January 21, 2020 at 7:49 pm #334287
I need to get some prospective on this issue I’ve been fighting against for over a year. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 12 years, most of which was long distance. I had created a bit of a fantasy about us: we loved each other so deeply and every moment spent together was so perfect, our bond so strong, that I thought we were absolutely perfect, nothing could ever go wrong with us. I was living in London and he was in Italy, and we would see each other once a month. Then he moved to London, and I thought that was it, we would be together forever. But he hated it. He couldn’t find a job in his field and just felt like that wasn’t his place. So after six months he left, leaving me no choice but to follow him back to Italy. I found a job in Rome and moved a few months after he had left. In that period I started having doubts about our relationship, which would come up as intrusive thoughts like ‘what if i don’t love him anymore’. I thought it was just fear of change, and ignored them at the beginning. I have always struggled with anxiety so this wasn’t new to me, but I had never doubted our relationship, it is the foundation of my whole adult life.
Then, the day we moved in together, which was all I had dreamed about for years, I had the worst panic attack I had ever experienced in my life. I started thinking I had to leave him, I didn’t love him anymore, everything was a lie, and it was all over. I started vomiting, trembling, hyperventilating for hours. He is a psychologist and immediately told me I was experiencing intrusive thoughts and severe anxiety, so I immediately went to therapy. I was terrified. She also agreed I was having intrusive thoughts, and in this year of therapy we worked on the source of these thoughts, which are linked to a feeling of disappointment (reality vs. fantasy) for something I had imagined in my head over and over for years, and also the fact that our relationship is not as perfect as I thought. My definition of love was completely toxic: I was convinced true love was sacrifice, was being willing to give up everything to be together. I was dependent on my boyfriend and felt inferior to him, and that somehow made me feel lucky and that I needed to do all sorts of things to ‘deserve’ his love. But I want to stress my boyfriend did nothing to encourage this kind of behaviour, on the contrary he always told me I had to think more about myself and my life and what I wanted. But I didn’t listen to him, so entangled with my idea of romantic love.
So I realised in this year of therapy that I was disappointed: by him, by love, by myself. I had some bitterness about leaving London, and a lot of stress for the move and my new job etc… The thing is, the more we went on with therapy, nothing really changed. I still have obsessive thoughts every day, which analyze every single aspect of my relationship and my boyfriend: I focus obsessively on his flaws, on the fact I am not attracted to him anymore, and on every time we disagree on something. We were supposed to be enjoying our first year of living together and instead all I could do was thinking that i had to leave, the there was no point in staying, that i feel nothing for him. My therapist is still convinced I am struggling to live in reality and I am just too scared about things not being perfect that I am constantly trying to convince myself i don’t love him because it is somehow an easier explanation than just admitting to myself that our relationship is flawed – like all relationships. She thinks I have been putting my needs aside in our relationship, that I have sacrificed too much and now I need to learn how to live a balanced relationship, one where I think about me first and discuss what I want with him to find a compromise. I have based my love on sacrifice, on missing him, on the willingness to give up everything for him, on seeing him as perfect. But the more she urges me to accept this fact the more I also start doubting the therapy. I have lost interest in my job and in all the things I used to love. I feel useless and like a failure. In all this, my boyfriend has been a rock – he has never doubted my love for him, keeps telling me i have to take care of myself and stop feeling guilty. He is such a patient, honest, generous and truly good soul. He is my best friend and he still is able to make me laugh and make me feel safe. I am still very affectionate towards him – we hug and kiss a lot, but I constantly have this nagging feeling that i am lying to him, or just playing the part of the perfect girlfriend, that I don’t deserve his love because I am doubting mine. Sometimes I feel the urge to tell him I love him and I don’t know if it’s habit or if I really feel it, cos I can’t recognize the feeling anymore. Sometimes I look at him and I feel such a rush of affection and sadness because I hate what my brain has done to us, I remember how much love and connection we shared and now I cannot access that feeling anymore and it’s been so long I am so afraid that it is lost forever. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know if therapy is supposed to take this long to work, and I don’t know if this is anxiety or if I maybe love him but am not in love with him anymore. I keep reading thousands of articles to find answers (therapist says it’s a compulsion), and the more I go on the more I convince myself it’s all real. Please help me – I don’t know what to do.January 22, 2020 at 6:37 am #334508
I love how he moves to London and quickly decides it’s not his place. Well, what if Rome isn’t your place?
