I’m sobbing again. Overwhelmed by confusion, feelings of abandonment and a desperation to get back to what I’d been vulnerably pursuing. Yet, like trying to fight the ocean, I was losing. Drowning in what felt oh so familiar. Up to my eyeballs in pain and rejection, I’d felt entirely blindsided by. No matter where I went and the wild range of people I became invested in, there came a time that inevitably the relationship would shatter. Like cold glass heated too quickly. And just as unexpectedly.
Cut to ribbons, I laid in bed stunned. Utterly helpless I couldn’t help but wonder, “what was I doing wrong? “ I keep getting blindsided by those I love, suddenly shattering our relationship, under attack from their accusations and rage, the slamming of huge walls in my face, or worst, the vaporization of them from my life. Despite my best efforts, my growth, and my careful consideration, it happened. Despite these people having so little in common besides having expressed a desire to get close to me, it happened. It seemed inevitable that anyone who gets close will eventually go through this process and if I am the only thing these relationships have in common, it must be me.
Heartbroken, I wondered if my loved ones were seeing something in me that I was too full of myself to admit. Maybe, I really was these things. Maybe I really was hurting people. Maybe I was too much and chasing those I love away with my abrasiveness. Echos of reasonings and explanations rang, often feeling untrue and contradicting each other building into the image of a monster. Maybe, that’s who I really am… It was devastating to consider. But I had to. If I was wrong, and this was an issue of my own creation, and I could both be better to those around me and get what I needed, if I just was better. If I just tried harder. If I was more careful. If I was more humble, this would stop.
I would do anything to fix it, if someone would just tell me how!
Unpacking the Past
A few months ago I looked the feeling of helplessness in the eye and crumbled under the weight. I was caught again in a cycle I’d been fighting with for as long as I could recall. My belief that it would ever end was non-existent and I saw that none of my efforts has resulted in any difference. Years of questioning, trial and error, and letting go led me to exactly the same spot.
- My closest relationships will all implode seemingly spontaneously
- I’ll be blamed despite my best efforts
- I’ll feel crazy because they are saying yes and acting no (or vice versa)
- Leaving me alone feeling crazy worried if I am missing something
- If this is just a cruel joke
- Or if I could have stopped this had I just been better
- If I actually had poor judgement
I could chart every major relationship going through this excruciating period and my pointless, desperate attempts to stop it. To, get back to what often was one of my favourite relationships. And every failure that carved scars into my heart, the grief of loss becoming all-consuming, staining me forever.
Mostly I pretend they died, for the loss still hurts years later but like death, no amount of effort will bring them back. It makes me afraid of the future, of getting close to others, of the pain that will one day come for me because I choose to love.
Still, I picked myself off the floor and started to do what I know best research. If no one could tell me why this was happening, I would find the answer. Or at least a start. I could accept this as a lifelong pattern as long as I was sure I’d tried my best. My oldest fear rearing its head, the fear of the unknown, pushing me to get clarity. To gain understanding, because it’s a lot easier to be brave when you know what is coming. It’s easier to endure if you know what it will be like and for how long. What was it that I was doing that was causing this reaction? How could I be accountable?
This time, I wasn’t going to succumb to the agony of loss, dissociate it away, or cut those out for hurting me. I had chosen to trust them, and I trusted myself, which is why the unexpected collapse was so startling and painful. I would gamble on my love and trust in the goodness of these people, and face down what ever was happening. I would allow myself to be emotionally decked in the face to learn why I was being hit to begin with. Intention mattered here a lot. Someone trying to hurt me, I have zero patience for but unintentionally? I needed to understand.
What am I missing?!
For months on end the repeated question for me has been, what am I missing?! The feeling of blindness or sudden disorientation is overwhelming in its regularity. Yet it’s so hard to see the water you are swimming in. It’s so hard to see the experiences outside your own body and not project that your experience of reality is the same as everyone else’s. I mean, how can you know otherwise but to ask? But amorphous, implicit things are hard to explain to others. How do you explain the colour blue to someone else when you aren’t even sure if your blue is theirs, or if they have seen it at all.
I felt a fool, but a fool at the end of his rope. Impossible tasks have never stopped me from trying and so I started to dig. And ended up nowhere. Until a loved one read me a passage from a book on codependence. It didn’t land for me in the slightest. Frankly, I found the idea of viewing the world in that way frightening and confusing. Only to see, my friend tearing up. They related to what seemed utterly foreign to me. Suddenly I looked back on my relationships and could see these signs potentially in them. I asked and they related, and so began my deep dive into dependency.
