Pathology of the Commitmentphobe
Until last month, I had never heard the term. Of course I have known many men in my life that were afraid of commitment. Women, too. I’m afraid of commitment in some ways. And I’m too committed in others. (Maybe should be committed )
But while searching for answers last month after a sudden and thereby shocking breakup, I’ve learned some new things about people, relationships, and myself.
One day when I didn’t want to spend another day leaning on very patient friends or crying alone, I went out to Barnes & Noble to find How To Survive the Loss of a Love. While there in the relationship section of the store, I saw a book called He’s Scared, She’s Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears that Sabotage Your Relationships. Although I didn’t really understand what had happened to cause my recent relationship to crash and burn so suddenly, I did know that it had to do with both of us being trapped in our fears.
As I sat in B&N with my Tomato Basil Panini, I started reading. There it all was in black & white. It was as if the authors had observed our relationship, took notes, jumped in the TARDIS, went back twenty years, and wrote this book. There were all the answers I was searching for. The explanations of why he did what he did. Perfect descriptions of everything that was going through my head and my heart. Soon thereafter, I had not only bought that book, but I also got the authors’ first book Men Who Can’t Love.
By the end of the week, I had read them both cover to cover. These authors and their research helped me heal. I was finally beginning to understand what had happened, and I finally got that it wasn’t my fault.
Back during the first week after my breakup, I wrote a blog post called Engulfment Fears: Running Away From Love, in which I expressed just how ridiculous that fear was (along with how its polar opposite, abandonment fears, were also absurd). One commenter said I had totally missed the mark on that post. And he was right. I did. I had no idea that this level of commitment fear was actually a psychological illness, a pathological phobia in many cases, and it makes me feel ever so sad for those who suffer from it.
From the foreword in Men Who Can’t Love:
Woman after woman told story after story about man after man who went from loving to rejecting–for no understandable reason. These men were in hot pursuit one day and in flight the next, omnipresent one week and “gone,” “vanished,” and “unreachable” the next…
When a woman is involved in a relationship with a man who undergoes a transformation that takes him from attentive and caring to distant and hurtful–for no apparent reason–it’s not surprise that she typically becomes profoundly traumatized…
In fact, the intensity that surrounded their relationships was usually so overwhelming that the women frequently saw their connections to these men as something preordained and beyond any logical explanation. These men were running away from acceptance, love, and passion!
The authors go on to say that they wrote the book to let these women know that “they were not at fault.”
This was not happening to them because they were not giving enough. This was not happening because they were not understanding enough. This was not happening because they weren’t patient enough. This was not happening because they were not enough. This was happening because they had partners with serious problems, and any attempt to do more for these partners would only intensify their confusing behavior.
As I’ve written about time and again, everyone has fears. I know I sure do. And it’s in sharing those fears that two people can become closer. It’s in facing those fears together that intimacy can develop, and a couple can actually learn to deal with them in a healthier way and perhaps even transcend them. But in order to do that, one must first acknowledge their own fears. It’s difficult, and it takes serious courage to look at oneself and then to admit that you are swimming in fear.
But we all are. It’s okay.
What’s not okay is to avoid those fears, deny them, and allow them to hurt other people again and again. And that’s what these commitmentphobes do. They know they hurt their partners (and yes, women can be commitmentphobes, too. It’s stereotypically, but not exclusively, men), and they keep doing the same thing time after time. They keep finding new partners, jumping from one intense relationship to the next, leading each new wo/man into believing they are in love and intimate and special. Then they turn from loving to callous overnight, leaving yet another broken heart in their wake.
This is not okay.
A relationship with a commitmentphobe is both so deeply profound and transcendently loving on one side, and completely crazy-making on the other. They always keep their partners off-balance. As soon as their partner gets comfortable in the relationship, their phobia makes them create drama. Because a happy relationship means commitment. It means that they might not have a way out.
If his fear is strong enough, this man will ultimately sabotage, destroy, or run away from any solid, good relationship. He wants love, but he is terrified–genuinely phobic–about commitment...
As I read through these books, I was appalled by story after story of (mostly) men doing the same things my ex did, some to much more horrifying degrees. One woman said, “I was overwhelmed by the level of emotional intimacy he gave and expected. And I liked it–it made me feel safe and secure.”
I think the most horrifying part of the book is when I read the section called “Meaningless Tears.”
