolize, and venerate. Either way, there are emotional tethers between us and our projections and we are engaged in power-based connection as the child in relation to the good or bad mommy or daddy out there.

So when this rupture happens, we let the illusion of the all good mommy and the illusion of the all bad mommy die. We end the search for the love we never got. We end the fight over the love we never got. We step into adult sovereignty.

I, personally, went through this process first with conventional medicine. I, like so many, had parentified this system and imagined that it was the ultimate authority here to take care of me. And then, after reconciling the fact that I had, indeed, put my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis diagnosis into remission through lifestyle changes I had never been taught about in my extensive training, I flew into a rupturous rage. I swung from idealization to vilification. It wasn’t until I learned to live life without any reference to conventional medicine and began celebrating my beliefs about health publicly (including “miraculous outcomes”) that I began to truly accept that this system exists because people want it, consent to it, choose it, and maintain it. It’s not for me, and that’s ok. Only then could I perceive my next best step in how to orient towards the seemingly heavy hand medical tyranny.

This process has  rinsed and repeated itself in my relationship with Sayer when we have disagreed about aspects of truth we each feel strongly about.  Through our process, I’ve learned to deeply listen and really hear what he is saying, accept it, and relinquish that toddler-like protest that he be something other than he is. And through this fresh lens, I have chosen him, anew. It’s even presented in my women’s’ group where I was confronted with the fact that I had imagined we shared health values and that we were gathered around a mission to raise and protect our children’s bodies, and there was even a time that I thought I would never want to leave Miami because of this group. But this intention was never stated, never declared, and was entirely my assumption and even more like my fantasy that I would finally feel safe with these women warriors by my side. But when I saw truer colors around masking children, capitulating to vaccination, and faltering belief in the body’s capacity to heal, I was awakened from my own projections and able to see with fresh eyes who I was actually in relationship with, and to choose how I wanted to engage that dynamic going forward.

My susceptibility to this cycle of idealization, rupture, vilification, reclamation, is only as extreme as my persistent hope and fantasy that one day I will be made to feel safe by something outside of me.

We are, collectively, in the midst of an epochal paradigm shift — from one where safety is achieved through external variables to one where it is accessed internally through full self-possession and trust. I (and I’m sure others) call it strong spine, soft heart. When we navigate the world this way, we don’t give anything we don’t want to give, and we always show up as who it is that we are. Let’s get real and start to practice sovereign love. It may just be that unexpected wrench in the works of a certain Agenda…