Also, you have been seeing this guy for over a decade. Do you want marriage? Children? It’s time to get real about if that’s what you ultimately want.
Instead of blaming your brain and trying to rewire your hard drive which may be telling YOU that this is WRONG…
What I would do is take a break from him and fly back to London. Be back home for a month. You will have more clarity.
I would rather be a girlfriend that flies to Italy every month or so to meet her lover than have panic attacks in Rome over some guy who may or may not be my future husband.
But that’s just me.
InkyJanuary 22, 2020 at 9:39 am #334532
Reads to me that the fantasy you built regarding this relationship (“every moment spent together was so perfect, our bond so strong.. we were absolutely perfect, nothing could ever go wrong with us”) was about experiencing the opposite of your childhood experience.
The more distressing a child’s reality, the more fantastic is her imaginings of a future reality.
Your intrusive thoughts: “what if I don’t love him anymore”, imagine a child wondering: what if my mother doesn’t love me, and this is why she is saying these hurtful things to me, or maybe she doesn’t love me and that is why she is nice to those other people, but not to me. Scary thoughts. What if what is happening with you now is a reactivation of such thoughts with a twist: what if I don’t love him?
When you finally moved in with him after a mostly long distance relationship, your reaction was: “I had the worst panic attack I had ever experienced in my life.. everything was a lie.. I started vomiting, trembling, hyperventilating for hours”- maybe it is an activation of your experience as a child, the fear of being stuck in a home where everything was indeed a lie.
Your therapist suggested that “the source of these thoughts.. are linked to a feeling of disappointment (reality vs. fantasy)”, reads to me that the source of these thoughts and anxiety is fear, not disappointment, a re-activation of a fear-filled childhood experience.
When we look back as adults at our childhood, and we don’t remember extreme abuse of the horror movies kind or something to match abuse stories we heard others have experienced, we don’t think that we were really afraid. But it doesn’t take that much to scare a child. For a child, to be alone is very scary, to feel scared for any reason but not have anyone to hold the child and comfort her, that is very scary. For a child, to be alone, unseen or unheard, day after day, month after month, year after year, that is enough to cause chronic anxiety.
I wonder if you discussed your childhood with your therapist?
anitaJanuary 24, 2020 at 1:41 am #334822
Thank you for such a thoughtful response. Yes, I did indeed talk about my childhood in therapy, and there is definitely a connection between how I felt towards my boyfriend and the relationship with my parents. They are loving parents and show much loads of affection, but they are also incredibly controlling and they asked a lot from me. I had to be perfect to be deserving of their attention and admiration. If I took A- minus in a test, they would ask ‘why not A?’. My mom sometimes would even tear my homework apart if it wasn’t perfect. She would yell at me for taking a B. I also had loads of extracurricular activities which I had to do to be perfect, like private lessons and volunteer work etc. It felt like I was never enough, and I carried that feeling in my relationship. My boyfriend was the only one in my life who would make me feel like I was accepted for who I am and not for what I do and how I do it. So I guess I put him on a pedestal because I always felt like he ‘saved’ me. But then again something inside of me always thought that I wasn’t deserving of his love and trust and admiration. He is so proud of me and it makes me feel almost uncomfortable. I think the physical distance between us protected me from those feelings of discomfort, but the truth is that I do not know how to fully receive and give unconditional love, because it always felt like love was something that I needed to earn. Maybe moving to Rome was the ultimate sacrifice in this sense, and now I feel like I don’t have anything more to give and don’t know how to deal with receiving love when I am not in the position to give it back at the moment.
