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thinking they have found the "great catch" only to realize the catch
was not what they expected, your patients may feel that protecting themselves
from feeling rejected becomes a primary mission in their lives, because they will
not risk experiencing that kind of hurt again. They avoid asking for what they
want or need; sharing warm, loving feelings; becoming involved romantically with
someone. They will expend great amounts of energy protecting themselves from the
possibility of pain. In order to do this they muster every coping skill they can,
often building armor or erecting walls around themselves and their feelings to
help them survive emotionally when the environment around them does not feel safe.
Psychology books call this catastrophizing, but I like the term one of my clients uses - awfulizing. By looking at all the awful things that can happen again in a realtionship and being prepared to avoid them, they try to make themselves feel safer. This behavior can become automatic, without conscious awareness. But you can see how much energy it takes to be always on the lookout for the worst, always prepared, not to mention the worry and anxiety that goes along with it.
Expecting emotional pain to accompany love is a common experience for many patients. One woman summed it up, We were taught our husbands were supposed to love us and take care of us. But mine didnt. In fact, he was nasty and unpredictable, so when he told me No one will ever love you like I do, I got so confused. What can I expect from anyone else?
People who have been through a controlling relationship may believe, Those who love me also hurt me. This contradictory message caused immense confusion during the controlling relationship and leads to greater anxiety in relationships for them now. So, since the controlling relationship, theyve been wary, on guard, just waiting for it to happen again. One man told me I cant give up the hurt. The hurt substitutes for love - it fills up the space. There always seems to be room for more hurt, but I dont seem to be able to let love in.
Misperceptions happen all the time, especially when people have some sort of preconception. If people who have been in controlling relationships expect new partners to be hurtful, they might miss a loving, caring message. Recently I scooped up my cat, Rufus, into my arms while I was talking to a friend. I commented on how hes so standoffish, and tends to push me away when I hold him and that hes been that way for fourteen years. My friend said, Just look at your cat. Hes absolutely melted into your arms. He doesnt look at all standoffish to me. And sure enough, Rufus was relaxed and content and purring. I looked down at the cat in my arms and realized I was holding on to history. How long have I been assuming hes unfriendly? When had he changed? How had I missed that? My perception was truly lagging behind reality.
Sometimes when patients expect that other people will disappoint them, others are all too willing to oblige. Its as if patients were equipped with radar that seeks out people who will let them down, and these people are not hard to find.
After the relationship, survivors of controlling relationships tend to overlook positive input from possible new romantic interests, because it does not conform to their expectations of rejection. They want acceptance and nurturing, but it is so frightening to risk the unknown that they often will find ways to avoid this risk - especially if they believe the pain of their past relationship might be lurking out there again somewhere.
Adapted from: Don’t Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection, Elayne Savage, Ph.D., iUniverse BackInPrint.com. For more information go to http://QueenofRejection.com
Reflection Exercise #9
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
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