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.
Imagine that you are driving a car. After the initial acceleration, you still have to drive it steadily in order to go anywhere and have a quality journey. Sometimes you have to put your foot down on the accelerator; sometimes you have to gently apply pressure to the brakes and sometimes you have to slam down on them. This is the same as holding your own in relationships.
The only position for you in a relationship is to arrive as an equal party and remain equal. You can only do this if you know yourself and don’t think that being yourself, having boundaries and saying NO is a danger to you having a relationship.
I make this point particularly for women. Many of us ‘arrive’ talking the talk of holding our own and then in a blink of an eye, it’s gone or we don’t walk the walk but keep up the talk. We’re putting our lives on hold to wait around for someone that asked for our number to call, relegating friends, family and even work into the background, open 24/7 like a Tesco superstore or 7Eleven and may think it is totally normal to explain and reexplain disrespect.
Your value, your values, boundaries, sense of self and self esteem are not a ‘game’ or only there to serve the purpose of getting someone through the door. If your sense of self and self-esteem go into a decline or are abandoned as soon as you attach yourself to someone or get a sniff of interest, it’s like taking your foot off the peddle. Much like in a learner car with a driving instructor, whoever you’re involved with has the option of taking over the ‘footwork’. If it’s a temporary blip, they are likely yo chalk it up to no big deal. However, much like a driving instructor, if it becomes clear that you’re not holding your own and in fact, you are incapable of it, their confidence in your abilities diminishes rapidly and you communicate all the wrong things about yourself.
The wonderful thing is that you pay a driving instructor to recognise where you need work and help. In relationships, it’s not the job of the other party to teach or force you to hold your own. When you don’t hold your own, there’s either a major shortfall in the relationship or the other party will grab onto the power.
The respectful person that knows their own mind, will recognise that the type of mutually fulfilling relationship they potentially want cannot work. The less you hold your own, the more alarm bells that ring and the further you diminish your own value. The opportunistic person will take you on a drive to Booty Call Town, or Ego Stroke Town, Passing Time Town, Rainy Day Option Town, Last Resort Town or even Abusive Town.
You are not that desperate.
Both sexes are looking for relationship partners that can hold their own, not doormats. Doormats don’t get more dates, commitment, respect, happiness etc – they get people rubbing their feet in, putting themselves on a pedestal, not feeling like they have to commit and being treated like an option.
Desperation, even in its more subtle forms is highly unattractive.
If you’re willing to take your foot off the peddle so soon into a relationship, to be indispensable, to devalue yourself and you don’t even know them or aren’t in a mutual relationship, it begs the question of what you’d do for someone you know or with whom you have even the flimsiest of ‘commitments’ ?
You may think you’re communicating that:
You’re very interested
You’re in love
You love them unconditionally (read: without boundaries)
You’ll do anything for them
But you’re actually communicating that you’re desperate.
You’re communicating that you’re too available, “Let me abandon my friends, family, work, sense of self and personal time to make way for someone I hardly know/who treats me like an option.” You’re saying “I don’t value my time” and truth be told, if you’re willing to do so much or so quickly for them, they assume this is how you are with everyone you’ve been involved with even if you say different.
You’re communicating that you have a disproportionate interest in them – How can you be willing to be and do so much off the back of a potential you’re hoping for but that they’re not living up to? You can communicate that you’re interested without being desperate and throwing your life and self respect away.
You’re communicating that you don’t love yourself enough. If you did, there’s no way in hell you’d be so quick to abandon yourself or put up with shady behaviour. You’re actually saying “I love you or the idea of what you could be more than I love myself.” You’re communicating that you have no limits. For someone that you hardly know or has shown they’re not available for the relationship you want, that’s like a red flag to a bull or for someone half way decent to hit the eject button.
You’re inadvertently communicating that you’re desperate. Leave something off the table and be indispensable to yourself! They’re just not that special and you’re not that desperate. Really you’re not. You’re not that desperate for a relationship that you need to throw away everything and unless someone is adding to your life rather than detracting from it. Never let someone think that they’re irreplaceable when they’re not even in the same relationship with you or treating you with the basics of love, care, trust and respect.
Relationship smart people of both sexes recognise inappropriate behaviour, have their own lives and aren’t so afraid to walk away that they’ll keep banking on someone else that keeps disappointing instead of banking on themselves. They value themselves, their time and their lives.
