Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
This posting is a review of a wonderful book that some of you may already be aware of and others not. It was written by Robin Norwood back in 1985 and was republished in paperback by Pocket Books in April of 2008. It is recommended reading for people who become ensnared in a similar type of unhappy, unfulfilled and torturous relationship pattern. What I found interesting about this book was the fact that it accurately portrayed a certain type of woman who sought psychotherapy with me over the years.
Essentially, “women who love too much” are those who are always seeking love and affection from partners who are unavailable. Their unavailability may stem from such problems as their alcoholism, narcissism, fear and avoidance of intimacy, rage, inability to form lasting attachments and any other of endless numbers of personality problems that make them unsatisfactory partners for anything like a permanent and happy marriage.
Yet, as Norwood points out, there are certain types of women who pursue men who will never make them feel happy. The reason for this unhappiness is that they are forever pursuing love from someone who cannot or will not gratify their needs and wants for love, safety and security.
In fact, some of the men they pursue are abusive, rejecting, cold, distant, sadistic, ungiving and emotionally unresponsive. Some of these men even make themselves physically unavailable for weeks or months under one pretense or another. Yet, the woman continues to pursue. In fact, why do they become obsessed with these men? All the evidence points to the fact that these women repeat the pattern and seemingly learned nothing from their prior unhappy experiences.
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Norwood provides many explanations for why and how these unhappy women repeated trap themselves in unfulfilling relationships. Basically, what she points to is the fact that these women are seeking the love that eluded them when they were children. In each case she cites, either one or both parents were unavailable to them. The unavailability may have been due parental personality problems, alcoholism and drug abuse, domestic violence or any number of other problems that interfered with parenting.
In a way, what Norwood is describing is an example of the old saying that, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And, so, the pattern is set during childhood and they try and try again, forever repeating the same process.
In my experience:
What always impressed me about these cases was the intensity of their obsessional symptoms and their inability to gain any understanding of what was causing their symptoms.
The sessions were filled with ongoing discussions of their current boy friend to the degree that it felt to me as though I was invisible. Actually, they were so preoccupied with these men that is seemed as though they were absent from the room.
Two of the most interesting characteristics of women who saw me for treatment was the fact that they rejected any “nice guys” they had dates with because they were “boring.” The boring men were available, interested and capable but did not fit the pattern of their past experiences. The other characteristic was that they reported how terrific the sex was. Yet, they seemed to miss the point that, while sex is important, so are the other areas of relating.
In so many ways, these women seemed blind to themselves and to the men they were with.
Obsessional thinking is viewed as a defense mechanism that the patient is unwittingly using to hide something else. In other words, “if I think about this all day then I need not think about something deeper and more troubling.” So, what was being hidden by the obsessional thoughts?
The answer to that last question varies from one individual woman to the next. The deeper issue can be something like wishing to evade real intimacy out of the fear that she could reveal vile things about herself. In this case, there can be a deep feeling of not being lovable. Another possibility is that the obsessional thinking can hide a fear of being controlled and dominated by an authoritarian man who represents the controlling and rejecting parent of childhood. Other possibilities are that obsessions hide deep seated depression, anxiety, believing that life is meaningless and, the list can go on.
Norwood advises that the way to break this repeated pattern of relating is to enter psychotherapy and gain additional support from either joining or starting a women’s group for people with the same patterns.
Because the issues are deeply rooted in personality problems, it is safe to predict that the therapy will continue for a long time. I would recommend psychodynamic psychotherapy with an emphasis on existential concepts.
What this means is that the primary focus of the therapy is on the relationship between therapist and client. It is in that therapeutic relationship that the unhappy patterns of behavior are repeated and the therapy provides a corrective experience. Insight or understanding is not enough for the client. She needs an experience whereby she can learn a different way of living. It is difficult to remove blinders from one’s eyes and see what is really happening.
What are your experiences, opinions and questions about this difficult issue?
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