Archive for the ‘Friendships’ Category

PhotobucketThe biggest revelation to me in mulling over yesterday’s topic was that I have the ability to be emotionally healthy enough for one person and too emotionally unhealthy for another person regardless of the level of emotional health of the other person. The reason for this is that each of us has strengths and weaknesses. We each have areas in which we interact with others from a healthy place and other areas in which we are far from healthy. That doesn’t characterize any of us as “fully healthy” or “fully unhealthy.” It’s a matter of which part of ourselves we choose to use as a foundation in our relationship with another person.

As an example, before I ever recovered my first flashback (which means I was very emotionally unhealthy in most areas of my life), I was emotionally healthy in my professional life. It hit several bumps in figuring out how to be successful in the business world, but in the years before I left my profession to be a stay-at-home and then started having flashbacks, I was emotionally healthy at work.

I “got” what was expected of me and what to expect from fellow coworkers, and my relationships with my coworkers were healthy ones. I was capable of this despite being very emotionally unhealthy in most other areas of my life. People with professional relationships with me during this time would probably characterize me as “emotionally healthy” based on this one aspect of my personality, but I was an emotionally unhealthy train wreck in just about every other area of my life.

The converse is true today. When I look back where I was nine years and compare it to today, I barely seem like the same person. I have changed in so many (mostly healthy) ways in so many areas of my life. Nevertheless, as you can tell by my blog entries over the past couple of weeks, I am far from having it all figured out. If I were to build a relationship with someone based on those aspects of myself, I suspect that relationship would be emotionally unhealthy for both of us.

This does not make either me or the other person “emotionally unhealthy” as a whole, but that area of my life would not be a healthy foundation for me upon which to build an emotional connection with another person. Also, just because the other person was willing to make this less healthy part of me the foundation of the friendship really isn’t a reflection of that person’s overall level of emotional health any more than it is a reflection of mine.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am traveling this week, so I have limited time to do the work I usually do to find and quote reader comments. A reader posted recently that s/he has concerns about labeling other people as “healthy” or “unhealthy.” I have thought about that comment a lot and have come to agree – that the relevant issue is not whether another person is “healthy” but, instead, whether a relationship with that person is healthy for me.

As an example, I have written several times about my long-term friendship that ended last year. We became friends before I started my healing process, and I was very emotionally unhealthy. Since then, I have grown and healed at a mindboggling rate in many areas of my life but continue to struggle with being emotionally unhealthy in some areas.

This friend also grew during the same period but not at the same pace. I can point to several areas of her life where anyone would view positive healing progress from where she was then to where she is now. So, when I last talked with her a year ago, she was a healthier version of herself than she was eight or nine years ago.

This friendship was actually healthy for me during a time that she was not as healthy because she was so much healthier than I was in the areas I needed growth. It was more of a comparative thing. No, she wasn’t 100% emotionally healthy (nor is anyone), but she was leaps and bounds healthier than I was in the areas I needed, and my friendship with her greatly helped me along my healing journey for years, and did mine for her.

At the time our friendship ended, it was no longer healthy for me because I needed the focus to change from our mutual pain to other commonalities, but she was unwilling and/or unable to make this transition. If she had been willing to change our time together from talking about our pain and misery to other commonalities, such as our love of books, teaching, or parenting special needs children, I think we could still be friends today in a way that is healthy for both of us. However, for whatever reason, we could not/did not make that transition, and the friendship ended.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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FriendsOn my blog entry entitled Worrying about Reactions to Your Child Abuse Story, a reader posted the following comment:

What do you do when even with minimal information (eg that my father sexually abused me) your friends avoid you because all they can think about when they see you is sad things? (Even if you don’t say anything about it and are only talking about happy things.) I just feel so lonely and so confused and don’t know what to do. ~ ericatherunnergirl

I, too, went through this with many of my friends in the early years of healing from child abuse. The surprising part to me was that even some of the people who took my news very well in the moment and said all of the right things pulled away after my disclosure.

