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Rag on Rebound Relationships

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I agree with the people who disagreed with me in my last blog entitled ‘Riding High on the Rebound.’

They emphasize the need to get to know yourself first and give yourself time to learn the lessons of the previous relationship. They suggest that there is nothing wrong with being alone. Alone does not mean lonely. Being alone offers a tremendous growth experience. The important thing is to take responsibility for your own emotional reactions and needs, rather than lay them at the feet of your new love interest. I couldn’t agree more.

My concern is and was that there are some folks out there who think they have to wait until they are no longer anxious around potential significant others before attempting to actually reach out to make new connections. They think that if they feel vulnerable it means that they are still “unhealed” and therefore not ready.

The truth is that for many abandonment survivors, no matter how long they wait, they will have fearful, vulnerable feelings when they attempt new connections. This is because, as I said in my previous blog, FEAR, rather than dissipate, tends to incubate over time. Abandonment is a trauma and feeling anxious (indefinitely) when you are around a love-object is a symptom of post trauma.

This is not to suggest that everyone should force themselves to get back out there and date. To reiterate what one of the responders said, there is nothing wrong with being alone. Being alone, you learn to be with yourself and develop emotionally independence – highly desirable goals that will help you greatly when and if you do enter a new relationship.

One client who is highly responsible about her personal growth, is holding back because in the past she has been “abandoholic” – that is, attracted only the unavailable (and gets turned off by guys who genuinely want to be with her). “I’m not ready to like the kind of guys I’d like to like,” she says, “so I’m working on changing my values first so I won’t go back into my abandonment cycle again.” Wise woman.

There are folks out there who would like a relationship, but feel they aren’t ready because, though they’ve waited six months to a year or longer, they are still anxious when attempting to be with new people.

In more extreme cases, some have come to believe they are emotionally incompetent.
”The minute I attempt to get into a new relationship, these gigantic emotional suction cups pop out all over me and they aim themselves directly at my new prey – and scare them away. It always winds up the same way – where I get abandoned – so I’ve given up.”

“I become an emotional basket case every time I try to get close to someone. I’m just not capable of a relationship.”

Believing that they need to be non-vulnerable and non-anxious before making new connections can cause a lot of them to put up unnecessary barriers and become “avoidaholic.” The longer they avoid getting back out there, the more awkward and vulnerable they feel with new people.

For the folks who have these problems but still would like a relationship, they need guidance and support from friends, sponsors, and therapists to help them negotiate the treacherous emotional waters of reaching out for love.

It is controversial to suggest that sometimes the healing work of abandonment recovery is enhanced by reaching out to make new connections. The key is to spend time with new people (notice, not a new person, but people, plural) without merging with them. The goal is to interact with others to get to know yourself better. It’s important to be clear with yourself and your ‘others’ that you are working on your emotional self-reliance, maintaining your boundaries, applying lessons learned from previous life-experiences, and learning to nurture and care for yourself – and that you are not ready to clamp on.

The fact that this is so controversial is important in and of itself. When I bring this up on talk shows, people call in with highly charged emotional responses. Some FOR, many others, AGAINST.

That says a lot right there. This is an important issue to dialogue. It might help some of those avoidaholics out there (current responders are not deemed part of this group) look at their current situation a little differently and promote some positive change. It might help those who disagree to give themselves well deserved pats on the back for achieving emotional self-reliance. Thanks for your comments.

Categories: abandonment, Outer Child

Riding High on the Rebound

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Being on the rebound can be healing.

Self help wisdom isn’t inline with this idea. Its consensus is that after having experienced a painful breakup, you should wait until you’re healed to start a new relationship.

It goes on to suggest that if you become an emotional wreck during the early trials of a new relationship – i.e. if you feel insecure and tend to overreact if s/he doesn’t call exactly on time – that your heightened vulnerability is proof that you’re not ready.

Wrong. If you waited 10 years or even 20 to start the next relationship, you might have to struggle with the same feelings. Why? Because time doesn’t heal the fear stored up inside of you from going through abandonment. Instead, according to scientific research, fear incubates over time. It’s the nature of trauma and the post traumatic reaction that most people get when they’ve suffered abandonment.

Fear incubates over time? Does that mean that by waiting to make a new connection, your apprehensiveness can get worse? Yes, that’s what it means.

So the key is to get back up on the horse as soon as you reasonably can. The longer you wait, the more barriers your incubating fears are likely to erect. These barriers can make it awkward to be with a new person. You can become avoidant. Closed-off.

If you’re going to get back out there sooner rather than later, the trick is to keep your wits about you. Yes, go ahead and seek new connections. Depending upon the length and intensity of your previous relationship, this can mean to start looking within 6 months to a year. But don’t clamp on. Don’t become attached to the first person who throws you a life raft.

Don’t clamp on? How do you avoid getting involved when you’re feeling so needy, lonely, and desperate?

