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Do You Play Caretaker To Gain Love Insurance?

August 30, 2010 1 comment

At one of my three-day workshops (at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon – beautiful place!), one of the participants said he played the caretaker role in his relationship. He’d hoped that attending to her needs might insure that she would never want to ever leave him because he’d made himself so very valuable in her life – but she left him anyway.

At least half of the group could identify with this. One member said, “You were looking for “love insurance.”

A lot of people find someone who is in a one-down position to them – someone discrepant with regard to educational background, financial means, emotional stability, or overall functionality. In a Beauty and the Beast relationship, Beauty can hope to feel secure.

When the strategy doesn’t work, the abandonment pain can be excruciating (as if it’s ever anything less). Having someone you were caretaking wind up rejecting you in the end can feel something like this: “Even when I’m at my best and doing everything right – even when I’m overcompensating – the person still finds me unacceptable and disposable.” Nothing creates greater feelings of worthlessness during the “internalizing stage” of abandonment grief.

Is there a way to gain love insurance? If so, what is it? If there could be a hard and fast answer to this question, we could all just relax and go home.

There are certainly ways to minimize the risk of being left. Choosing someone who has a history of being emotionally unavailable is certainly going to increase your risk, and yet so many people are particularly attracted to the unavailable.

Likewise, choosing someone who is not commitment phobic but is looking for a type of person which is not your type, is certainly not a safe bet, and yet so many people get caught up in the painfully exciting emotional challenge of trying to convert an unwilling partner into a willing one – usually to no avail. People out there are addicted to these patterns. I call them abandoholics.

In searching for love-insurance, what about choosing someone who is less-than? Doesn’t this guarantee that you will be adored and admired forever?

Well, it can work out that way, but it can also backfire. The person can start out by feeling flattered, but in comparing him/herself to you can come to feel inadequate, out-ranked and therefore not in full control of his-her own life (even though you are acquiescing to his/her every whim). The person can feel pressured by your expectations since you are the “stronger” person. The person may realize he/she feels more comfortable with a true peer or even a less-than.

There is no safe bet, but one of the mistakes I see people making is the tendency to choose partners who are not realistic matches. They choose someone who is a narcissistic extension – someone from whom to gain self-esteem by proxy. Maybe the lover has a bigger ego than they do, and therefore if they are accepted by this lover, it may help them feel elevated. This is usually a prescription for disaster – because the lover with the bigger ego is often “looking to trade up.”

The key is to pick someone who is realistic match – someone who is more at eye-level rather than less-than or more-than. This involves having a realistic self-assessment – something most people need to work on. Most people not only have low self-esteem, but to compensate, have overblown ideas about how they match up to the criterion of prospective partners. Low self-esteem breeds lots of denial and self-delusion. Yes, you’re wonderful, but a potential mutual partner might look and be a lot different than the people you have been pursuing.

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Rejection Hurts: What to Do?

August 27, 2010 1 comment

When someone rejects you they acquire power in your mind. They acquire power due to their ability to inflict pain. The more they hurt you the harder it is to let go. This is the painful paradox of abandonment.

“Why does it take so long to get over it?” people ask. Those suffering from rejection judge themselves harshly for not being able to feel better sooner. They beat themselves up for feeling so weak and needy. They feel this so called “weakness” is proving their abandoner right for rejecting them.

People going through abandonment lose self-esteem this way. They beat themselves up for losing the person. They conclude that they must be reject able, valueless, unworthy. They shame themselves for pining and yearning and wanting someone who has hurt them so badly.

They turn the rage over being rejected against themselves, beating themselves up, causing themselves to plummet into a painful depression, damaging their self-esteem further. Having disqualified themselves as worthy of love, they are panicked over fearing that they will wind up dieing alone. The anxiety seems unbearable and bottomless.

That’s why abandonment grief feels like a terminal illness. People are afraid they will die of their wounds – that is, die anxious, worthless, and alone. Whew, a painful depression! And it lags on.

What to do:

First and foremost, stop berating yourself for feeling so miserable – and for the length of time it is taking you to get over it. It’s only in the movies that people recover so quickly. It’s only in the movies that people just get mad, burn their ex’s clothes, and walk away triumphant. In real life, people pine away for long periods of time, but they are too ashamed to admit to most people. So when it happens to you, you think you’re taking too long, but this ongoing pain is how men and women alike react to rejection.

Second: Rejection is a painful laceration that takes time and effort to heal. You must replace your ex with a love of your wounded inner child. Treat your hurt feelings not with self-criticism, but as a cherished child that it is your new job to take exquisite care of. Physician, tend thy own wound.

