Anxiety issues

During last years I have spent countless times accusing my boyfriend for not providing me safety I need. Do not get me wrong, my boyfriend is a rather unreliable person who has sometimes considerable difficulties keeping his life together. Nevertheless, as I advance in my therapy, I am also starting to take more responsibility for my anxiety. In my ideal world I would still have some strong and reliable guy taking away all my issues regarding safety, but I do understand that this would put me into dependency position which probably is not that desirable either. Oddly, I am pending between two extremes, one part of me wants to break up with my boyfriend to find someone more stable, the other part is so afraid of loneliness that it absolutely dismisses the idea.

I do understand that no matter what my choice, I will have to face my anxiety issues. Somehow I have put myself into situation where my anxiety flourishes- in a foreign country, with unstable job, with an unreliable boyfriend. What could be worse for someone who is mortally afraid of the unknown. If I am trying to see the positive side of the story, it is that now I cannot but work with my fear of loneliness and my fear of not being able to trust myself.

I have never liked basing my decisions on my fears, perhaps this is also the reason why I have ended up in such a weird position. The most courageous deed I have done was breaking up with my ex for whom I migrated at the first place. Granted, the decision was probably not the wisest at this point, but it was no doubt brave. I just wish that we could get some medals for bravery in this life.

Some self-help books advocate facing one’s fear, suggesting that after numerous times of being faced with it, it gets easier to take. I disagree. I have done nothing else in my life than faced my fears and I think very little movement has been resulting from me simply facing those. Rather, most of the movement has been the result of my therapy- understanding the underlying issues behind one’s fear and then trying to comfort the fearful parts. This is the strategy that has helped me to almost overcome my social anxiety and I sincerely hope that soon it will also help me to conquer my fear of loneliness and fear of dysfunctionality.

Advertisements

My abandonment story

As a child I experienced pretty much all my caretakers leaving me, some intentionally, others unintentionally. My father never showed particular interest in me as in not responding to my birthday cards and in generally ignoring my presence. After him my mother had one other relationship with a guy who also disappeared from my life. My mother was emotionally unavailable and concerned mostly with her own needs. I spent considerable time at my grandparents place when I was young. My grandparents unfortunately died before the school so then I was left to my friends place whenever my mother needed to travel, which was at least twice a year.

When I was still small, my mother left for a foreign country for one year, leaving me first with my grandparents and then later taking me with her. While I was in the foreign country my mother got a serious illness and was predicted by the doctors, to die. I spent all the time with my nanny, believing that I will be left all alone in the world.  Luckily my mother survived, but at this point all my basic trust to world had been demolished.

I am struggling hard these days to trust people, to believe that they will be there for me. Somehow I have been also looking for similar experiences, so with all my exes I have endured some kind of abandonment. It might also be possible that since I am so sensitive to the issue, I blow things out of proportion. The bottom line is however, in my life so far, I could not be sure of anyone being present. Maybe the earlier abandonment of my childhood would have been forgotten if my mother had not been using abandonment as a way to discipline me. Under several occasions I was kicked out of home with the words: “I do not want to have you here anymore. You are not my child and do not even consider going to any of your friends, because I will find out and punish you. ” During these moments, spent on the street, wondering what to do next, my last pieces of trust got lost. I cannot even say that my mother was a total monster, she was occasionally very good to me. It was just that her attention and periods of goodness never lasted and were damn difficult to predict. I just felt constantly on the edge, as if I had to behave so that I would not be kicked out of home again.

So there you are. I struggle with the last piece of the puzzle in my therapy- my abandonment issues. I have started to believe that I am a lovable person, I have started to believe in my own value, but I still anticipate everyone betraying me. I can still see myself on the street curve, not having anyone, not having any home. Can I find my home finally in the future, can I feel safe in the world?

How abandonment issues manifest in relationships

I have always looked at other couples and been jealous at what they had. I just do not exactly know how to put it, but I never felt settled in my relationships. I always anticipated the end, I always somehow knew that they are not going to last. For the first five years or so I was able to convince myself that the difference was that others somehow met “the right people”. I just had not found the perfect match yet and no doubt when I would find this perfect match, I would also instantly feel settled and happy. After a while this apology gets old. You watch other people buying houses, getting kids, while you are still trying to make it for another year with your partner.

