“Our suffering comes from our attachment to people and things, our repeated attempts to find something lasting where there is nothing lasting to be found.” Philip Martin
As a psychotherapist, I will often hear comments such as: I’ll be happy when I get that job; I’ll be happy when I get that handbag; I’ll be happy once I’ve achieved more than my peers; I’ll be happy when I’ve manifested money and success! Do any of these phrases resonate? Most of us live in a constant pursuit of happiness. If your basic needs are met and your life is not in any real and imminent danger, then chances are, you are more than likely searching for happiness and fulfilment in one way or another. Maybe we can reflect back on those times when maybe we didn’t need so much “stuff” to feel like we had made something of ourselves, feeling less than sucks and it is not hard to see how imagining all the stuff that would make us happy seems to ease this particular pain. However, what hurts even more is working hard to get all that stuff only to realise that the happiness that we thought would be there in the achievement didn’t come along with it.
Not unlike some of my clients and my readers, I too have played the wanting/buying/achieving game to fulfil my own version of happy before moving back to the wanting more game. Each time I’d play, I’d convince myself that this time I’d be happy forever with whatever it was that I coveted. The trap was a particularly deep one when it came to achievements that I sought. Granted, the duration of the happiness that resulted from those achievements lasted longer than it did when I bought things, but my point is that it still didn’t last forever. The logic ran something along the lines of, “If I could just get my next qualification/professional recognition with a really high mark, or get those qualifications faster than everyone else then that would prove that I am smart. If others see I am smart, then I’ll be happy forever!” Yeah, right. That didn’t work either. No matter how much I climbed, I felt as though I had got nowhere. Were there moments of fleeting joy? Yes and some of those achievements felt truly amazing…for a little while. And then it was back to planning what was to come next when I felt low again and interpreted that as not being done and needing an entirely new set of stairs to climb to find that lasting happiness.
What became apparent to me after much training, therapy and life experience was that happiness, as an enduring state of mind, is available at any time. It doesn’t need to be pursued. It is not something that requires being hunted down from the outside and then somehow assimilated within. It is not something that you find in the latest project or set of boxes to tick because once you have embraced yourself and the world around you, it already exists safely inside you. Achieving a state of acceptance or being is really the ultimate “gift” to yourself.
Let’s be clear, I am not disparaging achieving goals or wanting to do better. Far from it. I am all for shiny new things and accomplishments and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. However, if you are someone who tries to find happiness through an endless chase of those things then there’s something you might want to explore. It is in that Game of, ‘When this happens, then I’ll feel happy and fulfilled’ that the pursuit of happiness fails to deliver any happiness at all. It’s the expectation that meeting these objectives will bring you happiness forever that is the underlying problem. Why? Because when it doesn’t happen that way, you may end up more disappointed than you started. No matter what you fantasised about during those late nights of studying or long months of saving money or focusing on how to curate your ‘perfect’ life, it never feels quite like you dreamed it would. And that in itself is okay. It’s really okay if you let it be okay. It’s okay when you know that your journey is never over and chasing something that will give you an everlasting feeling is like trying to boil the ocean. If you know that happiness isn’t up for permanent, static keeps and that it doesn’t come from external rewards, then you won’t set yourself up for perpetual dissatisfaction.
Even if you were given everything you wanted, would it really make you constantly peaceful and happy? How many times have we heard from people who were perpetually chasing their next dream although they seemed to have it all already, and yet they still didn’t quite believe it was enough? The term for this is hedonic adaptation. This is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major events or life changes. Money can’t buy harmonious, fulfilling relationships with others. And it certainly doesn’t have the power to generate unconditional acceptance of self. As long as you measure your self worth in pounds and pence, then it will rise and fall in accordance with the success (or failure) of your latest enterprise.
If we can gain a clearer understanding of the underlying ways that we experience our lives, we’ll have a much better time living with all the uncertainty. We are constantly told that this or that will make us happy, but when you find yourself constantly crashing after a short lived high—as so many of us have—it may be time to wake up. Once you’re aware of the deception, you can be more aligned with your truth. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what brings more peace and fulfilment into your life. So much of what we do is designed to avoid pain or seek pleasure. Maybe if we can drop all of that, we can learn how to be happy before anything happens. This type of happiness is the happiness that you remember as a child or back when it wasn’t so important to keep chasing. It’s self-generated and not contingent on outside sources. It’s the opposite of the rat race.
The idea of hedonic adaptation holds that a person’s long-term happiness is not meaningfully affected by events. The concept suggests that we all have a personal happiness set point, and we generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout our lives, in spite of whatever external events and circumstances take place. Shifting our set point means that we must begin by changing our mindset and shifting our values, goals and attention. As I see it, happiness is the lens through which I view my world, the ideas that I hold and the values I keep. It helps me to acknowledge that that even though I have goals, my happiness and fulfilment does not solely depend on whether or not I meet them. I constantly remind myself that nothing is permanent. What helps me the most is knowing that how happy I’ll be is up to me if you devote yourself to becoming high on life–or rather, give up getting high for truly getting happy–a far more lasting state of well-being awaits.
One of the most infuriating things about realising that you have been involved with someone where there were issues or red flags is feeling like you dropped the ball. Perhaps you wonder how someone who may have one or several degrees, run a successful business, be doing very well on their chosen career path, or be a good judge of character with ‘other people’ can be caught out by ‘love’.
You may think to yourself, ‘There’s no way in hell I’d put up with this crap from friends, family, or colleagues!’ and then muse that relationships and love are ‘different’. Or, you think ‘I’m in charge of people at work and so organised and in control of other areas of my life – why the hell can’t I get it together with my private life?’ Maybe you muse that it is because it is love and that is why it feels uncontrollable.
Here’s the thing; Being intelligent is not the same as emotional intelligence or even being relationship smart. The fact that you are intelligent only means something to the context of a relationship if you actually apply some of these skills to your relationships.
The reason why the disconnect may exist between general intelligence and relationships is because we make up different rules for relationships. We think ‘love’ requires exceptions to what we would do under ordinary circumstances, and we don’t live congruently with our values across all other areas of our lives.
There are plenty of people who are very intelligent or even moderately intelligent but they don’t have common sense. If you’ve seen people who seem super clever but do the oddest things that defy logic at times – that’s how a lot of people are about their relationships. In fact, lots of people believe that love doesn’t need logic.
What you begin to realise as you shed old habits is that actually, if you do have values and boundaries, love will follow logic and not have you doing crazy stuff to maintain ‘the dream’. And I should add, it’s not just women who experience this. I spoke to a male client recently whose whole distrust of himself and women is based on the fact that he made exceptions for someone who betrayed and made a fool out of him.
“I credit myself with a lot more intelligence and yet, I discovered that she was unbelievably sneaky and it galls me. Even when I was finding out about her schemes, I wanted to see the best in her.”
So what does this guy do now? He thinks he’s taking the intelligent approach by not only being risk averse but by setting ‘little tests’ for the women to see if they will turn shady on him. Sadly, if you feel the need to set tests, you’re already in No Mans Trust Land, which isn’t that clever really as you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If tomorrow, you make an error at work, the likelihood is that you’re not going to decide to never ever do that work task again or go in the house/do the same thing. Common sense and your own sense suggests that you learn from the mistake and adapt what you did to minimise the possibility or outright avoid the mistake happening again.
Being relationship smart means that at times you’ll make mistakes and errors in judgement and you may do stuff that is counterproductive to your own relationship success, but in having a level of awareness and consciousness about yourself and your interactions, you adapt your behaviour and learn from it, rather than repeating it and hoping it’ll work itself out without you getting uncomfortable.
Being smart at anything means that you have to get uncomfortable.
What do you need to be relationship smart?
1. Self-love and a reasonable level of self-esteem.
Recognise that true unconditional love starts with yourself and you cannot love or be loved, if you don’t like and love you.
2. Boundaries – knowing your limits.
Recognise that all relationships require boundaries and that we ourselves require limits, which in itself protects us from dangerous situations.
3. Awareness of the importance of values and your beliefs.
Recognise that you need to know who you are and what you need to live authentically but you also need to be understand your beliefs because what we believe is reflected in our actions which inadvertently impacts on living with our values.
4. Communication but also a willingness to recognise that we don’t all communicate in the same way.
Recognise that while you need to be willing to communicate, that you also need to recognise when you need to tell your message differently to make it clearer.
5. Eyes and ears open – not illusions or hearing but not listening.
Recognise that there is very little that we can do in life with our eyes and ears closed – when we do, we live unconsciously sleep walking through life waking up in bad situations.
6. Action and application – willingness to get out of being stuck rather than engage in relationship insanity.
Recognise that not only do actions speak louder than words but that we must not rely on others to change for our happiness and be willing to adapt and apply ourselves.
7. Ability to emotionally connect (real intimacy) combined with empathy.
Recognise that real intimacy and real connections come with opening ourselves up emotionally, not withholding ourselves and that we also need to be able to place ourselves in others shoes, but without getting lost in them or trying to wear them.
8. Acceptance that conflicts can and will arise.
Recognise that it’s wholly unrealistic to avoid conflict as you will habitually compromise yourself and your values – NO is not a dirty word.
9. A reasonable level of trust in yourself and in others.
Recognise that you need to have a core baseline of trust and you use signals learned from listening and watching to increase or decrease trust and make assessments of the situation – that’s trusting yourself and having faith in how others will act, but adjusting when they don’t match up.
10. Respect, for others but also for yourself.
Recognise that if you don’t respect yourself you will invite disrespect but that also through remembering the importance of respect, you will accept people as they are and respect their differences, even if it signals the end.
Apply these life skills and you can change yourself and your experiences. Any questions…do drop them in the comment box or use the contact page.
When we make other people’s behaviour about us, not only are we distorting our own perspective, but we are also not seeing the wood for the trees. Often, I hear from people who have gotten all territorial about their ex’s, who are wondering, Why him/her and not me? What’s wrong with me?
Women in particular, often perceive closure as something that they are owed when the man they thought would be theirs forever has taken up residence elsewhere. Let me use a basketball analogy to illustrate this. When a player becomes an unrestricted free agent, he casually tests the market interest. He knows he would be okay to stay on his current team and they’re willing to re-sign him. He will get offers but ultimately, the team thinks they know exactly what will keep him in their jersey. When a new team in a bigger market comes along, offering not only the money what he wants, but a multi-year deal and a chance to make it past May, the home team’s offer is now chump change to him. Despite the familiarity and the relationships he’s built up on that team, loyalty is now just a word.
Closure is a pseudo chess match that a woman will lose at every single time. Moreover, a woman’s opinion of herself is often self-righteous and very forgiving. In spite of her flaws, she thinks any man, especially that man, would be honored she chose him. Let’s be transparent; the weather changes and friends become strangers passing in the night. At some point, as a woman who wants to maintain some form of dignity, you have to accept defeat gracefully.
In these situations, we tend to forget that they’ve probably been with several people so there are several people who could be wondering exactly the same thing. We can get stuck on the why about those situation-ships that didn’t come to fruition due to our feelings not being reciprocated, never mind the people we actually had something with. So, it is easy to see how we can get completely carried away with this distorted thinking if we do not take control over our ego.
For example, imagine that we are ex#1 and wondering why they were with ex#2, 3 and 4 and we are feeling jealous that they are currently with #5 and agonising over what they could possibly have that we don’t. We might even take it as an additional insult that it hasn’t worked out with #2-4 and yet they haven’t come back to us, or that we’re the rainy day option that they fall back on between relationships but then they move onto the next ‘future ex’. We’re so busy giving ourselves a hard time over these ‘amazing future’ exes and this better relationship that we feel entitled to with them, that we’re only too willing to hang around.
For all we know, those same ex’s are judging themselves against us and/or wondering what’s wrong with them. We’re acting like there’s something deeply flawed within us as if to suggest that if we’d been “good enough” or even perfect enough, that they would not have even had to dabble elsewhere – we have an I Must Get It Right First Time mentality but we’re also under the impression that it’s another person that makes a person, so if we’d been able to change them or we’d been ‘good enough’ in the first place, then there wouldn’t have been the issues that we’re now conveniently forgetting.
Wondering why people choose someone else makes everything about us, when not everything is about us. It is like assuming that an ex is forever using us as a benchmark on which to make all of their dating and relationship decisions. We are only imagining that our involvement with them is at the forefront of their mind because we are likely still stuck on the hurt and perceived rejection that we’ve been beating ourselves with ever since. In fact, it is us benchmarking us.