Several books later, I still was struggling. My loved ones made more sense as long as I could hold this concept in mind, but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t the same. Why I was in relationships with people who experienced codependence and yet, wasn’t. Maybe I was counter dependant, a phrase that these days is treated more like avoidant attachment. Yet, I could ask for help. I did trust others. I did want to be close. I moved towards conflict instead of away. I moved toward connection but didn’t chase it. I’ll give it up if it’s clear it’s not going to happen and move on. Although I do feel safer alone, I do not wish to BE alone.
My therapist once said that I offer people secure attachment and am seeking the same. Even as a wrestled with an internal swinging of anxious fear and frustrated avoidance, I knew that was all within me. I trusted my relationships to not change just because my feelings swung wildly when I was afraid or triggered. Maybe this is what they call earned secure attachment.
The conflicts were getting worse and I despite trying to be soothing, compassionate, and easy-going people still seemed distressed by me. It felt like my very existence, bothered people. Everything about me was distressing those around me and yet no one could tell me, WHAT I was doing wrong. In the clearest moments, they would even say I hadn’t done anything. But, I was still blamed and tried my hardest to not make things worse.
I am STILL missing something
Over the weeks I untangled what I could and at some point just accepted that my existence was bothering people. They continued to directly or indirectly take it out on me. Hurt and intensely lonely I wondered if I could ever really be close to other people. I wondered what it was about me, and how I love people that drove them away from me.
Through no change of my own, apparently, things got a bit better. I couldn’t tell because honestly it never felt like there was much wrong to begin with. But as things got better for everyone else, I knew that there was a cliff I was about to fall over emotionally. And, so I threw myself into it. If I was going to fall anyway it might as well be on my terms.
Everyone has been asking me why I stay in these relationships, why I keep choosing these people. If I don’t think I deserve better, or am trying to fix people. The disconnect even from those who weren’t upset with me, was also isolating. It felt like no one understood me, my experience, my pain, and why I was willing to fight for relationships. Even those who saw my pain assumed what I wanted was to get out of it. That I was hurting myself by staying for no reason, or worse from obligation. As if I could leave these people and then this would stop. Not understanding that I have tried that and that hurts just as much, and doesn’t fix the issue. Maybe it would, but history demonstrates that I keep trying to learn this lesson, so let’s learn it!
Running just doesn’t work
Finally, I cried for being viewed as a terrible person. For all the things people have said about and around me. For the fear that some hold of me. For the names and the anger directed my way. For the feeling of utter rejection. For the lack of safety I felt. The grief of my missing connections, still missing the people I love. The pain of being unseen. The pain of feeling used.
Most importantly though, my frustration that in I felt left with an impossible situation. If I wanted to connect with these folks I needed to play into something. I needed to believe what they were telling me. Because in that belief I could rejoin their reality and we could relate in a way that feels good for both of us. Unfortunately for as long as I can remember, even if I can take on that reality short term, I can’t stay there if it doesn’t match my own.
The upset was coming from my inability to stop holding onto my own beliefs and views about the world. Not because I am unwilling to be wrong or consider other perspectives, but because I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with me. I like my values systems and on a whole like myself. I value others just as much. I have flaws and make mistakes just like everyone else. I am happy to atone and make up for those.
But at the end of the day no matter how much I can look at accusations of being controlling, and check my behaviour and consider I have a serious blind spot, if I look at myself and don’t see that (more over see the opposite) I can’t let that perspective go. I can’t be made to feel like I am bad as a way to change my behaviour. I can feel like you SEE me as bad and that colours my behaviour. I can’t be made to drop my boundaries because another doesn’t like them or like how that makes them feel. I can’t be bad for having needs that others aren’t meeting by choice as if it’s my fault for needing. I can’t sacrifice internal sense of self for anyone’s comfort, and don’t want that from others. Their value to me has nothing to do with that, nor is it tied to my feeling of safety. I just love the people I love.
This wasn’t about anyone exclusively but me desiring to unpack my own trauma, and figure out why I am how I am. What I can and should expect from the world. Most importantly how I can be myself in it and loved for being myself.
