|Engulfment and Abandonment|
This description was adapted from John Welwood's Journey of the Heart. Except for reversing the male - female parts, I thought Welwood had us in mind when he wrote these words. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 100)
People often choose a partner with a script that is the mirror reversal of their own. Thus a person with a fear of engulfment will pair up with someone who has a fear of abandonment. Whenever her fear comes up, she creates distance. This in turn brings up his fear, which makes him grab at her, further activating her fear of engulfment. "Pressing each other's buttons" in this way, they become polarized in mutually antagonistic positions that threaten to drive them apart.
His father had been emotionally distant, and this had made him distrustful that a woman could ever be there for him. Thus he regards her need for solitude and "her own space" as a constant threat. He is always wary that she might be on the verge of leaving him, and repeatedly seeks proof that she really loves him. She, on the other hand, becomes suspicious whenever men express their affection too ardently or demand hers in return. Her father had turned to his daughter to fill his emotional needs. Feeling overwhelmed by her father's needs, and lacking protection from her father, she had learned to protect herself by keeping a safe distance from him.
So when he approaches her out of his abandonment panic, she becomes claustrophobic and goes into an engulfment panic. She cannot understand his urgency unless he was, like her father, out to eat her alive. And he cannot understand why she is so unwilling to give him what he needs unless she was, like his father, distant, punishing, and cold. Their fights, underneath all their convoluted tangles, has a single theme: "You're abandoning me." . . . "No, you're engulfing me." . . .
In her conflict with him, she is in pain about feeling engulfed by his need for loving contact. When she opens to this pain, it connects her with a deep wound from her past: her conflicted feelings about needing to be an individual in her own right. Although she will blame him for not letting her have her own space, the truth is that she does not really feel entitled to it. This is because of her guilt about having to push away her father in order to be herself. . . .
In a similar way, by exploring the pain he feels in chasing after her, he contacts his old wound - his conflicted feelings about needing love. Because he had felt so unfulfilled as a child, part of him had come to believe that he is unworthy of love. Before he can make friends with his need for loving contact, he too has to become aware of his critic, who says, "You're so needy - what's wrong with you?" . . .
As they make friends with their needs, he and she no longer feel compelled to project their fears. No longer seeing each as oppressors, they can begin to communicate what they are actually experiencing in their conflicts. When he simply says "I'm feeling abandoned and scared right now," she becomes less defensive. And when she says, "I'm feeling overwhelmed and put on the spot," this disarms him. . . .
The final healing of the rift between he and she happens as they come to recognize, through working on themselves, that both these needs - to be strong individuals and to be close to each other - belong equally to each of them. As he comes to accept his need for love, he can discover why it has always been so hard to feel: It brings up his terror of being left alone. He had hated his aloneness as a child because it was associated with deprivation, which had felt like a threat to his survival. By relating to his inner child in a caring way and educating him to the present situation - that being alone is no longer a threat to his survival - he loosens the hold that his old abandonment stories have on him. . . .
Through their struggles he and she have learned a powerful, essential lesson: that relationship, rather than being just a form of togetherness, is a ceaseless flowing back and forth between joining and separating. Just as the moon begins to wane at the peak of its fullness and the tide ebbs at the height of its flux, so after moments of intense connecting two partners naturally begin to fall back into their aloneness. And in moments when they feel most separate, a desire is born to come together again. The health of a relationship depends on both partners being able to move freely back and forth between these two poles.
This is a key discovery for every relationship. We often imagine that having our own space in a relationship is the opposite of being intimate. Yet actually the reverse is true: Space is what allows intimacy to happen. It enables two people to meet and touch freshly, to "see each other whole and against a wide sky," as Rilke put it. Rilke's lover concurred when she wrote, "Two are one only when they remain two." The electricity in a couple's erotic connection flows most freely when they are not entangled, but rather feel themselves as two distinct, separate poles, man and woman.