Discover the underlying reasons you might be fearful of committing to a relationship, or to a job, or even to your personal and spiritual growth. Learn how to heal commitment phobia.
Hi everyone. This is Dr. Margaret Paul with the Inner Bonding podcast and today I will be talking about the fear of commitment, also called commitment phobia.
Commitment phobia stems from the fear of being controlled, the fear of losing yourself. It’s a fear of engulfment. It’s a fear that if you are in a committed relationship, or some other form of commitment, you’re going to lose yourself, and underneath that fear of losing yourself – underneath the fear of engulfment is the fear of rejection, because the only reason that you would give yourself up in a relationship or friendship or a work situation, is to avoid rejection. That’s why people give themselves up. They allow themselves to be controlled. They allow themselves to be engulfed because they think that if they give themselves up and do what somebody else wants them to do, if they people please, then they won’t be rejected. But the problem is that the moment you give yourself up to avoid somebody else rejection, you’ve rejecting yourself. And so what causes actually causes commitment phobia is self-abandonment, self-rejection.
When you’re making what somebody else feels about you more important than how you feel about yourself, when you make somebody else loving you or approving of you more important than loving yourself and approving of yourself, then you’re rejecting yourself. And when you reject yourself, that feels bad inside. When you’re willing to give yourself up to not be rejected by somebody else, you’re going to end up feeling pretty awful, because you’ve already rejected yourself. You’re going to end up feeling you’ve got to get out of this relationship or the work situation, but it’s not because there’s necessarily something wrong with the relationship or the work, but because you are giving yourself up, you’re rejecting yourself, you’re abandoning yourself and that’s always going feel bad. So in any relationship, and it doesn’t matter what kind of relationship it’s with – a parent with, a partner, a a friend, a boss or co-worker, we always have to be willing to lose the other person rather than lose ourselves in order to create a loving relationship.
When we were children, we obviously could not do that because we couldn’t take care of ourselves. Many of us learned when we were young, that we had to give ourselves up, that we had to people please, that we had to sacrifice who we really are in order to try to avoid punishment or get some approval, which often gets confused with love. Love and approval are not the same thing. Love doesn’t have an agenda and love doesn’t come and go – it’s not conditional. Most of us didn’t get real love. We got approval when we did things right and disapproval when we did things wrong, and for a child it’s really scary to have that come and go. So, of course, many of us learned to give ourselves up in one way or another.
Those of you who have a commitment phobia might have given yourself up in order not to be rejected by a parent, but now today, to heal from your fear of commitment, you need to be willing to lose the other person rather than lose yourself. When you attach your self-worth to how others feel about you, then getting close to somebody can feel dangerous. If you’re telling yourself that if this person loves you, you’re okay, but if this person doesn’t, then you’re not good enough, then that makes it very scary to be in a relationship. It’s like, you have this little kid, which is your feeling self, and you’re handing him or her away to this other person and saying to that child, “That person has to like you for you to be okay. And if that person doesn’t like you, then you’re not okay. And I’m not going to be the one to love you.” So if that person doesn’t, that’s pretty scary.
Commitment phobia comes from the fear of engulfment, which comes from the fear of rejection, which comes from self-abandonment and not being willing to lose the other person, being willing to lose yourself rather than lose them, and attaching your self-worth to how others feel about you.
And then there is the fear of pain. Many of us had a lot of pain as we were growing up, a lot of loneliness, a lot of heartbreak, a lot of grief, and a lot of helplessness over how we were being treated. And it’s so hard when you’re a little child to not have love that you can rely on, to not have people there that really get you and connect to you and to tune into you.
It was so hard and painful for many of us, and we were too little to manage that pain. So we learned many ways of not feeling the heartbreak, the loneliness, the grief, and the helplessness over others. We learned to avoid our feelings and try to have control over getting love and avoiding pain. And one of the ways that we might have learned was to give ourselves up and make others responsible for defining our worth. And that, as I said, leads to the fear of commitment.
You also might have found subtle ways of resisting the control so that you didn’t completely lose yourself, and this resistance might now be showing up in both your work and your relationships.
My clients often ask me, “How do I know if the person is a very good match for me when I’m just generally afraid to commit?” The problem is that until you are operating from your loving adult rather than your wounded self, you can’t actually know. Even if the person is a good match for you, you’re going to be afraid to commit if you’re afraid of losing yourself in the relationship. When you stop rejecting yourself, you eventually stop being afraid of rejection, so you stop giving yourself up to avoid rejection.
My clients often tell me that they have a pattern of getting involved with unavailable men, which indicates that they are also unavailable. When you are available for an intimate relationship because of no longer abandoning yourself, you won’t be attracted to unavailable people.
