Fear of Men and Long-term Relationships

Postby lightofthemoon » Fri Jul 16, 2021 6:47 am

For a long while now, I have been struggling with the ability to continue in relationships with boyfriends. I'm in my mid-twenties, and the longest relationship I've ever had with a man is four months. I have a tendency to pick out every little flaw and then proceed to turn it into some horror show within my mind that ultimately causes me to end the relationship before it can get too serious.

It wasn't until recently during the quarantine that I started to reflect, and it helped that there was a short period in which I was stuck between jobs and temporarily staying with my brother. For some background on this particular situation, my brother and my father both live in the same town, so my father would come to visit often. It was through this experience of sharing rent with my brother and dealing with the frequent interactions between both men in my family that I realized something: I'm afraid of men.

It's not a physical abuse situation. It's more emotional and based on pure anxiety. There were things from my childhood that I didn't recognize, but that are far more obvious in my adult life. My family has been broken ever since I was ten. My mother left to another state after I graduated high school, only to die five years later. My sister left the household before she finished high school because she became pregnant with her boyfriend's child. In the midst of this, my father was easily angered, and my brother had a tendency to reflect those moods to the point of punching holes into walls.

During my adulthood, I was able to see that neither of them had grown out of their irritable moods. The wall-punching had faded, but they could still create screaming matches out of simple things like dishes and going to work. It was at this point in which I began to recognize something within myself; every time they went into one of their tantrums, I fled into mental walls that I had never recognized were there until recently. The arguments usually had nothing to do with me, because for years I had worked hard on maintaining appearances both inside and out simply to satiate my father's moods. I have always been terrified of letting people down, and that has always applied to my father more than anyone else.

It was never because I was physically abused by him. Instead, it was the verbal abuse of being useless, stupid, and slovenly that ultimately killed my ability to fight back. And all of this came flooding back the moment quarantine arrived. I thought I had found myself in college, but the moment I graduated and aimed for a spectacular job overseas, COVID hit and I was suddenly thrust back into a routine I had thought that I escaped.

As it turns out, I never truly escaped that routine. For better emphasis on this realization, I would have to relay the information of my longest intimate relationship as well as the man that my sister ultimately married.

The guy I dated for four months was perhaps someone I could have loved if not for long-distance relationship problems. He was laid back, patient, adored the outdoors, and was supportive of everything I did. I felt like I could be myself around him. There were times where a conflict would arise, and looking back now, I would subconsciously brace myself for an outburst. It surprised me every time when he would simply take a moment of silence, and then respond with a calm, logical resolution. The same thing happened with my brother-in-law. I had never understood what my sister saw in him. He was reckless, annoying, and far too childish to be a proper father to her three children (two of them being his children). But there was a time when they stayed with me for a month, and I saw very similar attributes in him to what I had seen in my ex. There were times where he and I would constantly butt heads. And yet, every single time, when it came to a peak and I was certain he would respond in a similar fashion to my brother and father, he would instead remain calm and hold his ground. He has always been stubborn like me, but never once has he raised his voice at his wife, children, or me. Recently, I have respected the hell out of him as a father.

But I still fear him. And other men.

I won't deny that there are good men out there, but I still flinch, and I still scare easy. What can I tell myself in order to feel like I don't need to constantly be someone else in order to protect myself? Out of about a dozen men that I have lived with or dated, only two have made me feel completely safe, and only because there were situations that forced me to give them more than one chance.

I'm scared, and I don't want to be.
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#1

Postby Richard@DecisionSkills » Fri Jul 16, 2021 1:05 pm

When people have an irrational fear it is often treated with exposure therapy.

A friend of mine grew up next to a neighbor with two large dogs. He was never bitten, not once. But, the dogs did seem to fight between each other and would growl and bark at him. Understandably he was not comfortable around dogs.

However, my friend realized his fear of all dogs was irrational. Just because his neighbors dogs were aggressive didn't mean it applied to all dogs.

What did he do? Well, a therapist worked with him, discussing ways to tell if a dog is aggressive. He exposed my friend, over time, to more and more dogs. And after being exposed, they discussed how he had not been bitten, how the dogs had not growled, and how he could identify dogs with good temperament, etc.

Exposure therapy challenged what he believed about "all dogs". After repeated exposures followed by deliberate reflection, my friend learned to love dogs. He even adopted a dog.

You have dated and been around men other than your father and brother. You appear to recognize that not all men have the same temperament. But, you seem...at least at this point...to dismiss or rationalize away these observations.

My advice is to join a coed sports league, book club, and/or sign up for some activities that will expose you to more men. Deliberately socialize. Rather than avoid men, actively engage with more men. And as you do this, reflect on what you observe, what you learn. Over time, you will become more comfortable.
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#2

Postby Candid » Sat Jul 17, 2021 9:56 am

lightofthemoon wrote:I have a tendency to pick out every little flaw and then proceed to turn it into some horror show within my mind

My own experience suggests this is a good policy, because any flaws in the early days are going to be magnified a million times if the relationship goes the distance, particularly when a baby or two enter the picture and he knows you can't make a quick getaway.

my father was easily angered, and my brother had a tendency to reflect those moods to the point of punching holes into walls.

Both my husbands (I'm still with No. 2) have done the same, both of them telling me they punch holes in walls to avoid punching me. I gather I'm supposed to feel grateful for that. My first husband knocked me about as well, so whenever I saw a damaged wall or door I went into frozen-rabbit mode.

To be fair to No. 2 he only did it once. He patched it up afterwards but it was obvious what had happened there. I know that (like most women) I can tie him in knots verbally, as well as that he'll never hit me.

So much for me. Witnessing male aggression out of control is scary, and maybe that's why your mother left?

every time they went into one of their tantrums, I fled into mental walls that I had never recognized were there until recently.

Of course you did, and it's a good thing that you recognise it.

it was the verbal abuse of being useless, stupid, and slovenly that ultimately killed my ability to fight back.

That's what's doing you in now—apart from the coronahoax, that is. Your longest relationship was with a good guy, and you ended it because you believe you don't deserve that, so sooner or later he'd see "the real you" and break your heart.

The good news in normal circumstances would be that you could easily fix your psychological blip with a course in self-esteem and confidence, which you'll notice is a category here. I recommend you deal with that anyway, perhaps by looking at the work of Louise Hay and others,

The bad news is I don't believe the coronahoax is going to end, at least not in a good way, so the idea of marriage and children may be moot. On the plus side, no badass guy can break your heart or your head while the relationship is conducted entirely in virtual reality.
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