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Intimate Relationships: Truth Versus Myth




Excerpted from
The Intimacy Struggle: Revised and Expanded for All Adults
By Janet Woititz

You have been living with many myths generated and perpetuated by your family system. Because of this you put such enormous pressure on yourself that you wonder whether having a healthy, intimate relationship is worth paying the price.

You are torn apart by push-pull issues which may be illusionary to others, but are very real, and sometimes paralyzing, to you.

"I want to become involved. I don't want to become involved."

"I want to meet someone. I don't want to meet someone."

"I want to get to know you better. Please, simply go away."

These issues interfere with your ability to get what you want out of relationships. If you want to change this, there is a process to follow.

Your first step is to take a good, hard look at these myths. Acknowledge them. Reject them. Then replace them with what exists in the real world. This is by no means a small task because you have been living with these myths for a long time. They will not vanish overnight. Simply becoming aware of them is the place to begin.

Relationship Myth Number 1:
"If I am involved with you, I will lose me."

Relationship Truth Number 1:
In the real world, healthy relationships enhance the self and do not absorb it.

Underlying Feeling: Fear of Loss of Self

This fear is present because you never clearly established your sense of self while you were growing into adulthood. The early messages that you received from your parents were very confusing. The lack of clear messages forced you to create many of your beliefs and values rather than learning them through examples.

Because your parents didn't care for you consistently in all the ways that a child needs care, you have had to do a lot of self-parenting. This has left you with an inconclusive sense of who you really are. Your selfhood is still in the state of evolving and is easily influenced. Ideally, by the time one reaches adulthood the inner messages are much stronger than the outside influences. In other words, your decision making evolves out of what your knowledge and instincts tell you rather than out of what you are reading or being told at the moment.

For children of troubled families, reaching this state of confidence in your ability to make decisions and act upon them is not accomplished so easily. Someone (anyone) else's opinion often influences yours. So, if you have been working on being your own person, and having confidence in your decision-making skills, you may feel threatened by the idea of involvement with another person whose opinions and ideas will be important to you - and may influence you in ways you don't want.

Susan had been wanting to take Italian lessons all her life. She finally signed up for class on Monday nights at the adult school. Then she met Joe. On their first date, Joe expressed the opinion that the only way to really learn a language is to live in the country. The next week Susan dropped out of her Italian class and began to spend Monday nights sitting by the phone waiting for Joe to call. Although she knew better, she rationalized that it was not the right time for her to take the class.

Feeling that sense of insecurity about your decisions does not mean automatically that you are experiencing "loss of self." What it does mean is that you will need to check out many of your perceptions, opinions and responses more carefully to see where they are coming from. Checking things out this way provides valuable information for you. Your next step is to not automatically dismiss your opinions in favor of new input. Instead, think it over. Give yourself a little time to assess and consider the situation.

Doing so gives you three choices in every situation: You may maintain your original position, change your position or adopt an entirely new position which incorporates both your thinking on the subject and that of others. This way you will feel much more confident about the decisions that you make, and less threatened by other people's opinions.

Relationship Myth Number 2:
"If you really knew me, you wouldn't care about me."

Relationship Truth Number 2:
You probably aren't as good an actor or actress as you think you are. Your beloved probably already really knows you. And cares about you anyway!

Underlying Feeling: Fear of Being Found Out

You may constantly worry that the person you love could want nothing more to do with you if he or she really knew you. Although it's a little vague just who is that real and horrendous person you may be, you still feel the anxiety very strongly.

Charles had been told his whole life what a poor excuse for a human being he was. He had a good job, dressed well and people seemed to find him interesting and attractive. However, he was certain that this was all a facade and that his father was right. As a result he kept everyone at arm's length.

You try to stave off being found out by acting out your fantasies of how a perfect person would act. You try to behave as though you have your entire life in order and are totally problem-free. After all, the simply human real you with human frailties will never be good enough for someone you love.

This belief is not something you made up. Since childhood you have been told overtly and covertly that you are the cause of family difficulties. Getting close to a loved one will expose your dark side and cause that person to negate the positive side of you that they have loved until now.

Changing this belief as an adult begins with hard, cold logic. Think about it. Were you really powerful enough as a child to cause your family problems? Truthfully, you will have to answer no.

Relationship Myth Number 3
"If you find out that I am not perfect, you will abandon me."

Relationship Truth Number 3:
Nobody is perfect. And perfection does not exist.

Underlying Feeling: Fear of Abandonment

If you come from a dysfunctional background, fear of abandonment is very strong in you and differs from fear of rejection. Adult Children of Alcoholics and many children of troubled families seem to be able to handle rejection and adjust to it. Fear of abandonment, however, cuts a lot deeper because of childhood experiences. When someone rejects you it means that they turn their back on you. This is painful, but that person is not where you are rooted. The abandonment you feel relates more to the time when your parents were inattentive and you felt so isolated that you believed you would either no longer exist or would die.

The child who experiences living with alcoholism or dysfunction grows into an individual with a weak and very inconsistent sense of self, as we have already discussed. This fragile self is a critical self which has not had the nurture it needed. It is a hungry self and, in many ways, a very insecure self.

These characteristics are caused by the fact that you never knew when, or if, your parents would be emotionally available to you. You only knew unpredictability and inconsistency. Once the drinking or the trouble began, you simply did not exist. From experience you knew your needs would not be met until the drinking episode and any accompanying crises were over. And there was no way to predict when this would occur. What a terrible, terrible feeling. No matter what you did to try to prevent it, it would happen anyway.

Some children living in this situation continued trying to get their needs met and others gave up entirely. Those children who gave up entirely are not as anxious to enter into adult relationships as are those who still hold onto the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, this time things will be different.

The constant tear, however, is that the person you love will not be there for you tomorrow. In an attempt to guard against losing your beloved, you idealize the relationship and idealize your role in the relationship. Your safeguard against being abandoned is to try hard to be perfect and service all the other person's needs.

Whenever anything goes wrong (and in life, things go wrong), and when there is conflict (and in life, there is conflict), the fear of being abandoned takes precedence over dealing with the pertinent issue which needs to be resolved. This fear is so great that it is not unusual for you to lose sight of the actual problem completely.



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