Posted by fxckfeelings on November 17, 2011Share This Post
Just as there are diseases that can compromise the human immune system, there are factors that can compromise our emotional immune systems, as well. If you’ve been abused or take too much pleasure in giving, you’re more susceptible, not just to bad relationships, but to more psychic damage from those relationships. There are ways for the emo-immuno-compromised to protect themselves by strengthening their minds and learning to avoid the kind of people that could hurt them the most. Until they develop a mental prophylactic, adopting strict self-standards is the best way for anyone to stay safe.
I was sexually abused quite a bit by my dad (and am de-repressing memories right now, fun-fun). I am realizing that I am very fearful of the people I love, and avoid them. Honestly, if I didn’t need to bond to keep from going insane, I would never have a close relationship, because anyone I care about enough can destroy me. But I’m in a lot of pain from loneliness as it is.
Many people believe there are tons of benefits to confronting your past, namely that it will teach you something that will bring catharsis to your present. The common notion being that if you can figure out what went wrong then you can avoid being victimized again.
The problem here is that reviving memories of sexual abuse by your dad will also bring back the old feelings of helplessness and having no choice, which, of course, is the opposite of your situation as an adult, so the lessons are the opposite of useful to your life now.
You’re not examining the past to drown yourself in feelings of helplessness, but to assure yourself that you can protect yourself from abuse.
Also, as an adult, your love for your dad may leave you with a dangerous sense of comfort and familiarity with low-boundary, exploitative sleazebags. In other words, your dad may have given you a tendency to be drawn to people who aren’t trustworthy, and who are worth being fearful of. I’m sure there are people in your life who aren’t scumbags, but your history makes you especially vulnerable to them.
It’s hardly surprising then that your world, as you see it as an adult, will seem full of both loneliness and dangerous people who can’t be trusted. Don’t criticize yourself then for being fearful of relationships or lonely; fear is a good protector, until you get strong enough to protect yourself.
So, as you examine your past, a therapist’s support for your pain and trauma may not be enough to counterbalance an ingrained conviction of helplessness. You may need an additional shield against that conviction before awakening the sleeping dragon of your memories.
One way to get stronger is to approach your past with less feeling and more thought. Develop specific standards for screening potential friends and lovers and use them to override any instincts to get together with, or over-involved with, the wrong people. In other words, if you want to remember your father’s worst traits, look for those traits in people before you decide whether or not they’re worthy of your friendship. Once you convince yourself that you’re a reasonably good self-protector, you can approach your memories with less fear of being swept away.
Find a therapist who’s a good relationship coach, or a therapy group whose members have some wisdom with difficult or exploitative relationships. Don’t force yourself to re-experience memories of abuse until you know how you’d manage it as an adult.
Don’t assume, because you’re fearful of the ones you love, that you’re bad at relationships or that they’ll turn out badly. You’re right, relationships are potentially dangerous, but your awareness of that fact and willingness to get some coaching and training can protect you and eventually help you find friends and lovers who deserve your trust.
Learning from/dealing with the past can be helpful, but beware of the risks, particularly if you (and a therapist) focus exclusively on painful emotions for which you still haven’t developed defenses.
If you want to look back, don’t lose sight of your present ability to spot and avoid guys like dear old dad; then you can learn from and use your memories, instead of being haunted by them.
“Because of the past, I may never feel secure about relationships. Once I learn how to detect abuse and avoid abusers, however, I can find friends I can trust, even if my fears remain.”
My friends can’t stand my girlfriend because they say she steals from me to feed her habit, but we’ve been together for 3 years and I can’t help feeling she’s the best friend I have. It’s true, she has a drug habit that she can’t control, and money sometimes disappears from my wallet, but it’s an illness and it’s no good to blame her for it. It doesn’t change the fact that we love one another. Aside from her habit, I know I can trust her. I truly believe our love is a positive factor in helping keep her habit from getting worse. My goal is to help her, of course, while getting my friends to see that she’s a real person, not a drug addict.
Relationships can always be dangerous if you focus too much on the other person’s feelings, or your own, without stopping to think about your other priorities in life. She might make you feel like a hero, feel like you’re a healing saint, feel guilty if you can’t do what she asks, etc. If you focus on that instead of whether or not this relationship is ruining your life, you’re doing it wrong. The more sweet, sensitive and generous your temperament, the worse your peril.
The opposite of caring too much for someone isn’t, of course, to be selfish; it’s to be responsible for your other goals, the ones that arise from your values, interests, and other obligations, including your job to take good care of yourself. You need money for your own education or rainy day fund or, simply, survival during hard times. You deserve to be loved for more than your ability to give.
Go back to basics and think about your own standards for a good relationship, as if you were advising a friend. Yes, you’d say, you need love and good chemistry, but you also need someone who can cover your back, take care of things when you’re disabled, help you on your way, and work well with you in a crisis. You’d have to agree that, without those standards, you’ll team up with someone who can suck you dry and undermine your stability in a very unstable world.
Love is a drug and it can addict and ruin your life and other relationships in a way that puts meth to shame. That’s why, rather than getting into a discussion of how wonderful it feels, you’d urge your friend to think about what he wants a relationship for and how it will help him do what matters.
Forget about what your friends think and put aside your desire to help your girlfriend; instead, focus on what you want to make of your own life and trying to be a good person in a crazy world. Remember who you are and then see where this relationship fits. You’re not a saint, you’re a boyfriend, and if you want to do what’s best for both of you, you won’t even be that much longer.
“I love my girlfriend and want to save her from drug addiction and I don’t mind her faults, but what comes first are my own standards for being a strong and self-reliant person that are not dependent on any one person’s love or approval.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname