A Couple's Intensive – Part 9: Pain of Not Feeling Received

A fragile moment between Pat and me occurred on Thursday morning (July 12) while on the back deck at Beth’s home in Vermont. The modeling we practiced and experienced with Sage and Anthony the previous weekend made this possible – though still a bit risky.

Pat awoke with a crick in her neck and asked me to massage her neck and shoulders as she sat in a chair on the deck. Pat and I met in massage school, so, becoming licensed massage therapists, we are both somewhat experienced in massage. I began, and as usual, Pat began giving me specific instructions of what she wanted and didn’t want – where my pressure was too strong, too weak, too fast, in the wrong place, etc. These directions annoyed me and I allowed my annoyance to prevent me from relaxing into giving her massage strokes from a place of deeper presence within me. When this happens in any of my massage work, the massage often ends up being under ego-control – trying to get my hands doing just the “right” things, but never really succeeding. In the end this leaves me in a place of not feeling received, of not feeling at all competent as a massage therapist or even competent as a human being.

Pat: This is one more place where you look for where I won’t receive you rather than just being in the vulnerable place of not being received as you are. In my massage practice this happened a lot. When clients would want specific things and I could not just go from my intuition then I would be thrown off my foundation. I think we both have this issue.  Gary: I am glad you hear me and that you can relate to my frustration and that you know this pain that comes up in me in this simple matter of massaging a crick out of your neck.

But where this goes in me is that in giving you massage, though a trained massage therapist, somehow, “I am not enough” for you. And I fear bringing up this conclusion and the pain that it evokes in me because my bringing this up would, I believe, draw you into that place where you say of yourself, “I am defective.” Pat: This reminds me of the Montgomery Cliff and Liz Taylor dark movie Suddenly, Last Summer – the feeling of what Liz was describing – birds picking clean the flesh of an overturned turtle. Maybe our deepest fear is being open, being real with each other. Like your “Naked boy on a dolly” dream a decade ago.

Gary: Yes my dream years ago, me, the naked boy on the dolly – in terror at being seen by a stern and disapproving woman gazing down from a window above. But I’m curious about what in me actually looks for and seems comfortable with “not being received” especially by women. It has been so challenging for me to give you gifts of any kind, so I just don’t, and we say we are comfortable with this. But most prominent is in the sexual arena – tapping into a lot of sadness in me. Back to Mom not relating to me in my maleness, or maybe her with Dad as well.  Male sexuality may have just been too much for Mom.

Pat: Yes, something of this dynamic continues in you and me. It is good to discover our own feelings here, our understanding, our beliefs, patterns and images. And the hardest area for us is perhaps in the sexual arena. If I think of myself releasing control, relaxing back into the energy of receiving or being the receiving energy – well that is a black hole that will swallow one up! The female in me can’t go there.

And I hear you: the pain of not being received just as you are when I do not receive you in your maleness in those moments that you want to connect. The challenge for us is to learn the ways to shift this mutually painful conundrum and bring us to wholeness. Sage was so skilled at hearing your sadness, being with you in your sadness.

Gary: Yes, and finding my sadness attractive, or perhaps she experienced my feeling my sadness and my being able to freely express my feelings of sadness as being attractive to her – and I thought you said that as well in our session, that you found me “attractive” in my sharing my feelings of pain and sadness. But it is hard for me to hear that she, or you, loves me in my feeling and expressing my sadness.

Growing up I sensed, perhaps at an unconscious level, that Mom could not be with me in my sadness. Perhaps she would see my sadness as a failure in her mothering skills and was caught in her idealized self-image of being a “good mom,” and the belief that a “good mom” could not have a “sad son.” Perhaps she would conclude that my sadness could be a negative reflection on her mothering skills. And perhaps she would not consciously realize that my sadness could possibly come from her own emotional unavailability. And from her own childhood she perhaps did not learn and come to know about emotional availability and so could not become available in the way I needed her to anyway. Perhaps Mom and I were both trapped in our respective patterns.  Hers I just described. As for me, perhaps I was trapped, unconsciously of course, in that I could not feel my sadness in the presence of Mom because my feeling of sadness would make her uncomfortable – and making Mom uncomfortable was not an option for me due to my own images and beliefs – namely, my firm belief that “you cannot make a woman uncomfortable or hurt her in any way.” Both of us would avoid the pain of this: Mom would stay busy at church and I would play by myself, or with my younger brother, with our electric trains and other hobbies. Pat: You were accommodating Mom’s unavailability. Gary: Yes, it was part of my finely tuned sensitivity.

Pat: I also have a finely tuned sensitivity and also accommodate emotional unavailability. Gary: Yes, and yours was accommodating an emotionally unavailable dad, while mine was accommodating an emotionally unavailable mom. Pat: These are the patterns we carry within our ego structures. Your sensitivity to protect me from your sadness and my sensitivity to accommodate (enable) your emotional unavailability.

Gary: For example, it is hard for me to feel or to say how I feel when you tell me precisely how to massage your neck. In this fear of feeling or expressing my feelings I become even more emotionally unavailable to you (or to myself). A negative vortex sets in and over time I numb out this pain of not being received as I am, and too often I move to resignation, concluding, “This is just the way of it between Pat and me.” From this conclusion I go on to conclude that the intimacy I long for with you is hopeless and beyond us – concluding that this is the way it will always be. And I risk even less, falling into my pattern of not risking any true emotional intimacy on my end. Pat: Yes, evolving our connection and intimacy is about each of us risking and choosing to go in a different way in our relationship.

I again am reminded of the Pathwork quote that was the theme of our intensive (Pathwork 151: Intensity: An Obstacle to Self-Realization – ¶ 3-4):

Greetings, my dearest friends.  The divine blessings streaming in the atmosphere around and within you are a powerful force, available to you provided you are open and receptive to it.

Self-realization means becoming aware of this universal, cosmic power, available at all times.  It is your tragedy to be cut off from this power, to be oblivious or ignorant of its existence.  For knowing of it is one of the prerequisites for making it available.  When you enter the realm where it is possible to make this power available, you find yourself in the predicament of not being able to know what you have not experienced.  Therefore, to bridge the gap between previous experience and the available power, it is necessary to consider the new possibility.  This is always the intelligent approach to every new step of branching out, whether in science or in any other realization of truth.  However, you are usually not ready to do this, for you falsely believe you must have definite opinions.  You fluctuate at all times between a definite yes and a definite no.  No discovery can ever be made with this attitude.  The attitude must truly be, “Is it possible?  Could it be?  I will honestly look and consider the possibility, with all sincerity and without shirking any effort, in any direction that may prove to be necessary.”

So Pat and I ask, “Is it possible for us to experience emotional intimacy” and are we each willing to say and mean: “I will honestly look and consider the possibility, with all sincerity and without shirking any effort, in any direction that may prove to be necessary”? May we have the courage to allow this possibility of intimacy to emerge and evolve in each of us and in our relationship, this is our prayer.

Shared in love, Gary