Approval Is Not Genuine Love

An identical female twin in her midforties is getting married. This will be her second marriage. She had a very acrimonious divorce from her first husband. In our work together we identified that her first marriage in her early twenties mirrored the emotional and physical abuse she experienced as a child. My patient, “Clare,” feels tremendous shame about the role she played in that marriage. She recalls that she perpetuated much of the conflict and rage that was exchanged, and she feels remorseful about her behavior. She had no awareness about what she had done or why until she began treatment and developed insight into the trauma she sustained growing up. Her mother called her names, threatened to kill her, and undermined her at every opportunity. She was the bad, unlovable daughter—consistently scapegoated and victimized.

Clare felt her only safety lay in the relationship with her twin, Connie. While Connie offered some measure of protection, she deliberately separated herself from Clare in their high school years. Prior to Clare’s first marriage, Connie abandoned Clare altogether, joining forces with their mother and other two sisters to ostracize her. Ostensibly, Connie abandoned Clare because she did not approve of Clare’s marriage. The twins were estranged for ten years. These circumstances significantly exacerbated Clare’s inability to self-regulate and control her anger and aggression, which was acted out in her first marriage.

Connie has been married and divorced as well. Currently she is remarried to her second husband. A bit before Clare’s divorce, the twins reconnected. In fact, Connie was the person who proved to Clare that her husband was having an affair. Together they followed Clare’s first husband and caught him with the woman with whom he was involved.

Clare is planning to marry within the next few months. While Connie seems supportive of her twin’s new relationship, she has been critical about Clare’s wedding plans. Connie feels it is absurd that Clare and her partner are making such a fuss about their nuptial preparations, sarcastically mentioning that this is a second marriage and they are older. Connie keeps reiterating that she and her second husband were married without fanfare in the local courthouse.

Clare feels unsettled by Connie’s disapproval of her excitement about her wedding dress, the wedding venue, flowers, food, and other plans. Clare has to work very hard to keep connected to her positive emotions in light of Connie’s disdain. Clare explained that growing up, the only expression of “love” came in the form of her mother’s approval.

Since Clare rarely, if ever, received any such accolades, she relied on Connie to provide some measure of validation. Deep down Clare worries that Connie’s disapproval will once again result in abandonment and estrangement. She works diligently to remind herself that she is deserving and entitled to make her own choices despite the fact that others, especially Connie, may disapprove.

This is an ongoing challenge that forces Clare to maintain a healthy space where she can be her own person without punitive repercussions. Feeling securely attached to another requires the ability to trust that there is patience and tolerance for differences and disagreements and the capacity to hold ambivalent views and thoughts.

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash.

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