Dear Neil: I am hoping that you can help me get a grip on my inability to trust—before I push away my boyfriend once and for all. It seems as though I conjure up reasons to fear that he is not devoted to me, and then I become extremely anxious, panicky and explosive. So anxious, in fact, that I accuse him of wrongdoing and start a fight. I do this knowing the whole time that I’m being irrational. I have done it so many times that I cannot believe that he is still with me. I am afraid that he will decide that being without me would be easier than staying with me—and it probably would be. What should I do to help us?
Fearful in Pittsburg, PA
Dear Pittsburg: The unspoken stance you’re taking with your boyfriend is: “I’m afraid of you hurting me. So I have to distance us because that will feel safer for me. But what I’m really hoping for is for you to give me all the reassurance in the world that you really do want me, that you’re not going to leave me, and that you’ll go to the end of the earth to keep me. Then I’ll feel safer, less anxious and I won’t have the need to get angry and push you away.”
But as you’re discovering, your stance isn’t so safe after all, because such a stance also causes people to reject us, and it inadvertently brings about the very things we are so afraid of. The other person will eventually get fed up with us and leave, creating the very hurt and rejection that we were trying so hard to avoid.
You’re not directly asking for what you want and need in order to feel safe. Instead, you’re in grave danger of sabotaging what you want by being impossible to get along with, and you’re making your boyfriend feel less and less safe around you.
Here’s what you can do:
- When you become anxious or combative, take a time out from your boyfriend and ask yourself: “What is threatening me right now? What is occurring that feels so unsafe to me? What do I need in order to feel safer and more protected?” Then ask your boyfriend directly for the reassurance you seek.
- Let him know that when you get explosive, combative, anxious, or when you attempt to break up with him, that what you’re really trying to say is that you’re feeling insecure and you need his encouragement and reassurance.
- Look at your abandonment issues: the fears you have about being left, dumped, rejected, abandoned or betrayed.
- For that matter, look at your childhood history regarding trust. Could you trust your parents with your safety, well-being and sense of self worth? Could you trust your brothers and sisters? How about your extended family, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins? What were you taught as a child—directly or indirectly—about opening up, trusting other people and feeling safe in their presence?
- Look at whether you are repeating a familiar pattern, doing to your mate what one of your parents did to you. Or are you replicating your parent’s marriage with your boyfriend?
On pages 12, 24, 54, 77, 81, 104, 120, 124, 133, 169, 200, 201, 216, 228, 230, 240, 244, 247 and 275 of my #1 international bestselling book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm, I address the issue of pushing someone away in more depth, and provide additional recommendations to address this issue.