HOW WE SABOTAGE LOVE
By Maryam Ghouth, Life Coach
Much like an addiction, love can be seen as both euphoric and paralyzing. We so desperately want it but so terribly fear the consequences of sharing our hearts with another.
As Jason Silva, filmmaker and creator of the series Shots of Awe, said: “Love and sadness exist in the same space… it’s already happening and you’re already mourning the fact that it will end… this intertwining of melancholy, of loss, is literally embedded in the experience of rapture. It’s what is so unique and mesmerizing about love but is also what makes it so tragic.”
Love is daunting no matter how you look at it. But what happens when some of our fears are based on past experiences that have tainted our view of ourselves, love and relationships?
Some of us can rise to the challenge by reevaluating old beliefs that trigger those fears and adopting healthy thinking and behavioral strategies to manage them. But many of us battle with it, causing us to sabotage one of the greatest experiences of all time – being in love – and this is how.
“What if your partner does appreciate you and isn’t constantly criticizing you but rather your defense mechanisms or negative beliefs about yourself are causing you to be hypersensitive and reactive to their feedback? What if you’re making yourself dislike your partner in order to keep a safe distance in fear of getting hurt? What if you’re projecting your own lack of appreciation for your partner out of guilt and shame? What if you’re looking for excuses to justify your failure in fulfilling your partner’s needs rather than dealing with them?”
WHAT WE BELIEVE
Our beliefs provide an unconscious lens through which we view our world. When our beliefs are inaccurate or dysfunctional, we can misinterpret the intentions and behaviours of those we love.
There are many examples of dysfunctional beliefs that impair our perceptions. I really like the way Dr. Bridgett Ross, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and owner of Ross Psychology categorized them so I’ve summarized and shared them below:
Defectiveness: Beliefs about defectiveness reflect a general sense that one is inherently flawed, incompetent or inferior.
Examples: I am boring.
Unlovable: Those who uphold beliefs about being unlovable often make assumptions about the extent to which they belong and question whether they deserve love or can be loved.
Example: I am bound to be rejected.
Abandonment: Abandonment and unlovable core beliefs can often be related or seen as one and the same. Individuals who maintain core beliefs rooted in abandonment often assume they will lose anyone to whom they form an emotional attachment.
Example: People I love will leave me.
Helplessness/Powerlessness: Helplessness or powerlessness beliefs generally result in people assuming they lack control and cannot handle anything effectively or independently.
Example: I can’t control myself.
Entitlement: Those who maintain an entitlement core belief assume they are superior and deserve a lot of attention or praise. Often times, people develop an entitlement core belief to compensate for feeling defective or socially undesirable.
Example: If people don’t respect me, I can’t stand it.
Care-taking/Responsibility/Self-Sacrifice: Dr. Bridgett Ross suggests that care-taking, responsibility and self-sacrifice could be separated into independent categories but they reflect similar beliefs and can be addressed as a group. Such individuals often feel guilty and believe they are responsible for the happiness of others.
Example: I am the reason they are unhappy.
While much empathy can be given to the source of these beliefs, the way in which we respond to them makes a huge difference to how we experience love. This is where our thinking styles can either heighten or lighten a belief.
© Alegría Pictures
WHAT WE THINK
Unhelpful thinking styles are patterns or processes of thinking built on automatic habitual patterns that we develop over a lifetime. When they’re maladaptive, the resulting assessment of situations will be correspondingly distorted, prejudiced or biased. In contrast, dysfunctional beliefs have to do with the actual content of thinking itself. To use an analogy, imagine your belief is an egg and how you cook it is the thinking style i.e. frying, scrambling, boiling or poaching.
Here is an example of how unhelpful core beliefs and thinking styles can worsen a situation:
Once upon a time, you learned to believe that you are not that interesting and that whoever enters a relationship with you, will inevitably get bored of you – this is a dysfunctional belief.
If the way in which you process that belief is to then seek evidence to confirm it, conclude it, embellish it, be on hyper alert for any signs that suggest it or be suspicious of people’s interest in you, your unhelpful belief will be compounded.
Examples of unhelpful thinking habits may include:
Drawing conclusions on the basis of insufficient, irrelevant evidence or a single event, overgeneralizing, should’ing and must’ing, focusing on a single aspect of a situation and ignoring other aspects, exaggerating the importance of undesirable events or underplaying the significance of a positive event, attributing the negative feelings of others to yourself, black and white thinking, predicting, mind reading and ruminating.
Overall we can become negative fact finders, paying attention to anything that supports a dysfunctional belief and repelling anything that doesn’t.