To Inky: thank you for your input. I just want to say that London is not ‘home’ to me. I am Italian and I lived in London for three years. I loved it, and I was hearbroken when I had to leave, but I am not sure London would have been the place I would have spent my life in anyway, even if I was single. It was lonely and expensive. But I did love the culture, the theatre, and I had a bunch of friends that I miss. My boyfriend doesn’t speak perfect English so he felt isolated when he came for those six months, and his own issues (insicurities, fear of being a failure) were brought up. And it’s not just ‘some guy’ – I am profoundly committed to him. Otherwise I would have left during this hell of a year. Before the obsessive thoughts started, all I wanted to do was to marry him. We talked about it multiple times. Now I don’t feel I am in a position to take major decisions so all of it is kind of on hold. But I still picture having children with him some day. For some reason, it’s easier for me at this time to imagine having kids with him than to marry him – maybe because the wedding is so charged with ideals of being perfectly in love and doubtless and being at the centre of attention for an entire day and being unquestionably happy and I don’t think I can do that at the moment.January 24, 2020 at 7:05 am #334610
Beautifully written, Narsil. So much of what you describe is me, halfway around the world. Realize that everything I’ve written below might possibly be the blind leading the blind, so take it with a grain of salt k?
To me, what you’re describing doesn’t automatically translate to “leave Rome and boyfriend.”
First thought was that some of your conflict with your boyfriend might be differences in personality. I was inspired to suggest you search “Frank James INFJ” on YouTube. His videos have been super helpful doses of reality/objectivity for me. Maybe you’re an INFJ type? In case you’re not already waaay past this, you can take a personality test online. I’ve been reading a ton too, mainly about Myers-Briggs functions (Ni, Fe, Ti, Se) and it’s helping me understand myself and my husband in a whole new light. From what you’ve written, it sounds like you’ve spent years defining yourself based on your ideas around your relationship. This is apparently common for INFJs, I just learned from the FJ videos. He explains why, too. Old habits take time and work to change, but you’re clearly willing to put in the work. I also learned a lot about compassionate boundary-setting from a Canadian child & family therapist named Jennifer Kolari.
A potential plan of action follows. Not prescriptive…just bouncing ideas. You’ll know if anything is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ for you:
(1) As soon as possible, get out of your head and start trying things in the Real World. What can you do that will make you feel helpful, valuable and worthwhile in a way that lights you up? Volunteering a couple hours a week. Or find a career where the organization’s goal is meaningful, you like who you work with, and you’re making enough money to live the way you want. (2) Do more things that get you out of your head and into your body: meditation, sports, hiking, horseback riding, working out, yoga, etc. (3) Give it time to build a new you. If you have the resources and think it would be helpful, get your own place or move into a separate room that’s 100% yours—if you need alone time, hopefully he’ll understand that creating a new pattern is easier with a supportive environment. It’s not punishment, it’s to help you find wholeness. One of my close friends says separate bedrooms saved her marriage. (4) Identify and set your boundaries: enough alone time, enough quality time together, family members, kids, sleep, gifts, etc. Define what you absolutely must have, then enforce your boundaries with compassion. (5) Okay, he can’t live in London, but can he do couples counseling? It sounds like he wants to learn how to be supportive and do things that light you up, but he might need an actionable, reality-based blueprint, e.g., “when I [you] do X for you [him], it would mean a lot to me to receive Y.” (Fill in examples of your and his love languages.) Especially because of his career, he’s capable of sharing in the emotional labor of communication; it’s not all on you. Bring him into the process now that you’re more aware of what you’ve been bringing to the table. (PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK WOMAN, BECAUSE THAT’S HUGE!!! More than most! You make the world a better place by owning your stuff and addressing it, and I love and appreciate you for it.) (6) You’ve tried 1–5 with unsatisfying results: follow Inky’s advice.
Hope that helps. I know you are amazing, and so is your boyfriend!
This is all new awareness and ideas. Would love to hear feedback if anything doesn’t make sense to you, because it might help me get a better hold on my situation.
