Struggling with intimacy and mutuality in friendships

I have spent most of my life being afraid of showing people my real feelings and the real me. Well, most of the time I was even not sure myself who this real me was. The truth is that I have always had my depressive episodes. I have done my best to hide those. I have done my best trying to always appear upbeat, not create any waves – in general be low key. My basic fear was that if I set any demands or stress on the people that surround me, they will abandon me.

I spent my mother’s illness receiving very little support from anyone. Some people in my life knew, but most of them just pretended to forget. I did not make any waves about the lacking support, except with my boyfriend at the time who decided to distance himself. All this time I felt secretly abandoned, but I did not make any waves, because I was afraid of loosing the people in my life. It did not occur to me that people who never even ask how my mum is doing during the chemotherapy might not really be my friends…

AT the age of 31, I have to accept that I have no idea how to form close friendships. How do you create friendships where there is mutual support and closeness? I would not know, because I do not think I have ever had such kind of friendship.

When I look at the current relationships in my life, I have to admit that most of them are alive because of my continued effort. No kidding. It is mostly me that seeks contact. It makes me feel devalued and unimportant. It also makes me wonder if there is nothing better out there. But am I really ready and deserving of this something better myself?

Not having close nor trusting relationship with your caregiver really takes a toll on your relationships. Not only romantic relationships. I think there is an abundance of literature focusing solely on romantic relationships, but I am talking friendships. Friendships are often even more challenging than romantic relationships, because there is no warrantee. Romantic relationships become more stable through marriage or moving in together, but friendships…..Will they ever achieve the kind of security and mutuality that I am looking for? Clearly there is a possibility for that, because I see people around me who enjoy these kinds of friendships. It is just that I am finding myself in the situation where I myself do not have this in my life.

Advertisements

Believing that we deserved to be treated badly by our parents

Every therapy starts with the therapist trying to explain to the patient that there is an alternative way of being fostered. That there actually was something wrong with how we were treated. Every therapy ends with the patient finally understanding it on an emotional level…..

It is easy to read books and rationally understand that our parents messed up. I mean, on a rational level we understand that probably our parents beating us were not really right or kicking us out or what not. But I think on an emotional level almost every therapy patient believes we actually deserved to be treated that way.

Take me for instance. As someone who internalized guilt, I have been in the habit of excusing other people’s behavior. When my ex was verbally aggressive, it was because he had his issues. He had his ADHD, his shame whatnot and I was too needy, I should have not been that way. When a guy that I recently had a developing courtship disappeared suddenly, I understood him, because well, he was feeling like a failure in his life and he needed to gain confidence in order to be available for the relationship and I pushed him too hard. Finally, I understood my mother’s violent outbursts, I mean she was working so hard and I was not cleaning up at home, I was lazy, I was not talented enough. She had her own reasons.

I never allowed myself to be sad. I never allowed myself to blame them openly for how they treated me. I never held them accountable. Instead, I directed the blame back to myself, relentlessly searching for all the things I did wrong. The thing is, you can always find things you did wrong. The problem is when you start thinking that because you did things wrong you deserved to be treated that way.

We all make mistakes, but the victims of childhood abuse are punished for their mistakes and for things that were not even their mistakes in a gruesome manner. Over the years they start believing that this is actually what they deserve. The cycle goes on as we expect the same kind of behavior from our partners. Furthermore, we do not even allow ourselves to feel pain for our partners treating us badly, because in the end we brought this bad treatment upon ourselves, did we not?

Well, I am slowly trying to change the court. I am trying to actually start holding others accountable for at least half of the standards I have held myself accountable for over the years. I am trying to not assume that when other people treat me badly it is because I deserve this. Well, I am speaking in present, but actually it is a future plan….

Why you should never date Florence Nightingale

I am still somewhat ruminating over my relationship dynamics where I would date men who somehow needed to fix me. Not only did I date men who wanted to fix me, I also had friends around me who needed to fix me. I have now cut out most people from my life who had this attitude, however I am still trying to figure out all the sides of it.