Third: Getting over someone is all about time management. Recognize that this is your full time job. Time management is pain management. Discover what things help you the most and do them more. What parts of the day are the most painful? Plan them differently. Your new priority is time management and it involves creativity and taking initiative.

Fourth: Get into therapy or support groups or both. Abandonment opens you up to the core. It’s like exploratory surgery – but now that your chest cavity has been splayed wide open, why not go in and clean up the wound. Question some of your false assumptions about yourself and your life. Do your emotional spring cleaning.

Fifth: Use your friends. Yes, I know, the heartbreak has dragged on so long, they are sick of listening to you. You can tell because they’re beginning to say things like “You need to let go and move forward,” not taking into account the fact that you are already doing everything in your power to let go and move forward, but you just can’t. You’re miserably stuck, which is the whole POINT they’re missing.

Never mind, just ask them for patience and forbearance. Explain that you need their companionship, you need to talk, you need more support. Explain that you’ll be there for them when they need you. If you’ve been a good friend to them over the years, they owe you one already.

Sixth: Add new things into your life. Enlarge your circle of friends and activities. Explore your alter ego states. Again this involves creativity and taking initiative. You have to join new things, especially activities where you will be around other people.

Seventh: Re-acquaint yourself with old friends and family. This is reunion time. You can tell them all about the breakup and the transitional period this has thrust you into. Tell them you are reconnecting your past with your present and want to meet up with them to reconnect. This has a wonderfully healing impact

Eighth: Go on a self-improvement plan. Some people go to pot. They let themselves go. Do the opposite of that. Become your best self. Join a gym, take up jogging, yoga, philanthropy, journaling, go back to school, move, change jobs, etc.

Ninth: Be determined to turn this painful period into a positive experience. As a result of your efforts you become your higher self.

Tenth: As our higher self emerges, consider making new love connections again. This time, however, look for partners who are more emotionally safe to attach to. And don’t clamp on to anyone at first. Take your time, play the field, lead from your newly acquired wisdom rather than your old patterns.

The Bigger and Better Syndrome

August 26, 2010 6 comments

Also known as “Looking to Trade Up,” this syndrome is the scourge of committed relationships. You are attracted to a new person. She turns you on. You’re into her. You start seeing her every chance you get. The sex is hot. You feel close, connected. You begin to imagine a future together.

But as it gets more real, you wonder if there might be someone better for you out there, someone who gets you to feel even greater passion. In other words, if you were to commit to your current partner, would you be selling yourself short? Another woman starts coming on to you, and you start thinking about her. This changes the dynamics of your current relationship. Your partner starts to get needy and insecure. You feel the pressure. You feel engulfed and want to get out. You’re caught up in “The Bigger and Better Syndrome.”

How common is this syndrome? Very. It’s especially prevalent among “good catches.” They know they have options: The other fish in the sea swarm them. Having too many options is a problem. It makes it hard to make a final choice. You’re never sure if there might be someone better. So you delay “choosing the one you’re with.” The opposite end of the extreme is the person who latches on to the first person who shows any interest. You think “this is it.” Underneath, you are assuming “this is the best I can do.” You rationalize clinging to this person with “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” This can work out okay if you’ve picked someone who commits back to you– and someone who will grow with you over time.

But very often the person who clamps too quickly gets dumped. You’ve sent out all of your attachment tentacles to someone who is “looking to trade up.” Your partner eventually reverts to “surveying his other options.” You go into high gear to keep him. You are in pursuit mode. You are desperate to hold onto your catch. The emotional challenge serves as an aphrodisiac. You feel really hooked on this person – addicted. Your entire life revolves around keeping him. He, of course, in the meantime, is pulling back, resisting your engulfment.

Many eligible people out there have Bigger and Better Syndrome. They look like “winners” because they always seem to be on top. They seem to never get dumped. They are the one who does the pulling away, the leaving. They leave a long string of heartbroken lovers in their wake. This is good for their ego, bad for yours.

Yes, these people seem like the winners for a while. But if this syndrome continues into middle years, they wake up one day realizing they have a problem feeling love toward anyone who loves them back – especially for any length of time. Feelings of emptiness and loneliness creep in. Their life lacks a sense of purpose or meaning. They don’t know how to fill the hole except to continue finding partners who can make them feel infatuated. But they can’t sustain that feeling indefinitely, no matter who they fall for in the beginning. So out they go again in pursuit of “Bigger and Better.”

