Examining our deepest fears of intimacy and wounding.
I was never a fan of the show “FRIENDS” but reading about Matthew Perry’s untimely death this morning struck a deep, reflective chord in me. He passed away in a hot tub after battling for years with addiction and going in and out of rehab centers. He never married and never had any children, although he did have relationships with famous people like Julia Roberts. He and I are the same age and his tragic death caused me to reflect upon my own life, spiritual tradition and friendships. He longed to become ready to eventually let someone in and find love. He said:
”That was me afraid. I manifest something that’s wrong with them, and then I break up with them. But there can’t be something wrong with everyone. I’m the common denominator. I left first because I thought they were going to annihilate me.”
Matthew Perry- People Magazine
However, he said that he had finally ”gotten over” his ”fear of love” after becoming sober in May 2021 and said ”I’m not afraid anymore,” and said that he wanted to find love and have children.
Accountability- What it Means to Grow Up
In any 12 step program, one of the hardest things is to begin the trajectory toward healing, and take the first step and admit that you have a problem. I commend Matthew for going into rehabs to battle with his inner fears and demons. I don’t know if drugs and alcohol were involved in his death, but irrespective of that, I think his memoirs show that he was able to have a great degree of insight and accountability.
I appreciate that he did a sufficient amount of inner work to be able to see his shadow and see where he had deprived himself from really being able to go deep, and love another person by wanting to make a commitment and eventually, have a family. Just that insight alone is so rare, that a person is able to see their core issues in and their wounding and then long to heal and make personal change. This means that he was able to venture into the darkest places within himself, that a lot of us never dare to touch. As far as I’m concerned, because of this accountability, he died somewhat spiritually healed and exhibited rare bravery. Matthew, I’d like to wish you well and I would like to learn from some of the things that you shared, so that each of us could have deeper relationships, and more fulfilling lives and not let our fears, insecurities and inner demons cast us forever into a life of emotional isolation and despair.
What is Love Avoidance?
According to the DSM5, avoidant personality disorder it is a cluster B/C personality disorder, hallmarked with a “sensitive hyper-vigilant temperament, with a general longing to relate to others.” Furthermore they have excessive fears of such issues as intolerance of any disapproval, criticism, or rejection. Love avoidants also have “inhibition in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy.”
One of the hallmarks of a love avoidant, is that they can avoid being hurt or being emotionally vulnerable, and they stay in complete control of the relationship by withholding. Love avoidants exhibit intense escapism and often sabotage any chance of someone really becoming close to them. Because of this deep inner wounding and intense insecurity, they wind up often turning to drugs and alcohol and compulsive behaviors. They can be secretive, sexually compulsive and use distancing techniques like devaluing and criticizing their partners as the method of staying in control. They sometimes are “tactile defensive,” not wanting to be touched, except for sex.
At the first moment that they become vulnerable where they perceive that their partner might want to offend, hurt or leave them, that partner who they attempted to open up to, now becomes the enemy in their mind. They will usually discard their partner vehemently. This black-and-white thinking, is called splitting, where the person that they attempted to open to, is now inaccurately perceived as “all, bad or all evil.” This is very commonly exhibited in many cluster B personality disorders, like Borderline, Antisocial and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Love avoidance is a maladaptive, protective coping skill that can come from people that were neglected or abused as children. Sometimes there are genetic factors that are inherited generationally, and in these cases there is no real treatment or cure. However, in Matthew’s case, he was capable of insight and contrition, and for people like that, there is often hope.
Love Avoidance and Spiritual Bypassing
I wanted to share why this personally inspired me to write today. I have tried many relationships in my Buddhist community for decades with men that supposedly upheld values like: being trustworthy and safe, having ethics, compassion, patience, listening, forgiveness and indeed, 84,000 different skillful means of compassionate expression and problem solving skills. However, time and time again I would meet these men, sometimes even exalted teachers, and it became revealed that many had serious emotional issues, reactivity and commitment and control issues, that would result in conflict and breakups. I wound up marrying someone outside of my Buddhist spiritual tradition who was very sane, stable and well adjusted and we’ve been able to be married for over 22 years now.
