BY RUTH L. SCHWARTZ, Ph.D.
I am in a long distance relationship so I only see my girlfriend every couple of months. My girlfriend is most definitely a PEP, having issues around a smothering mother. Her mother made everything about herself and expected to be taken care of by her daughter. She feels like we talk too much. I on the other hand am most definitely a PAP. I grew up with a very domineering mother who was incredibly abusive, both physically and emotionally. I am learning I am worthy of love.
I would like to talk every other day and text in between. Yet I know that my girlfriend is not responsible for my happiness, and I can understand where she is coming from. How do I stop my fretting when I don’t hear from her? Is it possible to make some compromises so we both get what we need? There are so many other parts of our relationship that make me feel secure and loved. We are both very committed to making this work.
– Tara in Ohio
That is such a great question. Thanks for asking! (By the way, for those readers who don’t yet know about PAP and PEP, they stand for the “primal abandonment panic” and “primal engulfment panic” that come up for so many of us when it feels as if our girlfriends are too far away — or too close. You can find out much more about PAP and PEP in our Video #2, or read our introductory column here on Lesbian.com)
First, it’s great that you can see why both you and your girlfriend have the tendencies you do, based on your childhoods – and when you remind yourself of that, it can help you remember that her needs and actions are not about you. That is, her needs have nothing to do with your worthiness. You are worthy of being loved, and it sounds like she does love you and
wants to keep loving you better, which is wonderful! And of course, she too, is worthy of love, and it sounds like part of what she needs from you — part of what spells “love” to her — is having you fully respect and treasure her autonomy, her separateness.
I can see why it’s rough for you that it’s a long distance relationship. That does seem like a circumstance especially designed to push your PAP buttons (though I’m sure they’d get pushed in a different way if you were in the same town because that’s just how it works. Life finds a way to push our buttons no matter what.) If you are really willing to take this piece of self-
responsibility and self-healing on (which it sounds like you are!) then here’s what I’d suggest:
1. When you start “fretting” that you haven’t heard from her, do the SCORE Process. Step back into yourself and connect with yourself, with compassion. Compassion is an incredibly soothing balm for what ails us! Breathe in deep and slow, feel your body, come home to your body, and invite in a sense of love and tenderness for yourself. Remind yourself that yes, you are totally worthy of love. You can use the Metta prayer Michelle shared in our True Love Teleclass , since she wrote this specifically to address her own fear of being unlovable.
May I be happy.
May I know my true worth.
May I know that I am lovable.
May I love and be loved with ease.
Once you’re feeling calmed and gentled by that wonderful application of self-compassion, you can open to observe the origins of the feeling you’re calling “fretting.” In a gentle way, check out what the feelings really are, and where they’re coming from inside you. My guess is that you’ll find a child self who is totally freaked out by her abusive mother, and really scared that she isn’t worthy of love, and can’t and won’t be loved (or something like that). Take the time to really see and listen to that little girl, whatever’s going on with her, and let the stream of compassion touch her, too. Bring the metta (loving-kindness) on in to her, too.
As you do that, you’re actually taking responsibility for your own feelings in the sense that you are treating them as your own, and addressing them from the inside. The love that scared, hurt, sad (or angry) little girl needs most can only come from… you! You are the one who can be with her 24/7 if you are willing. No one else can or will, and it wouldn’t be appropriate if they could (and frankly, if someone tried, you’d probably start feeling your own PEP after awhile!) But you can bring your own larger self, your adult, wiser, resourced self, to that little girl and as you do, she will feel much more secure and comfortable and lovable and connected, and “fret” much less.
(By the way, sometimes people worry, “If I’m with that little girl 24/7, then doesn’t that mean I’ll feel anxious and alone 24/7?” But actually, the opposite is true. If you’re with her, she won’t feel anxious or alone any more, so neither will you! And if you have any spiritual beliefs or practices, call in whatever larger/wiser being you believe in — God/dess, angels, spirit guides, your higher self — to be with you and your little girl self, too. That way, if your adult self ever feels overwhelmed, the larger, divine part of you is right there to step in and bring even more love to both adult and child.)
2. And then, after you’ve done this kind of work for some days or weeks on your own, you can share it with your girlfriend, not in a “Therefore I want you to be different” way, but in a “Here’s what’s been going on with me” way. She’ll feel your energy shift and that will make a different kind of conversation possible from her end, too.
Of course, if she’s able and willing to do her own SCORE Process with her own younger self – bringing her adult self to her younger self and assuring her that she will always get to have her own boundaries and separateness, that her autonomy will always be respected, and that she gets to have connection, too (she doesn’t have to choose between them!) then that will help ease things up on her end.
Over time, as you both work on healing your triggers, you may actually find that you’re able to get into a rhythm of talking and/or texting with each other that is easy, natural and organic, something that changes from week to week, and that you are both comfortable with, without even having to negotiate or compromise!
Lots of love and blessings to you both,
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