Breaking up is hard to do... Why?
October 30, 2008 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Relationship Psychology Filter: How to DTMF already, when you have major insecurities?

I seem to be labouring under the mistaken belief that I can't do better than my current boyfriend (whom ever he is) and that giving him the door would leave me alone in the world. This tends to be the case with previous relationships, where things get progressively worse and I passively sit it out for fear of being alooooone. I’d also do this with social situations, and in both cases I’d grimly plug in hours of time into the commitment, keeping my mouth shut because I’d internalized half the bit about not trying to change people, without the bit about getting away from people who are bad for you.

I'd like to stop doing this, but it seems to be very hard to say: "Mothboy, you treat me like crap. I don't want to see you again if you act like this."

It scares me, because I feel open to abusive reputations and exploitive relationships. I also note crazy person patterns. When the relationship goes sour I don't talk about it for fear I might be told to break up with the offending party and I feel ashamed I'm letting myself be treated that way. I also won't call a person in a relationship with me on their bad behaviour, because if they refused to change I'd feel compelled to break up with them... And for some reason I can't face the finality of that.

It's perceived scarcity, and the belief that I'll be alone that seems to be at the root of the problem. For most of my life I've been a miserable outcast who feels unattractive, so if I form an intense bond with someone I think that they are scarce and must be pleased like a puppy. I'm lonely a lot of the time, and have terrible self esteem. On the other hand I'm 22, and that's too old to be a victim of a pattern of my own making.

How can I make myself feel good enough about singleness or escaping a toxic group of friends, that I won't let a relationship drag on until it starts damaging me? I wanna be a happy, serial non-serious dater, with many friends to choose to spend time with, not a miserable obsessive fretting over resenting a significant other or someone who can't stand to leave an insular group of friends because they might not want her back if she even took a vacation?
posted by Phalene to Human Relations (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ain't no one gonna love you till YOU love you. Find that state of mind, and you'll answer your own question.
posted by matty at 9:14 PM on October 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


You just have to pick people that you like, not just whoever finds you. You will be surprised, they will like you! Have confidence in your ability to choose, you know what you don't like, choose to change it.
posted by lee at 9:20 PM on October 30, 2008


Response by poster: @matty

That's my point. Low self esteem is part of the problem, and I love myself, so I don't want to do this. Now how to stop?

@lee

I usually 'like' the people who I get into relationships with. A repeat problem is that in romantic entanglements, my willingness to seek people out translates into doing a lot of give, which seems to turn into me giving and them taking. I'm not accepting dates from any old fool, I'm unable to extract myself from someone who proves toxic.

Indeed I'm pretty fantastic in making people fall in love with me. Biochemically they think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. In behaviour towards me (like not cheating, respecting my needs), not so much.
posted by Phalene at 9:28 PM on October 30, 2008



The first step is recognizing that you've fallen into an unhealthy pattern. You've done that.

The next step is taking steps towards solutions.

You need to find a way to make peace with yourself, to be alone without being lonely, and recognizing the fact that repeating the same behaviors will get you the same results. Easier said than done, but here are a few ideas.

When the relationship goes sour I don't talk about it for fear I might be told to break up with the offending party and I feel ashamed I'm letting myself be treated that way. I also won't call a person in a relationship with me on their bad behaviour, because if they refused to change I'd feel compelled to break up with them... And for some reason I can't face the finality of that....

Believe that you deserve to be treated well. Follow that belief with action.

it seems to be very hard to say: "Mothboy, you treat me like crap. I don't want to see you again if you act like this."


That's because it is. But you don't have to start with the ultimatum, and in fact, you shouldn't - particularly if you've already admitted you tend to sit on your anger and stew - the other person might have no idea that what they did, said (or didn't do, etc) hurt you. They are not mindreaders.

Unless you speak up, you will never get what you want in a relationship, and you will have to train yourself to speak up as soon as you realize something is really bothering you. Not when the pot boils over.

Any relationship (friendship or love) worth saving can weather someone saying, "hey, when you do blah, it makes me feel blah. Please stop." Bringing up an issue is an opportunity to talk it out. Sure, it can be scary to bring up a problem in a new relationship, but how else will it ever get solved?

If the other party says, tough noogies, my way or the highway... well, they've just saved you a lot of time and revealed their nature so you could break up with them instead of... staying around to be beaten down. What's not to be relieved about there?

