First you say you’ll stay and then you go.
Then you say you will and then it’s “no”.

You’re undecided now so what are ya gonna do?
-1920’s song

How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

Skipping two steps at a time, Michael flies up the stairway to Angela’s house. With two tickets in his hand for tonight’s performance of his favorite musical, he raps on the door, in rhythm with the opening song playing in his head. The tune stops abruptly when Angela, hair disheveled and dressed in her old bathrobe, opens the door. Michael’s mouth drops. In mid-sentence, while Angela is explaining about two of her kids getting the flu, he asks, “Where is the baby-sitter? We need to hurry.” Angela begins to tell him about the doctor’s advice as Michael tells her they haven’t got time for this.

Fed up, Angela pushes away his hand saying, “If this performance is so important to you, then just go! Just leave!” After exchanging cross words, Michael coldly steps away from her saying, “Fine, I don’t need you to go with me, I’m sure I can find someone else.” He turns and leaves.

Three days later, Angela stops by to see Michael at his office. When she sees him, she reaches out for him, pulling him closer. He stands, weight shifted onto one leg, while she says how much she has missed him. She holds more tightly onto his arm as she mentions a special dish she’s cooking tonight if he’d like to come over. After no response, her hands drop down to her sides. Then she casually glances at her watch and says, “Well, I’ve got to get back to work and I’m pretty busy tonight anyway.”

As she turns to leave, Michael’s voice grabs her. “No, wait, don’t go. I really want you to stay. I really can’t stand being without you.” He quickly puts his arm around her.

In a clipped tone, Angela says, “I’ve got to go. I’ve got things to do today.” As she leaves, Michael can still feel himself wanting to pull her back. Later, they both wonder, “What is going on?”

I’ll tell you what’s going on. It’s the Push Me – Pull You Dance.

Sometimes it is blatant as you can see with Michael and Angela. Other times, it is quite subtle with loaded phrases or innuendoes. Still other times, it may not involve words or actions at all. Instead the people send out only energy, giving distinct sensations of pushing away, clinging or leaving. There are three basic steps: Cling, Push-Away and Leave. It’s very easy to learn, if you don’t know it already. Notice which steps feel most familiar to you, which ones are disturbing and which ones you abhor. As you identify your moves in the Push Me – Pull You Dance, notice which type of boundary problem styles you use. When you Push-Away you may use Rigid or Distant. Perhaps when you Cling, you use Hyper-receptive or Enmeshed. If your friend is making a move to Leave, do you start using Enmeshed or Intrusive? In the Push Me-Pull You Dance, everyone has his own personal style. What’s yours? Check the web site for more information about boundaries and relationships.

The problem with doing the Push Me-Pull You Dance is it is a trap. As long as you stay in the dance, you must use boundary problem styles. Nothing gets resolved.

As with the Drama Triangle roles, each of these steps has specific moves, emotions, body sensations and words. The more you can identify how you do this dance, the harder it will be to blindly fall into these self-destructive moves.

The Push Me- Pull You Dance Steps

The Behavior:
The Words:
The Dynamic:

“I Don’t Need You”

“I Need You”

“Go Away”

As you read the descriptions of these three dance steps, think about your relationships. Notice which of these steps you have used with others and which ones others have used with you. First, I’ll describe the dance step. Then I’ll give you some ideas about how you might have done this step in the past. Finally, I’ll describe some reactions you might have when others use the Push Me-Pull You dance steps.

Leave- “I don’t need you”

This is the abandonment move. The behavior is to leave. It is summarized by the phrase “I don’t need you.” Although it rarely is stated so clearly, it is quite obvious by the withdrawal that takes place. It is a severing of any energetic connection between you and another person. In its most blatant form, it is a closing off of the heart energy; walking out the door with a slam and never looking back. A more subtle form is coolly turning away from your partner in bed after he has declined your idea of making love. Physically or energetically the person making this move has abandoned the other person.

