NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

An Emotional Dilemma in a Relationship: Wanting and Dreading Love

Many people, who have experienced childhood trauma, come to therapy because they feel stuck and confused when it comes to romantic relationships.  They often feel highly ambivalent about the possibility of having an intimate connection to another person.  

An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love

On the one hand, they might be very lonely and long for someone who would love them and that they could love.  On the other hand, they might also feel extremely frightened of allowing themselves to be that emotionally vulnerable.  And therein lies the dilemma.

Early Attachment Problems Can Cause Problems in Relationships Later On
Usually, people who go back and forth between wanting and dreading a deep emotional connection experienced emotional attachment problems with one or both parents or caregivers.  Based on infant research, we now know how important early attachment is to having a healthy emotional life and being able to form intimate attachments with others.

When parents are either emotionally unreliable, neglectful, abusive, depressed, or emotionally unattuned to their young children, these children are more apt to grow up feeling emotionally insecure and vulnerable about forming relationships.  It's hard for them to trust.  They're very afraid of getting hurt or being emotionally abandoned again.  As a result, although they might feel very isolated and lonely, it's often difficult to allow themselves to open up emotionally to others.

An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love

Fear of Opening Up in Therapy
Often, people who struggle between wanting and dreading an intimate connection find it difficult to come to therapy to get help for this issue.  Coming to therapy means opening up and taking a risk with a therapist, which means allowing themselves to be vulnerable.  How do they know they can trust the therapist when they couldn't trust their own parents?  It's a dilemma.

For many people who somewhat overcome their fear to come to therapy, at least enough to come to a first session, their experience is often one of being hypervigilant--waiting to see if there are any signs that the therapist will betray or hurt them in some way.

A skilled clinician, who has worked with clients on developmental attachment problems, will know not to take it personally.  She would know that she must take her time to help the client to form a therapeutic alliance over time to build a rapport and trust.

Many clients, who suffer with developmental attachment issues, find it difficult to sustain treatment, and they leave after a few sessions.  Often, they give another "reason" for leaving therapy--money or time issues, never revealing that it's their dread of opening up that's making them want to flee from treatment.

For clients who can sustain treatment with therapists who have expertise in working with attachment issues, if they can allow themselves to build a rapport and trust with the an empathetic therapist, over time, they can also learn to form trusting and loving relationships outside of treatment.

This is the kind of therapeutic work that takes time.  A client, who has a fear of getting close to others, can't be rushed into overcoming his or her fear.  Each client is different and, if there is progress in treatment, it will probably be a process where it is two steps forward and one step backward due to the high level of ambivalence and fear.  There is also usually a lot of underlying shame of feeling "not good enough" or "not lovable."

Getting Help in Therapy

Wanting and Dreading Love:  Feeling Lost?  Get Help

My experience has been that using a combination of Somatic Experiencing, psychodynamic psychotherapy, resourcing (i.e., helping the client to develop better coping skills and an increased capacity to tolerate vulnerability) along with an expertise in developmental attachment issues, is often the most effective way to help clients to overcome the dilemma of longing for love and dreading it at the same time.

About Me:
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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