Imagine that we’re ex#7 – if we’re feeling this way, how are 1-6 supposed to feel? Less than worthless? How many ex’s past us would it take to realise that it’s not about us? #9, #15, #20? What would it be? How much ‘proof’ do we need? Whilst we are wondering, ‘Why them and not me?’, does this mean that all of our exes should be losing sleep over each other?
People say to me, ‘What’s wrong with me? He/she broke up with me X amount of years ago and has been married X times since. I don’t get it. They didn’t want to marry me.’ HE-LLO! They’ve been married however many times since! How much does our ego really need to say that we were one of the people that someone chose to get married to? The fantasy that she should, would, and could have been the exception to the rule is just that; a fantasy. Another wondered why her shady boyfriend played around behind her back (because he’s shady) instead of staying with her (because he’s shady) and felt tortured that he was off living some imagined fairy tale with that same woman.
Sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ex. Sometimes we forget that not everything is about us. We’re too busy convincing ourselves that others are the embodiment of all that’s ‘better’ than that which we convince ourselves that we’re not, that we also forget that we can do better. I’m pretty sure that every woman has been a practice girlfriend. You let a guy, that you were attracted to and saw yourself with long-term, take up substantial time in your life. All the while he was slowly moulding himself to be the perfect catch for someone else. Eventually, the man has moved on and is trying to do everything right that he didn’t do for you with this new woman.
Any breakup that wasn’t expected and/or mutual is going to hurt. It is a jarring blow to your entire system of emotions when you find out that the same guy who wasn’t ready to settle down/just wanted let things happen is enamored with a new woman. You have to find it within you to realise that a) maybe the timing wasn’t right or maybe b) she has something you don’t and he likes it. What that “it” she possesses is isn’t your concern. Personally, I do not think that guys owe women closure. Closure is a little band-aid created by women as means to soften the blow of rejection. The moment you can get to the point where your ability to pick up the pieces and move forward doesn’t depend on someone giving the whys and hows of a love deferred, you will realise that this little closure thing doesn’t have the power to heal it; you do. Sometimes, we need to see past our nose to recognise what we’re being spared from – blessings in disguise
Picture this, Rhodes, Greece, 2015: It is a few months before I would have the epiphany that would cause me to change my life and before I would start writing this blog in earnest. I am on holiday with my sister and we are looking for a club to go to after spending time in a bar owned by Rhodes’ answer to Rik Mayall and giggling hysterically at two guys wearing matching trainers that made them look like they were wearing flippers. Anyway, I digress.
We walk through the narrow streets, following the beat of the music escaping from various doorways each time the door is opened. After checking out a few places, we stop at a club with a plasma screen outside that was playing what we thought was live footage of the packed club inside. The guy on the door was was doing a hard sell. To be fair, the footage was pretty compelling and he promised an amazing deal for us. So you can probably guess what happened next; we got inside to discover that we were two of about six people in the whole club. We were fuming!
Back to the present day, I see parallels between the whole inviting footage/plasma-TV-outside-a-club scenario and dating/relationships. When we’ve just met someone and we are in the early stages of dating or we are setting out in our new relationship, we may get what we think is a dazzling preview of the amazingness to come. They are so full-on and busy painting this picture of being The Perfect Potential Boyfriend/Girlfriend TM or The Perfect Potential Spouse, that we reason that this is what we can expect from them in the future.
When days (yes, really), weeks or months pass and they do a complete u-turn on who they presented as or what they promised, we are baffled, wounded and left thinking that we just need to get things to go back to how they were in the beginning. This Future Faking (building up and faking a future so they can get what they want in the present) and Fast Forwarding (being emotionally, physically etc., intense to speed you through the early stages of dating), messes with our heads.
The people pleaser in us cannot help but blame it on us having done something to scare them away as if character and intentions leave a person as quickly as they can drop their drawers to the ground. We then try to overcompensate for what will undoubtedly be becoming an unfulfilling partnering and feel as if we’re getting increasingly diminishing returns in a relationship where it used to be so ‘easy’.
The whole experience can erode our confidence and cause us to be reluctant about subsequent involvements and prone to settling for less than what we need. We may reason that if we go low in terms of expectation, then that is safer than going ‘high’ and getting disappointed. However, you’d be amazed how lowering our expectations into crumb territory can not only be disappointing, but that it can wound us even more. How much lower do I have to go to get some love up in here?
Expectations are beliefs about what we think will and should happen. We may believe that we have experience of the person meeting our expectations, so we don’t understand why they can’t go back to how it was ‘back then’. The thing is, they weren’t meeting our expectations in the beginning. It was a brand new involvement where we did not know them. They didn’t change; you just got to know them.
In some cases, it’s not they changed, but more that we got to know them a teeny bit more and that they were in very real danger of us seeing past the bluff. In the early days, they could pretty much tell us anything and as long as it was positive and fitted with our picture of how things should and could be, we’d go along with it.
They also go so hard at trying to woo us and win us over that instead of wondering about why things were happening so fast, we allow ourselves to create this unrealistic expectation that someone could blow in on the wind and make a bunch of inferences and promises without having really got to know us and that they would deliver on it.
And that is why we feel so wounded because ‘in the beginning’, they didn’t know us so ipso facto, it must be ‘knowing’ us that caused them to do a u-turn. However, like the guy outside the club with the plasma screen of dated footage (that probably didn’t even take place in his own club) doing a hard sell on getting us in there, isn’t it time that we acknowledge that actually, it is a fundamental lack of integrity and maturity Moreover, we can give permission to ourselves to ask more questions or to quite simply know our pace and what we want so that we can’t be bulldozed by someone into going at a pace that doesn’t match our values.
Dodgy club guy knew that he was pulling a fast one.
And, I hate to break it to you, but people who go all super intense on you at the beginning and try to speed through the getting to know, have form for their behaviour. It’s not the first time they’ve behaved this way and they’re stuck in their own getting high on romance Groundhog Day whilst avoiding the intimacy of taking one’s time.
You also have to acknowledge a fundamental truth: that you don’t like what you got to know or that it is not what you want(ed). Sure, you can take responsibility for allowing you to get swept up in their whirlwind and you can acknowledge anything that influenced those choices, but what you must stop doing is blaming something you supposedly said or did on their lack of integrity and maturity.
