Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Trust yourself to get through whatever comes your way
Help!: I would consider myself a pretty self-assured person. Relatively successful and young. I am in a great relationship with a great man. We are recently engaged and have set a date.
My problem: I am scared that at any moment he is going to leave me or hurt me. I know this fear is irrational and I know it stems from the very strained relationship I've had with my father most of my life. He was present in our home — but he was absent. Not really involved and constantly cheated on my mother and he really didn't try to hide it.
Now, my fiance has never given me a reason not to trust him. But for some reason, I can't shake this feeling that he's going to leave me or hurt me. I know it may seem contradictory that I can say I trust him and feel this way. But I do. However, I don't want to lose him by implying that I don't trust him with my heart. How do I let this go?
Carolyn: Figuring out whether you can or can't trust this man is just so much Titanic deck-chair shuffling. The person you don't trust is you. That, too, is an inheritance from the absentee dad, a more significant one than the surface awareness that people hurt others, leave, cheat, and the rest of the a la carte horrors.
When you've got emotional chaos at home, one common response is to invest everything into the stability of your achievements — the right grades, the right activities, the right job, the right relationship.
The problem is, the stability of these things isn't in the things themselves — it's in you, the person learning the material, practicing the routines/lines/skills, doing the work, having the feelings. Hitting all the "right" milestones provides lasting satisfaction only when your actual pursuits satisfy you. (Thus the phenomenon of the imploding perfectionist, the person who does everything "right" and winds up miserable and mystified.)
There are two emotional transactions that foster trust in a relationship. The first is the transaction between the two of you: If it's built on real and enduring things, like common values and interests, natural affinity, easy conversation, complementary strengths and weaknesses — then you're going to be less concerned that a mere pebble will send it careening off the tracks.
The second is within you. If you know that you'll find a way to pull yourself back together, even if the relationship falls apart (since just about anything can), then you'll fear the prospect less.
Back to your home situation: Not to blame everything on Daddy, but if your upbringing didn't equip you to perform these two transactions, then you're going to need to learn on your own how to perform them. People get there by deep thought, life experience, counseling, developing better habits and behaviors, role modeling or endless combination of these and other possible influences, so there's no one formula.
But since you refer to yourself as self-assured, I would start by taking apart that statement to figure out what you think contributes most to your strength. Just having a grasp of your own best resources can help you see you have much less to fear than you think.