Dr Becky Spelman discusses fear of commitment on a UK talk show. What is commitment phobia, where does it come from and how to overcoming it.
James: Welcome back. So, we’re still on the topic of commitment phobia and we have Dr Becky. Good evening Dr Becky.
Dr Becky: Good evening James.
James: Thank you for being on the show. Just before we started recording, I was asking Dr Becky, who is worse with commitment phobia, men or women? You said it tends to women?
Dr Becky: (It affected both men and women) Equally but it manifests in different ways. Often with males we see the more obvious commitment phobia, so actually they just won’t go into the relationship. Whereas females, we see different types of acting out behaviours, so they may be very desperate to go into the relationship but then once they’re in it, they feel very anxious and there’s a lot of worry (for them) and then they may leave a relationship very quickly or be very needy and very clingy in the relationship and be terrified of commitment and what might happen as a result of being in a relationship. So, I would say it can affect both sexes equally but it can manifest in different types of behaviours.
James: We had a question from Facebook and I wanted to put it to you maybe Dr Becky. And this person said, look, with the pressure of social media right now (relationships are very difficult), she even used a word I’ve never heard before which is some people are no longer in relationships. They are in situations.
Helena: They are in “situationships.”
Dr Becky: In the past, people could be very anxious about their relationships but because of society, you didn’t have the opportunities to act on that, so you sat through your anxieties, whereas now people who are insecure in their relationships can do something about it too fast, so the temptation to reach out and get into a different situation in order to suppress your anxiety can happen so fast for people with these dating apps, people can just – if they’re feeling a bit anxious, if they’re feeling a bit phobic of commitment, they just reach out, because of their anxiety they find themselves doing these unhelpful behaviours that essentially don’t solve the problem for them. It means they just jump around rather than staying in a committed relationship.
Helena: Just what I was saying in the beginning of the program, it’s like the toaster situation I call it. Your toaster broke, you just get yourself a new one because you don’t fix it anymore.
Dr Becky: Yeah, yeah. Good analogy.
Helena: I was like, okay, so you don’t fix it anymore. You just get a new one and that’s it and I find it a bit sad.
James: But it’s something worth talking about because is it that some people are afraid of commitment or is it they don’t want to commit because they want to be free to be with one person and the next because it’s like two sides to the coin. Some people do have a fear of being committed to one person and what that means for the rest of your life. Others just don’t want to be tied down like men, you said. Do you think there is more of one than the other? Are they linked?
Dr Becky: Yup. So, secure people make very good choices in their relationship and they may decide not to go into a relationship because that’s better for them. They feel very comfortable in their choices. When we talk about commitment phobia, people desperately often do want to be in relationships but they’re terrified and every time they try to make a move towards a relationship, it feels somewhat anxiety and that’s where the problematic behaviours come and that’s where the distress comes in. So, if someone is secure about not being in a relationship, fine, it’s not affecting their life. But commitment phobia is more about the anxiety that brings someone when they feel either trapped because someone is trying to lure them into a relationship or they’re getting involved in a relationship, they want to be in that relationship but they’re terrified and they go into this unhealthy cycle as a result of it.
Helena: So, it is a real problem. Because some people don’t think it’s a problem. It’s just an excuse.
Dr Becky: It’s a real problem and it starts really early in life for people. It is quite deep-rooted and it relates to people’s attachments with their parents, that’s where it starts from.
Helena: It makes sense.
James: I think we need to start talking about a solution to this problem. I mean, Dr Becky, do you think there are steps that people can take to overcome fear of commitment – what do you think is the best way to approach it?
