For a long time I’ve struggled with the desire to be in a relationship only to find myself in one and wanting to get out of it. I think this is a common occurrence but we seem to be incredibly judgmental of people who struggle with emotional security. Most of us don’t understand what lies below the insecurity and we simply conclude that they have “commitment issues.” We even say it with disdain like it is a physical disease we don’t want to be around. Few of us actually extend any support or help to someone else who may be struggling with intimacy.
When you are prone to some type of insecurity it is only natural that your emotions on any given day are in charge of making your life decisions. Emotions are not bad. We just have a tendency to give them too much credit — often over interpreting the data they provide. Most of us are unable to differentiate which emotions are ours, which emotions are our partners, and which emotions may actually be coming from the energy of our community. We are living in a time of intense fear and commitment issues that can overwhelm our nervous system to the point where we believe everyone else’s issues are our own. We are unknowingly in a state of chronic overstimulation. We have five senses that most of us do not know how to handle. It is little wonder when a little fear creeps in, our nervous systems are thrown into overdrive and we run. We don’t know where we are going but we are masters at protecting ourselves in this primitive way.
Fear, however, is a very important emotion. It not only serves to keep us safe in actual dangerous and life threatening situations, it provides the compass for how to live our lives. For most of us, however, fear runs rampant leading to chronic anxiety. It is impossible to hear the intuitive messages when your body thinks it is running from a giant predator. Few of us have the tools necessary to biohack our bodies so we can calm down enough to listen to our own internal guidance. Instead, we have gotten into the habit of seeking advice from everyone else. We really need to start listening within.
No where in my practice do I see more fear than in our interpersonal relationships. Fear of rejection, fear of vulnerability, fear of being really seen, fear of intimacy…The list can go on but the underlying issue in most of my clients is that there is this understanding that has been falsely passed on to them that relationships are meant to hurt us and thus, in order to avoid pain, we should avoid connection with others. We don’t realize we are actively doing this but we are.
This fear of relationships, in general, has done a good job of causing our loneliness epidemic and fooling people into thinking they do not know how to connect with others. Most of us have basic skills — its simple biology needed for our survival but somewhere along the way modern life has convinced us that we are a failure with people.
It simply isn’t true.
Always Talk to Strangers
Yesterday, I was walking around a park and someone sat next to me on a bench and started a conversation. Although my first reaction was to tell the person that I was in a rush (I really wasn’t) I made a more mindful decision to just sit and listen. We ended up having an important conversation about how relationships start and end and why they are so painful and yet so important to experience. We connected as strangers and left as friends.
For years our professional advice community and the dating industry has told you that you have extreme issues if you can’t commit. Few professionals have offered advice on the potential positive attributes to commitment phobia. I think we are in a place, right now, where people are tired of being told that everything they do is wrong and simply want some validation that they have been trying to make things work but it simply hasn’t happened yet.
So what are the strengths associated with someone with real commitment issues? You likely are not someone who compromises easily and has learned to take care of yourself. You are likely a hard worker and dedicated to your job. You may be more exploratory than the average person making it hard for you to stick to one thing but wonderfully knowledgeable about many different topics. You are likely conscientiousness enough to not want to make the wrong decisions in your life. You deeply desire to have your dreams met but you’ve experienced many disappointments that can eventually be wonderful stories to teach to the next generation.
How Do we Work our Commitment Muscles?
But none of us are perfect. We always have to face our fears to grow into the people we were meant to be. The antidote to commitment phobia is therefore commitment — when you’re ready to face your fear of being seen as ordinary and realize that the greatest success you may have may be in a healthy relationship with someone who supports your desire to grow. Or it may be committing to that dance class for the next three months or meditating once in awhile. We all have to start somewhere!
My profession can continue to tell you something is wrong with you or we can begin to help you see what is right with you. Your strengths are what is needed to overcome fear. A wise mentor once told me that our jobs as adults is to run towards the things that scare us the most. For most of us that means we need to run towards people and new relationships. It is in these experiences we grow and learn the most. I enjoy working with “commitment phobic” people simply because once we are ready to reach out for help and choose to work on something, we are actually very committed to the process.
We may all be scared of connection and commitment but the only way to truly make the world a better place is to be brave enough to face our fear and keep giving relationships a chance — hopefully, one day, we realize the beauty in simply doing the laundry with someone we love.
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Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.
This post was previously published on Mind Cafe and is republished here with permission from the author.
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