overcoming fear of loss
May 1, 2007 6:48 AM   Subscribe

How can I overcome fear of losing someone?

My fear is not based on emotional separation. I am not afraid of being broken hearted, being rejected, or breaking up with someone. My fear is rather based on losing someone to an accident, or a disease - basically, death.

This comes from my experience in losing an ex-boyfriend to a medical condition over 10 years ago, and this was quite a traumatic experience for me - after losing him, I repetitively dated people I knew I would not fall in love with. About a year ago, I got tired of my behavior and decided to stay completely single until 1) I was ready to date again and 2) I find someone that I actually really like.

The measurement of "being ready to date again" is a tricky one - one may feel ready only to find not so the next day. But whether I was ready or not, 2) came along in my life about 2 months ago.

I am crazy about this boy, and what's developing between us is nothing but joy...except, my fear.
As I started to realize we were falling for each other, my fear of losing him to some accident started to occur frequently.
I have explained to him about my past and he is very understanding of it, but my fear is often so irrational that I am started to get bothered by it.

Some examples of such occurrence are:
1) He was flying to Boston to attend a wedding. A few days before his travel, he joked about how the plane could crash. This idea basically mortified me to a point I could not talk for several minutes while he apologized repetitively, which I was not even listening to because I was so frozen and afraid.
2) Above travel led to him promising to send me a text message as soon as he landed and was allowed to use cellphone. I stayed home and checked online flight status/map obsessively to ensure that his flights to and from were okay.
3) His work gets busy and he has to pull an all-nighter. After that, he has to go to a band practice. He rides a bicycle. I begged him to walk or use public transportation to get to the practice space.
4) He shows me his hand for palm reading. I realize his life line is not very long. I become mortified even though I usually do not believe in palm reading at all.

My fear is not based on complete irrational ideas - planes crash and people with little sleep tend to be spaced out that they should not operate machinery. But my problem is the level of fear I feel and how it affects me - when I get an idea that scares me, I cannot think or speak, and I am completely frozen and mortified until I can snap out of it. And while he is understanding and says he is "flattered (that I'm so worried)", I know he finds my fear a little peculiar and a little illogical. And the worst part is this fear is stopping me from really falling in love - I cannot just let it happen.

The silly part is, whether my fear is stopping me from falling in love or not, the direction is heading that way and one day I will have to choose to let my fear go or let my fear take a better part of me. I want to let my fear go and really do want to fall in love, with him, together.

I know seeing a therapist is one way of overcoming this, but I am wondering if there are any suggestions or resources I can follow first.

I have been looking around online, but I have not had much luck. If there is any suggestions or someone with similar experiences, I would love to hear them.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds to me that you simply need to see that therapist and deal with the trauma of your previous loss.

My fear is not based on complete irrational ideas - planes crash and people with little sleep tend to be spaced out that they should not operate machinery

They're pretty irrational. Don't try to talk yourself into thinking it's reasonable to be afraid of these things. The fact is, the world is full of disaster, and once you face it directly, it is easy to see it everywhere. ANyone who's been through a major medical scare (or worked in a hospital) has probably gone through a period of hypochondria, for instance. And it's not that funny rashes or bumps or coughs or itches or aches can't be signs of fatal diseases; it's just that the vast majority of the time they're not. You have to be able to adjust to actual likelihood.

True: whether you are worried or not will have absolutely no impact on his safety, so it does no one any good. Wipe out any hidden element of guilt that you should feel concerned, that it's proof you care. Erase any underlying fear that maybe if you'd worried more about the first guy... / etc: make sure you know fully & completely that that's not true.

Not technically true but may help you as a kind of superstition: It would be extremely unlikely for someone to suffer two tragic losses, so since you've already gone through it once, it won't happen again.
posted by mdn at 7:14 AM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

You will get lots of good advice here, so I don't mind reaching around and behind the issue and pointing out that over the course of your lifetime, you are going to lose every single person that you know, one way or another, due to either their death or your own.

