Q I'm 21 years old and I am currently experiencing the silent treatment from my boyfriend.
I flipped out on him on Saturday night last week and sent 25 text messages and made 15 calls to him. This was me just being extremely needy and I believe I was going through a panic episode (I have anxiety). I couldn't stop freaking out on him and he was out with his parents, so I can only imagine how annoying I was. I had called so much and asked "are we over" and he responded with "if you want me to dump you, call again and I will". So I just sent an apology text and let him be until I apologised again on the Sunday. He sent a one-word reply and ignored the other two messages I sent. Then on the Tuesday night I messaged him asking if he was still coming over at the weekend and he said "I may", then I asked "are we okay? I am really sorry"; he just responded with "yeah". He is being so short with me those few times I talked to him and now [at time of writing] it's day five and I can't bear this anymore. Why doesn't he dump me, if that's what he wants? Or does he really just need space.
A There are a few things we could look at here that might be useful to break this negative cycle of communication. I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing anxiety but with great gentleness I suggest that you take responsibility for the impact it is having upon you and your relationships. Have you addressed this through therapy?
It can be so effective in helping identify what triggers you, to catch unhelpful thought patterns and to work on trying out different ways to respond. Having worked with anxiety for the last 20 years, I thoroughly enjoy seeing people get their own personal power back and build their confidence as anxiety is so nasty and eats away at every experience.
I can hear the self-doubt playing out in terms of needing immediate reassurance. We can't demand others to speak with us and unfortunately it always has the opposite effect of making them pull away. The great thing about understanding anxiety and having someone help build up your own psychological toolbox is that you will always have access to it.
Life won't stay the same, different bumps will come along the road, even knowing this can give you the space to add mental flexibility to adapt to whatever life decides to throw at you. What it does though, is it grounds you, as you recognise that the locus of control comes from within rather than being shook by arguments, or things or people not being or acting the way you want them to.
You are going to hate the sound of this, but by letting go of the illusion that you have any control over anyone or how they react to you, you will in return, gain so much. This will feel incredibly uncomfortable to put into practice but to say it's a game-changer isn't an exaggeration. You will find out whether it was there in the first place and this is an important one in relationships.
Forcing things in life never works, even if it does in the short term, it will come back to bite you. Imagine for a moment, being free, what would that be like? I do not mean being free of anxiety as that is really unhelpful, as too many people have this as their primary goal. There will be times when anxiety will come up for you again; accepting how tough that is for you, ironically eases the tension.
Bringing yourself back to the present situation and dealing with one thing at a time are the building blocks to show you that you can change how you react to situations.
Checking in with your three 'Is': if you notice irritation, intolerance and impatience are fully present then it's time to redress the balance of figuring out what is bringing up the anxiety-inducing thoughts or feelings.
Again, it will seem odd if not down-right awful, but sitting with what is coming up for you will be your best ally in moving through the trigger. Tuning into and writing out your thoughts is one helpful way to bring the control back to you. I will put a live link to a seven-column thought record on my Instagram feed that you can use whenever you need it.
After identifying what thoughts are coming up for you, are you surprised by root of it?
Understanding your attachment style and how it impacts your relationship is really helpful information to have. These are your core and often unconscious belief systems that you hold about love and the subsequent fears.
Do you have any fears of rejection or abandonment in your relationship? This is why therapy can be so helpful in unpacking and unravelling well-established and yet, really unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours. The saddest part is that you will lose out if what you believe about men or love is what you expect, as it is very easy to project these fears such as 'I knew this wouldn't last' to the point that you are 'right'.
When your need for reassurance is excessive, a destructive pursuer (you push) and distancer (they pull away) dance will ensue. If your boyfriend's style is avoidant you may have been attracted to this originally, if this was a pattern that you are familiar with. Be careful not to confuse what may feel like chemistry as familiarity.
How did you feel after sending all those messages and making the calls? Shame often follows but unless you bring what really is going on into the light, it can keep you stuck. One line to ask yourself before you make a phone call or text is to ask, 'is what I'm about to say or text helpful or unhelpful?'. These two words need to become your new best friends. If necessary, write them down so you can access them easily to interrupt the impulsive 'need' to get the answer or reassurance you need. This needs to come from you, your boyfriend will not 'complete you'.
What 'emotional need' needs to be heard and validated? Doing this internal work is tough but transformative. Communication is the response you get, so take responsibility of you goading him into breaking up with you. This is not fault-finding, it is much more poignant than that, this is you repeating a pattern of behaviour based on beliefs about whether you can trust or rely upon others.
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