How were you parented? If you say “well,” to me that means your parents provided affirmation, recognition, validation and support. There was relative safety and predictability in your home life. But now the difference between your parents’ unconditional love and others’ devaluation of you can result in confusion about where you stand in the world. Who do you understand yourself to be? What do you feel is your worth? If you had good parents, it can be difficult to bridge the confusion between what you feel at home and what you experience outside in the world.
Tues, Nov 18th at 5:15PM, on Sirius XM channel 143 as well as through their live stream at byuradio.org, I will be making my first radio “appearance” ever. I find it quirky and cool that the invitation came from BYU (Brigham Young University) Radio in Provo, Utah. How awesome is that for the likes of this New York shrink? It suddenly occurred to me, that there might be a little chance to discuss #breakupbook2015, too. Looking forward to it, Dr. Matt Townsend, thanks for thinking of me!
My name is … I am a producer for The Matt Townsend Show on BYU Radio. I am emailing to see if you would be interested in joining Matt on the show…
BYU Radio is a radio station associated with Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. We broadcast on Sirius XM channel 143 as well as through the live stream on our website, byuradio.org. Sirius XM radio has over 2 million subscribers nationally.
The Matt Townsend Show is a live talk-radio show hosted by Dr. Matt Townsend, dedicated to bringing people practical tips and inspiring advice to help them live “The Good Life.” Some past guests include NY Times Bestselling authors Andrew Solomon and Dr. Sue Johnson among others.
The show airs live Monday-Thursday from 5-7 pm Eastern, with repeats running 5-7 am Eastern. Interviews are generally from 5:15-6…
Matt would like to speak with you about your blog posts on #Breakups. We are happy to direct listeners to you during the interview as well as on our social media channels.”
As a child, what would you have done if you were alone with a tub of your favorite ice cream and a spoon? This isn’t the famous marshmallow experiment – there’s no reward for waiting. And there’s no one telling you what to do. Admit it: you would’ve eaten the whole thing. Right then. Right there. And then you would’ve been sick. Depriving yourself of ice cream, you might’ve felt despair but with too much you were a runaway truck careening into the abyss of pleasure.
Emotionally as well as physically, there can be too much of a good thing. That’s where parents or other concerned caregivers come in. A whole field of research including this from the Journal of Family Psychology shows that an emotionally available parent creates an emotionally competent infant. Or more specifically (as shown here in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), attachment with a caregiver creates the ability to self-regulate. Parents or other adults take a child’s emotion, filter it, and return it without the sharp edges.
Your mother is a Valium.
Joking aside, if the adults in your life added anxiety on top of your anxiety or recklessness on top of your recklessness, that extreme would have gotten you in trouble. Instead, the role of a parent is to bring you back to the middle – obviously, to pick you up when you’re down but also to temper your frenetic excitement if you’re tipping over the edge into the abyss of joy. With parents, as a child’s anxiety decreases, a parent’s anxiety can increase. And when a child is wringing her hands with worry, the adult tries to smooth over that anxiety, to encourage and calm you. It’s likely the early adults in your life didn’t allow you to be “too much” of anything, whatever that too much was.
The same may be true of your partner, now.
How often does this happen: you have the world’s greatest idea – you’re going to paint the living room this amazing shade of deep orange you saw on Pinterest! It’s going to be so great! But when you tell your partner about this earth-shaking plan, you get a big…meh. Maybe instead of painting the living room, it’s a business idea. Or plans to embrace a new diet. Or the immediate and sharp desire to homeschool your kids. But whatever it is, your excitement is met with caution, indifference or even skepticism.
Think about it: when you’re worried, your partner doesn’t want you to worry. When you’re not worried, your partner may want you to worry.
This quandary can be extremely challenging. Why can’t your partner support your dreams! There are two major reasons: first, your partner may in fact be the voice of reason as your parents once were – does your partner’s skepticism make you rethink that shade of orange or that business idea that was going to require a second mortgage? Just as your parents’ emotional availability kept you from being “too much” as a child, as an adult it may be the fact of your partner’s love (and not necessarily indifference, distrust or disbelief!) that has the same effect on you now.
