Things I’ve gotten good at throughout this Trauma journey:
Seeing connections between where I’m from and where I am
Thinking for the first time about where I’m going
Letting myself have emotions
Letting those emotions go
Redirecting my energy and attention away from ruminating
Being accountable for my own feelings
Being accountable for times of being a shithead
Listening and validating other humans
Listening and validating myself
Recognizing what circumstances do/don’t work for me
Realizing how my codependency plays with relationships
Letting go of self-hate inner critic talk
Reframing events with reasonable views
Accepting myself, even when I first want to thrash myself
Semi-consistently caring for myself
Setting realistic boundaries and goals
Things I’m still shitty at:
Letting my overwhelm skew reality
Being a snarky turd when my head is overloaded
Taking on other people’s energies and emotions
Trusting myself in all areas of life
Forming healthy relationships.
Okay, it’s that last one that has me most perpetually fighting feelings of panic and doom.
This seems like an apt way to kick off the new year. I think a lot of us have questions about relationships and would like to improve our operations in 2021. I can also tell you, this one is extremely appropriate looking back at the last year of my life.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned in the past few spins around the sun has been how romance does - and definitely doesn't - fit into my life. I think 2020 was particularly packed full of important lectures and pop quizzes, many of which I failed. It felt like knowing that the correct answer was C, but finding my hand filling in the circle for A every time, anyways.
This is a terrible ideaaaa... and I'm doing it. Pause for about 2 months. Now I'm upset that it was a terrible idea.
Yeah, it's been great. But I have no one to blame but myself. Because as much as I've worked on this trauma management life of mine, I haven't done a good job of working on the relationship aspect of it. I've let my usual patterns dominate. And that's what needs to be examined today.
I mean. Can someone tell me about healthy relationships in functional terms? What IS that even?
Look, I’m not hoping that someone will pop up and share some, “mutual respect, good communication, trust, support, care, similar goals, similar beliefs…” sort of shit. I fucking KNOW about the idealistic, flowery terms that all the light-hearted couples counselors recommend establishing for a happy relationship. I get it.
I’m not ignorant when it comes to the ways humans should interact. I’ve had enough experience with friendships and relationships, alike, to understand the basics of person-to-person interactions. I know I talk about myself like I’ve been a feral child locked in a cage for 20 years, but the truth is that if you met me on the streets I’d probably seem like a normal, well-adapted, personable human being. That Leo Ascendant component of my personality tricks people into actually thinking I’m an extrovert who wants attention. (Hilarious, explains a lot of comments I’ve gotten in my past)
Nah, I’m not asking for the trite descriptions of a healthy partnership that everyone who’s ever been friends on a basic girl’s Facebook has seen before in cursive writing on top of a washed-out pink-tinted field. Those are empty sounding words that I don’t believe most couples manage to put into action, no matter how many selfies they take together or labradoodles they adopt.
For me, Fuckers, the mystery isn’t, “in a fairytale world, how do two humans interact to have a lifelong bliss factory?” Respect, trust, appreciation, mutual understanding… blah blah blah. What the fuck ever.
The real question is how.
And, shit, let me just be honest with all of you - not just the Patrons who’ve already heard my personal bitching - it’s on my mind because I did a thing I definitely should not have… recently, I got into a new romantic relationship that I definitely was not looking for. I’ll spare you all the details today, but know that I’ve entered it kicking and screaming, and it’s caused me a lot of grief already.
Let the life shittery begin! Can’t wait to be destroyed.
Today, I want to bring this personal fire burning in my gut into the podcast. Motherfuck me, if it hasn’t become difficult to ignore… plus, I know that a lot of us Traumatized folks are in a similar boat when it comes to relationship confusion, unhealth, and destruction. So let’s just count the ways that I have no idea how to do this right and I’m destined to be let down by my poor choices.
This time around, I'm bringing you a list of all the ways I tend to fuck things up with other humans. In part, due to Complex Trauma. In other part, probably due to my own personal shortcomings. Listed in no particular order. On a later date, I'm going to be revisiting a lot of these patterns as I examine how early life set a lot of us up for a lot of abuse acceptance in greater detail. Stick around for those continuations on romantic disaster, if this sounds like you, too.
I'm talking about:
Partner choice: Musicians, narcissists, and addicts
… That turns into willful blind belief of their words
Authority figures & disappointment
Partner choice: Musicians, narcissists and addicts
Who has bad taste in partners? Over and over and over again? It’s me! And probably a lot of you.
Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe they’ve been wonderful guys who just didn’t mesh well with my inner or outer world… but I can tell you, there have been some similarities, and they don’t bode well for a happy future together.
You know me by now. Difficulty connecting with “normal” humans, no interest in small talk, a huge fan of deep emotional honesty, a bit gritty and assholeish, tends to be repelled by anything too widely embraced by the general public, definitely comes with a difficult past, fears of the future, and ongoing challenges in the present.
So, who do you think I get along with? Ivy leaguers with stable, supportive families, an optimistic outlook, and a 20-year plan? Or equally messy and complex humans with a set of neuroses handed down from their unexamined early traumas that make them similarly bitter and disillusioned with life? Just… probably hidden from immediate sight.
Grown men who’ve responsibly built a life for themselves with ambition, personal insight, and balance? Or man-children who’re still figuring out that they can’t drink every night of the week if they want to be functional in life and financially sound? But... with their addictions hidden behind “an appreciation for fine whiskies” or a necessity to sample the craft beer they brew.
