Fear of Being Alone: Guilty and Rejected

Jason and Sue had been dating for almost a year. They were beginning to think about marriage, but they weren’t sure of themselves or each other.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, they were at a barbecue at Jason’s friend’s house. Sue was feeling left out while Jason socialized. As the day wore on, her hurt and pain grew to feeling rejected and abandoned. Sue finally expressed her disappointment to Jason when he was getting his next beer. He became hostile and angry. Sue became loud and the two of them made a scene in front of everyone. Neither of them could understand why their was such an overreaction. Sue felt justified complaining about being neglected as the boys stood around telling high school locker-room jokes.

Jason came in for counseling to work in his anger. I began by asking a focusing question:

Therapist: “What about Sue’s unhappiness at the barbecue angered you the most?”

Jason: “Well, I remember feeling guilty, like I had failed to make her happy”

Therapist: “In your book, failing to please is the same as displeasing, and you felt guilty of displeasing. Whose fault was it that you failed to please Sue?”

Jason: “It’s her fault because she’s so unreasonable and difficult.”

Therapist: “And you felt that your efforts to please her were unappreciated. You felt good-for-nothing.”

Jason:”That’s how I felt.”

Therapist: “What about it angered you the most?”

Jason: “If she doesn’t like what I do for her, she doesn’t like me.”

Therapist: “What is the worst part?”

Jason: “That she will leave me.”

Therapist: “What would the worst part if Sue left you?”

Jason: “That I must be worthless.”

When we get down to the underlying feelings of worthlessness, we have exposed the real source of Jason’s overreaction. Only then can we begin to heal the wound.

Therapist: “Jason, you are not worthless. You are a worthwhile human being in spite of your faults and imperfections, whether Sue likes you or not. You took her temporary unhappiness personally, as if it were a reflection on your worth as a person, and you blew up. The next time you feel your anger building up, you can say to yourself: ‘This is just how she feels. I am lovable even when I make mistakes.’”

Jason: “And then what?”

Therapist: “And then you can choose to express your anger like a grown-up and say, ‘I don’t blame you for being upset. I’d be angry too if I was being rejected.’”

Jason: “She won’t hate me forever?”

Therapist: “That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?”

Jason: “I don’t know if I can do that.”

Therapist: “It will take courage.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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