They are searching for the holy grail of lovers – someone who will keep them infatuated forever. He or she must be out there, they believe. But they continue to be surrounded by too many options, and they can never make a final choice. They have “Bigger and Better Syndrome” but don’t know how to fix it. What’s the solution? They have to hit bottom with feeling the emptiness – the futility of their current pattern. They have to recognize they have this syndrome. They have to become truly wise about how self-defeating these romantic escapades have become. They have become committed to change their ways. And then they have to take action.

This action consists of learning how to love – not just enjoying “pursuit mode” and infatuation, but learning how to love. Love as a verb. Love as a choice. Love as a cultivated behavior. Stay tuned…

Part II: Trying to Get Over Someone

August 18, 2010 3 comments

Getting over someone: The task can be so arduous that it needs to become an ongoing project. And you can’t expect results right away. You have to be goal-directed, determined, and unbelievably patient.

If you learn now to work WITH rather than AGAINST your feelings, you will come out of it sooner rather than later, and you will be in better shape than ever before in your life.

To deal with your feelings, you must first get out of “protest mode.” It’s the protest (railing against something) that prolongs the pain and prevents the growth from setting in. Most of the pain is protest. Most of the agony is wishing it weren’t so, longing for the person, being angry that it happened, wanting your old life back, etc. – in other words, protest.

The reason we stay in this protest is that we irrationally believe that if we rail against it – refuse to accept the awful reality (whatever it is) – we can somehow make it change. We know better intellectually, but unconsciously we are trying to make it “go away.” It’s a primitive inner-brain thing – an example of magical thinking.

Protest is what we do when the person we love has died. At first we just can’t accept the fact that the person is GONE, even though we know intellectually that he or she can’t come back. Eventually we come out of protest and face the awful silence of reality. But only then can we move on.

Some people are more prone to protest than others. They have a lot of fight in them. It has to do with control. There’s a control freak in all of us, but those who have deeper “control issues” believe they have control over things they really don’t. By maintaining the illusion of “control,” they think they can force bad things not to happen to them.

In fact, some of your friends are in protest when they tell you “Just let go and move forward.” They are trying to convince themselves that if this ever happened to them (god forbid) they would be able to snap their fingers and make the pain go away.

Getting over someone is much more difficult than most friends or even therapists tend to acknowledge. Accepting the reality of a break-up, especially where there is rejection involved, takes much more time than people allow. And people who need to feel a sense of control, will tend to stay in protest longer. Protest (crying about something, analyzing it to death, being angry about it, etc.) becomes a valiant but vain effort to make an unwanted reality to go away – that inner brain’s wishful thinking.

So many of us squander all of our energy trying to change the unchangeable (even though we are doing it unconsciously).

So if you’ve been trying to get over someone and it seems to be taking too long, consider that you are in protest and vow to come out of it. (Of course, going through abandonment feels as if you’re sitting on a hot stove, so any length of time seems too long. Also, all of that simplistic advice from your friends implies that you SHOULD be able to get over it sooner (they are projecting their own “control issues” onto you).)

The antidote to protest is acceptance. The longer you rail against the reality you are faced with, the longer you delay the process of accepting reality and making the best of it – in other words, moving forward.

Acceptance is harder with abandonment because the person is still alive and this makes it more difficult to give up the ghost.

So, since hope springs eternal, the best way to accept the break up (to come out of protest) is to accept that it is over FOR NOW. This reality must be accepted as it is, soberly and without drama.

Acceptance means that you must make the best of your situation as it is, rather than wishing it were another way. Making the best? Okay, a subject for lengthy discussion, but briefly – it involves being with your feelings, tending to yourself with great empathy, love, and patience, and doing constructive things for yourself that will enhance your life.

Second Date Revulsion

An astute client of mine coined an expression the other night: SECOND DATE REVULSION. She was referring to a few disappointments she’d had recently in the dating world, and in a phrase, managed to capture a syndrome plaguing the love-lives of millions of people. You feel some chemistry when you start seeing someone. It builds your hopes and you think, “This time I found the one!” And then you go on another date and the real person shows up rather than the fantasy person on whom you’ve projected all of your wishful thinking. And here is the clincher: If this new person remains fully available and sincerely interested in a relationship with you, you panic. You don’t know why, but you go from feeling those little butterflies of love to emotionally nauseous.

You were inside a bubble of “feeling that special connection” (oh, what biochemical bliss!) and now that bubble has inexplicably burst. You’re no longer intoxicated. The sober reality of that person’s emotional availability – and all if its attendant needs and expectations – have triggered something in you, and you automatically go into romantic shutdown mode. This is not a happy state, because it sends you right back to where you started – alone. It’s the crash following the high.

