September 29, 2010
In the last three months, I have been involved with two people that I have seriously liked for years. I have not been with these two people at the same time. Each time things begin to get intimate, I feel horriable about myself and push them away. I begin to aviod them and I do not return their phone calls. I really want to be able to have a good realtionship, but I can not seem to accept thier affection. I am so afraid that I will end up old and alone. I quess I have real intimacy issues. I would really like to speak with you if you have any advice or would just like to reply.
cicada i have exactly the same problem. i dont let anyone near me. its basically because i cant trust people. my mother never trusted me and i have low self-esteem due to her. parenting counts a lot. atleast i know why i am like i am.. well sort of.
i found some nice articles on the web, regarding people like u and me, who cant get intimate. it closely described me. it gave me insight and i knew why i was behaving how i did. hope it helps a little in uderstanding urself. after undertanding, we can get to healing, and that seems a bery big task, sometimes it seems impossible. all we can do is to keep trying.
how old are u? i'm 24. i had an affair with a girl and things happend with me which this person describes.
here u go:
Q1: My husband and I agreed several years ago that we would have an "open" relationship - we could see other people, no questions asked. But now I feel that this was a mistake. Any insights?
Q2: I love my wife very much. However, I fantasize about the "other" women in my life, such as my female friends and neighbors, and I'm concerned that I may have an affair with one of them. But rather than be deceitful, I'm considering asking my wife if we could have an "open" relationship that would allow us to see other people. Is this a bad idea?
A: Like a magician's trick, what is not being seen in these letters may be more important than what is being seen. Both letters ask about relationships that are valued - but it may actually be the case that these relationships are overvalued.
Often we want to hold on to relationships because we are frightened by the alternatives. A sickly bird in the hand feels better than one in the bush. In this case, looking elsewhere, whether through an "open" relationship or just a fantasy, is not the cause of trouble in the relationship but a clue that all is not well.
In addition, when sexual attraction breaks out from a truly committed relationship and runs loose, the question is not what it is running toward but what it is running from. In this situation, the looking elsewhere tends to be a life pattern often triggered by fear (of commitment, of being loved, of waking up with the same person every morning). Many people are reluctant to pay attention to their fears - and who can blame them? Fears point to our limitations and weaknesses. So, like a giant smoke screen, thoughts of being with other people seep out, soothing the fears and hiding weaknesses.
So what does it mean when a person wants an "open" relationship? Or when one is constantly fantasizing about forbidden affairs? The answer is a question: What can be avoided by thinking about sex with many people instead of one person? Here again we find a fear of being closed in. Both of these letters speak to an emotional claustrophobia. There are three likely culprits: the Anti-Spelunkers, the Stealths and the Donut People.
Anti-Spelunkers. The Anti-Spelunkers fear intimacy. The word intimacy comes from the Latin word intimatus, meaning innermost or deepest. Having depth in a relationship is like entering a cave in that you don't know what you're going to find - could be a bear, could be a pot of gold. Pursuing the discovery requires courage, and courage requires trusting yourself. But, you see, Anti-Spelunkers have been taught to not trust themselves. Along the way, they have received messages such as "You're no good" or "You can't succeed." Anti-Spelunkers have learned that no matter how much effort they give, it will never be enough.
Saddled with these negative messages, Anti-Spelunkers cannot garner the courage to venture into depths unknown. They have no hope of gold, only expectations of bears. So they turn back. But it is too psychologically damaging for the Anti-Spelunkers to call themselves "chicken." So the Anti-Spelunker says, "I don't want to go into this stupid cave anyway. I want to go over there." But there will be a cave over there, too. In each relationship, if the Anti-Spelunker sticks around too long, there will be the threat of intimacy, and every time there is a threat of intimacy, of depth, in a relationship, the Anti-Spelunker needs to move again and again and again. The problem is that, eventually, there is no place left to go.
Stealths. The Stealths feel that they are no good inside. They don't worry about what they will find; instead they worry that others will find them. Stealths have also learned negative messages along the way. Because Stealths do not value themselves, they fully expect that nobody else will be able to value them either. Like the Anti-Spelunkers, Stealths have lousy self-esteem. So as a nice, pleasant relationship is going along its merry way, a terrible thing happens: The other person starts to know the Stealth, and there is a threat that an unlovable inner self will be seen. The lights will be turned on so all of the Stealth's vulnerabilities,foibles, ineptitudes and inadequacies will be seen in living color.
If the partner really sees what the Stealth is like, he or she would leave and that would be way too painful, so the Stealth leaves (or at least strays) first. And, if the other person didn't leave, the Stealth wouldn't want to be with that person anyway because who could have such bad taste as to stick around after seeing their ugly inside? Like Groucho Marx, Stealths wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept them. Clearly, this situation must be avoided. So, ironically, Stealths "open" up close relationships in order to stay hidden. They might keep several other options available at all times, an escape hatch for when someone finally gets to know the real them. Afraid of being seen, they have someone else waiting in the wings. They try to be with many other people, keeping relationships superficial - er - sexy, making them literally skin deep. That way they maintain the illusion that nobody really sees them, and all the pain (supposedly) stays hidden.
Donut People. A Donut Person feels empty inside and uses sex to fill up the hole in the center of their being. They need the love and attention of others to feel complete, but their hole is actually a bottomless pit. No one relationship ever fills them up. Like a junkie, they need a stronger and stronger fix to mask the pain of not being whole. What seemed to be enough yesterday is not enough tomorrow. Donut People seek more exotic and, sometimes, dangerous experiences and relationships in their quest for more intense sensations. There is a hope that just the right intensity will fill them up, and, momentarily, that may be true. But, ultimately, it is never enough. So Donut People grab on to more and more Donut People, trying harder and harder to get stronger sensations. But one other person becomes six other people, and six other people become 60 other people and, still, the Donut Person is empty inside.
The answer for all of these people is to start realizing that external people, fantasies or sexual acts are not going to resolve an internal longing. If you love the person with whom you are involved but do not feel satisfied by them, then changing them or adding numbers will not help. Do you really think that Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain found in partner number 9,997 what he could not find in partner number 3. The focus must shift away from what you are running towards and, instead, you must pay attention to what you are running from. Slowing down a bit and paying attention to what you are really feeling beneath the fantasies and lust starts this process.
When you allow yourself to feel your emotions, there are always accompanying thoughts or memories. Emotions are like water, carrying remnants from the past, internal truths and fears about yourself. If you can stop running from your emotions you may find the reason that they were so hard to face in the first place. This is where the money is. Whatever is revealed is at least one of the elements lying beneath the uncomfortable attractions. This is the path that must be followed to become comfortable and satisfied in a relationship of just your partner and you.
Al Cooper, Ph.D., is clinical director of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre in San Jose, Calif., and training coordinator of counseling and psychological services at Stanford University's Cowell Student Health Center in Palo Alto, Calif.
NOTE: Reader questions are edited for length and clarity.
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