In episode 280, I received a question from an individual who finds themself struggling with their mental health whenever they enter a relationship, feeling as if love brings them pain. In this post, I look at this a little deeper and unpick the reasons why such issues might occur and what steps you can begin to take to change the way you view your relationships.
Hello, I’m 19 and I’ve been starting to realize a pattern in my life. Every time I go into a relationship, my mental health crumbles, even if the other person is the sweetest person in the world. I’ve been stuck in a pattern of feeling like love is the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and think this might be due to something undiagnosed, that I have to wait for a long while to get a diagnosis for. I really need advice, I think this is getting worse and worse, and I’m scared of how bad it might get before I can see if I actually have a mental illness contributing to this.
This is an interesting one. I’m not going to be able to give you a solid answer because it’s really hard to know exactly what happens for you in these instances. I’m going to throw out some things for you to consider and hopefully some helpful avenues to follow up.
There are some personal factors to consider here. How is your self-concept in general? Is this specifically tied to relationships, or is this just a symptom of a larger problem like feeling unworthy of care and attention? It could be that a relationship just serves as the perfect stimulus to highlight the underlying issue. Do you have a history of relational trauma? If you have a strong, persistent, negative association to romantic relationships, that could explain a lot of the confusing things that happen to you when you find yourself in one. You may intellectually desire a relationship and pursue them, but when you actually find yourself in one, there are triggering aspects that make you feel and behave differently. In ways that aren’t so compatible with maintaining a relationship.
How is your attachment to your primary caregivers from early on in your development? You can get a quick primer on attachment styles from a simple google or youtube search. There tend to be different patterns of attachment and if yours isn’t particularly secure, that might explain the push/pull feeling in relationships. If your attachment style is anxious, you might have difficulty being away from the object of your attachment, but also not derive a strong sense of comfort from being with them either. Obviously, these types of issues are things that require some significant personal work in the self-help or professional help realm to unspool.
One thing that you can do starting now is to actually track what happens to you in relationships. If you aren’t currently in one or won’t be in one for a while, you can also go back into your recollection and start writing about your previous experiences in relationships. Really take the chance to dig in here. Don’t settle for, “I get sad and mess things up.” What actually happens? Is there a communication breakdown? Are there conflicts? Do you start to neglect your own basic needs and self-care needs, which turns you into an unhealthy person in general? What is the typical course? Is it an up and down situation or does it always seem like a constant downward trajectory? Are there consistent issues that are brought up to you? Do you have consistent symptoms, thoughts, or self-talk? I could keep going, but I hope you get the idea. Really flesh out each relationship that you can recall. Do a little bit of detective work here. Even if there is possibly a mental health issue at play here, going through this process is going to help you find the patterns that would be necessary to work toward a diagnosis and better understanding.
Let’s say you had something like borderline personality disorder. If that were the case, you would probably start relationships with a lot of intensity and positivity. You may even feel euphoric and totally “normal”. After some time, you might start becoming more and more paranoid about potential signs of abandonment or that this person is a bad person for you. You could become very sensitive to perceived slights by them. This causes you to act out, become hyperreactive to difficulties in the relationship, and in the end the relationship doesn’t survive, which feels like a confirmation of your fears.
If you feel that there is a significant mental health component, definitely consider enlisting the help of an experienced professional. This stuff can be so hard to sort through on your own. It may also be helpful to ask people on the outside for some feedback and their perspective. If you feel comfortable, this could even be previous partners. Whether it’s previous partners or just friends and family that experienced you in the context of previous relationships, you can ask them what they observed, where they think things went wrong etc. I also want you to think of what else in your life could be contributing to this. At your age and in your place in life, are there other issues that are making relationships difficult? How are you socially and relationally in general? is this limited to romantic relationships or do you have trouble relating to others in general? How is your mental health in general? Again, a bunch of questions for you to consider because it could change the approach for dealing, adjusting, or accepting.
My hope for you is that you take these questions and keep them in mind, that you start digging into this a bit and writing down the patterns that you notice, and if you see it as useful, get some help as well. I’m glad that you are paying attention to this and I hope this points you in a helpful direction.
You can listen to this on Episode 280 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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