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.


Unhealthy ways of dealing with negative emotions

As I am brooding over my deal with dating, I am coming to understand that I have adapted completely wrong practices in dealing with negative emotions from my childhood. My practices vary from instant gratification to ignoring, but very little of my energy has been directed to actually dealing with these negative emotions. But lets delve on the topic a bit closer.

My habits are quite likely copied from my mother. My mother has versatile ways of dealing with negative emotions, one worse than another- firstly of course diving into work, but then also food and alcohol. Lets not forget shopping – my mother’s apartment is filled with stuff she will never need. She is also good in taking her emotions out on other people, mostly me. Finally, she is also good in denial, you know if I do not acknowledge these emotions exist, maybe they do not exist at all.

I would continue with my unhealthy habits, but the sad truth is that you can pretty much copy paste the last paragraph. In addition, however, I have also taken the approach of seeking emotional nurturing. It is not necessarily bad thing, I think it might even be one step closer to healthy ways of dealing with my emotions. However, the way I do this, is problematic. Namely, I tend to think that if I just replace old love with some new love interest, I do not have to deal with the sad and painful emotions related to the old one – Quite common, actually, and the prime reason why people hop from one relationship to another.

But…I do not want to do this anymore. As I was going through guys who have sent me messages, I realized that I am too emotionally exhausted to date. In fact, what I am looking for is emotional support and not some new date. It is unfair to expect that a new date is somehow going to resolve my issues from a guy who ghosted me. So, instead I am going to do something which I have not done before. I am going to wait with dating and I am going to take care of my emotions, my pain……MYSELF.

One-sided expectations in relationships

I have always been a very flexible person and also rather accommodating. Being often hampered by fear of disappointing other people, I usually did my best trying to anticipate their wishes and confer with those. When someone got angry with me for not fulfilling their expectations, I was quick to feel bad and apologize.

Recently I have noticed myself getting angry at people who come in and demand something from me without any regard to fulfilling their end of the deal. I am starting to finally realize that expectations should be mutual, it should not only be me fulfilling their expectations, but I too, can have expectations on others.

Let me exemplify this with couple of cases. I have a boss who, as I now understand, often turns to me at the last minute when she needs something to get fixed quickly. This has led to me putting in weekends and extra hours just to get things ready. So yesterday she turned to me again with one of such issues telling me that I had made promises in finishing some task and now it was my job to figure out how to finish it together with other tasks. I got angry, because this task was meant to be finished by the end of this week, however, my boss herself could not complete her tasks earlier than today and assumed that I would somehow magically make my part happen within few days (counting weekend). Her accusations on me not fulfilling my promise were skillfully neglecting her not being able to fulfill her bargain of the deal.

Another example involves a friend who just couple of days ago was angry at me for brushing her off when she was trying to describe her problem via phone. It was an inconvenient time for me, but nevertheless I apologized. The same friend, when I tried to tell her about my medical issue, which is a tad more serious than her problem, was as unemphatic as ever. Moreover, she found that she has nothing to apologize for, because I called the wrong time. I am still angry at her.

These two examples illustrate something that has been going on for years. Namely, me quickly apologizing when people accuse me, not thinking if maybe their accusations do not comply with how they themselves would react in similar situation. Furthermore, it also illustrates the pattern of me trying to fulfill other people’s expectations without setting any demands on them from my side. It somewhat feels like a lightbulb has turned on in my head.


How I called my boyfriends friends

Most of the posts, books etc are written from a standpoint of someone who has been hurt by a commitment phobe. There are probably several reasons for that, not the least the fact that sometimes we like to hide our own commitment phobia behind someone else’s much more obvious non-commitmental behavior. No, I am not saying that everyone that dates a commitment phobe, is a commitment phobe themselves, I am just suggesting a possibility that it could very well be the case.

In my case, there have been several boyfriends that I tried to hide from the world. Lets take my first boyfriend, who I kept a secret for quite some time. I was ashamed. I thought that others could never respect me after seeing me that weak. Weak in this case meant having feelings. I was trained in a fashion that every sign of feelings of affection was something that could be used against you. People knew where to push. If you however never confessed to any of your feelings, you were still strong. You were strong in the eyes of your partner and in the eyes of those around you. You were safe, god knows for how long. After all, I only got punished for having feelings, especially those if tender nature.

My first thought when my first boyfriend expressed interest in me was- what is wrong with this guy? Seriously, there had to be something wrong with him. Noone can be seriously interested in me. When he still would continue treating me quite nicely, I lost all the respect for him. See, in my mind, I did not deserve to be treated nicely. I was faulty. The nicer he treated me, the weaker he was in my eyes. Also, he was expressing his feelings, making himself vulnerable- how demeaning, how weak! I lost all the respect.

