I got an urgent call yesterday from somebody that I’ve been seeing for several years. His fiancee had just left him. They had been having problems for several months, problems mostly rooted in his ambivalence about commitment. She went on his cell phone and found evidence that he had been having flirtatious conversations with seven different woman over the last few months.
He told me, and I believe him, that he’s had no sexual interactions with these woman, but it certainly didn’t look that way.
Our conversation was punctuated by him saying “I’m such a bad person” and “I can’t imagine that I’ve put her through this.” He was very distraught about what had happened. It seemed to me that some of his behavior was like an addiction, or a compulsion. Not to say that he wasn’t responsible for his behavior, but his behavior seemed “driven” and it was poorly understood and self – regulated, just as addictions can be.
It got me to thinking about the role of secrecy in these kinds of behaviors. For him, the process seemed to be something like this:
- Powerful feelings of anxiety and a fear of being “trapped” in a long-term relationship… a fear derived from many sources, including a sense of deep uncertainty of his being worthy of such a relationship, as well as a need or desire to experience the excitement of new relationships.
- Self criticism that he learned in childhood and which was associated with a profound sense of shame.
- The focus on secrecy as a way of managing these two other overwhelming negative emotions. So he could hide from everyone, and perhaps even himself, what he was doing.
In my work with him this focus on secrecy first showed up when we were talking about the issue of mood charting, he was one of the all time top avoiders of mood charting in my practice. He could clearly see how essential it was (because of how much his moods varied over time, and how sensitive he was to medication side effects) but he didn’t do it. We tried practically every conceivable technical and non technical solutions to make the process easier, and yet at the end of each of these conversations he was still unable to do the charting.
Putting these two together I could clearly see that much of his self-destructive behavior was enabled by his secrecy. It was my thought that he could not ever hope to resolve all of these issues until he addressed this secrecy issue.