Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Women Who Love Too Much

Sometimes you read a book that changes your life. I’m going to get a little more personal than usual on this post, in hopes that it will reach a woman who needs to read this. The book is called Women Who Love Too Much. With a copyright of 1985, it might seem ancient, but I believe its message remains powerfully relevant.

Author and psychologist Robin Norwood describes women who love to much:  when being in love always means being in pain. When you are inexplicably drawn to destructive men, abusers, alcoholics, or emotionally  unavailable men, men who cannot possibly love you fully. You believe that the yearning-knot feeling in your stomach while in the throes of a bad relationship is love. What it really is: sickness. Often it goes back to childhood, similar to Frued’s “repetition compulsion,” an unconscious need to repeat the dysfunction of her home life or relationship with her father in adulthood because it remained unresolved.

Norwood says a key component in the “loving too much” disease is that there must have been a strong atmosphere of denial going on in the childhood home.

How does this relate to adoption? For me, and maybe for other adoptees, the perceived instability of being an adopted member of the family might magnify a child’s reaction to dysfunction. Though it's getting better, I often here stories of denial still playing a part in adoption—whether it be denial about the dysfunction in the home or denial of the adoption as a whole (the adoptive parents’ denial that the child’s feelings of insecurity or fear of abandonment is real, that the child’s desire to know about familial roots is authentic, or maybe that the child’s race—if different from her parents’—matters at all.)

As the daughter of a sexual abuse victim, and placed in a family because that abuse prevented my parents from having kids, I somehow took on an unconscious desire to “fix” my father’s melancholy. If only I were good enough, he wouldn’t be sad anymore, and I could get the emotional nurturing that I needed. (And I would secure my place in a stable home and not be abandoned again.)

Notice the motivation behind the actions? It’s not selfless, sweet martyrdom. It’s fear for self, which fuels desire for control. Unhealthy cycles, that unless we become aware of and work hard to change, can actually control us. Lead us into unhealthy relationships where we will suffer the same as we had long ago, where we will continue to replicate that unresolved situation and try to gain control over it. And, unfortunately, where we can hurt others as well. We must learn that we can’t change another person or help him heal—he must do it on his own. A big part of my understanding of this came when the past few years as I witnessed my father finally heal, through intensive therapy, support groups, writing, etc. I had nothing to do with it.

It’s fascinating how the subconscious works. Maybe no one ever blatantly tells you that you have been "abandoned"—they couch it in friendlier terms: your mother loved you so much that she gave you up, your mother put you in a better home where you could have both a mommy and a daddy. But somehow as an adult you find yourself taking breakups particularly hard, and you might discover that somehow you have a deep fear of abandonment.

Knowledge is power. I believe this truism holds particular weight when it comes to the unconscious, and things that have been imprinted on us in childhood before we could be conscious of them. It also applies to adoption--note that essential knowledge is often withheld from adoptees (biological roots, original birth certificates). But, if Norwood is right, there are too many women out there--adopted or not--who love too much. If you can identify, I urge you to read this book. It might make all the difference. 

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