Get your foot on the peddle of your life and hold your own. Only you can hold your own. Try not to make decisions based on fear or the idea that if you give it all up that they’ll reciprocate. By loving blindly and giving excessively, you’re missing the point that they’re not holding their own and being mutual.
Oh and one last thing, as soon as you recognise that they like busting up your boundaries, put the peddle to the metal and leave them in the dust.
If you’ve ever been with someone who blows hot one day, professing their love for you and talking about the future to cold the next day saying “I don’t want to hurt you” or even ‘going dark’, you will know that being on the end of someone’s indecision is neither good for your soul nor your self-esteem.
A friend was excited when her boyfriend said that he was taking her away and that he was going to buy a ring without any prompting from her. On the day that they were due to fly, he showed up saying “I can’t do this”. Somehow she forgave him and then watched as he flipped and flapped for another few years, until she ran out of patience and sympathy and made up his mind for him and removed herself from the equation.
Vulnerability is something that the great majority of people have some degree of fear about. However, it is a necessity for something as basic as feeling our own feelings and taking in reality as well as being a fundamental component of our relationships. None or limited vulnerability equals intimacy issues equals commitment issues equals balance, progression and consistency issues equals you dealing with someone who isn’t available for an available relationship.
They’re on the fence instead of being in the relationship with both feet firmly planted in.
Indecisive people have commitment issues. They appear to make decisions and then afterwards start to panic and backtrack to relieve their fears. When they feel calm again based on the change in decision, they then worry if they made the wrong decision. And round and round and around they go.
You can end up falling into the trap of trying to help them make up their minds and even attempting to allay their fears and in the meantime, you end up forgetting your own needs and cross into over-empathising instead of recognising what indecision means in the bigger picture. You can also end up internalising their anxiety. Maybe I should I have doubts too?
Indecision is actually a decision in itself and to be on the receiving end of it can be torture. Someone who truly cares for you and is empathetic will recognise that it’s not acceptable and will not continue the flip-flapping or take advantage of your own decisiveness about them.
When someone starts telling you that they’re being indecisive because they don’t want to hurt you, it raises a question of which crystal ball they’re using? It is more to do with self knowledge and experience. They may be afraid of being honest and assertive or they may just lack the self knowledge to understand their own needs, which would help them make a decision that reflected not only who they are but also some respect and consideration for you. If they don’t understand their own needs or feelings, they’re certainly not going to be able to empathise. They tend to be reactive and will reel you in on a whim and then flush you back out of their hot attention with a bump back to earth.
It’s not ‘bad’ to have a wobble or to be a little afraid of stepping forward. I think it comes with the territory with relationships. The difference though between the person who’s indecisive and the person who has both feet in is that the latter knows that vulnerability is needed and weighs evidence against their fears and proceeds based on the feedback.
The person that’s indecisive keeps wobbling and after a while, you can end up being uneasy because you’re trained and attuned to expect a wobble. You end up feeling distrusted. You end up feeling like you’ve got to campaign and make them feel better about you than any one else that they were with. It’s not your job to help someone get over their previous relationships and trauma. You can be empathetic and sympathetic but if these issues are getting in the way of them being able to differentiate between past and present and forge a mutual relationship with you and they’re not making it a priority to resolve the issue, you have to step away.
The biggest problem with indecision is the expectation (explicit or implied) that you have to do something to relieve that indecision. In reality, the indecision is about not about you, even if they try to put it on you. The next biggest problem is this inherent assumption by them that you’re supposed to be ‘OK’ with this indecision (like a show of your commitment to their uncommitted selves) and if you respect what they’re saying and don’t want to participate, you’re ‘pressuring’ them. NO, you’re respecting what they’ve said instead of letting them have it both ways.
This is how so many people get downgraded to casual. “OK I’ll let you test drive me in casual mode until you’re over your wobble.”
Relationships require a leap of faith. You don’t want to be taking that leap and then being dragged back or left hanging and pleading for the other person to join you. It takes the joy and the fun out of the relationship and after a while, it’ll begin to erode at your sense of self because it’s human nature to wonder what you’ve ‘done’ and that’s just not fair. If you’re faced with someone who’s indecisive about you or the possibility of a relationship, let them make up their minds on their own time, not yours.
