Hello, 4 years ago, after my boyfriend left me, I experienced a crashdown. Although I managed to go on with my everyday activities and work, the degree of pain that I felt was enormous and unbearable. I was like a zombie for the next 2 years. I am sure that something went seriously wrong with me during that period and I don’t want to go through the same suffering ever again. I suspect that the fact that my boyfriend left me was not the (main) cause of my depression, there were other underlying issues. Therefore, I won’t go to any details about the breakup. Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to form another relationship since then. I feel really scared and I scare away any potential date. I am really nasty and aggressive with men and cannot feel relaxed. It’s a pity because some of the people I meet are really nice guys. I think I do this just to punish myself for having felt vulnerable. I know I can’t stay alone for ever but I am scared to form an intimate relationship, even to have sex, that I used to enjoy so much. The idea of even touching someone is out of the question. I’m really concerned about my behavior. How can I open up and become my old self? Thanks in advance for your time
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I don’t like to use the “T” word too lightly ( where “T” stands for “Trauma”), but I wonder if in this case you haven’t experienced something that has lightly traumatized you. You say that there were other factors in your life leading up to your depression but you don’t elaborate on them. Well – I can only guess, but my guess might be that you’ve had other significant rejections in the past, with this one occurring four years ago being only the latest in the series. Whether this is true or not I guess is not really important. What is important is that you’ve come out of the depression (if in fact you’ve come out of it – sometimes depression is expressed as irritability) with a “complex” of sorts. You’re not feeling resilient and ready to take on the world. Instead, you’re feeling defeated and hesitant. Your posture is defensive; you want to keep the world away (even when you desire contact with it), because the world is scary. You’re stuck, in other words. You’ve got an avoidance problem which is keeping you stuck in a lonely stance. You want to move forward but you don’t know how.
What you’re going through is maybe not so different from what a phobic person goes though. A phobic person has learned that something she is afraid of is dangerous. It isn’t actually dangerous (or at least, its not always as dangerous as she thinks, but the phobic person doesn’t really understand this on an emotional level, even if she knows this to be the case intellectually. Our phobic person tries to approach the thing she avoids, feels very anxious and runs off before she can get any new actual experience with the thing. She never gets to learn that the thing is not actually dangerous because she runs off before she has a chance to experience the thing.
Psychologists help phobic people by prescribing exposure therapy – usually a graduated exposure therapy, and by using cognitive therapy techniques such as cognitive restructuring. What this means is that the psychologist helps her patient to learn to be relaxed while contemplating the thing she fears, or actually experiencing successive approximations of that feared thing. This also means that she teaches her patient to explore and criticize the thoughts she has about her fear; to examine those thoughts for distortions and mistakes that would lead her to see danger where none exists.
What this sort of thing might look like for you might be the following: You might be encouraged to work on pushing through your fear and irritability regarding less dangerous tasks related to dating and staying with those tasks until you learn that they are not so terrible after all. You might be encouraged to examine your fears about what it would mean to form a relationship, and look for ways that you’ve got it wrong; places where you’ve exaggerated things, where you’re making assumptions that are too generalized and not taking into account the ways that each new relationship is unique. Some men are mean and some are jerks, to be sure, but some are decent guys, as you observe. Give them a chance to like you, and give yourself a chance to like them.
There is also the matter of the irritability, which could be a lingering depression or dysthymia (long-lasting not-quite-full-depression-state). You’d want to work on improving your mood and outlook too. The same cognitive thought unpacking and examining that works for phobias, also works for depression too. Exercise helps a lot, as does simply talking about things with a friend or loved one, or therapist.
There are ways you can do this work in a self-help mode, unaided by professional helpers, but I don’t recommend it really. I think it is much easier when you have a professional guide who knows the territory and can help you to get things done in an efficient and correct manner. I’d recommend you look for a “cognitive behavioral” therapist to help you get over this hump you’re stuck upon. The therapy will be short term (a few months duration to maybe a year), and worth every penny, if you find a good therapist and if you take the methods and advice to heart. Good luck to you.