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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: January 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fear Run Amuck Part I (The Neediness Cycle in Relationships)

To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved

Here's how the thinking goes: "If he loved me, he would know how to communicate with me!" or "If he really loved me, then he would put up with...." or "If he loved me he would always want to be with me." or "If he loved me he would get outside of his comfort zone, overcome his nature, his fears, his hang ups, and be what I need!"

And then here's what happens. Well, here's what happens sometimes:

She (well it's usually the she, because we tend, sorry to generalize) to need more verbal reassurance than men do) gets upset and

a) cries
b) criticizes him
c) yells
d) stops taking care of herself
e) maybe finds another man
f) ignores him
g) withholds sex, food, love, attention, affection
h) complains about him to her friends, mother, mother in law
i) berates herself for being so needy (when she really is quite normal)

And then here's what happens: (sometimes) He:

a) withdraws
b) gets angry
c) withdraws
d) gets angry
e) decides there is no pleasing her
f) feels stupid and helpless and clueless
g) withdraws
h) maybe gets another woman
i) yells
j) does not know what to do with his frustration

And then she:

a) becomes convinced that he never loved her
b) becomes convinced that she may not be lovable
c) becomes convinced that he is an......
d) tries to figure out what keeps going wrong

So this happens sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes in little ways, sometimes in big ways.... but it usually ends up in a mess.

What's going on? Well. Fear run amuck. At least that's part of it. And the belief that good communication is a natural by-product of love.

What's missing? Good Talking, for one. And some slowed-down gentle curious attention to what kind of fear is driving the boat.

I see it so often. Women pressing over and over for reassurance and love, for words. And for actions. Like that he should put spending time with her above studying for his exams, working, going out with his buddies, riding his dirt bike. I am not talking about him disappearing into an addiction, or slipping away for hours into a hobby. I am talking about normal time out in a relationship. I am thinking about the emotional messages, interpretations, misinterpretation. Expectations.

And how when she feels so needy, and looks to him, too starts to become a turn off. And when he backs up, or out, or off, it triggeres fear, and loneliness, and sometimes more. It's really necessary to pay attention to the effects of all this on our normal, love-seeking, connection-wanting souls, and on our human relationships.

Lest you think I am picking on my gender....well, I am. I am saying that when women pay attention to effect their approach has on their man, and when men pay attention to the effect their words, aggression, frustration and withdraw have on their woman, things can start to get better.

Confident, Complimentary and Clear. We start out that way, but somehow it doesn't hold. We have to pay attention to how things unravel, and tend to what's best for the relationship.

When fear gets the best of us, and we act accordingly, we can start a cycle of craziness that is often hard to climb out of.

I've been reading Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat Pray Love ... "When I get lonely these days, I think: So be lonely. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it...Welcome to the human experience....Never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings."

I think that when we get lonely, fear runs amuk. I think we have to protect our relationships from our fears. It's not that we should not turn to our mates for help with the loneliness, it's just that it's good to know when we are asking for what we need, and when we are going overboard.

And to not let fear rule the day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Get Me Outta Here

"If you always do what you always did, then you'll always get what you always got."

and "Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result."

G-d bless 12 step. Repeater of many a good phrase for helping folks to live well and sober and without personal attack. I think we can expand our version of sober to include lots of things. Beyond using alcohol, drugs, food, money, shopping, and people. Yes people. I think that we can use people to hurt ourselves.

Sometimes we get mixed up with relationships that seem like they are good and whole, trustworthy and reliable. We use our best judgement, or sometimes, we don't, but we don't think too deeply about getting involved because it appeals to us in some emotional way. Sometimes the people are related to us, so we don't think we have many choices. And then when things go south we can spend hour upon hour "why-ing" it. Why did this not work? Why does s/he not see things the way I do? Why don't they just..... You fill in the blank. And then when the relationship falls apart and we feel broken in some indescribable way, we travel through the stages of grief and loss, and all the analysis that often goes along with trying to heal our hurts. We can look at our side of things. What did we do that contributed the problem. When were we selfish, out of control or frightened. When did we act in ways that hit the wrong note, or made the wrong impression. Did we handle our problems with the relationship in a way that could bring healing or a way that led to further strife?

In my office I hear about relationship woes everyday. Friendships, romances, roommates, business partners, bosses, parents, children. Therapists. Yes, you are likely to have some mixed feelings about your therapist at once point or another. The trick being to tell her! And see what happens next. In fact, some of the best work that happens in therapy can result from you telling your therapist the problems you are having with the therapy. Say it all! Most therapists will welcome the opportunity to hear your every thought.

Unfortunately, not all relationships work this way. And nowadays with many techie options for communication out there, I hear more and more about snafus that may have turned out better if not for the mode of communication. Not that I don't like texting, (okay, I don't), but I don't recommend it as a way of telling your best friend that you don't like the way she talks to your boyfriend. Same with email. I have seen more than a few relationships get thrown off balance because of a misconstrued, poorly timed email.

But even with good old fashioned talking, things sometimes don't work out the way we would like. And we can try and try, and to no avail. A good friend of mine who is still in her early 20's lives at home with her parents. For many reasons, concious and un, they all seem to be tied tightly to this arrangement. They have all kinds of ideas about why it has to be. Money, helping each other, proximity to job, friends. The problem: the constant fighting. Over everything from clothing to food to how the lights are adjusted. So what do they do? The mom thinks that if she (the mom) just continues to act loving (the way she thinks is loving) and keeps telling the kid her opinion on all matters, that things will eventually get better. She has no idea why this continues to yield a battle each and every day.