I’ve been married to a kind, intelligent, playful man for 15 years. I’d describe myself as a multi-talented people pleaser (in recovery). I have slowly melted my identity into his, even including my job…a supportive role in our 2-person business. For his well-intentioned reasons, I also allowed our current lifestyle—basically his dream life and the opposite of how I thrive—because I haven’t been solid on what I need, let alone how to stand up for it. This isn’t my husband’s fault; I’ve been re-creating my parents’ ultra gender-role dynamic instead of changing my environment or how I communicate. I’m in the process of making adjustments. I too am reading exhaustively and working with a therapist. I’m trying my best to stay in an exercise routine. I’m house-sitting for vacationing relatives, solo, for another month or so. He and I are talking. It’s kind of a mess, but also I’m excited for what will sprout from all this sh^t. 😉January 24, 2020 at 8:04 am #334862
I will combine and retell your story (two posts), and offer you my thoughts and advice:
When you were a child, at times your parents were very affectionate, but at other times they were abusive to you: yelling at you (“She would yell at me for taking a B”), physically destroying your property (“tear my homework apart”), and they harassed you emotionally by pressuring you repeatedly to be what no child can be: perfectly perfect- not only at school (“If I took an A- in a test, they would ask ‘why not A?’…tear my homework apart if it wasn’t perfect”), but also outside of school (“I also had loads of extracurricular activities which I had to do to be perfect”).
They pressured a child to be perfectly perfect while not bothering to correct their gross imperfections as parents. A perfect parent wouldn’t yell at their child for any reason, nor will a perfect parent tear her child’s homework for any reason. A perfect parent is not aggressive.
“They are loving parents and show loads of affection”- it so happens that all that affection does not make up for aggression. Aggression scares a child and affection in between aggressive behavior does not delete the fear.
Your fantasy regarding your future time with your boyfriend being perfect (“every moment spent together was so perfect.. I thought we were absolutely perfect”) was as unrealistic as your parents’ expectation that you get an A in every test, the perfect score. But this fantasy was a place in your mind where you found comfort at the thought that at some time in the future, when the two of you will unite, then you will finally experience calm, contentment, peace of mind and heart.
Then he spent six months with you in London and it wasn’t perfect; you moved to Rome and it never was perfect, still isn’t. Far from perfect. The very day you moved in with him, you had “the worst panic attack I had ever experienced in my life”, you wrote. It was the day when Fantasy met Reality.
Fantasy: when our childhood experience was troubled and scary, and we keep experiencing anxiety as adults, a change in our adult life circumstances will take away the anxiety and we will live happily ever after.
Reality: when our childhood was troubled and scary, we keep re-experiencing it until we heal (a long, long process). Our emotional experience as adults has a whole lot more to do with our emotional experience as children than it has to do with new circumstances and new people in our adult lives.
“I want to stress my boyfriend did nothing to encourage this kind of behavior, on the contrary he always told me I had to think more about myself and my life and what I wanted”- you needed to hear his words from your parents when you were a child. But they said different words, so their words stuck. A child’s brain is ready for her parents’ words, once their words are in a child’s brain, they are there to stay no matter what anyone tells us as adults.
Even if our own disapproving parents tell us something different when we are adults than they did when we were children, it makes no difference. (What our brain accepts as true is time sensitive).
“I still have obsessive thoughts every day, which analyze every single aspect of my relationship and my boyfriend: I focus obsessively on his flaws… all I could do was thinking that I had to leave”-
– this is what you experienced as a child, you wanted to leave, but it was unthinkable, where would a child leave to. So the child wants to leave but doesn’t think it, feeling it without the words. So you want to leave your home with your boyfriend in the same way you wanted to leave your home with your parents. Only now you have words, so you obsess using words, lots of thoughts using lots of words.
“I have lost interest in my job and in all the things I used to love. I feel useless and like a failure”= a re-experiencing of lots of your childhood experience, isn’t it (if you substitute school and extracurricular activities for the word job)?
1. Seek psychotherapy so to address your childhood experience, see your parents as they were, peel of the fantasy that they were loving, and adopt the reality that they were aggressive. Express the fear and sadness of the child that you were, in that home.
