This article explores fear of engulfment in relationships-its causes, effects and healing.
Let us understand the fear of engulfment in relationships with the help of a short story. This is the story of Raymond from New Jersey who is 44 years and has never been able to sustain a relationship. He feels lonely and desperately wants to be in a loving relationship, but it never seems to last. He is often attracted to strong and self-assured women and the first two months go exceedingly well for most part-there is connection, chemistry and loads of happiness. It’s just that when things begin to heat up and the woman demands more of a commitment, Raymond seems to start to take a hike. When asked to commit, he starts to distance himself from the woman and within a flash of a second declares that he does not do closeness well and has eyes for other women. At other times he shuts down so as not to commit.
This makes the woman he is dating exceedingly mad and she often leaves. Her leaving creates space but also a void. Raymond feels sad that yet another one got flushed down the drain. He tries to comprehend his behaviour as to why he is compelled to run /cannot do closeness but is unable to find answers until he meets a therapist.
The therapist is a kind- hearted old woman and tells him that he is afraid of engulfment and the foundation for this behaviour was possibly laid in his early years. She asks him if he had controlling parents to which he responds in the affirmative-he had a controlling mother and in order to not be controlled/lose himself, he would shut down or run away when she demanded too much from him. Thus, any kind of demand from anybody places a threat on his supposed freedom.
The therapist also asked him how he feels in the exact moment when he runs from the woman when she demands commitment. He says he feels drained and smothered and hence needs to escape. The therapist asks him why he feels drained in a loving beautiful association and he replies that he has spent the last two months trying very hard to keep the woman happy lest she be mad.
Here, every new woman is a substitute for his mother, and he is subconsciously playing out the same patterns in each association. He grew up trying to avoid upsetting his mother-thus complying or shutting down were the only two options. Complying ate into his self so after growing up he started shutting down or distancing himself. Saying he cannot do closeness and spreading attention to other women are also ways to avoid building intimacy and commitment and thus avoid feeling trapped.
Furthermore, he has been solely operating out of a place of knee jerk reactivity. He does not pull back and think even for a moment whether he can do as the woman wants-not because she wants to control him but because she likes him and wants to be together. He also does not think about the consequences of losing her-no connection, intimacy or happiness but a hopeless loneliness. Thus, he continues to carry his childhood defence mechanisms well into adulthood even though they are serving no purpose and are only hindering a love relationship.
In order to form a love association, Raymond will have to first learn to let go of extreme reactivity and will have to take a few steps back to examine his feelings without shutting down. Further, he will have to love his true wounded self which was battered during childhood trying to please his mother .He will have to learn to stand up for himself in the association ,assert his needs boldly and not take responsibility for making the other person happy and thus being in an interdependent relationship. He will then not feel smothered or engulfed but will be able to do 50% of his work in the relationship. The process of this healing is called inner bonding.
Once he applies the above -mentioned tools, he will be able to sustain a love relationship.
This article is contributed by Aanchal Parker( Click to read Bio) who writes extensively about topics related to psychology, mental health ,intimacy issues in relationships and spirituality. Her new book “Smashing Love Addiction and Love Avoidance :Powerful Healing Strategies for healing deep rooted intimacy issues” is now available for pre-order on Amazon .Click the link below to pre- order – Click to Pre-Order