My client, Andrea, said, “I have this terrible feeling in my gut when I’m interested in a guy, so I think I’ve got a commitment problem. I’ve tried for so long to have a loving relationship. I’ve always wanted to have that wonderful man in my life, but I’ve had nothing but failed relationships. Even when I felt that I loved a man, I got this terrible feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach, and I’ve felt that way with every guy that I’ve ever been with.”
I asked Andrea to breath into the fear in her stomach and get present with it. I said to her, “See if you can imagine that the fear is that little girl in you. And she’s really, really scared of something. And see if you can find a place in you that wants responsibility for something you might be doing or telling her that’s causing the fear right now.” I then asked Andrea to breathe into her heart is step 2 of Inner Bonding, opening to learning and inviting the love and compassion of her higher self into her heart. I knew from previous sessions that she had a connection with her higher self. Then, in Step 3, I asked her to ask the fear how she was treating herself and what she was telling herself that caused the fear, and then move back into her body and let the fear answer.
Her inner child said, “I’m scared because I may not be loved. I might be rejected.”
I asked her to ask her inner child how she, as her wounded self, was rejecting herself. When you’re in a relationship, what do you do that scares your little girl and makes her feel unsafe and rejected? Ask her why she isn’t feeling loved by you. She told me that she told her inner child that she has to be perfect in every relationship. Of course, that made her inner child feel rejected by her – that she’s not good enough the way she is.
“When you tell her that she has to be perfect,” I asked her, “how does that feel inside?”
“It hurts,” she said.
“And it scares your little girl to tell her that she has to act perfectly and say the right thing or she’s not going to be loved – that you’re not going to love her unless she does everything right, and that the man has to love her for her to be okay. If you had an actual child and instead of you loving the child, you went around to neighbors and knocked on their doors and said, ‘Do you want this kid? If you like her and you take care of her, then she’s okay. But if you don’t want her and you reject her, she’s not okay.’ That child’s going to feel very scared, unloved, and rejected by you.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been doing,” said Andrea. “But how do I love her more?
“Since you have a spiritual connection,” I said, “I’d like you right now to open to that connection. Ask your higher guidance, ‘What’s the first thing that I need to do to be loving to my little girl? What’s one thing that I can do right now?
“Accept every part of her,” Andrea said.
“Are you willing to start to practice that right now?” I asked. “It will make a very big difference if you start accepting her rather than judging her and telling her she’s got to be perfect.”
“Yes,” she said. “I will. And she is so glad she doesn’t have to be perfect anymore.”
“How does that feel inside right now?” I asked her.
“That feels really good,” she said. “I feel relief.”
The feeling of relief is her inner guidance letting her know that she is on the right track with learning to love herself.
My client Nathan told me that he has a phobia of being in a committed relationship. He told me that, “My last relationship ended in heartbreak and, even though I have a deep desire to be in a loving relationship, I’m afraid of opening up again. I seem unable to open to the possibility of a new relationship. It took everything I had to break up with the last woman and rebuild my life. How do I open up again to the possibility? It’s very frightening. It is the deepest desire I have but I’m so scared of getting hurt again.”
As we explored his last relationship, it soon became apparent that Nathan completely abandoned himself in his last relationship, and in all his previous relationships. “Self-abandonment,” I told him, ‘Is the primary reason for relationship failure. I’ve worked with couples for many years and over and over, the reason that the relationship is failing is because each person is abandoning themselves. They haven’t learned how to take loving care of themselves, how to fill themselves up with love so they have love to share with their partner. The fear of getting hurt goes away when you learn to love yourself.”
My client Jody said, “I know I have a fear of engulfment. I’m 43 and I’ve been in four committed relationships with four wonderful men, and I’ve left every one of them. Even when I keep trying to date them again to see if I can make it work, each time, I just leave again. I always start to feel like I’m in a cage, almost like I’m suffocating.”
“Jody,” I asked, “How do you give yourself up? What do you do? How do you sacrifice yourself in a relationship?”
“I try to be perfect,” she said. “I’m always available for sex, and always there for them. I’m trying to be a loving and accepting woman, but then I end up feeling suffocated.”
“What I hear,” I said to her, “is that you’re trying to be loving and accepting of him rather than loving and accepting of you. You have your focus on being this loving and accepting woman with your man, which is fine. We do need to be loving and accepting with our partner, but not to the exclusion of being loving and accepting of yourself. And I hear you not focusing on what would be loving and accepting to you. And when you’re not focusing on that, you’re going to end up feeling suffocated. It sounds like you go into a relationship taking responsibility for him rather than taking responsibility for you. If you were also focusing on taking responsibility for your own feelings, you would not end up feel suffocated. When you’re focused on being loving and accepting of him, you’re bypassing you. For now, in your next relationship, I encourage you to focus on being loving and accepting with yourself. Whatever is truly loving to you is also going to be loving to him. There’s no way to be loving to ourselves and be unloving to somebody else, because it’s not loving to ourselves to be unloving to somebody else. The focus needs to be on you first. Are you willing to try that?”