Yet I found myself at odds with what I believed and something I can’t seem to see.
Shame the missing piece
I can’t feel shame. (As far as I am aware)
And others do.
Shame, as I am learning, is a funny thing. The common idea is that “shame is I am bad; guilt is I did bad.” Which is not a full definition. But, what I think is more important to me, is what shame is meant to do. Shame, is a social feeling. The success of humans is in our social connections. Alone we are weak but we can do and survive much more as a group. So it was of utmost importance to stay in the group. Shame was developed. As bad as it feels it ultimately keeps you alive (in theory). The brain is focused on keeping you alive, not, keeping you happy.
It is safer for you to automatically feel bad and police yourself to force you to change your actions BEFORE the community gets rid of you due to those actions. Shame becomes an issue when it drowns a person. When the values you were taught don’t fit you, or when it controls you in excess. That’s where shame resilience and compassion come in, as well as questioning what you value and if you are in the right communities if they don’t value you.
What if you don’t experience that though? Well. I never have that feeling. I don’t feel like I will die without community or others. I do not fear being alone, I simply don’t WANT to be. I do feel guilt and remorse for my mistakes and for harming others but it doesn’t feel tied to my personhood. For as long as I can remember I have railed against and struggled with social rules and structures that go against me. I have argued for the fact that “there is no one way of doing a thing” since I was a kid fighting with my mom about the way to sweep the floor. I hated needing to modify my behaviour for the expectation of others I didn’t care about. I once after a week of Sunday school camp (I went for my friends knowing I wasn’t religious) refused to be baptised in front of a whole congregation. They had said it was optional, and I made my choice, despite the immense pressure and expectations. I othered myself, it hurt and I didn’t care, for going against myself would have felt worse.
I remember being in primary school and realising I didn’t feel comfortable saying the pledge of allegiance in school, because I didn’t know what I was promising. I stopped saying it. I often got in trouble for breaking the rules or implicit agreements society places on people and didn’t care. Much of the time I wasn’t even aware. Only later did I learn in college rhetoric class that I believed in ‘truth’ not ‘Truth’.
I have spent the majority of my life feeling weak for being unable to “let it go” and simply conform, particularly when doing so was important for my safety. I wanted to value my safety more than I valued my internal truth. I wanted to value belonging more. I wanted to be able to do what seemed so easy for everyone else, and I never have. I thought everyone had such a strong pull towards their own truth and they were able to choose something else for their safety, belonging, and comfort. They could compromise and I… couldn’t. That inability was because I wasn’t strong enough. I seemed to always struggle to connect because of it. If only I valued my safety enough, valued myself enough, to do what was hard.
On the other hand, I thought that everyone had a strong sense of their internal morals, boundaries, needs, and wants and were constantly checking their actions against this.
Turns out this is FAR from the truth.
I thought if someone wasn’t expressing those things, it was them being intentionally deceptive. They were withholding for some unknown reason and making me guess, only to punish me when I got it wrong. My frustration building, begging people to “Just tell me!” Why didn’t they trust me with this info? Why didn’t they see that I’d happily adjust if I knew what they needed? There is a difference between your actions and your humanity. A difference between WHO you are and how you show up. I fall in love with people for who they are, doesn’t everyone?
Everything has a trade off
When I mention I don’t experience shame, people always react with some variation of envy. I try to remind people that everything has trade-offs. If I didn’t develop shame, there is a reason, and it’s likely not a good unique experience that caused that. But I always felt there must be more unknown cost.
I am already suspectable to gaslighting and crazy-making. Although I have more awareness and tools than many others when it comes to interpersonal and social engagements, I struggle with reality testing. I often feel like I am out of step with most other people. Things that feel obvious or straightforward to me, feel strange unreal and foreign to others and the reverse is true. Because of that awareness and a large dose of humility, I try to not make a lot of assumptions about socialising that I am not willing to change with new info.
I don’t fear being wrong, I actually like it (feelings of vulnerability aside) because it gives me information to be better. We are all fallible and thinking I am above that is ridiculous. Which is honourable and is exactly what sets me up for social crazy making/gaslighting. … and brings up some old patterns that don’t fit my current life.
Let’s use an example.
I am spending time with a close friend. We regularly talk for hours and have made it clear we share a deep love for each other and each other’s company. Unbeknownst to me shame has entered our engagement. It seems to go one of two ways.