Since this is completely inevitable and universal, then a reaction of crippling dread is not only irrational, it's self-defeating. Are you going to break down into a quivering mass for years over the death of each person you love? What kind of a way is that to spend your life or celebrate the meaning they have given to it?

The acceptance of death is a huge milestone in one's own life, and rather than being miles away from it, it sounds as if you are right on the threshold of realizing the freedom that such an acceptance would bring to you, and the intensity with which you would be able to love someone because and in spite of it all. But one can linger at that threshold for many years, looking through it, quaking with fear and wonder, and not quite daring to live one's life with a real awareness of life's boundaries. And ultimately, do you actually fear his death, or merely your own loss?

Your fears are unrealistic; your inability or unwillingness to cope may have its roots in a very real tragedy, but nursing these fears is self-indulgent when you have love and life beckoning to you from the other side of that threshold. I think you should proabbly discuss this with any relatives or friends that are much much older than you, who have lost many times over and may be able to provide a calm voice as you figure yourself out. And while therapy is always a good idea, the best therapy will be to proceed with the full awareness that taking such a risk is worthwhile, even though there are no guarantees and no way of predicting what the outcome will be. You can't ever grow withing moving in the direction of your fears.
posted by hermitosis at 7:26 AM on May 1, 2007 [7 favorites]

"You can't ever grow without moving in the direction of your fears."
posted by hermitosis at 7:28 AM on May 1, 2007

The length of your post generally means that you already know what you need to do and just selfishly want other people to prop you up with positive comments.

You know, I'm not sure that being an ass is really constructive in responding to a question.

Anonymous, I do agree with mdn in that your fears really are irrational. Yes, people die all the time. Yes, accidents happen. Anything could happen at any moment. But these events are so unlikely that to let them affect you in such a profound way is irrational. You need to get yourself to a place where you can accept that you don't always know what is going to happen in the future, but not let the negative possibilities destroy your quality of life.

It really sounds like this is a severe anxiety disorder. My suggestion is to check out the Anxiety & Phobia Workbook and to talk to your doctor. Medication had a profound effect on my severe anxiety and allowed me to work on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to teach myself the difference between a rational fear and an irrational one. If you are getting panicked to the point of being unable to function over things like having your boyfriend travel or ride a bike, then I do think it is worthwhile to discuss medication with your doctor while you work other things out. A lot of anxiety can be successfully treated with SSRI antidepressants, many of which don't have terrible side effects. Disclaimer - IANAD but IHAAD (I have an anxiety disorder).

When you do look into therapy, I highly recomment looking for someone who uses CBT techniques - this is the only therapy that has actually been proven to help anxiety, and the results are often more rapid than you would expect.
posted by tastybrains at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2007


I think that seeing a therapist is a good thing to do... you're the only one to know where that fear stems from, and no other person, no medecine is going to point exactly to its source. Your fear is unlike the fear that someone else may be e;xperiencing, because even if they do look like apparently, they can't possibly have the same roots. These roots have been growing through all your experiences. Once you begin to try to see clearly where it's coming from, everything is going to shift and evolve. You might experience some unbalanced moments, but you can't change without making things move. To me, this is preferable to medicines, which involve some side effects and do not really help you to get to the core of your problem. Nevertheless, there is no absolute rule : you might be in need of some for a little while. But in the long run, I think that you'd better rely on yourself and a therapist.
Take care
posted by nicolin at 7:50 AM on May 1, 2007

Let me try to be much briefer than I usually am in askme.

Is the point of eating the cake the next bite, or this bite?

In all things you eventually will have the last of them. Bites of cake, moments with a loved one, time on vacation, viewings of a film. The fact that you can only ever read a great book for the first time once is not a good reason to never read it.

Make an effort to spend more time thinking about what is happening now than what may or will happen in the future.
posted by phearlez at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2007 [5 favorites]

A therapist might be able to help you, but my personal experience has been that they are just as afraid of death as anyone else, say things like "I don't know anything about grief counseling", and redirect the conversation. Try a grief support group in your area - to find one, check the groups section in the newspaper, or call a hospice or church. Expect to have to check around a bit. There are also online support groups, one is widownet.

