If we were rejected when we were children by parents / primary carers this can have a profound effect upon our adult, intimate relationships, causing them to be ruined by a perpetual, intense fear of losing our partner and re-experiencing the intolerable emotional pain that was generated by our experience of rejection and abandonment when young. This deeply entrenched insecurity can then, in turn, lead us to behave in ways driven by feelings of JEALOUSY and POSSESSIVENESS.
However, it is important to point out that many individuals who are prone to jealous and possessive behaviours in relation to how they interact with their partners (or those they wish to be their partners) are not consciously aware that these (invariably self-defeating) behaviours are related to their adverse childhood experiences. In other words, their jealousy and possessiveness are driven, largely, by unconscious forces.
SIGNS OF POSSESSIVENESS TOWARDS A PARTNER OR PERSON ONE WISHES TO BE ONE’S PARTNER :
Signs that an individual is possessive include the following :
- believing life is meaningless and futile without the person
- believing the other person is the only one who can make one happy
- making an excessive number of calls to the person (or texts / social media contacts etc.)
- sending the other person gifts, despite this person having made it clear that s/he has no wish to receive them
- finding it very hard to stop thinking about the other person, possibly to the degree that it adversely affects sleep, work performance and eating behaviour
- believing oneself to be a victim if the other does not agree to fulfil one’s needs
- believing one’s love of the other to be so powerful that it will eventually ‘win the other over’, despite, objectively speaking, clear signs to the contrary
- turning up at the other person’s home, place of work etc. without invitation
- spending a lot of time in a state of tortured and agitated hope/expectation that the other will make contact via phone/text / social media etc. whilst simultaneously dreading s/he won’t
- spending a lot of time concerned about where the other person is, what s/he is doing and who s/he is with etc., possibly including checking up that the other isn’t lying about these things or spying on the other person to check the veracity of his/her claims and generally treating him/her as a perpetual ‘suspect’
- trying to dominate the other person and failing to respect their personal boundaries.
- becoming angry when the other person tries to do something (e.g. see own friends) that doesn’t involve one
- trying to prevent the other from seeing his/her family / personal friends so that s/he becomes isolated and therefore easier to control and dominate.
HOW DOES POSSESSIVENESS DIFFER FROM HEALTHY AFFECTION / LOVE?
Essentially, possessiveness involves not trusting the other person and denying him/her space, freedom and independence in direct contrast to what is necessary to maintain a healthily loving and affectionate relationship; also, possessiveness is essentially selfish, concentrating on the needs of the one being possessive as opposed to the needs of the partner / desired partner.
Whilst the recipient of healthy affection/love is helped to feel safe and secure, the recipient of possessive behaviour is made to feel smothered, oppressed, anxious and uncomfortable, or, in more extreme cases, fearful.
OVERCOMING A POSSESSIVE MENTALITY :
There are several things we can do to reduce possessive attitudes and behaviours; these include :
- Maintain own independence – having one’s own life, independent of partner’s, is often preferable to ‘living in one another’s pocket’ and being together 24/7, not least because it can prevent the relationship from stagnating and keep a couple interesting to each other.
- Don’t allow past experiences to make self overly cynical about present relationships or to destroy the ability to trust.
- Remember that being ‘needy’, ‘clingy,’ suspicious and anxiously insecure around one’s partner is frequently counterproductive.
- Don’t unreasonably curtail partner’s freedom (e.g. by stopping them having own friends and social life if this is desired).
- Work on improving self-worth and self-esteem if worrying about a partner leaving one is based on feelings of ‘not being good enough,’ especially as such negative beliefs about oneself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (because this is often the root of the problem, more detail about this is provided below).
- Allow partner to maintain own identity, as opposed to trying to mould him/her into an ‘ideal’ to suit own needs.
- Resist urges to neurotically ‘spy’ on a partner which may serve only to maintain an irrationally suspicious/paranoid mindset (not to mention freak out the spied upon).
- Try to discover the primary source of possessive behaviour and then address it. For example, if the root of the problem lies in having been betrayed, rejected or abandoned by a parent / primary carer in childhood, consider seeking therapy (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy to help correct self-defeating ‘thinking errors’). N.B. Numbers 8 and 6 are frequently, closely interconnected.
- If we feel we have a problem with a propensity to treat our partner in a possessive way and intend to try to correct it, openly discussing the problem can be a constructive way forward (e.g. by addressing the root cause of the problem – see above), make one’s own and one’s partner’s life less stressful, and encourage him/her to be more understanding of our anxieties and supportive of our planned endeavours to rectify the situation.
MORE ON HOW CHILDHOOD CAN PROFOUNDLY UNDERMINE OUR SELF-IMAGE AND ADVERSELY AFFECT OUR ADULT RELATIONSHIPS :
Our ability to love and our ability to express love as an adult is very substantially learned in childhood by observing our parents / primary carers, and, as I have already alluded to above, if, as children, such role models abused us, neglected us, or rejected us, we may have (both consciously and unconsciously) internalized their negative attitudes towards us and, as a consequence, developed a profound, core belief that we are essentially unlovable, inadequate and ‘bad.’
This, frequently, highly irrational belief, in turn, can pervade and poison our adult relationships as our deep insecurities can make us believe that it is only a matter of time before our partner realizes what a hopeless, worthless creature we are and leave us for good. This prospect terrifies us, as, in our minds, this would ‘confirm’ our unlovability, ‘hopelessness’ ‘badness’ and ‘worthlessness,’ re-triggering the adverse emotional effects of our mistreatment in childhood.
Therefore, we develop a frame of mind which perceives preventing our partner from leaving us as indispensable to our very psychological survival and as crucial to maintaining our tenuous grip on any positive elements of our self-image that our relationship with the partner has allowed us to tentatively develop. This, in turn, makes us liable to overcompensate for our self-perceived ‘inadequacies’ by practising the kind of dysfunctional, self-defeating, possessive behaviours described above.
Therefore, in order to create healthily loving and affectionate bonds with others in our adult lives, it is necessary for us to develop a self-image which is NOT determined by our unfortunate, early-life experiences.
Improving one’s self-image is best started by, first of all, accepting the kind of person we are at present. However, if we (at present) view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person we need to consider whether this view has been distorted by our internalization of how our parents / primary carers behaved towards us during our childhood. And if, after consideration, we still view ourselves as a ‘bad’ person, we need to change this way of thinking about ourselves and, instead, tell ourselves we may have done things of which we are not proud, and which we regret, in the past, but that these things don’t define who we are now or who we can be tomorrow and in the future.
So, if we have been possessive in the past, this does not mean we will be a possessive person from now on, and, to make progress, it is necessary to accept our past mistakes without getting caught up in feelings of shame because such feelings will serve only to hinder our psychological recovery and make us less able to help ourselves.
We also need to understand that it is most likely to be how we feel about ourselves that makes us behave possessively, rather than having much to do with our partner. Indeed, our dysfunctional behaviour is frequently driven by our negative thinking about ourselves. Examples of these negative thoughts include :
‘I am not good enough for my partner and s/he will leave me the second s/he finds someone better,’ or, ‘My partner’s bound to leave me for someone with more money.’
Finally, as I alluded to above, cognitive behavioural therapy can help to correct our self-defeating thought processes. So, too, can hypnotherapy, cognitive hypnotherapy and counselling/marriage counselling or other forms of psychotherapy.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).