#022 - Relationships: When Getting Close Feels Scary

Your partner reaches out to you, holds extended eye contact, or even wants to make plans for a few days from now and you get that tightening in your stomach. You're not sure why but there is that jump in your belly and the associated feeling that something is bad or wrong. Logically you see there is no reason to be afraid in this moment, you know this is a good person who would not intentionally harm you, but the nagging feeling of imminent danger or mistrust of this person is very present.  Sometimes you can shake off this brief impulse to run and get away, other times it signals a landslide of panic and fear that takes you over. 

When you are taken over its like drowning in fear, so of course you lash out in anger to protect yourself, or you collapse in a puddle crying and very confused as to what can help. Your partner on the other side may be confused and hurt, or if this happens often they might be able to hold the perspective that this will pass. Either way you are not able to pull yourself out of this tail spin, the shame and guilt of your anger or shutting down haunts you.

Then maybe you say, “Well this person is not for me they are obviously the reason why I’m freaking out.” So you break up with them and go on your way. And maybe you are right and this was a fluke thing that never happens again with another partner. Or maybe this has happened with any partner that you got close to who was loving and available. With those partners who were abusive or unavailable you were not having these freak outs, you were actually really ok with the familiar state of abandonment, but this available kind person is too much for you to handle!

If any of this resonates with you then you may have a type of attachment style that was directly impacted by a primary caregiver that was abusive, neglectful, or unavailable. When we are children we must bond with our primary caregivers for survival. This is a must. When the primary care giver is unsafe, abusive, addicted, mentally ill, or neglectful we are in a rough spot. We have to bond with them to survive, but we pay a huge price if we do because of the abuse that comes along with contact.

For some this translates to a bonding style in adulthood where you really want to be close, to bond, to share love, support, and nurturing. But when you actually get close to someone who is available for this type of bonding all your old stuff comes up. Getting close and getting hurt go hand in hand for you. Hence panic, fear, anger, shutting down, and uncomfortable body sensations have been part of intimate relationships for you.

There is a way through this. Though you may not like the time and effort it takes, the outcome will be worth it. You are going to need a few things: A good therapist that knows how to work with trauma, developmental trauma, and family systems. A support system of a few people who want the best for you and are willing to support you through the process. And the willingness, on your part, to stick with yourself through it all.

While you are beginning this work put your attention on nurturing. Nurturing is something you can do at anytime or place and has great benefit to healing these attachment wounds. Some ways to nurture yourself include: Feeding yourself good healthy food, and while eating do so mindfully tasting all the different flavors. Take baths with bubbles or Epsom salt (or both!). When brushing your hair do so gently and feel the sensation of the brush on your scalp. Dress yourself in something that feels good to you, not to impress someone else but to feel good in your body. Use lotion or oil on your body, take the time to moisturize! When feeling scared or anxious use gentle self-touch on your belly or chest and feel the weight and warmth of your hand.

These nurturing activities set you up to receive the nurturing from your partner and others. As you give to yourself you then can receive from others. Much of this is simple, but very powerful. Share with your support people and therapist your victory in doing even these small acts.  Over time, and with the support you need, these knee jerk reactions to fight or run away will subside and more commonly you will experience satisfying contact and nurturing relationships. You are worth it!

For the companion post click this link - #019 - Relationships: Room to come and go

And for more info about trauma work click here:  Trauma and PTSD