Independent, confident humans who have no problem running their own world like a boss and trust that I’m capable of doing the same, with integrity and respect? Or distrustful turds who need me to be in their sight, half-directing their lives at all times unless I’m aiming to be accused of cheating, lying, and being unable to care for myself? Only… they hide their controlling and aggressive tendencies behind go-with-the-flow facades in the beginning.
If you guessed “B” in all three examples, you are correct!
Plus... so, so many musicians. Like, the last 6 of them have either subscribed to guitar or drum camp. And that hasn't been a purposeful decision - those are just the men I get along with until we hate each other.
It's always a rapid connection, a mutual respect for our interests in the arts, and a shared shitty attitude that starts out directed at the world and ends directed at each other. So many emotions. So many ups and downs. So many proclamations of "I can't live without you!" until the day we run in opposite directions and never look back.
Is that a coincidence? Or are all musical folk a bit wild? I hate to generalize, but I can tell you with great amusement that if you start typing "Are all musicians..." into Google, it will autocomplete with "cheaters, narcissists, and crazy." It also suggests "rich," but I can tell you for a fact that isn't true. The narcissist thing... uh.... very well might be correct. But I'll leave that for someone else to study.
So, I don't know what to make of this trend. There do seem to be some commonalities between the musicians in my past life - and they do seem to be categorized by the instrument of choice. For instance, drummers are never concerned with my time, and guitarists are emotional catastrophes. But what do I know? Can't make sweeping conclusions... I, at least, need a larger sample size. With my track record, I'm sure I'll have the numbers soon enough.
Congratulations if you predicted nothing but unstable disasters in my past. It's true, I’m an idiot. Okay, that’s not fair. No inner critic talk. Get out of here, Pam and Karen.
The fact of the matter is, I am a terrible judge of character when I start sensing a connection. I tend to connect with people who have complicated lives and inner worlds, just like I do. And from what I can tell, that is always my downfall.
Let’s go ahead and chalk this one up to never having close connections or support growing up.
You know what I always wanted, hoped for, and idealized as a kid? Someone loving me. Another human actually understanding my weirdness and signing on for more. The idea of a human who wanted to know what I thought and felt. The option of spending time with someone and feeling cared for. Also, somebody finding me attractive, instead of being repulsed by my ass-length ginger hair, flat chest, dorky hand-me-downs, bleach-stained horse sweaters, and buck teeth... also would have been a dream come true.
I’m pretty sure that growing up lonely didn’t help me in any regard when it came to my later-in-life relationship problems. Starving for connection apparently puts you in a state of deprivation, where you’re likely to think anything is better than the empty feeling inside. You know, just for the rest of your life or so.
To this day, if I meet someone and we’re able to converse without abundant clarifications or apologies for the prickly things that come out of my mouth as dry humor or unbendable opinions… we’re on a roll. If we can connect over shared perspectives on humans, life, and psychology… things are getting more serious. If we can honestly talk about the ways we’re horrible to ourselves and joke about our shared challenges in figuring out what the point of this shitty slip-and-slide of life is about… uh oh, this might be a real connection.
And so, it makes sense that I connect with all the most complicated people you’d ever meet. And we connect INTENSELY. I’m complicated, myself, and I look for folks who can accept it without their heads exploding. I’m never going to be happy holding conversations with Sports Bar Joe or Pretty Boy Blaine. They’re never going to understand the internal strife that dominates my world. I’m never going to understand how they can be all *happy,* *close with their families,* and *laid back about life.*
Gross. I can’t even say the words.
But give me the angstiest, most anxious, most misunderstood dude on the block, and we’re likely to get along swimmingly. We’ll talk over beers until the birds start to chirp. We’ll joke in our native tongues, playing with words, obscure references, and dry humor as if we’ve known each other for 25 years. We’ll share secrets about our tumultuous inner worlds and the ways that we can’t seem to get our heads on straight enough to keep our ships on course.
And the next thing you know, we’ll be incestuously connected with a somewhat false sense of intimacy that erupts out of the gates. “No one has ever understood me the way you do. I can really be myself around you. I’ve never had such easy conversations about this shit before.”
… That’s about the point when I lose all perspective. There’s a tunnel running from my face to this dude’s heart. I stop seeing things for what they are. I project a kinder, gentler, more well-intended personality on the subject of my feels. I quickly turn a blind eye to all the shit they’re doing that I wholeheartedly hate or otherwise cause my red flags to be unpacked.
I feel like I know them, inside and out. I feel like I can help them - like we can help each other - to sort through this dumb world we’ve been born into and all the circumstances holding us back. A real Sid and Nancy storyline emerges. No one gets him like I do. If only they could see the things I see. We’re just two broken souls who found each other, a little rough around the edges, but we see the diamonds underneath. And we’re in this battle together from now on.
Sooooo… This is how I wind up with the unpredictable narcissists who seem like nice guys, the secret addicts who keep their substance abuse hidden from everyone, and the emotional abusers who are ready to leverage my mental health admissions against me the first time they get the chance. Dudes who have highly emotional worlds and no idea how to deal with them. Men who don’t want to explore their own shortcomings and instead choose avoidant courses in life.
