How do I overcome my severe trust issues with men? Very long backstory inside, be warned.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I apologize in advance for how TL; DR this is and thank anyone who takes the time to answer it. I’m an early-20s woman who has pretty severe trust issues with men. The precedent for this is a long, sad story which starts with my alcoholic & largely absent father and parents’ divorce when I was twelve. I’m the youngest child and the only one left at home at the time of the divorce and I had court-mandated visits with my father throughout my teenage years. I saw him at his worst after he went through recovery, when he was a crying mess who didn’t have the best grasp on reality, and relied on me as his “touchstone” – starting when I was a twelve year old girl (albeit bright and pretty self-possessed for my age) His instability led me to fear being alone with him and I came to dread any contact with him. Despite my efforts to disengage he’s continued to be needy, even now, when I’ve finally gotten away from my hometown for school. He has never remarried but has had several serial relationships with women that invariably end badly. He also had a porn addiction at one point. (I’m not making the call that it was an “addiction”; he is the one who used that term) He has occasionally made weird sexual comments to me or tried to alternately make me “cover up” or “show off” in my dress-yes, it’s really creepy. Although I am “too skinny” (his words) I have a feminine shape/am busty, and forgive me for getting too arrogant or detailed here, I am fairly good-looking.
I love my father, and I pity him, but he has continued to demonstrate a complete lack of ability to be an adult, a role model, or allow me to live my own life in the way best for me. He’s a constant source of stress; even without the bad history we’re not a good personality match, he’s a much jokier, practical type who’s into sports, and likes to remind me that I’m “too skinny and shy” and I read too much. My only sibling and older sister is married and lives across the country and doesn’t get the worst of it. My mom has since remarried and has no contact with him. I don’t get along well with my stepfather, just don’t have much in common, although he is a decent, if reticent, guy.
I have had two relationships, one in which I was very much in love, but my father belittled my boyfriend for being “shy and weak” and generally made things uncomfortable for me. We broke up after three years and I discovered that that guy I had been so in love with had a pretty extensive interest in child pornography and had lied to me about some not-insignificant things. After a few months he started stalking me, this continued for the better part of a year and I had to get a restraining order. I still don’t think he’s the violent type but he just wouldn’t listen to me when I asked him to leave me alone, and was coming over at all hours of the night and it started scaring me. My father’s response to this? “Huh, that’s weird. I never stalked any of my girlfriends.” No anger on my behalf, no advice for me, nothing.
In yet another example, the second guy I dated ALSO became way too clingy and after we broke up, started sending me long angry emails and generally making me feel like shit. I honestly feel like I bent over backwards to be a good girlfriend to both of these guys; never cheated, never belittled them, and it’s generally agreed by them and everyone that I’m typically a sweet person. I obviously have severe boundary issues.
All of this has led me to be pretty pathologically afraid of men. I can’t talk to anyone with a Y chromosome. I’m afraid to talk to male professors. It takes an extremely long time, if ever, for any man to gain my trust. I had a male therapist once, and it took me literally about 6 months to open up to him in any real way, and still not even fully, though I think he did help matters. This is weighing heavily on me-I’m starting to feel like the world is a terrible place in which the genders can never cooperate. I WANT to trust men, I LIKE most men as people, but I’m so damn afraid of them that I’ve basically accepted constant disappointment as my mode of interaction with the other half of humanity. I like taking a sort of distant academic impersonal interest in men who have similar tastes or interests, but I have a huge mental block when it comes to accepting that a man could ever feel something real for me, or even feel something beyond that-like something fatherly or protective or just having my best interests in mind as a person. It’s almost like I just don’t believe men can feel love the same way I do, or that they just can’t understand the world in any way that would allow for effective communication. Like they just can’t help it, it’s just the way things are, and I’m doomed before I ever try, because they either get too attached to me or don’t want me. I feel like every relationship is guaranteed to be a huge burden on me where I become responsible for my boyfriend’s health and happiness yet he never really “gets” me the whole time, where I am the only one who feels love and devotion. I am terrified of marriage. I am horrified at the idea that I might end up with someone like my father, or worse yet, inflict that on any children I had. This is basically straight up misandry and I hate thinking things like this. I know this is bullshit, but I can’t help but feel that it’s the reality I’m living in, even if other people aren’t. And I think, if there are great guys out there, why the hell would they want distrustful me? I get “you’re so shy” “I thought you didn’t like me” “smile” (ugh) and similar comments quite a lot.
I don’t think I can handle a relationship right now, although my family is always asking about it. When someone shows interest in me, I cringe, blame myself for accidentally leading him on, feel terrible and become an instant cold fish. What I want, and the point of this question, is just to feel a general level of trust for humanity. I would like to be able to actually believe that the genders are not constantly undermining each other, that there are more important moral principles and ideas besides sex that men and women can agree on, that society is not hopeless. I would like to be able to talk to a man and act normal; and not like a shut-down monotonic robot. I’d like to feel able to be myself and share my honest thoughts without fear of offending a guy, and talk about my father without making it sound like I think all men are that way. He IS that way! I would like to not have to bite my tongue every time some happy young couple gets married and prevent myself from screaming “Watch out! Doom lies ahead!” I see other women laughing and acting normal and confident around men all the time, and it seems like they’re functioning just fine without the crippling fear I have. I’m on the fast track to crazy cat ladyship and I’m not yet 25. I have a little 6 year old male cousin (basically the only male in my extended family, no uncles and my grandfathers have passed) who likes me a lot, and who I babysit often, and he is so sweet that it breaks my heart to think I could instill in him the idea that I dislike men or a negative association with his own gender. (His mother, by the way, is openly unhappy in her marriage) It just really gets me down, I feel very small and isolated in a crazy world that full of guaranteed disappointment and suffering. How the heck do I overcome this? Therapy helped, but I’ve talked myself hoarse about my father and there’s just not much left to say or do. He’s always going to be a problem I have to deal with. I’m already on SSRIs. What are some coping mechanisms I can use in daily life to just stop feeling so afraid and alone on a basic level? Has anyone else overcome a similar problem? What should I do, if anything? Where should I start?
Also, PLEASE believe me that I truly mean no offense with anything I’ve phrased here, and I am sincerely sorry if it has come across that way. I am 100% genuine with this question wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t stumped.