Love lost

Love lost

There are many hard lessons to be learned from breaking up

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/10/2013

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Dear Patti,
I dated a coworker, Christopher, for two years and it was wonderful. Although I wasn’t ever quite sure about my feelings and kept him at a slight distance, he’d be very attentive. When it wasn’t reciprocated, he’d pull away (which became the pattern of our relationship).   

About six months ago, he broke up with me again and I finally realized how much I truly loved him. He’s dating someone else and has no interest in reconciliation. I know it’s my fault; I had the love of my life and threw it all away.

I never knew my father. When I was 6, my mother left me with my grandparents who did their best and loved me in their own way. But they were very strict and had difficulty expressing physical affection. I’ve always been the independent type and it’s just not easy for me to open up and be close to someone. Prior to Christopher, my only other meaningful attachment was in high school, but that relationship wasn’t mature and can’t even compare with the depth I feel for my lost love.

I go out with friends and act normal, but inside I feel totally empty. I think of him constantly and at times this makes it extremely difficult to work. I call his voicemail to hear his voice. I reread his love letters and relive in my mind the memories of our time together. I don’t stalk him, but I do drive by his home. I know I need to move on; I just wish I had another chance as it would definitely be different.

— Nicki

Dear Nicki,
There’s often profound pain in normal grieving. On the one hand, you might be experiencing deep grieving coupled with intense remorse for not appreciating Christopher when you were together. (Remorse can be agonizing but, fortunately, there are lessons to be learned from it.) On the other hand, the concentrated, obsessive symptoms you might be experiencing are a form of separation anxiety triggered by the breakup. It’s possible that you’re facing — and maybe for the first time — a fragile and insecure part of yourself that hasn’t surfaced since your traumatic childhood.  

Are your current feelings similar to how you felt as a child? The intense abandonment you feel with Christopher ending the relationship may be similar to the breach, lack of attachment and life-threatening sense of abandonment you felt in childhood. It sounds like you may be obsessing over Christopher to the point where it’s interfering with your daily life and causing anguishing despair. 

You’ve been through a lot. You need — and deserve — psychological help, support and understanding with a professional trained in treating anxiety. I understand how much you value independence, but it’s time to seek therapeutic help.

Sometimes when a child is deprived of love and touching in the early years of development, his/her survival response mechanism might be to “wall off” emotionally, become pseudo-independent and unresponsive to intimacy. Is there a possibility your difficult upbringing caused you to decide love wasn’t trustworthy? Might that emotional trauma inhibit your ability to easily bond with others, especially romantically, in a deep, satisfying way? 

For whatever reason, Christopher came along and was able to get past your walls, enabling all that held-back love and yearning to finally come to the surface. Now that he’s unavailable, all of your needs, fears and requirements for love are exposed, not only causing deep anxiety but also emulating circumstances similar to the loneliness you felt as a child.
What’s positive in what seems like a very negative situation is that your emotional barriers are down and you’re vulnerable and connected to your feelings, enabling you to learn about yourself and heal. As a child, you were helpless to change; as an adult, you can. In therapy, you’ll face the pain you feel concerning your break-up as well as re-experience the pain from childhood, perhaps allowing you to finally heal the agony that has been hidden away and gain the ability to feel safe and open with an available man in your life.

If Christopher is truly unavailable, it might be in your best interest to not see or hear from him for at least two years. This might seem extreme but — especially due to your fragile state — I’d recommend discussing this with your therapist and learn how to be open to dating and practicing letting down your walls with other men. Deep love feels irreplaceable but, after time, a new and different love might flourish. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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