People that do not dare to be vulnerable

So, a while back I was seeing this guy that would turn contrarian whenever he felt insecure. He would have an array of strategies he used – sometimes just ending the conversation abruptly, sometimes lashing out on me and sometimes just trying to shrug it off by acting ‘untouchable’. I was not going out of my way to make him insecure, it just sometimes happened that I stepped on a toe.

As I discovered this, I spent some time thinking about my ex’s behaviour and the decaying intimacy in our relationship. I stumbled upon the same pattern. My ex would use things I had trusted him with against me when he felt insecure. He would either consciously or subconsciously use those things to get back to me. For a while we had a very chaotic and on and off relationship for exactly this reason…because on one hand I was trying to distance myself from him, on the other hand there were still quite strong feelings. So I would end up avoiding telling things to him for some time and then, because he was also a good listener and could be very sweet when I was in pain, trust him again. But it would always end up the same way…during some argument he would take out the recent hurt of mine and just try to get back…

What is going on with these people? Why are they doing this? Well, mostly because the other option – being vulnerable and coming out and saying that they felt hurt, insecure or scared seems to be way worse if not impossible. I think I was once the same. My mum had given me multiple lessons in that regard. The first lesson was – being vulnerable means being weak. The second one was – if you were to ever trust me with some weakness of yours, I will make sure to exploit it when need be. And finally…if I do hurt and exploit your weakness, you are to be blamed, because – why are you so weak?

These patterns of non-vulnerability repeat itself generation after generation. It is granted that my ex and the guy I was seeing have been hurt badly by their parents and decided that it is safer not to be open and vulnerable. I know the process all too well. The problem is, if you ever happen to date someone like this, it will become very difficult. If you have to jump through hoops and leaps to constantly convince someone that they can trust you and still manage them lashing out to you when they feel insecure, it will take someone extremely patient and ultimately strong. The issue is, such kind and patient people are not usually attracted to people that struggle with intimacy. Instead, what happens is the pattern much like mine and exes where you at least in the beginning had both people struggling with intimacy in their own ways.

Are they really sorry when they apologize?

I don’t think my mother has ever apologized before me…at least there is not a single instance that I can recall at the moment. This probably does not indicate that she was always right, but rather that she had difficulty accepting that she might have ever been wrong…Wrong in anything, plus apologizing in her mind makes he appear weak. It means giving away power that she desires for herself.

When people like my ex started to apologize before me, I was stunned. It took me years to adjust to the fact that not everything was my fault. At first I considered people apologizing as a true win..see I never had this happen in my life and I was behaving from the viewpoint that whenever something went wrong, it was all me. But it took me years to understand that people apologizing might not really mean much either.

The way I see it, there are two main objectives for people saying sorry, well three if this is an especially vile and manipulative soul. But lets assume it is a rather average person that says to you that they are sorry and lets assume they mean it. People are sorry for two reasons, as said.

One, they are sorry because their behaviour has caused them some negative consequences. It is rather common for a spouse to say they are sorry, because well maybe the other one has kicked them out of their bedroom. They have experienced some negative repercussions, so they are sorry for themselves rather than you. Sometimes they might hold on to the belief that they did not do anything wrong, but apologize still, because they want to stop experiencing these negative consequences.

Then there is the other category – people that are genuinely sorry and understand the effect their behaviour might have had on you. It is quite easy to check if they are truly sorry. Ask them why they are sorry and ask them why they think you reacted the way you did. You can even ask what they would want to do differently next time.

But see, depending on how large of a miss it was, in my experience people that are truly and genuinely sorry don’t stop at sorry. It is easy to say sorry (well even that is hard for some people), but to actually follow-up, this is the difficult part. So, if they are truly sorry, they will try their best to make amends and change their behaviour. This change might not happen overnight and might be long and difficult process, but if you see them trying – this means that they are truly sorry. Otherwise, a lot of people throw around apologies like it was nothing. Apology there, and then rinse and repeat. This means that either they don’t consider their behaviour really that bad that it would instigate a change or you and your feelings are not really a priority for them.

