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Sooo...trust and attachment issues, anyone?
April 1, 2012 1:32 PM   Subscribe

It seems I'm incapable of becoming attached to individuals or trusting them. Help?

For a while now, I've just come to accept the idea that my friends, family, whatever, are just people that I spend time with, not necessarily people that I especially enjoy spending time with and value as specific individuals. They're the same as strangers, except I know them better. The affection that I feel for them is kind of the generalized affection that I feel for humanity as a whole, rather than anything personal.

The impression that I get is that most people don't feel this way about their loved ones. However, I have a difficult time imagining how things could work in any way except this. Why would anyone place a strong personal value on any specific individual when any given individual can fill any given need? You don't have to be close to someone in order to have a meaningful conversation with them. There are billions of kids in the world who are just as adorable as your little brother or sister and so on. Does it really matter which one you deal with?

For a really long time, I assumed that most other people saw things in the same way, and I am still extremely skeptical that this is not the case. From past experiences, most other people will say this isn't how things work for them, and they most likely know their own thoughts better than I do, so can only take their word for it.

But I still assume that most people are like this. If I meet someone and they seem really interested in me, or kind to me in particular, I always assume they have some kind of angle. I'll spend a lot of time agonizing over what that angle might be and get anxious whenever I have to speak with them. Their behavior doesn't make sense to me. What motivates them to become invested in one person in particular? Why are they pretending they care about me and not just what I can do for them? Why would they bother in putting up a kind front if not to take advantage of the situation later on?

I know this probably seems irrational. I know it probably doesn't make sense to behave or see things the way that I do, but I can't see the logic or truth in anything else. Still, I don't want to spend my whole life like this. Can anyone offer any advice at all on how to not be this way?

Since it'll probably come up- I'm not a psychopath. I have too much of a conscience/empathy thing going on and all that. I'm not a saint, or even necessarily a great or even good person, but I'm not a psychopath.
posted by jumelle to Human Relations (41 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, for me it is the tried and true Askme recommendation of therapy. I used to semi feel this way when I was depressed and deeply cut off from my emotions. Therapy helped connect with feelings and see the warmth in human relationships.

How are you at recognizing your own feelings? Have you been hurt badly or used in the past? These might factor into what you are experiencing and therapy can help you examine yourself and make changes should you chose.
posted by kanata at 1:38 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry to say this, but for various reasons, it is not possible for me to attempt therapy at this time.
posted by jumelle at 1:41 PM on April 1, 2012


Sometimes I feel the same as you do, especially in the past few years when I have become more independent. I started feeling that there are a billion other nice people in the world. Whereas I used to be stuck with my family in a "strange" and unfamiliar world, now I can branch out, talk to strangers, and find everyone I talk to interesting and different.

However, exactly because there are so many other people out there, I think we feel close to our close friends/family because we feel safer with a smaller group of people.

I think the same goes with dating. Even though there are millions of people compatible with you, you still fall for that one person, because you want to feel closer to that human being. There might be someone better/nicer, but you still stick with this person.

A good book to read might be The Little Prince. It's a very simple book, but I did learn a lot from it.
posted by Thisispiggy at 1:44 PM on April 1, 2012


You're in college. Is there not a counseling center with free sessions?
posted by liketitanic at 1:45 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can really only get counselling there if you have health insurance.
posted by jumelle at 1:58 PM on April 1, 2012


The greeks had the concepts of "philia" love versus "agapic" love. Agapic love is the general love for your fellow humans. Philia is love for your familiars, in other words, those who are close to you. In one sense, the people you love through philia, are just like a tribe that protects its members from enemies.

People talk to you because human beings are gathered into a society, a collective, a community. It's possible that they want something dark from you, but far more likely that they recognize you as a fellow human within this community.

You, yourself, are a part of this community as well. If you don't feel the need to have close bonds with other people, so be it. You're still human. Many people feel the need. Good for them.

Where do you derive meaning in life? Do you know? Maybe you derive it from something other than relationships. You're not a freak.

Read the Stranger by Camus. He felt the same way, and he was still human. Dysphoria is part of the package.
posted by costanza at 2:03 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you mean you think everyone has an angle? Is that how you feel and why you interact with people? Are you talking about "I can have a meaningful conversation with this person" or something more sinister? Do you pretend to care about people you interact with?

If you're looking for a logical explanation of other people's motivations, I would read up on evolutionary psychology. There are adaptive reasons that we are social creatures.

I think you're going to get a lot of pushback on therapy here, btw. It is the smartest thing you can do to deal with the issue you describe.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:08 PM on April 1, 2012


Why would anyone place a strong personal value on any specific individual when any given individual can fill any given need?

That is totally not true. Some people are interested in talking about specific topic or doing specific activities. And not everyone has an interested in those activities.

Some people want to talk to another person who is kind, or someone who is funny, or maybe someone who is misanthropic or maybe someone who shares their beliefs on gun rights and most weird leaders being giant alien lizards. Not everyone has those traits.

You don't have to be close to someone in order to have a meaningful conversation with them.

I guess that depends on how you define meaningful conversation, but I would say with most people, there is only so far you can go with them until they know and trust you, however long that takes - years in some cases.

There are billions of kids in the world who are just as adorable as your little brother or sister and so on.

I don't have anything to say about this one because I usually don't find most kids adorable so, you got me there.
posted by cairdeas at 2:08 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"What do you mean you think everyone has an angle?"

