It’s often during this time of year in the Northern hemisphere, when the entire natural world is quivering with a restlessness to birth itself anew, when the animals are shaking the last snowflakes off their backs and the flowers are poking their heads above ground, that the projection of, “I’m not attracted/in love enough with my partner” emerges loud and fierce in my work with clients.
Why would this be? Why would the transition of seasons cause the projection about attraction and in-love feelings to rear its familiar, compelling, and insistent head?
Let’s break it down:
Transitons, for the highly sensitive among us, activate grief, restlessness, and vulnerability. This is true for the larger life transitions – getting married, moving, buying a house, having a baby – as well as for the ones that receive little to no attention in this culture: dusk and dawn, birthdays, and the change of seasons, to name a few. Said simply, exquisitely sensitive people – the deeply compassionate, aware, thoughtful ones who populate my practice, my courses, and my household – are exquisitely attuned to death in all forms: the change of house, the change of year, the change of one moment to the next, the change of seasons. I’ve now heard several clients repeat almost verbatim the teary-eyed words that came out of my son’s mouth when he turned seven: “I’m so sad that I’ll never be six again!” Or the time he approached me while I was writing at my desk and said, “Mommy, I’m so sad that the moment that just happened will never happen again.”
Attuning to and feeling the emotions that underlie the change of seasons isn’t the problem. The problem is that, because so few people were honored for their sensitivity growing up, as soon as they feel the slightest inkling of sadness, vulnerability, or restlessness with the passage of time and change of seasons they automatically turn on themselves with self-judgment and then project the initial core feelings outward in the form of “something is wrong with my partner”. This usually happens so fast it’s not even conscious, but the unspoken dialogue looks like this:
Feeling sad. I don’t know why. What’s wrong with me? Something’s wrong with me. Everyone else seems just fine. In fact, everyone is so happy about spring. Something is definitely wrong with me.
I’m not attracted enough to/in love enough with my partner.
If you don’t understand projection and intrusive thoughts, you will bite the hook, which means that you will believe that this thought/feeling is true and then, from that one moment of taking the thought/feeling at face value, you will tumble down the rabbit hole of anxiety and ruminations. What begins as a natural and quite beautiful response to life’s frailty – attuning to the death/rebirth cycle – morphs in a nanosecond into self-judgement (what’s wrong with me) and then projection (not attracted enough). It’s these two pitfalls – self-judgement and projection – that live at the core of relationship anxiety for most people.
If the thoughts/feelings aren’t true, what are they? They’re an opportunity. They’re gifts. They’re arrows shot directly from your soul designed to grab your attention so that you will crack open the projection/intrusive thought and peel back the layers until you arrive at its heart.
There are many spokes to the wheel of lack of attraction and lack of feeling, some of which I’ve written about here. Alongside all of these is the opportunity to connect more deeply to your Self – your physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual realms – and to ask yourself what’s needed in any particular moment. Intrusive thoughts, like dream images, are metaphors, meaning that they’re not meant to be taken at face value but ask that we crack them open to discover the gems hidden at the center. In the case of a client I worked with last week, the gem inside of “not attracted enough to my husband” was her longing for aliveness. As she’s been working with her relationship anxiety for many years, she was able to resist becoming deeply hooked by the thoughts, and as we worked during the session she arrived into the core:
I know this isn’t about my husband at all. Now that I’m saying this out loud, I can see that I’m longing for some fun. I need a vacation. It’s been such a long, cold, hard winter and I need something new, some freedom, a change of pace. I’m also aware that I’m longing to nurture my spark by taking some online classes. Yes, that feels alive and exciting! **
Here’s the sequence in its entirety:
I’m feeling restless and sad about the change of seasons.
I judge it because everyone else seems fine and I haven’t embraced my high sensitivity as a gift; it often feels more like a burden.
As I reject and judge the initial feelings, they morph into projection: I’m not attracted enough. I’m not in love enough. Internal gets pushed down and then emerges outward onto other so that I can see it more clearly.
I reel back the projection, knowing that it’s a clue that there’s something inside of me that needs attention.
I remember that lack of attraction = longing for aliveness (among many other equations).
I’m needing more aliveness. I’m needing something new, both in response to the intense winter and in a more ongoing way in my life. I can meet this need by taking a short vacation and signing up for an online class.
Contrary to what the culture teaches, it’s not your partner’s job to make you feel alive. It’s not his or her job to make you feel worthy because you’ve landed a partner that the culture deems “attractive”. It’s not your partner’s job to light your fire or make your life worth living. All of that is your job, and embedded inside every projection and intrusive thought is the gold of your own evolving awakening, clues to how you can embrace more fully the depth and breadth of who you truly are. Every projection is your inner Self pushed outward onto the movie screen of your partner.
It’s helpful to remember that these projections tend to emerge in technicolor during liminal zones, the in-between times of transition when the veil is thin: the space between seasons, the end of the day, the few moments between sleep and wakefulness when our toes are still dipped into the waters of another world. They emerge during the bigger transitions as well when our familiar life stage and identity hang in the balance between death and new life, when we are asked to let go of what we have known to make space for something new and must sit in the blurry, amorphous unknown until the known comes into focus. But it’s the lesser talked about transitions that effect the highly sensitives that need to be brought to even more light, as they occur daily, monthly, and seasonly.
These times are blessings in that the familiar structures of defense and story fall soften and eventually crumble, and in the rubble of the unknown, undefined space we can see with greater clarity the diamonds inside ourselves that long to be known. When we can bring context and compassion to our inner world, the projection doesn’t have to take hold. And when we can remember that sensitivity is a gift, the intense emotions that accompany it become guideposts toward helping us create a more connected, meaningful life, one in which we can allow our gifts to shine out into a world that desperately needs them.
** Session excerpt published with grateful permission from my client.