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So. A few months ago, suddenly Susan, I was asked if I would review a book about overcoming childhood abandonment issues to build lasting, loving relationships by Michelle Skeen, PsyD disconcertingly named: “Love Me Don’t Leave Me”. Honestly, I do understand the value of a catchy title but this one had me picturing myself blurting out those words as my first date got up to go to the washroom. Never to return. I’ve not yet had the urge but then I’ve only been online for a couple of years. ONLY. Check back with me in another chunk of time if I’m still single and dates are thin on the ground, I’m just saying. ThinnER.
But. Let me reassure you, when I actually read the book, I found it to be insightful and thought provoking. Michelle basically posits that many of us are affected by toxic childhood schemas or core beliefs ie “frameworks that help organize and make sense of information and the things around us.” Because they’re by nature definitive, “black or white/ negative or positive and serve as a predictor even in the absence of all the information”, when negative schemas get activated, we go into protective fight, flight or freeze mode. ( Fyi, I’m a freezer. Big time. Curses. ) Then something termed “the amygdala hijack” happens. Love that term btw, coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence ( 2006 ) However, I don’t love what it means: “when we experience powerful emotions like fear it overwhelms our rational thoughts and this can lead to behavior that is harmful to us rather than helpful.” #ThatsNeverGood
The primary maladaptive core belief covered in this book is of course abandonment with four other basic, closely correlated schemas: mistrust and abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness and failure. All of these come from Jeffrey Young PhD’s concept of early maladaptive schemas/ EMS. Fascinating. It’s like an emotional train wreck you can’t stop looking at because hello…you’re in there somewhere. I found myself snug within emotional deprivation myself with a lifelong pass to defectiveness and failure in the adjoining cars. AMAZING!
There’s questionnaires you go through to number your experiences from “1 to fuck, that’s so me” and while my numbers were low, I recognized key statements as being deep within my own psyche and definitely from my own childhood. Not that they were news, mind you. I’ve known this shit for DECADES. Known that they’re embedded remnants of growing up emotionally neglected and always feeling less than, never feeling loved and lovable just because. Always striving to earn love because I figured out at a very young age it wasn’t just lying around for free, dude! Not in my Asian household. And taking on blame for anything and everything because being unlovable was obviously my own fault, wasn’t it? I mean, as a kid I was sooo eager to please, just dying for some attention…PLEASE! And yeah no. Not so much.
How has this affected my connections with the people in my life right now? Well, to be honest, I became estranged from most of my family when I split from my ex husband but I have excellent relationships with my son and my friends. It’s probably the decades of working on letting go of the past and choosing who I want to be, regardless of the baggage I grew up with, and of course wanting to be the exact opposite of the mother I had. But the relationship I have with myself and how that’s been played out on the dating field? THAT’S a lot more conflicted. My daily challenge is to be as kind and loving to me as I am to everyone else in my life. Daily. CHALLENGE.
We ALL have stuff. Obviously. And was I that dying to please/ do anything for your approval/ yes, I’ll take blame for $1000, Alex! adult for many many years? HELLO. Am I still?? Less. But. I’m not going to lie; it’s a going concern. It’s also life. We all have our stuff.
However, as Michelle says and which totally resonated with me: we also all have a story but we don’t have to BE our story. In other words:
“You can’t change your core beliefs, you can’t really change what triggers your core beliefs and you can’t change the feelings that surface. But you CAN change your behavioural reactions.”
Here’s how I used to manifest my story/ who I was when I was with my ex husband from the tender and achingly naïve age of 24 until the “I’m ready to be my own person now, fuck the consequences” departure age of 42:
We got engaged a year and a half after dating/ living together and the next morning in the shower, I started sobbing. SOBBING. I never thought anyone would love me enough to marry me. Literally. When I was little, I would dream of having three children but I could never imagine getting married. I thought I would die of cancer before this would ever happen – I guess so I wouldn’t have to live my entire life knowing I wasn’t loveable enough to be with until death do part. How. Fucked. Was. That. Emotionally deprived/ defectiveness/ failure schemas much?
