Woman Who Sends Men Running for the Hills
May 31, 1999 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
Here is my problem, although I don't quite understand it, but I keep getting hung up on this same problem over and over in my relationships.
I am a 28-year-old female. My problem is that I have trouble feeling secure in a romantic relationship. I get 'clingy'. I behave horribly because I feel the need to test him to see if he really loves me.
I feel like, 'Well, if he puts up with that, he must really love me." I feel like we have to be together 24 hours a day, and if we are apart, I feel anxious, or afraid that he is cheating on me, or if he really really loved me, he would be with me right now. How could he stand to be away from me?
I know these feelings are irrational, but I always feel like no one on this earth could love me enough, or love me the way I need to be loved. I don't know why I feel this way, but I do know that it drives men away. I want a knight in shining armor to sweep me away. I know this sounds ridiculous, and my expectations are probably too high. Thank you.
Great question. I think you are craving an understanding of why you react this way in all your relationships. Whenever a person finds him or herself caught in a pattern, we can be certain that unfinished childhood business is afoot. See my Advice Archives on this subject to understand this concept.
At the risk of repeating myself let me simply say that the unconscious mind backs us into relationships and patterns that repeat the traumas of childhood. This is done in the unconscious hope of healing the original wound (what I call the happy ending to the original trauma).
Now, back from theory and onto you. In all your relationships you experience the same pattern. You become terrified that your partner is going to abandon you, you cling, they pull away, you become even more terrified, and you soon become locked in a vicious cycle that eventually breaks the relationship. The question for you is why?
To answer this we have to first assume that your mind is recreating an abandonment experience from your childhood. I would imagine that someone made you feel insecure in his or her love, most likely that person was mom. Let's take a moment to discuss the normal phases of childhood development so that you can understand at what point your development went awry.
In infancy the child lives in psychological merger, as though he or she were one with the mother. By the age of one and half or so, the child begins to separate from the mother and to develop his or her own identity.
At this time the child begins to say, 'no' and will oppose the parent, simply to stretch his or her psychological wings. All of this is a sign of a developing sense of self. And, if all goes well, the child is permitted to separate, say no, spread his wings with words of defiance.
At the same time that the child is separating, he or she needs to know that mother will be available for 'refueling' in the form of a hug or reassurance whenever it's needed. And, here is where this phase goes sour. Many parents cannot tolerate a child's separation or acts of independence.
The child may be squashed or scolded in his or attempts to separate, and the parent may also refuse love or threaten to refuse love if the child 'misbehaves.'
When a child feels punished, rejected or psychologically or actually abandoned in response to his or her attempts at independence, that child becomes injured emotionally. The injury takes the form of having difficulty forming adult attachments. There will also be chronic fears of abandonment and clingy behaviors that linger into adulthood.
Now that you understand where your problem began, it would be good to start therapy with a modern psychoanalyst. If you need help in finding one, let me know. Through this type of therapy you can develop a relationship that will heal the original wound and free you from this pattern.
In addition to developing a healing relationship with a therapist, you would also do well to remind yourself whenever your fears arise: My boyfriend isn't my mother. He has no intention of abandoning me (only say this to yourself if you know that it's true). You can also remind yourself how your boyfriend differs from the person(s) who withdrew love when you were young.
Clarifying the difference between the people in your past and your current partner can help. But, beware. Since we tend to choose partners who are like the parents who let us down, there is a good chance that you keep choosing abandoner types, in which case reminding yourself of the differences between past and present would serve no purpose.
I hope that my letter has clarified what's going on for you.
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