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Is Your Partner Still on the Prowl?

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

You’re in a committed relationship. Or so you thought. But do you get the feeling that one of you is hedging your bets? Does your mate still act as if he or she is interested in meeting new people? You can sometimes suspect that your partner is still open to this possibility by the way others respond to him or her.

It’s pretty painful if your partner is still shopping, because it means that you’re being compared to others. It’s as if — despite everything you have worked for in your relationship — you’re really a commodity and can be easily traded in for a better or newer model.

This is often what is behind the commitment-phobic personality: These individuals aren’t ready to throw their lots in with yours because they’re remaining open in case there is someone better out there.

If you suspect your partner is hedging or pulling away because of this, it might be helpful to use your best finesse to call him or her on it.

You don’t have to come on like gang-busters. Ask something like, “I feel like you’re not fully celebrating our relationship. Is it possible that you are still ‘shopping’ for a partner?”

Even if your mate denies this, you’ve had a chance to plant a seed.

Remember: Mature people don’t shop — they care about who they’re with, and that’s more important than finding someone better.

Addicted to Chasing Unavailable Lovers: Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic – Part 1

September 9, 2011 2 comments

Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic

© Susan Anderson 2010

What is Abandoholism?

You’ve heard of food-oholism, work-oholism, shop-oholism and, of course, alcoholism. Now here comes another, most insidious, addictive pattern – abandoholism.

Abandoholism is Outer Child’s tendency to become attracted to unavailable partners. Abandoholism is one of Outer’s most insidious patterns, and it is shared by millions.

Abandoholism is similar to the other “oholisms,” but instead of being addicted to a substance, you’re addicted to the emotional drama of heartbreak. You pursue hard-to-get partners to keep the romantic intensity going, and to keep your body’s love-chemicals and stress hormones flowing – an intoxicating brew to which you become both physically and emotionally addicted.

What makes someone an abandoholic?

Abandoholism sets in when you’ve been hurt so many times that you’ve come to equate insecurity with love. When your wires get crossed like this, unless you’re pursuing someone you’re insecure about, you don’t feel in love.

Conversely, when someone comes along who wants to be with you, that person’s availability fails to arouse the required level of insecurity. If you can’t feel those yearning, lovesick feelings, then you don’t feel attracted. Your Outer Child has taken hold and got you caught up in a pattern of pursuing unavailable partners. You’ve become neuro-biologically addicted to the high stakes drama of an emotional challenge and the love-chemicals that go with it.

This abandonment compulsion is insidious. You didn’t know it was developing. Until now you didn’t have a name for it: Abandoholism is a new concept.

Insecurity is an aphrodisiac.

If you are a hard-core abandoholic, you’re drawn to a kind of love that is highly combustible. The hottest sex is when you’re trying to seduce a hard-to-get lover. Insecurity becomes your favorite aphrodisiac. These intoxicated states are produced when you sense emotional danger – the danger of your lover’s potential to abandon you just when you start to attach.

At the other end of the seesaw, you start to turn off and shut down when you happen to successfully win someone’s love. If your lover succumbs to your charms – heaven forbid – you suddenly feel too comfortable, too sure of him to stay interested. There’s not enough challenge to sustain your sexual energy. You interpret your turn-off as his not being right for you.

How about following your gut?

If you’re an abandoholic, following your gut is probably what got you into this mess in the first place. Your gut gets you to pursue someone who makes your heart go pitter pat, not because he’s the right one, but because he arouses your subliminal fear of abandonment. And your gut gets you to avoid someone who is truly trustworthy, because he doesn’t press the right insecurity-buttons to create the aphrodisiac.

Enrich your mind. Follow your wisdom. But until you overcome your abandonment compulsion, don’t follow your gut – it will only get you into trouble – because your gut tells you that unavailable people are attractive.

The Pied Piper of Abandonment

July 20, 2011 4 comments

Most of the time I feel like the Pied Piper of abandonment. Thousands of people have written their painful and agonizing abandonment scenarios to me through http://www.abandonment.net, Facebook and now through this blog.

