Ok. Here we are again. My last article in the “Love Avoidant” series. So, we have explored the “what?” and the “how did this happen?” questions. In this final section, we delve into the “what do we do about it?” department. Hopefully, by this point, I have persuaded you that the walls of the Love Avoidant (LA) provide a false illusion of safety and security that only keep us from the closeness we most desire and deserve. Good relationships make us live longer and healthier – and make the living worthwhile – so, let’s see what we can do to reconstruct this particular defensive posture.
The heart of the process in becoming available to intimate love is the tuning into oneself. In other words, the foundation for secure attachment originates with loving attunement within. I must be mindful to the “me” inside. To that deep inner core which houses my source feelings, thoughts, fantasies, hurts and longings. In so doing, I become my own best caretaker. Like an air traffic controller, I pay attention to, monitor and respond to the many detailed happenings inside me. More specifically, this process involves:
1. Thawing. As we discussed in the last article, many LAs have walled themselves off as a means of necessary protection. Ok. Got that. But until the heart stops beating, we can’t just give up. There is bound to be life somewhere inside there. Some place, maybe very deep inside, some inkling of humanity has yet to be smoldered out. There are real feelings, wants and needs. If the LA wants to find loving contact, he/she has to both admit that something exists and be willing to find it. Thus, the journey is launched to becoming emotionally attached by increasing access to and awareness of feelings. Often this grand thaw starts in the patient loving presence of another. Or with the harsh realization that continuing to live in my self-defined prison is no longer serving me well. This takes us to the next step …
2. Grieving. Most LAs are not likely to reach out for help because they are having relationship difficulties. Contrarily, most are sadly comfortable with long periods of aloneness and non-intimacy. However, they may be lucky enough to either be dragged in by a partner or to ask for help for another reason such as an active addiction or a destructive attempt at self-soothing. Once in a setting to take a more honest look inside, the LA has an opportunity to explore his/her family of origin role and the childhood trauma that caused such a need for the emotional and relational blockade. In so doing, compassionate meaning can be attached to the reason for the over-protection as well as an honest assessment of no longer needing all those defenses.
3. Choosing. Having spent many years in analytic school, I am a believer in the value of insight. But, at some point, we have to make a choice. I tell patients that much of what I do in my office is brain surgery (except without the anesthesia and the unfortunate reality that you can’t just sleep through the process). At this point in our adult lives, the neural pathways in our brains are pretty hard-wired. Like an old-fashioned pinball machine, that ball is going down the same rut over and over and over again. I call it my “whoosh.” When triggered, I am whooshing through “Door A.” Plain and simple. I will think, feel and act in a certain predictable way. For a LA, that whoosh is one of independence, keeping life and others at arm’s length. In order to counteract this well-worn groove, I have to behave the opposite, despite the inevitable discomfort it causes. Intentionally and consciously, by choosing Door B, through moment to moment practice and repetition, I revamp the brain patterns toward true relational living.
4. Being Vulnerable. LAs avoid vulnerability. Anything but telling you what is really going on inside at the rawest, most primitive and human level. I am reminded of that saying that “what is most personal is also most universal.” When we admit our imperfections and talk about our truth in an authentic way, we are opening ourselves to genuine connection. When we self-disclose with our words, we move from feeling isolated and alone to being joined by and bonded to another human being. This is the seed-bed of human relations.
5. Touching. Physical touch acts as a glue between people and certainly, between partners. Touch and affection has been shown to increase the secretion of oxytocin which is the same natural bonding hormone experienced between mother and infant. Thus, physical touch can increase our bond with our partner.
6. Staying. Overcoming Love Avoidance means that we commit to enduring feelings we would rather not have. Rather than fleeing, we pull up a chair and tolerate feelings of discomfort such as fear, suffocation, abandonment, rejection, contempt and even love. Rather than do our usual – walling off or running away – we put on our safety belt and we sit. Squirm as we might, we move from running to a place of curiosity, understanding and gradual acceptance.
7. Remembering. Being in an intimate, attached relationship does not mean that I give up my self. I get to hold onto my power as an individual person. I get to maintain my own separate thoughts, feelings, wants and needs. I get to set limits and maintain my boundaries. In fact, it is through remembering that I can hold onto my separateness, that I am more willing to soften my boundaries that I might enter a deeper level of connection.
Like a colicky baby being swaddled by the patient and persistent love of a parent, over time and experience, we eventually settle into the idea that being loved and connected ain’t so bad. In creating a connection with a partner we do not want to lose, we become convinced that transforming our pattern of Love Avoidance is not only necessary, but also opens us to a whole new world … that of life’s vast candy store. Many of us are entering its doors for the first time. It can be overwhelming in its wonder and endless possibilities. But, have at it. Indulge. And enjoy every bite of life’s sweetest offering – connective love.