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Relationship Worries

Relationship Worries

If you have ever been in a controlling relationship, then you may worry about not being able to judge whether or not the next person you meet is a similar kind of controlling individual. You may be saying to yourself. “If I didn’t see it coming last time, how will I see it next time?”  Sometimes people think, “You know what, it’s just not worth the risk” and they give up on relationships altogether.  Others decide to take their chances, doing what they can to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Controlling Behavior

Many people believe that those who end up in an abusive relationship have done so because that is what they have been used to, that is, they have come from an abusive background.  This of course can happen, but it is by no means always the case.  In many cases the person ends up in an abusive relationship because the controller managed to keep his controlling ways under wraps while the relationship was in the early stages of development. (I am using ‘he’ here, but it could just as easily be ‘she’).  This may have been done consciously so as not to scare the other person off or the controlling may have come about so gradually that the other person didn’t notice it happening.  The other possibility is that the controlling behavior may not have kicked in until the controller became emotionally invested in the relationship and that can take time.  When the controller discovers that he has strong feelings for the other person, then his own insecurities can come to the surface ‘What if she prefers this other guy to me.’ ‘What if she leaves me?’ The controlling behavior starts as a way to prevent the ‘worst’ from happening. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Who are you going to meet?’  Constant checking and creating a row whenever she wants to go out can become a regular feature of the relationship.

Controlling Boyfriend

I have a friend who was involved in a very controlling relationship – her boyfriend used to make her sit facing a wall when they were out together, so that she couldn’t see other guys. He checked up on her when she went out – ‘Where did you go?’ ‘Who did you meet?’ ‘What did you do?’ He was always trying to catch her out.  He made such a big deal about her going out that she eventually gave up – it just wasn’t worth the hassle. He even managed to cut her off from her family and friends.

It’s Not Personal

At an earlier stage of the relationship she was flattered by his attention, believing that his jealousy and possessiveness showed that he really liked her, but in time she realized that his behavior was not about her.  This is one of the most important things to realize when it comes to this kind of behavior – even though you are on the receiving end of it – it is not actually about you – it’s not personal – that may be a difficult concept to get your head around.  Particularly when someone is telling you that you are the problem.  Undermining your confidence and belief in yourself – telling you that no-one else would be bothered with you is the controller’s best attempt to keep you onside – to stop you from considering anyone other than him. In time, when you start to believe the propaganda – you will think – you know what – he’s right, no-one else would be bothered with me.  This is an illusion. What you are in fact witnessing is his controlling nature, his need to call the shots, his power need – quite often his own insecurities – he may sound like a big shot who has it all sorted, but deep down he may be feeling very unsure of himself.  All of this is about him – it is not about you.

He Couldn’t Trust Himself

In my friend’s case it was her boyfriend who couldn’t be trusted – it turned out that he was doing the very thing that he constantly accused my friend of doing – he was seeing other people behind her back. He couldn’t trust himself, so how could he trust her?

Past Behavior as Predictor of Future Behavior

They say that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  Yet when it comes to relationships we don’t always check out other people’s behavioral history.  You wouldn’t take on someone to work for you or to look after your kids or even your dog without finding out about them – you get references. Yet quite often we enter into relationships with others, on no more than a wing and a prayer.  Even when we suspect or are told something ‘untoward’ about the ‘one’, we dismiss it and think, “It will be different this time – she/he is with me now.’ Again we personalize the issue. ‘I can make this work.’ It was because he was with ‘her/him’ that there was a problem.  ‘He/she will be different with me.’

History Bubble

Would it be a good ideal if everyone carried around a little bubble above their heads that showed their relationship history? For example “Ended relationship with childhood sweetheart because she told him she loved him; likes spending a lot of time drinking with the boys; emotionally retarded; sees away trips as opportunities to play away from home; very bossy and controlling – gets off on being ‘tidy’; needs a counselor – not a boyfriend; divide and conquer is what she is all about – by the time she is finished with you, you won’t have any friends.”  Do you think that a ‘history’ bubble would be a good idea?

You may now be thinking, ‘If I am a worrier, then that means that’s it, there is nothing that can be done about it.  If it’s genetically predetermined that I am a worrier, then I’m snookered.  Professor Jim Lucey from St. Patrick’s Hospital has a different view.  In a recent radio interview with Pat Kenny, he spoke on the subject of anxiety and worry. He put forward the view that when an individual learns how to deal with worry – when he learns to use strategies to overcome his tendency to worry, he then activates a different gene – he activates his coping gene. So that activation of his coping gene becomes, as it were an antidote to his worry gene.