You’d think that over the years I would grow immune to feeling empathy for the pain they describe, but I read these things with amazement about our human capacity to feel life so very painfully.

There were three writers who knocked my socks off, and they represent three types of abandonment.

The first was Terisa who is fully attached and to a guy who wants to see her frequently but doesn’t want to consider her a girlfriend (he’s waiting for someone to fall madly in love with instead). She doesn’t understand why she stays so stuck on someone who only offers her heartache.

The answer is that she has entered into a “traumatic bond” with him. As paradoxical as it sounds, the more pain someone causes you, the more attached you feel. College fraternities understand this as does the military: The harsher the training and “pledging” the stronger the loyalty and bond.

This guy’s constantly pulling away from Terisa only sinks his hook in deeper. The same is true when you’re married to someone who keeps falling off the wagon, or keeps shutting you out, or keeps putting you down. The intermittent reinforcement causes you to cling more rather than let go.

What to do when you are traumatically bonded to someone? The first step is to recognize it and the second step is to treat it as an addiction, which means to get help. Don’t underestimate the power of the situation, and meet it with full force, which often involves full abstinence – and lots of support from others.

Then we come to Boomie whose husband has decided he doesn’t want to stay married any longer – but, and here is the clincher – he wants his family to remain intact – as well as to remain really great friends with his now heartbroken wife – and to get together for family outings to dinner and the movies.

This means that he wants all of the benefits of the marriage, but not the commitment part. Nothing is more deleterious for a woman’s self-image than to see her love as the only thing scraped from the program. Furthermore, it means that he doesn’t have to experience any loss at all, since he can still use his wife and family as his “background object” which will only make him more secure and more empowered to go on about his single business, no longer encumbered by the bonds of marriage.

Imagine the traumatic bond this sets up for Boomie to get snarled in. And imagine her chronic abandonment pain as this scenario plays out.

One can’t give advice in these situations, but I bet a lot of readers wish that she’d tell him that he can’t have his cake and eat it to – it’s either stay married, or accept a period of complete emotional separation from her.

If she’s like a lot of heartbroken spouses, she will most likely become so emotionally starved, that she will be willing to accept any crumbs, albeit friendship crumbs, he is willing to throw her way.

As for Jane Doe, her abandonment pain is excruciating because she tossed someone aside and then later changed her mind, only to find out that the tables had turned and that he was now knee deep in a new romance. She can’t let go of the need to fix what she broke and hound this guy for a second chance.

What makes her situation more desperate is that her beloved father died in the midst of all of this, and I’ve come to understand how bereavement interfaces with abandonment. The finality of someone’s death makes the need to restore a connection that is broken even greater. This guy isn’t dead, he’s just withholding himself. Someone recently bereaved will have a hard time giving up – because it means going back to that awful feeling of “never coming back.”

Reading these people’s situations brings me to a full stop. It reminds me what has motivated me to do all of the book-writing and letter-answering that I have done over the years.

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.

Guilt Loves to Turn the Tables

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

This week the theme of the messages I receive has been GUILT – not FEELING GUILTY, but feeling the brunt of someone else’s DISOWNED GUILT.

An example: According to Sarah, her boyfriend treats her badly. He makes promises, but doesn’t show up. Then he showers her with passion, only to go online and talk with other women. When she catches him, he tells her it’s because she has been cold and angry lately.

Sometimes he invites Sarah over to his place to spend the evening, but when she gets there, he spends the whole time in bed, remains uncommunicative, unaffectionate, and unresponsive. She feels rejected, stops calling him, and keeps away. Then he suddenly declares his love for her, claiming he was just depressed and that things will be different.

She acquiesces and they make passionate love, but then he doesn’t return her phone calls for days.

When she finally gets to talk to about this and confronts him, he blames it on HER. He says she is too demanding, too dependent, and too needy – doesn’t she understand that he gets depressed?! These criticisms and excuses are cliché. I hear the same ones over and over again from so many different people.

Besides all of the other obvious things that may be wrong with this relationship, Sarah suffers from her boyfriend’s guilt – his unwillingness to own his own his behavior– his tendency to blame the victim.

What’s the mechanism he’s using? He treats her badly and wants to get away with it. He doesn’t want to feel guilty over it. But somewhere in his head, a faint voice is telling him that he has behaved badly.

What does he do with this voice? He does everything he can to get rid of it.

The easiest way is to turn the tables. He faults Sarah. He tries to get HER to feel guilty. If he rejects and criticizes her enough, maybe he can even get her to regret her entire existence. He even turns the tables when she tells him how much it hurts, by emphasizing his own pain – his depression –and then accuses her of only thinking about herself.

Taking his guilt and loading it into her makes Sarah to “look bad” which in turn, enables him to rationalize his behavior.

Guilt can be so helpful when it’s acknowledged. It gets us to closely examine our actions so that we can evolve as human beings. Owning our guilt – and sharing our own culpability within our relationships – can lead to a true reckoning. The relationship then serves as a crucible for positive change.

But guilt without
• remorse
• intention to make amends
• the will to change
is guilt that gets buried, rationalized, and displaced in destructive ways – destructive to self and others.

This is Sarah’s boyfriend’s brand of guilt. If she can understand the manipulation he is using, she can stop buying in.

Of course, we all want Sarah to get another boyfriend. But while she’s in this, she can use it as a giant growth experience.

The More They Hurt You the More They Hook You

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is that? Why is it that the more they hurt you, the deeper in goes the hook?

It’s a demoralizing dilemma to be in. A lot of you wrote about it this week. One person sent this message: “I feel like a fool. I should hate him [her husband] for all of the sneaking around with ___ [the other woman], but all I want is to lie next to him and have him put his arms around me. I keep begging him to stay, not to leave me. I’ve become pathetic. I don’t blame him for not loving me”

Another woman was beginning to lose interest in her boyfriend, that is, until he became a no show on Friday night. The next day, she still hadn’t heard from him and his phone was turned off. She went into a panic that could only be quashed if he called.

Eventually he did call, told her he’d call her again that evening, but didn’t follow through. She went back into panic. Now she imagines that she is madly in love with him, that she doesn’t care about what a louse he’s been, she wants him and only him.

A man writes that he suspects his wife of having affairs. She flirts outrageously with other men right in front of him, avoids spending time with him, and doesn’t like having sex (with him), and seems to only care about her own needs. “I hate to grovel for her attention,” he explains, “and if I do try to talk to her about our relationship, she becomes angry and accusatory.”

Yes, it’s demoralizing to be in the “emotional beggar” role. But it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person. It just means you’re human. It could happen to almost anyone, given certain conditions. And it takes tremendous strength and insight to get out of it.

Another young man says his girlfriend has cheated on him more times than he can count, and she always comes back, swearing she’ll never do it again. She’s hurt him so many times, he’s tried to break up with her, and has dated many nice women in between, but the only one he obsesses about, the only one he wants is her. He’s hooked. He’s hooked by the pain she has caused.

I’ve already written about this– that when pain is introduced when you’re forming an attachment, it strengthens the attachment. I mentioned that when the researcher accidentally stepped on the toe of the duck, the duck imprinted him stronger than the other ducks. I also mentioned that fraternities inflict pain in their “hazing” to make the new “pledges” more loyal and bonded to the fraternity.

Here’s a little more explanation. The Zagarnic effect shows that the more problematic a situation is, the more enduring its impact upon your motivation. The study gave problem-solving tests to two groups. The control group had an easy-to-solve problem; the other group was given a problem that couldn’t be solved within the time-limit. Researchers went back to the two groups many years later. The ones who couldn’t solve the problem still remembered what it was about, but the control group had forgotten all about it.

When someone causes you to feel pain, the mammalian part of the brain (it is unconscious) creates an impression of that person so that it can warn you (with stress signals) to proceed with extreme caution during your next contact with him. This extra arousal from your autonomic nervous system gets confused with “being excited.” It arouses your “fight or flight” response, which gears you up for “competitive mode,” and the challenge holds your interest.

Also, someone who arouses those old familiar insecurity feelings reminds your mammalian brain of old feelings you had as a child when you were trying to gain your parent’s attention or acceptance, and this creates a kind of special arousal that hooks you in – and you find yourself “groveling.”
Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself in this position, first know that you are not alone. The best among us have probably been in this position. The key is to learn take back control of your life.

You are not your mammalian brain – it’s just a powerful part of your biological being. The antidote is to take 100% responsibility for your emotional needs, stop looking to your partner to take away the pain that he or she caused in the first place. It’s your job to set your life right.

Just don’t underestimate the strength it takes. And don’t judge anyone who is caught up in this. This is all about being human and learning not to be ruled by your addictive emotions – by your primitive brain.

How to Tend Your Own Wound

The biggest turning point of my life came the day I realized that adults cannot be abandoned, they can only abandon themselves.

The love of my life, my best friend, my marital partner of almost 20 years had just abandoned me to be with another woman (out of the blue and without warning) and I was shattered.

I was in pain, terrified of the future, and drowning in self-doubt. But all of this torment was inflicted by self-abandonment. I was an adult, I realized, and I could not be abandoned because I could take care of myself.

Even emotionally? Yes, I had no other choice.

My task was to find a way to nurture this gaping wound that was tearing me apart. This meant that I had to stop my futile effort to “get rid of the pain,” because in doing so, I would be ignoring the wound rather than embracing it. I didn’t want to ignore the sobbing inner child who beheld all of the hurt, fear, and doubt and cried out for love. There was nobody there but me to love this injured child. “Physician, tend thy own wound.”

I learned that once you make the realization that as an adult, you can only abandon yourself, you embark on a whole new journey which begins with connecting to yourself. You finally take responsibility for your life.

You learn to tune into the primal pain of abandonment, rather than defending against it (which is what causes all of the problems). You commence a journey to the center of the self where you discover your connection to the universal core of what it means to be human. You discover your separate self. You adopt yourself. You commit to taking care of that self. As a whole person, you reach out for connection.

Why are we always abandoning one another? Because we are constantly defending against our own abandonment fears. We develop calluses around our wounds to make us numb. We become callused to our own and other people’s pain.

It is not the pain of abandonment, but the fact that we are constantly defending against it that causes us to be destructive to self and others. We constantly ward off abandonment by clinging to partners who aren’t good for us. Or we avoid relationships all together to avoid getting hurt. Or we pursue all the wrong partners and get abandoned over and over again. Or we over-merge with someone, become co-dependent, and lose ourselves. In our constant defense against abandonment, we deny, suppress, and repress our feelings, and what’s more, we displace it onto others.

This is what allows us to hurt one another and grow callused toward the world. This is how our abandonment wound is able to burrow deep within the self where it works insidiously to drain off our self esteem and erode our capacity for connection.

Abandonment brings us to the human condition. It is a humbling experience. Once we learn to have compassion toward ourselves, we stop shaming ourselves for not being able to snap out of the pain and we open up more compassionately to our loved ones and to the world. It is no longer possible to remain aloof, non-committal, numb to the suffering in the world.

When you tune in to administer to your deepest feelings and needs, know that you are moving in the direction, not of self-involvement, but of love and connection. This extends to love for the world and all of its abandoned people.

Journeying to the center of the self is not an end, but a beginning of an increasing compassion and energy output toward the world. If we can slow down global warming, and yet do not come together to take action to prevent it, then we are abandoning ourselves and each other.

We have public examples. Celebrities (i.e. Oprah, Jolie) who reach out to embrace the world are the ones who have journeyed to the center of the self and back. They have stopped defending against their own wounds, and instead have embraced their humanness with humility and self-compassion, and have journeyed back to embrace the world.

They are not Barbie dolls whose feelings and needs were always protected and tended to by doting parents, or who never suffered deprivation, humiliation, shame, betrayal, isolation – abandonment. On the contrary, they had to learn how to rise from the ashes of their own wounds.

The self, if it is to be healthy and thriving, serves as a bridge connecting outward to the world. That is why this process leads to love and a better world.