Matthew called me three months before his wedding and told me the following story: “I’ve been with my fiancé for two years, and until last month I was madly in love with her. I couldn’t wait to see her at the end of every day, I loved getting phone calls from her, I didn’t care what we did as long as I was with her; in short, I was in bliss. I never felt that way about anyone. I knew early on that I wanted to marry her and that feeling never wavered… until about a month ago.”
“What happened a month ago?” I asked.
“I don’t know. All of a sudden I developed this pit in my stomach and it hasn’t gone away. Now I dread seeing her. I feel like I don’t love her anymore. Sometimes I’m not even attracted to her. Is it possible that I’ve fallen out of love?”
I told him that it was highly unlikely that he would suddenly fall out of love. After learning more about his relationship with his partner, it was clear that she hadn’t changed a bit and there were no serious red-flag issues, but that he had become overtaken with a pernicious fear that grew each day inside his mind. Instead of becoming curious about the fear, he tried to avoid it by staying busy, ignoring it, rationalizing it, and talking to his father several times a day about it. While he did gain some insights through the conversations with his father, the avoidance tactics didn’t touch the core of the fear. “I just want it to go away,” he moaned to me. Like most of the clients who come to me for pre-wedding counseling, he had formed the false – yet understandable – belief that since he was feeling this way around his fiancé it must be because he wasn’t supposed to marry her. I reassured him that, as far as I could tell, the feelings were trying to communicate something vastly different.
I decided it was time to introduce him to dialoguing. A highly left-brained, achievement-oriented person, he told me in the first session that he was generally “out of touch with my feelings.” As is often the case with people who perpetually ignore their emotional life, the feelings became somatitized in the body in the form of physical symptoms. For Matthew it assumed the form of “the pit.” I asked him to close his eyes, find a comfortable position (at his office desk chair, of course), and breathe directly into the pit. After a few minutes, I asked him to speak from the pit. “What does the pit want to tell you?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“Is the pit scared?”
Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Yes.”
“What are you scared of?”
“Of not being good enough.”
“And what would happen if you’re not good enough?”
“And what would happen if you failed?”
“Failure would be a disaster.”
“A disaster to who?”
“Everyone. My fiancé, my parents.”
“How old are you right now?
I’m always amazed at how readily the wounded self makes itself known. With the slightest loving attention, Matthew’s ten year old child spoke up and offered us a kernel of wisdom about one of the causes of the pit. Of course this voice had been making itself known through Matthew’s feelings, but it took actively asking him about himself for him to reveal the false belief that Matthew is carrying around. Like an actual child, when we surround our wounded self with love and approach it with a true intention to learn and explore, truths unfold like flowers in spring.
We took some time to talk about the expectations of his parents growing up, how he had always complied to their unspoken expectation of him being good and succeeding, how there really wasn’t room for failure. He said he always got good grades and when he didn’t his parents would talk to him about why and how he could do better next time. “What was considered a bad grade?” I asked. “Anything less than an A,” he replied.
Matthew’s conditioning “not to fail” was so deeply ingrained that he could barely see it as an unhealthy and unloving belief. It was only when I helped him contact an older, wiser male figure that he started to bring in the truth about this belief system. Even so, the faint tendrils of a belief system rooted in truth were tenuous, at best; as we started to end the session, he said that while he felt good during the session, he wasn’t sure he could do this on his own. I told him that journaling, like all processes and types of spiritual work, is a practice. If he commits to spending time each day, as many times a day as he can with his inner parts and voices, the process will become more and more fluid, the pit will transform into pearls of wisdom, and he will start to experience more joy and excitement about his upcoming wedding. On the other hand, if he ignores his feelings and continues in the same vein as he’s done his whole life, he will continue to approach his wedding day – and, more importantly, his marriage – with dread.
Note: I wrote this article about nine months ago. I’ve been working with “Matthew” weekly on the various strands that have contributed to him closing his heart down to his now wife. While he’s sure that he made the right decision to marry her and knows that these issues would arise with any woman he was with, he’s had to move slowly to remove the false belief that it’s not safe to open his heart to her, and that if he does so he’ll be rejected or disappointed. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll explain why it’s important to move slowly when we’re deconstructing beliefs that have been with us for our entire lives.