Breakup showed real problem
I THOUGHT my problem was coping with the loss of a relationship, and my ex moving on to someone else. We had been together about six months and things were fine, but we stayed in the "let's see how things go" stage. He had begun feeling that he felt more of a bond of friendship with me, and broke the romance off. I had been hoping to hang on a BIT longer - but had to admit I'd begun suspecting this was the case too. Staying friends was important to us both, so we did.
Over the next six months we worked together professionally (we both are in the same industry), and he's beginning to respect me a lot in that regard. However, over the past couple months, he's also begun casually seeing someone else. We had a brief talk about it before I joined him - and her - and other friends for dinner. They aren't in a committed relationship because she lives out of town and is only in the area for the summer, but he did admit that if she WERE here, he would be dating her. She has also been considering moving to the area within a year.
One of the things he and I were working on together was a benefit performance for the non-profit organization he runs; I actually came up with the idea for the benefit. When he sent out the promo email to everyone, I was very surprised to see that this other woman's name was credited as one of the featured performers, along with mine. Now, I knew I was performing as a member of this organization - she, however, was news to me. I was furious at him, and ranted to a friend about the whole thing, who gently suggested that maybe I was overreacting a bit - that maybe there was something else going on. And I think I finally know what that is. I realized that what I was mad about was feeling like I had become no more important to him than this sort-of-casual relationship he had. What I missed about being in a relationship with him was the undivided attention - the feeling that I was the most special to him. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was exactly the same thing I missed about EVERY relationship I've ever been in. And when I thought even more, I realized that this is something that doesn't just affect my relationships. When I really, really thought about it, I realized that there were really only two people in the world that I believe really loved me unconditionally; both are friends, and neither are members of my family. I realized that, when I got down to it, I was afraid that if I disappeared tomorrow, only two people would be affected, and that everyone else would simply shake their heads and say "what a shame," and go on as though nothing had happened. I felt this about my job, my family, and my friendships save those two.
Please don't think this means I've considered suicide -- I'd actually be more inclined to stay alive and keep telling everyone off if I found this were indeed true, just for revenge! What troubles me is that this is NOT because of a lack of positive feedback from everyone in my life. My friends DO support me, they ARE nurturing, they DO welcome my company and have told me so. The people I work with DO appreciate my work and value my contribution to the company, and they have told me so. But for some reason, there is a part of me that doesn't trust this; I feel like they don't REALLY appreciate me, that they are "just saying that." I'm getting positive reinforcement, but I don't trust it, I don't believe it, I don't GET it.
How can I learn to start trusting ALL of my relationships more? I know that what's hurt all of my past romantic relationships is that I'm probably more attracted to the feeling of being someone's center of attention for a while, rather than to that someone himself. And I know that this is because I don't trust that I really am all that important to anyone else -- my friends, my family, my job, anyone, even though they often tell me otherwise. I know this is my problem -- the question is, how do I fix it now?
What a thoughtful and insightful question you ask. So many people become stuck on the exterior situations in their lives and fail to take the important step that you have taken of looking further within yourself to find the underlying issue. You were willing to take a good hard look at what you saw and to acknowledge the painful situation that you are in. Good for you.
I think that you are on to something significant in what you describe. As to your question of "now that I know that it's there, how do I fix it?" there are several responses. The first is that you truly are on your way to fixing it through the critical first steps of identifying the issue and being honest with yourself about it.
The next question is, where did this trait of yours come from? My guess is that is has something to do with your family and upbringing, especially since your family were NOT counted among those whom you trust love you unconditionally.
How sad that you did not experience a feeling of being loved unconditionally from your family. It makes complete sense that, having not had the experience of feeling loved unconditionally as a child, it has become something that you desperately want as an adult, and yet also something that you find hard to feel is "real" even when those around you are supportive and nurturing. I would be curious to know more about the two friends that you do feel certain love you unconditionally - what makes it different with them? Your friendships with them demonstrate that you do have the capacity to find, maintain, and enjoy satisfying closeness with others, which is very positive. It is also is a good indication that you will be able to experience real emotional intimacy with a romantic partner in the future. You will need to do some inner work, however, to work through your need to be someone's "center of attention" above all else since that clouds your ability to know whether you even really like the person you are with.
Counseling would be a wonderful opportunity for you to explore the dynamics that you've identified further and learn to go about "fixing it." It will probably involve spending some time acknowledging feelings of sadness about the unconditional love and support that you did not receive from your family. It will involve learning to differentiate between your need to be the center of someone's attention versus having a real connection with the person.
Self esteem is another area for you to work on. Your sense of self worth has suffered as a result of not having been unconditionally loved in your early years, so much so that you question whether or not you would be missed if you were to die. As you make progress with these issues, it will become easier for you to know when people in your life truly care about you and for you to really FEEL loved for and nurtured by them - to "trust it, believe it, GET it," as you so aptly put it.
I hope that you will look for a therapist nearby who can help you with these issues. You have the advantages of good insight, a clear understanding of the problem, and motivation to change the dynamics that you have become aware of. All of these factors make it likely that you will be able to use therapy to your best advantage to work through your issues and increase the degree of satisfaction you feel in all the relationships in your life. Good luck.
Susan Maroto, LCSW
This question has been answered by Susan Maroto. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working out of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She uses an eclectic approach to holistic healing, mind-body relationships, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.For more information visit: http://www.therapywithsusan.com/