To be honest, I find these kind of people extremely dangerous. The thing is, relationships with Florence Nightingale’s are all about control….that is about them being in control. Yes, their acts of kindness might look selfless on surface, but serve a need for them to feel like they are in a superior position. Furthermore, they keep finding issues in you which they think you should fix. Florence’s get the most aggressive when they sense that you are somehow becoming independent and then they quickly try to find a new issue which needs to be dealt with in you.

I am thinking of my ex friend who needed to ‘diagnose’ an eating disorder in me just to somehow stay in control of our relationship. I am thinking of my ex who constantly kept finding issues in me and went as far as to tell me this winter how his friend had told him about me being distant and having obvious trust issues. When you break down and actually accept having these issues, Florence’s are there to help you, not for your sake, but for their own.

What I am still struggling with is accepting that it is not love though. Their care might look like love, but in reality it is pity and sympathy. It is kind of difficult to accept that some of your closest people have looked down on you your whole life. They have said to themselves, well I will befriend or date this person who obviously needs fixing, because then I can be in control. It is not going to be an equal relationship, I am not dating my equal, I am dating someone who is beneath me. How does that sound to know that you are this person who is beneath?

It is however even somewhat healing to see these things. Healing, because I can finally admit that I did not imagine people looking down on me. No, they actually did look down on me. My own dear friends looked down on me. It is a weird feeling really. Weird feeling to see that I still mostly have unequal relationships in my life, because I am only slowly transitioning. But some day I will actually have friends and a partner who sees me as equal. Who does not have such glaring control issues that they need someone below them to feel good about the relationship.

People who enjoy crossing your borders

Recently I am starting to suspect that there is a category of people who has no intention whatsoever to respect your borders. When you set a border, they see it as a recommendation or more like a bargain which could be negotiated or ignored. I am not here talking about some border issues which could be discussed inside the relationship, rather I am talking about people who have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to take your limits into account. I suspect that there are two kinds of people who do this.

The first category of people are people who just cannot hear the word NO. It just does not exist for them. When you say no, they assume that somehow NO does not really mean NO. My former boss is like this. Even when I said NO, she would come back with the same task pretending like she never heard the word no. Negotiating your borders with such people is tiresome because it seems like fighting with the dragon, you get rid of one head and another head appears. I suspect that such people might have learned from their childhood that if they are cute enough or persistent enough, people will give up. However, I still have more respect towards this category of people than the other one.

In the other category I would put people who test other people’s borders because it is a power play for them. They are looking for emotional reactions. I guess other people reacting emotional shows them that somehow they care about them or that at least they have some control over these people. One of my ex friends is like that. He would consciously test my emotional reactions just by saying something hurtful or by disappearing in the middle of our conversation. In the end, I barely reacted anymore – I could see through his actions and I was also aware of what he was doing. However, I was interested enough as to how he would react if he saw that he does not get any emotional reaction (plus he was a very interesting person). Happened something which I think is quite common for this type of people when they feel their influence over you is disappearing – he stopped communicating with me. I did not give him anymore the kind of emotional reaction which he expected and that made him feel insecure and vulnerable.

The last category of people are usually uncomfortable with being vulnerable. In the case of my former friend, he has been exposed to physical violence when he was a kid. So he surrounded himself with people with whom he never felt out of control, whom he thought he could control. The problem is, I am not the same kind of person I was when I met him. This took him as a bad surprise. I on the other hand started losing my respect towards him and his controlling strategies. Whereas I can understand where his needs come from and I empathize, I also feel that I do not want to have such people close to me.

How do you trust someone who you know is constantly calculating the power dynamics of the relationship in his head? Interestingly my ex also showed multiple signs of the same kind of behavior. He too was obsessed with power and often spoke about other people wanting to control him. I am starting suspect that the minute someone you meet is telling you about other people being keen on controlling them, you should be very careful because they are probably measuring other people based on what happened in their childhood but also based on their own behavior. So yeah, I am these days more aware of the people who are consciously challenging my borders, especially the ones that do it because it gives them the feeling of power.