 

Dating someone with anger issues and common excuses we make

So my ex had anger issues….Whereas I sometimes told him that he needs to work with his anger management, I don’t think for the most part I was willing to admit that I was dating someone with some serious anger issues. I believe my experience to be more common than one might want to believe for several reasons….

I think one of the first reasons for this unwillingness to see and acknowledge the truth is the fact that our society categorizes people as bad and good. You know, person who has anger issues must surely be bad….as in corrupt and evil individual. So, my partner cannot potentially be this person because he is not evil….

But I am an independent woman not some victim….Surely if the relationship was abusive…that bad I would leave….The truth is that the relationship might gradually become so bad that I don’t even notice it and try to naturalize his behavior. Similarly, in my case I was used to people lashing out to me…this is what my mum had done my whole life…Compared to my mum’s anger issues my ex was quite decent which brings me to the next excuse…

But it is not that bad. He only gets angry occasionally….He only gets angry when I do this thing X. If I just stop doing it he might stop. (No, he usually does not stop, because this is how he is used to dealing with stress).

But it is my fault – a bit similar to the last one. If I only had not done this thing X, he would have not lashed out. That, as I got convinced over the years is also a lie. I trier hard changing my behaviors which made my partner lash out. Turns out that these behaviors were quite often just an excuse and he would find new things to get angry about.

But he is sorry afterwards. My partner, when he finally realized how scared I had become of him, was in the later stages of our relationship quite sorry for his behavior. It however did not make him stop lashing out. Yeah, it went down a bit, but still. My pleads for him to seek counseling did not really lead anywhere. So, in the end if someone keeps doing something that they consciously acknowledge and know is harmful for you, how sorry can they really be?

Anger issues refer to someone that has trouble dealing with their emotions in a productive and acceptable way. Quite often these individuals have themselves even trouble understanding what got them angry the first place. Trust me, half of the cases it might not really be you. But, since they do not really spend all that much time analyzing their issues, they do make excuses about their behavior. So even if the original reason why they got angry was not you, they will make sure to find out how they can pin it on you. Otherwise they might have to actually start taking responsibility for their emotions in which case they would think long and hard before they lash out on you. In my opinion there is hope in dating with someone with anger issues only in the case this individual is actually willing to delve deeper to their emotions….otherwise, as I found out, it is long and painful process which might seriously harm your self-esteem on the way.

 

 

How to make your suffering count

So, there has been one experience which I think has tremendously colored most of my life. Actually, it is not even an experience but more a theme. This theme has partially been the result of actual events in my life, but also the result of how I have chosen to interpret some of them. This theme has been the feeling of being unloved or not good enough.

I have somehow dealt with this topic again recently as I have gone through some article on what love should feel like and how people express love. This has made me realize that none of my ex partners actually loved me really deeply. Somehow it was however good enough for me because at the time it felt even much better than my mum. I distinctly remember thinking that even though my ex was critical and at times even cruel to me, during his good times he was actually warm and supportive. My mum was not warm and supportive during any times.

However, I am starting to inspect my previous experiences and I am starting to understand how unfairly I was being treated on some occasions by people who should have been closest to me. Now it would be easy to fall into depression and think that my life sucks, but today I am starting to look at it differently.

One of the things I really like about myself is my persistence and my dedication to constant growth. It shows itself in most areas of my life. I might not be the most talented one, but I am often the one that is willing to go through adversity. It is weird because going through adversity does not really feel like much of a challenge for me. Compared to a lot of my life going through being unappreciated, disregarded or just struggling emotionally and physically really does not feel like much a hassle. I have developed an amazing ability to pull myself through some of the real difficulties with grace. I make struggles seem easy for the people around me.

You might maybe already realize where I am getting to. The point is, the struggles, the hurts we have gotten through are unchangeable. We cannot rewrite our childhoods, but what we can do is take a hard look at the potential wonderful capabilities we developed through these challenges. In my case my mother’s constant criticism and disapproval made me very resilient. I learned to continue with very little recognition and support. For instance, I was always good at long distance running because most of my classmates would just not want to continue when it became inconvenient. I pushed myself through.