Try not see it as a challenge and an opportunity for validation. See it as great big red warning that whatever it is that you thought you both have had going on, they aren’t on the same page as you. If you blame you for their indecision, you will miss some very vital feedback about this person and your relationship. If they come back, they return decided and if they then start to passive aggressively roll it back after a time or flake out again, cut them loose.
Ultimately, there is something not right about you being decided on a person and a relationship when the other party is not. It is akin to thinking that you’re co-pilotting when the other person is trying to make an emergency exit. If they’re on the fence and you’re waiting on them, you get put on the fence too. In the end, you’ll have to do for the both of you what they clearly can’t do – make the decision that puts an end to all of this indecision. Above all, that decision should leave you with your sense of self intact and available for an available relationship with an available and decisive Other.
While some people openly admit to being competitive, many people who are do not see themselves in that way. Often, I find that these people are perfectionists, people pleasers and people who are prone to comparison, self-criticism and highlighting how they’re not ‘good enough’. They don’t regard themselves as having or showing a strong desire to be more successful than others. It is almost as if they are saying ‘I’m not getting what I want so how can I be competitive?’ This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’ve ever wondered how or why you are with with an emotionally unavailable person, the answer lies in acknowledging that you’re competing with someone or something.
I’ve explained in previous posts that the ‘fallback’ is the person who takes the passenger role in the relationship and who allows the other party to default to (fall back on) them for sex, a shoulder to lean on, an ego stroke and basically anything else that involves the fallback sacrificing their own needs. Which role we take up and the type of unavailable relationship we may find ourselves in provide clues about who/what it is with which we are competing. Note: although I have written the scenarios below for women, men can be in any of these roles plus these dynamics apply in same-sex relationships.
The Yo-Yo Girl competes with the next partner.
Going back and forth with someone who can’t break/won’t break (but also isn’t committing to a relationship) is about competing to see if we still have the power to draw the person back. Even if it means remaining in an unworkable situation, we might want to be the best at it.
The Buffer competes with the ex(es).
We strive to be better than their ex, so that they will choose us. We make ourselves indispensable, try to figure out how to be different to the ex in the areas where we think they went wrong or we try to be better in areas where we compare ourselves. Sometimes, we subconsciously choose someone whose ex represents everything that we feel insecure about. We then try to feel superior with something we value ourselves for (e.g. intelligence, success) while also wanting validation about what we criticise or doubt ourselves for. Yeah, messy.
The Other Woman competes with the existing partner or spouse.
In an affair, we’re validating ourselves on the notion that we’re ‘the best’. We think we’re giving them something that someone who is inferior (they’re not) is not. We want to be chosen, often positioning ourselves as ‘the best'; at letting you be as bad as you like or the best at understanding/giving you what you need. There’s also another competition going on in parallel, in that we’re trying to right the wrongs of feeling relegated or even replaced by someone else in our earlier life. Or… we’re continuing a competition and inadvertently recreating that dynamic to feel special.
Florence Nightingale competes with the past and whatever a partner is dependent on.
When we attempt to make ourselves the solution to someone else’s problems, we have plenty to compete with. From exes they didn’t do ‘better’ with to the family who have contributed to the issue, we’re trying to be the best at being needed by them. We also compete to be chosen over whatever they may be dependent on such as alcohol, drugs, workaholism or gambling.
The Renovator competes with the past and future ‘replacements’.
Ploughing all of our energies into a ‘fixer-upper’, we may think we can make him/her into what we want. We’re competing with, for example, the family who we think didn’t raise them right or the exes who didn’t help them to realise their potential. We may also reason that if we’re giving everything to someone who we don’t think could have been with someone like us or achieved their potential without our input, then they have no reason to leave. We live in fear of being replaced by someone who will reap the reward of our investment. Our efforts are about demonstrating why we’re the best and why they should stay (even if we’re miserable).
The Flogger competes with the past, present and future.
We figure that we’ve suffered the most, and hence earned the right to the relationship we want. Investment, titles and history matter to us. We try to outstrip all the people in our partner’s past, present and future who either didn’t do as good a job as us or who might try to have a go at being better. However, we’re also competing with someone or even a number of people in our own past. We’re proving that we can do better than them, ‘I will handle a man like daddy better than mom‘ or, ‘I might be miserable but I’m the only person in my family who’s stayed married.’
Miss Self-Sufficient competes with all women.