So. After you identify what you feel are the core beliefs that are holding you back, the book goes on to give you practical tools to understand and work with what you’ve been given. For example, Michelle describes “creative hopelessness ie accepting unavoidable pain” and says while the primary pain of the human condition is “unavoidable and uncontrollable”, “we have the power to eliminate the secondary pain we create to try and avoid or control our primary pain.” Which, as I repeat, is UNAVOIDABLE AND UNCONTROLLABLE. This is good news, people! If you accept this and accept that you CAN change your behavior in reaction, it’s a start! That and imagining that “you are the sky and not the weather” – letting negative thoughts pass through you like clouds pass by overhead. Honestly? I love that analogy. It makes sense to me. It helps me.
Obviously, I recommend “Love Me Don’t Leave Me”, questionable title and all. It’s for anyone who feels like they’ve been a little or a lot fucked over by their dysfunctional childhoods so yeah…pretty much everyone. It’s not about assigning blame but looking at the situation with new eyes and new concepts of why you’re fucked up and tools about how to not be AS fucked up. #Ftw.
At the end of the forward, Michelle says:
“I wear a bracelet that reads ‘it matters not what road you take but what you become on the journey’.”
As Lucy, I’m all about who I’m becoming on my path of discovery and self-empowerment so yeah…Michelle is obviously one of my tribe and her book is totally worth the read and the work it entails thereof because YOU’RE totally worth it. Amiright?
Ps I knew when I finally got around to writing this post after cogitating on it for many weeks that it would probably be a two parter. I’ve been really letting it soak in and connect with my own issues to see what came up/ what I would eventually write. It may appear I choose my topics but I’m just a channel really – I sit down with an idea and words come out. This is what came out: Life in general is part one; dating in particular is part two.
Stay tuned. The damage control continues. HA!
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In part one of Love Me Don’t Leave Me, I write about how close to the bone several of the toxic childhood schemas were for me and the general effect of issues thereof for many years. I mention my current strong, healthy relationships – thank God – and how I got married as one person and got divorced as another when I’d salvaged enough of my true self from my primary pain. What I didn’t delve into was how, until recently, I feel “my story” was a third wheel on most of my dates. #Goodfuckingtimes.
To begin, it’s incredible to me how I’ve changed since I went back on POF the second time as a born again virgin. Certainly, I’d advanced greatly since the first time when I was on for six weeks which felt like six MONTHS and I was so scarred from the experience I vowed: “Never again!” Well, never came sooner than expected as it often does.
Was I actually ready to date online? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s like asking: Were you ready to be a mother? Of course you say “yes!” Then you spend the rest of eternity dating/ mothering and asking yourself: “Was I on CRACK COCAINE??” But I’d been so lonely I was at least ready to try. And try. And try again. I’ve been on a hella lot of first dates, kids. Just saying.
When I began treading water once more in the POF pool, I was my usual take everything personally/ serious as a heart attack self. Therefore, every message that went nowhere, every interaction that disappointed was an opportunity for me to ask: “what’s WRONG with me??” always seeing the inbox as half full. I had no idea how to be easy going or take things lightly – LIGHTLY?? Get a grip, man! Life is hard and then you die. Probably on a horrible first date. Get with the program.
Also, I’ve never been a natural with the opposite sex, to be honest. I’ve always felt awkward, with low self esteem and little confidence in my attractiveness or personality. Growing up, I was never told I was pretty or smart or a good person; I never felt valued for any reason. I only got attention when I got in trouble, which wasn’t very often because I was always trying to be sooo good…to get some fucking attention!
This is why my “emotional deprivation” score in Love Me Don’t Leave Me, though only “fairly low”, was my highest of all the questionnaires in the book. “If you grew up in an environment where you didn’t receive emotional support, attention, affection, guidance and understanding, then emotional deprivation is probably one of your core beliefs.” I highlighted “your feelings or experiences weren’t valued or validated.” No shit, Sherlock. Add a big scoop of “defectiveness” and a healthy pinch of “failure” and there’s my flavor profile growing up.
My parents were negative people and early on, I internalized all of that negativity as guilt and blame, taking responsibility for things I had no control over yet I still managed to feel Iike I had a big L on my forehead. When you combine a sensitive kid with highly insensitive, emotionally unavailable parents, you get a version of me – I’ve always been able to give love easily but I was given very little practice receiving it, therefore I never felt I deserved it. Fast forward, put all of that in a cute dress and out in the big bad world online to find a new mate at 50 years old…hahaha…YEAH, right?