As someone who was very introverted and a late bloomer, I wasted a lot of time ending up in relationships where I was so thrilled someone wanted to be with me that I let them treat me terribly. It wasn't worth it. It took a long time before I realized that it really was much less trouble to be single - sometimes happily, sometimes not - than to be entangled in a relationship that was smothering me. I'll be honest, I never cared much for being single, but I needed time on my own to realize that I had to take responsibility for my own happiness, and never submerge my needs in a relationship like that again.

not a miserable obsessive fretting over resenting a significant other or someone who can't stand to leave an insular group of friends because they might not want her back if she even took a vacation?

My first question would be - what makes you think they wouldn't "want you back" if you took a vacation? Are you afraid that you're so marginal to this group already that they'd simply forget about you?

Take the vacation. Enjoy yourself. When you come back, if they're not there, well, you know they truly weren't good friends.

Ask yourself, "if my sister (whether you have one or not) came to me and told me she couldn't take a vacation because she was afraid her friends 'wouldn't take her back' what would I say to her?"

You sound deeply unhappy, and wanting to be loved so badly that you're forgetting to love yourself first. Seek out someone to talk to - a trusted friend (not these ones), a sibling, or a therapist.
posted by canine epigram at 9:34 PM on October 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Now how to stop?

By standing up for yourself. By calling people on their hurtful behavior. By spending some time creating the life you want to live for yourself, whether you're with someone or not.

In behaviour towards me (like not cheating, respecting my needs), not so much.

I'll be blunt - because, on a certain level, you are allowing them to do this. You don't tell them when things they do bother you, you don't make it clear that you have certain expectations for how they should behave, and even when you realize things are bad, you stay mute and let it drag out til the bitter end.

I did the same thing when I was your age. I wish I could get those years back.

Start by practicing hypothetical situations. Tell your mirror, "Mothboy, it really hurts when you talk to me like I'm stupid. Please stop."

Then start putting those words into practice. Open a dialogue. Talking about a problem is the only way to resolve it.

Remind yourself of how past relationships went when you didn't speak up. If you've had several talks, and nothing has changed, realize that the person has shown you something important - they are either unwilling or unable to change, and you need to decide if you can continue to live happily with them.

The first few times you stand up for yourself may be really scary - but the world won't end, and you won't burst into flames. It gets easier, and the more you do it, the better you'll get at it - and the better and happier your relationships will be.
posted by canine epigram at 9:47 PM on October 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: The problem is that I can't state ultimatums. I can whine softly that "I hurt when you do X", when pressed, but I can never get the guts to just walk when it's clear they won't change, and hide my discomfort behind pretending that I never asked them properly. It's like being a person who sticks pencils in their ear. I can confirm that the pencil hurts, but here I am at 22, with the eraser jammed in as far as my teeth. And I want to stop.

Other people have three month relationships, mine generally stretch into multiple years, long after they should have been put to bed for casual, easy reasons like boredom. I have trusted family members I can talk to, but generally they can only confirm what I know (this is sticking a pencil in your ear, stop doing it!) or tell me I'm worth more than whatever the problem is. This is not working so I'd like to do differently. And it's not just the insecurity of not having a date on Saturday night, it's that for much of my life I haven't had any real friends (serious gap in age between siblings, weird personality, insular unfriendly environments, isolation enforced by crazy family with their own mental health issues, etc). This isn't a healthy place to be either, so you can see I have reasons behind being afraid to be alone. It's not needing a boyfriend just 'cuz I think all girls need a man, it's that for chunks of my life it's been boyfriend/bad friends or nothing at all. And humans can't live that way, and I can't build self esteem on platitudes, I need to logically prove my own self worth and capacity to be loved by people who are not insane (like several of my closest family) to get over the pencil jamming behaviour.
posted by Phalene at 9:59 PM on October 30, 2008


Is there someone in your life that has the personal characteristics that you want (self-esteem assertiveness) and the you love and trust enough with this secret about yourself - an aunt or grandmother or other relative or someone that you have know (and respect) for a long time. Tell this person what you told us and then commit to talking with them honestly about your relationships and ask them to remind you of the person you want to be.

Or find a therapist.
posted by metahawk at 10:18 PM on October 30, 2008


Any relationship (friendship or love) worth saving can weather someone saying, "hey, when you do blah, it makes me feel blah. Please stop."
Strongly seconding this. I have often been in the same place, afraid to confront a friend or girlfriend for fear I would lose them. If they really care, you will not lose them over confronting them. This can be incredibly scary, because you do enter the territory of finding out things about people you would rather not know. But in my opinion it's the only way to truly healthy relationships.

