Jump to content

Dealing with emotional walls -- paging John Bendix!


baffled

Recommended Posts

This thread is about dealing with emotional walls erected by your ex, or even your current SO. What is the best way to deal with them?

 

My ex and I have been apart for 4.5 months. The breakup was strange to say the least and she is the type of person to completely block out negative things in her life in whatever way she can. She even has admitted to this. We still talk occasionally, but we have never gotten to the root of whatever caused the breakup (no, I don't bring it up anymore! don't worry). In the past however, whenever "what happened" was brought up in conversation, she would get anxious and emotional and be completely unable to talk about it. It is clear she believes a lot of what happened is her fault, as she's said she felt like she "ruined everything" and would "never be able to find a relationship as good as the one she had with me". Despite this, she is the one who broke it off, and she refuses to even think about what happened -- she has admitted she hasn't even thought about things months after the breakup, she has blocked it out.

 

One of the hardest parts for me is she hasn't even told me what I did to contribute to the breakup and/or her unhappiness. Surely I did something wrong, but what exactly? All I can do is speculate, and it's frustrating as hell.

 

So how do we deal with these emotional walls? There's clearly nothing we can do to force the issue -- the problem lies within them. If they want to close themselves off, then they can close themselves off. But is there anything we can do to maximize our chances of them opening up eventually? Is strict no contact the best thing to do? If they contact us, should we be firm and let them know that we aren't going to be there for them unless they open up to us (I'm not sure how I would word something like this. It obviously could make things worse)? Is there ANYTHING we can say or do to break down these walls, or perhaps get them to see a counselor/psychologist (in my case there are mental issues involved)?

 

I'd love to hear Brownstone's, Tired Tiger's, and John Bendix's opinions on these things. Especially John's, he seems to know his psychology.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So you have no clue what you could have done to contribute to the break-up? Do you even have some guesses as to where you might have bumped heads, or where you might have had some compatibility issues? How long were you together? I find it hard to believe that if you were together for a while that you wouldn't at least have some clue as to what caused the break up...

 

That being said, I think your best bet is to sit back, focus on you, and let her come to you when and if she is ready. I'm not questioning your ex's honesty or integrity, but the things she told you (i.e. that she "ruined everything" and "never be able to find a relationship as good as the one she had with me") sound like very typical break up lines from someone who wants to soften the blow. Don't forget that if she really, truly believed that she was making a mistake then she wouldn't be doing it. It doesn't matter how "ruined" a relationship is; if it means enough to them they will fight to make it work.

 

I'll be interested to see what other people say, but my thought would be that there isn't anything you can say or do to break down the walls she is putting up. You can simply do your best to be a "safe place" for her to reveal her vulnerabilities when she's ready. Other than that, you need to step away from the situation for your own benefit. There's no reason to torture yourself here. Just focus on letting go and moving on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, the wall is usually built to keep you out. So as long as your pushing at it from the outside, she will continue to build it up and it will become stronger. But like all walls, it requires maintenance, so if you quit pushing on it she will quit building it and eventually it will go unkept and start to crumble back down.

 

Thats how time kinda fixes everything.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So you have no clue what you could have done to contribute to the break-up? Do you even have some guesses as to where you might have bumped heads, or where you might have had some compatibility issues? How long were you together? I find it hard to believe that if you were together for a while that you wouldn't at least have some clue as to what caused the break up...

 

I can speculate on where I contributed to things, but I honestly don't know. Her big reason for the breakup was that she felt like she couldn't talk to me, and she didn't know what she could say to me to cause a "huge fight". We were together for over 4 years and lived together for a year and a half. We had one huge fight. A few others that got emotional and heated but didn't last long and were resolved. Part of her mental illness (and she's diagnosed, so I'm not just making this up), is that she interprets everything negatively that can possibly be construed that way. She takes a lot of things as criticisms, even minor suggestions. If I get angry over something that has nothing to do with her (say I break a glass and curse for 2 seconds), she thinks I'm mad at her. She has admitted to all of this. Yeah, I know the typical response to this is "you're better off without her", but the problem is she knows she has problems and when she WAS in therapy (her insurance lapsed) there was no indication whatsoever of these problems. With therapy she seems to be completely fine.

 

As far as where we bumped heads or compatibility issues, the only incompatability from my perspective is that when we were having a serious discussion (about anything... the relationship, politics, religion, whatever) she would withdraw. So I felt like *I* couldn't talk to her -- so this is probably related to her feelings as well. Maybe during our discussions she would think I criticized her at some point and would turn off, but who really knows? Again, this was all recent -- she was not like this at all for most of our time together.