A lot of my close Buddhist Dharma friends, both men and women are single, not all but many. I feel like if I had tried to find someone in our tradition, I probably would still be single myself. I’ve noticed that a lot of us admittedly, including myself, came in to Buddhism as westerners and spiritual seekers, because of some type of pain or core wounding or unresolved issues. The tradition values a simple, unfettered life without commitments and a strong commitment to hours of daily meditation practice.
I’ve still gotten into painful conflicts with many yogi-robed acquaintances, mostly men on social media where, I would say one benign thing that they perceived as some type of injury and they would become rageful, defame or even block me. It was pretty vicious and callous, and it’s clear that they are using our tradition to foster nothing but Spiritual Narcissism. Many of them purport to be “dharma experts” and use daily photos of Buddhist teachers and insightful quotes to gain +/-500 virtue signaling “Likes.” What a sad life and waste of time and indeed these men are often quintessential love avoidants. I know that social media becomes a place where people with significant damage, wounding and personality disorders can play out a lot of prey/predator narcissistic disordered games. For that reason, I’ve left a lot of the social media milieus, and it has given me my real life back, with time for real relationships.
Was Gautama the Original Love Avoidant?
The Buddha himself was a renunciate and in fact even left his wife and newborn child and all responsibilities to “self actualize.” If he had left his wife and child so callously in this day and age, we may have considered him quite selfish and legally, he would be considered a “deadbeat dad” in many countries. However, the difference between the Buddha leaving his family and going deep into his ascetic, yogic practices and meditation was that his leaving was based on a very serious longing to develop himself and foster compassion to help others. That was an act of bravery as referenced above with Mr. Perry, rather than an act of escapism and avoidance.
Since his time, we’ve had a tradition of both lay and monastic practitioners, and sometimes I wonder what the root motivation is for westerners getting involved with this tradition. If we already have deep wounding and a propensity for escapism, spiritual narcissism and love avoidance, would we then find a religion that reflects, houses and even rewards some of our maladaptive psycho-sexual and relational patterns? I do wonder sometimes if we have misconstrued this basic point, and created an entire religion and paradigm that honors and exalts the propensity to be a love avoidant and bypass our deepest fears of vulnerability, intimacy and early wounding. Just because leaving his family was ok for the Buddha doesn’t mean we should emulate him, if we in contrast, are using our tradition as a method of opiation and escapism. All we will have done is hurt ourselves and others, and wasted this precious life, in spiritual delusion.
I noticed that a lot of my friends claim to have a strong commitment to their Dharma meditation practice and have been told that they have a rare “noble birth,” and consider themselves quite spiritually accomplished and even god-forbid, superior to others. We can’t really be making ANY spiritual progress if we have simply used our tradition for this quintessential spiritual bypass. Staying alone, rejecting the world, rejecting intimacy in some type of strange, self-aggrandized, escapist renunciation is often, simply the fostering of a monumental ego and cowardice, rather than anything that looks like openness, genuine compassion and enlightenment.
Healing Through Awareness
If we have discovered and become honest with ourselves that we are indeed love avoidant, or we are in a relationship with a love avoidant there are ways that these patterns can be healed. The very first step is education, awareness, insight and accountability. Then, we can seek professional counseling with a DBT therapist. And for partnerships: IMAGO is one of the best relationship healing methods.
I wish that Matthew had lived long enough to accomplish his dreams of finally finding real love and intimacy, getting married and having a child. Him understanding and saying that in fact, he was the common denominator in all of these failed relationships, and that he simply was afraid of being hurt, was intensely vulnerable and brave, and indeed, healed. Love avoidants can spend their entire lives blaming others as to why their partner deserved to be hurt, abandoned left or was never, ever good enough. In Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, we formed an entire religion where people are afraid to go deeply into their lives, be vulnerable and make any commitment to really… anything that they consider “worldly.” I think if we shed light on this propensity, we can become better and go beyond our deep wounding and develop true bravery, foster healthy relationships a meaningful life and indeed- real genuine mutual loving connections. I would like to learn and be inspired by Matthew’s life and insights, and may we all have the most meaningful, honest and healed life possible.
image: pexels evie-shaffer
MissLunaRose12, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons