The longer you’ve been reading my blog, the more you get that it’s not exactly love addiction that’s your problem (oh sure, that’s the outward manifestation of it!). It’s self avoidance. Plain and simple.
The more you chase after a toxic, unavailable, abusive partner and focus on fixing something that will most likely never be fixed, the more you are avoiding yourself. The more you commit fully to a fully non-committed individual, the more you are refusing to focus on meeting your essential needs. And the more you remain anchored to fantasy land (he’ll come around someday...), the more you are denying yourself reality worth living. Worse, you are avoiding taking care of yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically. You are avoiding making responsible, safe choices for yourself by choosing people who respect you, who are kind to you and who really deeply want to be around you. And you are avoiding growing up and all that entails.
That you love him is merely a distraction.
So, the other night, while I was devouring my new book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, I came across a few paragraphs about avoidance and where it comes from. Hanson writes that our “brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching.” Yikes! He says that’s because “it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival.” He goes on to give examples. For example, if you miss your opportunity to hook up with a sexy excruciatingly, you can always find another one. But if you miss your opportunity to dodge a charging sabertooth tiger, you’re dead. No second chance. But, how does that prehistoric behavior apply to today’s world where there’s virtually no threat of charging tigers?
Well, according to scientific research, we still desperately try to control and protect ourselves from perceived threats. It’s almost as if our brain doesn’t distinguish between a charging tiger or a partner who is placing a pretty serious demand for commitment on us. Our brain doesn’t see the difference between an attacking mammoth and a nagging heap of responsibilities that overwhelm and distress us. In the avoidant brain, these scenarios are all seen as equally unpleasant threats that need to be avoided.
The reality is, however, that while we may be prone to our biology, we have evolved enough to know better. And we now have the tools to change and re-evaluate what is truly life-threatening versus what is merely uncomfortable (excruciatingly uncomfortable for some). The first step towards avoiding avoidance is, like it or not, to face your fears and recognize that they won’t kill you. Being alone is a big fear. Many people avoid getting out of a bad relationship simply because the fear of being alone is overwhelming. Finding a job and supporting yourself financially is another. The fear of entrapment in a nine to five job can really keep people paralyzed from seeking out any work. And let’s face it, when we are obsessing over a chaotic, toxic relationship, we have little time to focus on our responsibilities.
If this sounds remotely familiar try “exposure therapy.” Expose yourself little by little to that which frightens you, that which you are avoiding. If it is fear of being alone, then, while still in a relationship, schedule one day of solitude per week. Go see a movie by yourself. Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Curl up on the sofa and binge watch your favorite Netflix series. You might find that during your alone time you learn more about who you are and what you like. You are also strengthening your survival skills to be able to emotionally handle time on your own.
Procrastination is one thing; complete avoidance is another. Whatever you are trying to avoid won’t go away. Chances are, it’ll get worse. More than that, obsessing over your relationship won’t help you resolve the real problem: self avoidance.
The other day, as I sat in a cafe in Philly having no plans, I took out my cell and checked Facebook–my all time worst time-waster. Among a gazillion other posts, I came across one that snapped me out of my lighthearted mood: “Very hard to accept the death of a friend who was just diagnosed five weeks ago with cancer.” The sentence made my spine grow hot. A wave of fear overtook me. My first thought: that nagging back pain I’ve had this past month is probably cancer. This is going to happen to me.
My second thought: Did I just make that person’s suffering about me?
How often do we do this? We hear about a tragedy half way across the world and then, make it our own. If a plane crashes, our flight next week will crash too. If a relative comes down with an illness, we immediately take a health inventory of ourselves. Me, me, me, it’s all about me.
This is not compassion, or empathy or sympathy, but rather, a form of situational narcissism. It’s not that you aren’t concerned with others’ suffering, per se, it is that you are overly concerned with your own suffering and how everyone else’s problems relate to you.
This same type of situational narcissism can easily be applied to your toxic relationships. How many times have you taken his avoidance of you, or absence, personally? How many times did he say he was coming over and when he didn’t, you blamed yourself. How many times has she said she loved you, only to end up with someone else while you’re left wondering, “what did I do wrong?”