I need to logically prove my own self worth and capacity to be loved by people who are not insane
I think this is really an important clue. There is no such as a "capacity to be loved," in my opinion. To quote the character of Donald Kaufman in "Adaptation," "you are what you love, not what loves you back." You absolutely cannot control whether other people love you. The only thing you can do is choose who you love and who you give your precious time and feelings to.

it's that for chunks of my life it's been boyfriend/bad friends or nothing at all. And humans can't live that way

What, with no friends at all? I'm only being slightly melodramatic when I say I've done it, and I bet a lot of people here have too. It sucks. But being around bad people sucks worse. I guess that is kind of a platitude, but it's true.


How can I make myself feel good enough about singleness or escaping a toxic group of friends
You probably can't, but that's OK or now. Maybe you just have to give it time. There is a certain toxic person I cut out of my life. It was hard as hell, but now when I think back on it from a year later, I realize it was one of the best decisions of my life. I wish her no ill will, but whenever I think about it, I am genuinely happy that I don't have to see her ever again. It reminds me of the story about the actor who played Jay in "clerks" and how he kicked heroin. His catch phrase became, "I dont have to live like that anymore." It's such a victory that I don't have to treat myself like shit anymore. I can't even begin to explain how much better my life is with her nowhere near it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:19 PM on October 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Didn't your last post. See a therapist. I would start on learning how to have healthy friendships first and worry about boyfriends after you have more confidence in your ability to stand up for yourself.
posted by metahawk at 10:21 PM on October 30, 2008


I know it feels like identifying the problem is worthless - but it isn't. You're only 22! How long have you even been dating? Six years? Four? You're still really new to the Relationship Thing, and you are insightful about your own weaknesses at a level most people don't reach until they're much older. I bet you'll be able to implement this insight in your next relationship - and I agree with the previous suggestions that it would be better to prioritize the establishment of healthy friendships before getting involved with another boyfriend.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:43 PM on October 30, 2008


Response by poster: @drjimmy11 & All

Being around 'bad' people is demonstrably better than isolation. I'm not talking about a few hard months making new friends; I'm talking about 'No end in sight' style friendlessness. However I left crazy family situation (see previous posting history), but I recognize that I can’t keep settling for less when I should be capable of getting more, and since I’m no longer imprisoned by external factors, achieving happiness and healthy relationships is my job.

I see my therapist again in a few weeks (she had a pretty jammed schedule) and I've been in and out of therapy for going all depressed and quasi-suicidal thinking. Tried meds too, though little luck there.

I'm most successful in fighting my mental health issues in the form of a logical argument, so I'm hoping on something constructive. I can't rely entirely on my mental health professional to make me better, thus I want to constructively work on my issues outside my 50 minute hour.
posted by Phalene at 10:49 PM on October 30, 2008


Response by poster: ^something concrete and reliable as a mental retraining system, I mean.
posted by Phalene at 10:50 PM on October 30, 2008


Phalene, you are more beautiful than you think you are, you are more grounded than you think you are, and there are more partners out there, than you think there are. there is no scarcity.

Stand up for the precious person that you are - you are worth it.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:43 PM on October 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here's the deal. You know what you are doing, but you can't stop. You have two choices at this point - continue to fall into the same patterns again and again - or stop. This means that you will have to deal with being alone. So learn how to do that. Be alone. Learn to appreciate it, learn to weigh the comfort of being by yourself vs. dealing with some random asshole. If you can learn to be alone, you will never be a victim again. I guarantee it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:07 AM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I did the same thing when I was your age. I wish I could get those years back.

My first reaction was "Me too!" Many, if not most, of us have had those agonizing mistaken relationships, where you get treated badly and come back for more. In some ways it's just a part of growing up -- you try out the "get treated badly" relationship a time or three, and see that it doesn't work; you try out the "treat the other person badly" relationship and see that it doesn't work any better; and hopefully you leave your early- to mid-twenties with a sense of balance in these things.

Trust me, there really is a middle path, where you first value yourself and then find people who will value you, and vice versa. But it isn't easy to do, or so many of us wouldn't struggle with these things. And you learn by doing, so maybe I don't want those years back -- I certainly wouldn't be who I am today without having made plenty of mistakes.

Phalene, you are more beautiful than you think you are, you are more grounded than you think you are, and there are more partners out there, than you think there are. there is no scarcity.