Now I know that I have trust issues. Well, actually describing those as trust issues would probably be a rough understatement. This somehow is something that is so overconsuming in the way I have lived my life, the way I still create my life and so on. I do not dare to make plans and I constantly play with the idea of breaking up. I do not relax into relationship but neither do I break up. This is this inbetween state and frankly I have yet to find a way how to leave it behind. Susan Anderson has written about abandonment holics. She says that abandoholism sets in when you’ve been hurt so many times that you’ve come to equate insecurity with love. Unless you’re pursuing someone you’re insecure about, you don’t feel in love.

When I was reading this, I could instantly relate. Everything she was writing rang a bell for me. Man have I chased my share of unavailable men. My current boyfriend and I performed a push and pull pattern which is never only one sided. I am still very insecure about him and he is quite unreliable at times. Things have gotten better, but I still cannot find myself in the situation where I would be courageous enough to plan a family with him. I just feel ambivalent. I long for having a family and I long for having trustworthy people in my life, but it somehow is just so extremely difficult to achieve for me. Somehow I keep inviting abandonment to my life. Several of my male friends for instance have stopped communicating with me the moment they got serious in their relationships. Granted there have been some jealousy issues from their girlfriends. Maybe I am sending out a wibe, but to me this reflects back to the way partners are communicating with eachother. If one cannot trust the other to have a friend of opposite sex, then in my mind the relationship is not safe. I am also living in a region where it is extremely difficult to find friends. When I went back to my home country for Christmas, I swear, I communicated with more people in two weeks then I have here for a whole year. Suddenly I felt that I belong somewhere. But even with my friends from home, I am not 100% sure that they will be there. I obviously have issues. I am now actively dealing my abandonment issues and will return soon to give a history of my abandonment experience. The only thing I can say is that once you read about my family history, my intense fear of abandonment makes a lot of sense.

Individual therapy responsible for breakup?

As visible from my last post, I have recently gotten interested in the kind of effect therapy has to a relationship, in particular individual therapy and not couples counceling. It is surprisingly a topic that has been discussed quite sparingly. I did find some articles however- this and this. Both of them seem to cast a rather negative picture of the effect of individual therapy on marriage. I have mixed feelings about the arguments these articles make.

To begin with, I am quite open in admitting that I broke up with my ex in vain, not investing enough to fixing the relationship. The breakup happened about a month after I started my therapy and my therapist did have some effect on my decision. Ever since I have contemplated and agonized over my decision and imagined how my life would have been, had I stayed together with my ex. I have imagined myself having a family and being extremely happy with him.

My therapist did make me feel even less hopeful about my relationship when he suggested that my ex had some serious protections in place which did not allow him to be emotionally expressive or vulnerable. Granted he could only hear my version of the story and I can easily see how this can be very misguiding. I do think my therapist was right about my ex and his inability to trust me in our relationship though. The question is- could it have been something solvable or not? My ex and me had a pattern where I was longing for more closeness, more love etc and he was feeling extremely overwhelmed by it. This left me feeling unlovable and alone and probably left him feeling threatened and scared of all the emotional intensity.

Even though I admit I should have given this relationship a chance to heal, tried more, I do not think my individual therapy was responsible for the breakup. More likely I think that he would have sooner or later broken up with me without therapy or we would have ended up having a relationship where both sides did not get their needs fulfilled. I do have problems imagining, as well, how the relationship could have survived my individual therapy which included me becoming extremely emotional, at times, and require quite a bit of support. My current boyfriend has been extremely helpful throughout the whole process, in listening me, in empathizing with me and in general giving me great advice. If I have an adequate picture of my ex, I would suggest that the changes happening in therapy would have scared him even further. So I feel that I was in a no choice situation. I could have not avoided therapy, because I and my relationship were in a troublesome state, and starting the therapy also included breakup.