The irony is that Second Date Revulsion does not set in if your new person remains emotionally detached, keeps you at arms length, or seems to have other (possibly better) prospects. Under these conditions, you might get hooked by the challenge and/or feel so insecure that you can’t sustain your emotional cool. Either way, your relationships get nipped in the bud because you freak out. Do your friends have this syndrome? Do you?

To get out of this vicious cycle, it helps to understand the dynamics. Second Date Revulsion is one of many love-wrecking patterns governed by your hidden nemesis – your self saboteur – your Outer Child.

What is Outer Child?

For those not already initiated, Outer Child is the part that acts out your inner child’s feelings – especially your abandonment feelings – without giving you, the adult, a chance to intervene. When you feel hurt, insecure, or challenged, Outer can act out these feelings in ways that sabotage your relationships and your life-goals. Outer works like a bungling undercover agent to protect (overprotect) you from the potential hurt of being left. Stealthy, quick, and misguided, it intercepts love before you ever know what happened.

Recognize that the underlying cause of your self-sabotage is none other than abandonment fear. This primal fear can split off in two ways – either fear of annihilation– the fear of being rejected, left by someone you love – or fear of engulfment – the fear of having to abandon yourself, lose your autonomy, or lose your option to find an even better partner.

As you attempt new relationships, abandonment fear causes your emotional pendulum to swing back and forth between the extremes of fear of annihilation and fear of engulfment. When this fear remains unresolved, the pendulum never rests long enough in the middle to form healthy attachments.

The primal fear of abandonment is multi-faceted in the ways it manifests in relationships (you can take one of the surveys in my WORKBOOK to find out which ways it interferes in yours). It’s important to recognize and deal with this fear so that you can heal from the inside out, and adjust the mechanism that drives your self-defeating love patterns.

An important aspect to the healing mechanism is gaining self-wisdom. Recognize that infatuated feelings of “chemistry” are often false feelings, especially if you’re like millions of others who, thanks to early abandonment histories, have your emotional wires crossed — and you’re only “attracted to the unavailable.” When you can clearly see – without denial and projection – how self-defeating it is to pursue people who are either unavailable or downright rejecting, you are ready to base your choices on your real values, not on “biochemistry.” Choose on the basis of what you know you truly need in a person, on what you know a good person to be.

When you’re love-wires have been crossed, you need to take yourself in hand and make sure that your new choices in partners are realistic choices. Go ahead and enjoy real life experiences with someone. Only through courage, consistency, time, and conscious choice can a lasting, quality connection develop.

Categories: abandonment, Outer Child

Trying to Get Over Someone?

August 14, 2010 2 comments

If you are, you might feel like John who wrote into my forum: “Cold, Wet, Miserable, gray day outside and that’s just how I feel on the inside too. Guess we got another visit from the Withdrawal Fairy. Hurts like a Mutha, but I know it’ll pass.”

The “Withdrawal” he is referring to is the second stage of abandonment (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting), when your body/mind anxiously “searches for the lost object. ” During this stage (which overlaps with the others and can be quite protracted), you feel heartsick. You’re as strung out as a junky, except that instead of craving Heroin, you’re craving a love-fix.
You’re constantly obsessing about your lost love, and it’s so painful and persistent, that you’d do anything to make it stop, only you can’t – the obsession is involuntary and creates real torment.

The good news though, as the writer above mentions, is that this phase passes.

In the meantime though it feels like you’re in permanent hell. People feel ashamed of how awful they feel and how persistent the obsession is – how powerful their abandoner has become in their lives. This shame only makes the withdrawal phase more agonizing, causing us to blame ourselves for being weak. We even wonder if “maybe this is why he left me in the first place!”

When we’re in withdrawal, especially at the beginning, we tend to fall into a game of “lost and found”. We anxiously wait for and “stalk” our lost love maybe we don’t actually follow him or her around (unless we’ve really lost it), but we may drive by his house at night to see if he’s home, check our voice mail 50 times a day, break down and call him, or otherwise try to track his activities. We wonder about his every thought, feeling, and intention. We feel powerless and helpless.

Eventually we stop tracking him or her, but we still don’t feel at peace. We’ve entered a morose period of just feeling lousy. We’re still not free.

So how do we get over someone?

1) We need to validate the fact that abandonment creates an emotional crisis. Just as someone who has received a powerful blow to the stomach, we need to treat ourselves as having incurred a painful wound that requires all of our best self-care. We have broken our emotional ribs. Physician heal thyself. We need to take exquisite care of ourselves.

