I have only recently come to realize that I have a habit of fixing my partners. You know, I choose someone who is not quite it or more often not quite there and then I start passionately guiding them. How does it work out, well, hmmm, mostly it does not.
I have to give my current boyfriend some credit as he has actually followed some of my guidance over the years. However, the whole premise of starting a relationship with someone who needs fixing to begin with is highly problematic. Naturally all of us need ‘some’ fixing and guidance and it is excellent if our partner helps us to see our blind spots. However, this is not quite what I do.
With my current partner I saw from the beginning that he has problems with functioning and pulling off his everyday life. I also saw financial issues. I thought that somehow I could make these problems go away. You know fix him to the point where these things would not be issues.
With my ex, I saw that he had problems being emotionally open and vulnerable. Again I thought that I will heroically help him to reconnect with his emotions. That did not work out.
I am not sure if I am super critical of my partners or I just choose partners who need fixing because that feels safer. Because then you always have a reason as to why not to invest so deeply yet. This is something I need to spend some more time thinking about.
Most relationships are characterized by certain pattern – you have the puller and the pusher. For some reason it is always easier to understand what is driving the pusher – the abandonment fear seems somehow relatable. However, I myself, have spent long time trying to deny the opposite drive in me – enmeshment fear.
A lot of negative assumptions are made about someone who pulls away, maybe because a lot literature is geared towards women and ‘traditionally’ it is males who pull away. However, I am slowly starting to get and not judge my wish to withdraw. As I am in the midst of understanding my own urge, I will also share my realizations here, in the hopes that maybe someone else can relate.
Something that has become more visible to me is that my life has always been about what other people want me to do and be. It started with me trying to anticipate all the needs of my mother as she went around telling me what a disappointment I still was. I grew up constantly being afraid of disappointing her and being abandoned or punished by her. So to me, being in a relationship, has always meant trying to somehow become what the other person wants me to be.
I have come to realization that naturally I also have tended to pick guys who are somewhat controlling. Interestingly my boyfriend has been in the habit of telling me how he is doing all the favors in the relationship and how I somehow owe him. I am starting to understand now, that in fact it has been mostly me who has tried to compromise and not make him angry. I have spent years trying to become what he wants me to be and blamed myself for feeling so strangled in the process. Naturally it is both on me and on him; I could have fought back, but because of my history the only thing I knew was to be obedient.
So my fear of enmeshment has to do with my desperate unconscious outcry for something of my own. For finally thinking of my own needs. It is quite funny though, because as I am going through the process, I am realizing that in the midst of all the accusations my boyfriend has thrown to me about how I am not fulfilling his needs and standards, I never asked what about my standards. What about if I am having fun and am content. Pushing aside your own needs and wishes becomes a lifestyle and the only thing reminding you that you are doing it is this inconvenient feeling you get when you think about spending your free time with a person who mostly prioritizes their own needs. If you are like me however, you try to control this feeling and tell to yourself – there is something wrong with me.
I grew up with the feeling that I was doing everything wrong. After all, when something happened at home, I was the first one to point a finger at. If my mother was in a bad mood, I was the first one to be blamed for it. Inside of me, there grew a feeling that I could never get it right.
So this is how I become people pleaser. I wanted to get it right. I really tried hard. When I got negative feedback, I tried harder. I worked longer. I went out of my way to achieve whatever I thought would bring me my mother approval.
It was not only that I grew sad because of constant blaming. No, I also felt afraid. Afraid that again, I might have done something wrong and this would entirely ruin my safety. After all, my mother angry was a horrible view. She did not control her actions at all. For a small child it felt life threatening.
So, in order to avoid dealing with this anger, I internalized her messages. I developed a strong critic that was always able to see potentially pitfalls in my actions. I started to see myself as always wrong. Soon she did not even have to say anything, I already blamed myself to the degree that what she said was completely irrelevant.
So when my inner critic got stronger, I started feeling more and more wrong. Inside of me there has always been this sadness. Feeling of being devalued and unregonized. I, in fact, have devalued myself the most. I have no idea how to solve this yet, but I am trying to move slowly towards banishing this inner critic so that I could stop blaming myself for all the things in my life that I have not achieved.
I think I am not exaggerating much when I say that women are taught to be obsessed about male approval. I mean, look at the journals – seven ways to cook delicious dinner for your boyfriend, sex tricks to keep him hooked etc etc. I wonder when we will see the day that one male magazine will start talking about how to impress women with seven course dinner or at least recommendations on which kind of restaurant to take the wife. One could argue that men impress women differently, through making money etc etc, but I would still assert that there is so much stress around will he like me and nearly not enough stress on will she like me.
I read relationship blogs for fun. I like to analyze people and forums are the perfect place for this. Once in a while you get a woman asking questions like – my man cheated on me with another woman and now he cannot make up his mind as to with whom he wants to be, what can I do to make him stay? Again, at this point alarm bells should start ringing, because the real question should be, what can and should he do. By rewarding his bad behavior – cheating, you are just going to send out the message, that this is a good strategy to get you working harder.
