I worked for 20+ years in the field of mental health, and I
empathize with your situation. As is often the case in
questions like this, the answer is implied in the very words
of the question you've posed:
"...she has had several long term relationships (1.5 - 3 years)
that have all ended. She has told me that several of these
relationships have ended because she felt the other person
stopped loving her."
Notice the very accurate and significant use of the word 'felt'.
The relationships ended because she 'felt' that the other
person stopped loving her - not because they did.
This is almost certain to repeat itself in your current
relationship, simply because that's how feelings work.
They often ignore the facts which an external consensus
of people might agree upon, in favor of perceptions based
on a person's internal emotional environment.
When someone comes from an abusive or traumatic background,
the feelings which are stimulated in these childhood situations
are often simply too painful to be experienced (felt) and
integrated (understood) at the time. Nonetheless, they are
a part of the person's experience, and cannot be dismissed.
They must, eventually be experienced and integrated.
Arthur Janov, author of 'The Primal Scream' used to describe
it this way: when a young rabbit comes across it's mother in
a snow-filled forest, dead, the young rabbit itself will die
instantly of the equivalent of a heart attack, knowing, on some
level, that it cannot survive the winter without the support
of its mother. Many children, faced with as clear of a knowing
that their parent(s) cannot help them survive, or worse, pose
a threat to their already tenuous survival, would experience
the same response. The human, on the other hand, has a way of
defending itself from such a life threatening realization.
It simply separates the feeling which might have killed it,
had it been experienced at a young age, from the memory of
the incident. The memory is then buried (supressed) until the
human is more mature, physically and mentally, and is strong
enough to bear the feelings which might have killed it when
it was younger.
The problem arises from the fact that these feelings and
memories are kept behind a tightly-locked door, which has
a label saying, in effect, 'touch this and you'll die'.
So, even when the person is, in fact, physically and emotionally
strong enough to endure the feelings which have been suppressed,
and mentally developed enough to comprehend why an adult might
act the way the parent(s) did, when the feeling begins to surface,
it still brings up the message 'touch this and you'll die'.
Additionally, the person to whom these feelings are occurring
still feels like the helpless, clueless child to which they
occurred those many years ago. The adult mind and body give
way to the self-perception that they are still young and
vulnerable to the implications of these horrible feelings.
Further, the intellect, or 'internal dialogue' of the thoughts
we recycle endlessly, is enlisted to distract us from these
feelings which threatened to destroy us. It takes up the role
of the guardian to prevent us from feeling our bodies and
emotions too clearly.
Nonetheless, as the person matures, they do become strong enough
and aware enough to handle these suppressed feelings, and they
start to surface. The mechanism for their surfacing is simply
that the person perceives the world through lenses colored by
their experience. In simple terms, if they were beaten by a
person who always dressed in orange, while they may not remember
it, they will have an irrational fear of people dressed in orange.
More precisely, they will tend to experience the world around
them in whatever way will allow access to the suppressed feelings.
If they have some buried rage, e.g., they might explode into rage
in a situation where a better-integrated person would simply feel
annoyed or mildly angry. In other words, they will interpret what
is happening around them in terms that will allow them to feel the
buried feelings - all on an unconscious basis.
The 'guardian' intellect becomes a 'guard', rationalizing in the
present tense about why these feelings are a result of the events
of the current moment, and further locking them out of the chance
of feeling these feelings for what they are.
Unfortunately, feeling that rage in relation to the current
circumstances won't result in its integration or final release.
A fit of anger may provide temporary release, but the true
source of the rage goes unrecognized, and this causes the
feelings to renew themselves, returning in an endless cycle.
If one can be taught to distinguish between the stimulus and the
feelings which are stimulated, especially when they are out of
proportion to the stimulus, then there is hope. They can, at that
point, say a silent 'thank you' to whatever situation stimulated
the feeling, and then go off by themselves to explore the feeling
on its own, independent of the stimulus. If they can find a
therapist who is available when this happens, and can assist them
in finding the courage to go deeper into the feeling, rather than
just talking about it, all the better. But, as you probably know,
therapists are generally not available for the kind of in-depth
approach of which I am speaking.
What is needed, whether with the assistance of a therapist, or
whether by herself, is to find a quiet space in which to open
up to the feeling, knowing that it is coming from within her,
arising from events she may not remember. The intellect, which
wants to blame the feeling on some present-day event which
stimulated it, needs to be ignored, and her attention needs to
be gently re-focused on the feeling itself. Laying on one's
back in an emotionally open, defenseless posture (arms to the
side, leaving the abdomen exposed), and taking deep abdominal
breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, can
assist greatly in allowing the feeling to expand itself into
her body, while her awareness moves deeper into the center of
Another technique which can be helpful is to give a voice to
the feeling. Don't think, but feel what the feeling might say
if it were given expression verbally. If a particular expression
strikes a chord, the body can feel it. Try saying it out loud,
connecting it emotionally with the feeling which is surfacing.