“Yes,” she said. “And I’m a sole parent to my young daughter. I think I need to do the same thing with her.”
“Right,” I said. “Half of good parenting is being there for your child, and the other half of good parenting is role modeling being there for yourself, and taking personal responsibility for your own feelings. Your child needs to see you role model that. And that’s what the practice of inner bonding is about.”
A question I often get from my clients is, “How can you tell if someone is commitment phobic and is there a way to resolve it?” Often, you can’t always tell at the beginning because very often commitment phobic people come on strong because they really do want a relationship, and they really do want to connect. They come on strong and they’re terrific and wonderful at the beginning. And then they find themselves like Jody feeling trapped and engulfed and they don’t understand why, and they go away. So if somebody’s coming on really strong and fast, that’s often a sign of commitment phobia.
Of course there’s a way to resolve it, but only if somebody is willing to do their inner bonding work. But if somebody continues to think that they have to give themselves up in a relationship, they’re always going to end up feeling engulfed and smothered and they’re eventually going to leave that relationship.
Now Dr. Erika Chopich and I are going to talk about various aspects of being commitment phobic other than in a relationship. Mostly, I wanted to pick her brilliant brain on this topic, and here is what she said.
“We make many different kinds of commitments. We not only make commitments to our family members, but also to our jobs and to causes and to ourselves. But I see many people who say they want to make the commitment, but and as they approach it closer and closer, they back away and just give up. I think part of the problem is all commitment requires some sacrifice. There’s something you must sacrifice to commit. Maybe it’s your time, or money, or your feeling of control. People who were raised with very controlling parents would have a very difficult time making a commitment that requires some form of sacrifice, but it’s a blessed sacrifice. It’s not an acquiescence. It’s something you freely choose to give but people often get stuck right at that moment.
“Like the new woman we hired in the barn who is well qualified. She was enthusiastic and energetic, and she started off very well, and as she started to grow more and more comfortable in the barn with the horses and with our barn team and she started to feel the healing and the love coming from her peers and from the horses, she became increasingly inefficient and increasingly uncommitted, until she just fell by the wayside of her own choosing. It looked to me that as her bond with the animals and the crew grew stronger, she almost swam upstream to distance herself from it all, until she left. It looked very much to me like she was commitment phobic because in her mind it would become all-consuming, and she would be lost. I suspect that that’s how she grew up – that if she made a commitment to her family, to her parents, she would end up being consumed. That’s likely where her phobia came from. She was probably terrified of being hurt because if she got close to us and the horses, she might get hurt, and it seemed like she was afraid of becoming lost or losing her freedom in some way – that she would have to give herself up to not be hurt, not be rejected. But if she had taken a different tract and opened her heart to what she was loving so very much, without the wounded self coming in and saying, “Yes, you like it here, but you’re gonna lose yourself,’ it would have had a different outcome. I find it very sad that her intent to protect was greater than her intent to love herself.”
Erika went on to say, “I used to see the same thing when I was the administrator of the Los Angeles Free Clinic. We had many volunteers because it takes an entire army to offer something like that to your community, and people would come in all fired up wanting to volunteer, wanting to make a difference, and wanting to help, and I would slowly see that fire in them begin to dwindle until it was extinguished, and they lost interest. It was the same pattern where they wanted to embrace the cause and give it their all, but they also did not want it to become so important to them that they were vulnerable to being hurt or consumed. They were fearful that if they loved what they were doing, they would lose their freedom and their joy, when the reality is they got the deepest joy from giving.
“They lose interest because what they are fearing from their wounded self and protecting against that, is more important than sharing their love. How many times do you see someone commit to something wonderful or attached to something wonderful, and then let it die because their wounded self is saying, ‘This is gonna overtake you, it’s gonna overtake your life, you’re gonna lose your freedom, you won’t be a free spirit anymore and you’ll have to sacrifice, and you know that sacrifice is bad.’ But sacrifices is not bad when it’s done in love. Spiritually, some sacrifice is required of us like when we give to our children, or when I give up my free time to tend to an animal. Yes I sacrificed my free time, but I do it out of love for them. Their intention shifts to protecting against their fears and then they’re really lost and they walk away feeling bad about themselves.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that it’s important to take a look at the word ‘sacrifice,’ because if they’re sacrificing themselves, they’re giving themselves up. They’re sacrificing their integrity and that’s a form of control.”