To put it roughly, I think that their motives for interacting with me are not what they outwardly appear to be.


"Is that how you feel and why you interact with people?"

Usually. I don't think that it's possible to be completely honest and interact with others.


"Are you talking about "I can have a meaningful conversation with this person" or something more sinister?"

I meant what I said.

"Do you pretend to care about people you interact with?"

I don't know that there's a difference between acting like you care about something, and "actually" caring about it. In an ideal situation, they're outwardly identical.
posted by jumelle at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2012


I feel the same. However I'm good at mimicking the expected social response. I'm not convinced there's a solution that will change me into the people I deal with, so I just make do.
posted by dougrayrankin at 2:29 PM on April 1, 2012


I've been through all of this.

The solution to all this skepticism is to look for the proof of the goodness/transcendence in humanity.

And for that, we turn to artists, political revolutionaries, and philosophers. Read about the amazing human beings that have existed on this earth and try to inspire yourself through them.

You need to tap into Eros like Plato envisioned it. Try reading Plato's symposium, and remember that it is poetry and more useful if taken as such.

William Blake said that Jesus was an artist. Read about that.

I also recommend this book which is by a Canadian philosopher, which I had to read in one of my courses.

Even if you only ever want to read Camus again, know that someone inspired you with their unique vision of the world, and that you are connected inextricably to the human race. Any time your mind intercourses with a text (pun intended), you are reaching out to others out there. Even if it's only ever on paper, that's fine.


I hope this is somehow related to what you asked. In my mind, it is, but i may be seeing far too much of myself in your question.
posted by costanza at 2:37 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I see a huge contradiction at the heart of what you've written. Namely, that "pretending to care" could not POSSIBLY work as a manipulative tactic unless there was an authentic, actual version of caring for it to mimic, an authentic version of caring that people would respond to on a humanistic level.

Similarly, I find it inconsistent that a majority of people could be "aware" that personal interest is really indicative of dark intentions, while still showing personal interest to you and to one another as much as they do.

That is, if it were really common knowledge that this is always a manipulative tactic, then people would simply come up with less obvious manipulative tactics.

---

FWIW, a lot of people find the act of being vulnerable in relationships with others, and caring about others regardless of what it can get for them, to be rewarding in and of themselves.

(See also: Buddhism)

---

But, going back to what I was saying above, of course acting like you care about someone works as a manipulative tactic. But that's only because of the authentic version it imitates (when in fact it's fake).

When someone is acting like they care about you, why believe it's the manipulative version instead of the authentic version? Do you view yourself as the type of person people could care about authentically? Or are you afraid of what could happen if you guess wrong about someone else's motivations?

What's to be lost by starting with faith in the other person until proven otherwise, rather than starting with suspicion?
posted by alphanerd at 3:01 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Have you ever been tested for being on the Autism spectrum? I have a couple of extended family members who have been diagnosed as being high-functioning asperger's - a lot of the way you relate (or lack of relation) to others, renders very, very familiar.

For a number of people on the spectrum, it is difficult for them to form emotional bonds. They can go through the motions - of being a sibling, or spouse, or parent, or child, but there is some kind of disconnect in the need to sync with another person.

They can go through the patterns - but there is a lack of innate deep resonating. This obviously does not describe everyone on the Autism spectrum, but they are characteristics of those on my life who have been diagnosed on the spectrum, and sounds familiar to me, in the way you see other people.

For me, I don't give a crap about being blood related to someone. It means nothing to me. What is meaningful, are the connections, shared history and experiences that allow one to understand and relate to someone, that you can't do with a total stranger.

I have 4 nieces and nephews. My latest one, was born two weeks after my dad suddenly and unexpectedly died. Now I would be a shitty, shitty aunt to say I love this little one more than my others (I love them all very very much), but I admit, at least now, I have a bit more of an affinity for this latest niece. The timing was emotionally kind of symbolic for me that we must leave to make room for the new. The timing of the circumstances made me have an emotional connection to her, that is very different than my other niece and nephews.

My mom died when I was 10 - and I've always struggled with never really knowing her. I knew her as a mother - but I, as most 10 year olds, don't really know their parents as people outside of that parental role. Her death, compared with losing my dad last summer at 31, is completely and totally different, because I knew him more as a person and as a friend - not just a parent/child relationship. it has nothing to do with genetics - and everything to do with the shared experiences, over time (good and bad). My mom is kind of a mystery - with her, I mostly miss what I never had, rather than missing what I knew of her (if that makes sense). My The same can be said for any loved one - family or otherwise. Their value to me comes from what we've been through together - not because of some silly genes.

For me there's also a difference between having faith in someone, and trusting someone. The former means you'll give someone the benefit of the doubt to give them a chance. The latter comes only with time.
posted by raztaj at 3:04 PM on April 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


1. Why would anyone place a strong personal value on any specific individual when any given individual can fill any given need

Not if the need is shared experiences and memories, and conversations that reference your other conversations from 5, 10, 20 years ago. You can't do that with strangers.

2. If I meet someone and they seem really interested in me, or kind to me in particular, I always assume they have some kind of angle.

I felt that way at your age. It was because I'd grown up in a world where people were pretty mean by default. When I started college and met people who were nice just because, it was weird. I still (almost 20 years later!) sometimes wonder why people are being nice to me, but intellectually I know - I've learned through experience - that some people really are just nice.