These women are socialised to fight over a limited supply of decent partners, jobs, opportunities etc. This zero sum game feeds insecurity and a scarcity mindset. We figure it’s safest to pretend that we have less needs than we do. We act as if things don’t bother us when they do. There’s a fear of being like those ‘other’ women – too needy/dramatic/demanding/weak etc. What if we end up trapped, lost, overwhelmed and having to sacrifice too much? Some of those women might be our own family members or just people we’ve come across that scare the life out of us with their choices (that we don’t have to have or we can but don’t have to do it their way). We try to enjoy the fringe benefits of a relationship without commitment.
The Dreamer competes with everyone in their imagination.
Sometimes our way of competing (while secretly accepting failure from the outset – the long-shot mentality) is to be in a fantasy. Any of the above roles can exist within a fantasy relationship but sometimes a relationship is attractive because it’s not real. We can be whatever we want in our imagination and feel like The Best. We’re putting us in an impossible situation because if the fantasy came true, it would allow us to meet an unmet need.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees when you’re in an unavailable relationship. Acknowledging who or what you’re competing with removes a blind spot that you may not have known you had. Shining a light of awareness on your pattern helps you recognise how unresolved pain, fear and guilt is calling on your attention for you to address and heal it. There wouldn’t be a need to compete in unavailable relationships if you weren’t, on some level, trying to finally be made the best or the priority to make up for someone else not doing it in your past. If you hadn’t blamed and shamed yourself for their inadequacy and/or based your self-worth on being the favourite, you wouldn’t be in this relationship.
It is not necessary for you to prove your worth by validating it on the destruction or bettering of someone else. That’s a path to pain, insecurity and missing out on a genuine, loving relationship. When you stop competing, you lose the agenda of fixing a past that was never your responsibility to fix in the first place.
When we are being, doing or putting up with something that isn’t a true reflection of who we really are, we may mistakenly believe that it must be because it is what we really want. This is why, for example, so many people remain in unfulfilling relationships with commitment resistant, emotionally unavailable partners. They have resigned themselves to the situation. What they didn’t do was begin with the end in mind. Putting up with or doing something that’s at odds with our needs, desires and feelings reflects a lack of clarity and commitment on our side that we’re possibly not conscious of yet.
It’s not unusual to focus on doing good, working hard, being as loving/understanding/ accommodating as possible. We assume that being and doing these things will influence and control receiving the desired outcome. This leads to inadvertently blocking one’s own success.
When you over-invest in someone and a situation that lacks love, care, trust and respect, no matter how much you do or how much you suffer, it’s not going to yield the relationship that you want. You might think that you have begun with the end in mind but if you’re misappropriating your energies, then I’d posit that you have not. Living like this, you’re not going to feel the way that you truly want to and it stands as a block to your own growth and intimacy.
We don’t have to try harder, suffer even more or even give up altogether if the way in which we’ve been going about getting what we want yielded the desired results. It’s nothing to do with us being not ‘good enough’ and everything to do with us being mistaken in what we think it takes to create, forge and sustain mutually fulfilling loving relationships.
If we mistakenly believe that love conquers all and that we can in essence, hitch our wagon to anyone and that with enough effort, the rest will take care of itself, and we then keep repeating this mentality in our efforts, we’re essentially walking into the same relationship pothole again and again..and again. The way out of that pothole is to figure out what we want, where we want to go and how we want to feel. We can then point us in the right direction and also steer ourselves away from anything or anyone that isn’t in alignment with that.
If you’re serious about being in a serious relationship, accept no substitutes.
The second habit in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is: begin with the end in mind. No, that doesn’t mean that you should start a relationship with the breakup forecasted. What it does mean is that you need to get clear on what you want. You need to decide exactly where you’re aiming…and be truthful to that.
So many people tell me that they want a committed relationship with love, care, trust and respect. They want to be themselves. So, what are many of these people doing?
- Dating anyone who shows an interest even if they’re not feeling it or the person has the boundary issues.
- Flailing around in casual relationships where they’d originally hoped that their involvement would lead to something more serious.
- Chasing after an ex or even bouncing around with a number of them.
- Staying in the wrong relationship because they’re afraid to leave, start over and be on their own.
- Pretending to be something they’re not, using relationships to audition to be whatever they think the other requires of them or wants them to be.
Why aren’t we committing to what we want? Well, because it’s a commitment. If you don’t admit to needing or wanting something, then you don’t have to be vulnerable. You avoid exposure to disappointment.