One in particular was great at first – she made a point of making eye contact and saying, “This is NOT your fault. You need to understand that.” I sooo needed to hear that message and thought, “Wow. She gets it.” Then, crickets. I still bump into her from time to time, and she is as sweet as can be, but she pulled away when I needed her the most.

I think the problem is that emotionally unhealthy people attract emotionally unhealthy friends, so the pool of friends to choose from for support is likely not to offer the best choices. I am no longer friends with any of the ladies I used to hang out with before healing or during the early stages of healing. If we bump into each other, we’ll do the casual chit-chat thing (other than the one ex-friend), but I have healed too much for any of those friendships to work anymore.

If anyone had told me this would happen, I am not sure I would have had the courage to continue healing, and I sure would not have viewed this as a good thing. I had such a deep-seated fear of abandonment that I would have been scared to do anything to push away the people I loved … and I did love my friends.

In retrospect, I recognize that losing these unhealthy friendships cleared the way for healthy friends to enter my life. I have three close friends locally as well as many others who are not as close. All three close friends are much more emotionally healthy than any of the friendships that have fallen by the wayside, and all three of those friendships have room for me to be myself in them. I can talk about anything I need to, including the abuse — all three of them are happy to listen and can handle it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Believe it or not, this is my 1,100th blog entry. I wish I had something brilliant to discuss to mark this milestone, but as you know, I am just grateful to have the energy to blog at all. Other than the doctor’s appointment and shuttling my kid to school and back, and I have pretty much lived in my bed for a week.

I took my kid to his school’s book fair yesterday before my doctor’s appointment and ran into my ex-friend’s daughter. She had seen me the day before when I was running a fever and asked how I was doing. I said I was heading to the doctor for a sinus infection.

That prompted her to share all that has been going on in her family. Apparently, her grandmother (ex-friend’s mother) is having hip replacement surgery, but her mother (my ex-friend) can’t really help because she has already been in the hospital once and now might need to have surgery. I have no idea what the reason is for either and did not think it was my place to pry.

Keep in mind that this information came from an 11-year-old child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and this child has given me misinformation before. I don’t think it was intentional, but she can be a bit of a drama queen. Back when my ex-friend and I were still friends, her daughter told me that my friend was going to have back surgery, which turned out not to be true. My ex-friend had been told that back surgery was an option for her issue, but she decided against it because of the long recovery time.

I went through these feelings when my mother/abuser was in the hospital, and now I am dealing with them with my ex-friend. As someone recovering from dissociative identity disorder (DID), experiencing conflicting emotions is a relatively new experience. I used to deal with conflicting emotions by separating them into two alter parts. Problem solved. That’s not an option if I want to face life from a “singleton” perspective. Life is filled with gray issues that elicit feelings of ambivalence.

The bottom line is that I cannot allow my feelings of compassion to dictate my choices. I chose to end both relationships for logical reasons, and those reasons have not changed just because both women have experienced medical issues.

My heart does go out to my ex-friend because she doesn’t have many people in her life to take care of her if she is dealing with serious medical issues, doubly so if her mother is also having surgery. However, there is also a reason why my ex-friend has so few people in her life to help her out, and that is not my responsibility. I cannot change the big decisions in my life just because I am needed. The reasons I chose to leave both relationships have not changed. I just wish breaking off relationships was easier.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Pond in Clearing (c) Lynda BernhardtAs I shared here and here, I mutually ended a nine-year dysfunctional friendship in August and have been grieving it to varying degrees ever since. This was the first friendship where I really allowed myself to be vulnerable. She saw the “real me” before anyone else did. She was my rock during my therapy years, patiently listening and supporting me as a worked through the painful healing process.

She is also the same person who encouraged the more damaged part of myself. She tried to convince me that the binge eating was a “normal snack.” She encouraged feeling resentment toward my husband and child. Our commonality was our pain, but I healed much of mine while she is still mired in her muck. My life view is that I can transform and step back into a life not defined by my past. Her life view is that she needs to control her surroundings so that nobody can hurt her again. What once worked beautifully now stifled me and stymied her… and now, it’s over.