The second explanation for a person’s hesitancy or even unwillingness to support their partner’s excitement can come from the fact that a partner’s heightened joy can feel threatening to the other partner who doesn’t share it. It’s as if this astounding business idea or shade of orange is a competing suitor for the excited partner’s attention and fulfillment. Your partner is supposed to feel joy and excitement because of you, and now he or she is getting this fulfillment from…persimmon? In this case, it can feel as if your partner is invalidating your experience – as if he or she undermines your reality. Again, it may not be your partner’s fault! He or she may not know why they can’t share your excitement, but only that some unconscious part of them feels its unright.
So what do you do? Maybe instead of screaming to the rooftops about your spectacular shade of orange, you say, “Honey, I think it’s probably time for a new coat of paint in the living room.” By understating your excitement, you may allow your partner to meet you in your enthusiasm rather than temper it. This makes it seem like painting the walls persimmon is a considered choice and also lets your partner evaluate the idea without being threatened by it.
Fire met with fire can lead to an uncontrolled burn – instead, a little sprinkle of water on your flames can help you look at all the angles to make sure your excitement is realistic. But you may also have to help your partner see that the object of your excitement is not necessarily a competing object of your affection. Or you may need to recognize this behavior in yourself!
In the first case, work to recognize that what may feel like holding you back can be your partner’s attempt to keep you from eating too much ice cream. In the second case, you may need to calmly teach your partner when they’re tempering your excitement because of their own fear.
It can be extraordinarily painful to be in love with a person with whom you have a friendship/sexual relationship, who is kind, compassionate and a “good friend”, but is unable to reciprocate your adoration. How can you navigate that relationship in a way that is not consuming for you? It’s hard not to feel as if you are losing yourself. In order to be “in” it and keep it alive, you continually infuse life into the relationship, if you can call it that, by having to compromise your well-deserved longings for more. You try to convince yourself that you are okay with less in return, just to keep the connection. You may pretend it is not so, but this experience levels you and shatters you over and over. You become more confused about what you deserve and can have in this or any potential romantic relationship for that matter. It also heightens the desire, the incentive, the overwhelming “need” to win over this person once and for all so that your self-esteem will be “restored.”
Margaret Thatcher said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Often, I see this in relationships – it’s those who feel powerless who in turn act in a demanding, overwhelming, power-driven way to compensate for their perceived powerlessness. As a result, they underestimate their ability to affect others and behave in extreme ways that are aggressive or disproportionately intense. This has far more negative impact on their partners and their relationships than they had ever intended.
There are things you know you should do: eat well, exercise, be civil with telemarketers. But then there are other things—things that are more challenging, like finally ending a failing relationship or letting go of your ex. Most of us have been to both these places. In a dissatisfying relationship, you know it’s not working, it hasn’t been for a while, yet you keep hanging on and hanging on. In trying to let go of someone who has already let go of you, your ex may be ready to move on, but you may not be. In both situations, you’ve hung on so long that your friends wonder what you could possibly be thinking.
A relationship can be a living, breathing entity that you and your partner co-create. A relationship can also be a literal chemical addiction. So, a breakup joins two of life’s most challenging experiences: paralyzing grief and the overwhelming physical and emotional withdrawal from an addiction.
When a breakup happens, it can feel like an opaque curtain has descended around you, separating you from the rest of the world. You move around as if in a bubble. Even the most familiar things—scenery near where you live, the voices of people you know—seem alien and far away. Even the brains of people grieving the end of a relationship look like the brains of people experiencing a death.
Are you interested in someone? Is he or she interested in you? Maybe—but it’s a lot easier to assume not, because if you lower your expectations, there’s much less far to fall. This tendency to manage expectations and keep them low is meant to be protective. The problem is, whether you’re expecting a lot or a little, you’re still down if it doesn’t happen. The only chance you have of the situation you’re in becoming a viable relationship is if you open yourself up to the possibility that you deserve emotional reciprocity.
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