I agree with what cairdeas said. And I'll add one thing, about kids. One of my oldest friends had a kid last year, I haven't met her yet, just seen pictures, but she's seriously the cutest baby ever. The thing is, I love babies, almost all of them, so why is my friend's baby any different? Because she looks like a little tiny version of my friend. Even if she didn't, she's still part of my friend. She's special to me b/c my friend is special to me, because of all the memories and trust and conversations between us going back decades. So a little baby reminder of all that is cuter to me than any other externally equally cute baby. Of course, in order to feel that connection, I had to feel the one to my friend in the first place. If you can't feel that about anyone, then it's no wonder you also can't feel it about anyone's kids.

I don't know if that's what you're asking. I don't know if you can overcome the first part of this (the lack of connections) without therapy, which hopefully at some future point you'll be able to get. The second part, the not trusting people part (if it's possible for you to separate them out) I believe you can overcome by yourself. It just takes time.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:10 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you think the people you're by and large spending time with are people you have to spend time with (family, fellow students) rather than people you've deliberately sought out? Such relationships can be very unfulfilling because you are only connected by blood or by needing to be in the same class.

But if you go beyond the enforced/pre-existing relationships and seek out other kinds of relationships then, yes, of course everyone has an angle. I like you because we can do x together. I like you because you have x qualities I don't have. I like you because you're fun and I want to have fun. We're all collecting people so that they can fulfill a need or want we have in our lives. The reasons for these bonds and their strengths will vary accordingly.

The tricky bit is when the angles are at a disconnect and both people want/need different things which is not about being right/wrong/good/bad/non-manipulative/manipulative - the angles are just different.

What your role in this is is to look at what people are doing/saying and what you think their true intent is and ask yourself whether you want to be involved.
posted by mleigh at 3:27 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should qualify this by saying that of course there are people who are truly out to exploit you but if you are aware of this you should choose to not have them in your life. But not everyone is malicious and it's about learning to separate the malicious from the disconnect/misunderstanding.
posted by mleigh at 4:28 PM on April 1, 2012


"Do you view yourself as the type of person people could care about authentically?"

I don't believe that people can authentically care about each other.

"Or are you afraid of what could happen if you guess wrong about someone else's motivations?"

A touch of this too, I guess.

"Not if the need is shared experiences and memories, and conversations that reference your other conversations from 5, 10, 20 years ago. You can't do that with strangers."

Is this important to most people?

"Have you ever been tested for being on the Autism spectrum?"

Not officially. But I have taken an online quiz that said I have more autism than "the average female mathematitian" but less autism than the typical person diagnosed with aspergers, or something like that. The results were amusing. I think that's an interesting question you raise, but for what it's worth (probably nothing) I don't feel like I have autism. I'm not even sure that a diagnosis of that would be of any practical usage. "So, you have autism!" What then?

"Do you think the people you're by and large spending time with are people you have to spend time with (family, fellow students) rather than people you've deliberately sought out?"

I feel like this is a tricky question in a way. I don't have to spend time with any of the people I'm with, but I don't seek them out, either. We just happen to be in the same places. On top of that, I don't really deliberately seek out anyone. I have no desire to socialize more than I have to. Maybe this is a circular issue, but at the same time...I can't even imagine the type of person that I could enjoy spending time with.

"But if you go beyond the enforced/pre-existing relationships and seek out other kinds of relationships then, yes, of course everyone has an angle. I like you because we can do x together. I like you because you have x qualities I don't have. I like you because you're fun and I want to have fun. We're all collecting people so that they can fulfill a need or want we have in our lives. The reasons for these bonds and their strengths will vary accordingly."

Maybe this is part of my problem. Things that I can't do myself are things that I don't want to do, or that I should learn to do on my own. So, needing to spend time with other people in order to do x or learn about x doesn't appeal to me- it's just something I begrudgingly do because I can't do it on my own. I feel like I don't legitimately want to interact with them, but that I'll probably be missing out- on information, jobs, social benefits, etc.- if I don't. Honestly, it kind of feels like I'm being held hostage.
posted by jumelle at 4:51 PM on April 1, 2012


I think one of the hardest things to grasp is that other people can be really deeply differently oriented than I am, and may experience things that I just cannot relate to. I can relate to lots of things I haven't and probably will never experience, because something in my experience of the world lets me project myself there. But not everything. Possibly some of the things I can't relate to now, I'll have experiences in my future that make them more accessible to me, but very likely not all of them.

For me, I think I do authentically care about other people and I value shared memories and experiences, so it's easy for me to see relate to that in other people. I assume that everybody is like that. You come along and tell me you're not. I might think, oh, it's a symptom of depression, or trauma, or whatever, and jumelle will hopefully get over it. I guess that's not impossible, but it's also possible that your experience of relationships is just that different than mine.

I think it's more likely the case that the majority of people around you actually feel care and 'philia' love than that they're all faking it. But if you're faking it, you're probably not the only one either, and it's hard to know how many others are there because if I'm right, then it's a minority experience that hasn't really been named and identified and politicized (where politicizing is a good thing).

It sounds like you have two challenges. One is the universal challenge of finding a way to not just intellectually acknowledge but to actually internally believe the fact that people can be really different from you, and the other is your specific challenge of adapting to a culture where you are the minority.

