I had never heard of the term gas-lighting until I was in a tumultuous relationship with a woman with borderline personality order who accused me of gas-lighting. At the time I asked her what it meant and she told me to look it up, so I did and the more I read about it and researched it, the more I realized she was the gas-lighter and I was the one being gas-lighted!
What Is Gas-lighting?
Gas-lighting is a deceptive and insidious form of control and manipulation. The name comes for the 1938 play, Gas Light. People who are being gas-lighted are deceived into doubting what they know to be true through the use of false information. These victims end up doubting their memories, feelings, perceptions and nearly everything about themselves, including their own sanity. Overtime, the gas-lighter’s manipulation tactics become more complex making it harder for the victim to recognize and avoid. If this sounds like psychological warfare, that’s because it is.
Gas-lighting is most common and noticeable in intimate relationships, but they can happen in professional relationships as well. Gas-lighters are usually charming at first and often have personality disorders such as narcissism or borderline. Many sociopaths and addicts are skilled gas-lighters as well.
Gas-lighters attack their victims most sensitive areas: their sense of identity and self-worth. Through my research and interviews with clients who were in toxic relationships, I found that it was common for gas-lighters to show one face to their victim and another to the rest of the world, making it hard for their victim to reach out to others in fear that no one will believe them.
In it’s most basic form, gas-lighting can be seen as projection taken to it’s highest level. The gas-lighter needs to create a certain reality by attempting to shape the reality of the person being gas-lighted. They will change facts in-order to create a new narrative more suitable for themselves and disregard their victims reality.
Gas-Lighting Can Be Used To Manipulate A Whole Society
Gas-lighting not only happens in day to day relationships, but historically has and is happening in a greater context. Think about how the narrative around Thanksgiving downplays the genocide of Native Americans, or how many American History books brush over the horrific slavery of and treatment of African Americans. Cultural appropriation and white-washing are both ways experiences and realities of others are overwritten, manipulated and downplayed. It happens so much in our society through the use of media and stereotypes that’s it’s not easily recognized, but is just as damaging to those who are the victims of gas-lighting.
I once read a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, that in many ways detailed how American Society has been gas-lighted to perceive African Americans a certain way.
My Personal Experience
One example from my personal situation is that the person I was dating continuously disrespected our relationship by flirting with other guys. Even other people who knew us would come and tell me and it became embarrassing. When I would talk to her about it she would accuse me of being insecure, other people of manipulating me and accusing me of looking at other women.
It got so bad that I started questioning if I was insecure, if other people were trying to sabotage our relationship and although I had never been accused of having wandering eyes before, I started to doubt that as well. I started becoming more aware of my behavior and attempting to never even look in another woman’s direction. I started becoming paranoid and questioning things my friends were telling me about her. I started to doubt myself so much that I became oblivious to the ways she was continuously and increasingly disrespecting me and our relationship.
That’s what gas-lighting does. It makes you start questioning your own reality to the point where you don’t trust what you know to be true.
How I ended up overcoming this was through some deep introspection and awareness. First, thanks to her accusing me of gas-lighting (the gas-lighter often accuses their victim of being the gas-lightee), I became aware that I was actually being psychologically manipulated.
I had to regain trust in my own sense of self and judgement and realize that I wasn’t crazy and that my eyes and heart weren’t deceiving me. I had to find a way to separate myself from her and see the truth for what it was and once I did that, it was like someone had turned the lights on in a dark room and allowed me to see everything. I had to take back my power and it’s then when I decided to leave because I knew she wasn’t going to change and the new “woke” me, couldn’t stay in that toxic relationship and keep my sanity.
Despite the fact that I knew I had to leave, it still took multiple attempts before I was able to walk away for good. Toxic relationships are usually hard to leave and take several attempts. During that time I did reach out to friends for support and I continued to read articles and books that opened my eyes and made me strong enough to eventually leave for good.
