When did love become pain? I have had personal experience of Dynasty levels of drama in relationships. It is true to say that many of us mistake “suffering” in our relationships for “love”. We may think that it is normal to have to force feed someone our affections when they say they do not want it; to see the potential in someone who we believe doesn’t ‘know’ how they feel/has ‘difficulty’ showing it and to accept neglectful behaviour in our lives.
It is a universal truth that in any relationship, you will experience conflict. Each of you may feel hurt due to something that the other has done and there will be times where you need to work harder at your commitment to one another. This is very different to being in regular, ongoing pain. In a mutual relationship, you do not have to numb your feelings and suppress your identity so that you can remain in the relationship. When the two become mixed up, you may think that your suffering shows how passionately you love and that only ‘real’, ‘passionate’ love is painful. Pain is not love, it is pain.
During the times in my life where I experienced Dynasty levels of drama in the name of love, it went a little something like this; The more that I hurt, the harder I fought for the relationship. I thought that there would be a change and I’d go from being in some sort of personal hell to happily ever after. I thought that I wanted and needed the pain, because the alternative of being left to pick up the pieces felt infinitely more painful to me.
Much of the pain in this kind of relationship stems from fear and drama making. Feelings of fear and seeking/creating drama, are mistaken as ‘love’. How does this happen? In all likelihood it is because we have poor relationship habits honed over an extended period of time, likely from childhood. Some of these very painful relationships are our comfort zone which is why jumping through hoops, feeling like nothing is good enough and being wounded by criticism or withdrawal of affection may have a powerful, subconscious allure.
In this mindset, it is easy to hope and believe that love and acceptance is what lies beyond the pain. The pain of this pursuit seems more valuable, than say, a person who matches their actions and words and wants to treat you with love, trust, and respect. You’ll probably feel suspicious of that. Anything stable and loving may feel downright uncomfortable and weird.
If you don’t address your self-esteem and your beliefs about love and relationships, then what qualifies love becomes very loosely defined and very destructive. It becomes the acceptance of crumbs. Many of the dysfunctional things that happen in poor relationships are easy to tag as ‘love’ and ‘passion’ the more that reality becomes distorted.
If you don’t reconcile who you think it is that you love with the reality of who they are and the relationship you have, it is impossible to see those feelings of drama and fear for what they are – fear and drama. As long as you are doing this, you will continue to fall into a cycle of poor relationships that result in similar, reinforcing experiences that love isn’t love unless it is painful. Fear causes inaction and eventual comfort with what started out as very uncomfortable because it seems far more uncomfortable to make positive changes that will make us accountable for our own feeling and uncomfortable truths.
When all is said and done, only you know your experience. The real test is this; if you develop a healthier relationship with yourself, resulting in healthier beliefs about love and relationships, will you still want this person? Or, will you finally realise that you haven’t experienced mutual, nourishing love yet and have been writhing in pain masquerading as love?
If loving someone means that you can’t love you, always choose you.
The trouble with lying, aside from putting forward a deliberately false statement (and seeking to gain an advantage/avoid something undesirable) is that behind liars are often people who have faith in them. We all have at one time or another told a ‘white’ lie or two. Nobody is perfect My focus here is more on the kind of lies, that when discovered, will be devastating to those who trusted that the lie was truth.
Lies and deception aggressively and passive aggressively take power away from others. When people lie, they remove your right of reply to the truth of the matter, and your right to make a decision based on knowing the whole truth. For a liar, this is akin to holding the winning hand in a rigged poker game and being privy to knowledge that the other parties are not. When you’re involved with someone who deliberately dupes you, they are not honest and because if they were, it is highly likely that you would bounce.
This doesn’t remove our own responsibility to assess the situation. However, when someone is running rings around you; blowing hot and cold, contradicting their actions and words and making out like you have it twisted, you may begin to doubt yourself.
Uncovering lies and deception can be mind boggling. You may end up going over every word, feel as though your eyes, ears and mind were deceiving you. You might have defended them. You might have listened to them vehemently deny what turns out to be the truth. When you begin to play things back in your mind, you are trying to determine fact from fiction.
I’ve come across an ever increasing number of people who have explicitly known that they were involved with someone who has a somewhat shady relationship with the truth. What is attraction to someone who can’t even be honest with themselves? In a nutshell, they all believed that their love and faith would cause this person to make them the exception and treat them differently to everybody else that they have ever duped. Moreover, I have heard that it’s the situation that makes the person lie and deceive. Yes you read that correctly – it is the circumstances that have made someone dishonest. Really?! The subtext of this assertion is that it’s OK to lie and deceive in certain circumstances, especially if love is involved. If this is your real belief, and you are being true to yourself, then by all means continue. If it isn’t, then this is the beginnings of making exceptions and gradually eroding your own morals and boundaries.
