NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Are Your Fears of Being Alone and Lonely Keeping You in an Unhealthy Relationship?

Fear of being alone and fear of loneliness can very powerful emotions. When we make decisions, or fail to make decisions, based on fear of being alone, our emotions can cloud our judgment. Unfortunately, many people stay in unhealthy relationships because they're afraid to be alone. These same people often unconsciously choose unhealthy partners because they want someone who will be dependent on them and who won't leave them.

Are Your Fears of Being Alone Keeping You in an Unhealthy Relationship?

The following scenario is a fictionalized account of many similar accounts with all identifying information changed:

When Tom met Carol, he felt a strong instant attraction to her. Looking back on it years later, he realized that part of this attraction was that he saw her as a "damsel in distress" and himself as the "knight in shining armor" who could rescue her. Carol was attractive, smart and funny. They clicked immediately, and they began dating shortly after they met. Tom knew, even then, that their was something very familiar about Carol, but he wasn't sure at the time what it was.

Almost immediately, Carol revealed that she was living on the edge. She had a good job, but she didn't know how to manage her money. She was behind in her rent and her landlord was threatening to evict her. Her credit card bills were piling up, but she always had a new outfit. In short, her life was a mess, but Tom was sure he could help her.

Within six months, Tom convinced Carol to move in with him. At first, they were both very happy. Tom began managing Carol's money and paying off her bills. When her creditors wouldn't extend her any more credit, Tom placed her name on his credit cards. When she decided to start her own consulting company, he encouraged her to quit her job and he financed her business. He took care of the financial responsibilities so she could focus on the creative aspects of her business.

But after a while, it became evident that Carol wasn't working on her business. Instead, while Tom took on extra projects at work to help support them and finance her business, Carol spent most of her time on the Internet instead of working on her business. She was easily distracted and had many excuses for not doing work, which began to annoy Tom.

He tried very hard to get Carol to focus on her business. He even started networking among his friends and colleagues to try to drum up new business, which he was successful in doing. He hoped that by showing Carol that these efforts produced results, she would become motivated herself. But although she appreciated his help, she continued to make excuses for not making more of an effort. Worse still, Tom's colleagues began complaining to him that Carol wasn't following through on their projects.

After a while, Tom felt that he was making all the effort to support them, keep their apartment tidy, and advance Carol's business, and she was making almost no effort. He felt resentful and angry. They began to argue. Then, in exasperation, Tom suggested that they seek professional help, but Carol refused to go. So, Tom went on his own.

It didn't take long for Tom and his therapist to draw parallels between his relationship with Carol and his earlier relationship with his mother, who was a severe alcoholic and nearly always in crisis. At a young age, Tom took on many adult responsibilities, especially after his father left the family.

By the time he was a teenager, his mother was almost completely dependent on him. It was not unusual for Tom to help his mother walk home from the bar, help her to get into bed, and then cook and tend to his younger siblings.

Tom's biggest fear back then was that something bad would happen to his mother, something that, even with all his efforts, he couldn't prevent. Given the severity of his mother's drinking, this wasn't an irrational fear.

Somehow, through Herculean efforts, he managed to take care of his mother and younger siblings, work part time and get good grades in high school. He was often exhausted, but he was determined to do whatever he could to rescue his mother and his brothers and sisters.

Shortly after he graduated college, his mother got into a fatal car accident while she was in a drunken stupor. In the past, Tom had always managed to hide the car keys from his mother. But on this particular day, he forgot and left them in plain sight. After he left the house, his mother found the keys, went out for a drive alone and crashed the car into a pole.

For years after that, Tom blamed himself with many "if onlys." His worse fear came true and he felt he didn't do enough to prevent it.

When he began dating, he tended to choose women who "needed" him. These relationships usually ended in a lot of emotional pain and frustration, and he usually blamed himself for not doing enough. He hated being alone, and he'd usually get involved again fairly soon to avoid feelings of loneliness.

Now that he was in therapy, Bob had to confront his fear of being abandoned and the codependent dynamic in his relationship with Carol. He began attending Al-Anon for additional support. And he and Carol started couples therapy.

With much hard work, both individually and as a couple, they changed the dynamic in their relationship. Carol took on more responsibilities, and Bob learned how not to over-function for Carol. Over time, he also worked through his childhood trauma and his fear of being abandoned.

Fear of abandonment can bring about many unwanted consequences in relationships. Many codependent relationships are based on fear of abandonment.

Getting Help
If you suspect that you might be suffering from fear of abandonment, you owe it to yourself to get professional help.

Getting help from a licensed mental health professional, who specializes in working with trauma, can free you from your fears.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. I work with individual adults and couples.

I've helped many individuals and couples overcome their fear of abandonment so they could lead fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.