Help! My Inability to Trust Is Destroying My Relationships

My mother committed suicide when I was 20 years old. That left a huge scar on my soul that has followed me to this day, affecting every romantic relationship I've ever been in. I was married for 12 years, and the first part of the marriage is when the irrational fears and imaginations began showing up that this person was lying to me, cheating on me, deceiving me, or betraying me. I managed to get through that, I don't know how, I think just time as much as anything helped. It for the most part went away. But then she divorced me, and since then I have been almost completely unable to feel full and complete trust in the person I'm with. My present relationship is by far the worst. It's become almost a constant thing in my mind. For short periods I'm able to control it, but it still gets control of my mind and then control of my actions and I act out on my fears, which causes huge fights and breakups. She said my not trusting her hurts her deeply and immensely. I've been going to counseling; it has helped, but my partner is unwilling or unable to help me with this. She has put the burden of fixing this squarely on my shoulders and now has left me and says she won't return until it is resolved. I know what caused it, I have learned to deal with it and overcome it 99% of the time, but that 1% showing up, taking over, and causing me to act on those fears and insecurities has been enough to all but destroy my relationship. I love her with all my heart, but my mind keeps making a mess of it. At present I am depressed beyond belief. I don't know what to do. I'm trying, I'm doing the best I can, but it's not enough. Please help me. —Frozen by Fear
Dear Frozen by Fear,

Thank you so much for writing, and I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. The short version of my answer is: continue counseling, and make sure it’s the right fit. Ideally, we want to feel we’re seeing (and paying) someone who truly “gets” how painful our challenges are (and why, within the context of our life histories), and who offers feedback or options that feel attuned to who we are and what we need at any given phase. I am not implying you have not found the right person; I wouldn’t presume to know from a single letter, and perhaps you’re still in the early phase of your therapy. But the fact you’re writing to me while already in counseling tells me something.

Is there something you feel you’re not getting from counseling? Are there things you feel you need more (or less) of? Is there something keeping you from sharing certain things with your counselor? A good therapist will be open to all sorts of feedback, so ask yourself these questions and please do voice your concerns with whomever you’re seeing so you feel heard, understood, and supported through this intensely painful process. I would add, too, that rumination and obsession is a hallmark of anxiety; I’ve never met anyone who could “figure out” a problem that was, at the root, emotionally traumatic and world-shattering. Our intellect is a wonderful tool, but not the only one in the toolkit.

It’s perhaps too early to call this a “scar” since this implies the original wound has healed, and from the sound of things I’m not sure that’s the case. The kind of traumatic grief and loss you’re describing will definitely impact your relationships. Sometimes people who suffer such losses find it hard to sustain the kind of vulnerability and trust an intimate relationship requires, as you imply in your note. It sounds like you find yourself unintentionally or unconsciously needing to defend against the terror of a repeated abandonment; usually beneath anger is hurt, which might explain the intensity of the arguments you describe. You find yourself becoming frightened or angry over the inevitable conflicts of relationships, or over “red flags” that definitely indicate betrayal or abandonment due to the amplified after-effects of your loss.

I’m not sure why your current partner is saying things are squarely on your shoulders, but that again is something to explore with your therapist, because in a way the experience you’re having with your partners might—and again, this is highly speculative—be happening with your therapist, in that you end up feeling alone and overwhelmed without any real help. (And again, you’re in counseling but are writing for help.) Of course, it’s so hard to put our heart and soul on the line when we feel so tragically betrayed. Maybe in your trauma states you act in ways that inadvertently sabotage the relationships; fear has a way of stoking adrenaline and anger as a way to defend against the terrors of loss and abandonment. (It is parallel, if not equal to, posttraumatic stress.) Loved ones of those who have taken their own lives often report feeling abandoned or left, as if “I wasn’t enough for them to stick around.” It would be helpful to explore with your therapist what your mom’s death means. Is it an unexpected loss of a close relationship? Does it symbolize the finalization of a relationship that was difficult? All of this is so important to explore in the context of how this tragic event has impacted you.