Realize that it is perfectly rational to believe someone will die, because he is going to die, you will die, everyone dies. Most people have a good deal of fear over this, I'm sure you noticed 10 years ago that talking about the death of someone close to you, especially if they are close to the age of the person you are addressing, is a good way to kill a conversation.

You need to get past, over, or through the crippling fear and anxiety you are experiencing over this, because it is keeping you from living your life fully right now. You need to make the desicion to choose living fully over fear, over and over again, in every situation.

And thanks, anonymous, for asking this question. I hope you fall in love.
posted by yohko at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Backing up seeing a therapist. But if you'd like to start somewhere online, I've found this site to be somewhat helpful, at least as a basic guide. It's a slight bit religious, but it's easy to look past if that's not your thing (it's certainly not mine, I'm an atheist).

In any case, my boyfriend is like you. I'm flying out of town for the first time in our relationship this week, and he's afraid my plane will crash or something. I tried reassuring him with statistics, but those don't help as it stems from losing people in his past. Just letting you know you're definitely not alone.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:15 AM on May 1, 2007

My first thought was: Is this asker generally an anxious person who is now focusing all that general anxiety on one very important thing? Before you met this great guy, were you a worrier? I know one 'nervous' person who is afraid of fire all the time, and another who thinks she has a different cancer every week or so, though she's in good health. The fire and the cancer aren't causing their anxiety -- just providing ways to focus it. Of course your history explains why you feel so afraid of losing this new man...but there could be another component.

If your answer is 'yes, I do tend to worry a lot, in general' -- I'd say that it's the free-floating anxiety that needs to be addressed; recognizing that your guy really isn't in danger isn't going to make the anxiety go away. Just consider whether your root problem could be something other than your past emotional trauma and current fear of a recurrence.

I really wish you well, and I think it's wonderful that you've met someone that's special to you.
posted by wryly at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2007

I don't have an answer, except that my inclination is to recommend seeing a therapist.

But I wanted to thank you for this question, as my boyfriend has recently been experiencing strong anxiety of exactly this sort.

As someone who hasn't yet experienced the loss of someone close, I've been learning a lot recently about how that sort of experience can change one's outlook and heighten the value one places upon the health and safety of loved ones. My tendency has long been to maintain a casual, almost flippant attitude about the possibility of death and serious illness—but that attitude hurts my boyfriend, to whom these things are not joking matters.

It's occurred to me that until I experience a loss of that sort, I can't know how I'll deal with it. There but for the grace of God go I...

So reading your post was cathartic for me, 'cause it (and the answers that follow) gives voice to a mindset I'm only just beginning to understand. Thank you.
posted by limeonaire at 11:46 AM on May 1, 2007

My father is the youngest of 7 with his next closest sibling being 9 years old than him, and the eldest 19 years. He's had lots of tragedy in his family and has lost all but 2 of his sibling, and both of his parents.

He made the comment after my aunt passed away last year, that he now realizes he's going to have to watch everyone in his family die. The enormity of this realization set him back for some time and really made him think.

His conclusion, as he told me was this.. The reality of this situation is not one he is willing to keep him from enjoying the time that he has with those siblings that are still living. For that time is unknown, and it would be more tragic to waste it. As a very spiritual person, he's now taken this as a compliment that God has given him this great test entrusting him to be a strong enough person with the ability to handle this reality.

Fear is valid, but irrationally projecting it onto people you love is not.
posted by smart_ask at 1:09 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Anonymous, are you secretly me? Did I post this in my sleep? I really appreciate you asking this. Thanks.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:26 PM on May 1, 2007

Hermitosis just nailed it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:47 PM on May 1, 2007

If you'd be interested in cognitive behaviour therapy (and yours sounds like a problem that really would benefit from CBT), going through the workbook Mind Over Mood : Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Christine Padesky and Dennis Greenberger would be a good idea. It helps you dissect your feelings and thoughts and find out what's really behind them, then trains you to form alternative feelings and thoughts that are more realistic. I'm going through this right now with a therapist, but I think if you devote time and thought to it, it could be done independently.
posted by loiseau at 9:48 PM on May 1, 2007

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