Dating and relationships are an experiment. They put all of our ideas, beliefs and assumptions about who we are, what we need and how we think relationships work to the test. Staying in our uncomfortable comfort zone hurts but you figure it is safe and can’t get much worse; until it actually does. We’re also prone to distraction and often have a ‘some crumbs is better than no crumbs mentality’ so even though we’re in an incompatible relationship where our emotional needs aren’t being met, we’ll stay. We gratify the temporary and so we’ll lap up the attention, affection, acknowledgement, sex or whatever it is. It is kidding ourselves that we’re getting the best of both worlds while sacrificing emotional needs and true desires. In desperately trying to avoid disappointment, you may just end up experiencing even more of it.
Very often though, we feel as if we have made a commitment to what we want. What we’re unaware of though is the unconscious intentions and fears that scupper our efforts.If we want commitment in a loving relationship but secretly fear that we’re unworthy, that we’re going to be trapped [like a parent], that we’ll lose ourselves, our career or something else that spells too many sacrifices, or that we’re going to wind up with or like one or both of our parents, we’ll cater to the fear not what we want.
Acknowledge your desires. Begin with the end in mind.
Beginning with the end in mind isn’t a guarantee of what you want (especially if you’re controlling a ‘plan’). It’s guaranteed that you won’t get what you want if you don’t define it. Unless you are living a life that’s conducive to that end or consciously directing you there, then you can not even get close.
When you treat and regard yourself with care and trust, that which you say yes and no to is very different to someone who doesn’t know, like and trust themselves. How will you know if you’re fulfilled if you’ve never put your line in the sand or have never really put some definition behind who you are and your core values. How will you know when you’ve had enough, that something isn’t right, or that you’ve veered off track? How will you know what to do in the day-to-day to further your aims? Many struggle as without clarity on healthy boundaries, things that don’t matter a great deal begin to overwhelm them.
Acknowledging what you want also helps you to recognise what you’re afraid of.
This is good as now you know what to address and what to be mindful of. Acknowledging where you’ve paid attention to these fears wakes you up to the realisation that catering to them isn’t leading you to anywhere but pain.
It is scary to commit to what you want but in truth, it is not anywhere near as scary as self denial and delusion. You have to take a leap of faith. Commitment means that you have to decide without knowing exactly how you’ll get there or when things are going to happen. You commit without knowing exactly how things will turn out. It’s taking a step, any step (however imperfect it might be) and keep trying to move in that direction. It’s about progress, not perfection.
My friend was six weeks away from getting married when her fiance abruptly announced with no prior warning that he wanted out. Two weeks before he was writing ‘I love you’ in the condensation of the kitchen window and and then in one fell swoop, the wedding off and he refused to explain, speak with or see her and cut her and all of their mutual friends out his life. She was devastated. She could accept that he didn’t want to get married but she just couldn’t fathom how he could cut her out so cruelly and offer no explanation. Around their wedding date, he forced himself to call…to tell her that he was seeing someone else, and that was only because he’d been seen all over town.
Anne (pseudonym) reconnected with an old flame from ten years ago. They’d always kept in touch and when she visited her home country, they often got together. Emails, calls, texts, and plans to get married next year, promises followed and he booked a flight to visit her and they spoke right up to the night before. The big day arrived, he went dark, refused to speak to her and cut her off. The brief time they spoke he said “Life will go on with or without me”. When she called him another time, he hung up.
These are just two examples of a story that I’ve heard many times. When a relationship ends abruptly, you’re cut off. If there is no explanation and you wonder what you did, you have to process the loss and closure alone. You may feel duped, play the relationship back and search for the signs, but you ultimately end up blaming yourself. I guess it’s the relationship version of being told you’re doing great at your job and then being sacked or made redundant out of the blue with little or no explanation.
So here’s what I told my friend, Anne and all of the others in the same boat: People that break up by abruptly and rather aggressively cutting you off with little or no explanation and pretty much act like you never existed, have to do so to avoid any responsibility for the consequences of their actions and their impact on you. In short, this is so they can press The Reset Button.
Acknowledging even a fraction of their actions is to get drawn into acknowledging themselves and your feelings. They can literally pretend like you didn’t exist and tell themselves anything they like. It’s like ‘Get the consequences of my actions as far away from me as possible’. They’re afraid that if they discuss, they’ll get talked into committing themselves to something they don’t want to.