As already said, I often do think what would have happened if I had not started the therapy. Would me and my ex be having a family by now? Maybe we could have been happy? Maybe it was all such a wrong choice? Maybe I have just wasted all these years of my life? Many questions I have and these questions will always be unanswered. However, I do tend to think, that the problem was in me and not in me starting therapy. I do tend to think that me back then would have never been able to sustain my relationship. After all I was flirting, constantly imagining what it would be like to be together with someone else, constantly doubting my ex etc. What are the chances of such a relationship succeeding? Furthermore, a more general question- if people are starting therapy, what are the chances that they are happy or satisfied in the relationships? What are the chances that these relationships would have survived without therapy? I do agree, that therapy should be focused on solving the problems in the relationships, however, I do think that there are situations which are not easy to solve. To hold therapy responsible for not being able to solve these issues is like shooting the messenger. It might feel comforting, but ultimately, are we just convincing ourselves into believing that there were no problems before the therapy. By the way, after the breakup my ex told me that he thought the breakup was a good idea. Giving the speed of which he moved on it seems to me that the breakup was not entirely my doing after all and my imagination that at the time I started therapy I had already driven my ex crazy with my neediness might have had some meat to it.

Therapy, changes and my relationship

I have now been into therapy for quite a while and was thinking to write how that has changed my relationship. Me and my boyfriend have had loads of problems over the years and I think many of them came from both of us engaging in healing during this time. I am not proud to say that one of the reasons I started liking my boyfriend was because he helped me feel lovable. I had a habit of making other people responsible for my feelings. So there was my boyfriend admiring me, giving me compliments and showering me with attention. I don’t think I had much appreciation to his attentiveness in the beginning, more likely I took for granted. Even worse, I treated him as if he owed me all this, as if I had a right to demand such things from him.

We started off with push and pull relationship. I guess neither of us could take the amount of intimacy that the real relationship would have required. Our relationship was intense, to say the least- lots of fights, lots of making up. I would rate it as pretty dysfunctional.

At this point I was not aware of all the problematic behaviors I brought to the relationship. I thought I was, since my boyfriend ended up accusing me quite a bit for our problems. Instead I felt extremely victimized and, to a degree, played the part of martyrdom. In my mind I was always the one who had to go to therapy and fix my problems whereas he got away with his behavior. Our fights would almost always escalate to the point where I started crying and felt bad about myself. The way my boyfriend perceived the situation was that I was trying to make him responsible for yet another feeling of mine and hence he had to sometimes quite violently defend his ground. Naturally, he had his interests to defend as well- he was extremely scared of someone controlling him and hence me accusing him of, for instance flirting,  felt to him as if I was violating his freedom. Ultimately both of us engaged in problematic behavior.

Now our push and pull dynamic has definitely gone better. I can stand loneliness better and he has made some real attempts to be more responsive. So in a way we have moved closer to each other in our healing process. We have also both made an effort to understand what is behind our patterns, in his case, it is a lot of shame and fear of being engulfed and in my case, it is a lot of feeling of not being cared for, not having anyone to trust. I am pretty sure that unless he had made some significant changes in his behavior we would not be together at this point. I still do not know however what the future brings. There have been so many frustrating moments where I have just wanted to walk away, where no solution has seemed good enough. Frankly, I think it is difficult for the relationship to take such amount of changing. On the other hand, when other couples talk about routine and things becoming boring after several years, then usually we have no idea what they mean. All kinds of negative words could be used to characterize our relationship, but boring is definitely not one of them.

Loneliness in my childhood

I had a highly touching therapy session today where I understood how afraid of loneliness and abandonment I have been all these years. I have been wondering for quite some time if my growing up environment was really that bad and now I can say that it probably was. I never realized exactly how lonely it might have felt for me without any significant family friends or any other adults that would be interested, being only together with my mother who never showed any interest. It was always about her needs. Do not get me wrong, my mother is not a monster and for someone who does not have to live together with her, she comes across as a bit socially challenged, but not as something to write home about. The problem is when you live together with her, it is all about her needs. Let me give you one small example- TV, almost in 90% of times we were watching what she wanted. This is a ridiculous example, but I think such things start with small stuff. My whole childhood I was there to fulfill her needs. The only reason she ever called me was to have me do something for her. I have mentioned that she was at work most of the time and frequently went to work trips. Well not once did she call me to inspect how I was.

My first year I spent almost half as much time at my grandparents as with her-so that she could focus on her work. Later when grandparents were dead, I spent significant time at my friend’s place, since she was often away. But even if she had been there, she would have come home, inspecting if I had done everything she imagined I should and then probably still find a reason to yell at me. She was very rarely grateful for anything that I did, because in her mind, I owed her to do all this. She has even the present day told me, that I owe her, because she raised me.