Be aware of ways you use the Leave dance step. Do you withdraw and pout if you don’t get your way? Do you suddenly get very brusque and cool or start staring off absentmindedly when your girlfriend doesn’t act the way you want? Do you go off in the other room and wait for your husband to come and find you, acting hurt until he finally gives in? Do you later feign ignorance or come up with excuses when your partner asks why you pulled away?

Why was I with her? She reminds me of you.

In fact, she reminds me more of you than you do!

-Groucho Marx

On the flipside, notice any reactions you might have when your partner leaves or implies he is going to leave you. This might be when you feel drawn into the Push Me-Pull You Dance. You may suddenly feel abandoned, lost or fearful. You may find yourself wanting to Cling. Or, if instead you feel angry or persecutory, you may use Push-Away. Or if you suddenly feel cold or disconnected, you might find yourself wanting to use Leave, as you race to see who can get out the door first. Ah yes, the familiar “You can’t fire me- I quit!” move.

Cling-“I need you”

This is the engulfment move. The behavior is to cling. The phrase “I need you” acted out in its most blatant form might be collapsing into a helpless heap on the floor, threatening to kill yourself if he says he is going to leave you or is busy Saturday night. Less obvious, though just as clingy, are the worried sighs, longing glances and groping hands that give the message, “What would I do without you Please don’t go.”
Notice ways you use the Cling dance step. Do you begin over apologizing or contorting your values if your boss or husband starts to distance from you? Are you possessive, holding on tighter and tighter whenever your boyfriend isn’t focused on you? Have you said to yourself, “I’ll do anything he wants- just as long as he doesn’t leave me.” and then tried to figure out exactly what to do?

When someone uses the Cling move, she has handed you the responsibility for her health, success and happiness. This is a conscious or unconscious attempt to provoke feelings of guilt, compassion, pity and obligation. Be aware of what you do when someone else uses the Cling move on you. Perhaps you feel bad if you don’t do what she wants. If you go ahead and do what you want to anyway, do you ruin your evening by feeling guilty or worrying? Or do you stay home, resent every minute of it and end up using Push-Away the next day? Maybe you Cling as well, in a semi-blissful state of mutual desperation. Do you feel heartless (or, on the flip side, overwhelmed) and jump into using the Leave step? Maybe you start acting mean until she finally withdraws from you.

Push Away- “Go Away”

This is the rejection move. The behavior is to push away. Sometimes the message “Go away” is stated blatantly in a rough or violent manner. Other times it’s done in a flippant or pouty way. “You’ve hurt me (or at least didn’t do what I wanted you to do) and so now I’m going to hurt you.” is a common attitude with this move. Suddenly losing your appetite when your sweetheart cooks a special meal for you, having a bored or neutral response when he gives you a gift, or turning down one fun dating idea after another can all be ways of doing the rejection move. “Just try to make me accept anything loving from you.”

Identify the ways you use the Push-Away dance step. Do you make sarcastic comments like, “Well, why don’t you just go if you are so antsy to see your friends tonight?” in an attempt to make her feel guilty for leaving? If you don’t know how to end the evening (or the relationship), you might manipulate your girlfriend into ending it by doing just enough rejecting behaviors until she leaves. Then you can self-righteously reminisce about how you’ve been left once again.

What do you do when someone uses the Push-Away move? Maybe you double your efforts to be good, lovable or needed. Do you beg to stay and start to Cling? The challenge or demand for you to leave often is a dramatic attempt to get you to prove you love him by fighting to stay. Perhaps you do triple somersaults to prove your love. Or do you jump into the dance by proclaiming “Fine, I’ll go. I don’t need you.” as you use Leave? Or perhaps you get into an emotional wrestling match to see who can be the one to be abandoned as you both use Push-Away.

It’s a Seesaw

When you think of the Push Me-Pull You Dance, picture a seesaw. On a seesaw, the balance and stability for both people depends on where they each are situated. Anytime one of you makes a move, the other has to compensate. And if your partner jumps off, you hit the dirt! But this is no fun game and it’s no way to have a relationship that works. In building relationships that work, it is imperative that you have your own center of balance. Your mission- should you choose to accept it- is to learn to stay balanced, peaceful and firmly grounded no matter what moves someone else tries with the Push Me- Pull You Dance. If your feelings of self worth and security are dependent upon whether or not your partner is pleased with you, you are on your way to big boundary problems.If you would like to repattern your boundaries, look at our web site for tools and trainings.