On her end, the friendship could only continue on her terms. That meant that she was not only “in charge” but “in control.” I no longer wanted someone else “in control” of me, especially when that control continued to drive me back to the dark places. I have not worked this hard to stay “dark.”

I really liked Ruby’s comment on this blog entry:

I am kind by nature, but can be a doormat by training. My one question that help me decide whether to reach out or stay quiet is “Am I acting out of love or fear.” If I’m afraid of their response…I stay quiet and let it happen. ~ Ruby

Yes, that was our dynamic. So much of what I said or didn’t say was out of fear of p#$$ing her off, not love. There wasn’t room to be me because I was constantly gauging her reaction. That was unhealthy for me and had to end.

Just because a decision is good and “right” for me doesn’t make it easy, though. I was angry at her betrayal for a long time, and that helped propel me through the grief. I have let go of the anger, and that leaves behind the sadness. Don’t get me wrong – I have wonderful friends and have more social opportunities than I have time to accept. It’s not that.

I grieve the loss of all of the good things she brought – her intimate knowledge of my history (and mine of hers), her unwavering support of me no matter what (as long as my view aligned with hers), TV shows she introduced me to, our intellectual conversations, her sense of humor, etc. She loves the holidays and would do lots of holiday-related things with me. I don’t like the holiday, and she is the one who brought the “holiday spirit” that my son loves so much. I think the approach of Halloween (we used to take our children trick-or-treating together) is triggering some of this grief.

I don’t want the friendship back because I know it is unhealthy for me. However, I still miss the good parts.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketAs I shared here, I ended a nine-year friendship at the end of August. We didn’t have some big discussion in which we said we weren’t going to be friends anymore. Instead, she blew up over something stupid, and instead of reining things in by playing my role, as I always did before, I said, “F#$% it,” and discontinued contact.

The dysfunctional pattern was that it was my job to make her feel better and reassure her that she is “in charge” of the friendship. I’m done with that. If there isn’t room in a friendship for me to be myself, then I don’t want the friendship. Period.

Unfortunately, the ex-friend transferred her daughter to my son’s tiny private school, so there is no way that we are going to avoid seeing each other. Ironically, her daughter gets along with my son just fine (and that’s what her blow up was over), and her daughter still adores me. The three of us are fine – it’s just the ex-friend who is “out.” Both of our children stay for the afterschool homework program, which is how I continue to see her daughter. She always greets me with a huge smile on her face.

So far, I have managed to avoid seeing the ex-friend. Twice I have been driving out of the parking lot while she was pulling in. Thankfully, we have yet to overlap in pickup time.

Yesterday, I picked up my son early from the afterschool program to take him to get a flu shot. We then went to Target to reward him for getting a shot. As we were leaving Target, the ex-friend’s daughter came running up to us, squealing in delight to be bumping into us. I purposely did not look in the direction from which she came, knowing that my ex-friend would be there. My son, however, did look. He said that she gave a look of disgust as if she couldn’t understand why her daughter would like us. Then, she walked into the store as if she didn’t even know her daughter. Whatever.

I am relieved to get the first “run in” over with so I can quit dreading it. I figured that she would ignore me and pretend that I don’t exist, but now that has been confirmed. It’s high school all over again. Goody.

It’s just as well. I, personally, would prefer to be able to say hello and goodbye like two mature adults, but I can do the “I don’t know you even though I know all of your secrets” thing, too. It’s so stupid.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am feeling a tad depressed at the moment, so I thought I would blog about it, express the emotions, and then put it all behind me.

I spent the weekend visiting with some friends from high school. After I got home, I received an email from a friend from 2004 (who moved away in 2005) and wound up talking on the phone with her for a while. These are all people that came into my life before (or in the early stages of) therapy when I was much less emotionally healthy.