I can see why you would use therm 'held hostage,' but it might be helpful to think of it more as making accommodations to the status quo. Practically everyone has to do this to some extent, and there are times when it requires painful compromises with one's values, but you do have some agency. You can choose when the potential gain is worth the trouble, and when to just sit things out, and each decision will be personal and subjective and specific to its context to be the best decision for you.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:19 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Not if the need is shared experiences and memories, and conversations that reference your other conversations from 5, 10, 20 years ago. You can't do that with strangers."

Is this important to most people?


In my experience, yes. Imagine that, starting right this minute, you can never again say to anyone "Do you remember that time when we..." or "What was the name of that restaurant we went to that [occasion]?"

For most people, I think, personal history is a shared thing; it is fuller and richer when other people remember the things you do, and you can talk together about those memories.
posted by rtha at 5:19 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, hi there. I remember you.
You kind of remind me of myself, to an extent.

Truthfully, I couldn't really imagine that people could care for each other authentically. I felt many of the same barriers to trust and attachment. I wasn't a total loner, necessarily, as I was pretty social and could be outgoing. I had lot of fun with people at parties. But, you know, in many ways, my relationships felt modular and replaceable. Like, I valued others as individuals, but felt that the relationships between us weren't special, and often derived from just being there, at the same place, and having similar interests, or being similarly bored. Just another way to pass the time. Like reading or painting or whatever.

And, truthfully again, there are still a number of my relationships that feel that way. I have a number of pleasant relationships with nice people who, if they moved away, I wouldn't necessarily think much about down the road.

But, you know? Things changed once I went into therapy to help deal with anxiety, and associated avoidance, issues. Interesting thing - if you spend the majority of your headspace regulating your own behaviors, speech, and actions in order to protect yourself/not do the "wrong thing"/make icky anxious feelings go away, that means that all of your headspace is focused on you, as opposed to others, or the stuff that happens between you and other people.

Once some of the anxiety was dialed back, I was able to look at some of the people around me and noticed really neat things about them. Really! Neat, weird idiosyncrasies. How fun and funny! And after a while of noticing these neat and funny things, or the neat and funny stuff that happens when I was with with them, I started to actually care about them, in a way that was hard to before, when I was just obsessed with myself (even that obsession made sense, given some of the anxiety/attachment/connection issues I had to contend with).

And it's a process, and there's a lot of stuff I still have to learn, etcetera etcetera, but I gotta say - the experience has certainly revitalized my understanding, and experience, of (at least) my closest relationships.

Just a thought.

or, in a shortened summary statement: maybe reconsider therapy, or perhaps consider that you might be dealing with an anxiety, or other mood, disorder, which is impacting your ability to relate, which should then help guide your decisions on this matter
posted by vivid postcard at 5:29 PM on April 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


I get where you're coming from, especially the "everyone has an angle" part. I get you so much that I question the authenticity and sincerity of your question. Now don't get all upset and flag my answer, I'm not trying to call you out or derail your perfectly interesting question.

I have truly experienced the thoughts and convictions that you've described. I don't feel that way all the time and I don't feel that way right now, but I'll probably feel that way again someday.

I don't think it's because you're (we're) depressed or autistic.

You asked, Can anyone offer any advice at all on how to not be this way?

Okay. I'll give it a shot. You wanna not be like this, right? But you don't wanna fake it? You've described a very strong conviction that everyone seeking a relationship with another person has an angle, so let's assume you're right. Is it possible that a person's angle could be simply to find someone they enjoy spending time with? In order to have someone to spend time with? A lifetime is a long time. And other people are interesting, sexy, entertaining, inspiring, challenging, and infuriating. A lifetime of alone would be miserably boring at the very best.

So in order to genuinely seek connects with other people, seek others who have the attributes necessary to entertain you, interest you, turn you on, or inspire you for a life time. When you find someone you admire, it's easier to connect. It may be that you're meant to only have a few good friends in your life and you just haven't met them yet. But you're not going to find them if you don't search.
posted by dchrssyr at 5:37 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Not if the need is shared experiences and memories, and conversations that reference your other conversations from 5, 10, 20 years ago. You can't do that with strangers."

Is this important to most people?


I think to most people, yes. Most people like in-jokes. They like the comfort of talking about something without the "getting to know you" aspect - which many people also find fun, but which can be awkward or feel unsafe. They like to feel relaxed, and it's easier to relax, in general, around people who you know and have come to trust.

There are some book rec's above, I'm just going to add part of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, starting here. You might be interested in a very dry, analytical explanation of friendship. Just to give you some concepts to think about as you ponder this stuff.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:41 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't believe that people can authentically care about each other.

I think you need to think very carefully about how your experiences fit with this belief. Where do you think the notion of authentic care comes from, or the vulnerabilities that people are able to exploit on the supposed basis of it?

Can you say a little more about what intimacy would look like to you? It may turn out that it's very different from what other people are talking about when they talk about it.

And here, I think you really need to choose between the extremism of your belief and the experience of other people. I mean, you need to square the fact that a lot of us talk about authentic caring and intimacy, and there's sort of a system to it, with the fact that you're sort of an outlier with respect to your beliefs about it.

Do you think the rest of the world is mistaken or deceptive, or is it possible we've just gotten a handle on something you are either mistaken about, or not understanding in the same way we are?