Who is setting the conditions in the relationship?

For the past six years I have somehow mislead myself in terms of not even needing a full commitment nor not wanting a family. I have tried to control my emotions as other friends of mine had kids and told myself that I was investing into self-development. Surely that would lead to better results in the end.

Do not get me wrong, I still believe in self-development, but I am also starting to understand that the road to commitment should not be a struggle. I struggled with my ex. My ex was right, we had multiple problems which were at least in the beginning also related to my own commitment fears, however during the recent years my ex was skillfully using my problems to avoid commitment. I became a cyrcus monkey, trying to fulfill all his criteria, postponing my own wishes and desires, because „I was not ready yet“ and „I had to develop more“. For the first time during the last days I came up with the idea of actually setting criterias for my next boyfriend myself, one of them being – „he needs to want a family sooner rather than later“. I know it probably seems riddiculously obvious for the most people, but I have always dated from ‘a one man down position’. I have been so concerned about being liked by my partner that I never even dared to set my own conditions. Rather I was oriented towards fulfilling all his rules and requirements. I perceived commitment as his reward to me.

This is basically dating from the victim position. In your mind you are so disadvantaged that you have no right to have expectations for your partner. Instead you are celebrating having a partner at all. You fully understand that he is not committed to you yet and you think that for you to earn his commitment you must somehow become better, brigther what not. At the time I was struggling with my ex, I was sometimes really amazed by how easily other girls got their boyfriends to behave in caring and loyal fashion. I told to myself that there was something special about these girls that I was missing. I should develop myself more so that my boyfriend would want to committ to me as well.

I am thinking that the fact I see all this now probably means I am finally reclaiming my power. I am finally growing out of my position where I was the one needing to win someone’s love. My love now also needs to be earned and I am ready to walk away if my conditions are not satisfied. Most importantly I will not put myself into a situation where I am fighting for someone’s love for years. Usually, if you have to fight for someone’s love, you will never have it. I have to accept that I never really had the love of at least my two recent exes.

Fear of letting go

Recently I was complaining to my psychologist how several of my acquaintances or friends do not seem to value communicating with me as much as I do with them. Actually I have just recently had few weird situations. Both situations had other people initiating the contact and wanting to meet me and then either failing to show up or constantly postponing the meeting. This kind of behavior is confusing for me, because well – I did not seek out the contact, they did. Even though it is definitely an interesting question – what makes these people behave that way, I would rather focus on my own way of handling these events today.

My psychologist said something interesting as I described him these events, also mentioning that I feel I am done with both individuals. He said that it is good that I am these days quicker to weed out the people who do not behave well with me. However, then I told to him, but inside me there is this feeling that I do not want to go out there and start looking for new friends (or boyfriends). Whereby the psychologist said, well if you keep hanging out with the people who do not treat you well then you will definitely not find anyone who values you and you will just be wasting your time. How very simple and yet insightful.

The deal is, I keep holding on to people and trying to change them rather than just accepting the truth and moving on. If someone does not treat me well, I am hoping that somehow magically they will change or if I behave differently, perhaps they will value me more. Usually there is a bit truth in the statement that you teach people how to treat you, but……Sometimes you just have to accept that the other one will not treat you the way you want to be treated and is never going to. I wonder why this is so difficult to accept and realize?

Perhaps because by accepting this, we actually have to do something. We cannot anymore engage in wishful thinking or ignore the problems in our relationships. Rather we are left with cold hard truth…this person is not treating me well. Now I need to react and show who I am and how I want to be treated. Do I dare to walk away? Mostly I have not dared to walk away. Mostly I have been damn good at trying to change myself or complaning about people treating me badly or just convincing myself that it is all part of my imagination (maybe I am overreacting). The truth is that sometimes behind my faithfulness and loyalty was just a simple fear of moving on, going to the unknown, risking with rejection in this cruel hard world again. I am slowly starting to realize and somehow fix it, but man it is not easy.

