Dear New Shrink,
I feel uncomfortable around silence. Not with people I am not close to but mostly with people who I am afraid I can lose. I also have this issue where I feel like if I do not always have something to talk about, they will think I am boring, and lose interest in me. I feel a need to entertain people. For example, in my romantic relationship, I am always trying to talk about interesting things. I am afraid if I don’t have things to say, the excitement of the relationship will die, and it might end. How do I deal with this, besides just communicating this with people in my life, and experimenting with tolerating the silence? I have tried both, and neither has helped me.
It feels like you are looking for a quick fix solution. You say you have tried communicating this to the people in your life and that you try to tolerate the silence. Unfortunately, neither one is a great solution.
First off, I don’t think this is a good thing to be telling others, no matter how close you are. This puts the burden of your problem on them. Just stop and think for a minute about what you would feel like if a good friend said this to you. Even if you are a friend who cares and wants to help, what can you really say or do?
Tolerating the silence while looking within is really what you need to be doing.
You have been very open with yourself here in your question so I am going to take the liberty to be very open in my answer. This is your problem, no one else’s. It resides inside of you and you are the only one who can change it. It is not exactly an easy thing to change. It takes some serious work, usually psychotherapy.
In the old days, you would be referred to as neurotic. Today, most experts in the mental health field are well aware of the contributions of attachment theory and would refer to your problem as an “anxious attachment.”
The depth of research and information on attachment theory is beyond the scope of this article but to keep it simple, people are either securely attached, anxiously attached or detached and avoidant. This latter group is highly self-reliant and often feels like they don’t need anyone. It is actually the far end of the spectrum in relationship to being securely attached, which is ideal and healthy. These folks have been the most disappointed and are often lonely underneath it all but their defenses make them feel more comfortable and look better in general. They are often high achievers as the drive to not need anyone propels them. It is only after achievement has left them lonely at the top that they seek help for their loneliness and accompanying depression when it starts to be felt.
The anxiously attached are jealous, clinging and cannot tolerate any signs of possible loss or separation. They are often disliked by others because they are not only grossly misunderstood, but their anxiety and accompanying behaviors are simply too uncomfortable to be around. Ironically, the anxiously attached often bring upon them what they fear the most.
The securely attached are the lucky ones that are comfortable and healthy in their attachments.
What causes this you might ask? Loss and disappointments in our attachment histories cause it. We come to believe that we cannot count on our attachments or that if we get too close we will be disappointed or hurt all over again. This can and often does start as early as infancy or in very early childhood, when attachment needs, which differ for each of us, are not met and/or are rejected and dismissed. This is not something we are likely to remember consciously. But we may remember it or feel at a visceral level, a kind of bodily memory.
However, unwanted separations and losses during childhood or even later in life can also lead to feeling anxious about attachments or simply giving up on them, i.e., becoming detached and avoidant.
The bottom line is that the grief attached to these losses, losses that occur in many ways from simple but repetitive disappointments in an attachment to an outright loss through death or divorce, have to be found, recognized and processed. A good therapist with this specific type of knowledge and experience can help you. Unless you know what it is and have avoided dealing with it, you will need help. Also, the good news is that these therapists being cognizant of attachment usually form a nice bond with you, which is healing in and of itself.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your anonymous questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.