Even if we had asked whether the footage that was being shown on the screen was live, it wouldn’t change the fact that a con was being pulled in the first place. When you find yourself wondering why they changed from being that great person, remember this: they didn’t change, they just showed you who they really are.
During my extended period of singledom, I have dated and been in ‘relationships’ that were really total shambles and considered a relationship based on the time that passed in nothingness and ambiguity, not through the actual building of anything. It took writing about my experiences, reading through them and noting the patterns to put the stops in place and make a conscious decision to stop engaging in the unavailable bullsh*t and either be single and happy, or with a guy that is available and be happy. I chose the later.
The first thing that should be cleared up is that nice guys are not waiting for you to come along so that they can roll over, declare their undying love for you, and pander to your every whim. They’re men, which means that it’s likely that they can be a pain in the proverbial, but the type of annoying things that they do are very different to your average Mr Unavailable or out-and-out Bad Boy.
Nice Guys get a bad rap because sometimes, we have got it into our head that there is something far more fulfilling to be had with a man that isn’t very good at fulfilling us. We often forget that if we’re expecting things to be out of the fairy tales or the movies, the bad guy doesn’t get the girl, the nice one does.
A nice guy will strive as often as possible to say what he means and mean what he says. Yes there may be times where he messes up as the communication between the sexes does tend to go awry. However a ‘Nice Guy’, if he likes you will make an effort to try. He will call you, and not because he’s looking for a filler for his evening but because being with you makes his whole evening, or makes his whole week in fact.
They tend to make sure that the path is free and clear for you both to tread on instead of attempting to juggle you with another woman. Even if he happens to be in a relationship when you meet him, because he has morals, because he is attempting to start out on the right footing, he will put an end to the other relationship pronto and without you threatening all sorts of outcomes.
Nice Guys don’t come out with BS like, ”I’d love to be with you, but you know my situation’. In fact, the dreaded word ‘situation’ doesn’t feature because he doesn’t make things difficult for himself. Some Nice Guys are open about their feelings, they show their keenness, and ambiguity is a foreign word with them….and this scares away women. This is seen as being super-keen or weird because for some idiotic reason, some think that the way to show interest to a woman is to either be vague about it or not show any at all.
There are lots of different people out there which means that you get extroverts and introverts, nice guys and erm, the rest. Nice Guys are exciting but ‘excitement’ to a lot of women means that the guy treats them mean and keeps them keen, maybe he lives life on the edge a little, bit irresponsible, needs fixing, and they think he needs nurturing to change his errant behaviour.
Nice Guys take their pleasures from enjoying the good things in life but not at the expense of someone who they profess to care about, and they ultimately don’t feel comfortable with having no regard for someone else’s feelings. When they do hurt someone’s feelings, they genuinely feel bad about it because they’re in touch with their feelings and not just thinking about what suits them.
I must admit, I have loved being single and I was scared of what it would be like to be in a relationship because I do enjoy my me-time. I have a full on career with many interweaving branches to it, that is not only my passion but keeps me busy; I have my groups, my writing and developing my sites, plus a busy social life with various circles of friends, plus my other interests, layer all of this with a happy ability to be on my own for lengthy periods of time. I’ve done what I want, when I want and the only person I have had to be accountable for is myself. I spread out in the bed, sometimes leave the tidying to build up a little, snicker at trashy TV, plus I have my blankets to snuggle into on the sofa. I sometimes lay around in knickers and a t-shirt watching TV and I shop to my hearts content and don’t have to lie about the cost of things to anyone.
I have been very antsy about relinquishing my freedom and time. I have laid in bed on a Saturday with a past squeeze and felt anxiety grip me as I worried about when I was going to go to the gym, do the groceries and update my blog. Like a number of single people I know, I would be practically rushing someone out the door so I could regain my space equilibrium.
It’s weird because I acknowledge that for the first time in a long time, I am very comfortable and have very little anxiety. Normally there is an undercurrent, which means that no matter how much of a laugh that I had with a past squeeze, underneath it there was the irritability and anxiety caused by a secret knowledge that the whole thing wasn’t right for me. They were never part of my life and just fixtures that I squeezed in on an ad hoc basis. After a while, I got bored and had to acknowledge that it was my own fault that I had even been in these situations in the first place.
As humans we can be very territorial over people, objects, ideas, dreams, and often over ourselves. When we don’t want to let someone in, we just won’t and our actions become our self protection. We fight for our perceived space, our perceived life and values and wonder why we still don’t feel right. Sometimes you have to wonder are we fighting them, or ourselves?
It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes someone so different and makes it worth crossing the vast divide into coupledom, but being in the presence of someone who takes a genuine interest, isn’t trying to just get their leg over and have something casual, and who is emotionally available has a hell of a lot to do with it. I suspect that in the past I may not have recognised or appreciated these qualities in a guy, and gone for the edgier absentee. A nice guy can provide an edge to make you sit up and pay attention.
Ultimately what really determines a nice guy is that the woman isn’t spending the relationship feeling insecure about the status of the relationship, where he is, what he’s doing when she’s not about, and she doesn’t feel that sense of unease and lack of self-worth that’s associated with dating Mr Unavailables and Bad Boys. It’s definitely a better experience.
Note to all: Don’t forget where you came from, you may have to go there some time.
Apologies for the radio silence. I’ve spent the past week taking a much needed break by the sea. Pure heaven. In the peace and quiet of a small Cornish bay, I’ve found myself thinking about my next post, reading and thinking about addictions and getting clean. Any 12 step programme or treatment facility will tell you that any re-engagement with an addictive substance, by a recovering addict, will cause an automatic re-addiction. The same applies to an addiction to love or to a specific person.
High risk relationships, like one in which you are repeatedly crashing and soaring, (breaking up and getting back together) affect the same parts of the brain as a drug addiction. Mashek (2010) concluded that the similarities between addictive substances and love-sex based attachments rely upon the same psychological, chemical and neuroanatomical substrates. The goal for recovering addicts is a cessation of usage of the addictive substance, similarly when one is trying to break free from an emotional manipulator, you need to approach it the same way.
