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  • Hello there!

    I’v been in recovery for a few years now, and I finally began dating recently. I’m finding myself extremely fearful of the idea of marriage and I’m wondering if you are able to give me some practical tips to work on throughout the day to decrease this fear.

    Some of what I fear includes feeling trapped and stuck once I decide to marry. I fear losing my freedom and losing myself. The idea of commitment scares me. Also, naturally when your date shows readiness to move on- it brings a certain feeling of them approving of you. And since I’v been working so much on having my internal self as support, being my own best judge about myself, and giving less power over to approval from others, I fear that once I allow myself to enjoy that someone likes me- it will trigger the part that feels a need to for approval, and I will feel the old pressure of needing to meet a certain standard – for the other. I want to feel the same independence, and I want to redefine the idea of marriage in my brain, without it including the idea of being trapped, as I really like the person I am dating, and I want to move forward.

    I have a therapist who I’m working with on the deeper things, but I would like some more hands-on practical ideas to speeden up the shift in my brain about marriage.

    Any practical tips, and cognitive exercises would be greatly appreciated!! Thank you!

     

    Dear grateful2bemotivated,

    What a great post, because not only are you really clear about what you’re struggling with and what you want for your future,  you know that the way out of this is both to use deep healing methods and some practical, user-friendly, daily exercises to change the programming of your brain. As you’ll see below, expressing your fears is a wonderful step in undoing this attachment style.

    Bravo!

    So here’s the thing: let’s name what’s going on, so, as Deb Dana says in her Polyvagal work, your nervous system can understand what’s happening and more importantly, WHY it’s happening.

    What you are describing is normally known as an attachment pattern called “Avoidant Attachment”. What is that?

    Each of us go through a range of positive and negative emotions daily, especially when it comes to relationships. Even if they’re healthy, or if they are slightly struggling, relationships can feel like roller coasters.  You know what I mean….like there can be that exciting lurch in your stomach or butterflies…..and then there can be emotional overwhelm and it may feel like the roller coaster has lost control and is careening down the path….

    The purpose of emotions is for us to have a compass to guide us towards the right choices for us in life. When emotions become overwhelming, it’s up to us to self regulate. However……our attachment styles will influence our ability to do so.

    For example, let’s say someone with a secure attachment style gets triggered by their spouse. A securely attached person will probably gravitate towards doing the following:

    a. Talk to their spouse about what they’re feeling

    b. Write down what they think and feel

    c. Try meditation, therapy, or exercise

    d. Be aware of their thoughts and feelings and hold awareness that they’ve been triggered

    e. Remove themselves from an emotional situation until they feel more secure inside themselves

     

    People with a more insecure, or avoidant attachment style, may do the following when triggered:

    a. Consistently focus their attention away from their emotions, by using repression or denial (different than DBT skill of soothing)

    b. Move away from support, instead of towards it

    c. Sulk or complain instead of asking directly for support

    d. Use pre-emotive strategies, like break up with their partner, rather than cope with their feelings.

     

    None of this means they don’t love their spouse. It’s just as a child, they were taught that expressing their emotions is a bad thing, so they respond to triggering circumstances by pulling away or retreating. This is incredibly frustrating for both partners.

    What are some practical tips for people with avoidant attachment style to self-regulate and keep close to those they care about?

    1. Take personal space when you need it. And if you feel like an argument is coming, you could say something like, “I feel like I’m getting __________. Can we take a break for a few minutes/take a quick walk to clear my head and talk about things after that?”

    Or

    I’m grateful to you that you want to hear what I have to say. I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I will talk about it as soon as I’m ready.

    2. Open your communication so your spouse knows that you can talk about your feelings. People with avoidant attachment have two big fears: expressing strong emotions and seeming to be out of control. Practice saying your emotions when you feel them so that you can build tolerance for expressing big emotions when they come up.

    3. Challenge your inner critic (negative automatic thoughts) that may say “ he/she won’t care about me if I say my feelings. They’ll just disappoint me ……”

    4. Using therapy as a way to practice these new skills.

    I wish you tremendous hatzlacha in your journey. Please know that the work is hard but the rewards are immeasurable! Follow me on @the_healing_specialist if you’d like more tips on working with attachment trauma.

    Best wishes,

    Zipa Leah Scheinberg

     

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    Dana Rosenberg
    Participant

    Hello,

    It was very touching to read your post. The combination of self-awareness, expressiveness and vulnerability is incredible.

    You mentioned a number of different points which I’d like to address. I’m hearing about two main fears of marriage if I understood correctly. One is the fear of feeling trapped, and the other about emotionally losing yourself to your spouse.

    Normal, healthy and even average marriages bring tremendous satisfaction to the people in it. A lifelong commitment understandably is very frightening, but once you take the leap you’ll see that it with comes many positive things- including loyalty, dedication, love and deep caring.

    As for losing yourself to someone else’s approval-it is normal for this to happen on some level in this type of dynamic. What you do want to ensure-and this is where a great therapist comes in-is that it is on a normal level. If you sense that indeed it is taking you over, calmly step back and refresh yourself with the tools you’ve been using until now. You did the work already which means that 100% you can go back to it and use it at this time.

    Other points to keep in mind:

    -Constantly check in with yourself that your thoughts, feelings, and ‘instincts’ are aligned regarding this potential life partner. For example, you seem to like him-but did you research properly to find out about his personality, background etc? Or perhaps you feel something is ‘off’ but can’t quite pinpoint what it is?

    -Take your fears in stride. Fears are essentially thoughts. Here’s a quick and easy exercise: when you feel a fear overtaking you try to bottle in up into a confined ‘space’ and hold it in front of you. This helps you detach from fear and not let it control you. Once you do that you can address it from a more rational place.

    And one more point: On a more general level there are different personality types in the world-each with their own wiring. Some definitely struggle with more anxiety and feelings than others-independent of more intense recovery that you mentioned. From the little that you shared, it is possible that you are one of those types. Insecurity, fear of losing independence or freedom, and a need to feel connected and understood are some of the deeper motivations of these people-and all of this can be worked on.

    Wishing you best of luck, and keep us posted with good news!

    Dana Rosenberg

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