Freedom from Anxiety: Gaining Independence from My Abusive Ex

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Reader’s Question

The father of my baby and I broke up back a couple of months ago. Our relationship had always been rocky. There was a lot of emotional abuse, infidelity, humiliation and lying.

Even though I really know he’s not for me, I can’t help but think of my ex ALL the time. And every time I call him or he comes by to pick up the baby, I get into this anxious mode, and I really hate that! Even when I’m talking on the phone, I have anxiety. And when I get like that, I’ll find any excuse to call or text him even though I know it is not healthy! Why can’t I be casual around him? Why do I get anxiety attacks every time I see or hear from him?

Psychologist’s Reply

Insecurities are often at play when someone enters or remains in an abusive relationship. And insecurity can really prompt or exacerbate anxiety, especially in situations in which one is called upon to act in an independent, autonomous fashion.

Regardless of its roots, dependency of any kind is destructive in adulthood. As helpless infants and young children, we can’t help but be dependent on more powerful others and to experience much anxiety when separated from sources of nurturing and support. However, as we mature, we must learn to nurture and support ourselves. When we lack those skills, even in adulthood, we can experience a lot of anxiety when separated from sources of perceived security, even when our brains tell us those sources are abusive and ultimately unhealthy for us.

The key to overcoming the anxiety is doing the very thing you fear most to do. That is, when you feel the urge to send a text or make a call simply to alleviate your apprehension, don’t do it! Instead, reinforce the notion in your brain that you’re perfectly capable of meeting the challenges of life without an umbilical cord. Over time, unhealthy dependency should wane, anxiety should lessen, and a sense of self-confidence should build. You might want to talk these and other issues over with a counselor or therapist. Given your history, you might need to be on guard about developing any unhealthy dependency in that endeavor as well. Just remember that therapy can be just one more vehicle to the ultimate goal: emotional independence.

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