“You gotta be mature enough to understand that you have some toxic traits too. It’s not always the other person”. -Word Porn
I read this post the other day on Facebook and thought it to be one of the truest statements I have ever read. Too often in relationships, no matter if it’s personal relationships, familial relationships or romantic relationships, it’s easy to place all the blame for the dysfunction that goes on in that relationship on other people. It’s natural. It’s much easier to say that someone else is the cause of our unhappiness, the chaos that sometimes happens in relationships or the failure of a relationship than it is to be introspective and look at ourselves. It’s much less painful to put the blame on the other person than it is to admit our responsibility in why things are the way they are.
If you ask anyone in a relationship that failed or became extremely dysfunctional, they can easily tell you what the other person did wrong, but we all know that it takes two people to make a relationship work and so unless the other person was a complete narcissist or sociopath (and even then the other person usually still plays a role in maintaining the dysfunction of the relationship), we have to see both sides of the coin if we are going to come out of the relationship better and healthier than before.
When I think back to many of my past relationships that went south, I can easily name a dozen things the other person did to help drive our relationship off the cliff. I can tell you how they were selfish, inconsiderate, detached, mean, controlling and took me for granted. However, if you ask them, I am sure they can just as easily name a dozen things I did that were not supportive of a healthy relationship. What’s more important is that we discover for ourselves what we did to hinder those relationships (or maintain the dysfunction and toxicity) so that we don’t carry them into our future relationship and more importantly so that we can grow and change whatever qualities about ourselves that are holding us back and putting us in these toxic situations.
Thinking about my past relationships, I can spew out all the toxic qualities she had, but in reality, but what I know about myself is that I was codependent, at times insecure, controlling, neurotic, enabling and possibly lazy when it came to a number of things that eventually would have put a strain on even the healthiest relationship. I maintained much of the dysfunction in our relationship and kept it toxic because of my toxic qualities. At the very less I should have walked away before it became so engulfing and before bitterness and resentment on both sides set in.
If I go around, only seeing the things the other people did to screw up our relationship, then I will most definitely repeat the same pattern in future relationships and wonder why they too did not work out, or why I became so miserable in the relationship, yet stayed because I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all (a line from a Three Grace Song “Pain”, but also something I have come to realize to be painfully true about myself).
Too many of us do that. As a therapist, I often hear people complain about the same issues in their last relationship or even job. They think, they will just leave this person or that company and things will be better. Some even change physical locations such as the state and city they live in thinking that this will solve the problem, but a large part of the problem is within them and they take themselves wherever they go so they are likely to continue to repeat the same pattern regardless of who they are with or where they are unless they themselves change.
For instance, a woman whose last three relationships ended because the other person cheated may come to the conclusion that monogamy, trust and honesty are all dead and there are no good, faithful people out there.
In reality, she may be subconsciously choosing individuals with a certain trait or creating environments that are conducive to increasing the chances of someone being unfaithful.
Think about it, if she met her last three partners while they were in relationships with other people and she “stole” them away, she can’t be too surprised if that person later ends up being “stolen” away by someone else.
The same is true if she met someone who gave her reasons to doubt their loyalty in the beginning, but she thought she could “change them” only to realize later that she doesn’t have the power to change anyone. It’s a lot easier to just blame those individuals for being who they are and ruining the relationship instead of accepting that she herself has some flaws she needs to investigate.
Often we sabotage ourselves. Somewhere, somehow we may get a notion that all people suck so we subconsciously go out and seek relationships with people we know suck so that we can validate our notion.
We may rush into relationships and create an image about a person that they can’t possibly live up to and feel cheated or let down when they don’t, or they may feel so much pressure and/or smothering that they leave and we justified that by saying that we weren’t good enough or “everyone always leaves me”.
I once dated a woman who thought that everyone always abandoned her, including family, friends and romantic partners. During our relationship she did a number of things attempting to push me away, testing my loyalty and durability and I fought hard to prove to her that I was different than everyone else, but the harder I tried, the harder she pushed and in the end, we both were miserably, unhappy, and resentful. Her personality traits match up well with my codependent personality traits and created a toxic, dysfunctional relationship that lasted way too long.
The same issues in different ways can happen at work. Many of us spend more time at work and with our co-workers then we do with the people we live with, love and/or are in intimate relationships with.
Work can often feel like being in not only a toxic environment, but a toxic relationship. Sometimes we stay in a job we hate too long and become resentful, or we give so much of ourselves at work that we feel used and unappreciated, yet we still show up and won’t look for another place of employment. We may feel stuck there just like we may feel stuck in a relationship. We can blame everything on our employer or co-workers, but that won’t change anything. What will change everything is when we take responsibility for what it is that is keeping us there. It could be our refusal to look for another job, to stand up to a certain person, to demand what we know we deserve or to look for opportunities for advancement because of our fears that we aren’t good enough or don’t deserve better.
The bottom line is, nothing positive will happen for us if we don’t recognize the qualities about ourselves that need to be worked on. We can blame everyone else for the things that make us unhappy, but nothing will change unless we recognize our flaws, as uncomfortable and painful as they may be to admit to ourselves and change them.
What I Learned From Dating Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Not too long ago I was madly in love with a beautiful, charismatic and outgoing woman. She was funny, sexy and seemed to be the center of attention wherever we went. She also had Borderline Personality Disorder.
When we first met, this was not something I picked up on right away. She appeared to be everything I was looking for in a girlfriend. She was extroverted, independent and most of all fun. Her laugh and smile were infectious. She was the opposite of my quiet, reserved and introverted self. She was what I thought I needed in my life. Someone different than the women I usually dated. Different from myself.
In The Beginning
Things with us started off fast and intense. We went from getting to know each other, to being intimate, falling in love and living together in just a few weeks. She went out of her way to shower me with love and attention. It made me feel special, especially in comparison to my last relationship where I often felt neglected. She made me feel like no other woman had ever made me feel before or since.
What I didn’t realize was that part of what I was experiencing is what is called love bombing. Love bombing is when someone tries to influence a person with demonstrations of love and affection. They usually do this by going overboard with efforts of love and admiration. It’s a way to quickly leap frog over the getting to know you, courting stage in a relationship and get to the “I love you” stage and it worked.
I had never fallen for someone so intensely so fast, which is why I think I didn’t see some of the red flags I should have or, as a therapist, realize what I was getting into. Love and beauty have a way of blinding us.
As a mental health counselor, I have a habit, good or bad, of always analyzing people and a month into our relationship I started thinking that she might have bipolar disorder. I started recognizing that she had some mood instability and for some reason, that’s where my mind took me, but after awhile I dismissed that altogether because she simply didn’t meet the criteria. Still, I knew there was something I needed to pay close attention to, I just wasn’t sure what it was.
Inappropriate and Intense Anger
I remember the first fight we had, it was over something very trivial and should have just been a conversation, but instead she EXPLODED! I mean her eyes narrowed, face turned red, nostrils flared. She got so angry so quickly that it scared me and I feared for my safety. What shocked me the most was that the intensity of her anger was way out of proportion to the situation.
I don’t like to fight, I don’t like to argue. When I realized how volatile that situation became over something so small, I should have left and never looked back. That was actually my plan, but later that evening she came back and apologized. We made up. I loved her after all and maybe part of my “you can fix her” thinking kicked in and I actually began to feel sorry for her.
I knew she come from a pretty traumatic childhood, that she went through periods of her life where she felt abandoned and I felt that her blow up was a test to see if she could push me away and I would abandon her too. I decided to prove her wrong and to stay and make it work out. I had the rescuer syndrome going on full strength.
Frantic Efforts to Avoid Real or Imagined Abandonment
After that first explosion, many more followed. She began accusing me of wanting or looking at other women. Out of the blue her entire mood would change and I wouldn’t know why until she was ready to blow up at me for looking at someone I usually had no clue who she was talking about.
I got accused of looking at random women all the time like our waitress, some woman across the street that I never even noticed in the first place or another across the room simply because she was there. As beautiful as she was, she was very insecure.
It got so bad that at one point I found myself walking around with my head down just so I wouldn’t accidentally appear to be looking at another women, but even that didn’t work.
So many dates and even a Valentines Day were ruined by her accusing me of looking at other women and her explosive, increasing inappropriate anger.
And yet there were times when she begged me to never leave her. When I told her this wasn’t working for me and I wanted to break up, she simply replied “no” and then clung to me like a frightened child.
Uncontrollable Anger and Physical Violence
As her angry explosions became increasingly unpredictable (yet predictable), she began to get physically violent. It started with her getting so angry that she would slap me and on at least two occasions she punched me in the face with a closed fist, all the time I was trying to calm her down to keep her from getting even more angry and out of control, which only made things worse.
At the same time, I noticed that she was also getting into conflicts with other people when we went out. Men, women, it didn’t matter. It was as if she had two sides to her; this sweet, outgoing, social butterfly that everyone loved and this angry bitch that everyone hated. Still, the most intense anger and rage were reserved for me.
It got so bad that whenever we went out, no matter how happy we were in the beginning of the evening, there was a 90% chance that by the time the night was over, we’d be fighting over something. I started thinking that she was allergic to having a good day. It was like, the more I tried for us to have a great day, the more I did for her, the more intense her anger would be when she decided it was time to ruin our good time.
She could literally pick a fight out of thin air which made it so much more unpredictable. It was literally, as the cliché goes, like walking on eggshells.
I remember one day we went to the beach, swam in the ocean and I painted her toe nails while laying on a beach blanket. Afterwards we went to the pier and had lunch before driving back home, changing and going to a jazz club. Later that night we stopped on our way home to get something to eat and she started yelling at me (out of the blue) because I hadn’t unfriended her best-friend that she accused of wanting me. The same best friend I knew before I knew her. The same best-friend that had introduced us.
I was so hurt and disappointed that we had such a great day ruined in five minutes by some random thought that came into her head.
I totally ignored and even enabled her substance abuse issues. When we met I knew she smoked, but I didn’t realized she was also a binge drinker and probably an alcoholic.
It seemed ass if she had to constantly be smoking or drinking in order to be marginally happy. She didn’t just drank to get buzzed, she drank to get white girl wasted as they say.
So many weekend nights she drank until she passed out or until she started flirting with everyone or lashing out on everyone with me of course as her favorite target.
One valentines day she drank a whole bottle of wine by her self at dinner and then another at the movie theater and then passed out before the movie even started.
She would promise to stop drinking, but she never did and to be honest, I was usually the one buying her drinks because I knew one or two drinks made her happy, but by the time she got to her fourth drink, she was a loaded gun ready to go off.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to go from happy to infuriated within minutes.
Idealization and Devaluation
Some days she would tell me that I was the best man ever and I would feel like a prince and by the end of the night, she would be enraged over something minor and yelling at me “you’re just like every other man” or telling me how I was the worst person ever.
At first I was really confused. I was either the best man she’d ever been with or the worst man she’d ever been with, but I couldn’t be both. It was starting to give me an identity complex.
I did noticed a pattern however. If she started telling me how I was the love of her life, the best thing that ever happened to her, blah, blah, blah, I needed to hold on tight because by the end of the day, the other shoe was going to drop.
Whenever she started inflating my ego, she would create a fight by the end of the day and tear me back down to scum under her shoes. I remember one night when not too many hours earlier I had been her moon and stars, she yelled at me that she hated and resented me. That really took me aback. In all my life I had never had someone tell me that they resented me. I didn’t even know how to take it, but I never forgot how much it hurt .
Those words were probably the biggest factor in causing me to start emotionally withdrawing and re-evaluating our relationship. Sure this was after we were about three years into this roller-coaster ride, but what can I say, I was in love.