What about your posting here in the first place? Do you see how you're presupposing something about the caring of the people who are responding to you, and trying to help you?

Suppose evidence could materialize that would prove to you that people authentically care about each other. What would that evidence look like to you?

And, finally, do you think that intimacy is something you'd actually be interested in, assuming you knew without a doubt that it was real?
posted by alphanerd at 6:32 PM on April 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


> Have you ever been tested for being on the Autism spectrum? I have a couple of extended family members who have been diagnosed as being high-functioning asperger's - a lot of the way you relate (or lack of relation) to others, renders very, very familiar.

This is exactly what I was thinking. I've collaborated on several school projects with someone who has Asperger's (and is very high functioning) and we've had this conversation. More than once. I'd say we're friends but he'd disagree (he doesn't buy into the notion of 'friends’).

> I'm not even sure that a diagnosis of that would be of any practical usage. "So, you have autism!" What then?

I think it might help you understand yourself a little more. I mean, yeah, your world-view is atypical to me, but there's a whole group of people who feel the way you do because they're just wired that way.

I sent my friend an e-mail (with you in mind) asking if he had any book recommendations for people who have been just diagnosed and he mentioned this book.
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't believe that people can authentically care about each other.

You've never felt like someone cared about you? No one has done anything for you that would make you say - "Wow! they must really like me!" ? What is your explanation if this has happened? What about when people do really nice things for others?
posted by Brent Parker at 8:57 PM on April 1, 2012


Why would anyone place a strong personal value on any specific individual when any given individual can fill any given need?

Because they can't. People connect in very specific and unique ways, not generally reproducible.

You don't have to be close to someone in order to have a meaningful conversation with them

Intellectually meaningful, maybe. Personally meaningful, less so. A person's meaning is subjective and emotive. It comes from within and it's often about very specific people, places, moments, events, words, smells, feelings, memories. Learning the insides of someone else's emotional landscape is a slow journey. But rich and rewarding. Every person has a private library of symbols and memories, a logic, a meaning all their own.

I always assume they have some kind of angle. I'll spend a lot of time agonizing over what that angle might be

Some people will want to use you in foul ways, it's true. But most people just want your company, to relieve their loneliness. They're searching for a way to connect to you. Choosing to see everyone as a likely abuser is a choice on your part. It's a choice you can stop making now, or later when you're much older and have missed many beautiful opportunities to know others. I recommend sooner rather than later.

Can anyone offer any advice at all on how to not be this way?

Choose to stop. There'll never be an airtight argument, never a proof, never a guarantee. It's a leap of faith. You have to trust that the connections you find will be worth the risk; that some will get rich enough and deep enough to justify the work and risk. Choose the risk. Make yourself vulnerable. Open up. And if someone hurts you, digest the hurt but choose the risk again. Keep choosing it until your life's over.
posted by ead at 11:11 PM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem I'm having this question is that you're challenging the very foundation of human relationships and society, pointing at idea of caring about other people and asking us to prove it. Which feels a little like you're pointing at my husband and asking me to prove that I didn't just marry him for convenience, while simultaneously insisting that "I love him" is not a valid response.

From my perspective, genuinely caring about and being invested in relationships with other people is one of the most fundamental aspects of my experience as a person. It's a huge chunk of what I feel makes me a human being, of what drives the decisions I make in my life and of what concerns and motivates me when I think about the future. The warmth and tightness of affection in my chest when I spent time with loved ones is undeniable; the sick feeling of worry when something bad might be happening to them keeps me awake at night; the thought of crafting a life where I'm surrounded by the people most dear to me is what gets me through the rough patches of my incredibly tedious job. I love my friends and my family, both intentional and biological. Their happiness is important to me. My happiness is important to them. Each of them brings something unique and wonderful to my life, not just because of the length of our shared history, but because of the understanding and mutual concern that we've built up in that time. They aren't parts to swapped out at my convenience.

I can absolutely accept that your experience is different from mine -- I don't doubt that you feel disconnected from other people, or that your friendships and other connections feel arbitrary and interchangeable. But it strikes me as kind of arrogant and self-centered of you to assume that your experience is the only valid and authentic one, and that every other person you know is just an idiot or fooling themselves.

I think that vivid postcard makes an excellent point -- "all of your headspace is focused on you, as opposed to others, or the stuff that happens between you and other people." Your life is yours -- get therepy or don't, make changes or don't, depending on what you personally want for yourself. But I would suggest, as a first step, that you work to get past this idea that you know more about other people's inner lives and motivations than they do.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:16 AM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


"I think that vivid postcard makes an excellent point -- "all of your headspace is focused on you, as opposed to others, or the stuff that happens between you and other people." Your life is yours -- get therepy or don't, make changes or don't, depending on what you personally want for yourself. But I would suggest, as a first step, that you work to get past this idea that you know more about other people's inner lives and motivations than they do."

We're reading the same question, right?

"For a really long time, I assumed that most other people saw things in the same way, and I am still extremely skeptical that this is not the case. From past experiences, most other people will say this isn't how things work for them, and they most likely know their own thoughts better than I do, so can only take their word for it."

If I was entirely convinced that everyone had it wrong, this question wouldn't exist in the first place because I would have come to the conclusion that I already had everything figured out- think about it.
posted by jumelle at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2012


I was responding to your most recent followup, in which you said, "I don't believe that people can authentically care about each other."