When people lie and deceive, they share information on a need-to-know basis. They might drip-feed the truth (which is confusing because you think that the ‘drip’ is all of the truth, when it is not). That’s the problem with lying – it is incredibly difficult to know whether you’re standing in reality or only standing on the ‘portion’ of reality that has been admitted. I have further question – how does someone who has told a whole load of lies and deceived even know that they’re telling themselves the truth? Some don’t even see it as lies. Excuses and justifications aside, the bottom line is that lying and deceiving are forms of control and ergo, a form of abusive behaviour.
Lies and deception hurt. They hurt those around them who get duped and run over in the process and they hurt you if you participate in the madness. If you want to live your life authentically, stick to your values. It can be hard to face the fact that someone has not been truthful, but to continue to have blind faith in them doesn’t help you or them.
In my opinion, it is healthier to state and live our truth rather than spend time deceiving ourselves in order to hold onto people who are deceiving us. If you are living your own truth, it becomes impossible to live someone else’s lie.
There is a beauty bias in our culture. There is a belief that beauty brings opportunities, admirers and being the beautiful one in a relationship also has clear benefits, I want to take a deeper look at what is it about a pretty face that is really so attractive to us?
Society puts a high premium on beauty. Beauty sells products, people like to look at it, and it makes us feel good. We like beautiful things. Obtaining and maintaining beauty is a billion dollar industry, with L’Oreal being a perfect case in point. Beautiful is desirable and some try desperately to become it. We exercise to extremes, starve ourselves, go under the knife, take drugs and supplements, spend billions on cosmetics and creams, all designed to make, or keep us beautiful. Beauty is really important to us; why?
Beauty is symbolic of wealth, vitality, health and goodness. If we are not beautiful, or we don’t believe we are, what then? Those of us who have grown up feeling not good enough tend to seek beauty in our partners – seeking out the beautiful, with the unconscious hope, that we can gain beauty by proxy.
Generally, beautiful people are attracted to beautiful people. When a friend of mine sees an unattractive male with a beautiful female, she always says, “He is punching above his weight!” We laugh because we’re thinking the same thing. “What is she doing with him?” “He must be rich, or….(insert large penis joke)”. Whatever the reason, seeing two people that don’t line up aesthetically seems wrong, because beauty generally begets beauty. If we don’t feel beautiful and we are partnered with someone beautiful, does it therefore legitimise our own beauty?
Can you look beautiful but feel ugly on the inside? I believe that you can. In my work, I have seen that dysfunctional ‘beautiful people’ can use their beauty to control others. There is power in beauty. Dysfunctionally beautiful people learn early, that beauty is a commodity that can be used to manipulate others. From an early age they’ve begun the process of using their beauty to get what they want. Some of us establish our talents in childhood and we grow up honing these skills. For the dysfunctionally beautiful, their ‘skill’ is obvious from an early age, they can sense it in the way adults react to them and by the time they reach adulthood, they’ve become masters at using their looks to control others. By this time, it has become so natural to them, they do it without even thinking. Beauty is their lure, it draws people to them and through experience.
I worked with a client a couple of years ago, who was just out of a relationship with a man who exhibited many Narcissistic personality traits. She described him as beautiful, model beautiful, and his beauty meant a lot to her. She disclosed that his attention validated her as a person, because if she could win such a ‘prize’, then this must mean that there was something good about her. It meant that she was worthy and that she was beautiful. She basked in the reflective glory of being with him.
It was borrowed confidence because the moment that he walked out, he took her identity with him. She told me that she had no idea who she was because everything that she had become was all invested in him. Therefore, without his beauty, who was she? Insecure people believe that they need permission. They need their feelings and beliefs to be authenticated and validated by the other. Together, we reasoned that without him showing the rest of the world that she was special, she felt lost because she did not have the internal resources to retain her specialness by herself.
Once upon a time, I had a similar awakening. So huge was that jolt, that it forced me to figure out who I was all on my own. Perhaps the most important lesson for me was the journey that followed to discover my own specialness. From that point onwards, I decided that I didn’t need anyone else to validate my sense of self.
Sometimes the things that we want the most can be the most unhealthy for us. Believing that someone else’s ‘beauty’ can make us feel beautiful is an illusion. In the end, it can leave you feeling ugly. In much the same way as self-worth, you can’t gain beauty by proxy or on appearance alone. True beauty is an inside job.