If I ever needed a barometer of how far I have come in my emotional healing, all of these ladies provided it for me. I find it d@#$ depressing to see where they are in their lives today, and it really opens my eyes to the amazing healing progress that I have made. After all, like attracts like, and I was drawn to these people because we were in the same (or a similar) place when we met. Good golly have I grown!!

One of these people has lost custody of her children after bouncing from one abusive relationship to another. Another has been working hard through therapy to heal from childhood issues and finds herself in a home repeating certain dynamics that were painful for her in childhood. A third is only now awakening to her own childhood traumas and has all of this healing work in front of her. Another is living a life that seems very full from the outside but seems to be very lonely and empty from the inside.

I am not saying that my life is perfect, but I am not in any of those places (thank goodness!). I feel amazingly fulfilled in my life. I have some great (and emotionally healthier) friends who I can depend upon. My family life is not perfect, but I have found ways to meet my needs within those constraints. I feel an incredible purpose in writing this blog and in my part-time job (online college instructor for non-traditional students – I am their “cheerleader” who believes in them until they can believe in themselves).

Most importantly, my kid is not paying the price for my emotional crap. I am far from the perfect parent, but my son knows with every fiber of his being that he is loved and safe — the two greatest needs in my childhood that were never met. He might have his own issues to work through, but they will never be the mammoths that I have had to fight.

Setting aside the huge child abuse issues, my son’s reality does not include many of the realities I had to deal with that can happen even in non-abusive homes. He does not brace himself when his father walks in the door in preparation for being yelled at because his father had a bad day at work. He does not receive mixed messages about his value in our lives. I am sure he would tell you that his childhood is not perfect, but he is loved, safe, and secure. Of all of the changes I have made in my life over the past seven years, I am most grateful for providing my kid with the love and stability that I never had.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have previously written about the challenges of friendship after child abuse. At that point in my healing process, I was disillusioned about the friendships in my life. These days I am feeling much more positive thanks to one very special offline friend.

Nevertheless, friendship after child abuse continues to be a challenge. It is so hard for me to let my guard down. It is so hard to trust. My intuition tells me that I am safe in this friendship, and I have learned always to trust my intuition. This has given me the courage to share much more than I have felt comfortable sharing in the past. I even told her about the dissociative identity disorder (DID)!!

Probably my biggest challenge is to share when I am weak and vulnerable. I can do that online because there is the safety of distance and anonymity. It is significantly more challenging for me to admit vulnerability (which equates to weakness in my head) when I am face to face with someone.

When I feel vulnerable, such as in this time of year when I feel constantly triggered, I put up walls. I can also get “mean” because I have learned that other people will take advantage of my weakness. I must come across as doubly strong so they don’t see that I am hurting. I cannot risk being annihilated by showing weakness. I learned as a young child that I must always, always, ALWAYS be strong.

The problem is that I am not always strong. I need a safe place to fall, just like everyone else, and I have never had that in my life. My two safest people before this friend still don’t enable me to fall safely. One (my sister) pulls back and ignores it until I pull myself together. We have too much history for her to know how to comfort me. She has a hard enough time comforting herself.

The other is a friend who really, really hurt me a couple of years ago. Once I am hurt, I never fully recover. I opened up my heart. She broke it. She will never get a second chance. I still care about her and confide in her some, but I know that I am not safe with her, either.

And now there is this newer friend. I play the dance of trying to allow myself to be vulnerable without being needy. I cannot be needy. It is not safe for me to need. I would rather be alone and push everyone else away than for anyone to see how desperately I need a safe place to fall apart.

I feel myself doing the dance inside my head. A part of myself wants to push her away so I don’t reveal any more. Another part of myself is relieved to have finally found safety somewhere. I am trying very hard to listen to my intuition and not my fear.