I have a suspicion that some of our greatest talents often lie in areas which are the most sensitive. There is a point in inspecting our suffering and it is not only in order to empathize and heal ourselves. The point is also in order to discover our strengths.

Feeling like there is something wrong with me

So apparently I have spent my whole life feeling and believing that there was something wrong with me. You know I always felt like somewhat of a misfit wherever I went. I spent good part of my twenties believing that if I look hard enough I will find some environment I belong to. Then I spent other part of my twenties addressing this feeling of misfit in therapy never quite understanding the deepest reasons for it. I feel I am finally getting it….

The thing is I never felt like others around me….They always seemed to find it easier to manage, to adopt, to work for their dreams, whereas I felt like there was some deep seated reason as to why I will never be like them. Almost like there was a reason why should have never been accepted to this world….

I have not yet explored the core reasons for feeling that way, but I suspect they go back to my mum comparing me to everyone else and finding me lacking in every aspect. She even regularly told me that she wishes X or Y would her child and that I should have never been born. So I am guessing there is quite easy connection to be made there…

But interestingly I never acknowledged the amountof self-punishment in me. Namely I punished myself for believing that there was something horribly wrong with me. I found different ways of punishment starting from eating disorder and ending with pinching pimples. It all felt satisfying. I know it must feel pretty bad as you are reading it.

I never really fully understood that this was one of the main issues. I just thought that if I spend enough energy to be like everyone else, I would somehow escape this feeling. This included trying to become what several ex boyfriends wanted me to be. I thought that as long as I am what they want me to be, I cannot be wrong or dysfunctional because someone else approves of me. Well I mostly failed because, oh surprise, you can never fully become what others want you to be. However there are different ways of interpreting the situation and of course I chose the one that entitled me feeling bad for myself.

So this is my current struggle….facing my feelings of wrongness and admitting that I have felt defective my whole life….

 

Helplessness and codependency

I am currently starting to question myself as a person in different kind of relationships. Few days ago I complained to a friend of mine that I feel I am not bringing much to my relationships and that I am mostly taking. One would say – a typical codependent relationship where I am someone who is being taken care of. And yes, I have been in this place several times before. However, at this point I was still under the impression or was trying to somehow please these other people as well. Now, when the masks have fallen I just feel plain selfish. Other people keep telling me that I am not, but I really cannot shake the feeling that somehow they don’t even comprehend the extent to which I am.

My ex, with his many flaws, I think got this evaluation right on me. He complained that he was giving me much more than I returned. I think I need to agree with him, however the reasons behind it are probably more complicated than just me being selfish.

I am realizing that I don’t think I have much valuable to give to people. I have grown so used to seeing myself as helpless and somehow non functional that I really see myself as this tornado causing harm to other people. Yes, I have several good qualities and I am a quite tornado, I am not a needy, demanding, drama causing tornado, but I feel I am the kind of, I am too helpless to take care of myself tornado. Seeing yourself from this perspective is not the most flattering thing.

I think in the end, why I feel that way and why I have adapted such behaviors throughout my life is because my mum felt so afraid that she will be abandoned unless she makes it clear that I am absolutely helpless without her. That involved different strategies. It involved doing some simple things for me and questioning my abilities to do that, like ordering taxi when I would go to the airport. But it also involved telling me that without her help I would have never learned things, for instance take her statement that I would have never learned how to read, had it not been for her. She painted this image of me as completely talentless and helpless struggling person who was in desperate need for someone to be there for her. And then she used this to manipulate me, by counting all the favors she had done for me when she needed me to do something. She threatened to abandon me, knowing fully well that because of the dependency she had created, these threats would be much more effective. Mind me, I doubt that it was fully conscious strategy, but stil….