 

I do think I also may have taken her for granted and not given her enough attention. But I was knee deep in a research project I had to finish, and then when that was done she had a huge licensing test to study for. I don't know if it's reasonable to blame myself for not giving her enough attention towards the end -- many times she wouldn't want to do anything big because she needed to study, and prior to that I had to work on my own stuff. This only lasted a couple months as well. Again this is just speculation though -- she has actually insisted this wasn't it and that I didn't do anything wrong (??).

 

I'm not questioning your ex's honesty or integrity, but the things she told you (i.e. that she "ruined everything" and "never be able to find a relationship as good as the one she had with me") sound like very typical break up lines from someone who wants to soften the blow

 

Oh she was an emotional wreck during the breakup, to the point she couldn't sleep or eat. Those things I mentioned she said ("ruined everything" and "never be able to find...") she actually told her sister, not me. Not someone you would be lying to to protect my feelings about things. Her sister is her best friend and she was as clueless as I was about everything.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was once told that they couldn't talk ot me. Ie. something in particular she couldn't talk to me about. Turned out she had cheated. I can see why she couldn't/didn't want to talk about it. I got the same, big wall, no way in.

 

What I'm saying is, that to me there's probably something very precise behind that wall, that she's obfuscating. Of course she'd feel guilty, of course she'd say it was her fault. And of course it would be very hard to enter into any kind of conversation that might lead to that wall crumbling and for her to be standing naked and having to both face up to, and admit to you whatever it is that she did.

 

My father once told me that if you absolutely don't want to ever have someone find out about something, never enter into communication about that topic, even on a superficial level, or you might get worn down, tripped up etc.

 

Sounds like she's following that course of action. I'd go digging on her side of things if I were you, not yours.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is actually extremely insightful. There were two notable times in our relationship when she was withdrawn, told me she was unhappy, and said she felt like she couldn't talk to me. The first one was about one year prior to our breakup, the last was a couple weeks before the breakup.

 

Both times she was having a borderline emotional affair on me with a guy she met online. It was a different guy each time. I caught her both times, both times she was saying things along the lines of "I don't think thinks I'm pretty anymore", "I don't think he loves me", etc. The last time I caught her (initiating the breakup) the guy was telling her "it sounds like he left you a long time ago". Part of her illness is that she craves attention pathalogically -- she wants everyone to want her or think she's the "queen bee". When the guys online told her she was hot based on her myspace pictures she ate it up. Her conversations with them about my not thinking she was pretty anymore or that I didn't love her is probably linked to abandonment issues.

 

She straight up told me that she felt like she was cheating on me with these conversations. Honestly, she catastrophizes and I think she blew the situations out of proportion to the point she felt like she couldn't fix them.

 

Back to your post, I have thought in the past that her feelings that she "couldn't talk to me" was due to her guilt from this. BOTH times she said this were around times when she was chatting with these guys. I don't understand how one big fight in 4 years, or little fights here and there, would lead one to believe that they couldn't talk to their SO. But then again this is part of her illness.

 

I actually think it's a combination of the two. Blowing our little tifts out of proportion and the guilt of talking to other men about our relationship. The breakup was so freaking confusing though that it is probably a mixture of a million things all jumbled up in her head, and there's no real possibility of making sense of it all.

 

Oh, and as for the pathalogically craving attention deal, she also recognizes this as a huge problem and wants help for it. She straight up told her sister and mom that she "craves attention" and she can't help it... that she needs help. Part of my personality is that I can forgive absolutely anything if someone acknowledges that they messed up, are sorry, and makes every effort to improve or learn from it so that it doesn't happen again. The big step for her would obviously be psychotherapy, but right now I'm not holding my breath on that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wouldnt dig anywhere. I would leave her before a while. Nobody likes anyone diggin around them.

 

Yeah, I won't be digging by talking to her. Just more analyzing things about her and from her perspective, trying to figure out her behavior. I don't think there's much more self-analysis I can do at this point.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without doubt, my ex has built an emotional wall between her and me. Back in January, even before she moved out, she already had it up -- I had somehow turned into kryptonite. To be absolutely fair (and I have always tried to portray her in a fair light here), she had her reasons. I can see how over time I pushed her to the point where she broke emotionally, and her defensive response was to move out and keep that protective wall in place.

 

How to break it down? I hate to be utterly predictable, but only she can do that, only if she wants to, and only when she wants to. Likewise, as long as we're extending this metaphor, I'll echo Puckdog27 when he pointed out that if you challenge the wall, then they'll simply reinforce it. Try to knock it down, and it'll get stronger. Let me illustrate the point ...