Ah, that’s where the healing power is. You meet new people, all the while working on your maintaining your boundaries, adhering to your personal program of emotional self-reliance, performing the work (exquisite self-love) of abandonment recovery.

How else but in a new relationship can you work through all of the changes you’re undergoing as a result of the soul-searching shake-up of having gone through abandonment?

It’s called practicing. And sometimes, as you meet new people and work through your own issues with them, you meet a real one, and you just can ride high on the rebound. If you don’t meet your ultimate partner, at least you’re keeping your emotional wheels oiled.

Am I Still Attracted to the Unavailable?

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Someone wrote to me describing a dilemma that is very common. You finally realize that you’ve always been attracted to the wrong type of people, and now you’re attracted to a new person. The bind: Am I still in the pattern or is this one new?

It’s hard to tell at the beginning of a relationship, because usually both parties remain a bit of a mystery for a while. Will she lose interest as soon as I get attached? Will he change his mind about me? So, due to the unknowns, “beginnings” create the right chemistry for people who are attracted to the unavailable.

What also makes it hard to tell is that when you’re pursuing someone, you tend to put your best food forward. Your “evil tendency” to lose interest as soon as you become sure of him or her — isn’t showing. Your new partner’s tendency to get in over her head and then pull back — isn’t showing. So you play it out to find out if you’re still in the pattern.

Pursuing someone who is “hard to get” has a whole different feeling than getting involved with someone who “isn’t going anywhere.” If you’re abandoholic, the latter feels a little getting sucked into a vat of peanut butter.

Pursuing someone who is slightly out of reach might feel more like gliding through air with a welcome breeze against your face, than getting sucked up against a sticky, gooey surface. The slight breeze is the person resisting you – keeping you at arm’s reach – blowing you away. But this is the feeling that you might associate with “passion” or “being attracted” or even “being in love.”

This pattern is hard to break because it involves being able to gain this insight, and then changing your values. And even after you’ve done a great deal of work on it, it still involves playing out a few beginnings before you find someone whose “staying power” you can deal with.

Separate Self Versus Symbiotic Self!

November 10, 2010 2 comments

I’m trying to throw things out – I’ve collected thousands of pages of my writing over the years. Can’t I just junk it?

Well, I’m trying, but a page stared back at me from the garbage pile – over a decade old. I had written it right after my marital partner (best friend, lover, soul mate) of 18 years suddenly, and without warning, up and left me for another woman.

In the midst of emotional torment so intense I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through it, I wrote a prose-poem about the struggle between my symbiotic self and separate self.

I felt as if he had flayed my heart, or at least severed the aorta. While it seemed that I was bleeding to death of heartbreak, I realized, somehow, that I was an adult who could stand on my own two feet even under such dire circumstances.

My symbiotic self was shattered, but my separate self somehow sent out a peace signal.

The separate self was a part of me that hadn’t had a chance (or need) to assert itself in over 18 years (because I was too busy enjoying coupled bliss). Newly emerging, this part of me was a real contrast to my symbiotic self – and a real life savor.

The separate self can survive on its own. It doesn’t need to have someone in its corner, someone to belong to, someone to return to at the end of the day.

In short, the separate self can survive without a background object. It might not like to, but it can, and if it must, it will do so with grace.

Losing your background object (the person from whom you gain a sense of security even when you’re not conscious of it) can lead to an unbelievably strong emotional crisis – something that feels worse than a nervous breakdown! Mine was so ferocious that I couldn’t believe that my lungs continued to suck in oxygen.

But when I got in touch with my separate self, I immediately knew where I had to place my focus. I recognized my separate self as my highest adult self. This was the self which I set out to nurture, build, discover, embrace, and appreciate.

In contrast, my symbiotic self continued searching for the missing piece, looking for daddy, yearning for its other half. My separate self, a whole person by itself, kept asserting itself, keeping me focused, saving the day.

At the time of my abandonment, my symbiotic self had filled up its missing half with the idea, the fantasy, the belief that someone was there—that I was loved and found and kept – a belief that proved to be an illusion. What I learned was that the symbiotic self held many such illusions – just waiting to be shattered.

I realized that my newly discovered separate self had to develop the idea of…I wasn’t sure what.. of its own two feet, its ability to give to itself in the moment.

Both selves operated within me and continue to do so, only now, I have learned a lesson, which is, to continuously and diligently celebrate my separate self.

The separate self (in me, in you) doesn’t desperately seek its other half. It says centered in the moment, looking to bring a full sense of life through its own senses, the sounds of life, the sights, the smells, the feelings, the sensations – all of them under its own power and control.

So, I threw out at least 1000 old papers, but I kept this one – because I’m still working on it.

Can’t Let Go of a Bad Relationship?

November 8, 2010 15 comments

Do you know someone who stays in a bad relationship? What hooks them? The standard answer is that they don’t feel good enough about themselves. They don’t feel they deserve better. Their have a low sense of entitlement.

While self esteem is certainly a factor, many of these people started out feeling much better about themselves than they do now.