So to this day I am someone who is used to seeing myself as helpless and prone to mess things up. I have built my life around this idea, being afraid to immerse myself fully in a grownup life and looking for partners that would be willing to take care of me. To be honest I am not sure if this belief is even fully reversable, because it seems to be the bottom layer of my whole personality. See dysfunctions can be the building grounds for most of your personality. In my case, I have developed my social skills, my empathy, my charm, my humor and my cuteness to compensate for this helplessness and to find such caretakers. I have no idea how far I can go with changing my belief in terms of helplessness and how it might affect the rest of my personality.

 

Feeling like you are all wrong

So I have made some pretty big discoveries lately and hoefully also big leaps in terms of my recovery. I had a fight with a friend that made me feel like a weeping toddler and pushed to figure out why I felt so out of control. There it is…..

You know these people that make you feel like you are some knock-off copy of themselves. Like you are the Chinese version of whatever technical product there is….Yes, my mum and my ex where those people. It was not only that they criticized me, they wanted me to become them. They scolded me about things they were good at, letting me know how horrible I was compared to them. They did not pay attention on things I actually excelled at. Furthermore, when I said something good about myself, both were quick to put me down.

Essentially I think there are two reasons why someone would do that. The first one is, that probably both have so low self esteem that they needed to constantly put someone down in order to feel good about themselves. They also needed to rationalize that the way they are, is good. Their character traits are the ones one should aspire for. So naturally admitting that someone else would have character traits that are valuable, but which they did not possess would make them so insecure that they could not let it happen.

The second reason is that it is about control. You are making the other person part of yourself. You push them to aspire for becoming you, through critizing the things you are good at and they are not. By focusing on your natural talents, you are always one man up.

So I realized, I have spent my whole life feeling like there was something wrong with me. Like somehow I did not measure up, character wise. I still have little belief in my positive traits, the ones which neither my mum nor my ex acknolwedged, and I tend to treat them as worth very little. I have spent my whole life trying to focus on things which I was perhaps not naturally the best at, just to please someone (or not even please, because they were never pleased). I am instantly critical about any of the good traits I possess which my mum (and my ex) did not. For instance I know I can be pretty charming if need be, but I just see it as superficial and vain.

To be honest, correcting this seems like quite a bit of work from my end because I will need to start actually analyzing and acknowledging what I am naturally good at.

How self hate can be good…

It has been a while since my last post and I have mainly been busy with both work as well as with therapy. So today I thought I will write a bit about something which I am currently working on. Namely anger towards oneself.

Self hatered actually makes a lot of sense and is a perfect protection mechanism. If you were a child that was unfairly punished and had to deal with a lot of parental behavior which did not make sense to you (because it was never about you), then learning to hate oneself was probably the only way to gain some control under such circumstances. See, admitting that your parent is unfair and is unleashing their own issues on you would have made you very vulnerable. Suddenly you would be admitting that you are living together with an irresponsible sadist (at the extreme). It is much easier to believe that there is indeed something wrong with you and you have somehow caused your parents anger. I mean then you have at least some hope for change….

There is however a drawback. It is not like hating oneself is easy or nice….It will probably make you relentlessly trying to change yourself. I mean, I have invested my whole life into self development, pushing myself to mainly be someone else. The problem was that whatever change I did achieve, it never really made me feel better about myself. Quite the opoosite. Each change was just a testament to how this feeling of self hatred never left. But, heyyy, at least I felt like I was in control. But with what price…

So now I am starting to accept the fact that I was never in control and this has created some serious anxiety. Admitting that the punishments you received were random and somewhat sadistic must have been one of the most difficult things I have done in this life. In a way, my self hatred protected me till now from this absolute feeling of lacking control.

The bottom line is that I assume that like for me, for a lot of other people, self hatred was very functional under the circumstances they grew up in…

It is Ok to want to be loved

I think current self-development literature is often counterproductive towards those with low self-esteem and feelings of unlovability. Namely you can read from everywhere how you need to love yourself first, how other people cannot be solutions to your self-esteem issues and how in general you should just work harder on yourself if you feel that way. Let me tell how these sentiments have impacted me.