Individuals make choices, they have experiences, they exist. For most of their lives (no matter how much you’d like to believe otherwise) they think and exist outside the realm of YOU. When we write ourselves in to other people beliefs, actions, behaviors, circumstances and choices, we ignore reality and instead, opt for a fantasy world where we are the main attraction in everyone else’s existence. I have news for you, you’re not.
So? What is about you? Well, your perspective. Your choices. The decisions you make. If your partner is repeatedly choosing to make other plans outside of seeing you, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stay and tell him to make more choices about you? To stop hurting you? Ignoring you? How long will you choose to live with someone who doesn’t make you a priority at least part of the time?
Stop writing yourself into other people’s script as if it’s all about you. Stop thinking that others are somehow in control of your fate. They are not. And just as my neighbor’s cancer has nothing to do with me or my fate, your PoA’s choice to stay home and watch video games instead of be with you has nothing to do with your value or your worth. You do.
August 17: Problem solved. I laid in bed and felt sick all day and then P came and brought me lunch, a huge chocolate chip cookie and Harper’s magazine. We talked some more and played. And then after he left, he called me to tell me something really wonderful, and I returned it with something mean. He said, “I really love the way you interact with Jackie. I think you’re a great influence on her. And I hope that if you ever decide to leave, you’d remain in her life and mine.” Read more…
It’s been a full year since my last post in The Break Up Journal. Without warning, two key people in our family business left and I had to fill in. I was just too exhausted and had no time for my blog, and so, I apologize for leaving you hanging at a really great “turning point” in the story! But, I suppose you can look at this like Season Two of The Break Up Journal series. And like all good series’ the writers and directors really know how to leave you in suspense so you come back.
Well, I hope you come back!
To give you a quick synopsis, I am at the point in my relationship with P where red flags are getting too obvious to ignore and I am on the precipice of making a life-altering decision…to stay or go. P is a classic avoidant, and his avoidance has been getting worse. The words are all the same (“I love you,” “I still feel the same,”) but the actions are starting to change. And, as I celebrate 10 months no smoking (cigarettes), P starts questioning whether or not he wants to return to a life of smoking pot again. If you remember, that’s a big no no for me. It’s a deal breaker. But I am still unsure if I want to take the love addict route (stay with him, give up my value of not dating a pot smoker and just deal), or the healthy route (choose my value over the relationship and be alone, but pot free).
So…stay tuned! Season 2 of The Break Up Journal begins Monday January 16 @ 7am!
I just came home from my son’s high school production of Peter Pan–a great show all with flying harnesses and magical light fairies dancing across the stage. But as I sat through and really listened to the characters’ lines, Peter’s and Wendy’s in particular, it was eerily reminiscent of relationships past.
To refresh your memory, here’s a very short plot summary: Peter Pan is the story of a magical boy who refuses to grow up and, instead, lives on the island of Neverland with his buddies, the Lost Boys. All together they get into boyish scrimmages and adventures with a Pirate (Captain Hook) and a band of Indians. One night, Peter visits the nursery of The Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, where Wendy takes a liking to him and tries to get a kiss from him. Peter has no clue what a kiss is and so he gives her a thimble instead, for which she takes and puts on her necklace as a keepsake. Peter convinces the children to fly away with him to Neverland, which they do, and while there, they determine that Wendy will be their mother. She agrees, under the condition that Peter be their father. He hesitantly agrees, but only if it’s “pretend.” Not wanting to commit to anything more serious, he humors Wendy playing the role, but says he doesn’t like the responsibility of being grown up. At times he even gets angry with her when she imposes too much emotion or responsibility onto him:
Wendy: I think you have, Peter. And I daresay you’ve felt it yourself. For something… or… someone?
Peter: Never. Even the sound of it offends me.
[Wendy tries to touch his face, and he jumps away]
Peter: Why do you have to spoil everything? We have fun, don’t we? I taught you to fly and to fight. What more could there be?
Wendy: There is so much more.
Peter: What? What else is there?
Wendy: I don’t know. I guess it becomes clearer when you grow up.
Peter: Well, I will not grow up. You cannot make me!