2. I assume that you are in contact with your parents, limit it significantly for the duration of your therapy.
* I am wondering, do your parents approve of your boyfriend, is he A in their minds, or an A-?
anitaJanuary 27, 2020 at 5:03 am #335278
I have been working A LOT on growing faith in myself, and I have made some steps forward:
-I have joined a photography class, and trying to build my self-esteem through creativity. I have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test and am a ENFP, but aside confirming some sides of me I maybe was only partially aware of, it didn’t really change my course of action much. I know I need to work on strenghtening myself.
– I am now able to do my own thing (go out with friends or just read a book etc) regardless of what my partner is doing. Before I would always worry or feel guilty if I left him alone in the house or if we did separate things when we were together. I felt like every moment was meant to be spent with him at all costs. I dependend on him so much emotionally that I would not be able to decide what I wanted to watch on tv without asking him what he wanted. He has always encouraged me to be more independent and I used to take this as if he was ‘pushing me away’. So weird realising now he was trying to help me all along. But I needed to see the issue with my own eyes. Now I am feeling more connected to myself, at least a bit. I can argue with him and feel like I’m right and he’s wrong (instead of automatically thinking he is probably right and i should apologize). But all this makes me feel uneasy because a voice inside me tells me that all these things are happening because I don’t love him anymore.
-I confronted my parents about the past and made them understand what they did was not okay. Since then, they have completely changed their behaviour: they are extremely encouraging now (probably overcompensating). But I don’t see them often as we live in different cities so the interaction is rare.
– I find myself now seeing all of my partner’s flaws, and I feel like I don’t really enjoy his company anymore – it’s like my love for him was based on a huge inferiority complex (he was a hero and I was worthless and so lucky to have him in my life that I needed to do all in my power to keep him), and now that I am feeling a bit more secure, now he is inferior, he is not worth it. I am projecting everything that I used to feel about myself on him. And often I feel I should just leave. But when I am not under deep anxiety, and I connect with myself, I so deeply want things to work between us… Because i have invested so much in this relationship that I can’t give up. And he loves me in such a serene, authentic and safe way. And he is my best friend. And I don’t want to hurt him or make him feel like he is not worth it. Because he should be worth it. He is so wise and mature and steady and generous and calm and understanding and patient and just giving. Even if I don’t feel ‘in love’ anymore. Is this relationship worth saving? And if so how do I do that?January 27, 2020 at 5:07 am #335280
For Anita: about my parents and my boyfriend, it’s a funny thing. My mom thinks he’s probably a B, and has judged him SO MUCH about the London thing (and I had to defend him over and over even if I was secretly heart-broken about the London thing, but I had to protect him anyway from her judgement). My dad really likes him. But in that dynamic I described, it was really my mom who did all the judging and pressuring and asking for ‘excellence’. My dad has always been much more relaxed about things.January 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm #335374
You described making healthy changes in how you function within the relationship with your boyfriend, such as no longer automatically assuming he is right and apologizing, “But all this makes me feel uneasy”- it is natural to feel uneasy when we change our behavior, even when the changes are healthy. It is uncomfortable to stop operating one way and start operating in a different way.
“it’s like my love for him was based on a huge inferiority complex (he was a hero and I was worthless.. ), and now that I am feeling a bit more secure, now he is inferior, he is not worth it.. and often I feel I should just leave”-
-the significant changes that are happening in how you view yourself and others are very unsettling. It is like a storm happening in the brain: what was up is now down, what was down is now up and items are out of place- we get confused.
If you did suffer a storm, the thing to do is.. to do nothing until the wind stops and the all the items that moved around in the wind settle down where they settle, and the dust settles too so that you can see what is in front of you, no longer blinded by the dust.
“he is my best friend.. He is so wise and mature and steady and generous and calm and understanding and patient and just giving” – then ask your best friend to generously give you a break: the time and the place you need to let the dust settle. If you can’t have this break while living with him, then move elsewhere, maybe back to London to have the break that you need.