When you need to step back from an unhealthy relationship and employ No Contact (NC) after the breakup, irrational fears and beliefs can often provide the trigger for you to either break NC or decide that there’s no point in starting it at all. I hear from many clients who have been going back and forth with an ex; some for a few months… and others for a few decades. Variations of the irrational fears and beliefs highlighted below keep them on the disappointment cycle. It is only once you stop treating the irrational as rational and recognise where you may be opening yourself up to more pain and keeping further away from a healthy relationship, that you can finally stop the torture and begin to use boundaries for self-care and breaking the pattern.
1. If I cut contact, it will make them realise what they’ve lost.
If they have to lose you to value you, the relationship isn’t going to work no matter which way you slice it. You should not have to be like the umbrella that someone keeps misplacing for this person to notice the absence of you from their life.
When you cut contact in an attempt to what essentially boils down to coercing him/her into the position that you want, it’s an attempt to mess with supply and demand. If you cut contact in order to make him/her want you more, you’re believing that the way to prevent your relationship from ending is to end it, although this means that you then have to keep ending it or at least threatening to, in order to generate the demand. Exhausting work. It’s also important to point out that unavailable people respond to loss of control by chasing you…and get back in control by pulling back and managing down your expectations or exiting.
The lesson: Breaking up whether it’s done via the traditional route or you have to do NC, is to end a relationship. Don’t use it as a means of attempting to force people to do what you want.
2. If I’m eliciting responses / crumbs of attention it means that they’re thinking about me.
This is how you end up chasing them crumbs and being chained to your phone checking for texts and emails. People who require NC often engage in this low-level contact and dribbling crumbs of attention with about as much effort as ordering a pizza. They’re very of the moment and what you actually need for a loving relationship is for the other party to show that they want you by being in a relationship with you and treating you with love, care and respect.
The lesson: Having a full-on relationship instead of trying to stay in someone’s mind is always the better option, something you’re not going to discover in a new relationship if you keep chasing crumbs. Also there are better ways to be remembered than emails and texts – someone doesn’t have to forget about you if they’re in the relationship with you.
3. Cutting them off will make them change or trigger remorse, which will in turn make them give me the relationship I want / that they promised me.
It might make them give it to you for a short period of time, but it’s important to remember that the type of person that requires NC equates desiring you with feeling out of control of you. Next thing you know, you’re getting hearts, flowers, and violins and a sudden change in behaviour and think, Oh, they really get my pain this time…, and you get back together and then shazam, it’s a matter of hours, days, or weeks before the rot starts to set in again. NC is to end a relationship not to force someone into giving what people in even moderately healthy relationships give without coercion.
The lesson: If the only way that you think that you can get them to feel remorse or change is to end it, this relationship is not worthy of your time. They are not a child. Stop trying to raise an adult from the ground up!
4. Once I feel a bit better, we can be friends again.
This ‘ole chestnut is the fastest way to send one of those lazy texts or emails to reach out, only to find yourself being burned again. How much better you feel is subjective. The idea of grieving a relationship is not to make way for their friendship, it is for you to make way for you so that you can move on. Far too much emphasis is put on finding a way to be friends again. Friendship is organic! If you’re going to be friends, it will happen without being forced and when you’re both back in neutral territory. That said, if there are very shady reasons for why you have to cut them off in the first place, I wouldn’t exactly be breaking your neck to be friends.
Be your own friend first. Focus on you. If you try to be friends before you are enough of the way along in the healing process to be too impacted if they don’t behave as you’d like, you will reopen your wound. If you’ve got friendship on your mind, it’s likely a sign that you need to refocus your energy.
The lesson: Friendship is what happens, 1) when you’re over them and 2) they have shown themselves to be friendship worthy, neither of which the object of NC is at this time.
5. They don’t realise how much I was affected and how inappropriate their behaviour was/is.
Yes they do. They might claim not to realise it consciously, but the fact is that only someone who is incredibly emotionally immature and a responsibility dodger, would have no clue about how, 1) inappropriate their behaviour was / is or, 2) how affected you are. If you genuinely believe that they don’t recognise this, you have no business trying to have an adult relationship with them.
We cannot bumble through life as if our actions have no impact on others. Transacting from your Adult ego state means being aware and acting with integrity, empathy, compassion, responsibility, and accountability. Let me assure you that if you mistreated them, you’d soon know all about it! They know. Stop treating them like a child.
If they can’t empathise without you dragging them to it like a horse to water, you can’t have a relationship with this person.
NC is the way of communicating that the relationship is over and that their behaviour has affected you, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to do anything with the realisation. If you’re making excuses for someone, then you’re absolving them of responsibility. This will deal a fatal blow to any ideas that you have for a healthy relationship with them.
Ghosting is when someone breaks up with you by effectively disappearing off the face of the Earth. They don’t text, they don’t call and they don’t answer their door when you drunkenly hammer at it at 3am. The ghost does not give an explanation of any sort, leaving the ghosted wondering where he or she went wrong. My word, how cruel! This phenomenon isn’t new, of course daters in the good old days sat by their curly-corded phones waiting for their ghosts to call and assumed that call must have come when he or she was out of the house.
When we need to break up with someone, there’s a temptation when faced with the prospect of acknowledging a partner’s position and how we might be impacting them, to just dodge the conversation altogether. Some people feel this way but face it anyway. Some people drop hints in the hopes that by hinting at issues or behaving badly, that the other person will do their dirty work. And some people disappear or what is commonly referred to as ‘ghosting’.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard from an increasing number of people who referred to ‘ghosting’ or being ‘ghosted’ and it’s important to get something clarified right off the bat: Ghosting is not a form of breaking up nor is it the same as No Contact. Ghosting is disappearing. Breaking up is when a person ends the relationship and No Contact is for after a breakup when it becomes apparent that healthy boundaries are not possible and that remaining in contact is destroying sense of self and the ability to process the loss and move forward. Disappearing isn’t exactly a display of courage and is most likely to be done by someone who is not that emotionally mature or emotionally available.
It is uncomfortable to let someone down, to admit that this isn’t what we want anymore or that our feelings have changed. It is also necessary. People who ‘ghost’ learn nothing because they edit and erase themselves out of relationships without confronting anything. It is not even necessarily about doing things from a ‘bad’ place (although there are some incredibly shady people who employ ‘ghosting’ so that they never face consequences and instead press the reset button); it is about doing things from a place where fear, cowardice or excessive concern about how we look or our discomfort trumps integrity and compassion very time.