First, they have made me feel ashamed for wanting to be loved. You feel as if there is something so deeply wrong with you for not feeling it inside you and for seeking other people to love you. Second, they have me be stuck with guys that were either totally unavailable or ultimately did not love me. I just assumed that me feeling unloved in these relationships was my deep personal problem and maybe, actually these guys did love me, I was just too needy. Furthermore, since I was notoriously broken and had this deep ingrained issue of not being able to provide for myself, what other people did, maybe I did not even deserve a loving man?

It is easy to stress on self-sufficiency and the need to love oneself and not be dependent on someone else’s love if you have had a good loving family. It is clear that if you felt support throughout your childhood, you also developed self-compassion, empathy and healthy self-esteem, so you probably do not need to seek for these feelings in other people. However, coming from that position and telling to people that spent their childhood feeling unloved, that they should not look for other people to feel loved is pretty short sighted. It is almost like telling to a five year old kid that they should just love and provide for themselves and be more independent and not rely on their parents. Usually that was how these kids that felt unloved got treated. They got told that their dependency needs as well as ingrained wish for love from their parents was inappropriate or downright bad.

So here is my suggestion as to what people that have felt unloved their whole life need. Instead of telling them to learn to love themselves, I think we should tell them that they in fact did miss out on something big. It is OK for them to feel unloved and look for love, because they in fact were never coddled and loved. There is nothing and absolutely nothing wrong with how they are feeling, because it is rather an accurate representation of reality. Hence, there should be no shame around feeling unloved. It should be acknowledged that there is a strong reason why someone does feel unloved and there is a strong reason for them to look for love outside. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be loved by other people, because most people that judge you for being needy or feeling unloved had the very same desires, the difference is just that those desires were met.

The gifts of child abuse

I think one of the signs that you are getting to the final phase of your healing is when you actually start noticing that your early life difficulties have brought you some innate gifts. I am not sure I am completely ready to write about the gifts I have gained through my experiences yet, but let that be my first attempt.

I feel that I can actually see the two worlds. It is difficult to explain this to a person that has not experienced it all. I can see the world of depression, self-hate, anxiety attacks and dysfunctionality. I can relate to all kinds of dysfunctional coping mechanisms starting from alcohol abuse and ending with suicidal thoughts. I can also now after years of therapy experience and see the world on the other side. The lighter being (I am still not finished with my therapy), the feeling of self-love etc.

I think there have been two radical changes of experience during the last year. The first one is moving from feeling incomplete and unlovable into actually feeling whole. This deep feeling of emptiness and sadness and wanting someone to love me so that this sadness would go away (only it never did), it is actually gone. The second change of perspective is moving from being terrified of being alone and being certain that I will never cope alone into being OK with spending time alone. Being OK with living alone and enjoying my evenings in solitude.

Most people that have two aforementioned gifts take it for granted and fail to ever understand other people that suffer from abandonment fear and unlovability. That is how you get stupid advices such as – you should just be yourself or have you thought of exercising more or drinking warm tea. The experience itself is soo alien to the ones that have never gone through it. Not often they also judge and look down on people that lead dysfunctional lives. The compassion is missing and even if it is there, there is a lack of understanding as to what one is compassionate about.

So, I feel I have been given a gift of seeing both worlds. This means that maybe once I have gone through my struggles, I can actually help someone else. I can definitely function as a non judgmental guide already now, but I think I still have a way to go. Not only can I understand and help others that struggle, but I also value the feeling of being complete, the feeling of being able to be alone. I have had to fight so hard for it that it feels nothing but sort of amazing. I doubt that average person gives much meaning to it at all.

Finally, I think that with child abuse and therapy comes a different kind of way of viewing your life. I see my life as a lesson. I am not looking for happiness, I am looking for growth. I am not sure if that is better or worse, it is just different. It is the way I have managed to handle therapy all these years, even when it was very difficult. I just kept comparing myself with myself one year ago and felt proud of my development. I still hold this approach. I think if nothing else, it helps me to make sense of other life difficulties as well. I see a lesson everywhere. I analyze a lot. I think ultimately this is going to make me me. This is who I am going to be and this is maybe how I can be useful for others as well, by helping them to make sense of difficulties as well!