Q. When i first start dating a guy, I feel overwhelmed. All day, every day, I find that I am completely distracted with thoughts of him. I can’t concentrate on my work and I find myself hoping that he will call or text me during the day. I’m happy when he does but feel disappointed when he doesn’t.
I’m almost 40 years old and yet I feel that I behave like a teenager (inside at least) when it comes to men. I’m sure that my inner thoughts and feelings must be spilling out to the outer me because my relationships don’t last. Guys either end things abruptly (like my ex-fiancé who cleared the house of his belongings, and himself while I was at work one day and left nothing but a handwritten note to say he couldn’t be in a relationship), or they suddenly become distant, stop calling as often and then tell me that they need space.
Now here comes the difficult bit. As a child I was repeatedly abused by my father. I survived by not telling anyone and pretending that it wasn’t really happening. One day, I eventually found the courage to speak up and he left the family home, but mental scars have been left behind.
In all relationships, with family, friends but in particular romantic relationships, I never speak out about how I really feel. I don’t tell my partner that they treated me badly or that they upset me. I know now (from extensive therapy) that this comes from a fear of abandonment, even if the relationship is toxic and is making me ill.
I have done and said all sorts to keep relationships alive because I couldn’t bear to be abandoned again. With the help of the therapy I had, I’ve got much better at being honest about my feelings but I know I still have a long way to go.
I fear that if I say something negative or tell my partner off for bad behavior for example, that they will leave me. With such a debilitating fear of abandonment, I don’t really know what to do and how to behave in a relationship. I tell myself to just be myself but the fear is like a haze that I can’t see through. The haze is crippling me and possibly any chance at a healthy, loving relationship.
Are there any suggestions you might have that you think might help me to see past this haze?
A. First let me say Congratulations for surviving! You had the strength and courage to get through a horrible situation and survive. That is no small feat and you should pat your self on the back. I also congratulate you on all the therapeutic work you have done to recover. It is hard work to process trauma and you have certainly been doing a great job at recovering!
Yes, I agree that you probably still have some abandonment issues going on but in my opinion the biggest issue that is a barrier to your relationships is trauma. When we have been traumatized our body will do it’s best to protect us by automatically reacting to what it perceives as dangerous situations all on its own.
So when we learn that people have the ability to hurt us, we take on all kinds of defense mechanisms. With women who have been molested/raped a typical coping skill is to keep men happy. It’s comes under “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. So women typically “freak out” even if it is only inside if they think a man might not be happy with them.
Understandably, you learned men were the enemy. When our bodies are protecting us from further hurt, we put out energy that most people would find clingy. We become too accommodating, too needy, too controlling, we are not authentic and people know it so they don’t stick around. This is your body’s attempt to protect you.
Trauma is actually a physiological issue. To fully recover, have personal freedom and not live in fear as to whether or not someone is upset with you, I strongly suggest engaging in EMDR therapy. EMDR will help you to release the hold the trauma still has upon you. It is quick, effective and permanent. Should you research this technique, you have a complex trauma so it will take more time than what you see on the Internet. I also have two book recommendations, “Walking the Tiger” by Peter Levine and “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessell van der Kolk.
By releasing the trauma physically your body’s chemistry will change so you will be putting out a different vibe so to speak. You will also live with much greater personal freedom, will attract different people to your life (not people who would abandon you in the middle of the day) and finally have the opportunity to live the life you have only be able to imagine.
Cynthia Pickett, LCSW