They might even feel bad, or heaven forbid, remorse. They want out so badly, they have to sabotage your relationship in such an abominable way that it would make it difficult for them to go back (unless very brazen) or for you to think there was a chance. They safeguard themselves and avoid the commitments that they’ve made by sabotaging their way out and if they’re ‘lucky’, they’ll get a 2 for 1 deal and you’ll think it’s your fault.
The overwhelming likelihood is that they didn’t feel that there was a strong enough reason to pin on you so rather than admit they’re scared or they want out, they announce they’re out and cut off. Sometimes, people become stifled by a situation often of their own making, triggering anxiety and fears about being vulnerable, intimate and committed. Some like the idea of doing stuff more than the reality, and when the future that they’ve often billy-bullshitted and Future Faked about starts getting too close for comfort, they extricate themselves in a big way. They may genuinely have believed that they were going to be and do as they’d committed themselves to but if they were honest, they’d acknowledge that going out with a bang was always a ticking time bomb.
People, especially dishonest, deluded, scared, and fickle people, are changeable.
Some are not the type to engage in an open and honest dialogue with you in the relationship. When they experience anxiety, their feelings change, there are problems etc, they may not say anything and then erupt out of the relationship like they have a hot poker up their bum. You might wonder what you could have done differently – unfortunately if someone’s way in over their head, you’re not going to know about it until they say or do something or you ask. Even then they may not tell you.
When someone can rip you out of your relationship and their life from one day to the next, and go all Jekyll and Hyde on you, while it’ll hurt like crazy now as it feels like no closure, you can’t decipher what was real and what wasn’t, and you don’t get why you don’t even deserve an explanation, you’ll eventually come to be thankful that you were spared from spending even a minute more in the company of someone that doesn’t play decent, never mind fair.
They’ve got all switchy on you because they’re very afraid of commitment and/or they want out but don’t know how to handle these situations with integrity. The pressure and the fear mounts and they panic or they’re the type that doesn’t voice concerns and problems, or solves their problems by lining up a new partner, which then creates the urgency to get shot of you.
Being scared doesn’t excuse their behaviour but it does along with their subsequent actions, tell you why a relationship with them isn’t an option. There’s no easy way to broach fears or endings and with them, you were going to get hurt anyway.
It would be great if they could respect you and the time you shared by dignifying you with an explanation and decent treatment, but they wouldn’t have ended it this way if that was ever going to be on offer. That…and they would have to explain about themselves and as they don’t want to know themselves and have that level of honesty, you’ll either be in for a long wait or some distorted version of events that will leave you with more questions than answers.
Don’t envy the next person because who knows what kind of switcheroo stuff they’ll be pulling there – they may have left a hole in your life, but you can fill it with a better person and new hopes, dreams, and plans.
I love TED talks. Having a browse on the weekend over a cup of tea, I was drawn to The Art of Creating Awe by Rob Legato, the man behind the special effects for films including Titanic and Apollo 13. Right at the outset he says that making the latter film taught him “…how our brains work is that, when we’re sort of enthused with enthusiasm or awe or fondness… it changes and alters our perception of things. It changes what we see. It changes what we remember.” Ahh…. hasn’t this got a lot to do with our dating and relationship experiences?
When special effects are really good, you think that they are real (possibly even better than the real thing) and they begin evoke emotions in you. Rob explained how we can have emotion built into certain events/experiences and have memories attached to it. And so it is with creating special effects; they try to work out which elements that they need to recreate for a scene that combined will give the impression of realness. For instance, clearly he didn’t go and build an entire Apollo 13 – in a car park, using a tin can, fire extinguishers, fire and wax over the camera lens to look like ice, he successfully hooked the audience into the scene.
“If you believed any of the stuff that I just showed you, what you were reacting to… what you’re emoting to is something that’s a total falsehood.”
Special effects in films can be awe inspiring, but judging by the stories shared with me, it is mind-blowing to experience this in a relationship…but not in a good way. When it comes to an end or reality bites, it can be incredibly painful and difficult to decipher between what was real and what was fake. It hurts because what was felt during those times were genuine emotions and they’re real even if someone is blowing smoke in the situation and the possibilities aren’t as real as we think.