By this time I had known she had borderline personality disorder for over two years. The signs were all there. I even had her take an assessment and she scored perfectly and even agreed with me that she thought she had borderline personality disorder, but she didn’t want to go to therapy.
In The End
My friends, people who knew me and knew us often asked me why did I stay. They didn’t know why I put up with the chaos, the anger, the numerous precarious situations she had put me in.
The answer is love. I really did love her. Being a mental health professional didn’t help. I thought I could help her overcome her issues, helping people is my job. And she really was and is an awesome person. If she was a totally horrible person of course I would have left a long time ago.
Would I have done anything different knowing what I know now? Of course I would. I would have chosen to just be her friend and to keep a safe distance so that I wouldn’t get caught up in the chaos.
I learned a lot through this tumultuous relationship, but mostly about myself. I learned that I was more codependent than I ever realized. I learned that I had a sort of six sense and sort of a curse for spotting people with issues and trying to fix them. I also learned what it was like to be in love with a beautiful woman, to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, to be adventurous, to feel like I couldn’t live without a person and then learn to live without them.
I was listening to a couples therapy session conducted by the amazing Esther Perel when I first heard about the high rates of divorce associated with weight-loss surgery.
Esther was working with a couple where the husband had lost a tremendous amount of weight after bariatric surgery and then declared to his wife suddenly that he was leaving her. Neither of them had been prepared for this potential side effect of weigh-loss surgery.
In the session, the husband described that after he loss weight, he not only felt like he had a new body, but that he was also a new person and he wanted a new life. A life that apparently did not include his wife. This is actually very common after weight-loss surgery.
One of the first things usually told to couples during orientation is that the divorce rate for bariatric patients is extremely high. I’ve seen numbers as high as 80 to 85%.
Often the person who had the surgery was not happy with themselves, had low self-esteem, poor self-image and not the best health. They may have been introverted and passive because of this.
Effects on Marriage After The Surgery
After the surgery, when the person has loss such a large amount of weight, not only do they began to become healthier, they often begin to see themselves as more physically attractive as well. Mentally, they tend to gain more confidence, courage and experience a rise in self-esteem. The once introverted person may become more extroverted and energetic.
In an already healthy and stable relationship, these improvements can be a plus and help create a more fun, romantic and passionate union. However, in a relationship that was already unstable, these outcomes may lead to the marriage falling apart.
The person who underwent weight-loss surgery may now feel motivated enough, confident enough and attractive enough to leave the marriage. The person may feel like they have more options available to them than they did before the surgery.
Some people report that the emotional changes they go through after weight-loss surgery is more like a change in mindset. They often go from someone who would put up with a lot to someone who chooses what they will and won’t put up with. They go from passive to assertive and sometimes even aggressive. Often as their perspectives change, they start questioning their relationships and the people that are in their lives.
Many discover a new sexual energy and may begin to crave new sexual partners and experiences, especially if they have been overweight for most of their lives.
Some call this change in perspective an honest life assessment. They feel like losing so much weight so quickly forces them to question why they chose to be unhealthy in the first place both physically and mentally. They began confronting not only their food choices, but their lifestyle choices including the people they have around them. They may feel like they can finally be the person they’ve always wanted to be, but didn’t feel confident enough to be.
Affects On The Partner
Often times couples are overweight together. Having an eating problem, emotional eating or just enjoying food may be the one thing they have in common that has kept them together.
Following surgery, if the spouse that had the weight-loss surgery suddenly stops wanting to sit on the sofa watching Netflix while eating junk food and starts wanting to go out and socialize more or exercise, the partner who did not get the surgery may become angry, jealous and insecure. The marriage that may have once been largely centered around food and staying home may not survive that change.
One person has the surgery, losses a large amount of weight, usually starts looking and feeling more attractive, their partner either gets jealous and insecure and then leaves. Or the person who has the surgery starts thinking they can upgrade or be single and enjoy their new found sexual attractiveness and confidence. Not always of course, but in marriages that were already volatile this is common.