And, again, the musicians. So, so many musicians. I really am coming to think that they’re the most fucked up people of all - and that's saying a lot coming from me. Generally speaking, I've seen that there’s no sense of personal responsibility, an obsession with themselves, and a hidden inferiority complex that turns them into bitchy little dogs when they feel threatened. What’s with that, anyways? Can you guys try to be more original in your plight to be the most original?
Okay, anyways. Sorry to keep dragging on musicians.
The point is, my attempts at relationships start out on the wrong foot. Choosing the wrong partner is a pretty surefire way to dash all hopes for those fluffy ideals I mentioned earlier. No one is going to respect me, listen to me, or support me when they’re too busy dealing with their own alcoholism, abandonment issues, and narcissistic flailings… or, not dealing with them, to be more specific.
We aren’t going to be able to work through things when they’re consumed with being the king of the world, hiding from all negative emotions, and trying to keep their head away from analysing their own actions. Hell, it’ll be difficult to even find the time for serious talks, since they’re so busy traveling to band practices, hustling away for barely-paying gigs, and staring at their social media while they count the ways they’re victims of the universe.
Choose imbalanced, mentally ill, self-serving partners… get unhealthy, controlling, unpredictable relationships. Pretty goddamn obvious. And yet, I still can never seem to see the full picture of the human who’s caught my attention through the fog that’s created by the connection of our shared dysfunctions.
I guess this is where that, “love yourself and get yourself healthy first,” sentiment comes into play, so the connections don’t continue to be as disasterious as your personal experience is. Hopefully I’m on the right path in my own journey, at least. Also, a lot less starved for connection. I got y’all Motherfuckers in the Discord community, for starters. And I’ve become determined to live a life where I support myself and rely on no one outside of Archie’s snuggles, for finishers.
Step one: Be careful about who you deem a good person, just because you can share self-deprecating jokes about being nutjobs and similar musical interests. Learn to choose someone who isn’t an even trashier trash human than you are. It’s a start.
Hand in hand with forming connections that include deep emotional outpourings and admissions of all the dark things we hide from the light at our office jobs… comes codependency.
I’ve said it before and let me say it again… I didn’t understand codependency until very recently.
In my mind, it was akin to those creepy couples who won’t leave the house without each other, have the same friends, interests, and opinions on everything... and possibly wear matching cat shirts. Those people who never spend time with other humans because they're too busy being shoved up their partner’s ass. The folks who call to check in on each other throughout the day when they’re at work. Gag. Particularly, I imagined those pathetic girls who cry when their boyfriend is out of sight and post 12 pictures a day of them together.
Rightfully, I scoffed and insisted that I didn't have problems with codependency. That’s not me. But it turns out, this view isn’t quite right, so much as I was being an uninformed asshole.
Codependency doesn’t mean you’re a needy, incapable human being who sucks the life power out of someone else, like I used to think. Codependency is a two-way relationship defined by poor boundaries and non-existent emotional regulation. Two humans who see their experiences as one, all the way down to how they feel and how they deal with how they feel. (i.e. turning to their significant other for comfort and emotional control in a time of need instead of working through it by themselves). Relationships where the emotions are transferred from party to party until it's unclear who’s bringing what dish to the gathering. Waking up not knowing how your day is going to be, because it depends on how someone else feels about theirs. Emotional enablement city.
Oh, yeah, when you put it like that, I definitely have issues with codependency.
For me, the codependency is largely going to be emotional. In the past, I didn’t know how to have a relationship of any sort without having a third influence in the mix. There was the person, myself, and our shared emotions... that often called more shots than either of us did.
Because I tend to be on the empath scale (although I do everything I can to fight it out of defense), I think I’m naturally tuned into other people’s emotional and energetic states, for better or for worse. When someone walks into the room with a bad vibe, I feel it to my core. I become so uncomfortable that I take it on myself to try to “fix” the problem for them, and in doing so, I avoid the negative sensation, myself. This is negative reinforcement, if anyone wanted to ABA with me.
That being said, clearly if my boo is having a hard time… it’s not okay. They’re in a shit place and therefore so am I. I must do whatever I can to make it better. To sit down and talk in circles with them, if that’s what relieves some of their tension. To commiserate about how unfair the circumstances are. To validate the negativity that they’re projecting and wallowing in.
Don’t worry though, this goes the other way, too. In the past, I have fully expected my romantic partners to alleviate any inner discomfort that I’ve felt. If I was having a low-down day, I wanted them to cheer me up. If I was full of anxiety, I wanted them to find a way to release it. If I was frustrated with a work situation or coworker, I wanted them to be as angry and indignant as I felt.
So… I guess that doesn’t even sound too off-base to me, at least not when I’m leaning on my teenage expectations of what relationships are supposed to be. In my head, it was always completely ideal that I would wind up with someone who could essentially read my thoughts and comfort me like my family never did. I just wanted someone who would be by my side, thinking about me all the time, and working double time to make sure I was keeping my depression and anxiety on the up-and-up. Is that too much to ask? Uh… yeah, it is.
Maybe in a fairytale love story like the ones I saw in teenage romance movies growing up, this is the perfect way for two broken misfits to interact. “We’re both so damaged and hurt that no one has ever really seen us - but now we have each other to lick our shared wounds.” Yeah, romantic. Also really fucked up and dangerous in the real world.
The problem is, after a few months of this, it gets pretty hard to determine what’s my experience and what’s yours. The emotions become so transitive that it can be invigorating, immersive, overwhelming, and exhausting to be in each other’s company, depending on the day and the event. Living together or essentially sharing a residence makes it much worse - there’s no physical barrier between us, so that emotional barrier is even less existent. We don't have to try to text about our woes, we can just unleash them the moment we step foot in the door. Ready or not, your night is about to be ruined by my day, and vice-versa.