At the very beginning–on the first or second date. [for me it was the 6th date, three weeks in]
And amazing number of women have told me that these men are apt to have tears come to their eyes early in the relationship. This usually happens when he is telling the woman some “sensitive” tale about his life or displaying his emotions on some subject…The message that is conveyed to the woman is: I trust you with my feelings, and I want you to trust me. She usually does.
That’s also the night he first said he loved me through those tear-filled blue eyes.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Woman after woman. Story after story. They all “spoke to the same issue: an abandonment and betrayal of trust that had taken place in a relationship in which they had been encouraged, by the man, to expect tender intimacy.”
These men pursued. Convinced. Wooed. Loved.
Turned on a dime.
Every man interviewed said basically the same thing, too. They all knew they do this to women. They know their patterns. They know they send mixed messages. They know that there will come a point where they will have a total Jekyll/Hyde transformation and turn from a loving, attentive, compassionate man to a cruel, heartless, arrogant asshole. They know they will break her heart. They may feel guilty, but they refuse to take responsibility for the harm they’ve caused. Then they jump into another relationship to relieve their guilt, believing that THIS time will be different. Always looking for some perfect fit that doesn’t exist because when the anxiety sets in, the smallest flaw can be an excuse to leave.
And they do it again. And again. And again.
These wo/men are manipulative and emotionally abusive. The damage they cause is very deep. They toy with their partner’s emotions, always giving mixed signals:
No matter how much these men and women claim to want easy, uncomplicated love relationship, on some level they are always creating conflict. These men and women will usually be giving their partners a wide variety of intense messages that can best be described as mixed or double. For example:
- Very seductive/very rejective
- Very intimate/very withdrawn
- Very accepting/very critical
- Very tender/very hostile
- Very romantic/very distant
- Very sexually provocative/very sexually withholding
- Very giving/very cold
…Your touch says yes while your words say no; your body says stay away while your eyes say you care; your tears say you’re sorry, but your behavior doesn’t change; your smile says you’re happy, but your posture says you’re scared. There are always two messages; there is always a contradiction. (He’s Scared, She’s Scared)
They are so deeply conflicted and severely terrified, so desperately wanted love and intimacy on the one hand and their pathological fears stopping them from keeping it on the other. They feel claustrophobic, as if their very life is being threatened. It’s tragic and so very sad.
Perhaps even more sad are the partners and string of broken hearts left in their wakes. These wo/men who have so cruelly been cast aside out of the blue generally blame themselves. But it’s not their fault.
But, as I’ve said before, my sympathy ends when your issues hurt other people. Especially when you KNOW your issues hurt other people. Get help. Stop dating until you can stop hurting others.
You know your pattern.
Stop hurting people.
“Love and fear cannot exist in the same space” ~Unknown
- Signs of a commitmentphobe
- Symptoms of a commitmentphobe
- The commitmentphobe
- Overcoming commitmentphobia
- Overcome Commitmnetphobia: Guided Self-Hypnosis
**Added 01/27/13** Since this is my most popular post, along with PTSD from Emotional Abuse, I thought I’d write an update for clarity in each of your journeys.
This post was written nearly a year ago, just about six weeks after the split. Looking back, I can see that I was deeply trapped by the Betrayal Bond. I’ve learned a lot about Betrayal Bonds, PTSD, and survival between now and then. So many people have written me just having been victims of a commitmentphobe, too, and in almost every instance, what they describe is not only hallmark commitmentphobia, but so many also sound like their abusers were what my abuser turned out to be: a narcissist, and very likely either a psychopath or sociopath, depending on which definition you go with. I’ve written extensively on all these subjects after this post.
You can follow my journey with the links from the post called Polyamory Podcast Hiatus, also anything with the tag “austin poly rapist.” It’s an interesting one, and it might be helpful to you, reader, as it shows how one is in so much denial at first because of the shock, and how, if you commit to healing, you can uncover some pretty horrific things. Still, I’d rather know, accept, and heal than to fall into the same trap with another predator like these people.
~ by omgrey on April 4, 2012.
Posted in Romance & Relationships, Trauma & Recovery
Tags: amazon, anxiety, author, book, broken heart, commitmentphobe, commitmentphobia, fear, he's scared, heartbroken, honesty, infidelity, intimacy, julia sokol, love, LTR, men who can't love, mental illness, misogyny, non-monogamy, o.m. grey, olivia grey, open, open marriage, passion, phobia, polyamory, relationship advice, relationships, romance, sex, shattered, she's scared, steven carter