I remember that when I was small I would frequently when I was crying ask my mother why she had me if she had so negative picture of me. My mother herself has made jokes about how when I was small I was frequently telling her that she does not care about me. Indeed, she finds it funny if a two year old child has an impression that her mother does not care about her. Sadly, all it communicates to me is that I had felt like an accessory for a long long time.

Now I am in a morning phase. For all the things that should have been there but never were. For all the times my mother threaten to throw me out. One example from the recent past on what kind of situations could cause my mother to break out. We were shopping a coat for her. She wanted me to take the coat back and I told her that since it was her coat, maybe she could do this herself. She walked away not even saying a word. Welcome to my life, that is how it looked the whole childhood. When I refused to do something she wanted she either yelled at me as long as I finally gave up or she threw me out of the apartment telling me to never come back. Those episodes were quite frequent. So all I can say is that my mother is selfish and self-centered.

Feeling worse than everybody else

As someone who got to hear a lot, when she was a child, that she is not enough, I have walked through my life feeling that I am somehow defective. I have looked at other people, their smiley families, their happiness and felt worse than everybody else. I used to watch people’s pictures in facebook and was sure that I was uglier than everybody else. In addition I rarely dared to sit next to a man in the bus because I anticipated that they would either start laughing or shiver in disgust. So my feelings of self-loathing have been pretty big.

I was bullied both at home and at school. At school at some point everybody was avoiding me. When I entered to some group everybody moved away. This lasted for two years. Needless to say that these were the worst years of my life. In addition I was always laughed at because of my appearance. Some teenagers would stop at the street and stare at me, some kids at school would draw ugly pictures of me etc. What happened at home was constant humiliations. I never did anything right. It happened rarely that my mum had anything positive to say about me. The few hours that we could see each other were often spent in her yelling at me all kinds of insults. The worst I have heard is “everybody is so lucky with their children and I had you. I wish I X would be my child instead.” And yes, these kind insults were regular. Apparently my mother spent my childhood wishing that she had another child and considering me an absolute looser. I was trying hard though, because I hoped that if I excel in things, I would finally get some positive feedback. I had good grades, was good in sports, participated in extracurricular activities, but none of it made any difference neither to my self-esteem nor my  mother’s way of treating me.

So I have struggled with feelings of insufficiency and shame throughout my life. I am at the point in my therapy were all these feelings that I used to try to hide through shopping, achievements and flirting are coming up. There is first this hopelessness that things will never get better and then there is this self-defeating feeling that I am so bad and I will never achieve anything worthwhile. I realize that this perhaps might be the most difficult feeling to face with, apart from my feelings of loneliness. I am really struggling with it and I hope this story has a nice ending. Perhaps the good development is that the defenses are away- I am not being super-sarcastic anymore and I dare to speak to people more than once. I have also come to understand how all these feelings of self-loathing have made my relationships very difficult. To begin with, I have made the other side often enough responsible for my feelings. In addition I have pushed them away because I was afraid that once they will truly get to know me, they could never love me. The shame of being who I was, was just too big. I sincerely hope that one day I can look back at this, smile and say, this is now the past.

Workaholism and growing up with dependency

I got struck by a new idea yesterday, the idea that has never occurred to me before. My mother was a workaholic. How can I say? This is that lingering feeling that whereas everything else in person’s life falls apart, there are still more resources to be spent on the addiction. Workaholism is the modern day addiction, belonging to well respected people. In my mother’s case I would usually see her at 9 in the evening, plus she was working during the weekend. Most of the time she was emotionally unable to take care for me, plus I had to fend for my own food. Sometimes she would go to shop, sometimes not. My responsibilities, as long as I remember, have been cleaning the house and other related jobs. Granted I really sucked at this, so more often than not I got to hear how useless I am and how other seven year olds are already able to cook for the whole family. As a seven year old you lack the critical data to analyze this information. However, I still am dealing on a daily basis with the belief that I am somehow dysfunctional and not able to do “normal people stuff”.

Work together with food was my mother’s favorite way to deal with her emotions. After my grandparents died my mother gained about 50 kg. She would hardly get away from her computer. She slowly gave up all family friends. Oh yeah and I got to hear everything about her work difficulties since I was school age. We were constantly struggling financially and unfortunately my mother made me aware every time when she was unsure about the funding next year. I really was scared. I got a sense that I cannot trust her to take care of things and that we can fall every moment. This has greatly contributed to my later anxiety about life in general.

