Part II of The Love Avoidant: From the Beginning

Last month, we poured through the “what” and the “benefits” of the Love Avoidant. This month, we circle our wagons to the “why.” So, if you missed last month’s Part I, shoot me an email. I will catch you up.

So, how did the Love Avoidant (LA) become so protective? Keep in mind, that no one is crazy to themselves. Something in the LA’s introduction to the world (e.g., childhood) made it necessary and smart to become so walled-off and devoid of connection. Here are a few possible theories why:

(1) The LA learned in his/her early relationships that he/she cannot breathe. In other words, there is not enough air and space for both of us to exist in this relationship. One of us has to go or yield and as a child, that be me. Parents in this scenario are often too big, too emotional, too present. Think grandiose. Or in modern language, even “helicopter” parent. They are boundaryless and intrusive – with no sense of where they stop and others start. The child feels suffocated and smothered as opposed to respected as a separate human being with differing needs, wants and feelings. Thus, the learned translation that is taken into adulthood is that relationships are annihilating. Staying alive means staying away.

(2) The LA was burdened as a child. Perhaps the blossoming LA had a child-parent that turned the parenting job upside down. In other words, the parent depended on the child for emotional and/or physical support. We call this the “Parentified Child” in that the child assumes the responsibilities of a parent. Needless to say, a child is supposed to be a child. Like a little kid dressing up in Daddy’s clothes, the suit just does not fit. It hangs off in surreal humorous dress-up. Something about this is just not right. The child need not be saddled with the impossible and exhausting task of being a grown-up. In a milder form, we see this same dynamic with the Hero Child or Golden Boy/Girl. The child incorporates and lives into this image and standard of whom he/she is supposed to be. This performance-based esteem is so tiresome and unsustainable that placing oneself in a position of replicating this pressure is to be avoided at all costs.

(3) The LA was not given permission to separate and individuate in a healthy way. If done well, parenting is a selfless job with no payback and no strings attached. A healthy parent expects his/her kids to abandon him/her. In fact, if my kids stick around as adults eating my food and sleeping on my couch, then I have done them a grave disservice. I have not aided their psychologically healthy task of leaving me both emotionally and physically. And that is often the case of the LA. He/she had parents that were demanding of their love, time and affection. A relationship was modeled as one of obligation as opposed to choice and generosity. Thus, the internalized message is that relationships are draining and entrapping. If you get in, you are stuck and powerless. Better to either not get in or get in half-ass with some connection but not with whole engagement.

So, understandable that the LA might avoid connection and real intimacy. But is that the end of the story? Must we be a victim to our own psychology? Hope not.

Next month: the benefits to reconsidering and how to go about doing so. 

Holding the Baby

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Boston, Massachusetts. On the 15th Floor of some generic Westin. My body is exhausted and it is freaking cold outside but my feet are warm and my energized heart is even warmer. For downstairs somewhere, in multiple meeting rooms, sit a countless number of people from all parts of the world that I have come to love over the years. They are my people. My collegial community. My fellow “groupies.”

I have grown-up in this organization – the American Group Psychotherapy Association. And I do not mean just professionally. We group therapists learn to lead groups experientially – by being in a group. So yes, I have been poked, prodded, appropriately shamed and loved up on by the best in the field.

I will never forget the first time I attended AGPA. It was many moons ago in Houston, Texas. As casually as flipping a coin, I randomly picked some two-day process group. “Ah, this one sounds ok” and off I went. After spending two days in a room with close to thirty people and a brilliant laser-like miner of a New York modern group psychoanalyst, I was hooked. Sign-me up again next year.

In those earlier years, I was frozen. Silent, quiet. (I know … hard to believe, right?!) I just watched and took it all in. I wanted to speak and yet my body was immobilized … it would not let me open my mouth. I was like a baby being offered a full bottle and refusing to drink. But something kept taking me back. And that same wonderful, awful wise man I met in Houston kept hounding me to open my damn mouth ’cause I had things to say.

He was onto something. My defensive radar was as strong and stringent as the TSA. No one is coming close to me. Everyone is a potential threat. No one is getting on that plane, my plane. But he knew what I needed and chose to persevere. He was determined to get me to dance – with him, but mostly with myself. He offered me the patience and the safety I needed to re-evaluate my defensive posture. Did I really need to be that walled-off to dangers that I perceived but may in fact really no longer be present? He spoke with mother-ease yet did not shy from the much needed nudge I required toward the risk of exposure.

And somewhere over the years, perhaps without my even consciously knowing it, my body, mouth and spirit started to thaw. I no longer needed to play dead and stop breathing. I could engage in greater and greater contact with spontaneity and play.

I am grown-up now (or at least “enough so,” they said). And just yesterday, I finished leading my own two-day group of young, spry, teachable yet terrified beginning group therapists. What an honor. To now be the parent and rock my own babies. To provide a setting that diffuses defenses and increases neural circuitry. To intuit needs, wants and feelings when their mouths can’t let them tell me with words just yet. To hold them as they taste the deliciousness and the restoration of real human contact. To provide space for the unspeakable to not only be spoken, but for it to be accepted as authentic and courageous.

I am once again awed and humbled.  I have a front-row seat to all things most human.  Others entrust me with their journey and I have the opportunity to do this most crucial life-saving work.   Thank you.