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.
-Andre Gide

Loss of Integrity

If you easily fall into the Push-Me Pull-You Dance, you might find yourself saying and doing things that aren’t really right for you. You may have sex before you really want to, help your boss cheat on his taxes or tell your friend it’s O.K. that she just put you down. It is a bad sign if you start shape shifting your own values and morals in the hope of stopping rejection, abandonment or neediness. Acting outside of your integrity chips away at self-esteem and creates a shaky foundation for any relationship. It is far better to stop jumping into this dance than sacrifice your own integrity. Let him leave, if he’s going to leave. Let your boss fire you, if he’s going to fire you. It’s time to face your feelings of abandonment and loneliness head-on instead of letting these fears run your life.

Danger Ahead?

In every case these dance steps make for relationships based on uncertainty and fear. Learn to identify this dance quickly. These manipulative power plays are also classic beginnings for verbally or physically abusive relationships. This emotional blackmail plays on your feelings of fear, guilt or compassion until you finally do what the other person wants whether or not it is good for you.

Here are some beginning danger signs to look out for in your personal and professional relationships. If you see these, get out or get help. These are not the kind of behaviors that set the foundation for healthy relationships and, all too often, they are the first steps of the subtle training for abusive relationships. Don’t minimize the significance of these danger signs.

When someone:

· Puts you down or constantly criticizes you

· Implies you can be easily replaced

· Pushes you away physically or verbally

· Threatens to hurt you physically or emotionally

· Acts cool or indifferent towards you when you go against her wishes

· Talks about how desirable others are

· Makes obvious or subtle threats to leave the relationship if you don’t do things his way

· Acts like he’ll be destroyed if you don’t take care of him

· Blames you for her suicidal feelings or despair if you don’t focus your all your energies on her

If you are wondering whether you are in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, or if you are already in one, I urge you to get professional help now. See page (___) for more information. Remember- every day we are training others how to treat us. If you passively accept this kind of behavior, you are paving the way to a relationship with boundary problems.

Go to for more information on creating relationships that really work

Am I Crazy?

Beverly came into my therapy office almost tearing her hair out. Before she even sat down, she began to tell me her story:

“It’s unbelievable. I feel like I’ve been doing the masochistic tango. I’d been dating Larry and another guy for almost a year. Larry wanted to get married, move to the East coast– all these wonderful plans with me in the picture. Within one month of my deciding to commit to being exclusively with Larry, it seems like he just disappeared. I never saw him any more. He was busy. The more I wondered what was going on, the more distant he became. I got fed up and decided it wasn’t the right thing. I started dating other guys again and there was Larry back in full force: flowers, phone calls, romantic dinners. He had to have me. I was the best thing that had ever happened to him in his life. I’m not kidding. So six months later, we decided to get engaged. And, you guessed it, he was gone. I swear within 24 hours he had changed. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone. A week ago, I got the last of my stuff out of his apartment. He called me this morning saying how much he misses me and that I’m the love of his life! I don’t know what to do. I feel like I going nuts! Am I crazy?”

Each time Beverly committed to Larry, he withdrew from her. Many people in her position would try to be funnier, prettier, and smarter or whatever they thought they needed to be to get him to stick around. Luckily Beverly knew better. She had studied the Push Me-Pull You Dance and knew the patterns. “But I wasn’t doing any of the Push Me- Pull You moves!” she exclaimed.

That’s right, I told her. He was doing it all by himself. But now that you know his steps, if you keep showing up for the dance, then you are part of the problem, too. He is obviously not available for a committed relationship.

