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How Can I Open Up And Become My Old Self Again?


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.


p>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.


p>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.


p>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.


p>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.


p>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.

More "Ask Anne" View Columnists

  • M

    Ending relationships are always painful even if they are for the best. My thought is that you're not afraid of trusting another guy, you're really afraid of trusting yourself. Often times we ignore that little voice that tells us early on that a person or situation is wrong for us. But we ignore it because we are creatures of comfort and we don't want to argue, be alone, have to move out, or simply go through the discomfort of a relationship ending. So we stay and kidd ourselves that things will get better, that this person or situation is what we want, until it inevitably comes crashing down. The post trauma you feel isn't trauma at all. It's the devastating realization that part of this you did to yourself. You gave all your power to some guy because you desparately needed something from him that you felt you couldn't give yourself. You allowed yourself to stay in a situation that was bad for you and most likely got worse. Your need for love or belonging or a false sense of security or whatever it was that kept you in that relationship, was greater than your need to listen to your instincts, which I imagine were telling you to end the relationship. Your fear is that you will again ignore your better judgement and put yourself in a bad relationship. When we choose not to honor our inner voice for reasons of insecurity we end up getting bitten in the butt. We lose our sense of self when our needs greatly exceed our wisdom. Once you realize that the break-up wasn't done to you, but that you were actually a willing participant in how that relationship turned out, you will be able to learn to trust yourself again. People often think relationships are about trusting their partners but really it's about trusting yourself. Accountability is the first step toward emotional freedom. That said, I feel great empathy toward all of the sad and horrible things that have happened to you. It is no wonder why you would cling to a less than desirable situation if you have never really experienced healthy relaltionships especially with your childhood care takers. Maybe you were hoping if you stayed with that person they would take better care of you then the people in your past. I hope you get the counseling you need and find yourself able to nuture positive relationships for the future. No matter what has been done to us, there is no short cut through pain. Be patient with yourself, a happy healthy relationship is worth waiting for.

  • Abi

    I am going through a breakup at this moment and the pain is unbearable, but i think "M" is right, its the final acceptance, the realisation that it is over. For the last few weeks before we broke up, my mind was split in two. Part of me wanted out of the relationship to experience new things. But the other part of me was terrified and felt happy, afraid I'd never find anyone else to look after me the way he did. As a child I had no father figure and my mothers partners came in and out of my life. I think i was so afraid of that happening to me that I was going to stick with him for the sake of security. I was so long with him I couldn't see myself without him. And i still can't, but my friends are being a great support. In the end I was at a party and had way too much to drink and kissed someone else. i was ashmed, horrified. I did not even like the other person. If you suppress your instincts for too long they will take over when you least expect it and destroy your relationship for you. I wish now that i had of had the courage to end rather than it to end the way it did with me becoming the baddy. Its hard enough to face a life on your own, without starting it on a bad note. Your instinct knows whats best for you. And looking back on the beginning of our relationship I begin to see that it was doomed from the beginning. I was just out of a bad relationship, I met this guy and he was wonderful, he asked me to be with him and I said no i didn't feel ready yet. My instinct was to stay away. All week I thought about what if he was the one for me, what a terrible mistake it would be, we could be happy together, i wouldn't be alone so I called him up, ignoring my gut instinct and got with him. We have some great memories and it lasted longer that expected but this was bound to happen. The most important thing for me now is not to fall into that trap again. If i'm not ready, i'm not ready. If someone really wants you they will wait around.

  • J

    I'm going through a tough break-up myself. I've been with him for 4 years and i know he is not the one for me and that i need to get away from him but he still has so many feelings for me so i always end up being back with him somehow. I have no friends, i gave them up in the beginning of our relationship thinking he was worth it. The toughest part is i almost get to the point where i THINK i am ready to move on then end up back in his arms cuz no matter how many times i break-up with him he always waits for me to come right back and i do even though he treats me like shit. This time was different though, i met a really great guy who i really connected with and had a lot of feelings for, when i went to talk to the ex/bf he called this guy up and said he shouldn't call me any more and tried to get him to come fight him. Now he hates me and is really hurt, and i know its my fault for being such an idiot but i keep thinking....what if he was the one? i just ruined any chance i had w/ him just because i can't get rid of the ex/bf. What if i keep meeting these amazing people and keep ruining it? How do i get the strength to get everything back on track and to stop going back to him, i do because i know he is there waiting and i feel like i'm the "bad guy" cuz he is so hurt.......

  • Samantha Campbell

    Sometimes I feel depressed for no reason.I feel empty inside sometimes. My parents are divorced and I have to live with my mom every other two weeks and I don`t like her. I love my dad and without him or the guy I love I'm sad.

  • countrygirl lost in the city

    I want to die,nothing ever works out for me.I feel as though I am swimming in a lost sea of hopelessness,no matter how I try I can't break free from my apparently screwed up ideas of how a relationship should be.I was told by someone I love that I wanted too much but under the circumstances I'm not sure whats true and whats not.He thinks Ive messed around on him which I havent and becuz he thinks I have makes me affraid that he either has already or will.He says he hasnt but whos to say if he's telling the truth or not,see I am also paranoid due to all the dissappointments from my past.I am a F'ed up person and whats so bad is im not so f'ed up that I don't know I'm that way.I know I am and i dont know how to change it can someone please help me?


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