I really hate that something as basic as friendship must be so complicated after child abuse.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I have been exploring a dynamic in my friendships that I want to change. You can read the other discussions here:

When I am looking for a new friend, I seek out someone who is guarded. I am not sure why that is. Part of this probably ties into their own trauma histories. It is a given that I am only going to befriend a person who has been through a bunch of $@#% in childhood. It might not necessarily be sexual abuse, although that is often the case. I simply do not have enough in common with a person who has not known trauma for a friendship to work.

I put a lot of effort into letting the friend know that she is safe. She can trust me. I am a safe place to fall. I will love her no matter what she is dealing with. I will not betray her.

However, I wonder if my intuition is both the draw and the drawback. I am an extremely intuitive person, so I often just know things before a friend tells me. Because of this, I am rarely shocked when a friend confides in me about something that she has been wrestling with. Also, I am good at interpreting dreams, and most people do not appreciate that sharing your dreams is like opening up your diary for others to read.

So, I wind up knowing more about a person than they might feel comfortable with. Combine this with my only choosing emotionally guarded friends, and that is bound to cause a problem.

But here is what I do not get. I offer my love and a safe place for a friend to be herself. I have had extremely guarded people open up to me. I do not betray their trust. However, they still push me away. Is this because of something I am doing wrong, an insecurity in the other person, or a little of both?

I am an intense person. My topic of choice in a conversation is going to be something very deep. I don’t want to spend my time debating the pros and cons of the color “eggshell” over “ecru.” I simply do not give a d@#$. In the grand scheme of things, what color you paint your window trim is irrelevant. I want to talk about the things I write about on this blog – about healing, emotions, insecurities, and the meaning of life.

However, I also want to have fun. I don’t want to spend hours with a negative person who does nothing but b@#$% about her life. I want to spend time with somebody who has been through h@#$ and back but still has a smile on her face and sees the beauty in life. That is who I am, and I am not the only person on the planet like this. So, why is it so hard for me to befriend someone who is more like I am?

Maybe part of the problem is that I am growing and changing at such a rapid pace. That makes it hard to find a friendship match when who I am continues to change.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last post, Analyzing Friendships after Child Abuse, I shared that I am in the process of analyzing my relationships with my friends. Many of my older friendships are drifting away, and I have a few acquaintances that have stepped up dramatically toward real friendships. I am both overjoyed and scared to death, so I am trying to understand myself – in part so I don’t f@#$ this up.

I am becoming aware of the ways in which I set myself up for disappointment in friendships, which I guess is a form of self-sabotage. For example, I like talking on the telephone with friends. I love sitting down and having a 30 minute conversation or even just having a friend call me to let me know about something that has happened during her day. I also like having friendships where I feel free to call them to tell them about something funny that just happened. I do this with my sister all the time. I will call just to tell her a funny joke I heard on the radio, and she does the same to me. She is always happy to hear from me, as I am from her.

So, why have most of the friendships that I have nurtured in recent years been with women who have issues with the telephone? Some do not like being on the telephone, and so I never feel comfortable calling. When I do call, I feel like I have to have an official “purpose,” like scheduling the next time we are getting together, and then I need to get off the phone as quickly as possible. I don’t like that, so why do I choose friends who are that way?

And then there are the friends who never call me. If I call them, they are happy to chat, but the communication is always one-sided. I will periodically decide to make no effort to contact anyone for a week or two and see who even notices. In most cases, the only time my phone rings during that period of time is when my sister calls me.

There is nothing wrong with being phone aversive. It does not make these people “bad” or anything. However, it is not a good friendship match for me. So, why do I choose these friends?

I think it is a form of self-sabotage. I think that a part of myself does not believe that I deserve to have the type of friendship that I seek, so I nurture friendships that are not good matches for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my friends. When I love, I love deeply. I love these friends, even in a bad match. The problem is that my needs are not getting met. I need to understand why I invest so much of myself into friendships that don’t meet my needs when I have other people in my life who want to pursue a deeper friendship that is much closer to what I am seeking. Why do I push those people away?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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