Stand up for the precious person that you are - you are worth it.


This sums it up perfectly.

That thinking of "I'll always be alone, and no one loves me" is really common to people who had a difficult time fitting in as a child, or in high school. But it becomes less relevant with each passing year, honestly. Partly it's a big, big world out there, and that perceived scarcity isn't true at all. It's a kind of magical thinking, where you are blaming your poor results (eg cheating boyfriend) on something that just isn't true (eg scarcity of decent boyfriends).

But most of it is a false sense of self. Like seawallrunner said, your sense of self-worth isn't matching reality. You need to find a way (therapy? meditation? voyage of self-discovery? hard work and sublimation?) to love yourself as much as you deserve, which is an awful lot. And in doing so, you can find people who can share that love.

In other words, finding good people (or sticking up for yourself in a relationship) is an outcome of loving yourself, not a precondition for it. It's not a "problem" to fix -- the results you are getting now are simply a logical outcome of how you are acting and how you are valuing yourself. Change those fundamental things, and you will change how other people react to you and treat you.

Best of luck with this. It's tough, but you aren't alone in grappling with these things.
posted by Forktine at 1:43 AM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why belabor the issue? Please. Have some regard for your own energy count and the all round pain all this causes. Release him. Bye bye dude - wish him luck - send him off - don't harbor any grievances and all in all - just delete without drama.

You can do it. It just takes a deep breath and courage.
posted by watercarrier at 2:03 AM on October 31, 2008


That's my point. Low self esteem is part of the problem, and I love myself, so I don't want to do this. Now how to stop?

You sound like a perfect candidate for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You've identified the problem, recognize your part in it, and want to change your perception and behavior.


I see my therapist again in a few weeks (she had a pretty jammed schedule) and I've been in and out of therapy for going all depressed and quasi-suicidal thinking. Tried meds too, though little luck there.

Depending on your therapist's training and your relationship with her, she might be able to help you with CBT. If not, or if you feel like she's blowing you off (schedule too full for a client with quasi-suicidal thinking?), find another one. There's no scarcity of therapists out there, make sure yours is benefiting you.
posted by headnsouth at 2:24 AM on October 31, 2008


You need to stop thinking about yourself in relation to how other people treat you. If your biggest fear is being alone you need to deal with that first. If you've had several multiple year relationships already, at the mere age of 22 - I think you maybe need to stop having relationships for a while and work out what you want from an SO before actually getting involved with someone again. Why not try being alone for a bit - it might not be that scary after all.

If you can develop an emotional core which sustains you independantly of other people in your life - think of it in terms of developing core body strength - you will gain stability and perspective. Do you have any hobbies, or any passions which you could pursue? Why not give yourself some time off, say six months embargo on relationships or whatever, and see what you've got going on for yourself.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:32 AM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd like to stop doing this, but it seems to be very hard to say: "Mothboy, you treat me like crap. I don't want to see you again if you act like this."

Yes, it can be hard when you're scared, but I think it's a bit like jumping off the really high platform diving board for the first time. You quiver, prevaricate, worry, and then finally you just make yourself close your eyes really tight and jump. You don't die, and it was hard, but you've done it. The next time will be easier; eventually you will wonder why that big high platform was so scary.

It took forever (it seemed) for me to leave an awful, hurtful marriage, and now I wonder who that scared woman was who put up for so long with all the crap. It's so, so tough to make the leap, but then the relief of "I don't have to be that person anymore is so very liberating.
posted by pointystick at 6:23 AM on October 31, 2008



Being around 'bad' people is demonstrably better than isolation.


There's your answer then, in the form of your own choice. Many people here have disagreed with that sentiment, but you're not willing to change your thinking that "bad relationships are better than no relationships." Therefore, you will stay in bad relationships instead of dealing with (no matter how momentarily) the prospect of being "totally alone"--whether you risk isolation by standing up for yourself, or by making a clean break. Until you hurt too much to keep doing this (see comments others have made about, "now I wish I could get those years back").


I'm not talking about a few hard months making new friends; I'm talking about 'No end in sight' style friendlessness.


There's no such thing, hon. You're 22 and (presumably) able-bodied, not 75 or bedridden. Every time I thought I was headed for "no friends ever again" by leaving a toxic stew of frenemies I had outgrown, I was wrong. Maybe it took 6 months, maybe a year, to rebuild, but I always ended up with better (healthier, more intimate) than what I left behind. Volunteer, join a meetup, take a class, get a part time job at a coffee house or something, tutor kids.