How does this go wrong? Uh, let’s count the ways.
1. My emotional management was never up to par, in the first place. Having your feelings catapulted my way effectively pushes me off the balance beam that I was already wobbling on. If I was having a difficult day but holding it together on my own through coping techniques and reasonable thinking - fucking forget it, that’s over now. We’re both in a shitty state now. Great. In the context of trying to recover from mental health issues… yeah, it’s a fucking disaster. Being retriggered by your partner or sucked into a depressive undertow when you’re trying to make positive change is a losing battle.
2. I never learned how to cope with my own emotions. There was generally someone else for me to hurtle them at, and our subsequent hours of bitching would give me the comfort I was looking for. I didn’t need to learn to manage my feelings - I always had a glorified babysitter to keep me alive. I never had to be accountable for my inner world. I never had to look at things with logic or reason. I could let myself spiral and trust that my best friend or boyfriend would catch me before I slipped down the drain.
3. It becomes impossible to talk about issues - personal or shared. When you’re already sharing emotions there’s an explosive effect when conflict is brought up. Neither one of us knows how to handle our shit, we expect the other person to hold us up with kid gloves, annnd now that person is the source of my distress? We’re both completely beside ourselves, upset, hurt, and angry… and it’s towards each other? Now who the fuck do we call? There's a huge sense of confusion and betrayal. No one has the skills to de-escalate the argument or return to a normal emotional state.
4. How do you break up when half of your existence is in the body of another human? You can’t mentally or emotionally separate yourself from them. Physically separating yourself feels like ripping out a few of your organs and leaving them on the streets. And, who’s going to keep you afloat when you’re going through the pain of the break up? That’s the job of your partner, afterall… can’t have a vacant desk sitting here. It’s best to just suck it up and stick with it. No one would understand what you’ve both been through together, anyways.
In a word, that’s codependency.
Not what people think it is. Not what our culture describes it as. Not so easy to spot until you’re educated and honest with yourself… plus, probably viewing things through the lenses of hindsight.
Definitely a sneaky recipe for disaster when you let it take over a well-intended, emotionally transparent, highly connective relationship. And, Motherfuckers, I’ve always tended to.
Mistrust and abandonment
Who even needs this one explained? When you’ve had a life of terrible experiences with other humans which was kicked off by the ones who were supposed to care most for you, it’s no surprise that you look at everyone with squinty eyes for the foreseeable... lifetime.
In my world, I expect that everyone exists to do me dirty. Even if you’ve given me no reason to think that you would hurt me mentally, emotionally, or physically it doesn’t matter, because about a hundred other people have. My default setting is cynical, lie-detecting, and looking for signs of danger.
In romantic relationships this functionally results in a replicable pattern. The early stage is all love and butterflies and confidence; you’ve found me and decided you want to be with me, and that’s good enough. This connection is real and we’re both enamored. Why would you look elsewhere when you’re happy with me? If you do, no problem, because I’ll be just fine without you.
Annnd then we hit stage two - now I’m pretty sure you’re looking at every girl on the street, thinking about how much you’d rather be with them. If we aren’t together, you’re talking to other bitches. If I check your phone, I bet I’ll find signs that you were about to jump ship. If you leave I will be broken forever because it’s further proof that I’m an unlovable disaster.
The difference between these two stages? Eh, a few weeks. Depends on how strongly and how quickly the emotions develop. The sooner I feel like I “need” you, the sooner we’ve both planned out our future lives together, the sooner I’m convinced that you’re trying to leave me on the side of the road a mile into our eternal trip.
This fear of abandonment is my major form of mistrust. It strikes on one of my greatest complexes and turns me into a jealous, suspicious asshole.
But don’t worry, I also think my lovers are liars about everything.
Probably as a result of my oldest brother being the world’s most unnecessary liar during his heroin addicted decade, I tend to think everyone is full of shit. I mean, after his years of recreationally lying, it’s not that much of a mystery. Obviously, addicts lie to get sympathy and resources… but this kid would look you straight in the eye and relay false information that 1) had no point or 2) was contradictory to things you both saw with your own eyes.
“Oh, you didn’t eat all the cookies last night? You’re telling me someone broke into the house and touched nothing except me home-made desserts?” or “Really, it wasn’t you who broke into that house? Dude, we all SAW YOU do it. What do you mean, ‘no?’” Yeah. It was a whole new level of absurdity, which may have been a bit humorous if it wasn’t during the shitstorm of his perpetual thievery along with everything else going on. Plus, again, a decade of this.
So, to this day I am constantly on the lookout. I study people like I’m a member of the FBI. If you say a wrong word, if you look a weird direction, if you give two slightly different accounts of the same event… oh, bitch, you are trying to fucking play me right now, aren’t you? You think I’m stupid? You think I wouldn’t catch that? Oh, I KNOW what you’re up to! (and the delusional tales of abandonment start flying)
I expect people are lying to me 99% of the time. I don’t need proof, I already got it when I was 11 years old.
How does that play out in relationships? Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. Poorly. Nothing like feeling that your girlfriend is going to cut your dick off because you said you’d be home at 6:30 and instead you were home at 7. Yep, that’s me. (To be clear, I would never cut off someone’s dick. But I will give you a horrible stink eye and shut down for the night if I think you’re pulling a fast one.)
