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Please Don't Ask Me to Say I Love You: An HIV Take on Commitment Phobia

January 14, 2014

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Advice: For What It's Worth

Now I'm no psychologist but I've been there in both roles and have read up on the information you can find in the links at the end of the article and one thing seems clear to me: There are no villains or victims here. You can't choose who you fall for; it just happens, whether through pheromones, or any other chemical signals that spark off the emotional maelstrom, it happens. At the beginning you've no idea who the person is or may be; you've fallen for something about them that puts your head into spin cycle mode. Can you avoid being a commitment phobe? With a lot of work maybe. Can you avoid being the victim of a commitment phobe? Well yes but then you won't ever dare to do anything, or take a gamble on someone ever again, and what's the point in that?

The first hurdle is recognising the problem. For most commitment phobes, the truth can hit them like a bombshell. They never knew and never even suspected that the reason why their relationships failed was an in-built fear of maintaining a serious relationship with someone. They often pin the blame on the failings of others because they haven't lived up to their idea of perfection. They may have feared the loss of independence and free thought; or have been terrified that someone was trying to possess them or take them over.

Having realised the real reason behind it all, the answer seems to lie in getting help. Doing research; recognising that what they find fits their profile like a glove; talking to a psychotherapist; looking back at their past to see if there are reasons for their fears and overcoming the hurdle of taking a gamble on someone else. It can be a traumatic experience and the one thing commitment phobes need is time; time to sort themselves out and time to process what they discover.

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Even after that, they may be even more reluctant to jump in the deep end: "But I'm scared of making the wrong decision ..." Remember, they've had a lifetime of learning how to avoid emotional bonds and facing certain truths will shake them to their foundations. They may have had troubled childhoods, where they have been totally invested in their father, mother or both and yet have never been able to trust them because of all the family traumas that have happened. This leads to emotional panic in children and the beginnings of wall-building to shut out any further hurt in their lives. How can they commit to anyone new when their past has taught them that commitment has led to pain with people they are supposed to trust and relax with?

This is all very simplistic and although researched, may come over as amateur psychology at its worst but it can't be disputed that people with commitment problems are not going to change overnight. They need to work on themselves in order to be able to trust and place their lives in the hands of others again. Eventually, most people come to the conclusion that any commitment is a risk, even for people who have no problem in that area. Love's a minefield.

The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it's not without doubt but in spite of doubt.

-- Dr. Rollo May

However, you can't have any sort of meaningful relationship without some serious input of your own. It'll cost you. You'll have to surrender part of your independence and freedom of action, just as your partner will. You'll have to make choices, when in the past the only choice was to avoid them. That said, doing nothing and moving on when the relationship threatens to become serious, is also an empty existence. You're denying yourself the wonders of love, including the set-backs, the arguments, the differences and the opening up of your emotions but look what you can get in return. Okay, it may not work out in the end but it wasn't going to work out anyway, you wouldn't ever let it, so what do you have to lose by taking a chance? Far from trapping you in someone else's web, commitment actually sets you free!

The biggest battle is taking the first step. When your partner shows signs of falling in love with you; open yourself to it instead of applying your first instinct to reject it out of hand. You don't have to give 100% straight away but if you face up to that first hurdle and get past those first habits of a lifetime, you may find yourself enriching your life with new experiences you never previously thought possible. You can still always exit; that's your safety net but the important thing is realizing that you don't have to. There are no guarantees; never are but there are unknown possibilities of being extraordinarily happy if you let them.

You'll eventually realize that the fear of commitment was what made it so huge but taking that gamble may reveal depths of emotion you only dreamed of as a child. Nobody underestimates how difficult it is to overcome commitment phobia but overcoming it is going to give you opportunities to grow and discover new aspects of yourself, however clichéd that may sound.

C.S. Lewis described it as the "... quieter love ... which surpasses butterflies and gushy feelings, but still has a profound effect on the soul."

So most commentators agree that you shouldn't wait for things to get better by themselves; they won't. You need to accept that something is preventing you from committing and then, for a change, you needn't let it! Embrace the challenge; make a few choices and commit to finding out what the rest of the world already knows, that love may have its drawbacks and may need several tries before it works but when it does it can bring you so many more rewards than the fear that precedes it.

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.

-- Peter F. Drucker

Much more information can be found in the following links:

Send Dave an email.

Read Dave's blog HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.

Get email notifications every time Dave's blog is updated.

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