What does emotional health look like? Therapists talk a lot about being emotionally healthy, but if you’ve never seen it, or had anyone demonstrate it to you, how do you know what it looks like?
I spent years figuring out what being emotionally healthy was and working on becoming it, because I realised that I wasn’t. From my own journey to emotional health, I noticed that there are several traits that emotionally healthy people all had in common:
They are self-focused not other people focused: That’s not to say they don’t put other people’s needs ahead of their own at times, it’s more that they don’t lose themselves or neglect their own needs in favor of someone else’s. They have a good sense of what they want, what they like, what they need and they have no problem making these things a priority. They have their eyes on their goals and their future, independent of anyone else.
They have a very low tolerance for dysfunctional people: Healthy people don’t have a need to fix or control other people. As they are self-focused, they aren’t interested in carrying someone else’s baggage. They look to make themselves better by association, not worse. Certainly they will help out someone in need, but they don’t invest their lives, their emotions, or their future in deeply troubled individuals. They don’t ignore red flags and serious issues. They aren’t interested in relationships that soar and crash and cause havoc and drama in their lives, instead they seek out relationships that are stable and reliable, with like-minded people.
They aren’t afraid of conflict and they communicate effectively: As a child, you may have been taught to be quiet, that your wants and needs aren’t important and to avoid any behaviour that might arouse anger, aggression, criticism, or attention from your caregivers. Communication is vital to every human relationship and when this is how you’ve been trained to interact with the world, you’re starting out with a huge disadvantage. How you express yourself is a measure of your self-esteem. Don’t keep quiet about important issues that need to be address, with the hope that they will go away, or that the other party will come around to your way of thinking. You cannot expect people to be able to read your mind. All that does is set you up for failure, heartache and pain.
Healthy people are not passive aggressive: They don’t agree to do something and then not do it, or sulk in protest. If they don’t want to do something – they say they don’t. They aren’t overly aggressive either. You don’t need to yell or intimidate to get your point across. When you don’t speak your mind you leave the door wide open for miscommunication. Emotional manipulators live in life’s ambiguity. When you’ve clearly indicated your intention, there’s no room for misunderstanding. Get in the practice of always saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
They are impeccable with their word: Emotionally healthy people aren’t looking to deceive or manipulate others to get ahead. They are independent, dependable, reliable and trustworthy. If they tell you they will do something – they do it. There is no guess work with healthy people, no drama – they prefer honesty and integrity.
They make self-care a priority: Self-care is more than just fitness, it’s about taking the necessary time and doing the necessary things to keep yourself balanced. Many of my friends have young children and any mother can tell you how daunting that can be, but those women who don’t hesitate to take a night off to spend time being with friends, or pursuing their interests and hobbies, are the happiest. They tell me, if they allow themselves to get too overwhelmed, it will show in how they parent. They’ll have less patience, get angry, or frustrated more easily and generally, be more stressed out –which affects everybody. But when they take the time to recharge, get centred and have fun, they know they will be better all around, for taking care of themselves first.
They hold themselves to higher standards and have more confidence: Today when I observe my very accomplished friends, I notice is that they dive right into their tasks. They don’t procrastinate or get bogged down with self-doubt – they just do it. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have a plan, or they won’t redo their work several times, but they roll up their sleeves and get to work, knowing that nothing is impossible for them and they even look forward to the challenge. They have certain expectations of themselves, they’re committed and they know they’ll do it right. Their expectation is born from the belief that they have in themselves, their abilities and their past experiences with success. When you start off knowing that you can do something, you’re already more than half way there.
They are not self-destructive: Healthy people don’t feel that they are lacking, or that they have voids to fill. Everyone has something about themselves they would change, but healthy people don’t get hung up on these things. They’re not looking to escape reality, or dull a hurt. Healthy people don’t want to hurt themselves. They have healthy attitudes about themselves and their abilities and they are genuinely happy and positive about life.
They have and enforce boundaries: Boundaries are kind of the buzz word of my blog. I realise now that I grew up with little boundaries and that led to people walking all over me. Healthy people are taught to have boundaries, to respect their rights and the rights of others. They were taught about fairness, morality and respect. Healthy people have a strong sense of right and wrong. They have no problem helping someone out, but they know where the line is between helping and being taken advantage of. They have an intact and fully functioning warning detector and they trust it. They treat people with respect and if this isn’t reciprocated, they have no interest in any further engagement.
They are attracted to like-minded people: Healthy people aren’t interested in drama and tension in their relationships, family and friends. They seek out peace and being with people who they can trust and reasonably predict their behavior. They don’t do the egg shell shuffle.
