The danger is not in being close. The danger is in the fear of repeating the pain
of past relationships, and the self defense that fear requires..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Other books by Benjamin Conley:
The Spiritual Connection: Values, Faith, and Psychotherapy
Success in Marriage
Making Relationships Work
The Meaning of Love
Affirming Feelings

 

 

 

 

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PO Box 4304, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33338-4304
Books about positive values, spirituality, and counseling


(This book can help you pursue the intimate relationship you desire. Please use the text to stimulate your own thinking and understanding about the issues discussed, even though you may find some of the ideas surprising.).

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Excerpt from:
Taking the Fear Out of Being Close
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
Pages 7-11

1. We Create Some of Our Own Physical Pain

Here is an example of a physical pain caused by an erroneous assumption. A man in a dark room believes the door to the room is open, and that he can walk through the doorway into the next room without opening the door. Being familiar with the room, he walks toward the doorway without noticing that it is closed. Thus, he still believes it is open, a mistake, since it is not true. As he acts on his belief by walking "through" the doorway, he collides with the door and hurts his head and arm.

He becomes painfully aware of the truth: the door is shut. His confrontation with the reality (the door is closed) is the immediate cause of his pain. His not checking to see if his assumption (the door is open) was true or false is how he "set himself up" to cause his own pain.

2. We Create Much of Our Own Emotional Pain

We set ourselves up to cause our own psychological pain in similar ways by arranging a faulty plan of action. To proceed on the basis of an untrue assumption will usually get us in trouble. For example, a man's mother punished him from an early age for making decisions on his own that differed from hers. To avoid punishment, he grew up compliantly doing what he was told to do. He learned to sacrifice his own wants in deference to the demands and wants of others, just as he learned to do with his mother.

Of course, the women who responded most positively to him were like his mother, who liked and demanded and expected to be catered to. The result was, painful as it was, that he became involved with women who punished him in ways similar to the ways his mother did.

A person may become habituated to such a pattern of pleasing others to buy love, repeating the pattern as a conditioned response or life script. When the pain becomes too unpleasant, a person may still continue the pattern in the hope (often outside of awareness) that the current person will be the one "to finally treat me right" and resolve the old pattern in a positive direction.

The operational belief is: "I need you to be like my mother, so that when you change and treat me as my mother should have, I will finally know that I have been justified and affirmed." Usually, this hope that the other person will be converted in the desired direction fails, with the other person instead becoming defensive. Hence, more emotional pain ensues. The odds for a successful relationship are better when the other person is enough of the way you want him or her to be to begin with.

If our hypothetical partner is unrealistic about his woman friend and does not recognize that she will object to some things he does or wants to do, he will have distorted the reality (by assuming that "she will approve of anything I do or want to do") and will have set himself up for a painful encounter with the reality of her disapproval of some of the things he does or chooses.

3. Being Close is Not Dangerous

The intimacy of the relationship will not be the cause of his pain; closeness is pleasurable. The woman is not the cause of his pain when she says, "I'm angry with you for doing that." Anger is her feeling; telling him about it is not harmful. He will have set himself up to be in pain by believing his wish, even though it is not true. He will have believed his falsehood to be true: ("she will like whatever I do, the way my mother never did, and finally I will be loved the way I always needed to be") and will subjectively experience her as betraying him when he encounters the truth (she does not like and approve of everything he does).

He will eventually "collide" with the lie he told himself when he hears what she actually says. This is a painful experience, but it is not caused by being "close." The danger and pain that follows are caused by his own self-deception. Denying reality is what is dangerous.

In our culture, many believe that being close or intimate with another person automatically makes one more vulnerable to "being hurt". We may be exhorted to "risk being close" or to "dare intimacy," as if there is actually something dangerous about being intimate, at least potentially. The danger comes from our misleading ourselves into expecting what is not available.

That is, we expect the other person to satisfy our ideal image of what we "need" him or her to be, instead of what they actually have to offer. When this distortion becomes apparent to us, we may experience it as a "betrayal" by the other person, rather than as the result of our own unrealistic expectation and demand. The unfairness and the danger is in our attempt to transform the other person into a "reality" that is something different than what he or she is.

"Vulnerable" implies helplessness, an inability to take care of oneself in the face of danger over which we have no control. That was the case when we were small children, and is still true to a degree as adults, since we are all vulnerable to earthquakes, tornadoes, drunken drivers, airplane crashes, and terrorist attacks, wherever we are.

But in our relationships with others, one purpose of getting acquainted is to understand enough about the other person that we will know what to expect, since people are consistent in their behavior. Even those who are inconsistent are consistently so. We can count on people to be the way they are, so our being realistic about others is very useful in making our relationship "safe.

4. Being Unrealistic Is the Danger

When we are not realistic, we get into trouble. As with the man and the closed door, we experience pain when we do not get the love we expect and collide with the other person's unexpected "no." We experience the same kind of pain with people with whom we are not close, as in workplace settings when we may not be treated as fairly as we expected, or in getting the car repaired when we expect the repairman to be honest with us and then find that he is not. We are hurt when we expect people to treat us in positive ways and they do not. The pain comes from our encounter with the gap between our expectations and the reality we actually experience. Reduce that gap and we reduce the potential pain.

The danger is not in the relative closeness of a relationship; the problem is in the relative importance we place on having our expectations fulfilled. We cause our own pain (and fear of being hurt) by using our inaccurate assumptions about the other person(s) as the basis for defining our expectations. When the other person does not fulfill the unilateral "contract" we have set, we experience the anger, sadness, and helplessness that goes with emotional pain. As this pattern is repeated, we may be hurt again, and then mistakenly conclude that intimacy, or letting someone be important to us is a dangerous thing.

Or, we may conclude that we have been unrealistic in some way, use the experience of being hurt as a signal that we missed something important, and that it is time to adjust our expectations to take into account the unexpected information associated with being hurt. In other words, we can learn from our experience so that we won't be hurt in the same way again.

(end of excerpt)

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