What do you think?
anitaJanuary 28, 2020 at 7:48 am #335486
He is being 100% cooperative, he even told me that we can just be roommates for however long I feel like this is the only thing I can commit to. But everytime he makes me laugh or I feel tenderness or affection towards him (we haven’t had sex lately but we are still intimate, we hug and kiss a lot), everytime I feel warmth something in my head snaps and i feel like I need to get out. It’s so frustrating. I don’t want to leave…
But I am thinking of taking a solo trip of a few days just to strengthen my independence.January 28, 2020 at 8:39 am #335490
You wrote in your recent post: “every time he makes me laugh or I feel tenderness or affection towards him.. every time I feel warmth something in my head snaps and I feel like I need to get out”. This is why and how this is happening to you according to my best understanding:
As a child you felt great affection, tenderness and warmth toward your mother, and sometimes she expressed the same to you, but sometimes she hated you and that hate hurt so much because it hit you were you were tender. It is a horrible experience for a child, a most horrific kind of surprise when expecting affection and receiving hate instead.
When your mother yelled at you and tore your homework, those were acts of hate. It is very difficult for a child of any age to think of her mother as hateful. So I will clarify: I am no saying that she was 100% or even 50% hateful. I am saying that the amount of hateful behavior on her part against you, was more than you were able to handle.
When you remember your mother yelling at you, tearing your homework, harassing you to get perfect grades and perform perfectly in extracurricular activities and so on, you probably don’t feel much, the memories feel neutral, not scary, aren’t they?
This is so because children disassociate- they repress and burry the fear best they can so to keep going. It is impossible for a child to be overwhelmed with fear and to perform the tasks in front of her: getting dressed, going to school, etc. So the child removes the majority of her fear from her awareness.
This is how much fear you experienced as a child before you removed that fear from your awareness aka disassociated: “panic… vomiting, trembling, hyperventilating for hours”. This is the fear of your childhood, repressed and then erupting once you moved in with him in Rome, the move in with him being the activating event.
Although you don’t feel the fear to that great extent now, as when you did the day you moved in with him, it still exists and it is significant, leading you to focus on his flaws, question your love for him… take away the feeling of love, and wanting to leave him. This is not about who he is and how he behaves with you (from what you have shared); it is all an activation of your childhood fear.
Back to the quote of what you shared in your most recent post: “every time he makes me laugh or I feel tenderness or affection towards him.. every time I feel warmth something in my head snaps and I feel like I need to get out”-
– as a child you experienced a mixture of warmth and fear, the two were connected. Fast forward, you feel warmth toward your partner, and soon after, if not at the same time, you feel fear too. Sometimes you feel only fear and no warmth.
The two are connected: warmth and fear.
When he makes you laugh, you relax for a moment but then your brain remembers that hate is next, some act of aggression and harassment is next, so the laughter turns to fear.
“something in my head snaps“- the connection is made between warmth and fear, relaxation and danger.
There are other things going on, but what I wrote here is the core of what is happening, according to my best understanding.
anitaFebruary 1, 2020 at 8:24 am #336198
Hi again Narsil,
Okay, my next question is, do you have a very deep and personal career or other life interest that you haven’t yet pursued? A creative urge that’s been developing inside of you, but you don’t know how to get started or if it’s even feasible? That’s another reason you may not feel ready to settle down with a guy. If this is true for you, the anxiety could be your inner being trying to get the attention of your conscious mind. Imagine yourself smoothing things out with the boyfriend and getting going on your life’s purpose! He will wait, and be supportive, if he’s the right one for you.
The best way to find out if your feelings are authentic or not is to give yourself time and space. And maybe try a new therapist. If they give you the same feedback, that’s further confirmation.
What do your closest friends think? Is there consensus or at least a majority?February 13, 2020 at 11:07 pm #338152
Narsil, I have come a long way on my journey since last posting. Here is a website that might be helpful: http://coda.org/index.cfm/meeting-materials1/patterns-and-characteristics-2011/
Also search for a podcast called “Beyond Bitchy: Mastering the Art of Boundaries.”
Love and good wishes, Sister.