I never think anyone means what they say. I don’t think they say what they mean. I feel like I’m being taken advantage of in some way, at all points. And I assume that everything eventually boils down to leaving me for greener pastures without any warning.
Until… suddenly, I do.
Somehow following or confusingly intermingled with my mistrust is my completely illegitimate faith in the things that men tell me. I know, that makes no sense. I can’t explain it either, but I’ll try.
I guess, I both expect that people are lying to me and deeply want to believe the things that I’m being spoon fed. My mind sort of flips from one state to another - either you’re totally full of shit and I’m ready for you to just let me down already… or I’m sure that the feelings you express are totally real and we have a future mapped out before us, just like you insisted.
Theoretically, this is obviously a total disaster. I guess it’s healthy to have some degree of skepticism… but to also believe in someone so fully that you’re ready to (oh, idk) pack up and move across the country for them (cough) at the same time? It definitely points to some problems going on in my head. Like, maybe realizing that I’m putting all my eggs in one basket while my hands continue to scoop up the pre-chickens in the hope of a better life, anyways?
Functionally, I wind up in this back and forth pattern that causes me enormous grief. I don’t know how I feel about my partner. I alternate between fantasizing about our lives together and leaving them without a word so I’m not hurt when they inevitably reveal their true colors. I never know where I land.
But I can tell you, I’m a sucker for the spoken word.
Something about being told that I’m important, loved, and needed… it just bowls me over and makes me fall in love. Those phrases are addicting. Those verbal sentiments make me forget all my hurt in the past and forge forth with reckless abandon, butterflies in my stomach and warmth in my heart. No matter how shitty your actions are, I get caught up in the nice words I’ve been fed and choose to pay them the most attention.
“Sure, he’s being an abusive piece of shit right now… but he says that he loves and needs me. He promises that he’s working on changing. I think this is just a rough patch in our story.”
Again, I don’t think my voluntary decision to be a part of language-based deceit is a big mystery. Again, it goes back to my childhood. Of course.
Being alone most of the time. Feeling entirely overlooked, unwanted, and even hated. Never hearing nice things from my peers. Rarely kind words from my family. I felt passed over. I felt inferior. I felt like something was wrong. And I started longing for someone to make me feel worthy. I just wanted to mean something to someone - honestly, I wanted to mean the most to someone.
So, to this day, I’m a verbal push-over. Men who are good with their words? Oh, Fucker, they’ll keep me on the line for a long time. Again, my abusive ex was a master talker… and that relationship lasted, largely, because of his ability to make me swoon with lovey feelings based on what he told me - definitely not how he actually acted.
It’s a problem to this day. And none of it is helped by my inherent sense of being unworthy.
I guess this goes hand in hand with all things Complex Trauma. I suck, I’m the worst, I’m not good at anything, I’m not even that pretty, and someday they’re going to meet someone who really can meet their standards. They’ll have a beautiful life together when that 12/10 shows up. Right now, they’re just too idealistic to see the real me. She’s awful. It’s only a matter of time.
Why do I hate myself so much? Inner critic, baby. She’s an asshole and she controls the perception I have of myself.
In comparison to… well… anyone, my inner critic thinks that I’m better off forfeiting the race. In relationships, this results in feeling inferior to not only my romantic partner - positioning them as an authority figure (more on that later) - but also to everyone they come into contact with. That old friend? She’s way better than I am. That coworker? I bet he wishes I was her. His fucking sisters? How can he even think I measure up, when he’s clearly so impressed with them.
(To be clear for anyone from my ex’s family who might hear that and think I’m talking about those sisters, I’m not. You’re not the example, sorry hun.)
Anyways, all of this has the effect of making me super self-conscious and eventually shut the fuck down. I stop trying so hard because I stop feeling like my efforts make any difference. I become so defeated and downtrodden that I barely show up for the relationship anymore and I’m continually plagued with shame.
If anything about me starts to slip during the course of the relationship - and let’s be honest, it will - I stop feeling like I’m worthwhile at all. If I get off my exercise routine (I will) and gain a few pounds, I beat the shit out of myself for not being good enough. If I don’t make major career improvements as quickly as they do (I probably won’t), I harass myself for being so stupid and incapable. If I stop dressing so nicely or taking care of my skin because I’m halfway to depression from the prior two examples (I will be), I break down with self-flagellation and dig in deeper to the cheese drawer.
The cumulative result? Giving up on myself. Resenting all the people who are still keeping themselves afloat. Ruminating about all the ways I’ve been a disappointment to everyone. Finding my self-esteem in the shitter and my relationship on the rocks. Realizing that there’s no point in trying to rectify either, because my efforts are only ever futile. Especially when she’s around and he deserves so much better.
I feel like I’m always a day away from heartbreak. From my man choosing someone better. And I actually feel like that’s what should happen, because I know that I’m failing miserably to meet anyone’s standards. Go on without me, you deserve better than me, my FUPA, my unwashed hair, and my messy brain can provide.
Wonder why I always feel this way? No you don’t. It’s the same narratives from my early life. Those fed to me by my siblings, my classmates, and my parents.
Here we go, time for the weirdest relationship characteristic that I’ve noticed...