Feelings of unimportance

Today I am going to talk about something which is rather painful for me – namely the feeling of being unimportant. I have felt unimportant for my friends, my parents, my boyfriends, you name it. I have no idea how much of it is the result of this deep seated need inside of me which longs for someone who would finally make me feel like a priority (a need which can never be fully satisfied) and how much of it is related to me choosing particular people into my life. However…..

I am sad to admit that I spent most of the time being together with my ex feeling unimportant. On some occasions I can surely see that the problem was mine, however in many situations, as I realize now, he really behaved in ways which would leave anyone feelings dismissed. So what did my ex do?

Well lets start with the fact that he planned trips to his home country without telling me. He just told me a day or two in advance that he is now going. Moreover, when in his home country, he always protested loudly against having to schedule times meeting me. Rather, he wanted to have fun with his friends and mostly just avoid talking to me (note that sometimes his visits extended to several months). Throughout the relationship my ex let me know that communication is something that he does for me. He thought, he does not need communication and furthermore talking to me does not give him any satisfaction. Finally, my ex most of the time did not bother to let me know if he was late (we are talking about 2-3 am late), instead he would purposefully ignore my calls (no I did not call ten times in a row). I am guessing it made him feel important and powerful, knowing that I was worrying about him.

These are all activities which I think are not OK in a good relationship and these activities uniformly communicate – you do not matter. I could continue the list, but I think it is unnecessary. But the feeling of not mattering runs deep in me – why else would I accept such behavior. Furthermore, I not only accepted it, I secretly hoped that one day my ex will realize how valuable and important I am. How he will tell me that he needs me too. How he will tell me that he actually wants this relationship, he wants me…

This is in fact the main issue with such feelings of unimportance. We keep choosing people who make us feel unimportant and then hope to convert them. We hope that by showing to those who put low value in us what we are worth finally helps us to feel redeemed, significant….all things we never got to experience during our childhoods.

My feelings of unimportance are painful and I have only recently come to even realize how big of a role they have played. For years I have tried to mask these feelings with addictions, replacement activities…whatever just to keep the pain away. The disappearance of the pain through these activities is however an illusion, because the pain always comes back. So now, slowly, I am daring to talk about these feelings, daring to at least get a vague idea about where they come from. I am not fully ready to immerse myself in this experience, but step by step….

Controlling through depriving

For the past weeks I have been working with my trust issues regarding other people. Namely, I had the type of controlling mother that used ‘the take away’ tactic a lot, meaning she just threatened to take away her support, my home whatever that there was to take away when I did not do as she pleased.

I can use a good recent example of this as I am currently visiting. So my mum wanted me to clean the attic which for her is a bit more uncomfortable for various reasons. However she asked me five days before me leaving. Since she still needs to be next to me and supervise, I did my best to find a common time. I then quickly realized that my mum had four days of my staying already reserved and in fact there was only one particular day she could have done the cleaning. When I told her that no can do, I have plans for this day already, she threw a hissy fit and then promised to cancel one trip which we have planned together for the summer.

Each time she does these things I am thinking whether I should stop the contact altogether. I have mixed feelings in relation to that, partially because stopping all contact seems quite extreme and I think I would miss the occasional keeping in touch, on the other hand also because she being in my home country and offering me a place to stay comes in handy. But I understand that she has always been manipulating me with taking away these very benefits like the accommodation, but also her presence and connection. It somehow feels a bit like keeping in touch with her makes me weak and vulnerable and still susceptible to such threats.

It is exactly the same pattern which existed with my ex as well. My ex would give me his support until he thought I had done something that displeased him and then resorted to threats – threats of leaving me, verbal assaults, silent treatment etc. I was constantly being punished for disobeying.

