Instead, the child discovers that love and approval comes with meeting the mother’s needs, and tunes into the mother’s responses and expectations. This may trigger very young feelings of shame, terror, grief, emptiness, despair, and rage. With the help of a therapist, these feelings can be separated from the present circumstance, in which as adults our survival is no longer at stake. She is in private practice in Santa Monica, CA (See Darlenelancer.com)”
Each must learn to ask for togetherness and space directly, without feeling guilty, or controlling or blaming each other. If you ignore your partner in order to create distance, you inadvertently devalue him or her, creating another problem. Or do you avoid closeness and openness by joking around, showing off, giving advice or by talking about others or impersonal subjects? Do you get overly involved with people outside your partnership (e.g., children, friends, affairs), or activities (e.g., work, sports, gambling, shopping)? These activities dilute the intimacy in the relationship.
Relationship can be an exciting path to the unknown. The greater sense of self a person has, the more flexible and comfortable s/he is with greater distance and greater closeness. The unspoken agreement is that the Pursuer chase the Distancer forever, but never catch-up, and that the Distancer keep running, but never really get away. Babies and toddlers are dependent on the mother’s empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense their “selves,” to feel whole. They can empathetically hear each other, and wait to have their need satisfied: “I understand and hear your need and its importance to you, but this is also important to me — can we find a way to compromise?” As couples do this, they will have more authentic intimacy, instead of being locked into an unconscious duet of approach-avoidance.
COPING STRATEGIES: We learned defenses as children in order to feel safe. There is less anxiety, and hence less demand on the relationship to accommodate a narrow comfort zone.
CHANGE: The key to breaking this polarization is by becoming conscious of our needs and feelings, and risking what we fear most. The Pursuer must risk saying “No,” and tolerate the anxiety of separation, saying, “I can’t help you – I need to be alone.” The Distancer must risk saying, “I miss you, I need you.” In the movie, “The Doctor,” William Hurt plays a busy, successful doctor, whose wife feels neglected and abandoned.
Change and growth come in discovering your coping strategies, and learning new responses and behaviors. Later, intimacy may threaten the adult’s sense of autonomy or identity, or he or she may feel invaded, engulfed, controlled, shamed and/or rejected. When this happens you cannot communicate effectively, nor take into consideration your needs and the needs of your partner. Both need to embrace the dependent and independent, feminine and masculine, parts of themselves.
When these behaviors are operating without awareness, you are not coming from a place of choice. To an enfant or toddler, emotional or physical abandonment, whether through neglect, illness, divorce or death, threatens its existence, because of its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. They’re negotiating the emotional space between them. The child learns to please, perform and/or rebel, but in either case gradually tunes out its own thoughts, needs and/or feelings. Often people attract their opposite into their lives to make them whole. In co-dependent relationships where there aren’t two separate, whole people coming together, true intimacy isn’t possible, because the fears of nonexistence and dissolution are strong.. She can’t value her child as a separate “self.” The child’s boundaries are violated, and its autonomy, feelings, thoughts, and/or body, are disrespected. Ask yourself: How do I create space in my relationships? How do I protect my autonomy? Do you criticize, blame, emotionally withdraw or use substances (e.g., food, drugs, alcohol) to create space, be left alone, or lessen intense feelings. A person may feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not responded to, and at the same time, engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. When each is able to say, “Yes” and say “No,” without the fear of being overwhelmed by intimacy or abandoned by separation, they won’t trigger each other’s defensive reaction.
Partners can learn from each other and embrace their disowned needs. The Pursuer is unconscious that s/he is also afraid of closeness, but relies on the Distancer to achieve enough space for the Pursuer’s needs for autonomy and independence. Partners may reverse roles, but always maintain a certain space between them. Just as the transition from dependence to independence can be frightening, so is the transition from independence to interdependence. For instance, if you repress your anger to ensure closeness, you stand a good chance of alienating your partner, unaware that you may be expressing your anger indirectly. The Distancer can learn from the Pursuer’s flexibility, ability to reach out and ask, to feel others and to blend boundaries. The rewards are worth it, because it is a path of self-discovery and ultimately the divine as we open ourselves to one another. Yet, it is an essential process in order to heal our wounds, become free of our past conditioning, and to allow us to truly live in the present.
They each blame one another and themselves. As adults these behaviors create problems and result in miscommunication.
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The relationship duet is the dance of intimacy all couples do. Instead, the relationship is based on unconscious manipulation of one another, and can trigger your partner’s defensive reactions.
ORIGINS: Research suggests that intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother (or main caregiver) and infant. The Distancer feels guilty for not meeting the other’s needs, and the Pursuer feels angry for not getting his or her own needs met. Rather than responding to her child, she projects, and sees her child only as an extension of herself, as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. As the feelings are worked through, a less reactive, stronger sense of self develops, one that is not easily threatened or overwhelmed.
If the mother is ill, depressed, or lacks wholeness and self-esteem, there are no boundaries between her and her child.
The Distancer says of the Pursuer: “She (or He) is too demanding, too dependent, too emotional, or too needy.” And wonders “Can I love? Am I selfish? What I give seems never enough.”
DISOWNED SELVES: Relationships can serve as mirrors for unacknowledged or “disowned” parts of ourselves. Thus, we have the dilemma of intimacy: How can we be close enough to feel secure and safe, without feeling threatened by too much closeness? The less room there is to navigate this distance, the more difficult the relationship. One partner moves in, the other backs-up. It takes tremendous courage not to run when we feel too close, and not to pursue when we feel abandoned, but instead, learn to acknowledge and tolerate the emotions that arise. Similarly, the Distancer is afraid of abandonment, but cannot experience the wish for emotional closeness as his or her own. When each they conscious of their individual needs, they can acknowledge their partner’s needs with respect. The Pursuer says about the Distancer: “He (or She)is selfish, inconsiderate, inflexible, emotionally withdrawn, has to have things his way.” And wonders “Is there something wrong with me? Aren’t I lovable (pretty, thin, successful, smart) enough?”
On the other hand, ask: How do I create closeness? How do I ensure that I will be loved and not abandoned? Do you try to create closeness by giving up your autonomy, hobbies, friends or interests, by never disagreeing, by being seductive, or by care-taking and pleasing others?
Copyright, Darlene Lancer, 1992
“Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and life coach with a broad range of experience, working with individuals and couples for more than twenty years. Her focus is on relationships and helping clients overcome obstacles to leading fuller lives. Consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self. S/he would feel too vulnerable, so s/he needs a Pursuer to satisfy her or his intimacy needs. In reality, the Distancer judges the part of him or herself that is needy, dependent and vulnerable, and the Pursuer judges the part of him or herself that is selfish and independent, but each sees the part they don’t accept in themselves projected onto the other. But it requires courage to open yourself up and to experience pain. It requires awareness of our coping behaviors and resisting the impulse to withdraw or pursue. Later, as an adult, being separations in intimate relationships are experienced as painful reminders of the earlier loss. Each person must take responsibility for him or herself, rather than relying on their partner to take care of his or her needs for closeness or distance. We all have needs for both autonomy and intimacy – independence and dependency, yet all simultaneously fear both being abandoned (acted by the Pursuer), and being too close (acted by the Distancer). It’s only when Hurt gets brain cancer that he tells his wife that he needs her. The Pursuer can emulate the Distancer’s ability to set limits, to take care of his/her own needs, to prioritize, to be less personally involved
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