This is a creepy one that makes me feel uncomfortable to think about. But, when you give someone else all the authority in the relationship, you sort of set yourself up for a weird parenting stand-in. I wind up appealing to my partners like they’re my substitute mom or dad half the time. And I feel like vomiting just typing that.
Let me be clear, however, that this pattern goes both ways for me.
It probably doesn’t make it better to say this, but I tend to be a motherly figure for my love interests and they tend to become my missing father. However, I’ve also recently realized the overlapping patterns between my prior relationships and the fucked up emotionally abusive relationship I had with my mom growing up.
So. That’s not at all fucked up in a Psycho sort of way, right? Ugh. It’s so gross.
But let me dive deeper… Here’s the thing. I think I tend to fall for guys with sub-par maternal relationships. There’s a lot of distance or resentment somehow or another, in everyone I’ve been with. Likewise, I definitely don’t have any paternal influence whatsoever in my life. And my mom? Well that shit has always been a rollercoaster of control and love - chaos, for sure.
As a result, I feel like the codependency that I discussed earlier has a common effect of pushing us both into these pseudo-caretaker roles that were never filled in our earlier lives. Yuck. But, I get it.
So, I’m naturally skilled at being caring in all ways. From feeding people to fixing their ailments to nursing their emotional wounds. I’m that guy. I live for it. It gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction. I love to be a caretaker and put my attention anywhere but on myself. Uh, I have a broken dog in a wheelchair and compulsively collect abandoned animals, metaphorically and literally.
The men I tend to get involved with? They at least project competence in a few important “daddly” areas. Financially, mechanically, directionally… somehow or another, they demonstrate that they fit some stereotypically manly role as a protector or provider. It might be completely false, but at least they present this way. And that steadfast protector who works to take care of your bigger issues? That’s a person I never got to have in my life when I was younger. Something I envied in the other kids. Something I still want.
And so, we easily find ourselves slipping into this fucked up dynamic of trying to heal each other’s early wounds through caring for each other in the ways we’ve always wanted. Filling voids that have been gaping for decades. Looking for love and winding up with… fake mom and dad.
Not only is this creepy, but it’s dysfunctional. You know what angsty little fucker did not get along with her parental figures at all? This one. Also, every dude I’ve ever loved. What happens when we jump into this recreation of past parenting events? We fight like we used to battle our parents in high school. Always one second away from, “You don’t understand me or my friends and you never will! I hate you mom!”
So… that’s great for an adult romantic relationship. Let’s just make everything snarky and overly dramatic when we disagree. Let’s try to control each other with “what we think is best.” Let’s baby the shit out of one another in ways that everyone would be better off struggling on their own.
“You’re not my fucking dad!” I’ve said it before, and I hope I never say it again.
Authority figures & disappointment
A brief aside from the prior two points. What happens when you put someone on a pedestal as a know-all-be-all figure? You’re eventually disappointed when they prove to be nothing short of a human being.
It’s probably happened to all of us with our parents, teachers, coaches, favorite musicians, or whoever you looked up to from a young age. It seemed like this person had it all figured out. They’re literally a god among men. So wise, so capable, so kind.
And then you see them lose their shit when the internet goes out or find out about their disastrous personal lives. Whoa. Where the fuck did that person come from? Have you been a flawed human this whole time? How didn’t I notice?
More importantly - “Can I trust anything you’ve ever said? Anything I’ve ever thought about you? What is real? Who are you actually?”
The crushing disappointment of seeing your boyfriend piss-pants wasted for the first time, or in an intellectual battle where they're definitely the one who’s wrong, or trying to justify shitty behavior at work that absolutely is inexcusable… it’s a difficult moment.
For me, I think the hardest details that eventually emerge are the places where our morals differ or our individual views on self-responsibility are discrepant. When someone suddenly let’s the cat out of the bag that they have a moral compass slightly askew from mine… particularly in how they care about other humans… I start to see things differently. Similarly, when they want to play the victim or wait for the world to show up and present them with the sacred treasures ‘ they deserve,’ I have a hard time respecting them the same way.
Wait, here I was counting on you for supporting my ideas in these areas… and now I’m seeing that you’re far less capable of these lectures than I initially recognized.
Accepting someone for their inherent, human flaws is totally possible. But it’s not so mentally kosher when you’ve already subscribed to the idea that this person is better than you, smarter than you, and responsible for you. Now what? You can’t believe anything they say all of a sudden, and that leaves you lost in the open sea. The Captain turned out to be a kook in a fancy hat. Who the fuck is steering the ship around here?
Without the natural hierarchy that was keeping the ship running smoothly, the crew starts to crumble. Resentment starts to build. Confidence and commitment to the mission deteriorate. But, remember, you can’t jump ship; thanks to the codependency that’s already been established, you count on the Captain to kick his legs for both of you. Looks like you’re stuck, realizing that you’re in the hands of an insane person but being voluntarily mentally tethered to this insufferable prick, anyways.
Let me just say the word one more time. Resentment.
But… somehow mixed with a continued desperation to keep things afloat?
Man, I’m good at lining these up. Like I just said - I realize at some point that shit is sinking, but for whatever reason, I can’t tear yourself away from the doomed vessel. I become further and further entrenched in this stubborn, grueling lifestyle of trying to force the boat to float through any sure-to-fail means necessary. Dumping solo cups of salt water overboard as the ocean comes pouring in.
Even though I sort of dream of the boat hitting the bottom of the ocean the entire time… I can’t stop trying to shovel my way out. I get committed to the relationship for all the wrong reasons.
