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|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.).
Taking the Fear Out of Being Close
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
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
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
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
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
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
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.