Dr Becky: First of all, you have to understand yourself and understand where this problem has come from and it’s always to do with how people were brought up and the level of intimacy and emotional understanding that they received from their caregivers or parents when they were young. So, when people realise, “Okay, my parents were a bit emotionally unavailable and that’s why I’m having problems with commitment” they understand the root of the cause, they’ve accepted it’s a problem, and then they know what their problematic behaviours are. They know, “Okay, every time I get into a relationship, I run away. Every time I get in a relationship, I pick up on all of my partner’s faults and I blame it on them when actually the real problem is, I am scared of being in that relationship, so I have to stop making excuses to get out of it,” or people who have these on-off relationships. People need to pick up on what their behaviours are, what their unhelpful behaviours are, and start to change that cycle, start to sit through their anxiety, and get really comfortable with feelings of anxiety and not sabotaging the relationship, but also choosing the right partner, so choosing emotionally available partners because often, these people will pick emotionally unavailable partners because that feels safe. People who are emotionally unavailable don’t really see into that person in the same way as someone who is emotionally available. So often, people are picking the wrong partners for them. They need to break that cycle as well.
James: And I think something important as well which we mentioned earlier, I mean, I give my example to viewers that I had not a very good example at home with my parents’ marriage. It was a bit complicated to say the least, it ended very badly, but I think I realised early on because I did have people help me realise that I’m not my dad. The fact that he messed up and he made a mistake – a really bad mistake, it doesn’t mean that I have to do that because I am his flesh and blood. I make my own decisions. So, would you say that’s important as well for people to remember that just because something happened at home when you were growing up, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen now.
Dr Becky: People do go with what’s familiar. So often, we do see repeated cycles of what people felt in their home environment. They often repeat that in their later relationships in later life, but cycles can be broken and I think the important thing is understanding yourself, understanding what your tendency are in terms of the cycles that you repeat. If you go for unhealthy partners and you keep going for the same type of unhealthy partners who won’t be able to have a true intimate relationship, you need to recognise that and break that cycle. But yeah, understanding that actually you can change and you can identify what’s going wrong for you in relationships, and if you’re afraid of commitment, actually noticing what happens for you.
Helena: I would even say as well, I don’t know if you agree, that it’s important because I was doing some research on this – I have been saying that a lot, (I do like this topic quite a lot), that it’s very important for people to overcome that phobia, to actually recognise I’ve got a problem because usually people don’t like to talk about it very much and I was talking to you before the program before we started recording and I was asking you if you get a lot of people come in to get help for that. Do you get a lot of people with this problem?
Dr Becky: I get a lot of people and it’s always the same story. It starts early in life and you can see it in their home environment when they were being brought up it’s often that the way their parents responded to their own emotions was not ideal. Their parents were not as emotionally developed as well as was ideal and then you get these unhelpful relationship cycles. It is a bit like any other phobia in that exposure to your worse fear helps. So, if someone experiences a lot of relationship anxiety, staying in a situation and not running away from the relationship is best but only if you’ve chosen the best partner for you. And that’s where it gets a bit tricky because so many people pick bad partners for themselves, so staying in that relationship is going to be terrible and you are going to be experiencing anxiety because that person is going to be prone to hurt you. So, pick someone who is emotionally available and then sit through your anxieties, don’t run away from the relationship.
James: I think finally to wrap up, I’d like to ask what you think is the one most important thing to overcome commitment phobia Dr Becky?
Dr Becky: The term intimacy, I often break that down for people as “into me see” and to let someone really see into you in that true intimacy way is terrifying for a lot of people. And if you think about your relationships, think about are you really ready to let someone see into you in that way or are you going to choose the wrong partners for you for the rest of your life. If you’re lucky enough to find a partner who is capable of true intimacy, this is the type of person who is going to understand your emotions and respond really well to your emotions, those are the clues in finding the right partner. And when you find that partner and you’re feeling anxious, know what your unhelpful behaviours are and sit through that anxiety without acting out because it’s the acting out behaviour that sabotages the relationship.
Dr James: Okay.
Helena: Good point.
James: Thank you very much for being on the program it’s been pleasure. I’m sure you’ve helped our viewers today.
Dr Becky: Thank you so much.
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