When you are approaching a new task at home and even after a few trials, it is not working out for you, how do you feel about the prospect of having to ask for help from your partner? Or how do you feel when you do not know something and your partner may not more about this particular matter, how do you feel about asking them for their view and/or suggestions? Are you feeling shame, anxiety or perhaps you make up a story in your head that it is not important anyway and you will just leave it? Perhaps the prospect of asking another person fills you with dread? What about when you are in a conversation with your partner, are you often saying: “yeah, yeah, yeah….” and deep down you feel resistant to consider and take in what your partner is saying.
Recently I read a parenting book by Philippa Perry “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)” where she talked about this idea of fear of being influenced by other (one’s child or children in this case), fear of engaging in a true conversation which is an exchange or ideas, or also called as “diaphobia”. I started to think about how this fear manifests in adult romantic and other relationships. In this post I wanted to look at how this pattern might impact adult relationships and what might be some reasons that you have developed this fear and the accompanying behaviour patterns, underlying beliefs about yourself and others and how to start letting your partner more into your world.
What does the fear of being influenced look like in a couple relationship?
First, let’s look at a couple who have developed a mostly secure attachment adaptation to each other. If you are not familiar with attachment it refers to the emotional bond that we initially develop with our early caregivers and then our later adult relationships often mirror the early experiences. Going back to the secure attachment adaptation and how this looks like in a couple’s interaction. These kind of couples exercise open communication, exchanging ideas freely, talking about difficult deep emotional matters that make them feel vulnerable and they have a general belief about each other that their partner has their back and will support no matter what comes up. There is an openness of heart to hearing the other’s views without it causing fear or overwhelm. When the couple disagrees, they are able to listen and respect the other having a different view. When they have an argument, they are able to repair the relationship without matters escalating.
Fear of being influenced by other may manifest in your relationship by:
- Competing with your partner “ I need to be right” – when you are discussing something, it constantly feels like you have to have the right answer and not knowing feels and/or asking for partner’s support feel threatening to your sense of self
- Dominating the relationship – you are making most of the decisions in the relationship and allowing little space for the partner’s views or contributions. Perhaps you are very “bossy”.
- Excessive talking – You may not be aware of this fully even if you know that you are a talker. Excessive talking in a conversation leaves no space for the other to respond or contribute.
- Getting angry and/ridiculing your partner when partner makes suggestions – Perhaps you are even making assumptions about what your partner is communicating to you and you respond without allowing your partner to fully express themselves
- Keeping your partner at arms’ length. Perhaps you have very rigid boundaries for letting people into your world in general.
The underlying beliefs about yourself and the other that contribute to your fear of being influenced by the other
If you are fearful of being influenced by your partner, what could be triggered within you is this confusion about you and what your authentic self is, who you really are deep down if you allowed yourself to get in touch with your most vulnerable parts. Perhaps your threat detecting system is being alarmed and you may feel that you are not good enough, loveable and you have to protect yourself all the time, the other will take over and you get lost. The other may be seen as a threat and someone who will take over or someone who will take advantage of you rather than someone who is a supportive companion (even with a partner who is not threatening). You may not be aware of this and these beliefs are buried deep into your unconscious. You can think about it this way. We are like icebergs with visible parts, those parts that are not visible straight away but we are aware of them to a degree and then we have those parts, the most vulnerable parts of ourselves that we are not in touch with even if they influence our feelings and behaviours.
How your childhood experiences might contribute to your fear of being influenced by other
Perhaps 90% of what happens in our relationship and how we react to our partner is linked to our early experiences and relationships with we had with our early care givers. During our early years and in relationships with primary care giver(s) we learn about ourselves and others. Experiences with your early caregivers may have contributed to you developing a sense of self as a fragile person and to overcompensate for it, you may feel that you need to be in control all the time.
Experiences such as Childhood Emotional Neglect and/or some kind of childhood trauma, e.g. you grew up with narcissistic mother who did not allow any space for you (mother wound), may have impacted you. You might have had highly anxious and over-bearing parents who found it difficult to support your sense of independence as you were growing up. If you now as you are reading this notice experiencing shame. Please be compassionate towards yourself. As with any unhelpful behaviour pattern that we have learnt and perhaps repeated in our adult relationships, as you become aware of this, the change can start to happen.
How can I start to let my partner in my world and reduce the fear of being influenced by other?
We can only start to change what we are aware of and having awareness of your thoughts, emotional responses (including your body) and behaviours is essential.
- Start paying attention to how you feel when you are in a conversation with your partner.
- Track what is happening in your body, what emotions are you experiencing?
- What thoughts are you having and how are you responding to your partner?
- Really listen to your partner, as you notice the urge to rush and respond in a way that is blocking your partner out, take a deep breath.
- Have a conversation with your partner about how they feel about your behaviour. I understand this can feel very difficult, but you can be very helpful for your relationship as you partner feels heard.
- Professional help and having psychological therapy can be very helpful in understanding your behaviour patterns and their roots causes, which you can then start to change
I hope you found this useful. If you would like to understand more about relationship patterns and developing deeper emotional bond with your partner, you may find 7 Steps for transforming your relationship – Part 1: Assessing relationship patterns and sore spots.
Another post that might be useful is about being fearfully independent.
If you are looking for either individual therapy to address difficulties related to Childhood Emotional Neglect or childhood trauma or relationship difficulties, please take a look at my services page.