This all is of course very personal, because I have dedicated my life to being liked by guys. My own relationship has not moved much during the last couple of years and we have had many heated discussions on family and kids. All this time I was trying to figure out how to make him commit, but to be honest, that was the wrong question to begin with. The real question is, do I want to commit to him. Is he measuring up to my standards?
Now this is a question which presumes that you do not have strong abandonment issues. My abandonment issues made it impossible for me to ask this sooner. They also made sure that my boyfriend felt like he was in total control because I would never leave him. I am currently working on my abandonment issues and to be honest as a result I understand how tired I am. I am so tired of guys who cannot make up their mind and drag the relationship on and on. I am so tired of guys who assume that of course it is woman’s dream to have a family and marriage and hence it is the woman who needs to impress him and sell him this idea. I guess I am in general tired of convincing someone of anything. In the end if the commitment is so difficult to make for one side, what is the value or the point?
Can I talk to you? Can I trust you. To be honest I just feel so scared. Everything scares me. The world, the knowledge that I have to be brave enough to go outside and face it, it scares me.
It is easier when I am anonymous. It has always felt safer for me to be anonymous. I like living in big, unrevealing block buildings. Thousands of other people like me. More weirdness. More others to judge. Nobody notices. People not knowing and noticing feels safe to me.
I like to run away when I notice a familiar face. I have taken parallel streets just to avoid facing familiar people. I have literally escaped. What is so scary about those that know me?
Maybe it is the expectations. Disappointing them. Knowing that they judge me. Knowing that they can see me. I am suddenly not part of cityscape anymore. I have been noticed, spotted out.
When you are anonymous, you have the invisibility coat. Nobody can hurt you because nobody cares. But suddenly you have become a person. They have noticed you and singled you out.
Thousands of eyes on you. Everybody agreeing that you deserve to be picked on. That you should be casted out. That you do not belong.
As long as you are invisible, then maybe you can still enjoy the warm feeling of being surrounded with people, imagining that you are not alone. But suddenly you are put on a spotlight and your aloneness becomes apparent not only for you, but also for those around you. It is like a signal – she will have nobody to protect her. It is safe to attack.
I am starting to understand that my addiction towards unavailable men has two main causes. One has been my feelings of unlovability which have now finally been addressed. The other one, however, is feeling that I cannot trust anyone. This is all evasive feelings which is now coming up strongly.
Finally I understand how I in fact do not want to let anyone close enough. I am afraid. I am afraid that they either become mean and put me down or that they will leave me. It is somehow safer to be in distance, because then at least nobody can hurt me. Then they will not endager my safety. I am at least somewhat in control. But somebody coming in, trying to torn down my wall of safety……this is so damn scary.
I am also starting to understand why physical contact has always been problematic for me. Why I needed to get drunk in order to enjoy physical contact. It is again the same feeling – I am unsafe. Someone is coming inside my bubble. They cannot be trusted.
It is very difficult to describe this feeling to someone who has never experienced it before. It is partially the feeling that you are all alone and partially the feeling that someone is trying to torn down the walls that you have built. You do not understand that in fact these walls to assure that you will be all alone. But you want to protect yourself against other people, not to show that you are so alone and defenseless. You assume that if they would know, they would automatically use it. If they knew you are so helpless they would abuse you. So this is how you never even give people a chance to prove the opposite. They will never get close enough for you to be convinced that they in fact are safe.
So who are the people who are willing to be in a relationship with someone like this? Other people with intimacy issues. No sane person would like to hang around someone who is mortally afraid of intimacy.
One of the most fundamental events in my life was no doubt meeting and breaking up with my ex boyfriend, lets call him here Paul. See Paul was this committed, hard-working, responsible, wise etc etc guy. I idealized him. Among other things Paul was however also very perfectionistic and I never felt that I measured up to his standards. Not really. A familiar feeling which had sent me my whole life with my mother.
Breakup with Paul devastated me. In my mind he was someone the kind I would never find in my life. After Paul I met Greg, my current partner. Greg seemingly at least in the beginning appreciated me the way I was. The problem was, I did not like myself very much at this point. I did not respect myself much.
Now all the self-help books tell us about affirmations and all the other bullshit. In my opinion telling to yourself six times a day that you are lovable does not really change much. And I am going to also make a really harsh statement here – sometimes you have some work to do with yourself in order to be at least more lovable. I know everybody keeps telling how one’s partner needs to accepted them for who they are, but frankly, if you partner is obsessive gambler – would you really want to accept them this way. Or furthermore, would it do them any good if you did? In my case I was irresponsible at the point I dated my ex. I did not take responsibility nor for my life nor my feelings. I just kept believing that a man could solve all my problems. I just shifted all the responsibility to Paul. Now mind me, but this is not a very lovable behavior.