The most difficult emotion I am still dealing with is the sense that I am all alone in life. Indeed I was alone in taking care for my mother who seemed to have very little concern for neither of our health nor the household. I was made responsible for taking care for her whenever she was ill and, no, she did not regard it as a favor but as a demand. Needless to say that it was a double standard, since I can remember very few times with her actually showing any interest towards my illnesses. She was usually too tired to care. So yes, I have grown up having to take adult responsibilities, feeling constantly helpless and overburdened. I would say, that I lost my childhood in many ways. I always knew that I was a low priority for my mother compared to her work and food. Unfortunately.

Nobody cares about me

I have to admit that I have a history of broken relationships. I never really understood why, but I think at this point I can answer this question honestly. The truth is that I feel extremely easily rejected. Furthermore, I anticipate rejection and therefore never really entered to my two first relationships. For many people connection means bliss and happiness, but for me it means the danger of getting hurt. I am scared of people being nice to me, because sooner or later they will turn against me, in my mind of course.

My ex told me numerous hurtful things. Granted he was not the most sensitive individual in this world. However, I had a big role in interpreting these things in a certain way. In the worst way possible. To be honest, I was scared of him. I was always scared of being a disappointment, scared of being abandoned, once he figures out just what kind of a looser I am. At the sign of first big betrayal I started pushing him away, setting up roadblocks. Needless to say, that my tactic was pretty effective. The problem was, I actually did not want to break up with him. I was in a limbo- afraid to let him come closer, but also too afraid to let go.

I am working on this pattern. Like many other very unhealthy patterns, I can trace this back to my childhood. Living together with my mother has always been more about her needs, than about my needs. It is difficult to grow up having your needs constantly ignored. You on one hand long for connection and love, on the other hand you never believe it is possible. You start looking for the bad in people, suspecting that they are just using you, that they are not in the game for real, that they want to control you. Yes, control, my big Achilles heel. I am afraid of being dependent on other people, because I suspect that they will take advantage of me like my mother did. Namely, my mother’s great strategy was to threaten to abandon me as I showed my own will. She very effectively suffocated any attempts for independence.

I am still hurting, I am still on a regular basis feeling that people do not care about me. This is perhaps my deepest and most basic fear and pain. During the coming months this is what I will focus on in my therapy. It is not easy, to try to get over of all these feelings. To deal with all this while interacting with my partner who has his own very strong issues.

People pleasing and abandonment fear

When you are struggling with abandonment fear, chances are there is at least a little bit of a people pleaser in you. You either struggle saying no to people or try to do your best not anger them. Before I started my therapy I was almost unable to confront anyone. I would still get mad at people, but I would usually talk about “how awful someone was” with some other person. I had no courage to confront my ex-boyfriends either, instead I chose much more “proactive” solution- I just assumed that they should know things. When they did not behave the way I wanted them to behave, although I never communicated my wishes, I just assumed that they were not right for me. The right guy would obviously know my wishes, so that I would not have to really express myself and risk with rejection. Sounds reasonable, does it not?

One of my big advancements is that I have learned to say “Fuck you” to people. Sounds awful? Well for me it sounds like an achievement. I get an immense feeling of empowerment out of this. Couple of years ago I would have never imagined that I could actually confront people about their less than perfect behavior towards me. Of course people notice it and they start testing your borders. The more you allow them to do, the more they actually do. I struggled with colleagues that turned to me only when they needed some favors but ignored me the rest of the time, I struggled with renters that thought they could just scare me into ending their contract etc etc. The more volatile people are, the more they will sense your helplessness. Psychological theory puts abusers together with those that are helpless and scared. So chances are that as a pleaser you will naturally attract people that take advantage of you.

Most abuse victims report that their friendship circles have change after the therapy. Well my friends circle has not changed that much neither have I actually yet experienced that I attract “healthier” people, but I do notice that I interact with people in a different way. Nevertheless the initial reaction to take the blame and apologize is still very strong. I had a situation at work today where someone was accusing me of missing the deadline. My first reaction was of course to apologize and feel very guilty. Only couple of hours later when I analyzed the situation and actually recognized that no one had communicated with me about the deadline, was I able to react in a more constructive way. Even though I know I had a point about the deadline, I am scared to open my email to check what the other person has answered. I am still scared of yelling, blaming and abandonment. However, now, my reactions are not as strong and I am able to observe the whole situation from a neutral viewpoint.