They did something they consider shameful TO me.
They ghost. I am sure on their side they are wrestling with shame and its effects on them. I’d guess they are feeling pretty poor and afraid of my judgement. Afraid of the consequences and what that action means about them.
But, for me?
I don’t notice and know none of that. For me, my close relationship just dissolved out of nowhere. I reach out and get silence back. I keep acting like nothing is different and get a wall of silence and avoidance back. I start to wonder, if they are ok and ask after them. Nothing. I offer support and care. Nothing. I manage my anxiety by believing in the strength of our relationship, their previous displays of love and affection, the trust built. My heart is breaking and grief is setting in, along with a fear that I hurt this person so badly they won’t talk to me.
I have done something awful. What did I do?! Two different realities form.
- one where I am the cause of this shift and I need to atone for my actions to be able to continue relating to my loved one. If…. Only I knew what…
- and the one that sits closer to my bones, that I have no idea what is happening and can’t change it. The grief and feelings of abandonment are overwhelming
But these two realities can’t exist at the same time, not comfortably. I flicker between the two, unsure which is more accurate. If I lean towards my reality, am I being arrogant and shortsighted? Do I really believe that I couldn’t have made some mistake? How do I know if I am right or not?
If I lean towards the other, there is a mistake I am accountable for. I have caused immense hurt, and this is the sign that I am as terrible as I was once told. HE was right, and my reality was wrong. If I could believe that, I could try hard to be better. I could make up for mistake if I just tried.
But I was never able to believe the second reality for long. It just felt wrong. It didn’t make sense and so the world stopped making sense to me. As the world makes less sense, I become afraid. What if I am just hurting people on accident and chasing my loved ones away? What if I really don’t know anything about relating to other people? I question myself until my own internal sense kicks back in because I have done all I can and still through my own perspective, not done anything to cause this and haven’t been told what I did. Maybe, I did nothing? Round and round we go.
They DO something they consider to be shameful to me wilfully (although at times unconsciously) and I express hurt/disappointment and ask for clarity of expectations
They become defensive and attack. Most often the break is clearer to me and yet, I hate this one so much more. It feels like my loved one disappears in a swirling of rage, avoidance, accusations, and blame. It feels like my every action is unacceptable. My very being an attack. Something that was likely minor to me triggers a huge fallout. What I saw as simple is a huge problem and “it’s my fault”.
Frightened and overwhelmed, I struggle. As they rip into me and the more compassionate I get the more irritated they get. The more I try to understand and hear through the insults, to hear to the pain I caused and what I can do about it, the more they lash out. The more sensitive to me they become. Everything feels like a judgement. Every boundary a punishment. Every kind word a lie. They slowly make me into a vision of a monster.
Echoing the past, and my own insecurities, I worry they are right. That in my stubbornness I am unwilling to listen. This is, a loved one, someone I trust. If I can’t trust them to tell me if I have been acting poorly then who can I trust? I accept responsibility and try to get clarity on what I need to do differently, on what I need to say to remind them I love them enough to try to be better. That I hear and don’t wish to cause them harm. It… doesn’t make sense to me, but this isn’t about me and my feelings. I just want to get back to what was working, I just miss my loved one.
Eventually, I am no longer able to accept this reality. It feels wrong. Besides nothing I was doing was working either. The internal values and self-understanding come back to me and I shift into defending myself. I don’t know why they are upset and attacking me, but I don’t want it to continue. I have gotten weary of being in emotional pain, stressed out of my mind fighting ghosts. Feeling singled out as they treat everyone else better. I don’t know what it is about me they hate but they do. The brain weasels say.
Unfortunately, I have had to fight for my reality before. The continued onslaught, tied with my lack of clarity on how to end it, eventually makes it hard to manage my own triggers. I know my old tools for gaslighting and crazy-making aren’t the right fit for my life today, but they did keep me sane… I start defending myself and my mind with a level of aggression and/or steadfastness others find unsettling. I struggle to stand up for myself in a way that isn’t extreme.
I care about them, and I care about myself. The last time I was defending myself in this way, I didn’t care about the other person. Frankly it was dangerous to do so. There was no space for gentleness, for any amount of weakness would only be taken advantage of. My guard high and trying to dust with an industrial leaf blower, I try to use my tools delicately. The stress and fear of harming them and/or getting harmed in being too gentle takes its toll. Frustration building at what is pulling so much of my strength and focus. The trauma clouds my vision and I see him and become enraged. Only to blink and see my loved one. Fearing hurting them I burn the energy off. I push it down. I scream in my car. Because my body is telling me I am in immense danger and I know it’s not true.
