Last week I wrote a post about the various and sundry relationships I had entered into with men who were all too wrong for me. After writing that post, I thought of a core belief that has percolated in the back of my mind for many years. The belief has been this:
The reason I had gotten into so many terrible relationships when I was younger is because I was mentally ill.
But that belief got flipped on its backside during the editing process of Monikers.
As I reflected on the different relationships I had been in, as well as the symptoms of mental illness I had experienced over that decade, I realized that my belief about how it all came about was upside-down and backwards. I now believe this:
The reason I became so seriously mentally ill is because of the relationships I had allowed myself to get into.
Wow. I am still gaining insight into this issue, 35 years later.
You see, I had all the earmarks of someone who was born with certain emotional tendencies in the first place. I was an anxious, shy child from the time I was born. But the glowing coals and smoldering kindling of being a Nervous Nelly somehow got fanned into the flames of full-blown panic disorder and agoraphobia as well as major depression. So what happened?
I. loved. too. much.
Really? How can someone love too much?
Someone can love too much when that four letter word ~ L.o.v.e, is spelled with four very different letters ~ F. e. a. r.
I desperately loved my father. In trying to win his love for me, I bought him expensive gifts, made him his favorite pies, and tried to hang out with him at his favorite bar. I felt closer to him for a short time, but he still seemed to find it easy to move out of our childhood home without so much as a goodbye. When he left I felt a lot of fear.
A child who has no security that their parents love them experiences fear because they believe there is no one there to guide them or keep them safe. They start to look elsewhere to get that need for love and security met.
My own first relationship was with a man (I was fifteen and he was twenty) who physically looked a lot like the father I wanted to love me. I poured my heart into him thinking I would receive love in return. We married when I was sixteen and our firstborn son was born when I was seventeen. The marriage lasted about a week and a half. So I had to look for someone else to fill the hole I had been left with.
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
Robin Norwood provides this insight in her book, “Women Who Love Too Much:”
“We are attracted to men who replicate for us the struggle we endured with our parents, when we tried to be good enough, loving enough, worthy enough, helpful enough, and smart enough to win the love, attention, and approval from those who could not give us what we needed, because of their own problems and preoccupations.”
I first read Robin’s book in 1992. It was a mind-blower for me. I felt as if she had sent a private detective to follow me around and document my relationships as I married, divorced, married again, and divorced again, and then dated the likes of “The Weatherman,” “Air Force Guy” and others. Her words forced me to look back over the littered path of the relationships in my own life and reflect on how I got into them in the first place. I asked myself what drew me to each man I either dated or lived with or married. Quite the revelation.
But still, after all these years, I thought what I had done, and what I had allowed to happen to me, was because I had become seriously mentally ill as a young teen after my first marriage fell apart. Now I understand that what caused me to become so seriously ill was how I was treated within relationships that I thought would bring love, trust, security, and peace, and instead brought me abuse, trauma, betrayal, and chaos.
Now, I am a psychotherapist in private practice. I see women and teen girls all week long. I see the same patterns in them that I saw in myself. If I could do anything, I would open up their skulls and insert the insight I have gained about what constitutes a healthy choice in a life partner.
There’s a checklist in Robin’s book that lists characteristics of “women who love too much.” I took the test, thinking back on who I was over twenty years ago before I met and married someone who truly does love me. Soon we will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. Ahhh…authentic love…at last.
Anyway, I placed my check mark next to fifteen out of fifteen questions. I was a woman who used to love too much. So, I brought the checklist to my teen girl’s group. I asked the questions and had them check off a list of their own. Most of the girls checked fifteen out of fifteen. So we’re going to have a little book club. It’s that important.
Has this been a problem in your life? Have you, as a man looking for his woman or a woman looking for that perfect husband, found yourself looking back at littered, broken relationships? Perhaps you are in a broken relationship right now. What drew you to that person? What was “familiar” about them? What felt “comfortable” to you? That’s the key. Something felt comfortable about that person, and it may be that something about them reminded you of a parent you desperately wanted to love you. Only what was missing from your parent is also, sadly, missing from your latest love as well.
Please comment and let me know if this post resonated. Let’s have a discussion!