“Now he keeps saying how much he loves me and that he wants to settle down.” That’s when I told her- actions speak louder than words.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Many people who say they want to be in love are actually in love with the idea of being in love. When the real possibility comes along- yikes! They are gone. These are the “Wanna Be’s.” They wanna be in a committed relationship. They wanna be starting their own business. They wanna be giving you a hefty raise. But when the opportunity arises, they are suddenly sidetracked. To stay out of the Push Me- Pull You Dance, get your data, get a clue, get real and get a life. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Larry had clearly shown her his dance style. If you get close, I’ll leave and I’ll keep wanna being in committed relationship with you.

“Yes, Beverly,” I said, “You are crazy -if you keep using your hopes to cloud reality.” Then I started to sing her a line out of one of my favorite country western songs: “Just call me Cleopatra- cause I’m the Queen of Denial.”

By the way, Larry is going to have to find a new dance partner. Beverly’s not doing the “masochistic tango” any more.

Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.
-Oprah Winfrey

Stopping the Push Me – Pull You Dance

When Michael and Angela came to see me for their next couples therapy session, they told me about their recent fight. As the story unfolded, I realized they had been doing the Push Me – Pull You Dance. I showed them a chart with the steps, words and dynamics of this dance and explained to them how each step was done. At one point Angela exclaimed, “I can see it now. I did a huge Push-Away move when I told Michael to just leave and go to the show without me.”

To help Michael and Angela stop this dance I asked them to do it together in my office- but this time we were going to do it consciously. To help them clearly see their own parts, I first had Michael play out the three steps one-at-a-time using the behaviors and words from the chart. When he did Push-Away, I asked him to push on Angela’s shoulder while saying “Go away,” with Cling he tugged at her arm while saying “I need you” and with Leave he walked out of the room without looking back tossing a casual “I don’t need you” over his shoulder. All the while, Angela was to maintain her own balance, peacefulness and center of groundedness. Before he started the doing steps, I asked Angela to plant her feet firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart, to imagine and feel her heart open and to repeat a phrase over and over again, like a mantra, to help her stay in this solid, open state. She picked “I am love.”

As Michael did the three steps, I asked Angela to be aware of when it was most difficult for her to maintain her own balance. I also asked Michael to notice which of these steps seemed most familiar to him and to think of the different ways he did these steps with Angela and other people. After he did the three steps, I had them switch places; Angela did the steps, while Michael maintained his balance. He chose to use the phrase “I belong.”

After they were done, I had them “dance together” so they could consciously experience the ways they fall into the Push Me-Pull You Dance. First I had them each pick one of the three steps, without telling the other what they had picked. Then I told them to start doing the steps in an exaggerated way; words, sleeve tugging and all, as soon as I said “begin.” They were to switch back and forth between the three moves as fast as they felt the urge to change. I said “begin” and the dance began. Angela said “I need you” as she grabbed Michael’s sleeve. At the same time, he also pulled on her saying “I need you.” In seconds he pushed her hand away, saying “Go away.” She held tight, “I need you.” After one more “Go away” Angela’s face changed. With an indifferent glance, she announced “I don’t need you,” turned away and walked across the room. Michael exclaimed, “Fine, I don’t need you”. After moments of silence, Michael returned, clinging to Angela he said, “I need you.” The dance played on- steps switching from moment to moment. At last I said “stop”. With laughter and moans of self-recognition, they both collapsed onto the pillows on the floor. In amazement, Michael said, “That’s us. That’s exactly what we do!” They shared their insights and identified specific ways they used the different dance steps.

Use the self-treatment methods you’ll learn later in this book to stop the urge to jump into this damaging dance. Pay special attention to the Inner-Parenting Method and the use of high speed release using the EFT Meridian Tapping Method. (When you purchase this book you will be given a link for the boundaries workbook and self treatment CD, worth over $57 in value, yours free with purchase. This offer is still in process and may change.)