Eventually, I have to wonder. Am I just being defensive? What if they are right? What if I could be strong enough to believe them blindly, even disagreeing, for the sake of harmony? Am I the problem and they are telling me, while I attack them? Feeling my hands tied and everything ineffective, I sob at night, a monster in their eyes either way.
Why do I put up with this
When I talk about this with others everyone tells me to give up on my loved ones because they are acting out. (Including at times the very people doing it) As if they are just the sum of their actions when they are having a hard time, ignoring who they are majority of the time. It’s the out of character-ness that I find startling and unsettling. I choose my people carefully, and if they need something as simple as reassurance, a change in language, a different distance, or most other things, to show up as themselves and if it’s within my power, I’d happily give it.
I know I don’t deserve it. The mistreatment. I won’t put up with that behaviour in non-loved ones. Or when it’s clear that this is who someone is right now, not an action they are taking to try to stay emotionally safe. In my clearest moments, I know it’s not about me. I can lean and settle back into my perspective and beliefs. I have spent a lot of time learning about myself and deciding who I want to be. I have flaws and am not perfect. But if the things that are called out are about WHO I am I can’t take on that perspective forever. I know given an action to shift, I would. I know what is important to me and how I try to show up in the world and relationships.
So I hold these two conflicting realities, unable to fully embrace either, caught between the two until I receive the clarity I need.
The Final Thoughts
When my friend sent me the original quote, I cried. I regularly feel punished for loving people in the way that I do. That love and my essence rejected, distorting the reality I know is also true, that the love is mutual. Unable to take on shame to believe I am not good enough, nor see that they view me that way, I instead feel unwanted, yet don’t understand why.
I think I am good but not perfect, and try to be better, so why won’t you let me love you? Why is my requests for you to love yourself, and to show up as yourself get me attacked? I thought that’s what you wanted. Us to grow together. I want you to be who you want to be and will love who you are through that process. Having struggles, learning to be better, making mistakes isn’t enough for me to stop loving someone. If I love you, and you love me, isn’t that enough?
Don’t I get to decide who I choose to love?
I’m sure I have more to learn. I keep questioning if my compassion is too much and why I can’t seem to have less of it. I make mistakes and say things or do things that hurt people, and I want to be accountable for that. I know that shame, is one aspect of whole beings. I know my boundaries don’t seem to kick in until past when they should for others. But they are my boundaries to choose. Maybe I’ll learn one day that there are people who will consistently show up for me, and there are people who can accept the love they want. Maybe I’ll stop needing to ask for those who say they love me to demonstrate it so often. Maybe I won’t be rejected because I love too deeply, maybe I’ll be rejected for other things! Haha! I don’t have all the answers I’m just a guy learning to love and be loved for who I am.
If you, like my friend, push away those who love you, those who are good for you and show their care, I urge you to reconsider. Be as brave as you can be. Consider if you believe the person who loves you, if you trust them. And if you don’t, are you willing to learn to?
Your fear of ending up alone and not being strong enough is now a story being played out by you. Your worry that you are only valued for what you do, is true if you reject those who value you for you. The feeling of unsafety if your loved one isn’t safe/happy/ok, is only true if you don’t believe in them as a full being. If you don’t see their strength, and importantly your own.
Your worth isn’t tied to DOING anything. There is nothing to prove and nothing to earn. Those who do not value your presence in their life, just because of what you bring into it; the joys, the pain, the struggle, the love, the strengths, the very YOU-ness of you, they aren’t worth your time. You are not lesser or broken because of what has happened. Nor what mistakes you have made (if you have been accountable for them and changed who you are to cause less harm). You deserve to be loved as you are because you are. Question your shame and share it because it is in its stagnant waters that rot creeps in, while it flows once shared. Bringing new life and energy for the future. Hold on tight to the people who really sees you , reassures you and supports you. Those people who see you under the fear. The thing about belonging is if you don’t fit in somewhere it’s not because you are wrong, but because that group/person is wrong for you.
Existence is neutral.
It’s what we do with it that gives it meaning.