Please help me sort out my anxiety-related relationship problems and help me to have an open heart.
September 30, 2008 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Please help me sort out my anxiety-related relationship problems and help me to have an open heart.

I am really struggling a lot with seemingly intractable problems with some of the relationships in my life. When it comes to dating, I have a deep mistrust of men that is hard to overcome. I don't know where it really comes from--maybe from bad experiences or from my anxiety, which is almost crippling--but I am so distrustful and "closed off" that it's hard to let someone in. I'll meet someone who seems nice but in the back of my mind "maybe he only wants one thing" and I don’t allow myself to trust him. This, I think, make me say things that come across the wrong way or act rejecting without meaning to.

As I mentioned, I seem to have a knack for either saying things the wrong way or being misunderstood. I wasn’t allowed to be around other kids much when I was little, and my family a very poor role model for communication. So although I have improved a lot, my relationships sometimes turn sour without my having a clear understanding of why.

I also seem to misunderstand others quite a lot, and perhaps my reading of people and situations is a little “off.”

All of this has lead to a high-intensity anxiety situation! Since so many relationships did not work out in the past, I always expect and predict that the next one won’t work out too. It seems to be like a self fulfilling prophecy because sometimes I see drama/conflict/rejection when it isn’t really there. A lot of this I think is due to my anxiety, but unfortunately even with long-term psychotherapy my progress is very slow. Sometimes I literally *cannot* relax and I have physical symptoms like aches, pains, and irritability.

I have tried pharmaceuticals. Only one antidepressant (Celexa) was of any value, and my response to it was extremely positive. I was calm, relaxed and easygoing…the complete opposite of the nervous wreck that I am without it. However, I had numerous and side effects (weight gain, sexual problems, extreme tiredness, lack of motivation, etc.) and just decided that I would have to work on fixing my insides rather than hoping for a medication to fix all of my problems. (I do take benzos when I have an anxiety attack, but I can’t take them all of the time.)

Anyway, this is a long question, but I guess I’m wondering is how can I learn to open up to others and let go of my fear of rejection and my high-strung, anxious nature? I spend a lot of time analyzing “what went wrong” in various situations but I’m not sure it’s really getting me anywhere. As I said, I’m in therapy (and very pleased with it) but these are really complex problems and I’m discouraged by my slow progress. I will mention that I have some trauma in my past (not sexual trauma, but general trauma) that probably contributed to all of these problems.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't really answer your question,'re obviously very concerned with the way you manage your personal - intimate or otherwise - interactions. My suggestion? Stop having them. Get comfortable with yourself. Don't rush it, take as much time as you need. You are, after all, the only person you're always going to have so I think it's more important to be comfortable with yourself than it is to be comfortable with others. And once you've come to terms with your various issues, either embraced or erased them, then you can get out there.

People spend a lot of time worrying about what others think of them. To me, this is a waste of energy and a poor deployment of emotional ammunition. Worry about what you think of yourself. Your use of self-directed negative language suggests that you aren't entirely happy in your own skin, so get to work on that. Other people don't matter until you realise that you are your number one priority.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:15 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Becoming more familiar and comfortable with yourself is key to easing stress and self-critical tensions.

Given the wording and description of your symptoms, it sounds like you've identified plenty of negative aspects of yourself and should try balancing that out. I'd suggest you get in the habit of appreciating a positive quality with every negative one you find yourself fixated on. You'll likely find that you've just been ignoring your good side for a long time, and this alone will help you feel less closed off to others.

As far as personal traumas go, I doubt there is any person alive that hasn't experienced some "negative" sort of personality-molding experience. Even if you cannot clearly identify the traumatic moment, simply learning to be more accepting of your past, whatever it contains and becoming comfortable with every experience that you've had -- but most importantly, realize that these moments are in the minority of experience you've had in your lifetime.

"Reading" people can be beneficial, but in many cases it can be taken too seriously. Try to remember that most people don't analyze their mannerisms or demeanor as they're talking, and that the largest portions of what you might notice are probably unintentional, if true at all. Learn to ask for clarification if you have to dig too deep to understand. If you remain fixated on how you appear to others though, you'll never be able to truly appreciate other people, so getting to the point where you are comfortable with yourself is a good first step.