There are certainly people out there who are very good at creating ‘special effects’ in dating and relationships (they rely on charming their way around people who are not as ‘reality vigilant’ and are possibly vulnerable), and to be fair, there are also plenty of people who are very good at creating their own special effects with their imaginations and the image that they present to the world.
People definitely enter into dating and relationships carrying a certain amount of built-in emotions and memories; some about themselves and some about previous experiences. For instance with unavailable relationships, there’s a lot of trying to ‘recreate the feeling’ whether it’s with an ex or just chasing that feeling of being loved, adored, desired etc. Equally we may be carrying around hurt and bad memories and that in itself can create a great deal of anxiety and even cause us to see danger when there isn’t or have us trying to right the wrongs of the past. These experiences in turn can end up bringing out a lot of our worst fears. Ultimately, whatever we bring into it influences how receptive we’ll be to the ‘special effects’ whether they’re our own or someone else’s.
When you consider people who ‘Fast Forward’ by using intensity to speed you through the early stages of a relationship, you can see ‘special effects’ at work. They are quite practiced at it and their cycle may be a few hours (collecting attention on a dating site), one night (a date or one night stand), a few days or weeks (a fling) or for a few months The intensity may be a mixture of words, actions and generally being out of context with how long you’ve actually known them. This is their tin can, fire extinguishers, and wax in a car park.
Of course, our own enthusiasm can trigger our overactive imagination and possibly our libido. Sometimes, we can be so eager to be in the throes of a romance, to be getting attention, to have possibilities with someone, that we end up getting high on our own supply. Of course, it’s not that we shouldn’t be enthusiastic about dating (Eau de Cynicism and Skepticism aren’t attractive) but it’s where the enthusiasm comes from – the possibility of abandoning ourselves and our own lives for the promise of someone we don’t really know yet. When we’re high on the possibilities, we like ourselves more than usual, we have an extra spring in our step, and everything that happens in the relationship gets correlated into more possibilities – even if they’re unrealistic.
Sometimes we’re so enthusiastic that we don’t remember a date or our interactions with a person as accurately as we focus on the things that make it easy to maintain an illusion and our ‘high’. We remember things ‘differently’. It’s the very simple reason why when we wake up in a less than attractive relationship and wonder how the hell we got there and play the relationship back in our mind, we suddenly spot the code red flags. Sometimes we’re so carried away that our hopes and expectations for a relationship and a person don’t really have any basis in what’s happening in reality.
When we get enthusiastic about someone because they look like someone who we’re attracted to or they have certain characteristics, qualities and values, we can fall into the trap of over-correlating that information which is where our minds end up filling in the gaps and ‘mocking up’ a person who possesses other qualities, characteristics and values. They go from being a tin can to a rocket launching into the skies.
If we are not as aware and mindful as we could be, we can also be caught out by the hallmarks of a relationship (sleeping together over a period of time, time itself passing, plans being made, meeting friends, our feelings and expectations increasing) because we don’t realise that the landmarks (commitment, shared values, progression, balance, consistency and intimacy) are absent. Let us not forget the ‘awe’ and ‘fondness’ – awe makes us operate those special effects where we inflate someone else whilst putting them on a pedestal to look back down on us. Along with fondness, we like to use them to see people in the ‘best light’ which is really us just projecting our imaginations and sometimes what we want people to think about us. We forget that the best light is reality and that we only need to do special effects for people who only seem to ‘work’ in our imaginations.
It’s not that we need to ‘kill’ our imaginations, it is more that our ‘accounting system’ doesn’t kick in and start reconciling reality with our imaginations. By the time we start to consider this or something bad happens, you may be too heavily invested in what may be a partial or total falsehood. It is our job to take responsibility for ourselves seriously and do the due diligence and to put as much effort into keeping our feet in reality as possible. Yeah it might not be as ‘exciting’ but it certainly paves the way to a happier, more fulfilling, authentic experiences, which no amount of special effects can recreate.
In my work, I notice that many people struggle with the idea of being replaceable. We like to feel that we can’t be substituted with ease and that we mattered enough that another person won’t be able to just come along and seemingly take over where we left off. We want to believe that we matter and that yes, people move on but not in a way that we feel would disrespect what we had with them. A prime example of this is after a breakup. It cuts to the core when we discover that they moved on before things had ended or had someone else in their mind and/or bed within hours or days of us leaving. We feel replaceable instead of realising that the person is clearly avoidant.