Many ghosts reason that they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the ghosted. Really? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that whilst feelings get hurt in a breakup, disappearing sucks. What a ghoster fails to acknowledge is that they cut and run because they don’t want to hurt their own feelings. They end up throwing their partner under a proverbial bus so that they can box away their feelings and draw a line under things on their terms.
It’s about control, as in attempting to feel in control of the situation in their head rather than having to deal with an unpredictable foreign object like another human who they’ve made plans, promises, exchanged bodily fluids with, and inferred all manner of things via the interaction. They’re in control of the story because disappearing means that the ghosted does not get the chance to talk back with their version of events. Additionally, it means that they don’t have to be interacted with. I couldn’t help but analyse this phenomenon further and I noted the following about ghosters:
- They tell you what they think you want to hear, which in their world means “Don’t tell me anything bad”, forgetting that you’ll take the truth over the lie or disappearing, any day.
- They keep things to themselves and store it up, all while giving you their show face and then next thing, boom–they’re gone. In their head, the ‘issues’ have been going on for a long time and couldn’t be resolved, but you found out at the end and didn’t get a chance to resolve.
- They might set tests that you don’t even know you’re taking. e.g. I’ll know I should stay if they _______ today or they say _____. If they ________, then that seals it for me. I’m off. If you pass, they set another test.
- They have negative associations with conflict and criticism and so either don’t argue or discuss, or they do but it’s limited because they’re not in the present.
- They often reason that not talking about feelings or what’s bothering them means that no feelings are being hurt in the running or breakage of a relationship.
- They often have someone else lined up. It might just be interest, it might be an ex, it might be an emotional affair, or it might be a full-blown one but they’re the type who don’t leave unless they think (or know) that they have somewhere else to go to.
- They might gas-light you. Whether it’s unintentionally (and they’re on thin ice there) or deliberately, the net result is the same: because they dismiss your concerns, tell you everything is OK, say one thing, do another, and even make out as if you’re being a drama queen/king and you don’t know your up from your down. Hell, some will even sleep with you before they check out of your life.
If you’ve been ghosted, what I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty is that it’s not about you or that you did something to deserve such treatment. It is not about whether you’re “good enough”. It is about that person’s own journey with conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment. No, it isn’t nice what they’ve done and yes, the decent thing would be to give an explanation, but their inadequate style of ending a relationship doesn’t reflect an inadequacy within you. The one who is in danger of seeing right through the facade of a ghoster (who does not want to see themselves) is the one who will get the disappearing act.
Many people wear masks. Courtesy demands that others treat us with integrity, honesty and merit; enough to overcome personal fear and insecurity. The least anyone deserves is information. The problem with a ghoster is that they have become so good at hiding their feelings and opinions from others and putting up a front that they’ve forgotten the lie is a lie. You may or may not have been aware of their mask (hindsight gives 20:20 vision) but disappearing means that for you, you have to drop the mask from the picture that you hold of them. They haven’t gotten off scot-free. You can run but you can’t hide from your feelings and life will find a way to bring the disappearing acts into the light for resolution.
Don’t disappear on yourself in your haste to blame you. The lesson here, if there is one might be to perhaps observe and listen to your intuition. To be vigilant without being wary requires delicate balance, an equilibrium developed over years of listening to the self in wordlessness. Honing a sense of the self enables us to sense a true or false connection and attunes to the presence of another sentient being yet unknown. This charged awareness and clarity allows us to assess safety or danger. Buddha proclaimed it beautifully. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimised in the mindful. And happiness is freedom from delusion; when we open ourselves to all that can be known. Even ghosters can teach us something about ourselves.
Academic blog post alert. Today, I decided to focus on emergent themes within my clinical practice. Why? Over the past year or so, I have begun to experience in sessions, a very profound sense of bodily sensation, which were not the kind to which I was accustomed. Like any counter transference, bodily ones are intriguing and led me to thinking about what was going on. Why was I having these powerful physical feelings during certain bits of the sessions or with certain clients?
Where do I begin with such an ineffaceable “thing”? As I have been noticing myself noticing, I feel that my own body has become quite well plotted. It is well plotted in the sense that it doesn’t feel chaotic and unreliable, it feels its vibrancies, its fatigues and its joys. I have an internal image and a physical, somatic sense of my own body’s feelings and the kinds of things that I might take up in relation to another at a physical level. I think that this has been as a result of experiencing some really strange things in the countertransference where temporarily, my body has been eclipsed or invaded by the bodily symptoms of another (or my response to their symptoms ). What meaning could I make of this in relation to transformations not only within my work but also within wider culture and society?
Post modernist thinking allows for transformations of the self with a growing ease. We can change our gender; we can change our body shapes; we do things to our ears and our hair but yet, does this really change who you are? A critique I have of post modernist thinking is the performative notion of, ‘and this is how you make yourself‘. This does not ring true to me as a psychotherapist because I deal with people on a daily basis, who have tried the ‘paint by numbers’ personality adaptation method and it has not worked. It neither fits nor reaches those places where you need to experience yourself as a human.
One has the right to choose and make choices. So far so good. Notions of performativity and parody are seen as if one can go buy something new or decide to think something new and this will recreate oneself. As an analyst, I know that the unconscious is very powerful and that the unconscious has nothing to do with choice. If the self, or if the body can exist in a kind of psychosomatic ‘OK-ness’, then choice becomes play and that is lovely! For most of my work, what I listen to, what I engage with and the people that I meet are very far from being able to play. They are often stuck in rigid patterns of dissatisfaction and when they try on different identities, whether at the body level or the soul level (depending on how you wish to think about it) can fail to be sustainable. Therefore, they become defence structures and equally unsatisfactory. I think we have to move away from those wonderful and lovely descriptions in post modernism because clinical practice drives us towards something else. I do not mean a ‘true self’ or a ‘true body’ but rather a drive towards the association of parts of the self with parts of the body that can be sustainable.
When you think about the ways in which, and the lengths to which people are willing to go to change themselves, you begin to see a cultural identification with a body that is deeply troubled. We live in an age now where transformation is not problematised because it has been happening for the younger generations since the photoshopping of their baby photos! They have a really curious notion of what this thing called the body is. It is something that they need to make, it is a product and a form of production that you work on. The body has become vulnerable to being used as something other than a place from which you live. Why the body?
