“I Cannot Let Go of a Past Relationship”
After reading about my expertise and unique approach in a magazine article, Pablo, a sixty year-old man sought my help. He wanted to forget someone who had been special to him at one point but he couldn’t let go of this past relationship. At first, it appeared to be a typical case of someone who wants to get over his ex, but it turned out to be more complex than that. Pablo told me that he was now a happily married man and he stressed that he enjoyed the intimacy and heterosexual sex he shared with his wife.
The problem began when PAblo initiated a friendly relationship with a younger man. However, what seemed to be just a friendship between two men, gradually turned into a physically intimate one. Although they never engaged in homosexual sex, they had kissed, touched and caressed each other. The younger man had asked for money because he said that he needed it. Gradually, requesting money became a regular part of their interaction and he was soon asking for greater amounts each time.
Finally, Pablo realized that the relationship was not appropriate, and that the younger man was taking advantage of him. So he decided to end it. Having broken all contact with the younger man, Pablo realized that he couldn’t stop thinking about him. He made an effort not to think about his ex but failed miserably. He had tried to reason with himself, telling himself that the past was over and that the young man was really just after his money. Moreover, he reminded himself that he loved his wife and that he was, and wanted to stay heterosexual.
However, the more he tried to forget, the more obsessed he became with the young man. He had many flashbacks throughout the day which caused him much anxiety. He tried to banish these thoughts by diverting his attention to his wife and repeating to himself that he was a heterosexual man. But he was trapped in an obsessive vicious cycle.
I pointed out to Pablo that he had trapped himself within a paradox of his own making. When a person tries to forget something or somebody by sheer will power, the result is never that they forget. Instead it becomes an obsession. This strategy reinforces the memories and the mental images that you want to forget. The effort not to think about something leads to exactly the opposite: more thinking! Forgetting is a spontaneous phenomenon of the human mind. Only when you lose interest in something can you forget it. However, whenever you try to force yourself to forget something, you actually consolidate the thought and it becomes obsessed with it.
I warned Pablo about the consequences of his strategy to forget his ex. I pointed out how things could get worse because he would get more anxious and more obsessed. Pablo readily agreed with me that the strategy he was using was not the solution. I suggested that he dedicate some time to the memory of his ex. This was a ritual that would allow him to close this chapter of his behind him and get on with the rest of his life.
One week later, at our next scheduled session I talked to Pablo. He reported that after a few days of ritually thinking about his ex, his anxiety had diminished and curiously, he wasn’t thinking about the young man as often as before. I told him to continue the ritual for another week in order to free himself of that obsessive thought. After that, he could enjoy his relationship with his wife. I gave him another task to make this new attitude a reality.
I had only a few sessions with Pablo but it was enough to help him get rid of his obsessive thoughts about his ex. All of the strategies he had devised for himself had failed to free him of that past relationship. But finally with my help and with the specific tasks that he judiciously followed, he managed to free himself from the obsessive thought of the young man. Three months later I talked to Pablo and was happy to learn that that he had forgotten the man and was serenely happy and enjoying his life with his wife.