The end of the relationship is not always a bad thing. Often times these individuals were already in toxic or abusive relationships, but stayed because they didn’t have the confidence to leave or felt that no one else would want them. The affects of the surgery often boosts their confidence enough to end a relationship that probably should have ended anyway.
On the other hand, the partner who did not receive the surgery may have felt better than the other person as if they had the power and control in the relationship because their spouse may have been passive, depressed or extremely introverted. Once their partner losses weight, the dynamics of the relationship may start to shift to the point where the partner who did not receive the surgery decides to leave in order to find someone else he or she can feel dominate and controlling over.
Where To Turn For Help
There are support groups out there often led by a dietician and a therapist that can help individuals and couples through the emotional and mental changes that come along with the physical changes of weight-loss surgery. It is important to schedule therapy sessions after your surgery, be kind to yourself and others as the physical, mental and emotional changes occur.
Remember that people will react in some unexpected ways to your weight-loss and you may also experience emotional and mental changes that were not expected. Talk to your partner about them and if it’s something that needs further exploration, definitely seek therapy. It may save your marriage or help you go your separate ways in good conscience.
Getting over someone you once or even still love can be very challenging. However, there are scientifically backed ways to help alleviate the heartache and jumping into another relationship is not one of them. Sure it may help take your mind off of your exe, but if there are any unresolved issues within yourself that haven’t been dealt with, you can quickly find yourself living out the same relationship with the same issues, just with a different person. Trust me, I’ve been there.
They say time heals all wounds and science says that is largely true. Give yourself time to get over the relationship. It’s a lot like grieving when someone close to you has died. You wouldn’t expect to get over that very quickly, so why expect any different when it comes to the death of a relationship?
I remember after the end of one of my relationships, I just kept thinking I wanted to get over it and forget about that person right now and for some reason, that only prolonged the process. Don’t stress about it. The day will come when you realize that you haven’t thought about that person in a day, or two or more.
It may feel like it’s taking forever for that day to come, but research suggests that we overestimate the amount of time we think it will take for us to get through the rough patches of a break up.
With that being said, below are some ways to help speed up the recovery process.
Avoid Social Media
Specifically, avoid checking up on your ex on Facebook, Instagram or what have you. Seeing if he or she seems happy, has moved on or is talking about you, will do nothing to help you move on.
A study in the journal Cyber-psychology found that people who checked up on their exes’ Facebook page are more likely to have negative feelings towards the person, more likely to desire the person and less likely to grow from the break up, which should be one of your main goals.
It can be very tempting to just “see what they’ve been up to” but try by all means to avoid falling into that trap, even if that means unfriending, blocking, unfollowing or just avoiding social media all together until you are strong enough.
Avoid The Halo Effect
It’s no uncommon that after a breakup, we start to minimize the negative qualities of the person and the relationship, while amplifying the positive. We can start fooling ourselves into thinking that this person was someone that he or she surely was not. Don’t pretend that your ex was perfect.
Instead, dating expert Andrea Syrtash recommends making a list of five ‘must-haves’ and five ‘can’t-stands’ in a potential partner.
Syrtash recommends making a meaningful list and instead of writing down things like, “Must be over six feet tall and have brown eyes”, try “I must find this person attractive”.
Once you’ve completed this exercise, you might be surprised to find out that none of your exes were truly suitable for you.
When I did this exercise I realized that two of my exes I probably never should have dated seriously because they were missing some major qualities on my “must-have” list. Learning that helped me to start looking for more suitable partners while helping me let go of the idea that any of my exes were right for me and that I was somehow missing out on something with them.
Don’t Assume The Breakup Means You Suck
Your ability to deal with a breakup has a lot to do with the way you see yourself according to a 2016 paper in the journal Personality and Social Psychology.