Once you begin to rebuild (or maybe build, if you've never really had a chance to have) a sense of self-confidence, you may find that actively expanding your comfort zone may be helpful in gaining social skills. Don't try to be anything to anyone besides yourself, let go of all the negative possibilities that have become self-fulfilling prophecies in the past and find subjects that truly inspire you. Become involved with them. Been a fan of a certain author? Try a book club. Always appreciated painters? Take a class. Chances are there are a bunch of people that get together purely to engage the same type of interests that you do. Look around, and when you really notice something that hits a subject of lasting curiosity within you just move towards it. People become most engaging, interesting and alive when they speak about things they truly care about.
posted by phylum sinter at 4:52 PM on September 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

I seem to have a knack for either saying things the wrong way or being misunderstood. relationships sometimes turn sour without my having a clear understanding of why.
I also seem to misunderstand others quite a lot, and perhaps my reading of people and situations is a little “off.”
I will mention that I have some trauma in my past...

Congratulations! You're a human being.

I don't mean to belittle your genuine problems. I know first hand how debilitating anxiety can be. But seriously, most people are a lot more insecure and clumsy and confused than they seem. If you look closely, you'll see that "normal" people say and do all sorts of stupid, selfish and inexplicable things; they just don't get hung up on it the way you (and I) do.

Don't let your anxiety and depression define you. They are not the source of all your problems, and they don't make you special. Focus on those things that do make you special. You'll like yourself more for it.

And listen to phylum sinter. That's good advice.
posted by Commander Rachek at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2008

"I'll meet someone who seems nice but in the back of my mind "maybe he only wants one thing" and I don’t allow myself to trust him."

What is your general attitude toward sex? I'm wondering - not to sound like a slut here - if maybe a general fear of the unknown with sex is a big part of what's going on with you.

In your mind, what is a good relationship? Dating-wise, friendship-wise? What do you expect to be responsible for? If you don't feel like you want to do this or that or some other thing with men, then decide that you are not ready for that and make that part of your plan. There is no law that says you have to have sex after 3 datas or 57. Or ever. You can date for months, not have sex, and stop dating for entirely other reasons.

Normal is a lot of things.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:07 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

You sound like a doormat (just a gentle observation). So I'm kinda relieved you've got defences up... even though they are saving you from everything. You seem to think it's a bad thing, but at this point it gives me hope that you really are going to be ok, huh :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:49 PM on September 30, 2008

I understand how you feel. I have four pieces of advice:

(1) You need to work on your self-confidence. Set priorities, and put your happiness at the top of the list. Once you gain some self-confidence, you will be happier. This can take a long time. The important thing to remember is that no one is criticizing your actions and words anywhere nearly as harshly as you are. Remind yourself of this when you feel thatAlong with that, you have to take any criticisms with a grain of salt. This is your life, and right now you sound miserable. Your life, actions and words should not be measured solely by how they could possibly have affected others.

(2) Misunderstandings aren't the end of the world. Life will not end if you make a comment that could possibly be misconstrued. If you feel that you've over-reacted to an innocent comment, then apologize and move on. Explain that you took his/her remark out of context. Take a little time think about what you're reacting to before you react; it sounds like what you're most concerned about are your knee-jerk reactions. Also, keep in mind that someone else's reaction to your actions could have nothing to do with what you've done, said, etc. You might say something that you think doesn't come across the right way, and they respond by not continuing the conversation. I know your first thought is, "I offended him! Why do I always do this?" Then you get anxious, which makes your actions throughout the rest of the day seem worse, which makes you even more anxious, and it just gets worse. What you need to consider before you get upset is that it is completely possible and understandable that the person you spoke with is just having a bad day, doesn't have a lot of time, etc. His response may have nothing to do with you at all. Regardless of whether or not that is the case, just try to calm down when you talk to him next. Look at every interaction as a new opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do this.

(3) Stop replaying every "failed" interaction in your head. You need to move on, and tell yourself that every day is a new day.

(4) Go to a therapist, and try another anti-anxiety medication. Find someone you can trust to listen to you without criticizing you, and talk about your worries. There are lots of people that go to therapists for much more insignificant problems, and I promise you that talking to someone who will always listen will help.

Life can be a lot more enjoyable than what you're describing now. Feel free to mefimail if you'd like more personal advice, or just someone to talk to. I have been through this, and I still go through this occasionally. It will get better if you're determined to make it better.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 8:08 AM on October 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

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