At some point, it stops being about me or the other party or our connection together. The whole thing starts to be more about survival and bitterly proving a point to someone or another.
Remember, by now I’m convinced that I can’t go on without this human guiding the way. Our emotions are as vast and inseparable as the salt and the sea that’s pulling us both under. I’ve never been a strong swimmer and this guy grew up in fucking Florida. He knows the way to the nearest island and I’m too directionally-challenged to even use Google Maps successfully. I need him. There’s no other way.
When I’m not drumming up the doomsdaying fucker inside me, giving them the soapbox, and listening to every batshit word about how I can’t make it on my own, I’m sure to run through a narrative of how this relationship means something much larger to my entire life and personality. “They aren’t going to see me fail again!” Maybe I really mean, “I’m not going to see myself fail again!” I’m not sure.
The point is, somewhere along the line I don’t feel like I’m fighting for the life we’ve planned together or the connection that once felt so tangible and potent. Honestly, a lot of the time I’m telling myself that the universe brought us together for a reason that justifies the last terrible relationship I was in. I can’t let it go, or else everything is meaningless. So that’s an existential crisis built into a breakup.
Functionally, though, I’m just swinging away, barely keeping both of us alive… for what? To prove that we can? Even if we feel dead on the inside? Sort of like those folks who live to be 100 years old, but they’ve been in a vegetative state for a few decades. What’s the purpose?
There is none.
Honestly, the only thing that’s pulling us together at this point is the fear of what happens if we separate ourselves. The judgement, the loneliness, the emotional independence. The unknown. The depression. The self-hatred. The forfeit that the world has any meaningful plan for me.
I become committed to avoiding the things that scare me, not to maintaining any positive pieces of the relationship. Most of those have been long-lost at this point. The day that we accidentally met and forged a steel bridge between us is a distant memory. I may mourn it. I may still idealize it. But I think I know deep down that it’s over. Still, I just cannot let it go. I cannot let this person go. I cannot let us get sucked under without each other. ‘
Just keep scooping out dixie cups of water. The churning sea of our mutual self-destruction will never win!
Plus, I can’t let myself get flooded or I’ll surely drown. Like I said, I’m not good at swimming. I can’t do it without being cheered on and held up.
Ahoy, it’s my other least favorite Complex Trauma hallmark besides codependency. Fucking learned helplessness. Another pattern that I liked to scoff at and proclaim, “hell no, not me, not this time CPTSD.”
Well, Fuckers, yeah. Honest truth is, learned helplessness is real. It’s been a part of my life and a HUGE part of my romantic relationships, if that wasn’t already clear.
Following the codependency, fears of inadequacy, and defecting authority to my partner, I start to feel incapable of doing anything myself.
On the mental and emotional front, I start to believe that my decisions aren’t sound. My thoughts aren’t valid. My feelings are disruptive - even to the person who once treasured them. As my shittiest ex so kindly put it, “Your head is broken, Jess.”
It’s easy to wonder what the alternative is to the relationship. Being completely alone and destitute? Who will ever listen to you again? Who will ever understand? Who will ever love you? Satan knows, you don’t even love or understand yourself.
My partners also have a penchant for insisting I’m physically incapable. Everything from trying to carry light things for me. Insisting that they feed me. Inciting worry about being violently taken or taken advantage of. Becoming the sole driver in the relationship. Things progress quickly from, “You’re better at this than I am” to “You’re so much better that you’re the only one who can do this.”
All of these practical, physical feats have the effect of making me believe I can’t do them anymore on my own. How will I even stay alive without a place to go, a way to get there, or a method to put food in my mouth? Who will keep me safe from all the dangers outside? Let alone, wondering how I’ll fare when I’m contending with the mental health issues that are going to come rearing up when no one is around to keep them under control for me.
When my mental health is in a full blown meltdown, this self-doubt and ramped up fear is a recipe for disaster.
If my anxiety, in particular, is in an untethered condition, this is when I start to actually be the kind of “codependent” that I abhor. The type of person who can’t leave the house alone. Who can’t handle any aspect of life without their partner’s input. Who can’t even fathom a life where they are responsible for themselves.
I feel like I can't even control the environment inside of myself, let alone the often-terrifying circumstances that come from the outside world seen through Complex Trauma glasses. My partner is my liferaft in this disaster movie. I don’t know how to float for more than two seconds on my own. I can’t let go.
And this is how I get trapped. Unable to stay, unable to leave. Trapped in unpredictable rises and falls with someone who’s equally out of control of himself… yet completely in control of me. No one knows what to do. No one is happy. Everyone is looking for a final straw to break the camel’s back. But the animal just keeps walking, no matter how disconnected the vertebrae are becoming.
When will it end?
Great question. When will it end. Generally, things eventually reach a dramatic breaking point when one party or another flees from the scene without much of a communal discussion on the matter. Struggling along one day, out of sight the next. Disappeared. Poof, this mess is over.
I think this happens when one or both people reach such a cataclysmic emotional break that it really is better to just avoid the whole horse and pony parade for another single day. Confronting the problems never works out; we always just come back to the fact that we have deep feelings for each other and can’t let it go. After reliving this pattern a few hundred times without anything improving, it’s easier to just give up. Distance ourselves. Cut the tie that keeps yanking us back together. Take on more pain now to relieve ourselves of suffering in the future.