One of the authors, Lauren Howe, states: “In our research, people reported the most prolonged distress after a romantic rejection when it caused their self-image to change for the worse. People who agreed that the rejection made them question who they really were also reported more often that they were still upset when they thought about the person who had rejected them.”
If however, you have thoughts such as, two people can both be good, descent human-beings and still not workout because they simply don’t belong together, you’re likely to suffer less and move on faster.
Challenge the story you tell yourself regarding what the break up reveals about you.
During one of my breakup I initially told myself that I sucked and didn’t deserve to be happy, but I quickly had to change my narrative by remembering how much of myself I had lost during the relationship (i.e., traveling) and how happier I would be doing those things again and especially if I could find someone to do those things with.
Writing down how you feel about the break up can help, but mostly you need to write about the positives of the break up. What did you learn? How did it help you grow?
After one of my breakups, a good friend of mine asked, “What did you learn from her because she was a very good teacher”. At first I was perplexed, but then I realized what she meant. I had put up with and dealt with a lot of toxic issues in that relationship and some of the most powerful things I’ve learned about relationships came from the pain and suffering I went through in that one.
I had to stop telling myself how much I would miss her and start appreciate how much I enjoyed coming home to peace and not having to walk on egg shells.
A study published in 2015 in the journal Social and Personal Relationships found that writing in a redemptive way about how you turned suffering into a positive experience can help you cope better.
Maybe during the break up you learned to follow your gut instincts, to not settle, to not allow someone to make you feel small or that you are stronger than you ever thought you were.
Write a redemption story! Don’t simply journal about how bad you feel. That will only make you feel worse.
Talk About It
Of course as a therapist I’m going to recommend talking about the breakup, although some people may think that talking about it will only make things worse.
In a study published in 2015 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers found that people who participated in research about their break up by filling out surveys and talking to experimenters reported less distress about the breakup and themselves afterwards.
Simply talking about it with a good friend or even a therapist if needed can help you rebound in a healthy way, so don’t avoid talking about it out of fear that it will keep you stuck.
Breakups suck and sometimes they can be devastating, but they don’t have to leave us feeling shattered, empty or lost for long. Like adjusting to anything new, it takes time and that’s okay.
In romantic relationships, we would like to think that it’s always going to be filled with passion and romance, but typically relationships go through phases where the passion and romance seems to die off.
Some of this is natural which is why relationships take work and both individuals have to work on keeping the fire going, but other times this can be deliberate.
Sometimes in relationships, one person will decide to emotionally withhold and this can border on the line of emotional abuse.
I’m not talking about when your partner is upset with you so he or she may not talk to you for a few days, may not want to be touched or gives you the cold shoulder until they get over whatever upset them. I’m talking about something that is much more long term and damaging to a relationship.
Thomas G. Fiffer, in his blog post described emotional withholding as:
Coldness replaces warmth. Silence replaces conversation. Turning away replaces turning towards. Dismissiveness replaces receptivity. And contempt replaces respect.Emotional withholding is, I believe, the toughest tactic to deal with when trying to create and maintain a healthy relationship, because it plays on our deepest fears—rejection, unworthiness, shame and guilt, the worry that we’ve done something wrong or failed or worse, that there’s something wrong with us.”
How Can You Tell If Your Partner is Emotionally Withholding?
If you are in a relationship where you often feel alone, there is a good chance your partner may be emotionally withholding.
There is a difference between someone who is emotionally withholding (a deliberate behavior used to control a person/relationship) and someone who is out of touch with their own feelings due to stress, trauma or other issues.
People who emotionally withhold are purposely withholding love, affection, support and attention in order to control a relationship.
The other person in the relationship may find themselves always pursuing their partner in search of the love, affection and attention that they want. They may find themselves always trying to prove that they deserve love.
People who stay in these types of relationships often do so because it is familiar.
Maybe they grew up in a family where they never felt like they deserved love, were always rejected or felt abandoned. To them, it may feel natural to pursue love and affection, even if it’s painful, because they are not used to it being freely given and without conditions.
