Fear of Vulnerability: Avoiding Feelings

daughterMonica and Bill came to counseling after another blow up. They fought all the time and it was destroying their relationship. It was clear that they could not discuss their problems because their intense emotional reactions always got in the way.

Monica: “It makes me angry when I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t think about his anger. I’m too busy thinking about my own feelings.”

Therapist: “What’s the first thing from growing up that comes to mind when you think of anger Monica?”

Monica: “I remember feeling hurt and sad in my room, crying on my bed. Mother came in and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was so hysterical, I couldn’t tell her. She got angry and said, “If you can’t tell me, I’m going to leave.” I couldn’t tell her and she left. I cried even harder.”

Therapist: “How did you feel?”

Monica: “I felt abandoned. It was my fault. I couldn’t tell her what she wanted to know.”

Therapist: “Are you afraid Bill will abandon you too?”

Monica: “I never realized it, but you’re right. That’s why I try so hard to please him — so he won’t leave me, too.”

Therapist: “Your mother abandoned you emotionally and Bill does the same thing. Like your mother, he doesn’t know how to comfort your pain. It is interesting that you found a partner who has some of the same qualities as your mother, creating the same anxieties.”

Monica: “What can I do instead? I have to do something.”

Therapist: “You can tell the truth about your anger. Just like Bill, you cannot express your feelings openly out of fear of being vulnerable. You have a lot in common. Tomorrow morning, if Bill makes you angry I want you to catch yourself swallowing your anger for fear of being abandoned.”

Monica: “I’m not sure I can do that.”

Therapist: “It will be scary at first. You will have to push your comfort zone and take a risk. Will you be able tell him you’re angry tomorrow?”

Monica: “Im not sure, I don’t want him to know I’m angry. He might leave.”

Therapist: “Bill, when she is screaming in your face, do you know she is angry?”

Bill: “It’s hard to miss.”

Therapist: “So you see Monica, your anger is not a secret. That’s not the problem. The problem is not Bill, the problem is you. You have an emotion you cannot manage appropriately. You had better solve that problem before you worry about anyone else.”

Monica: “What should I do?”

Therapist: “Your can say, ‘I’m angry at you,’ or ‘It makes me angry when you yell at me!’”

Monica: “You’re right, we need to communicate more.”

Bill: “If you tell me the truth, I won’t have to guess. I won’t have to read your mind.”

Monica: “I can do that.”

Mother angry at daughter image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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