One of the things I’ve learned from looking at my old relationship habits and those of clients is that often, people who base their value on whether they feel replaced also live in fear of being replaced; spending a lot of their dating and relationship time trying to be the replacement for others.
It is the Replacement Mentality. When we look at who we spend our relationships with and what we’re basically trying to do, it is about taking the place of someone or something. It is like saying, ‘Choose me over him/her or your problems.’ or, ‘Replace him/her or your codependent behaviour with me.‘ If you make your life about competing, you may become too embroiled in what others are being and doing and you may get caught up in plotting about where you can offer a ‘competitive advantage’. Once this begins to happen, then you’re not truly respecting yourself or others.
When you’re so caught up in replacing, you don’t go in as an individual entity, knowing your own worth, values, boundaries or how to show up as yourself. You are in danger of getting too hung up on looking at what others are doing and using that to influence where you think you need to adapt to be even more pleasing than they were. You look and listen for clues as to what will make the object of your affection keep you and not look elsewhere. If they mention that they didn’t like something last time, you start scratching things off of your personality and character to stay in play. Bye bye boundaries, self respect and sense of self.
When we want to know that we are ‘better than’ someone, we wonder why they keep pining for that person when we are right there in front of them, trying to be the replacement. It is what fuels many an affair; the want for the person that you are involved with to take the other party out of their role because obviously something is wrong with that person (even though that may very well not be the case at all) and to be the ‘better option’. Even if you get the role, you might desperately want to give it back or backtrack when you realise the reality of your involvement and what it actually means to be in that position.
When you get into that competitive state of mind, what you are seeing is that you can occupy and do that role best, so you keep yourself available to be the replacement. If you see beyond the ego at play here, that role isn’t about you and actually detracts from you. In this mindset, you will barely have two self-esteem beans to rub together and in all likelihood, you will be living in perennial fear of being replaced at any moment.
When we don’t show up as an equal who is deserving of love, care and respect and who gets to choose what they do and do not want to be involved in, we’re carrying on as if we’re in the X-Factor or Dating Idol and that our job is to position ourselves to be chosen. We want the role of The Next Big Thing. The problem is that when we treat our relationships like this, aside from automatically putting the person on a pedestal and giving them far too much power, we’re basically carrying on as if this magnificent person who actually just isn’t that special, has a vacancy of ‘Good Enough person’ who will provoke me into making them the exception to my rule and closing that vacancy for good. You can see the job description including duties such as…Must be willing to run over hot coals and jump through hoops for crumbs. By trying to be the exception to the rule, you are saying that you will make yourself into whatever someone else wants you to be in order to accepted and to fill up a void. The question is, which void are you really filling, theirs or yours?
The trouble is that when we have this replacement mentality, we keep making the mistake of assuming that if a person is out of a role then it’s because they’re not good enough and that we’re being given the opportunity to replace them, but conversely, when things don’t work out for us, we then assume that it’s because we’re not good enough either and that we’re being replaced by someone who is ‘better’ than us. Round and round we go. Same script, different cast.
Its not a job vacancy. It should be a mutual relationship.
It is crucial to decide who we are and get on with this first and foremost, instead of running around as if we have no choices and that people’s wishes are just imposed upon us. You have got to show up as somebody who is getting to know their worth (or knows it) and be prepared to go through the discovery phase and mutually unfold, not to audition for a role and perform. There is no need to slip into desperation and to slot into people’s lives as if you’re a person who just goes with whatever flows their way. You matter. Trying to be a replacement gets you filling someone else’s shoes and into pretending. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Be mindful of the replacement double standard too. If you don’t like feeling as if you’re replaceable, then you have no business deriving your worth and value from trying to matter more or as much as the last person or the harem. You will lose our integrity in the pursuit and gradually forget and lose your true self. You may just end up realising that you’ve become someone that you even don’t recognise (or even like) because you’ve replaced yourself with a caricature because you do not value who you are enough. The truth is that you don’t own them and they don’t own you. What has their previous or next relationship got to do with it (got to do with it)? You will be a second rate them and they will be a second rate you. If you’re so busy trying to fill a roles that hurts you, you may miss that by being a replacement instead of being ourselves and respecting our individuality, you’re basically trying to give a person the same relationship in a different or slightly enhanced package, even if that relationship isn’t right for you or even them.
Relationships are not job vacancies. You shouldn’t be in training to take over from where your predecessor left off. You are not a replacement.