There is a lot to discuss on this matter still and I am in the process of ruminating over the matter.

Finding the happiness within is a hard job

For most of my life I have hoped to find happiness through other people. You know I hoped that the perfect partner will make me happy, that I would actually not have to work hard for my happiness after this man of dreams will knock at my door. It felt easier. My life felt just like waiting for this perfect love, waiting to start living my life.

For those reasons, I did not dwell so much on how I could create the life of my dreams. Yes, I had hobbies, yes I even studied hard, etc., but I think most of it I did in order to somehow perfect myself for this man who was going to show up.

Letting go of this idea of love healing everything is….well disillusioning. Furthermore, realizing that the idea of your partner making you happy is shared by so many people is even more frightening. Not only am I learning how to make myself happy, there is even a likelihood that I have others around me who expect me to make them happy.

The discovery that kind of struck me today was – most people around me are in fact less happy than I am. They are less happy with themselves. Many of them still expect others to make them happy and spend time complaining about that not happening. Their focus is not on how to make themselves happy, but they shift the responsibility to – how others are making me unhappy. Because it is easier. It is easier to focus on the mistakes of other people rather than to admit that you are responsible for your own happiness.

Once you reach to that realization it is not exactly freeing. Rather you feel the weight of responsibility. Suddenly if you are unhappy it is your job to figure out what makes you unhappy and fix it. It feels exhausting. The first reward comes from observing other people going around circles blaming others for their inner lack. This is when you start to feel slight empowerment and get a sense of achievement.

Unfortunately I have not yet reached further than this point, so I cannot really say what happens after…..

Coming out of co-dependency

Next month my ex will finally move out of our common apartment. Luckily I have spent a lot of time this spring visiting my home country so I have not had to be with him all the time, but enough.  It is weird because for a long time I refused to let go. I was really scared of living alone and now, well I want him to go. I am still scared, but I want him to go.

Why? Because I think two people who have been in a co-dependent relationship are bound to fall into old patterns. It is all too easy for me to become overly dependent and ask my ex about things. Innocent things such as, asking for advice on how to handle people, asking him to bring me something from the store, just asking him for all kinds of help. To feel that someone cares. It is all too easy for him to use me as a distraction from his own issues. To focus on what is wrong with me. Things being wrong with me, does not make him right.

I can see the aftermath of codependency in both of us. My ex has been sending me some messages on how he hates himself. How he feels lonely and depressed. To be honest, I sympathize and I do not. I do not sympathize because I am thinking of all these years when he claimed that all the problems in the relationship were mine. How he told me how much more psychologically healthy he is and how he does not need me a bit. There is a bit of a victory for me in him realizing how nice of a distraction my problems were for him. But more than the taste of victory there is gratitude for my problems taking such an important place in the relationship. Yes, it was tough to always hear what was wrong with me, but at least my problems were all brought to a daylight. I had a chance to work on those. Ex, on the other hand is now painfully hit by his issues which he thought he did not have.

The aftermath of codependency in me is illustrated by me still living together with him. By me still occasionally messaging him when I have a problem. It happens fewer and fewer times. During the last month perhaps two times. But the aftermath of codependency in me is also that I am now noticing how controlling my ex was. How he guilt-tripped me about all his care and love. How most of the time I felt like I did not deserve him caring for me. How helpless I felt both before the relationship with him, but also in the relationship with him. The helplessness was and is mine. I let this helplessness guide my life and my life choices. My ex did not make me helpless, but he took advantage of this helplessness on occasions. Just as I took advantage of his caring, not giving nearly enough back.

All and all, I am happy that I am leaving this experience behind. I am happy that I have finally the chance to learn how to take care of myself. Take individual responsibility for my life, my choices – everything. Through relying on others, through constantly delegating responsibility, we are making ourselves feel even more dependent. My ex was like a facilitator of my dysfunction and I was the facilitator of his. I do not want to spend my whole life feeling helpless.