“He has this horrible temper and he loses it a lot.” Liz looked down.”
“How long have you been with him?” I asked.
Teary eyed, Liz responded, “It is four years now and I know Alex is abusive.”
I inquired, “How abusive is he?”
The tears filled her eyes and trickled down. “He curses at me, insults me, and tells me I’m not good enough for him.”
“Oh my,” I commiserated with her pain.
“But he was so sweet before he began the steroids.” For a moment Liz stopped crying.
“Will he stop the steroids?” I asked.
Despair turned to anger, “I begged him to stop, but he doesn’t want me to tell him what to do. But he’s quick to tell me what to do. I’m in medical school and I need to study a lot. He says I shouldn’t study. He thinks school is a waste of time.”
I was curious to know if he was another Steve Jobs type of genius who does not believe school has any answer and I inquired, “What does Alex do?”
“Nothing much, he’s into body building and spends a lot of time at the gym. We are definitely at different levels there. I know he’s not for me, but when he calls, I melt. We are so close and he’s my best friend.” She explained.
I asked her, “Do you have female friends?”
“I did, but Alex put a stop to that. He doesn’t trust when I go out with my girlfriends and so I gave them up for him. But he goes out to clubs with his friends, and when I complain he gets mad and insults me. He thinks I’m cheating but I’m not.” She looked somewhat defiant, which I thought was a good thing.
“Is he cheating?” I asked.
“Well a friend told me he is but I don’t believe him.” Defiance turned to sheepishness.
“You are right," she concurred.
I probed with, “Who in your family does Alex remind you of?”
“My dad has a terrible temper and he can be mean and abusive to my mother.” She said.
“How about to you?” I asked.
In a soft little girl voice she muttered, “Yes he can be abusive to me, but I know he loves me. He always told me I’m his favorite and I was Daddy’s little girl.”
I was curious about the family drama that she may have experienced and so I asked, “What was your relationship with your mother like when you were a child?”
“I was always mad at her.” She confirmed my suspicion
“Do you know about the oedipal drama?” I asked
“No” she said.
I then explained, “The classical Greek myth holds that Oedipus is in love with his mother and kills his father. Freud drew on this myth to posit that the male child, like Oedipus, is in love with his mother and competitive with other males. Jung suggested that the girl child, Electra is in love with her father and competitive with her mother. The resolution is that you find a man to replace your father.”
“And Alex is like my father in many ways.” She made the connection.
“Why were you so mad at your mother when you were young?” I asked.
Once again tears filled her eyes, “I was always mad at her because she was not around much. She always worked and I was with the nanny. She also travelled and I was so upset when she left. I remember crying myself to sleep every night. I felt so alone.”
“Did you have a problem leaving home to go to school?”
And sure enough she had a problem as she explained, “It was terrible as I couldn’t separate from my parents for a long time. My mom had to go to work late to come with me to school and stay with me in the classroom till I stopped crying.”
“It sounds like you have separation issues.” I said.
“In an unconscious way, he represents your father who you always hoped would change and be sweet. So again at an unconscious level if you fix Alex you will be fixing your father.” I interpreted more.
Glumly, Liz then said, “And neither is possible.”
No matter what − separation issues, fear of being alone, fixing the father figure − Liz is having a hard time letting go.
In therapy she learned to fix herself, rather than Alex or her father. In her relationship with Alex her self-esteem had eroded and we have worked hard to repair it. She has reached out to her former girlfriends, who understood her plight as many of them also had a hard time letting go of an unsatisfactory relationships.
She is focusing on her studies and resumed an old hobby of sculpting; and in her words, “I am reshaping myself.
If like Liz, you are one of these women who are in unsatisfactory relationships and fear being alone, and have strong attachments to the wrong people you may have unresolved childhood relationship issues. To learn more about how childhood relationship impact on your adult ones and how to resolve these issues, read my book The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain’s Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011
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