So there it is. I was looking for this big mystery and it was right in front of my eyes. If you want to know what healthy is, take a look at the attitudes and behaviors of those you respect and admire most and then do that!
Rescuer: Someone who engages in relationships, with an uncontrollable need to help, give, rescue, fix and recreate that person into the image that they desire.
If you see yourself in the above definition, raise your hand. Have you ever tried to fix someone and it actually worked? I’m guessing that the answer to this is no.
I’m not talking about two relatively healthy people, who together make each other better, but are both functional as individuals. I’m talking about two unhealthy, possibly broken people; one giving and one taking, one responsible for everything and one responsible for nothing, and one trying to change the other into something they are not.
In a nutshell, once they’ve found someone that shows interest in them, someone with a Rescuer mentality becomes determined to make it work, regardless of how unhealthy, broken or just plain wrong for them the person is. It is like choosing the proverbial square peg to fit into a round hole and hammering in that peg until it fits.
So what does is behaviour really saying? It says something along the lines of, ‘I don’t think anyone else will want me and I know you are less than what I deserve. I know better, so you do what I say and I’ll make you into a better person (for me).’
Let’s explore this thinking in further detail. I believe that the Rescuer knows, on some level, that the partner is broken, knows that they deserve better and knows that the partner exhibits poor behaviour which needs to change. In spite all of these red flags, someone with a Rescuer mentality will consciously and/or subconsciously ignore all of this and set about doing all the work for their partner, in the hope of transforming them into the person that they believe that they should be. You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.
When I have posed the question of ‘Why do you do this?’ in my work with clients, the response is always along the lines of being afraid that no one else will want them and not wanting to be alone. Moreover, whilst being so focused on the problems of others, the rescuer does not have capacity to focus on their own issues.
Those with a Rescuer mentality may get confused in thinking that what they are doing is good, kind or even altruistic. However, at its base level, rescuing others, whilst not taking care of self, may be symptomatic of a lack of self-worth and self esteem issues. In my experience, what generally ends up happening is that one goes into a full on Florence Nightingale mode, trying to come up with solutions to their problems (most Rescuers or Fixers become excellent armchair psychologists). Once the answers to their problems have been found, a Rescuer or Fixer then imparts a great deal of energy trying to make them ‘see,’ that if they just do what you say, then you can both live happily ever after. If only.
Get ready for the Game to Switch Up at this point. It may go a little something like this. Those being ‘rescued’ will not ‘see’ because the truth is that most aren’t interested or even capable of ‘seeing’. The Rescuer ends up getting frustrated because the recipient of all of their hard work is simply not behaving or doing all that they have been told that they should do. The person being ‘fixed’, in turn, becomes resentful and defensive to the repeated attempts at changing them. They may get defiant and act out by doing the exact opposite, because the type of broken people, that need to be fixed, generally have an anti-social personality traits and they excel in resisting being told what to do. They become a Rebellious Child to what they experience as your Critical Parent.
Throughout this dance, the needs and your emotions of the Rescuer are pushed aside. They have been so focused on their partner’s problems, that they have no energy to attend to their own. Their interests, hobbies, family and friends are all been put on hold indefinitely. What does a Rescuer get in return for their trouble? Arguably, a whole lot of nothing. When you become fixated on an intimacy dodger, they may start to feel trapped and obligated. For the final act in this drama, expect a disappearing act, a withdrawal, or at least a cold front to blow in.
Those with a Rescuer mentality are really good at accepting and even creating excuses for the poor behaviour of others. Many feel comfortable giving and sharing their resources and they’ve been conditioned to put the interests of others ahead of their own. Broken Downs seek out those with a Rescuer mentality because they don’t want to put in a lot of effort and Rescuers are used to living off of bread crumbs. It’s the perfect fit.
When you give and give and give with little to no return, it’s exhausting. You may feel hopeless, drained and like you’ve failed again. You then collect yet another Stamp, yet another example showing that you just weren’t good enough. You have just reinforced a deeply held belief.
How does a Rescuer mentality develop? Many became Rescuers because it was the only way they could get attention and affection in their family of origin. When children do not receive good enough parenting, are not attuned to or are neglected, they gain a hyper-sensitivity to the cues and the needs of other people. They learn that the best way to get their needs met is to know when it is safe to approach and when it is best to be invisible. By the time they reach adulthood, this fixing has become an integral part of them and how they relate to others. So much so, that it feels natural and normal to neglect their own feelings and make someone else your priority.