“Right,’ she said, “but if they’re choosing to sacrifice their time in order to love, that’s completely different. I openly and knowingly sacrificed a great deal when I was running Hope America to go and work with the homeless. I was sacrificing all my vacation time, all my free time, to go and care for them, but I did it with love and I did it because it was the right thing to do. It made me grow and it helped them to heal. It’s a sacrifice for a greater good that you want to do because it helps you to grow spiritually and it helps others. My ego wounded self doesn’t come into that. It’s a higher purpose and it brings me joy and peace, but people get hung up on the word, on the idea of sacrificing because they think it means the self will be lost. No, the self grows and it’s enhanced and that’s different than caretaking, which is a form of control where you sacrifice yourself. When you sacrifice for the good, or the greater good of another as with parenting, it has nothing to do with your ego wounded self. It has everything to do with your God connection.
“I think sometimes when people make a commitment, they don’t fully make it from an aware place. They don’t have an internal dialogue that says, ‘Is this really what I want to do? Is this something I really want to sacrifice for? Is this something I can do in love? They just go into it kind of like the wind, like the breeze pushes them into it but they don’t think it through and they don’t explore it and they’re not prepared to deal with whatever obstacles come in their way. When obstacles come their way, they just fade away and it’s kind of like the river bouncing off the rocks as it flows. They don’t ever look at the rock or say this is beautiful, or look at the gorgeous pool it just made for the fish to live in. They just don’t see it. They let the rock get in their way and they stop flowing. When I want to make a commitment, I really talk to myself. I do my internal dialogue and I check it all out and when I realize yes, I want to do this out of love and service because it has meaning for me and it makes me happy and peaceful, and then it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.
“But to the wounded self, when somebody is caretaking, they’ll sacrifice everything to keep their relationship going the way they want it to, but what they don’t realize is they’re actually exerting a form of control and that has little to do with love or spirit. They’ve just become a workhorse for the other person in order to keep the relationship, whether it’s a work relationship, a child parent relationship, a friendship, or a primary relationship. It’s all about intention and helping yourself to grow and stretch your wings, spread those wings and soar. Yes, commitment is involved and so is sacrifice.
“Can a rose bloom without sacrificing itself? In order to fully bloom it must invite in the pollinators and risk burning in the sun, risk disease. It can stay closed up in a bud but it will wither and die on the vine without fulfilling itself. If the flower chooses to bloom and open like we see in nature, then it’s also saying, “’I’m willing to not be afraid. I’m willing to sacrifice my safety to offer beauty,’ and that’s the exact same thing we do.”
“When the Rose blooms it not only fulfills itself, but it offers seeds and continuation whereas the bud just dies on the vine. Without offering anything no one ever experiences it, no one ever can smell it’s healing fragrance. It’s just gone.”
Now let’s talk about what heals this commitment phobia. The Inner Bonding process is an incredible process for healing commitment phobia, because it’s about learning to love yourself rather than continue to abandon and reject yourself.
When you learn to stay present in your body with your feelings throughout the day, and you’re developing the loving adult part of you, then you take loving action for yourself even in the face of rejection or engulfment. The loving adult will not sacrifice yourself to get love. You will not tell yourself that you have to give yourself up and sacrifice yourself in order to please this other person so that you won’t be rejected. You won’t need to because you are loving yourself. The loving adult speaks up for us with our truth rather than comply or resist.
Also, the loving adult learns about who we really are on the inner level, our our authentic soul self, and learn to not take it personally when people are being rejecting. The loving adult sets limits against somebody trying to control you, and instead of giving in or resisting, decides for yourself what is in your highest good.
But the conundrum is that is you if you are commitment phobic, you might resist practicing Inner Bonding, and then you will stay stuck with your commitment phobia. You might be afraid that if you open to your spiritual connection, you will be controlled by your higher power and lose yourself.
The practice of the 6 steps of Inner Bonding is an incredibly powerful process for healing not only commitment phobia, and not only the fear of rejection and the fear of engulfment, but also for healing anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, emptiness, aloneness, and jealousy – the painful feelings resulting from self-abandonment.
Inner Bonding creates the new neural pathways in the brain for the loving adult, which is what heals us on a very deep level.
I encourage you to take my 30-day home study courses to learn to love yourself, to learn to have loving relationships, and to learn to connect with your spiritual guidance Love Yourself, Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love and Unlocking Your Inner Wisdom.
My recent books will also be a big help to you: The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection, and 6 Steps to Total Self-Healing: The Inner Bonding Process
And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.