Holly Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist suggests:
Ask yourself how generous your partner is. How invested does he/she seem to be in your well-being, in making sure that you feel positively about yourself? Or is it the opposite–that he/she is maintaining the upper hand by ensuring that you continue to seek approval?“
The person who is emotionally withholding is always trying to keep the balance of the relationship in their favor. They give you just enough to keep you interested. Just enough to keep you searching for the affection that you want and deserve so that you get stuck in this vicious cycle of searching out for their affection.
Most people are not ALWAYS emotionally satisfied in their relationship 100% of the time, but think about how much you feel emotionally satisfied versus how often you feel emotionally starved.
If you feel like you are continuously starving for love, affection, attention and support, then you may have a partner who is emotionally withholding or at the least, emotionally unavailable.
If your partner is emotionally unavailable, consider if this is because he or she is stressed, depressed, going through their own issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, or if it is more malicious and planned out to achieve a power balance in the relationship that benefits them and not you.
Being in this type of relationship can cause the person who is constantly seeking affection to have multiple issues from low self-esteem to anxiety, depression and even sexual dysfunction.
Outside support from friends, family and even a professional may be needed in order for that person to maintain healthy self-love and self-care. It is crucial that you take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who know your worth and value you.
If you are in a relationship where the other person is emotionally withholding then it’s important to remember that you deserve and are worthy of love and it should come freely.
Earlier today I was speaking with a fifteen year old girl in our juvenile detention center. She is experiencing depression and is 6 weeks postpartum so I was concerned about her. As we talked, I started to understand some of the sources of her depression.
During our session, she revealed that her mother also gave birth to her when she was fifteen and that her biological father has been in prison since she was three years old. Her mother is currently married to a verbally and physically abuse man that she feels her mother places before her in order of importance, attention and affection.
As this young lady and I talked, she described how she grew up feeling like a burden to her young, single mother and how after her mother had other children and multiple boyfriends, she was always made to feel like she was “in the way”.
It became very apparent that this young woman, consciously or unconsciously, had a baby at fifteen years old, partly so that she could have someone in her life that didn’t make her feel like a burden, but gave her the unconditional love she has been yearning for. However, due to her own psychological damage, she now sees her 6 week old baby as a burden and if she doesn’t learn to change the way she views herself, she will pass on that damage to her child.
What I discussed with her this morning and will try to instill in her is this:
We are the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves. We are also gifts to other people and the Universe. Our children, if we have any, are also gifts.
Too many people grew up being made to feel, even as children, that they were a burden. Maybe they were born to parents who themselves were brought up in painful situations where they did not truly know how to love and appreciate others.
Maybe their parents conceived them as a resolution to fixing a broken relationship or “save” a troubled marriage. Maybe their parent expects them to be their caretaker, or they were simple born during a difficult time of their parents lives and they were never able to be truly enjoyed, loved, appreciated and viewed as precious gifts as children.
Many of us have grown up never feeling truly accepted and carrying these feelings on unconscious and conscious levels that we were and are a burden.
This is how people can fall into a deep depression or become suicidal, thinking that the World would be better off without them.
This type of thinking is what keeps people from truly connecting with other people on any level or truly enjoying life.
Because of this they end up beating themselves up all the time with negative self-talk, not appreciating themselves, walking around apologizing for themselves, feeling like other people know better and are better than them.
For those of us who have received this terrible message growing up, it’s time to change it.
You are not a mistake. You are not here by accident. You are here because we are supposed to be here.
Our lives have purpose and intention.
We don’t have to apologize for being here or for being ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our past mistakes or experiences that have helped create who we are now. We don’t have to be ashamed, apologetic or doubt the beauty that is our unique selves.
We are not a burden and if our parents are the ones who tried to put that on us, it’s time to recognize that it is their issue and not ours. We don’t have to carry that with us. We can let it go.
We are precious gifts and today we will start treating ourselves as gifts to others, the Universe and especially ourselves.