Well, for a start it is really good for commerce. As the stock markets collapse, there are huge profits to be made from selling body hatred and its supposed solutions. The body used to have a manual work function that was part of life, and that really has disappeared for most people in the Western world. Another idea is that if you have the individual as a sight of consumption, then the individual body becomes a series of surfaces that can become really exquisite areas for transformation, for selling to, for changing and for perfecting. The way in which the body has become a product is terrifying. We live in an age of digital culture and body images have become iconography and becomes the external representation of what it means to be human. People have now brought into the notion that if they can change their bodies, then they can change their lives…and they will be OK.
I began to wonder if as a psychotherapist, it is my responsibility to help the culture and to help my clients to get more with the depressive position? ( to use Kleinian nomenclature). I’d say that the insights that the therapy community has do have something to offer to the wider culture and it is important to me that we begin to help people to understand the fantasy of perfection or of the transformative that operates to not allow one to be in the present. The true concept of OK-ness comes from the ability to manage and to tolerate a multiplicity of emotions – distress, disappointment, sadness as well as pleasure.
We need to help the culture evolve from narcissistic injury, evolve out of the sense of ordinary pain or extraordinary pain and show that longing and desire are as much a part of the human condition as this growing need to be perfect. The imperfections are what make us human and the denial of those is what strips us of the capacity to be human.
The fantasy of ‘complete fulfilment’ from a perfect body is dangerously what the marketplace plays on; our fears. If you’ve got to the ‘depressive position’ and can feel the self, then you can enjoy the marketplace without it being the thing that becomes a substitute in the search for who you are and takes the focus away from, ‘if I can change me, then you will love me’ thinking. Although there has been a widening of the notion of the beautiful body, there has been a narrowing of the ideal of beauty.
Right up until I had my epiphany a few years ago about unavailable relationships (AND my own unavailability), I was convinced that I just might have a special skill that made available men unavailable. I would get involved with someone, who I usually didn’t even like that much at the outset. They would be blowing seriously hot and then ‘something about me’ would make them become unavailable and start blowing lukewarm or cold. I believed that they were great guys offering great relationships and that if it weren’t for my flaws, they’d still be the same guys I’d assumed they were and offering the same relationships that I’d assumed or been led to believe that they were offering. And then I got wiser.
If you’ve ever been in an unavailable relationship, you’re likely as familiar with blowing hot and cold as you are with your own reflection. It goes from super intense and gradually or sometimes very sharply cools down. So what else should you look out for?
- They’re not as eager and in pursuit as they were before. In fact, you’re the one doing the chasing now.
- Suddenly you’re hearing excuses including about how busy they are. Whereas you used to hear from the all the time, now there are increasing gaps.
- They seem less attentive and you feel like a pest when you get in touch.
- They’ve disappeared with excuses and come back in a rather feeble capacity that you’re now trying to breathe life into.
- They get snippy with you when you remind them of things that they’ve said and even promised you.
- It feels like you’re on your own with your feelings.
- You can feel them pulling away, possibly because the feeling is familiar.
- You’ve actually got used to breezing in for an intense ‘set’ and then them breezing out again for a while, often without hearing from them and suspecting or even knowing that there involved with others, but being OK with being their ‘appointment’.
- This might be a well honed routine. When they pull away and you stop chasing them, they chase you back and then when you respond, they pull away. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Blowing hot and cold is never a good sign. You can never trust in this person enough to know what to expect from them. Your relationship will not be able to have balance and it can’t progress because they keep undermining it. If they are inconsistent (and if you stay around too long), they become consistent at being inconsistent and train you to expect less from them. As a result of all of these things, you cannot expect true intimacy or commitment.
There’s no point in being with someone who blows hot and cold because it’s not a mutual relationship. It is all on their terms, and you can never really know where you stand because they persist in undermining you and the relationship. This is unhealthy and demeaning. The person who blows hot and cold thrives on control and equates feeling out of control with desire. They value what they don’t have and ‘newness’, so you’re on borrowed time.
When you won’t give them the time of day or they don’t know if you’re interested or they don’t know if you’re ‘buying’ what they’re ‘selling’ (read: a relationship and a person that’s not actually available), the lack of control makes you very desirable. They get curious. You will know this feeling well if you’re the type of person that only thinks that love is valuable when it comes from a reluctant or defunct source.
This lack of control causes them to overestimate their interest and their capacity for a relationship and they do this by Future Faking and Fast Forwarding you through the early stages of the relationship. The promises, the thinly veiled hints about things they see you both doing in the future and the intensity, blinds you to paying attention to red flags and sweeps you off your feet. When you come back to earth, whether it’s gradually or sharply, it hurts. It can make you feel very insecure because you wonder what you ‘did’ to ‘change’ them. The fact of the matter is; they haven’t changed, they simply unfolded. In turn, if you blame it on you instead of seeing their shady behaviour for what it is, you’ll start campaigning for ‘reinstatement’ and for the ‘win’.
If you don’t register the inconsistency and you hang around, the blowing hot and cold will disrupt and confuse you, and actually, you’ll become desensitised to getting crumbs and may actually think you’re getting a loaf when you’re actually on a crumb diet. You may start to wonder, “Am I not beautiful / sexy / good enough / interesting anymore? ” You may wonder why they disappeared and chase them or hope for their return, when in actual fact, they’ve made a sharp cowardly exit before you see that there is an emperor’s new clothes situation going down.
This sequence of events is like when someone runs the hot tap and then you get cold, then lukewarm, and then hot, then cold, then hot and so forth. Often, hot feels much hotter than what it actually is because you’ve been put through the lower temperatures.
Blowing lukewarm or cold should be a wake-up call if not the exit bell ringing. At the very least, it is a sign that you need to step back, stop, look, listen and evaluate what the hell is going on. It’s question asking time (if the situation calls for it), but it’s highly likely to signal an exit. The moment that you allow someone to be inconsistent, you are allowing your expectations to be managed down.
It can be very tempting to play in the Hot & Cold Casino and keep betting on potential but it’s a false economy that will eat away at your soul. Once you end up playing this game and realising that cutting them off, threatening to end it, mentioning that you’re seeing others etc makes them step up, albeit only for a short time until they realise that you’re back under their control, you’re trying to mess with supply and demand. What are you going to do? Keep doing these things in order to get attention from them? It’s only a matter of time until they recognise the pattern and then they will even become half-hearted in chasing after you. They realise you’re not really that serious.