So.. uh… Sudden ghosting is actually a pretty constant pattern in my romantic relationships. Which is fucking horrific, from both perspectives.
I’ve certainly run out and never looked back before. Refused to have drawn out conversations about it. Just removed myself and hoped that all the dark feelings would go away with time. I’m not proud. I’m just a flighty mess when things get bad enough.
I’ve also had men run off on me without a word, or, with a very ambiguous message. I’ll get a, “I just can’t handle the feelings anymore,” sortof sentiment. “It’s too hard, I love you too much, it’s better this way.” That kind of thing.
I’m not a pursuer - I’ll let them go and never say another word out of principle and personal weakness. I can’t stand the struggle of being vulnerable, putting my heart on the line, and being stomped all over. So, I won’t. Even if it’s eating me from the inside out, I’m not going to risk putting myself out there again.
For both parties, these rapid dissolutions after months or years of living for each other are horrendous. I don’t think anyone can really “get over” it when there’s zero closure. Whether you’re the runner or the abandoned party, I think there are a lot of regrets and shards of glass that stick with you for years. Never speaking your feelings or coming to an understanding with the other person? It doesn’t sit well in ruminatory brains. Not to mention, all those questions of expected versus actual outcome that will keep you awake at night. Plus, the overarching BUT WHY.
So, for the next 3-6 months that’s what I’ll look forward to. Ongoing suffering from the inside out. All the questions floating in my head. All the things I wish I could take back and do better. All the codependent decisions that I want to undo.
I’ll vary between feeling strong, powerful, and totally over this fucking loser… and wanting to die because it’s too painful to go on another fucking moment without them. I’ll become very avoidant of anything that reminds me of them. I’ll probably get off social media for fear of accidentally seeing their face. And some days, I’ll see the relationship with realistically-framed glasses that show me we had a real connection, but not the real life skills to make it matter.
I’ll swear that this is the last time I ever make these mistakes again. I’ll promise to stay single forever, because I have so much mental and emotional control when I’m alone. I’ll swear off men for the rest of my life.
And then… one day I’ll make a new connection. And no matter how much I try to turn it off, to turn away from it, to remind myself that this isn’t a novel experience and it always ends poorly… I’ll find myself sucked in again. Addicted to the attention. To the sense of belonging. To the validation of my existence. To the feeling of being seen.
Start hammering, bitch, you’re building a whole new ship to sink yourself on.
Okay y'all, that’s it. Just a long-winded explanation of all the love patterns that traditionally dominate my life and destroy a human or two.
Maybe the most interesting thing about all of this is - I'm so the opposite of everything I described previously when I'm single. On my own? I'm independent, fairly stable, content with my time, more self-assured, and more likely to make life changes. I don't feel like a helpless critter in the same way. I feel like myself. I'm a thousand times less pathetic and chronically upset.
But as soon as an emotional caretaker enters the picture? I'm a mess. Some other - less adult, less capable - part of my personality comes out... and more on that in a later episode.
I'm happy to say... it is getting better, at least.
I've realized that these aren't the right ways to approach relationships - and understanding that is half the battle, when, again, no one ever taught you the first thing about respectful partnerships. Realizing that you've had the wrong MO and the wrong instruction manual the entire time? It's hard. There's a lot of resistance. It's massively confusing. It's self-shame-worthy. And you sort of have to go back to your looking glass self process to start understanding how to interact more healthily with other healthy humans... which is sometimes humiliating and full of rejection.
So, at least these are patterns I'm reporting on from my past. And I now see them as being flawed models of exactly what not to do. The behaviors that didn't serve my family members or anxiously attached friends, and aren't going to help me out, either. My social environment had things alllll wrong.
Will I ever get this shit right? Um, I hope so. But it's still a struggle.
Spoilers, I’ve went through the rise and fall of a new partnership during the course of this writing, pausing for disaster, and recording last fall. Was it super connective, intense, and dramatic? Felt like it. Did it end, not with a bang, but with a whimper, like always? You’regotdamnright. Did I already know that everything would pan out exactly the way it crumbled? Yip. And yet I tortured myself anyways. At least it didn't last long, so it didn't sink my whole life. Just taught me some new lessons and made me consider why, exactly, these things always go down so filthily. On repeat. No matter how different I think this butthole is going to be.
I guess that’s what happens in this Complex Trauma life with big emotions, low self-worth, a desire to find meaning and connection in the universe… and the trauma-bonding of the COVID pandemic probably doesn’t help, either.
But hey, it made me more cognizant of my disorganized attachment style. Because fuck me, if I don't alternate between feeling like relationships are my only hope and wanting to run faaaaar away from my partner, depending on the moment. "Come closer - no, get away! It's better for both of us! But come back, I miss you."
Weird, why do I always end up with partners who are similarly anxious or avoidantly attached? Who else would put up with that?
At least I’m self-aware when it comes to my personal failures. Will I listen to myself and completely avoid them again? Nah, probably not. But I'm taking steps with building up my own self-worth, learning about boundaries, and trying to find a balance between the dudes I find connection with and the rest of my life. Plus, realizing that I'm 100% fine without them... actually, I'm going to be at my best once they stop dragging me down. I've got myself and she's doing pretty alright. What am I so worried about?
It sucks to realize that you've been doing things all wrong this whole time, but the awareness helps to cut the sting. “Been here, done this all before, I’ll survive…. And worry not, lonely loser, there will be another musician right around the corner when you least desire it.”