Fortunately after some years of dating I met another ex, who treated me “better”. He was critical and judgemental, in my mind exactly someone I needed. I needed him to tell me what I should change in myself. When he told me that he does not think I am beautiful, my response was- “What can I change?”. In my mind this ex was way above all the other exes I have had, having a relationship was a huge achievement for me. I really did not deserve him, but luckily on some level he also seemed to think I did not. This was a perfect combination… He was the ex I could respect, he was not weak.

See the thing is, at least the way I functioned in the past and to a degree still do function now, I cannot take a guy who is nice to me, who does not criticize and who loves me. I perceive him as inferior. In my mind being honest about your feelings and vulnerable is so deeply related to abuse, that my automatic program starts to work, telling me- this guy must be abused, he must be put down, because he deserves it. The same way as I was put down by my mother, especially when I confessed to some weakness of mine. I often wonder if this is the case with others that had an abusive childhood- that you either abuse or are abused. There is no other way. You are either an underdog or alpha. Controlling or being controlled.

Feelings of love make me uncomfortable, because they are interwoven with abuse. I know no love outside abuse. I know no context where feelings are tolerated and where I can be weak.

People that are too “perfect”

There are people that always make you feel bad. I am talking about people that “have it all together”. Their life is a series of successes and they never fail to let you know about these. You keep comparing yourself with those people and you cannot help but to feel defeated- “less than something”, whatever it would be.

There is a chance, of course, that my reaction is due to my own inferiority complex. I am used to feeling like a failure. Still, I have a sense that some people are after making others feel inferior. They also keep comparing themselves with others and their success is complete only if they feel they have won over someone.

I used to look up to these people- I admired their achievements and wanted to be like them. I tried so hard to become and be one of those people, but at some moment realized, I will never be. I have always been slightly odd or unconventional. My life has been a struggle as I tried to fit in and fulfill all the societal norms. I still struggle, but my attitude to aforementioned people is also slowly changing.

I now think of them as, well, not someone you would want to keep around. If you feel constantly that your communication with someone is an endless struggle as to who has achieved more, to me there is no value to it. I like to have a possibility to open up and to say- well today I really screw up. No, not to say- my boss is a total asshole, but to say, sometimes I am a total asshole. Own my failures and mistakes without being made to feel so horrible about not being perfect.

So, I am trying my best to keep away from people who cannot admit that they are sad, ashamed or have failed. The chances are that everybody feels these things from time to time, so if they are not honest about it and furthermore respond to my openness with the statement that they have never had any problems, I feel they cannot accept the full spectrum of human experience. Furthermore, they cannot even be honest with themselves and are so mortified to show any vulnerability. If I want to see these kinds of people I will watch a Hollywood chick-flick, but from those around me I expect more acceptance and openness.

How do I become caring?

There is a lot of literature on how damaging having an emotionally neglectful mother can be. Such aspects as feeling worthless, helpless and unable to trust are usually brought out. However, I want to talk about another very important aspect, namely that as a kid of such a mother you internalize some of the communication patterns.

Empathy has never come natural to me and this is something I have struggled with for quite some time. I have always been touched by bigger  world problems such as poverty, famine etc etc. At least that proves that I am not a cold or heartless person- I just have no education as to how to emphasize with a person right next to me. I have educated myself about emphaty and granted there are some good books out there such as “The EQ difference“. My problem- well once you have no clue as to how to relate to your own emotions, trying to emphatize with other people really comes artificially. I guess this is how a psychopath feels when he is trying to copy “the real emotions”.

I have always been attracted to caring men. Nevertheless their caring nature has surprised me. It surprised me that someone would be interested in me when I was ill and would be willing to come by just to check on if I was OK. My experience with my mother was that she just did not care. Sure she would once in a while buy me some candy when I was ill and provide me medication, but that was about it. Occasionally she would get angry when her sleep was interrupted because of my illnesses, so I learned not to burden her with such issues. Hence, it really blew me away when my boyfriends showed real care and love towards me when I was ill.

Unfortunately I could really not return the favor. I had learned to ignore my own illnesses and problems, so how could I ever be attentive to theirs? My attitude towards acknowledging any problems with one’s health or emotional wellbeing was: “Do not be a baby”. For many years I was totally unable to cry- the tears would just not come. I was just so alienated from my emotions.

I am making baby steps towards learning how to be caring towards myself and towards others. Now when someone gets injured during sports I can almost sincerely feel compassion and not immediately think- “what a wuss”. The real key has been learning how to attend my own emotions and health. I am not going to work anymore, when I just feel extremely crappy. I let myself cry. As I am becoming more comfortable with my own weaknesses, I have more compassion towards other people as well. However, this is not a simple process and it will probably take me a while to learn to be emphatic and caring. The key is not force it. I have had to find out that one just cannot learn to be emphatic. Empathy is something that for the survivors of neglectful childhood comes with time. Especially during the first period of your therapy you actually have to be selfish. You have to get into contact with your own pain before you can relate to anyone else’s.