Siblings, but Strangers – Part 28 min read

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Over the next couple of weeks, I read everything written about the Scapegoat and Golden Child pattern. When I realized that the Golden Child qualities are almost the same as Avoidants (which I researched and wrote about here in 2016), I panicked because my ex-husband is Avoidant.

Coincidently, my parents’ didn’t call at all during my first three weeks in Seattle, but I overheard them talking to Amin every day. Solid evidence of the Scapegoat and Golden Child dynamic and incredibly hard to ignore now.

And then Amin and I had our first big fight. In response to that, Amin retreated in silence for an entire week – a typical Avoidant thing to do.

My mind raced: How could I have been so foolish to land myself in this situation? I knew my ex-husband and my brother were similar, but why didn’t I factor that in before I moved here? Why am I risking the emotional security and self-confidence that I painstakingly built after my divorce? How am I going to get out of it this time? No, no, not again, I don’t want to go through this again.

My instinct was to run, run far away, and never look back.

Sab, breathe, relax, one day at a time, I told myself.

I called my closest friends and cried, admitting that the move to Seattle might have been a big mistake. They reminded me that I am far more resilient than I think, which made me cry even more. My heart felt safe, seen, connected, and supported, which helped me grieve and heal a bit more from those past experiences.

There were tectonic shifts taking place in my understanding of life and the world around me, and I was afraid of losing my mind again. My greatest fear was that Amin and I would end up hating each other and that I would divorce my birth family forever. This is the typical ending in a Scapegoat story, so there is always a good chance of this happening.

I searched for a new therapist in Seattle, but worried that I might move again, and opted for an online therapist through Betterhelp. I also decided to not speak to my parents for the next six months to focus on my relationship with Amin. (By the way, I love both my parents very much, and I know they understand that sometimes children need time away to figure things out on their own.)

And then I worked really hard to find reasons to believe that this wouldn’t turn out to be like my broken marriage, in which there was a deep clash of needs due to our attachment styles (explained here). Even though I am more secure today than I have ever been, I still classify myself as Anxious. And Amin is the exact opposite; he’s Avoidant.

I don’t know how this story – my story – will end. There is nothing that we know for sure, but our minds trick us into believing that we can. My strong preference for certainty (or certainty bias) stems from my fear of abandonment and has pushed me to sabotage relationships in the past for a quicker outcome. In other words, I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and end relationships quickly rather than wait and see how they play out. The uncertainty during the waiting period feels unbearable.

Armed with this self-knowledge, I decided to approach the situation with Amin differently.

First, I reminded my (Anxious) self of the facts –

  1. I do not owe anyone and nor does anyone owe me.
  2. I am choosing to be here for as long as it feels right to me.
  3. I am here because I want a strong relationship with my brother.
  4. I am in no way bound to be here if it violates my personal needs.
  5. I know this will be difficult and that our days will vary like the weather.
  6. I love and honor myself and do not believe in sacrificing my needs.
  7. I am not alone in this and I have a strong network of friends I can rely on.

And then I intensely researched attachment styles again – not to predict what will happen – but rather to understand how our minds work differently and what we perceive to be threatening. I know that frequent activation of these triggers will become the barriers to our mutual success.

I collected and read 117 documents on attachment theory. Most of them were research papers. I also read the most important books on this topic (some I read years ago while I was married):

  1. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love
  2. Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship
  3. Meet Me In Hard To Love Places
  4. Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love
  5. When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment
  6. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
  7. Leaving Home: The Art of Separating From Your Difficult Family

Here are the best online resources I’ve come across on this topic:

  1. Nurturance Culture
  2. Womb of Light (Mother Wound)
  3. Men’s Mother Complex – Rape of the Heart
  4. Ending the Anxious-Avoidant Dance
  5. An Anxious-Avoidant Couple That Works – Carmen Spagnola

But even after all this reading over the last five years, I still didn’t fully understand both sides of the story. I knew what caused Anxious people to feel and react the way we do, but I wasn’t as confident in my understanding of Avoidants.

I started to put little pieces of the puzzle together by reaching out to some of my Avoidant friends who were comfortable with me asking lots of questions about childhood years, family relationships, personal and intimate relationships. They knew that my intent was not to judge, but rather, to understand more deeply and accurately. I am sincerely grateful for their genuine openness and unwavering support in helping me bring this together. I hope to continue to call on them as my understanding and my relationship with Amin evolves.

My research questions are threefold:

  1. What do we feel was missing in our individual lives as children, and how does that dictate what we’re looking for as adults?
  2. What can we do now, as individuals and siblings, to help both of us become more secure?
  3. How can we apply the learning from our Anxious-Avoidant relationship to help others in similar situations as siblings, close friends, parents and children, or intimate partners?

As I was contemplating question #1, this is what arose:

Anxious women are most often the offspring of an absent, Avoidant father paired with an Anxious mother. Subconsciously, they’re looking for the father they never had, to feel close, secure, and protected.

They’ve been waiting for their ‘knight in shining armor’ to validate and rescue them. Only then will they believe they are lovable and loved.

As children, they didn’t receive consistent attention and thus, convinced themselves they were abandoned because they are imperfect. As adults, they’re looking for positive attention, and willing to do nearly anything to please their partners to avoid abandonment.

Their internal motto is: “Do you really love (know/trust/want/respect) me? Can I trust you to be there for me? How do I know?”

Avoidant men are most often the offspring of an absent, Avoidant father paired with an Anxious mother, who becomes overly-attached to her son. Subconsciously, these men are looking for the childhood they never had.

They’ve been waiting to be released from ‘partner duties’ (“me-and-you-against-the-world” with the mother). Only then can they feel free to explore their individuality, without burdensome responsibilities.

As children, they filled the absent, Avoidant father’s duties and met the Anxious mother’s emotional needs. As adults, they’re looking for unconditional positive regard and freedom from expectations.

Their internal motto is: “Can I trust you to look after yourself and not burden me with additional expectations? If you love me, you’ll let me be free.”

Anxious looks at Avoidant and says: You’re lucky, at least you were loved.

Avoidant looks at Anxious and says: You’re lucky, at least you were free.

After I wrote this out and confirmed that it resonated with my Avoidant friends, I felt overwhelming compassion in my heart for Amin, my ex-husband, and my father.

I finally understand their behaviors in the context of this backstory, which unlocked my full capacity to empathize with them. This knowledge transformed me from being the Anxious, unwanted sister, ex-wife, and daughter to a more secure human being who sees and feels for both sides equally. There are three sides to every story, and one of them includes the other two.

I shared my newfound understanding with Amin after our weeklong hiatus and he also confirmed the Avoidant side of the story. During that conversation, we discussed the week of silence. I acknowledged that his process of shutting down is an instinct that is difficult to override, but also explained that we need to work together to create a safe and warm emotional environment for our relationship to exist.

After a long discussion, we agreed to always check-in before the day ends. We know that issues will not always be resolved on the day they arise and that sometimes they will require weeks to resolve. On days when we encounter conflict, we will check-in very briefly to remind each other that we will work through the issues together and to wish each other goodnight. This daily ritual, however brief, is crucial for building continuity, which translates into security for Anxious people, in any close relationship.

More to come…stay tuned.

Also published on Medium.

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About the Author

Sabrina is a behavioral scientist with a background in marketing and communications consulting, who seeks to self-actualize and create social change through her work. She holds an MBA degree from INSEAD and a BS degree in Business Management from Babson College. Her interests include psychology, systems thinking, sacred geometry, and Sufi poetry.

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