I tend to see it in a slightly different way.  I have found that negative thinking is a factor that is common in me and in the other worriers that I have met.  Negative thinking that is often characterised by catastrophic ‘what if’ type predictions. “What if I don’t get the project finished on time?” “What if I get a bad review?” “What if I don’t meet someone new?”  With this type of thinking, the person often uses their imagination to ‘see’ into the future.  With imagination we have the ability to create the future in the present – to see the future as though it were happening in the now.  Once this scenario has been created in imagination the person then steps into it as though it were real and thinks ‘This is what’s going to happen,’ They can ‘see’ themselves out of a job or all alone and miserable or whatever. I often ask people – I ask them ‘Where does this scenario exist – actually exist?’ They say ‘In my mind.’  ‘Does it exist out in the real world?’  ‘No it doesn’t – only in my mind.’  Yet this imagined scenario can keep this person awake at night.  It can stop them from switching off – it can cause them great stress and distress – making them anxious and insecure.  Yet the only place it actually exists is in their mind.

In order to deal with this tendency to catastrophise  the person needs to learn ways to evaluate and to challenge this type of thinking.  To do this, they need to engage the rational, reasoning part of their brain and they need to do this in a very specific way.  Once they engage their mind in this way a shift happens in their thinking, so that the object of their worry is never seen in the same light again.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) provides the means by which this evaluation and change in thinking can take place.  CBT is the recommended approach for anxiety and worry and has been endorsed by organizations such as The National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the U.K.and The National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S.   There has been tons of research done on CBT which shows it as the treatment of choice for anxiety and anxiety related problems.  There are lots of self help books also available on the subject – a particularly good one is Mind over Mood by D. Greenberger and C.A. Padesky.  Christine Padesky was one of Aaron Beck’s students – Aaron Beck was the founding father of CBT.  You might also like to check out my own book:  If Only I Could Stop Worrying: How to Overcome Worry and Anxiety in your Work and in your Life.  The cost of this book has been kept low so that it will be affordable for all.

My mother in-law used to say “If you worry you die, if you don’t worry you die, so why worry”.  She probably had the ‘warrior’ gene.  None of her offspring are worriers either.  Is it because they too have inherited the ‘warrior’ gene? Or is it because they learned first hand that worry is such a total waste of time.

The Sunday Times Magazine featured an article some time ago on Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath fame.  Ozzy had his genome sequenced.  According to the article, Ozzy has both the worrier and warrior gene – a lot of people have one or the other, he has both.  The way our genes are put together gives us information on what traits we’re likely to have and on the kinds of behaviors that we are likely to pass on to our kids. Ozzy discovered that “He has two versions of a gene known as COMT. The first is often called the ‘warrior variant’ and the second is known as the ‘worrier variant’.”  Ozzy says that the presence of the “warrior” gene helps explain his legendry, high risk – often destructive behaviour, while evidence of a “worrier” gene explains his simultaneous tendency toward anxiety and insecurity.  He reckons that the warrior part of him made him famous, while the worrier part has kept him alive. Many of his buddies who espoused the same lifestyle have long since bitten the dust.

For a more comprehensive view on the worrier versus warrior gene, you might like to take a look at a neuroscience paper on the subject: http://mbldownloads.com/1006CNS_Stein.pdf.  A quote from the paper sums up the difference in characteristics between a worrier and a warrior. “Jolene was discussing her fraternal twin sons with her primary care physician. It was amazing how different they were. Jason loved to be out­side, excelled at downhill skating, and looked for­ward to anything that involved thrills and spills (martial arts, roller coasters, etc.). John, on the other hand, loved reading, was superb at chess, and tried to avoid anything that involved possible injury (martial arts, roller coasters, etc.). She was quite sure that her sons had differed from birth; although she had provided them with the same home, they had developed different likes and dif­ferent skills. She found it necessary to respond to them in entirely different ways in order to prevent the various excesses that each was prone to and to bring out the best in them.”

If you are a worrier then you are in good company.  Google’s records show 673,000 searches per month were made using the word ‘Worry’ (the figure represents the average over twelve months).  If you suffer with anxiety then you are not alone either. For “Anxiety” the figure is even higher – 2,740,000 monthly searches were made. Does it help you to know that you are not on your own when it comes to worry and anxiety?

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