It’s been over two years now on this journey learning about myself and finally I can look back and see a pattern and feel how intensely my core beliefs were manifesting as knee jerk reactions to commonplace events. Hello, amygdala hijack! As a big example, whenever it took longer than I thought it should ie immediately to hear back from someone via email or text, I’d immediately assume something was wrong and blame myself. I said something wrong. I did something wrong. OMG. I knew I shouldn’t have said/ done that! WHY did I say/ do that?? Even if it was the most innocuous of communications, I felt like I was on a tightrope of human etiquette. Blindfolded. The highs were very high when an interaction went well but the lows were sooo low because everything felt so random. I was so random. And as much as I tried to be open to love, in hindsight I see that I still felt unlovable to myself – always not good enough. Jesus. The “unavoidable and uncontrollable primary pain”. Brutal.
But. As Michelle says and I finally began figuring out, I am NOT my story. My parents did what they could and I stopped blaming them years ago; however, I’m trying my damnedest to stop blaming MYSELF now and holy shit – is THAT a lot nicer place to live from let alone date!
How did I get here from there, you ask? Really, it’s been hard core hands on trial and error. It took a good while before it became self-evident that while the guys would come and the guys would go, it was still me in the mirror every day and I just wanted to be happy. Comprehending that my life was about me was gradual and then it was like a thunderbolt. MY LIFE IS ABOUT ME. Did I want to spend it treating myself like shit while I treated everyone else I loved like gold? Really?
I understood how much I’d changed when I went on a potential fwb meet a few months ago which was the oddest non-date date I’d ever been on. Seriously. We were like seatmates on a plane for three hours. About thirty minutes into this weirdness I thought: “Wow. This reaallly isn’t going well, is it?” But I thought it with complete detachment and I made no heroic leap to try and save it or take responsibility for it. At. All. In fact, I sat back and waited for him to make an effort and when it was not forthcoming I went: Huh. And then just let it all happen.
That moment was revelatory to me. COMPLETELY. I was no longer trying to please my date as my date had no interest in pleasing me. The date was DIVE BOMBING…and I didn’t take ANY OF IT personally. At all. It was fan. fucking. tastic! Take THAT, you fucking failure core belief, you!
In fact, doing a stint on a fwb site after spending six months with Mr. Sooo Sexy and Sooo Damaged was just what the doctor ordered and no, I don’t mean the 21 year old with the 10 minute turn around though that WAS fun. It was just me finally taking things as easily as an afterthought. Messages came and went. Guys came and went. Sometimes I was a little bit sad or disappointed that someone didn’t work out but then I just let it go and moved on. If I didn’t hear back from someone, I no longer castigated myself. The sheer luxury of not rearranging everything negatively then putting it all on my shoulders was unparalleled. I actually FORGOT some guys because…well…they weren’t very memorable, obviously. That was unheard of before! I usually have the memory of an elephant…and usually only for the bad shit.
Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s? But hopefully, it’s just me being happy no matter how the dating goes or doesn’t.
Hopefully, it’s just me being the sky and not the weather. Hopefully, it’s just me becoming ME. Story not required.
Did I have Love Me Don’t Leave Me at the beginning of my dating journey? Nope. Would it have helped? Yup. Often, just trying to identify and articulate the root of your pain is overwhelming and will stop you in your exhausted tracks. I found this book to be clear and accessible, both in language and in practical tools, and at times actually conducive to personal epiphanies. Ftw.
Make no mistake – you will still have to do all the work and it’s no fucking picnic in the park but again, it’s your life. Not what your parents made it. Not what a random date can more than momentarily affect. YOURS. If you’re not all: “My life fucking ROCKS!! I fucking rock!!” then maybe it would benefit you to bone up on maladaptive schemas, amygdala hijacking and the difference between primary and secondary pain and by maybe I mean yes, completely.
Then none of us will have to yell: LOVE ME DON’T LEAVE ME! at anyone. That would be a good thing, amiright?
Read it on blogher.com