I feel for you, dear reader. You’re in a very difficult place. But you have the courage to reach out and seek help, and that’s a noble thing. You might, in addition to discussing some of this with your counselor, try doing an Internet search for either local and/or online grief support groups, the idea being that this really is impossible to do on your own. I commend you for reaching out, and I can assure you that you’re not alone; so many of the people who come to me for help are wrestling with the same challenges, wrought by actual abandonments that have shattered their emotional lives and made current relationships difficult, if not impossible. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time (fear tends to get us way into the future), and keep looking until you find the support that your heart and gut tell you is right. Thank you for writing.

All my best,

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Sylvia

    March 7th, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    When those trust bonds were broken at a very early age it has to be hard to reestablish those, even when those you don’t trust aren’t the ones who inflicted the initial harm. It’s always those of us who have been hurt the most who have the hardest time loving and trusting again, and yet if you could find a way to open your heart to doing that we would all probably find so much more peace and harmony in our daily lives. I understand your pain, I lost a parent to suicide too, and for years I felt lonesome and deserted, as well as at fault. I always was haunted by the thought that maybe if I had done more or said the right things then I could have stopped it. But we both know that’s not the truth, that nothing we could have said at our young ages could have ever touched the pain that our parents were feeling.
    So here we are left to pick up the pieces of our broken lives with no clear idea of how to do that except to just keep moving, keep trying and knowing that there is love for us as long as we are willing to open ourselves up to accepting that love.

  • Jansen

    March 9th, 2014 at 5:07 AM

    Please don’t let old wounds continue to ruin your life today.

    I hope that you can find a way to move forward and I think that talking about things here and with a counselor could be a great healer for you.

    I wish you all the best, because those are some wounds that I am sure run pretty deep. I just hate it that the actions of another could still continue to cause you so much hurt today.

  • Mary

    March 10th, 2014 at 2:56 AM

    I am concerned that you are with someone who places this on your shoulders. I would have thought that this affects both of you so both of you should be in counseling together.

  • Hannah

    March 11th, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    You are depressed, you are afraid, you are anxious, you have a lot going on with you! It is time to do some real soul searching and start taking care of yourself! When you carry this much with you there is no real way to heal until you begin to peel away the layers of hurt one layer at a time. This cannot be resolved overnight, just as the pain did not build that way. I think that this will take you quite a lot of time to resolve but I also sense that there is a real desire in you to get better and to find something new an d brighter out of life, otherwise you would not be looking for help here. I pray that you find the help that you need. There is hope, there is help, life doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom and believe it or not there are more people out there who will want to help and support you than there will be those who simply wnat to beat you up and tear you down.

  • owen

    March 19th, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    This is a horrible wound that you have had to live with, and like Mary said, if the person that you were with loved you, they would go to counseling with you to help you get through this. You were clearly hurt very badly by your loss as anyone would be by this brutal loss of a parent, we never want to have to lose them, and now you think that anyone you love could leave you, if not in this way, then maybe in another. These are definitely some things that you have to work out, but I think that you can, because I hear just how much you want to love and be loved. But right now you just have this big hurdle that you still need to clear before you can jump in and fully commit to that again.

  • Randle

    March 25th, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    I am confident that one day you will find your wany back to the trust that you need to maintain a solid foundation for a relationship. Intil that time, I encourage you to keep working on you. This would be a great time to take a little time out and focus on the things in you that need to be improved and worked on, without the distractions of someone else.. Sometimes you have to be alone to learn even more about yourself than you ever could being with someone else.

  • Rosemary

    June 12th, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    Hi, I realize I’m late to the party here… however what if the Therapist “Breached Confidentality” and tried to convince you that no matter what… you were at fault! Serious Trust Issues… and then to have a Therapist who would not admit that she was wrong in continuing a Treatment her Supervisors felt was not the “Right Treatment” how does one even begin to heal from that “Nightmare” ?

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