In its purest form, Rescuing and Fixing are about control. When you try to change someone, you are trying to control their behaviour so they don’t hurt themselves, hurt others and most importantly, they don’t hurt you. Understand that you can’t shape someone into your idea of what they’re supposed to be. Instead, try to accept people for what and who they are and if what they are isn’t what you’re looking for, maybe it is time to find what you are looking for. If you keep saying to yourself, “if only he did this, he’d be perfect” or, “if only she didn’t do this, then it would work out” and you keep trying to fix or to rescue someone from themselves because you think you know what is best for them, then you are engaging in fantasy relationships.
Love isn’t a riddle to be solved. It’s two people with both of their feet planted firmly in reality and fully accepting of each other’s flaws. It’s about giving each other the space to grow and accepting that you each have separate interests and separate friends, as well as common ones. Love is about finding the right fit, not trying to turn someone into something they’re not.
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” – Pema Chodron
For many years, I kept people at an emotional distance. I didn’t realise this at the time. Subconsciously, I believed that if I didn’t let myself get too close to someone then it wouldn’t hurt me when they left. If I didn’t let them get too close to me then they would never really know me, so when they did reject me, it wasn’t really me they were rejecting, because they did not get to know the “real me”. People that were generally interested in me were to be avoided, because they would want to get too close and that I just couldn’t risk, even though this was the type of relationship I said I wanted all along. Having experienced and worked my way out to the other side, I can empathise fully with clients who come to me, expressing the same kind of fear.
I believe that this way of thinking is something that is learnt early in childhood as a means of protection. We learned how to interact with the world through our interactions with our parents and other caregivers. If we couldn’t trust them, then we couldn’t trust anyone fully. We learned to keep people at arm’s length, because the more someone meant to us the more power they had to hurt us, so it was safer to care from behind an emotional shield of protection. This was our coping mechanism; our strategy for dealing with intimacy.
During my twenties (prior to training as a therapist), I believed that I was truly caring and had a big heart. I thought that I wasn’t the one with the problem in my relationships and that I was normal. The truth was that I would choose partners that were selfish, with lots of baggage so that the focus would always be on them and what was wrong with them. In Transactional Analysis, we call this the Game of “Blemish”. That was my favourite Game. Why did I do this? Quite simply, so that I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with me or deal with my own drama. Dealing with my own fear of intimacy was never even something I considered as one of my issues. Through my own therapy and the deeper that I progressed on my journey, the more I learned about myself and the more proof I found. This fear is a huge obstacle and it’s what keeps people locked into making the same relationship choices.
I’ve watched clients with whom I have previously worked run for the hills when someone liked them too much, or too soon. I’ve watched them blow cold when someone they initially chased, was getting too close. I’ve seen the same clients sabotage a relationship that for all intents and purposes looked like it was developing into something good, citing one or two trivial reasons as to why it could never work. When it comes to intimacy, we can be full of uncertainty and anxiety, with no clue what to do, how to act, or how to control emotions.
In my experience, I have found that people who fear intimacy share similar behaviours. They include:
- Gravitating towards people that blow hot and cold
- Preferring long distance relationships
- Avoiding people that seem genuinely interested in you
- Difficulty trusting people when it comes to love
- Feeling uncomfortable when the focus is on you
- Volatile or tempestuous relationships
- An inner conflict of needing to be loved and a need to be alone where it’s safe
- A deep rooted belief that no one has ever truly loved you
- Feeling unlovable
- Fearing someone will see your flaws and judge you to be lacking in some way
- Preferring to be alone a lot
- You may struggle with letting any romantic partner truly in to get to know the real you
The good thing about a fear of intimacy is that it can be overcome. It is a coping mechanism, something you learned to protect yourself. The key to overcoming is to understand and feel that it is now outdated in your here and now relationships. A little insecurity is normal when we enter into the unknown of a new relationship, but it should never be so intense that it keeps you from letting someone in.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable was a luxury that many of us may not have had in childhood, so we instead learned to shut that part of us down and disassociate from it. Being able to love and be loved fully means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. It means taking the right steps in new relationships – taking things slowly, getting to know someone before allowing yourself to get emotionally or physically attached. It is paying attention to red flags and acting appropriately to things that cause concern. It is watching how your potential partner reacts to your boundaries. Above all, it is about being okay with you, paying attention to your feelings, your needs and your wants and always making them a priority. When all of those T’s are crossed, it’s about opening up and slowly letting someone in. The more they show that they are trustworthy, with words and actions that match and are consistent, then the more you can begin to trust them.
I have found that the more you begin to love yourself the easier it becomes to let someone in, because you stop fearing the rejection so much and you’re less concerned with what other people think of you. When you love yourself you stop being afraid to let people see the real you, because you’ve already figured out that the real you is pretty fantastic