It seemed, to me, that part of what you're asking here is to be convinced that other people's experiences might be different from your own. Whereas what I'm trying to say is that you might want to start with the assumption that your experience is absolutely not the same as other people's, and then go from there, rather than asking them to prove it to you first.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:05 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to beat a dead horse, but my opinion is that you are faced with a philosophical, and not a mental-health related problem.

And like any philosophical problem, this one has been examined and written about by human beings far more intelligent (no offence) than you and me.

Basically, are you just saying that Human Nature is Greedy and people are self-interested?
Big whoop, Hobbes said that back in the 17th century. It's nothing radical. People are self-serving and only want to satisfy their own desires? Have you heard of a little theorist named Freud?

You gotta start reading.
posted by costanza at 9:11 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, I think Camus was writing about this exact condition in The Stranger.
posted by costanza at 9:13 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I was responding to your most recent followup, in which you said, 'I don't believe that people can authentically care about each other.'"

Sorry if I made that confusing. When I say I don't believe it, I mean that I don't have any faith in this idea. On an intellectual level, I acknowledge that it must be true in some capacity, as doubtful as this seems to me personally. Why would people bother lying about it?

"It seemed, to me, that part of what you're asking here is to be convinced that other people's experiences might be different from your own."

It wasn't my intention to suggest that. Sorry if it came out sounding that way.

"Whereas what I'm trying to say is that you might want to start with the assumption that your experience is absolutely not the same as other people's, and then go from there, rather than asking them to prove it to you first."

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure how this assumption would be something to start with since being different or the same as most people is not my primary or even secondary concern. I'm not sure if this should or shouldn't be the case. For the most part, the concern is not behaving or thinking in a certain way, regardless of where the majority of other people are right now, even if the majority of people happen to have that down. Does this make any sense?

"Not to beat a dead horse, but my opinion is that you are faced with a philosophical, and not a mental-health related problem."

I kind of feel that if this were entirely an issue of philosophy, I probably wouldn't care. I think if that were the case, I'd most likely still feel something for other people in spite of having come across this idea. In my case, it's not like I used to like other people, came across this idea, and then decided that specific relationships were worthless, it's like I never reached that original point in the first place. Like I said, until recently, I've always been under the impression that close interpersonal relationships were false, or at the most just devices that people used in stories or in the media to entertain each other, because I don't really know anything different. Is that the same as philosophy?

All my relationships have always seemed false. Before "finding out" that people "authentically" cared for one another (whatever this means), I was fine with the impersonal vibe that I got out of all of my relationships. Finding out that other people were apparently capable of these deep relationships, while all I was getting was the impersonal, utilitarian end of the deal, just made everything seem kind of sinister. I wasn't really interacting with people because I wanted to, but because I assumed this was what I and everyone else was supposed to do.

Finding out that other people are apparently getting so much more out of this than I apparently am kind of feels like coming out of the bad end of a business deal. They're apparently enjoying all this, but for me, it's nothing but work. I suppose this is actually part of my own personal philosophy. Why should I place any value on having a certain kind of relationship with someone else? What I've read throughout this post has persuaded me that it probably wouldn't hurt me or be too difficult to give up on trying to ensure that everyone has the "correct" motives. These ideas are something that I can control. I could easily go back to where I was before. But is not caring that I don't care about people really the most I can hope for?

From what I gather from The Stranger, the things being written about there only have a passing resemblance to what's happening with me, the way a lion resembles a turtle because they both have four legs. Like, the comparison holds, but it still doesn't strike me as being enough.

I'm not indifferent like Meursault is. I care about lots of things. I don't lack morals. I find it kind of unsettling to be compared to such a character. I'm not trying to be unfair, but I know I run the risk of doing that since I haven't read the book just yet. I'm not trying to misinterpret your comparison-- my impressions about the story and events and the point you're trying to make may be entirely mistaken-- but from what I gather, this and that book are not the same thing.

The only issue that I have is that I can't form specific personal connections with people. I "like" humanity as a whole, but I'm just not capable of making it personal. Maybe it's a mistake to expect anything more than that. I'm not emotionally dead inside, immoral, violent or anything else like that. For the most part, it's just that one thing. Still not entirely sure how to deal, but I'll read the book.

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At any rate, thank you guys for taking the time to come back and talk.
posted by jumelle at 11:02 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you form specific personal/emotional connections to not-people, e.g. pets or places?
posted by prefpara at 11:39 AM on April 2, 2012


I care about lots of things. I don't lack morals (...) I'm not emotionally dead inside, immoral, violent or anything else like that. For the most part, it's just that one thing.

FWIW nothing in your original question or subsequent comments made me think that you lack emotionas or personal values. And I thought it really sucked that you had assert that you were not a psychopath. I think it's perfectly possible to have the feelings and questions about human relationships that you have and still be a completely moral person.

You sound like a very interesting and intelligent person.

Still not entirely sure how to deal

Personally I don't think there's anythig "wrong" with you. I think this is the the way your brain works. What I think is most important is your happiness and your satisfaction with your own inner life. Do you want to be able to form strong bonds with people? If there's nothing appealing in that for you on a fundmental level, than that's OK as long as you're inwardly satisfied with yourself. If you want to be able to build the kind of relationships with people that you say you can't, than that's OK too, and you take the advice upthread about being vulnerable, investigating therapy, and finding people you can relate to. Either way, I don't think you're going to able to magically convert yourself into an entirely different person.