When she finally asks him about his “feelings” for her he says, “I feel for you like a son feels for his mother…” In the end Wendy chooses to leave Neverland. She asks Peter not to forget her…
While Peter promises to come back each “Spring cleaning” he forgets and time passes. Wendy grows old and the story ends with Peter eventually coming back to take Wendy’s daughter to Neverland.
The story of Peter Pan is, of course, that of the love addict and her avoidant boyfriend. The motherly, doting, codependent grown up woman paired with the fun, exciting, but immature “boy” who, when emotions get too serious, tends to run away. In The Break Up Journal I refer to “P” as a Peter Pan; in fact, I chose the letter P for the parallel of my ex to Peter. When I began dating P (who was 40 at the time), he had never had a serious relationship, never been married, no children, still lived at home, could barely pay his bills and would hang out in the basement of his parents’ house and listen to Grateful Dead records as if no time had passed between now and when he was in high school.
P suffered from severely stunted growth, a bit of narcissism and an intimacy disorder which kept him from being able to truly become intimate with people, specifically women. In retrospect, I couldn’t see him for who he was. I was too wrapped up in how “fun” he was, and how good looking I thought he was. I suffered from a Wendy-syndrome–a desire to attach to Peter Pan and mother him, versus be his equal. Essentially, I had refused to grow up too.
As I sat awestruck at my son’s play, I told my very grown up husband how deeply affected I was by the story. He squeezed my hand and said, “It hits too close to home, I bet.” Yes. I suppose it does. That was my life circa 2008. I was Wendy. I was in love with Peter. But, then I grew up.
Love addiction recovery is like leaving Neverland. It’s about choosing to grow up, whether you want to or not. It’s about recognizing that you cannot change the Peters of the world and letting them remain in their fantasy land while you make a forward leap into reality.
August 15: I dreamed that P and I took the Audi and drove over to Carmela’s house into the driveway and saw her working and saw her husband with his long hair and John Lennon glasses. We looked around, but didn’t get out of the car to stir anything up. When we left, we realized her husband latched onto the bumper and was riding with us, asking what we were up to. I was quite surprised but I told him, “Your wife cheated on you with someone I was in love with. She threw herself at him.” He said he was aware, but told me not to gossip about it. I said OK and he left. I looked at P afterwards and we said, “That was creepy.” …Read More
Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer. Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.
Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.
The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so, the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.
When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.
This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.
So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.
Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.
Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!
August 12: God! I have never wanted someone to quit his job more than I wanted P to quit his job at the supermarket. It’s stressing me out as much as it is him. He has actually apologized for taking on this job and the stress it’s caused us both. Even though I said, “no need,” I kinda do feel like I should have an apology. It would be validation. It would mean that at least he realizes what a crummy situation it’s put us both in. Basically, this new part-time job has created a man-made wall between “us.” And I can’t help but wonder if in its dysfunctional appearance, it serves a function by playing into P’s increasing avoidance of this relationship. A protection of sorts, sold to me in the following language: “I really need this job; it’s the only thing I can do to pay my bills,” etc. Read More…
August 11: Cool, damp, cloudy. There were thunderstorms all day yesterday except while we were in Brigantine. The sun and sky were beautiful over the ocean and I got some sun. Elaine’s house was beautiful. Joe really did a lot to it. Nice materials too—stone, granite, tile, etc. And he did it all himself. If only P were so handy. How nice would that be. Well, he’s got his beautiful garden.
Mom and I talked a bit about my relationship to P. She said that my personal emotional issues are probably not as bad as I make them out to be. That I have good reason to be mistrusting and scared in a new relationship (based on what I experienced in my past relationships) and that any man who loves me needs to understand…Read More
Drab and humid.
I’m supposed to go down to my sister-in-law’s tonight. I almost want to drive up to Brooklyn to see Marie. It very well might save me from doing something destructive like calling C. Every time I get pissed off with P and think he’s lied about something, I want to run to C where all my problems were apparently resolved. I don’t believe P worked last night. I think he wanted to make sure I didn’t expect him over. Then again, he’s usually able to voice that and say, “I need my sleep tonight,” or something else. Maybe he wanted his excuse to seem out of his control. Read More…