Is it love or relationship anxiety?



Are you feeling anxiety about a relationship and mistaking it for love?  

After hearing clients for over 30 years talk about love and the wounds they sustained from loving people who were hard to love, I began to suggest we use the word attachment.

I found people who felt anxiously attached to their parents or partners frequently mistake anxiety for love.

“If I can’t stop thinking about him – it must be love right?”

Well, umm I would say …not necessarily.  Many times when you experienced as a kid, a parent who was perhaps preoccupied because of their own issues, you felt ignored and worked hard to be noticed.

The parent you got the good stuff from also made you feel afraid.

Your relationship was filled with anxiety. 

Perhaps dad was depressed and you were met with a stony silence you didn’t understand when you approached him. Or mom was deep into the vodka by noon and went on a rant about your messy room.

Because you couldn’t really put yourself in their place, you looked to your own (perceived failings) to explain to yourself what was going on.

What you wanted to feel were safety and approval, what you got instead was painful and confusing. 

Now I want to be clear, for children, this might just feel like a sinking feeling in the gut, a racing heart, and a confused mind. You rarely can make sense of what you are feeling, much less why you feel it.

Only later did you come to know the name for it was anxiety.  

This is where it is important to tune into the body. Those amorphous feelings are tension, constriction and the queasiness felt in the body as well as the good feelings.

You only later assign the word love to that range of feelings.

Attachment is what is felt, love is what we later call it.

Attachment doesn’t always feel good or lead you to “fall in love” with the person who will make you feel good and loved in the long run.

Sometimes we need feeling help to sort through these confusing feelings when we are who needs a heart when a heart can be broken (thank you, Tina)? 

How can therapy help?

Talking through the feelings you have in your current relationship with someone who also keeping in mind your past attachment figures can be well, therapeutic.

When you talk to friends or family they have in their mind the relationships THEY have experienced.

That isn’t necessarily awful yet it might not fit your situation.

Having said that, clients do get stuck in parent blaming and they need help moving on from that position.

Yet, at the same time, I’ve experienced how hard folks try and have tried to feel something like love from their parents.

And sometimes it comes at a great cost to them.

Many times clients don’t even know they are repeating the same relationship patterns they learned so early in life.

The feeling of anxiety is the signal that their unconscious “rules” for relating leave them feeling bad.

Many times it takes the concentrated focus of the therapeutic relationship to tease out those telling details so that you can break out of patterns that keep you stuck looking for love in all the wrong places.

If you want a therapist ( in Raleigh, N.C.) with over 28 years of experience helping women sort through what is going wrong in your relationships, I can help.