Do the Dance Consciously: Tool

You can have the same accelerated learning experience by doing the dance with a friend. It will help you understand this common boundary problem dance and neutralize it. Get a timer, copy the Push Me-Pull You chart on a large piece of paper and hang it on the wall. Look back on the exercise Michael and Angela did in my office. It’s your turn to do it! Decide who will do the dance steps first and who will practice staying in balance first. Do each step for at least one minute. Review and use the specific words and behaviors from the chart. After you both have had a turn, set the timer for at least seven minutes and do the dance together. Spontaneously follow your urge from moment to moment. Be sure, however, that you do each step at least twice. When you are done, share your insights, any patterns you saw emerge and how this relates to any past or current relationships. You might want to do this exercise with a small group of friends or several times with different people. When you are done, write down your insights in your boundaries book.

Keeping Your Balance

Boundary problems occur when we get off balance and abandon ourselves. We need to learn to stay connected with ourselves and stay in balance no matter what moves our partner makes. This doesn’t mean staying in a relationship regardless of what your partner does. It means not reacting out of your own fear of abandonment, thoughts of unworthiness or feelings of guilt. It means making conscious decisions instead of mindless dance moves. One way to help yourself stay in-balance is to create a list of balance ideas and practice them ahead of time. Don’t wait until you need them before you start doing them. Start practicing now.

Here the balance list that Angela wrote. To help me stay in balance I will:

· Do slow, deep breaths and imagine my feet extending down into the earth.

· Tell myself that I am good and lovable regardless of whether or not Michael likes me.

· Say the words “I am love” over and over again.

· Remember the dance exercise we did in our therapy session.

· In my head, name the move that someone else is doing.

· Feel the urge to jump into the dance, name the move that I feel like doing and pick something from this list to do instead.

· Tell the little child part inside of me that, while others may come and go, I am always there for her.

Several weeks after the session with Michael and Angela, I got a phone message. It was from Angela. Here’s what she said, “Hi Joan, I’m just calling to tell you that I can’t do my old dance anymore. The other day I said something to Michael and he didn’t do what I wanted him to do. I was mad and left without a word, heading for the park. Halfway down the street, I started cracking up laughing! I realized I was doing the Leave dance step. I was hurt and mad. I was going to show him! I headed back to his house and told him what had just happened. After a hug and a laugh we talked about what was going on. We talked about things we’ve never brought up before. It was wonderful…”

When You Won’t End It

If you have difficulty ending relationships, you might unconscouiously set up rejections if you don’t know how to seperate. You want your romance to be over, so instead of taking charge and gracefully ending it, you do enough ignoring, teasing or hurting till the other person ends it. Then you get to wallow in hurt, abandonment and, secretly, relief. In work settings, often if you want to leave a job and don’t know how to do endings, you will push the limits, like a rebellious teenager, until you are finally fired. Then you get the payoff of feeling righteously angry and relieved. You need to learn to use the Disengaged Boundaries Solutions so you stop handing off your responsibity to others for your transitions. Use the self-treament methods in chapter (_____) to help you end this cycle.

Get Curious

Now that you know this dance, you’ll have lots of opportunities to look for it in action. Look for it in the movies, at the mall and in your own home. As any parent can tell you, kids play the Push Me – Pull You Dance often. They just don’t try to camouflage it like adults do. At the park, have fun observing the comings and goings as Johnny takes his ball and walks off saying “I’m not going to play with you!” or Suzie grabs onto Cathy’s arm as she turns away to play with someone else. Hmmm…any of this look familiar?

Create Your Own Success: Tool

Create your own list of how you can stay in balance in the face of the Push Me- Pull You Dance. Then picture yourself successfully using it with a current or past relationship where you had fallen into this destructive dance. Spend some time picturing your success in detail, feel it in your body. When you are done, write a letter as if to a friend, bragging about what a great job you did. Specifically add what you did and how you felt. This letter is for you to keep and read over and over again. Everytime you relive this you are creating and strengthening the neurological pathways for your healthy new behavior.

Congratulations! You have finished learning the Push Me- Pull You Dance, the second most common dance that emerges in relationships with boundary problems. I hope I’ve ruined some of your old dance steps by now. Next we look at the final most common dance of boundaries and relationships in the next chapter- Will You Be My Dad?

Copyrighted 2003 Boundaries: Solutions for Life
For more information visit
Email joancasey at
Phone 1-206-284-2126 Seattle, Washington

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