So. A few months ago, suddenly Susan, I was asked if I would review a book about overcoming childhood abandonment issues to build lasting, loving relationships by Michelle Skeen, PsyD disconcertingly named: “Love Me Don’t Leave Me”. Honestly, I do understand the value of a catchy title but this one had me picturing myself blurting out those words as my first date got up to go to the washroom. Never to return. I’ve not yet had the urge but then I’ve only been online for a couple of years. ONLY. Check back with me in another chunk of time if I’m still single and dates are thin on the ground, I’m just saying. ThinnER.
But. Let me reassure you, when I actually read the book, I found it to be insightful and thought provoking. Michelle basically posits that many of us are affected by toxic childhood schemas or core beliefs ie “frameworks that help organize and make sense of information and the things around us.” Because they’re by nature definitive, “black or white/ negative or positive and serve as a predictor even in the absence of all the information”, when negative schemas get activated, we go into protective fight, flight or freeze mode. ( Fyi, I’m a freezer. Big time. Curses. ) Then something termed “the amygdala hijack” happens. Love that term btw, coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence ( 2006 ) However, I don’t love what it means: “when we experience powerful emotions like fear it overwhelms our rational thoughts and this can lead to behavior that is harmful to us rather than helpful.” #ThatsNeverGood
The primary maladaptive core belief covered in this book is of course abandonment with four other basic, closely correlated schemas: mistrust and abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness and failure. All of these come from Jeffrey Young PhD’s concept of early maladaptive schemas/ EMS. Fascinating. It’s like a visceral train wreck you can’t stop looking at because hello…you’re in there somewhere. I found myself snug within emotional deprivation myself with a lifelong pass to defectiveness and failure in the adjoining cars. AMAZING!
There’s questionnaires you go through to number your experiences from “1 to fuck, that’s so me” and while my numbers were low, I recognized key statements as being deep within my own psyche and definitely from my own childhood. Not that they were news, mind you. I’ve known this shit for DECADES. Known that they’re embedded remnants of growing up emotionally neglected and always feeling less than, never feeling loved and lovable just because. Always striving to earn love because I figured out at a very young age it wasn’t just lying around for free, dude! Not in my Asian household. And taking on blame for anything and everything because being unlovable was obviously my own fault, wasn’t it? I mean, as a kid I was sooo eager to please, just dying for some attention…PLEASE! And yeah no. Not so much.
How has this affected my connections with the people in my life right now? Well, to be honest, I became estranged from most of my family when I split from my ex husband but I have excellent relationships with my son and my friends. It’s probably the decades of working on letting go of the past and choosing who I want to be, regardless of the baggage I grew up with, and of course wanting to be the exact opposite of the mother I had. But the relationship I have with myself and how that’s been played out on the dating field? THAT’S a lot more conflicted. My daily challenge is to be as kind and loving to me as I am to everyone else in my life. Daily. CHALLENGE.
We ALL have stuff. Obviously. And was I that dying to please/ do anything for your approval/ yes, I’ll take blame for $1000, Alex! adult for many many years? HELLO. Am I still?? Less. But. I’m not going to lie; it’s a going concern. It’s also life. We all have our stuff.
However, as Michelle says and which totally resonated with me: we also all have a story but we don’t have to BE our story. In other words:
“You can’t change your core beliefs, you can’t really change what triggers your core beliefs and you can’t change the feelings that surface. But you CAN change your behavioural reactions.”
Here’s how I used to manifest my story/ who I was when I was with my ex husband from the tender and achingly naïve age of 24 until the “I’m ready to be my own person now, fuck the consequences” departure age of 42:
We got engaged a year and a half after dating/ living together and the next morning in the shower, I started sobbing. SOBBING. I never thought anyone would love me enough to marry me. Literally. When I was little, I would dream of having three children but I could never imagine getting married. I thought I would die of cancer before this would ever happen – I guess so I wouldn’t have to live my entire life knowing I wasn’t loveable enough to be with until death do part. How. Fucked. Was. That. Emotionally deprived/ defectiveness/ failure schemas much?
So. After you identify what you feel are the core beliefs that are holding you back, the book goes on to give you practical tools to understand and work with what you’ve been given. For example, Michelle describes “creative hopelessness ie accepting unavoidable pain” and says while the primary pain of the human condition is “unavoidable and uncontrollable”, “we have the power to eliminate the secondary pain we create to try and avoid or control our primary pain.” Which, as I repeat, is UNAVOIDABLE AND UNCONTROLLABLE. This is good news, people! If you accept this and accept that you CAN change your behavior in reaction, it’s a start! That and imagining that “you are the sky and not the weather” – letting negative thoughts pass through you like clouds pass by overhead. Honestly? I love that analogy. It makes sense to me. It helps me.
Obviously, I recommend “Love Me Don’t Leave Me", questionable title and all. It’s for anyone who feels like they’ve been a little or a lot fucked over by their dysfunctional childhoods so yeah…pretty much everyone. It’s not about assigning blame but looking at the situation with new eyes and new concepts of why you’re fucked up and tools about how to not be AS fucked up. #Ftw.
At the end of the forward, Michelle says:
“ I wear a bracelet that reads ‘it matters not what road you take but what you become on the journey’."
As Lucy, I’m all about who I’m becoming on my path of discovery and self-empowerment so yeah…Michelle is obviously one of my tribe and her book is totally worth the read and the work it entails thereof because YOU’RE totally worth it. Amiright?
Ps I knew when I finally got around to writing this post after cogitating on it for many weeks that it would probably be a two parter. I’ve been really letting it soak in and connect with my own issues to see what came up/ what I would eventually write. It may appear I choose my topics but I’m just a channel really – I sit down with an idea and words come out. This is what came out: Life in general is part one; dating in particular is part two.
Stay tuned. The damage control continues. HA!
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