WHAT WE DO
This is where it gets more interesting – what we believe and think can manifest in our behaviors, i.e. actions or inactions we adopt to safeguard us against getting hurt.
This may be an over simplified way of approaching the subject but I tend to see maladaptive behaviors as encompassing either a reactive or a withholding nature. It’s like the difference between throwing an apple pie in someone’s face versus keeping the apple pie to yourself and starving the other person.
Here is an example of how unhelpful core beliefs and thinking styles can manifest in behaviors:
If your core belief is that you are unlovable and you have a tendency to fixate on the negatives and ignore all positives, you may also doubt the intentions of your partners, question their motives, heavily criticize them in response to your own sense of inadequacy, disconnect in relationships and maintain superficial companionships to avoid the assumed pain that may arise if you get rejected.
Examples of reactive defense mechanisms may include:
Verbal and physical aggression, name calling and labelling, self-harm, picking fights, continuous heavy criticism, projection and blame.
Some are worse than others but many of these behaviors are common in relationships.
Examples of what we withhold may include:
Praise, affection, sex, quality time, moments of connection, our feelings and our presence or attention.
Many of these behaviors can be paired with reactive defense mechanisms such as blame, criticism, projection and mind reading to justify the reasons for withholding.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
“while partners play a role in how we feel, how we interpret events and what we think about ourselves play a crucial role in how we feel too. The key here is to take responsibility for your own sensitivities, recognize when you’re triggered and initiative self regulation to summon benevolent thoughts and to manage how you behave in response to them with your partner.”
We all come with our sensitivities and bad habits and have learned to associate all kinds of innocuous stimuli with danger. We therefore need to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance sometimes because we just can’t possibly work on every single defect we come with.
But if we are causing ourselves and the ones we love a lot of pain, it is worth doing something about it because there is no greater reason for change than love.
No matter what anyone says, relationships are integral to our existence and our behaviors will influence the way our partners feel no matter how confident they are.
If for example, you are constantly being criticized by your partner, you may feel inadequate or unappreciated.
But here’s the catch: What if your partner does appreciate you and isn’t constantly criticizing you but rather your defense mechanisms or negative beliefs about yourself are causing you to be hypersensitive and reactive to their feedback? What if you’re making yourself dislike your partner in order to keep a safe distance in fear of getting hurt? What if you’re projecting your own lack of appreciation for your partner out of guilt and shame? What if you’re looking for excuses to justify your failure in fulfilling your partner’s needs rather than dealing with them?
In other words, while partners play a role in how we feel, how we interpret events and what we think about ourselves play a crucial role in how we feel too. The key here is to take responsibility for your own sensitivities, recognize when you’re triggered and initiative self regulation to summon benevolent thoughts and to manage how you behave in response to them with your partner.
Honest communication is a humbling experience because you’re taking ownership no matter how outlandish your feelings may seem and you’re also alerting your partner to how their behaviour can be interpreted by you.
This will also help you figure out ways to work around your respective triggers. Some sensitivities are harder to resolve than others so you might need to come up with a mutually agreed strategy to mitigate them.
And if you’re at the receiving end of a hurtful behaviour whether it’s of a reactive or a withholding nature, pay attention to how you then react back because two wrongs don’t make it right.
If you’ve taken responsibility for your part, forgive yourself and don’t let it re-enforce any negative beliefs because we all without exception say and do the wrong thing.
Moreover, agree on what your unique relationship values are as a unit. What works in other relationships, may not work for you.
And finally, pick your battles and learn the difference between wants and deal breakers. While there are some obvious behaviours that can cause insecurity in a relationship such as dishonesty, deception, abuse and emotional or physical deprivation, there are many that we can turn a blind eye to.
“As Tim Urban, the legendary writer, illustrator and cofounder of the blog Wait But Why said: Although “there are many, many things we want from a relationship, our ability to be happy only depends on a small percentage of them.””
If the pen and paper accompany me, I will be found sketching portraits, writing poetry or writing articles on love, relationships and human behaviour. Expression and discovery are a great release for me. When the pen and paper are at rest, I enjoy being in nature, swimming, dancing, cooking or hosting dinners for loved ones.
Maryam is an ICF accredited Life Coach and a Neuro Linguistic Programming licensed practitioner based in Dubai. With 12 years of experience in a range of disciplines including intergroup conflict, Maryam offers bespoke coaching to help you exceed personal and professional goals by pushing past emotional and mental barriers. She refers to techniques based on core cognitive, psychological and NLP principals. Featured in several publications including Gulf Business, Maryam is a member of the International Coaching Federation, Life Coaching Directory, Society for Psychological Social Issues and Social Psychology Network. To learn more about her, please visit www.maryamghouth.com