Being constantly criticized, rejected, neglected, or abused eventually pays its toll. The low self-worth you see is not always the CAUSE of their being unable to leave, but the RESULT of having been treated this way. Once they feel low about themselves, they lose the strength to get out.

But there is more to it. They have become traumatically bonded.

A traumatic bond is created when pain is inflicted into the attachment. This bond is stronger (just like epoxy glue is stronger than rubber cement) than a non-traumatic bond. The more traumatic the bond, the harder to get out.

There are examples of this everywhere in nature and science. Researches found that when training a duck to “imprint” them, when they accidentally “stepped on the duck’s toe,” the duck imprinted them more than before. Science has conducted myriad experiments that demonstrate the power of “pain” to strengthen the bond. It’s the principle fraternities use in hazing where they humiliate or hurt their pledges to instill greater loyalty in them.

But there is still another factor which really cements people to the abuser. They get hooked by the “intermittent reinforcement.” The abuser, every once in a while, will give them what they need, i.e. “a pat on the arm” or saying “love you” or “bringing home a paycheck.” It’s intermittent.

If you ever studied classical conditioning (Pavlov’s dog and all of that), you may remember that if you want to “train” a rat to respond a certain way, rather than giving a steady reward (i.e. sugar pellet), give it only intermittently. Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than steady reinforcement.

This explains the paradox of relationships. If your partner mistreats you in all kinds of emotional or physical ways, you run the risk of getting deeply hooked in.

You’d think it would work the other way – that if your partner made you feel secure, safe, and comfortable, you’d have a hard time leaving. But the irony is that many people feel freer to leave someone who has made them feel secure. Ever hear “nice guys finish last?”

But if they are made to feel chronically insecure, heart-sick, anxious, or hurt, they can get caught up in the drama of the abuse and locked into the dynamics of the relationship– especially if every once in a while, their partner gives them a little crumb of love — intermittent reinforcement.

If you are in a traumatic bond, you not only suffer from your partner’s criticism, blame, betrayal, unreliability, or neglect, but you suffer from beating yourself up for allowing it to happen.

You feel guilty for not being able to leave. Your friends may get fed up with you for being so stuck. Even your therapist loses patience. You feel judged. You feel weak. You feel ashamed of yourself.

Someone responding to the unhealthy relationship described in my last blog wrote:

I was happy to receive this message because it confirms the bind so many people are in. The more infrequently the “crumbs of love” are offered, the more hooked you are. You become conditioned, like a rat in the cage.

What Makes Me Unhappy?

November 1, 2010 1 comment

Contrast. If you feel a negative contrast between what you experienced in the past and what you are experiencing now, you feel the short-fall as “unhappiness,” “loss of energy,” or “depression.”

At first after Paul died, the contrast was nearly unbearable. I had been accustomed to intense connection and constant affection. We spent every spare minute enjoying each other’s closeness – just being together. He had been sick for a year prior and I had always been busy administering to his medical and personal needs, all of which gave my life a sense of purpose, meaning, and focus. It was all about being in love.

Then there was nothing. I sat in the midst of the void at loss for a sense of purpose, feeling lost. The negative contrast crashed down around me and I called it “grief.”

Grief has a lot to do with contrast.

But it’s been a few years now and my frame of reference has changed. I’m no longer comparing today to the days when Paul and I were entwined together. Instead, I am comparing today to the first year following his death. And things have improved enough for me to feel a positive contrast. Hence I don’t perceive myself as unhappy anymore.

Another way of saying this is, you can grow accustomed to something challenging and it takes time.

Contrast is why breakup is so unbearable. You are left with the broken pieces of your heart searching desperately for crazy glue, in painful contrast to the past when you were happily coupled looking forward to your future together.

But sometimes negative contrast is subtle, hard to see. You feel unhappy and don’t realize that you are comparing the quality of your current life to some previous time. You might not be conscious of your frame of reference.

Take Victor. He left his wife because he was feeling hemmed in, bored, and desirous of being with other women. He loved his freedom, but five years later he found himself feeling unhappy and wasn’t sure what the issues were. So he’s changed jobs, changed girlfriends, changed apartments, but he just didn’t feel the get up and go he used to have for life. Since he was fighting depression, he came in for therapy.

What was going on was that his mind was comparing his current life to the old married days when he felt secure and connected, had a sense of future and steady companionship, embedded within extended families, with hustling and bustling of activity. These were the days before he’d begun to grow bored and restless.

Although he chose single life and doesn’t consider his decision to leave his marriage a mistake (whether his reasons are valid or not is immaterial), his mind (working somewhat unconsciously) was busy comparing the quality of his earlier married days to his current reality. He was basically alone, since none of his new relationships resulted in sharing a “total life” together.

Realizing the “contrast” helped him in two ways: It helped him understand where his depression was coming from and it clarified his goals. He has a clearer sense of what ingredients he needs in his life to make him happy, a better sense of direction.