 

When my ex moved out, she had her emotional wall up and guarded 'round the clock. Two and a half months passed, and I called her to test the water. It was a polite enough conversation (hardly warm), but I know now it was a huge mistake. After that conversation came absolute freeze-out. (Don't ask exactly how I know she cranked up the deep freeze; trust me, she definitely did.) At that point, I had no choice but to disengage, as, in my mind, her emotional wall (then stronger than ever) was in place for good.

 

Six more weeks passed, then she called me yesterday for advice over a car problem. The car issue is legitimate, but, clearly, other things had changed too. Like most women, she has a range of vocal tones, from "sweet, innocent child" to "cold hard biitch." (That last tone is particularly imposing, far beyond what most women can invoke.) When we had talked in May, she was "cool" -- not rude, not defensive, but definitely not warm. Yesterday, though, her tone was "sweet and vulnerable" (the real her, by the way). Like a different person.

 

The point here? She had legitimate reason to call me (the car trouble is real), but the fact that she called me at all, for any reason, spoke volumes. I'd have bet you anything that I'd be the last person she'd call, for car trouble or anything else: She is that determined to be self-sufficient; she is that determined to live her life without my guidance; she is that stubborn. She is an amazing lady.

 

But that call, combined with her sweet, girl-like tone, are clear indications that she is beginning to dismantle that emotional wall. And it's only happening because I've left her alone and let her decide what she wants to do and when.

 

John Bendix will give you a much better feel for the "why"; but I can see the "what" with my own eyes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since I have been paged to this thread, I'll reply - but I'll leave the rational, level-headed responses to others. My own situation has become a bizarre nightmare, so I'm not of the clearest thought right now. Anyway...

 

While I'm not always an advocate of the pop psychology self help book genre, there's one that addresses the topic of this thread very well:

 

"He's Scared, She's Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears That Sabotage Your Relationships"

 

I highly recommend this book. It's one of those, "AH HA! Now I get it!" reads.

 

As for personal experience, prior to this last one, my longest and most serious relationship was a two-parter spread out over 13 years. She had the "wall" problem, but would pull herself out of it (or mask it)... with alcohol. In the end, the roller coaster was simply too toxic. I tried in vain to chip away at that wall, but to no avail. Only she could fix herself, and it never happened.

 

baffled!, I would suggest it's not her walls you should be figuring out. There's absolutely nothing you can do about that. From reading through this thread, I believe your learning time would be better spent on understanding communication - something I think we all could never learn enough about.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for that Tiger. Any suggestions on where to start on learning better communication skills? My ex has borderline tendencies so I've been reading about validation techniques quite a bit. This helps a ton even in healthy relationships. One thing I'm sure I did wrong was dismiss her feelings when they didn't make sense to me... a natural thing to do for most people. The problem is with borderlines their emotions DON'T make sense, even to them; it's an emotional disorder. When I would dismiss her feelings (and believe me I didn't know about the disorder at the time), I would be indirectly invalidating her as a person -- this likely made her feel like she wasn't even a real person given her problems. It's hard to explain... there's so much to her psychology that I never bothered to understand because she was "fine" for the first 3+ years of our relationship so I never had a need to.

 

But yeah, any suggestions on understanding communication better?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

"He's Scared, She's Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears That Sabotage Your Relationships"

 

I highly recommend this book. It's one of those, "AH HA! Now I get it!" reads.

 

 

Just ordered it off Amazon. I think when Im finished I will send it off to the ex. We both had major issues of our own that caused us trouble with putting the true commitment together.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's still not clear to me if she's willfully cummunicating with you now. If she's not, then save the fruits of your "communication lessons" until she initiates a dialog with you.

 

I agree here. I came to grips this past week that my ex has that wall built of steel and that the only way communication will exists is when she starts to poke an eye through a hole in it to see if Im still standing on the otherside, and Im not. Mr. Brownstone's thread yesterday about the ex calling him up over something trivial, yet with a reason (ie she knew he would know the answer and it was pertinant) shows this.

 

She peeked through her peephole and Mr. Brownstone wasnt there smiling anymore.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey dont knock it....me and my ex-wife couldnt stand each other but we could still cummunicate

Lighten up, boys. I had already corrected that typo before your one-liners hit the screen.

