NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Overcoming the Fear of Falling In Love and Getting Hurt Again

I see many clients who have had their hearts broken in prior relationships and who fear falling in love and getting hurt again.

Overcoming the Fear of Falling in Love and Getting Hurt Again

An article that I read in the New York Times Modern Love section called:  "Fear of Surrendering Again: Ready In Case the Other Shoe Drops" by Julia Anne Miller is a good example of how people often fear getting hurt again in a new relationship (see link below).

Even when people really yearn to love and be loved again, an overwhelming fear of being retraumatized in a new relationship can keep them from getting involved with someone new.

The following fictionalized vignette, which is a composite of many cases with no identifying information revealed, is an example of how someone can yearn to be in a relationship again but needs help to overcome the fear of getting hurt again:

When Lee first came to see me, she had been dating Bob, a man she met at a friend, Beth's wedding, for several months.  It had been several years since she had been in a serious relationship. She was in her early 40s, and after getting hurt in her marriage and a subsequent long term relationship, she was sure she was through with dating and relationships.

And then she met Bob.

Lee smiled to herself as she thought about Beth, even on her wedding day, orchestrating this meeting by placing Lee next to Bob at the singles' table.  Beth was forever trying to set up introductions for Lee to eligible men and Lee was forever rejecting Beth's efforts.  Now, at last, knowing that Lee was coming on her own to the wedding, Beth had a chance to use her match making skills.

Normally, Lee would be annoyed by Beth's efforts to match her up with a man, but not this time.

Lee wasn't sure what there was about Bob that made her want to reconsider remaining single.  Sure, he was good looking, intelligent, kind, funny and successful.  But there was something else.

When she looked in his eyes, she felt that she just might be able to trust him.  But what if she was wrong?

After her last breakup, which was particularly painful, she preferred to bury herself in her work during the week and see friends or stay home alone on the weekends.  She had resigned herself to remaining single for the rest of her life.  She considered getting a cat, but that was the extent of willingness to make another commitment to a living being.

After 10 years of marriage, her husband (now ex), who everyone agreed seemed like the most caring and trustworthy man alive, ended up leaving her for a woman he met at work.  Her last boyfriend, who also seemed sweet and kind, decided, after six years, he wanted to be free to date other women.  Lee felt she would never get over the pain of that breakup.

Having experienced such excruciating emotional pain in our prior relationships, how could she know if she could trust Bob?

Then, there was her father, who was in and out of the household, constantly cheating on Lee's mother and then coming back to ask for forgiveness whenever things didn't work out with his last girlfriend.  Although Lee understood that her mother was financially dependent upon the father, she still felt anger and resentment towards her mother for taking him back again and again.  She spent most of her childhood and adolescence hating her father, and she only reconciled with him after he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, just before he died--the ultimate abandonment.

We spent much of our early work together helping Lee to rebuild her sense of resilience.  She understood that there were no guarantees in relationships.  Her biggest fear was that if her relationship with Bob didn't work out, she would spiral down into a deep depression and she wouldn't be able to function.

Lee had witnessed her mother become incapacitated by depression after Lee's father left the household for the third time.  Lee bore the brunt of taking care of her three younger siblings.  She vowed to herself that she would never allow a man to make her feel so depressed.  Even in her darkest moments after her marriage, as devastated as she felt, she was still able to go to work, take care of her apartment and function in life.

But after her last relationship, she wasn't sure she could bounce back again from another disappointment if Bob hurt her.

On the one hand, when she became especially fearful, she was tempted at times to call it off with Bob.  On the other hand, most of the time, she knew she wanted to be with him and see where their relationship would go.

We also worked on helping Lee heal from her prior childhood trauma as well as the losses she experienced in her marriage and last relationship.  This was hard work for Lee, but it enabled her to experience her relationship with Bob as separate from those other disappointments, so she could experience it as new and not as being part of a string of disappointments.

Lee also learned to trust her judgment again.  Over time, she was able to open up more with Bob and allow their relationship to grow without feeling the oppressive fear she felt before.

Getting Help in Therapy
There are so many people who close themselves off to the possibility of falling in love again because they fear they'll get hurt.  Even though they might be lonely, their fear overwhelms any possibility of finding happiness with someone new.

If you're someone who would like to have someone special in your life, but you're overwhelmed by fear based on your experiences from the past, you owe it to yourself to get help.

A skilled mental health professional can help you heal from your losses and develop a greater sense of resilience and self confidence.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

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 business hours or email me.