If it's the right phrase, she may suddenly find the feeling
comes alive, riding on the expression of the voice and being
released in a cathartic flood of emotion. This may also be
accompanied by a sudden remembering of an event long forgotten,
which is the true source of the feelings. Shortly thereafter,
she may have a flood of insights as to how this suppressed
feeling has colored her perception of past and current events,
and effected the choices she has made in her life.
Most certainly, she will notice that her mind is quieter,
since there is no need to defend her from the feeling which
has been integrated. She will 'feel' in that moment, better
than she has ever 'felt' before. And this improved ability to
feel is permanent. It cannot be threatened in an adult the
way it was in a child.
Once fully felt and integrated in this manner, that feeling
and its accompanying memories, will have no further negative
influence on her life. It will be as though they never occurred,
except that she will have re-acquired the memories and learned
the lessons they have to teach her.
Most people only need to experience such a breakthrough one
time, and they are thereafter empowered by the experience
and have a deep knowing that they can go through it as often
as is needed to integrate all their suppressed feelings and
memories as they arise.
As for your role in this, I would not recommend giving up
your friends or priorities in order to accommodate her
feelings, especially when you recognize them to be irrational.
In doing so, you will simply become an extension of her defense
mechanisms - changing your behaviors to make certain that she
doesn't have to feel the unwanted, unpleasant feelings.
This will destroy your own integrity, and will not succeed
in maintaining hers. Her integrity is already impaired, and
what will restore it is the exact opposite of the goal of
her defenses. Instead of arranging her life so that the
threatening feelings are never stimulated, she must learn
to welcome their stimulation, and embrace the painful feelings
as the lost parts of herself which they are.
In a very real sense, the abandonment she projects onto you
and others in her life is arising from those parts of herself
(feelings and memories) which she is abandoning when she
gives into the defenses which would blame them on you, in the
Most children who have been abused have, in order to survive,
abandoned a major part of themselves, leaving it buried in
the unremembered past, along with feelings they didn't dare
to feel at the time. Those feelings, themselves, cry out to
them when they are fully-grown, begging not to be abandoned.
The information I've provided here is not based on research
of theoretical concepts, but is grounded in my own personal
experiences in 20+ years of working with my own mental health
and that of others.
If anything in my answer is not clear, feel free to ask about it.
Please do not rate this answer until you are satisfied that
the answer cannot be improved upon by way of a dialog
established through the "Request for Clarification" process.
A user's guide on this topic is on skermit-ga's site, here:
Clarification of Answer by
28 Jul 2004 01:21 PDT
I want to thank all the contributors of caring comments,
and I'd like to confirm donphiltrodt-ga's remarks with
regard to the possiblility that the diagnosis of
Borderline Personality Disorder is relevant to this
discussion. I did not address this possibility because
your question did not mention this diagnosis, despite
the fact that she is seeing a therapist. BPD is a
considerably more complex diagnosis, which calls for
therapeutic approaches above and beyond what I have
described. The literature shows that a person with
this diagnosis often improves within a timeframe of
many years, which is to say by their mid-thirties to
early forties, simply through the process of maturing,
often 'in spite of', as much as 'as a result of', the
cumulative effects of the therapy they have received.
It is likewise possible that this specific diagnosis
is not relevant to your girlfriend's situation.
With regard to non-psychiatric approaches to addressing
the issue of fear of abandonment, I would personally
recommend a course in human potential which I've taken,
called Avatar. I am licensed to teach the course, but
I provide this information, not to solicit you as a
customer, but to inform you of another option which
I believe to be equally as useful as the Tony Robbins'
The Avatar course is an experiential, more than verbal, course
about the dynamics of attention, perception, will, awareness,
beliefs, and the dynamics of creation and discreation.
The essence of what is taught, experientially, is that the
judgments and distinctions of the mind interfere with our
ability to be at peace and thereby feel and perceive the world
in a very different way. Once you are able to experience the
very real burden imposed by viewing the world through the
judgments created by the beliefs we hold, it becomes obvious
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and the tools for doing so are provided.
One learns, experientially, that whether adopted via tradition,
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the judgments you make as to what is good or bad, desirable
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The course is available in 65 countries and all 50 states.
It takes 9 days to learn the tools, and as long as you choose
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Yet, since it is a course about belief management, there
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You can search for a licensed Master in your location, here:
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You can sign up for a free Journal, sent quarterly, here:
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You can download a free (PDF file) copy of 'Living Deliberately',
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Another site which has archives of the Avatar Journal (which
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