The kid (not such a kid) keeps thinking that if she tells her parents all the things that are wrong with them that they will hear this and change. She is waiting for the day that they realize the errors of their ways and say how sorry they are.

Another woman I know opened up a very cute stationary store with a neighbor down the block. After a year, the business became fairly successful, but due to fact that the two owners continuously fought over what to order, when to be open and how to advertise, the woman left the business to the neighbor, giving up all she had worked for. In her mind, she thought she was helping her neighbor and being a good friend. She took a long hard look at how she may have contributed to the problem and apologized to her neighbor for all the things she did that may have hurt the relationship. The neighbor accepted her apology and then closed the door. Somehow, the woman wants her neighbor to come forth and apologize too. And to fix the friendship.

So far this has not happened. She continues to try to figure out ways to get her ex-friend to return the kindness. And my young woman friend continues to try to get her parents to look at their defects. Of course there are a million examples. So what's on my mind in particular about this? Amongst all the nuances of all human relationships. I think its this:

We can continue to do whatever it is we are doing that is not working. Or we can stop. We can decide that we need a new approach. And more often than not, that requires some help, a good ear, and the listing of new ideas. And on the list of those new ideas, we may have to put somewhere towards the top: let go.

My friend may need to move out, or give up her pointing out her parents flaws. She may want to excuse herself from the tangle. The woman I know, may have to move on to put that wish for an apology in a box and start some new projects for herself.

Letting go is, of course, not simple, and not the only option. And letting go can take many forms. Letting go does not mean that you forget your pain, or give up on what you want or believe. But here, just for starters, I am thinking that it means not hurting yourself with it. Not letting it get in the way of your emotional health and progress in life. Not doing the same old same old and thinking that something is going to change, and having this be a barrier to your growth, healing and prosperity. There is a timing element of course. Sometimes we are just not ready yet to give up our efforts.

But then again staying in the battle, approaching from different fronts, living with "if only s/he would" than I could recover/feel better/move on ect. seems to be just another way to hurt ourselves sometimes. We can decide to turn toward loving options and get out of the fight. It is possible to live with emotional pain, frustration and disappointment and still prosper. We don't have to use it to keep ourselves down.

Okay, one more 12 step saying. Because it's always good in a pinch, and then some: The ever handy Serenity Prayer "Gd grant me the serenity to accept the things (read: and people) I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Messing with Misery (Hope)

"Oh, wouldn't the world seem dull and flat with nothing whatever to grumble at?" ~W.S. Gilbert

I was thinking about starting off the new year with a post about hope. Since mostly I write to, for and about people who are hurting in someway, I had in mind to write a bit about the process of becoming un-miserable.

I have an aunt about whom my family is fond of saying, "She loves to be miserable. That's what makes her happy." This was meant to impart to us the idea that we really should not worry so much about trying to change her or cheer her up. She was best left as she was, unhappy, anxious and at odds with the world.

I, for one, believed this to be true. But I did not think that this was the whole story. I had the idea that Auntie was afraid. Whatever caused, shaped, contributed to her deep fear, I did not know, but I had the feeling that the misery sort of helped hold her together, and that to mess with it might be a bad idea. I often wondered if all of her pain was, however legitimate, some kind of an insurance policy against even more pain. Real or imaginary.

Sort of the same as folks who tell me that they worry so much, and expect the worst because then when it happens, they won't be so shocked. The fall will, according this line of thinking, be less far and less hard.

Same goes for self attack. When we pummel ourselves with words (sometimes with actions), figuring that if we beat ourselves up badly, whatever anyone else does will not be as bad. We will have beat them to the punch. So to speak.

So I am not one for New Year's resolutions. Not to dampen your resolve if you have made them. Power on! But mostly I find that many of us make a thousand promises and never a decision. The difference being that we can promise ourselves, Gd, our families, whoever, whatever, but if we have not made a well thought out, well consulted, well informed decision, with a good plan to go along with and support it, we may well be going nowhere fast.

It's risky to mess with misery. It's risky to take stock of the things in your life that are causing you pain and to embark on a journey of discovery. And to head toward a decision. And then to make one, and abide by it. Of course you always have the right to change your mind, re-evaluate and re-do. (Usually you can change course. Unless your decision involved someone else and it may be more difficult).

And sometimes, the things that make us miserable are the things that are holding us together. Or at least we think so. Like bingeing or cutting or drinking or going in and out of a relationship with someone who is unstable or unreliable or mean. And we are afraid to mess with it. Fear of the unknown. Fear of happiness. Fear of nothing: that if we make a decision to mess with our misery, we will have a great enormous nothing. And that might be worse than anything.

Sometimes when someone is in my office and they are hurting themselves, with say, razors or matches, or food, or words of steel, I am not so quick to mess with the symptoms or the behavior. It's hard to be sure that if you "make" (as if one could) someone stop something that seems bad for them, that they won't do something worse.

For those in the throes of an eating or cutting disorder, or addiction, it's about venturing into the unknown. A place that may require replacing the bad feelings with good feelings, which sounds nice on paper, but terrifying in reality. The unfamiliar is often quite scary.

Still and all, fear and glue, I think its most often a good idea to mess with misery. You don't have to mess fast, or even often. But you can decide to take a look at what the misery does for you. What purpose it serves. Is it keeping you close to something you have lost? Is it familiar? Is it protecting you from having to get up and do something you are even more afraid of doing? Do you doubt that you could really have a better life?

And by the way, there are big miseries in life and smaller ones. Not everything has to be on the grand scale of overall angst. There are choices, though. That's my message of hope. You can walk into the sunshine and not get burned. You may need proper protection and a good guide, but you can step out into something new. Just takes a small spark of interest, the right timing and a good dose of support from people you can trust.