You said in your original post that you don't want to spend you're entire life like this. I think you need to figure out what it is exactly that you want from your life. Because that is what matters here the most - what you want for yourself (not what other people want for you). Do you want a marriage or kids? Then yeah, you're really going to have to work on you're relationships with people. If marriage or having a family just isn't for you than that's fine. It's your life, you get to decide.

Can anyone offer any advice at all on how to not be this way?

We can throw you million different suggestions on this, but none of it matters if you don't see the worth in being a different way (and if you don't, that's fine!). You have to want it and see the value in it.

I "like" humanity as a whole, but I'm just not capable of making it personal.

If someone said to me, "Look, I'm a content person. I like humanity, but I'm just not interested in making personal connections with people" I would believe them and respect that. But that's a completely different statement if it's coming from someone who is depressed and riddled with anxiety. I'd still respect them (their human) but I wouldn't believe what they were telling me.

Ya know what I mean?

Good luck, and if you're interested in continuing this conversation please MeMail me. I'd totally be open to that.
posted by OsoMeaty at 11:52 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry for comparing you to Meursault-- I just meant to show you that part of what you are feeling is the human condition and that you shouldn't feel guilty or freakish about it.

I've always been under the impression that close interpersonal relationships were false, or at the most just devices that people used in stories or in the media to entertain each other, because I don't really know anything different. Is that the same as philosophy?

I can't tell if you say this because you haven't been fortunate enough to have close personal relationships, or if you are a critical theorist. perhaps I am confounding the two. Because many authors might argue something like that in a witty, ironic fashion. I'm thinking, diderot, Oscar Wilde, etc etce etc.

But it would be quite unhelpful of me to say that you are merely a theorist when you clearly have a problem you wish to deal with! I'm sorry for being so detached.

Let me just tell you that it is objectively untrue that most personal relationships are false. There are degrees to which human beings desire to bond with each other, for sure, but it's definitely a continuum, and there's no way that there is no such thing as a true relationship.

I have another suggestion for you----this one even wilder than the first one. Try to hang out with some marxists/ cooperative-living-oriented people. These are people who have bonded together for philosophical purposes---so there is no risk of falseness in their relationships.

Also, I've been there. I felt that way throughout high school. In my case it was due to a lack of happiness----when everyone looks happy and shiny and you feel shitty inside, it can feel like everything is a sham. Then, on the flip side, when you do feel happy, the mopey people just seem silly.

So maybe some therapy would be helpful to you. It seems like your goal is to change this aspect of your life, and I think that's what therapy is supposed to do.

Please feel free to message me if you want to talk more.
posted by costanza at 2:36 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: marijuana.
posted by costanza at 2:38 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to beat a dead horse, but my opinion is that you are faced with a philosophical, and not a mental-health related problem.

You know: we may be operating a false dichotomy, here. Even people with obvious mental health issues exist in a cultural and social environment. Maybe the reason why this thread is having a hard time parsing out the differences between these two possibilities is that they are interrelated.

Example: I'm in a research seminar working on solving a set technical/administrative problems. Think urban planning + architecture + engineering + political problems. Given the topic at-hand, there are only a couple of women in the class, me and another student, who I will nickname Sarah. Sarah is really interesting because, in the course of trying to find answers to these technical problems, she vocalizes a number of fatalistic personal, philosophical beliefs that read, to me, as a strange amalgam of old school, neoliberal, nihilistic, conservative, evangelical, and whatever, philosophies. You could glibly summarize her stance as: these problems cannot be solved because humans are selfish and stupid at heart. Also, if these problems exist in the first place, it's because someone stupid fucked up; after all, we are all born with equal opportunity, and anyone or anything who doesn't thrive is a failure based on their own deficiencies. And, -isms like sexism and racism are impossible to fully erase, so why bother in the first place.

I'm not going to deny that this may be a deeply held personal philosophy which she believes describes the world. However, I can't help but notice how Sarah is, in addition to being obviously smart and very adept in the technical field she is in, unbelievably insecure, in a heartbreaking way. Anytime she presents herself or her ideas, it comes packaged in a big box of I'm not worthy, my ideas are dumb, and I know you smart boys are going to laugh at what I've got here. Literally. That is what she actually says. And though I can understand some of the pressures that come from operating in a male-dominated field, and how that can make you doubt yourself when you've been socialized with feminine speaking styles and deference stuff, this language goes above and beyond and reveals some very heavy negative self-talk that I'm sure my therapist would love to point out is indicative of something.

I really think her personal philosophy and her negative self-talk are interrelated. Maybe she really believes we're all in cutthroat competition and that nothing will ever get better, ever, because she has experiences in environments where she knows that to be true, which makes her doubt herself and her ability to succeed. Or, maybe she doubts herself and her ability to succeed because she has major anxiety or self-esteem issues or whatever, and it translates into a grand narrative of "how the world is." Or: it's both, at the same time. Which, yeah, is way complicated to parse through. But, god, it would be awesome if she could, because she is very smart and capable, despite her self-presentation as the token moron in a room full of Einsteins.

I guess it's the same that can be said about adult hoarders who grew up in abject, insane poverty: yeah, they've got a mental health concern, but they've also developed a personal philosophy that makes total sense given their background. Or how some agoraphobics might not be aided by the prevalent Stranger Danger! that is promoted whenever they watch anything that's on TV.

Finding out that other people were apparently capable of these deep relationships, while all I was getting was the impersonal, utilitarian end of the deal, just made everything seem kind of sinister. I wasn't really interacting with people because I wanted to, but because I assumed this was what I and everyone else was supposed to do.

This is really interesting. This makes me wonder if you think deep connections are something that just happen to you (as opposed to something you have to go out and work at and cultivate). It's also interesting that your mind first jumps to "sinister" as an explanation for what you end up getting out of these relationships. And it's interesting how your view of these relationships are so thoroughly grounded in the idea of exchange (which is not unsurprising, due to certain cultural factors, but surprising in terms of how pervasive it reads to me).

And I really say "interesting" in the literal, and not judgmental sense; it's interesting because there are multiple other explanations and interpretations that could explain your situation, but these are the ones you jump to.

And, hey: some of this utilitarian aspect of relationships is an accurate observation. I have a neighbor who is my "friend," but who only ever calls when he needs to borrow my printer or use my internet when his is down.

You've stated that you aren't fully happy with your situation, and that you don't understand why it is the way it is. You want more answers and explanations, and we're dickering over whether you've got a philosophical or mental health concerns. A lot of this question, and your other question, read as possibly being an anxiety issue. Others point to asperger's, maybe. Some think it's all your philosophy. But, you know: it could definitely be multiple things. It could be really complex, and could take you a while to parse through (which is why these askme answers are unsatisfactory).

So, therapy. Consider it. If you need health insurance at your school, ask about whether they do sliding scale. Or ask for referrals outside. Maybe there are low-cost group sessions sponsored by your city/county/state. It may be harder to find, but maybe there's something out there. And the interesting thing is that a good therapist can walk you through both emotional and cultural issues, and discuss where your observations derive from internal stuff and external shit you have to deal with - it's not all about pathologizing you and then giving a prescription to make it all better. If you have the option, seek out therapists trained in critical- and/or feminist-frameworks, or even a more systems-oriented therapy: the nice thing with those frameworks is that they can work on something like anxiety issues, but they can also stop and say HOLD ON! This dysfunction your are internalizing is not really you! There are social and cultural things here! You have to deal with real external stuff! Or your friend are being jerks! Or something! And then they help you figure out how to deal. But this sounds longstanding and complex, so maybe seeking outside help to get yourself oriented in a good direction is something to consider.

I...typed a lot; sorry for the inevitable typos. And good luck!
posted by vivid postcard at 4:59 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hey, vivid postcard, that's an excellent point. It applies to myself as well:

-My father died suddenly when I was a child. Because of this, I have never been able to believe in God. I have also had the tendency to not expect much from life, or really take it too seriously, because I know how ephemeral it really is. My liberal arts education has helped me a lot to begin to see the world with different, more intelligent, more inspired eyes than my own. It takes some work to realize that our life circumstances really do dictate our philosophies to a great degree. The great thing about the classics is that they transcend the author's own environment, upbringing, neurosis, etc. *

--My mother is a sweet, wonderful person who never really pursued a career (she was supposed to start going to teacher's college in 1995. A month before she was to start, my father died of a sudden, unexpected heart attack. So she instantly became a single mother and had to deal with the grief of losing her partner as well). For this reason, I've always thought careers were sort of stupid and fake, and that the people who take pride in their careers are pretentious boastful weirdos. You can see how this philosophy has not helped me very much at this point, where I am trying to figure out what to do with my life.

- My mother has never gone on a date since 1995 or tried to meet someone. So for a lot of my life I've thought of dating as something optional, rather than necessary, that all those weirdo people do and why is everyone making such a big deal of it? This has coloured my views on marriage and family as well.

-I think university curricula should seek to incorporate philosophy and psychology together---to improve the intellectual and emotional lives of our citizens. In most of my experience:: philosophy is studied Socratically--meaning it seeks to challenge the conventional assumptions held by the students. This is great for those who are already intellectually vigorous--but for the rest of us--the unstable ones--this way is traumatic.

Psychology in university has been, in my experience (I have only taken second year courses), ridiculous. It seems painfully obvious that this field is used by corporations to manipulate consumers. this is why you see finance majors who minor in psychology. The professors I have had for psychology don't seem to have an ounce of human wisdom in their bodies. One of them pronounced Plato as "Platt-o". She had never heard of Plato.

I did, however, have one absolutely ridiculously wonderful teacher who forced the students to connect to the text in a personal way. He made us personal essays that incorporated several texts at once--in other words he helped us write our own autobiographies. He went through every single one of the essays and examined our beliefs with such kindness, and a fatherly kind of acceptance of all the sorts of stupidity that we came up with, and he truly transformed my intellectual life. He is a god among men. And I just wanted to thank him. People---there are amazing human beings out there. When you see one, follow them----keep yourself close to the warmth of their wisdom. Eventually it will rub off on you.
posted by costanza at 4:37 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


* Fucking postmodernists will disagree with what I said about the classics being transcendent. And I say to you postmodernists-- go smoke a cigarette and shut up.
posted by costanza at 4:40 AM on April 3, 2012


Another vote for The Little Prince. You can read it online. This page where he meets the fox I explains it perfectly, I think
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 2:26 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


^^^ That page is very beautiful.
posted by costanza at 6:24 PM on April 4, 2012


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