One other thing that hasn't been mentioned yet: Looking at your "family history" question previously on AskMe, I also am guessing your people picker is badly broken as well, and part of why you may choose folks that other people know to stay away from, and tolerate too much for too long (and also attract people looking for a "giver"/"caretaker" who may be, ah, "constitutionally incapable" of returning your affections in any meaningful way and may even be using you). If you need help to know when to set boundaries, and when just to walk away, there's groups like AlAnon. Because you're right....reasonably healthy folks may stick around if you speak up and set boundaries, but those who are sick with substance abuse issues, certain personality disorders, etc. will abandon you for greener pastures. (It's a great way to find out who your real friends are--and you can have real friends.)
posted by availablelight at 6:49 AM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding available slight - until you decide that being alone is better than staying in toxic relationships, you will continue this pattern.

The problem is that I can't state ultimatums. I can whine softly that "I hurt when you do X", when pressed, but I can never get the guts to just walk when it's clear they won't change, and hide my discomfort behind pretending that I never asked them properly. It's like being a person who sticks pencils in their ear. I can confirm that the pencil hurts, but here I am at 22, with the eraser jammed in as far as my teeth. And I want to stop.

This constant refrain of "I can't do this" is a hallmark of depressive thinking. You may need to work on that with your therapist before you can move onto relationship work specifically, but if you can't do these things... then your situation won't change. If you "can't" take any of our suggestions, then why post? What were you looking for?

Yes, you can do this. In fact, you are the only person who can do this for yourself. Nobody here can offer a magical fix - in order to fix things, you must start working (with a therapist) to enable yourself to enforce good boundaries.

Hence my suggestions of practicing saying what needs to be said in a mirror. Or writing it out and reading it until actually saying it becomes a possibility.
posted by canine epigram at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2008


Didn't read the above but you are only 22. Chill out on yourself. You are not ruined. I know plenty of people who are trying to figure this out in their 30s. Like...me. And all my friends.

Maybe go to therapy, figure things out and stop making the same decisions you made in the past. Ask yourself why you are attracted to people like this. First step is to dump and dump completely. Don't let it linger because life is short and you'll be wasting your time.
posted by sully75 at 10:24 AM on October 31, 2008


Response by poster: Okay, just to follow up.

I have a real (equal) friend or two now, and was confident enough in my capacity to make friends that I could move. I just know where the harmful pattern in my life lies, so that when I make new friends, it becomes important for me to change myself destructive behaviours. Knowing that my family puts me at risk for picking up users puts this as a priority, lest say, I meet an outright abuser, not a normal jerk.

Obviously, logically, I know that I won't always be alone and I can have a drama free life, but it's hard to overcome the doom filled but previously accurate perception of trapped fourteen year old Phalene that "this is as good as it gets" for the foreseeable future. For a fourteen year old, four more years is as good as forever. At twenty-two I can pick up and move, and it's no longer say, outright celibacy or awkward relationships with people as bad at it as I was. Breaking learned helplessness is hard, but obviously I'm not destined to be alone or abused or I wouldn't have asked.
My frustration is that I shouldn’t have to deal with this anymore. It’s not that I’m rejecting all possible solutions, it’s just that I know that suppressing one’s protests is unhealthy, I’m more concerned with why I’m suppressing them. I’m in a new city where theoretically the possibility of friend making is near infinite, instead of a finite pool of people. Ergo I am not alone, so it is wrong to think this.

It helps knowing that this is a natural process of learning. I have a lot of trouble with trying to internalize "Awesomeness is you!" because often that's a huge component of what glues me to toxic people. The rhetoric is "I think you're the most wonderful girl" while the behaviour is "Now lets see what I can get" is a familiar pattern. I’m therefore doubly distrustful of that sort of positive rhetoric. I also want to work out what I guess is ‘panic’ passivity, where the person does something wrong and I’m afraid to criticize because they might get mad and hate me.

Depressive thinking is an obvious source to follow up, and would make sense given that I’ve been clinically depressed for majority of my life (all of about 15 years, jeeze, that’s waaaay too long), so I’m sick of doing mental work. I’ve cognitive therapized, and done worksheets and anti-anxiety meditation until I’m saturated with it, and I need to get out of my head and find constructive things to do with other people.
posted by Phalene at 6:48 AM on November 1, 2008


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