 

And -- man oh man oh man -- would I like to call a truce and communicate with her that way for one evening.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, it's been a couple weeks but we do still talk. But I do still want to learn better communication skills should we ever get back into regular contact. Or for anyone in general, for that matter. I think I'm a good communicator, but as Tiger said it never hurts to understand it better.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This was the reason I mentioned communications:

 

Her big reason for the breakup was that she felt like she couldn't talk to me, and she didn't know what she could say to me to cause a "huge fight". We were together for over 4 years and lived together for a year and a half. We had one huge fight. A few others that got emotional and heated but didn't last long and were resolved. Part of her mental illness (and she's diagnosed, so I'm not just making this up), is that she interprets everything negatively that can possibly be construed that way. She takes a lot of things as criticisms, even minor suggestions. If I get angry over something that has nothing to do with her (say I break a glass and curse for 2 seconds), she thinks I'm mad at her.

 

As a primer, try the old standard, "Men Are From Mars, Woman Are From Venus". True, there's critics of this book, but I believe you'll find a lot to think about from just the first chapter.

 

If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of the subject, try "Getting The Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix. Probably best to digest this one in little chunks.

 

That doesn't mean that communication is the solution to the wall problem, but that we all need better skills.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Its pretty much something she has to unravel but if you are very patient you can help some. What I found was working was being interested in why she felt/did the things she would do. You have to come at it inquisitively and with no pressure whatsoever. I got a lot of good background information about things that happened in her childhood and how her mother would treat her and some issues with ex BF's. It really helped me understand her and I made it 8 yrs because of this. I think that you can make them aware of things by talking like that, but in the end they have to come to terms with those issues.

 

For me it was extremely frustrating because there were times I would get no walls for a while. Its like teaching a child to float in the pool. If they relax and go with it things are fine, however sometimes the smallest ripple can cause complete panic to begin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Baffled,

 

It seems that you have gotten alot of good advice.

 

First thing to understand is the act of putting up an emotional wall is a dysfunctional coping mechanism. The primary view on this is it not initially erected to keep perceived harmful stimuli out. It begins to be erected to deal with thier own pain that has accumulated inside. Those experiencing this onslaught of emotions (they can be manifested in many ways with fear being the primary irrational emotion) brought on by the huge amount of emotional pain, are overwhelmed. To cope, they build a wall so they do not have to deal with these strong, unpleasant feelings. They may sense they have to do this in order to emotionally survive.

 

The off shoot of this is that it can keep anything out that may be perceived potentially, emotionally harmful. Again, this is done in self protection. In their vulnerable emotional state, they simply cannot afford to take the chance of absorbing any more emotion producing stimulus. The most potentially harmful interaction, emotionally, that can take place in their lives, or anyone's, is with the intimate partner.

 

As for communication, I am on board with what has been expressed here. Establishing meaningful communication between partners is the main goal of most counselors. They try and instill communication skills which not of us were taught in school, unfortunately. Problem is, both partners have withdrawn so much, the level of communication lowers itself to that of two egos interacting for there own needs in self protection mode.

 

As for bringing the wall down? Sorry, but no therapist, pyschologist, pyschatrist, counselor, doctor, etc., has a successful plan. These Professionals can try to get their patients to examine the pain that they have bottled up that has induced them to erect it. First you have to get them to admit that they even have a wall. They will deny it because admtting it would be letting stimulus through the wall to begin with. The wall is shielding themselves from a huge amouint of pain inside.

Taking it down would create great emotional pain. Very unlikely with someone in such emotional distress already. Catch-22 in the world of pyschology.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Baffled,

 

My ex put up a wall in our relationship, as did I. She very rightfully put her wall up. Anyhow, when she broke things off, she admitted to having a wall. That was the first thing she said as to why she broke things off. Then she said she didn't have any will to bring it down. I tried. I guess I still don't understand why someone wouldn't try to work on the problem once they realize what it is. However, it would do any good to analyze the reasoning, since the reason became the fact that she no longer wanted to be with me... the wall was up. As the others said, it only bolsters the wall more. Unfortunately, a couple has to be together in order for successful communication and reduction of the wall. After a breakup, the wall is fully supported and acts of communication are just shot down. I have come to believe that the only way to handle this is to let go. The wall has to deteriorate over time. Then maybe one day you can show up as a new improved person, not the one that supplied the mortar for the wall. So that's my opinion. I wish I had a good quick answer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wouldnt dig anywhere. I would leave her before a while. Nobody likes anyone diggin around them.

 

I meant if he felt the need to dig, yes. Personally I'd leave well alone - I went digging in the situation I described and it didn't do anything good for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How To Say Goodbye To The Past And ...
How To Say Goodbye To The Past And Make A Fresh Start

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...