The Best New Year Gift Ever

MargaretP12.29

Many of us grew up feeling very alone. When our feelings were not accepted and attended to with caring, understanding, and compassion, we might have felt deeply abandoned and perhaps terrified at the level of aloneness we felt within. If you were abused physically, sexually, or emotionally, or you were neglected, then this aloneness was overwhelming and you had to find ways to numb this pain, which is how the wounded self was developed.

Today, this deep aloneness and fear can get triggered in our relationships. This triggering is common in dysfunctional relationship systems such as the one between Janice and Marcus.

Janice, an only child, had a mother who suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD), a mental disorder where the person is often blaming, threatening, and rageful. Janice’s mother took her rage out on Janice, and when she would cry, her mother would ridicule her. Janice’s father was an alcoholic who sometimes beat her and her mother. There was never a time growing up when Janice felt safe. She had developed a deep fear of rejection. 

Marcus, also an only child, came from a needy and overbearing single mother, who made him responsible for her feelings and punished him with her anger when he didn’t give himself up to her demands. Marcus had a deep fear of engulfment.

When something triggered Janice into feeling alone and terrified, she would come to Marcus with her fear, but her fear triggered his fear of engulfment, and he would withdraw. His withdrawal made Janice feel even more alone and terrified and she would respond with anger, which scared Marcus into even more numbness and withdrawal.

Both Janice and Marcus had been practicing Inner Bonding when they sought my help. Even though some things had changed for the better as they each learned to take more responsibility for their own feelings, when this system was triggered, it was very painful for both of them, and they were on the verge of divorce.
 

I’ve seen this system over and over in my many years of working with couples.

As I gained a deep understanding of their growing-up years, I was able to help each of them understand their underlying fears, and by the third session with them, I was able to help them understand that, even though they were taking better care of their feelings, their relationship system was continuing to re-traumatize them. This they could not heal alone; they needed to help each other heal. 

I asked Marcus: “When you are numbed out and withdrawn, what would help you?”

“To be left alone, rather than be pulled on with Janice’s anger and neediness.” 

“Janice, are you willing to do this?”

“I will try,” she said, “but it’s hard for me to leave him alone without getting angry.”

“I understand,” I said, “and that is your learning edge.”
 

Then I asked Janice what she needed when she was triggered into her aloneness and terror. She didn’t know. I offered a suggestion.

“Janice, when you are triggered into what both of you are calling neediness, what’s actually happening is that you are in a trauma state of a small child. You can’t show up for yourself as a loving adult when this trauma is being triggered. Marcus, what Janice needs from you is the opposite of what you need from her. She needs you to move close to her, find your love for her, put your hand on her heart, and say, “Honey, I love you and I’m not going to leave you alone. I’m here for you.”

The light bulb went on for both of them as Marcus put his arms around Janice. Tears were running down their cheeks.

“I can do that,” Marcus said. “I didn’t understand before that Janice wasn’t pulling on me and manipulating me like my mother did. I didn’t understand that she just needed to know that she wasn’t alone.”

Letting a very scared loved one know that they are not alone – that you are there for them. - whether that involves stepping back and giving them the space they need, such as with Marcus, or whether it involves moving closer, even offering gentle touch, as with Janice – might be the very best gift you can give them.

Heal your relationship with Dr. Margaret’s 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

 

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