During next years Paul’s words kept haunting me in my self-development. He was my staple for male ideal and I guess partially I wanted to become worthy of him. Now on some level it sounds sick and twisted, but on another level I think it is a good idea. It is similar to having role models in life. Paul to me helped to define who I want to be.
So who do I want to be and how has therapy helped me to reach there? Well, I want to be someone who does not complain about her life, but actually does something to improve this. I want to be someone who dares to show other her real colors. I want to have integrity in all parts of my life. I want to be faithful to my commitments.
I think the previous pretty much describes the most important values for me. So with five years in therapy I have lost quite a bit in my easy-goingness and my lust for life. I am also not the center of parties. I am not this cute, smiley and innocent girl. But instead I have become someone who I think if I met today, could respect.
I will never meet up with Paul again, I think. But I suspect that he as well, would be proud of me today.
This is going to be an akward post, because it is going to contain a lot more shameful disclosure than I am used to. However, I think it is needed in order to illustrate how many of us are escaping from our pain.
Throughout the years I have used different things to ‘feel normal’. No my addiction were never the ‘typical addictions’ such as drugs or alcohol, even though I have resorted at times to drinking vine every evening. But as follows I will give examples of my addictions if for no other reasons, than for illustrating the wide variety of things that can become tools for us in avoiding to face our issues.
Before the therapy I had numerous coping tools. One could even say that the whole image and lifestyle that I was trying to sell was a coping tool. I was trying to advertise myself as a successful globetrotter. Then there was my eating disorder. I had a problematic relationship with food, sometimes I would indulge myself and then ended up running ten miles in order to be sure that I was not getting fat. See, my mother had a reverse relationship with food….she was really overweight. In my mind I absolutely did not want to become my mother.
Then there self-development. All these books about how to become a better person, how to become a better catch. Ultimately they served to satisfy my love addiction (my belief that another man would fix my problems). I believed that if I could only get this next man, everything would be fine and the pain would disappear.
Throughout therapy years there have been many other addictions. There was a shopping spree whereby I would end up buying a lot of new clothes. Remaking my style…..Then there was an addiction to online psychics. Then there were still constant guy obsessions. And then there was drama in my current somewhat dysfunctional relationship.
The problem with all these addictions is that they distract you. They make the pain a bit better but soon you are in for another dosage. The effect is never long-term and it can dull the pain for a very limited period. You get addicted to the temporal high….The period where you cannot feel the pain. You want it to last…
Yes, I have decided to give up all my addictions to certain period of time and face my emotions as they come. To deal with them hands on. But, it has taken me five years in therapy to be able to make this decision.
Perhaps for the first time in my life I am not obsessed by someone needing to prove to me that I am lovable. Constant aching feeling in my soul is finally gone. Done.
Interestingly from this position my obsession about certain males and male attention in general seems weird. It seems kind of funny to think how I assumed that a man would solve all my problems. How someone wanting to marry me would turn my world around. I do not believe this anymore. Funnily I am also getting less and less obsessed about males around me. My view on love is getting more and more practical.
The important shift was me connecting with my feelings undeservingness and unlovability. This shift has happened this spring and almost invisibly. I feel like I am finally getting a sense of what it means to actually live normally…..live without constant feelings of emptiness and pain.
This would be a period for rejoicing if I also did not notice how fucked up the rest of life has become due to me focusing so intensely on my unlovabilty. I have been living so far with limited resources. Due to being on constant survival mode, I never really even imagined that the things other people have are possible for me. Now I know they are possible, but I also feel like I am years behind. I think it a similar feeling than for an alchoholic to finally become sober. You notice that you have spent years in this addiction while other people have been busy living their lives.
I am realizing that part of my addiction towards unavailable men or men who blow hot and cold is, that I finally want someone to come for me. Instead of chasing my unavailable parents, I want them to chase me. I want to prove to myself that people do care and are willing to go extra mile for me.
Never before have I realized how much it hurt that my mother was willing to threaten me with abandonment during our fights. I felt like I was a commodity that could be easily cast away. Just as long as I am useful and compliant I am worth keeping, but as soon as I am not useful anymore, well – bye bye.
So I want to reverse the pattern. I want someone to care about whether they are losing me or not, instead of me constantly fighting for their love and care. I want for the first time in my life feel that I am in control, instead of constantly worrying about others abandoning me.
Quite ridiculously though, I am seeking this feeling of control, appreciation and loyalty from all the wrong sources. I am seeking this for people who are unavailable or used to being in command themselves. I am repeating the old patterns of chasing someone’s love and loyalty. No, not only in love relationships, but also in friendships. My desire to have someone fighting for me has lead me to people similar to my parents (yes also my unavailable father who kept showing up once in a while, wanting me to convince him to visit me more often). Somewhere there is a hope that once I get these people to chase me, all the evils of my childhood will be undone.