2) This begins when we stop shaming ourselves – stop questioning our own strength. This love-sickness befalls the most independent people out there. It is not an indication of any shortcomings within ourselves, but just lets us know that we are human – and that we are reacting to a very painful situation. If the tables were turned, our lover would be going through the very same thing.

3) Use this as an opportunity to gain emotional self-reliance. Nobody is going to care about us the way we can care about ourselves (and by now we’ve worn most of our friends out with our obsession, so we’re pretty much on our own). See this painful wound as an opportunity to become self-loving and self-caring. Yes, we learn how to love ourselves from this. The exercises in my book help you actually accomplish this thing called self-love during a time of emotional crisis.

4) Take your abandoner off of the pedestal. Ironically, the more they hurt us, the more we idolize them. The very fact that they caused us so much pain makes us want them more. This paradox is universal, and it taxes the empathy of our friends who say “How could you pine away for someone who treated you so badly?” Yes, it’s a paradox, but they would be doing the same thing if it happened to them. Now is the time to systematically de-elevate your abandoner. You can do this by writing about him or her in your journal with an eye for seeing him as ordinary, human, mortal, flawed (like the rest of us), “not the only one,” not right for you, etc.

5) Re-invest the energy inside of the pain (all of that withdrawal “searching for the lost object” energy) into new activities. Yes, now. You don’t feel like it, but you must do it. You must add new things into your life, make new connections with people, take a self-improvement course, sign up at the gym, ask for a raise, undertake a new daily regimen like daily journaling, or move to a better apartment, etc.

6) Don’t confuse self-love with self-indulgence. The emotional hunger you feel is real, but you must keep it from turning you into an alcoholic, love-aholic, or drama-aholic. You must keep it from ruining your diet, your credit rating, and your future relationships. In caring for yourself, do things that have substantial reward.

7) Start looking for new connections – but vow not to clamp on to any one person (yet). You’re looking for distractions – people to think about and to test your alter egos on, not someone to make a permanent connection to. That will come later.

8) The most important thing to keep in mind is that these efforts involve resolve – hard work and determination will win the race.

My Ex is Moving On, Why Can’t I?

This happens a lot: The one who is left feeling abandoned has the hardest time moving on – precisely because of the primal pain unleashed by abandonment.

The one who chose to end it has a much easier time moving on.

Sometimes the original reason for the break-up was that your partner left you for someone else. This sends you into the torment of heartbreak and obsession, pining away for someone who is blithely enjoying the ecstasy of new love, completely oblivious to your pain.

But even if the reason for the breakup had nothing to do with a third party, it usually hurts deeply when you learn that your ex has moved on. “Why can he find a relationship and I can’t?”

The gets really dicey when you find out he or she is getting married. “I thought she was commitment-phobic! How come it could work with someone else but not me?”

As painful as they are, these lopsided situations are very common. What to do:

1) Don’t blame yourself. If you understand the dynamics of abandonment, you won’t fault yourself for taking extras time. If the tables were turned, it would be your ex who would be still pining away.

2) Use abandonment as an opportunity to heal from the inside out. It has opened you up to the core –a lot like exploratory surgery (without anesthesia). So while you are flayed open, it’s a good time for some deep cleansing. Get rid of those negative old notions about yourself.

3) Set your goals. Reinstate your dreams. Get back upon the horse and ride into the future.

4) But what about the awful feelings you are stuck with? Rather than fight them, embrace them. Become your own loving parent. Administer to your own wound. This is exactly the type of painful situation through which the people you admire had become emotionally self-reliant.

5) The neediness you feel is primal. Embrace it by replacing your lost love with yourself. Yes, learn how to love yourself. Administer to your own needs (through an exercise called Big You/ Little You).

6) Take responsibility for your life – for where your life is at now, how it got there, and what it will take to move it in the right direction.

7) Break your patterns, i.e. are you an “abandoholic” (only attracted to the unavailable)? Get whatever help you need to do this. Do not underestimate how stubborn these old patterns are. Join a support group. Get into therapy. Write with determination everyday in your journal.

8) Maintain a running inventory of your Outer Child – the part of you that acts out your feelings rather than deals with them. Outer child is filled with self-sabotage and interferes in your relationships and your goals. It’s the adult part of you that needs to take control so you can greet your new life without interference.

9) Step outside of your usual circle of friends and activities to explore your alter ego states.

10) Make new connections with a variety of people to strengthen new parts of your emerging higher self. Do not clamp on to any one person – explore.

11) Come clean with at least three new connections – share your culpability about your previous relationship failures – your part in it. Share your outer child patterns and how you are overcoming them. Sharing is cleansing.

12) Share your higher self with significant others.