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Ep. 5: The Ruler and the Subject Enactment [Ask Freudina]


How to Understand the Rules in Relationships

Rules. You got ‘em, I got ‘em, we all got ‘em. With so many to follow, is it any wonder that we sometimes feel overwhelmed and act out?

In the Ruler-Subject enactment, one entity makes a rule and the other can choose to either defy the rule or follow it. The problem is that this creates the illusion of a binary choice between two bad options, when in reality, there may be countless others. This enactment has plenty of real-world applications, whether it shows up in our personal ethical and moral decisions, our day-to-day interactions, or our relationships, particularly those between parents and their children. 

This week, we see that there is more to making a decision than the option of either following or disobeying rules in relationships and that there can be significant repercussions for our choices, namely a growing sense of animosity and resentment at feeling controlled or defied. We see how allowing ourselves some flexibility can ease the strain of this enactment, especially when the motivations behind the rules are relatively weak. Consider the difference between wearing a seatbelt and wearing a dress – one is a hard and fast rule enforced in order to save lives on the road, whereas the other is based on personal preference and cultural norms. 

On this episode of the podcast we hear from a wife and mother from Australia, who is struggling to support her husband through his feelings of intense sadness, anger, and frustration. She is both deeply concerned about her husband’s negative emotions and frustrated at his inability to ask for or accept help, and she struggles to walk the line between caring for her husband and becoming a “ruler” in their relationship. 

Another caller delves into the struggle of feeling as though she is “ruled” by her anxiety and the uncomfortable situations she finds herself in, even when she genuinely wants to be productive and finally make a start on that art piece/short story/[insert alternative goal here]. The woman has come to see herself as a “subject” of others’ expectations about how a challenging situation should be managed, and struggles to find the energy to do even those things which she would normally enjoy. 

Our final caller, a middle-aged woman from New York, raises concerns about the stigma and shame which she associates with taking medication for her mental health. In this case, the caller sees herself as a “subject” to her medication and is afraid to live without it, even feeling ashamed of herself for relying on the support. 

We also welcome back Dr. Michael Singer to discuss the direct impact of the sexual intimacy “rules” which have come into play during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how people can come up with creative ways to follow those rules without giving up what they want. Dr. Singer gives us some intriguing insights into the psychological ecstasy that is tearing up the rules in relationships and breaking free of frustration, in the bedroom and beyond. 

Tune in and gain insight on: 

  • How to identify the Ruler and Subject enactment in your own life and in the lives of others. 
  • The cycle of this enactment and how to break it. 
  • How to identify your options, rather than falling into the binary trap of defying or complying. 
  • The psychology behind feelings of resentment or animosity towards a perceived authority. 

None of us enjoy being told what to do, especially when the direction conflicts with our internal rules, but it is an unavoidable part of life. Instead of struggling with feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, and dissatisfaction, I encourage you to join me in learning how to identify this in yourself and others.

Ready to take the first step towards healthier personal and professional relationships? You’re already on the right track – all you have to do is check out the podcast below! 


Freudina’s Brain Hacks

Ask Freudina Podcast

Curious about the more technical terms? Dive into this week’s Shrink Think Bonus Episode!

Here, we take a step back and discuss the more theoretical terms and ideas surrounding our main episode. We talk about how becoming a “ruler” in our own lives can mean something different to each of us, while also taking a deeper dive into the enactments we covered with our callers. This ties all our insights together into one neat and overarching conversation, so don’t miss it!

A Quote to Remember

“Most people just don’t like to be told what to do. Some of us have a deep-seated rebellious streak, which is triggered by authoritarian settings.” – Dr. Alison Feit

Does this episode resonate with you? 

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About the Author



I am a Harvard and Yale trained psychologist who has worked with clients around the world to help them find well-being, mentored executives and entrepreneurs, mediated business disputes, and done lots of writing and teaching.

Here are a few things you should know about the way I work…

  • I believe in reducing pain as quickly as possible! Psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, are simply terrible to live with and my first goal is to help you find immediate relief.
  • -I believe symptoms also convey important information about each person’s innermost desires, pains, and histories. Through understanding your hidden conflicts, internal struggles clear up and symptoms resolve.
  • As you may have noticed, I take serious problems seriously - but I always make room to inject humor into a situation. (Good thing I went into psychology - otherwise I’d probably still be trying to make it in improv theater!)