Scared to Get Close

Dear Dr Love,

I really enjoy your advise column. There are lots of enlightening insights.

My dilema is the following: I grew up with a mother that was judgmental, unaccepting, abusive, controlling, aloof, and a host of other 'negative' things you can think of. This has hurt my self-esteem dearly.

As a result I've been going to therapy with a psychologist for the last 9 months or so. My counselor has been a lot of help and has helped me resolve many issues. I've also done my homework by reading books (and ur advise column :-) ) and writing a lot. But still I feel like I want intimacy of some sort but feel uncomfortable when getting too close to someone, whether it be for friendship or love purposes.

I'm afraid that I will be judged and not accepted, and that my own issues and feelings will scare the person away.

For instance, I feel very uncomfortable with physical contact with anybody. I feel like I'm almost there, but not quite, as far as opening up completely goes. What should I do to overcome this fear and live the happy life with great intimate relationships that I've always dreamed of?

Answer: 

I understand that you are afraid. History has taught you to be wary. Instead of trying to exorcise the fear, it would be better to understand what it is trying to tell you.  

Understanding is the first step to resolution.

First of all, I am going to tell you something that sounds nutty: The fear is a cover for an actual wish. That is, your fear of finding a lover who will judge you is a clue that your unconscious actually wishes to choose that kind of person. And, no, you are not a masochist or a glutton for punishment. Then, why would you wish to choose a put-down artist for a lover?

If you've been reading my column for a while you know that we are all drawn to lovers who resemble the parents who let us down. The idea is to recreate the wounds of childhood and work for a happy ending to the original trauma. But, this recreation never works out because we choose lovers who are damaged in the same ways that our parents were, and are unable to treate us any differently than our parents did-- meaning we never get that happy ending.

See my Advice Archives under: repetition compulsion and unfinished business for more on this.

So, along this line of logic. The fear of choosing masks the wish to choose a judgmental person. The choice of a judgmental person is a recreation of your original wound, and the happy ending that you hope for is that you will win the acceptance and love of the judgmental lover, thereby giving you the feeling that you won your mother 's love.

Now, what can you do with this information?

Watch yourself like a hawk. Be aware of the type of women you will be drawn to. If you see any signs that they are critical or potentially damaging to you, run for the hills.

If you scrutinize women this way, you can feel more confident in knowing that the woman or friends that you allow into your life are fairly safe. This should help you to open up.

Be aware of the fact that people who have been criticized as kids become hypersensitive to criticism in adulthood. This means that you will be prone to hearing criticism even when none is intended. I will take this last point one step farther.

People who were abused as children are actually looking to be criticized. Why?

Because there is a craving to release all the pent up anger over having been abused in early life. The formerly abused person is actually watching and waiting for opportunities to point the finger and blame others for wronging him or her. And, each time you point the finger at someone, you feel like you are getting mad at your mother. It may feel like a release to you in the moment, but this pay-back mode is actually a prison sentence that ruins your relationships and your life.

So, be aware of this tendency to read people who are benign as being out to get you, even when they aren't. And, then when you feel yourself getting outraged over their criticism of you, ask yourself, 'Does this person intend to criticize me? Is there any other possible interpretation that I can make of this person's actions or words?'You can also ask yourself, 'Is this person really like my mother? What is different about her or him?'

These tools should help you move ahead.

Keep up the good work.

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