Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ― Rumi
All of us come into the world defenseless and vulnerable, and in the best of circumstances, we have a good enough parent, as psychoanalyst Donald Winicott described. Many of us had the basic necessities of shelter and food, but true emotional nourishment was often lacking or intermittent at best. This leaves the child with self-blame and complicated questions such as: Am I doing something wrong? Am I lovable? Of course these questions are unconscious stories that the malnourished child is making up about the lack of consistent, unconditional love available to him. Eventually, the child simply gives up.
We all have patterns of love and intimacy that are established early in childhood—sometimes referred to as attachment styles—and in this blog we’re going to take a closer look at love and intimacy avoidance and where it originates.
Case Study: Justin’s Love Avoidance
“I don’t get intimacy. I always feel suffocated with the women I date. They always seem to be unavailable and I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.”
During Justin’s childhood, his parents were not happy. Instead of looking to her husband for emotional support, his mother inappropriately leaned on Justin as a confidant. Though he found her smothering at times, Justin felt important and liked the attention. As a teenager, he became more uneasy with this surrogate husband role but still felt loyal to her. Justin’s father colluded with this arrangement because he felt less pressure to show up fully in the marriage. Through the years he had multiple affairs.
Relationships always felt complicated and burdensome to Justin. In his twenties, he only dated older, married women. Unconsciously, he chose unstable relationships that always ended painfully. Justin’s dating pattern kept him at a safe distance from real intimacy. In some ways, this felt comfortable. Yet, in other ways it left him profoundly lonely.
After several failed relationships, he finally went to therapy and began to identify and understand his avoidant-attachment style. Justin began to date single women, but when he felt close to a girlfriend, he would always feel suffocated by them. He would then sabotage it through excessive use of porn and escorts—anything to create distance. As the out-of-control sexual behaviors became more frequent, he grew more frustrated.
Justin was longing for deeper connection but his intimacy-avoidance left him hungry. At thirty-two, Justin attended his first SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) meeting, and his quest for deeper healing began. Regulating the emotional distance from others is an attempt to protect yourself from vulnerability, yet it leaves you suffering in isolation similar to the child who grows up without the good enough parent. As a child, Justin learned how to maintain distance from others to avoid any risk of hurt, rejection or shame. He also learned how to be self-sufficient to the point where it was excruciating for him to ask for help. His life-changing decision to start therapy and twelve-step is a giant step toward exploring emotionally-reliable, deeply-connected relationships.