I heard that dreaded bling, and I knew it was not good news.
I could feel the tension in my stomach and the messages said, “I don’t think we should be in contact anymore.”
I wanted this to work out, since we felt a strong connection.
As a relationship coach, people think I am perfect in relationships.
I want you to know I am not, far from it.
I am human, and I have my triggers and wounds that make me act like a hurt child at times.
My expectations and needs are not always compatible with my significant other.
And I make plenty of mistakes and mess up like everyone else.
I want to share with you a recent dating experience I had.
I meet a wonderful woman; let’s call her “P”.
She is an incredible loving soul, but sometimes the timing just does not fit well.
After 17 years in a relationship, I separated in May this year during the lockdown as the isolation and anxiety triggered my partner’s borderline personality disorder, and she turned abusive.
It was a shock and traumatizing in many ways. The woman I knew and loved was gone from one day to the other.
In the morning she told me she loved me and wanted to marry me, and, in the evening, she said it was over.
There was no explanation, just an email the next day saying she was so happy with a new man.
So, for the first time in my life, I felt some anxious attachment and needed stability and someone that would not run away at the first sign of tension and could give me stability and clarity that I needed at this moment in time.
P had also just come out of a tough relationship breakup, and she was highly sensitive to abandonment.
He left her just before their wedding this year.
She told me she felt low self-worth and that she had abandonment anxiety.
Here is what happens when two brains operating from fear meet each other.
Remember, from a triggered place; we can’t hear each other.
We lose our empathy, self-reflection, and perspective to make good decisions.
Here is the story…
We had three dates, and the connection was great.
She expressed that I was one in a million, and she was so happy to have me in her life and getting to know me and that she wanted to take it slow because of her past experience.
Suddenly out of the blue, I got a message that rocked me.
She accused me of being dishonest, and I felt confused as it came out of a connecting conversation.
I get now she was just projecting her abandonment anxiety of me deceiving her as she felt deceived by her ex-partner that pretended, he wanted to marry her and then left.
It was not about me but in the moment, it triggered me, and I went into my hurt child brain.
I felt upset she would accuse me of being dishonest with no explanation.
I felt she should have called me or told me face to face and not by text.
I felt she should make an effort to repair the damage she caused.
But none of that happened, and she retrieved after that text.
I realize now that I projected my expectation of how people “should” act on to her as the only right way of doing things, which caused me to feel even more triggered.
We do this frequently and unconsciously project our idea of how people should act and then get upset if they deviate without considering they have their own unique experience and background.
The way to relate is to try to understand each other’s stories.
She retrieved and stopped communicating, and that triggered me because of my recent borderline experience.
I felt anxious and shut down to protect myself from the discomfort of rejection.
I texted her that it was not ok to treat me that way and then go silent, and if that is how she communicates, then I can’t see us being in each other’s lives.
In the moment, I felt I asserted my boundaries, and it felt empowering. But I messed up and could have dealt with it much better. More on that later.
As you can imagine, that triggered her abandonment anxiety, and suddenly, a beautiful connection that we cultivated over months of getting to know each other was destroyed in a few seconds it took to write our texts from a triggered place.
Our reptilian baby brains were facing off, both feeling unsafe, and we could no longer hear each other.
Coronavirus did not allow us to meet up, so we were stuck with the worst form of communication, mobile phones.
I wish I could sit with her face to face and tell her she is safe and that I never leave I just felt triggered and that I am not perfect and like her, I can get scared.
Her fear of abandonment made her ghost me and reject me before she felt she could get rejected.
Here is what I learned from my mistake
- I projected expectations of how she should act and then got upset that she did not do as I wanted. This is not an excellent way to relate as no one can match our expectations, and forcing our way is not connecting. Next time seek to understand her experience by asking questions.
- I acted and texted from a triggered place, making me use the threat of abandonment to get what I wanted. That is a bad idea. Never threaten the connection. Damage to trust is colossal when breakup or abandonment threats are used.
- Never communicate when you are highly triggered. Regulate yourself down first. Journal speak to friends or a therapist, exercise, meditate. Whatever calms you down, so your higher brain comes back online.
- Never text about issues, conflict, or tension as misunderstandings are much more likely by text when most visual cues are missing. Only talk about these faces to face with eye contact or as a minimum on a video call.
- I want someone that can accept me in my messiness and mistakes, so I don’t have to tip toe or be a relationship coach in my relationship.
- I want someone that does not run away when triggered and turn towards me to repair, learn and grow together.
A moment of our primal fear taking over can destroy something that could be great.
I very rarely share snippets of my diary, but today I will share with you what I wrote down last night so you can see some of my self-reflections and what I learned.
“My lesson has been that when triggered, anxious, or fearful, don’t communicate. Journal my thoughts, emotions, and sensations and look at the story and my hurt inner child. Don’t text.
When I am calm and clear, then meet or call the person. DON’T TEXT. If waiting makes me anxious, then journal some more and let the emotions flow on to paper so you can see what is real and what is the past overtaking the current moment.
Then express in person or phone how I feel and what I need. I wish she would have been willing to have a conversation with me, but here is what I would have said.
“I felt anxious when you retrieved and stopped communicating, and I need clarity. I need that we both try to listen, acknowledge, and understand each other without judgment.
I need you to make an effort to reach out and solve tension or misunderstandings to show you care and value the connection. I have spent my entire life being the one initiate repair, and I would like it to be something we both do.
I want it to be ok that I am not perfect and that I can be triggered and make mistakes, feel anger and be upset and that you still come back, and we trust we don’t leave each other, and all emotions are welcome.
And I want to hear and acknowledge your experience and understand you better and also be able to help you feel safe because you matter. Because I care. Because you are worthy.”
See how we often attack, blame, criticize, or withdraw from a triggered place, causing a fracture in the connection, but when calm, I could express how I felt and what I needed.
That would have caused a very different outcome.
I never got to say any of this to her because she refused to speak or communicate with me, so I got to say it to my diary.
Every loss is a lesson that can help us grow, and it takes two to connect and grow, and sometimes I have to learn to respect that the others don’t want that.
Please remember to be kind, gentle, and compassionate towards yourself.
No matter how much emotional intelligence and relationship skills you have, remember that it takes two to dance, and it does not matter how well you can dance if the other person refuses to move their feet. It will not be a pretty dance.
Relationships are a dance and require two people with the emotional capacity and skills to make it flourish.
So, don’t blame yourself, but find learning and growth so your next encounter will be more nourishing for you.
It’s ok not to be perfect and mess up. Sometimes I do it too.
You are worthy of love and kindness in all your messiness and mistakes.
Thomas is the Founder of Zensensa.com the leading institute for relationship intimacy.He is the author of two books and the host of the Zensensa podcast. A dating coach, relationship coach, confidence coach & sex coach. Provides premarital counseling, couples therapy, online marriage counseling, relationship counseling & marriage therapy. Marriage counseling near you.
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