Blowing hot and cold is ambivalent, ambiguous, inconsistent, contradictory, unreliable, unstable and yes, at times, assclownary. Not one of these things are remotely attractive or ‘exciting’ – they’re eject button worthy. It takes a thoughtless and/or rather self-involved individual to actually think that not only can they do this, but that they can essentially pull the same con on you numerous times without being noticed. They may even deny it if they’re that deluded.
If you cannot forge a mutually fulfilling relationship with someone who blows hot and cold, then why waste your time? It’s not because you’re not good enough and it’s certainly not because they need to retreat from the relationship to renew their desire. It is because they’re unavailable, controlling and not worth pursuing. To make it about you, is to suggest that people treat others poorly and ‘change’ their characters because they’re ‘provoked’ by the inadequacies of others. Not true. They’re either in or they’re out. They’re either on or they’re off. There comes a time in every hot and cold player’s life where it is time to pick a side.
Imagine an existence with…
No disappointment.No uncomfortable feelings.
Permanent fluffy clouds, joy, and cuddles.
Complete control of everything.
For some, what I’ve just described would be a perfect existence. However, if you want a life without all of these things, it doesn’t exist… unless you’re in a fantasy relationship. To be fair, this doesn’t exist either.
The reality is that the very things that you desire in a fantasy relationship, whether consciously or unconsciously, mean this:
No responsibility —> No achievement, no stake in anything whether good, bad or indifferent.
No accountability —> No ownership, no honest account of your own experiences and no growth.
No conflict —> No voice, no resolution, no judgement of the situation and making your own decisions.
No problems —> No opportunities, no differentiation, no stretching, no opportunity to deal with a problem and no pride in being a part of the solution.
No rejection —> No acceptance, no limits, no deciding that which you say YES and NO to.
No mistakes —> No feedback, no learning and no awareness.
No risk —> No stretching, no gains, no pushing, no ambition, no trust, no common sense, no managed risks through intelligence, awareness, observation and action.
No failure —> No success and no joy.
No fear —> No drive, no ambition, no healthy fear, no vulnerability and no new experiences.
No ‘abandonment’ —> No personal security or security with another discovered through mutual trust, no strength, no thriving and surviving, no being in control of whether you stay or leave.
No disappointment —> No surprises, including the very pleasant and wonderful ones.
No uncomfortable feelings –> this would be like having static, flatlining feelings.
Permanent fluffy clouds, joy, and cuddles —> No contrast, no seasons and no down time to rise up again.
Complete control of everything —> No one else has responsibility, accountability or even free will. It would just be you at the controls and dials. Yep…it would all be on you.
This right here is what fantasy relationships and fantasising are all about – avoidance. The thing is that you end up avoiding life itself, which means that you miss out on the wonderful aspects of life that come along with being present and accountable.
You may not even recognise that you’re in a fantasy relationship. However, if you tend to build sandcastles in the sky, cloak yourself in illusion and are very comfortable living off a diet of denial, rationalising, minimising and excuses, you’re at the very least dabbling, if not knee deep in spending too much time out of reality.
In truth, you’re pursuing perfection and the relationship you claim to want, out of crumbs. Nirvana for you may equal getting love against the odds in that you’re putting a dodgy relationship through the fantasy oven and pulling out what you want – the fantasy.
Whatever type of relationship you’re in, as an individual you have to be responsible, accountable, deal with mistakes and conflict. You can’t cherry pick a rosy life, although you can lessen things like rejection and the impact of it, plus the results of unhealthy relationships by ensuring that you hold your own.
You may recognise that there are things that you really want, but you’d rather skip over the possibility of conflict, mistakes or rejection rather than ask for what you need. What we all fail to remember sometimes is that conflict is unavoidable (even when we compromise ourselves to keep the peace), mistakes are unavoidable and yes, you might have to face rejection at some point.
If you’re not out there in the first place, how will you know what you stand to miss or gain? Yes, you have been hurt before, but it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to pursue the same route or set out a new route. You could be out there with your eyes and ears open with your boundaries, values and awareness of when to fold packed into your ‘life kit’. You get to choose. You can be in control of what you want to be part of and this can’t happen if you’re immersed in LaLa Land.
It is a fantasy to persist in believing that you can scrape around on the fringes of life avoiding anything that represents the more uncomfortable aspects of life. It’s also a fantasy to persist in pursuing a relationship that you know represents unhealthy in the hopes that by putting it all on you to be the match that spontaneously combusts them into someone else, that they’ll change. It’s also a fantasy to go with variations of the same type of person, convincing yourself that ‘this’ is better than the last person and that you can ‘handle it’.
All this fantasising gives the illusion of feeling and being certain things. However, by not participating in and nourishing your life, you’re creating problems and pain for yourself as a consequence of choices directly related to your fantasising and refusal to take action in reality, which in itself is self rejection.
Recently, I went to a meditation workshop and the teacher explained how mindfulness is about not trying to anticipate what’s next and not worrying about what might happen or is not happening. This makes sense to me because people in fantasy relationships can’t handle the ‘now’ that represents reality.
What are you so afraid of facing? What are you so desperate to avoid in real life that you’d mentally check yourself into an unavailable relationship that gives you enough free time to fill up your imagination with the relationship you’re not getting in the real world?
Interestingly, when you go to the trouble of avoiding reality, you have the illusion of being in with a chance of winning the long-shot relationship. The very real problems that happen in your life are not caused by reality, they’re caused by the effect of you acting in sync with your fantasising, which can have you engaging in some very self-destructive behaviour. Think about it: Which one is causing you more problems, pursuing the fantasy or the reality that you’re going to painstaking lengths to avoid but is continuing to happen anyway?
It’s time to re-engage with yourself and your life. Don’t fear it – grab it, face it, grieve it, deal with what has brought you to this juncture because something has. Aside from taking steps to distance yourself from anything or anyone that acts as a ‘prop’ to your fantasising and where needed, seeking professional help, what you should invest in is spending some time learning how to deal with the very things that you avoid.
Let It Go. This will allow you to focus your energies positively on you instead of fighting so hard for something that doesn’t exist. Distance brings objectivity, which goes hand in hand with reality.