Can I really get better? Do people really change?
February 9, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

A probable breakup has made a lot of my issues come to the surface. How do I fix them?

My relationship is ending. I had no idea it had gotten this bad, he says he's been saying what he had to to get me to calm down, and faked it and "managed" me instead of trying to deal with my crazy. I know we've been happy, and that we work on a fundamental level, but I do have some terrible behavior I picked up god-knows-where that needs to change.

Anyway, this is not about my relationship although if you've ever convinced someone to give you a real chance I welcome your story. This is about me, and if I can really get better.

I guess the main problem is I can't be alone. I hate it. I hate going to sleep by myself. I hate trying to idle away the time. I've only ever been able to enjoy my alone time since I've been with him - I guess knowing that I have someone is enough. I'm in therapy, although I guess if I have to move back home with my parents I have to find a new therapist. It took me years to start going regularly and find someone I clicked with.

I'm not totally sure what I'm asking here. I'm pretty devastated, but he keeps wavering and I keep hoping we'll get another chance. How do I be alone? Is it really possible that after so many years of always wanting to be in a relationship, of being terribly depressed when alone for long periods of time, that this can change? I have good friends whom I love, but sometimes spending time with them feels empty and shallow because at this point I prefer the connection I have with my boyfriend.

I know the usual, cut off contact, find hobbies, connect with friends, do things for other people, etc etc. I get it. Eventually you get over the end of a relationship. But how do I really, fundamentally, fix myself deep down? How do I not yell and sob and throw accusations when arguing? How do I not say any and everything I can think of to try to get my way? How do I stop being controlling?

How did I get this way?
posted by krakenattack to Human Relations (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I don't mean to sound harsh, but finding out that someone is perpetuating a relationship with you because they're afraid of being alone is incredibly painful and demoralizing. No one wants to be just another warm body or audience member.

One of the things you can do in the short term is to commit to experimenting with being independent. Practice makes perfect. Sleep alone! Find little rituals that bring you comfort in the nighttime. Keep a journal, complain into it all you want. But also be honest with yourself about the benefits of not always having a person to perform for, or take care of, etc.

Yes, you can change. And you're going to have to. No one is entitled to a sleep partner or a life partner or whatever.

How do I not yell and sob and throw accusations when arguing? How do I not say any and everything I can think of to try to get my way? How do I stop being controlling?

I have someone like this in my family. We all avoid dealing with her at all costs. She refuses to get help, and so basically people just open up to her less, because no one wants to be vulnerable around someone who gets ugly. Last year I went through a huge personal tragedy that I wound up not even telling her about, because I didn't trust her ability to deal with it as a reasonable adult. So based on that I'd urge you to wonder: "What am I already missing out on in my relationships with others because of this behavior?"

And just a hunch, but maybe read this page and see if there are shades of truth in it that apply to you and your ex.
posted by hermitosis at 9:51 AM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Personally, I think the first thing you need to do is stop expecting people to hang around if you yell at them.

Just assume that every time you yell over nothing majorly life-threatening you're actively destroying your relationship.

This one always gets me. I don't know how people who yell and fuss constantly can expect anyone to stick around. It's total self-sabotage, and only maladjusted people will tolerate it.

So yeah, maybe start by specifically addressing this in therapy and learning how to communicate without the shouting and whatever else you do.

Also, being single sucks. I hated it, too. The thought of being single again, ever makes me panic also. Maybe accepting that being single kind of sucks for most people and working on being a well-adjusted, even-tempered person who is ready for a healthy relationship will motivate you to meet those goals more effectively.
posted by devymetal at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2012 [20 favorites]

You are not alone in not being able to be alone. Some people just hate the notion of not being involved with someone. You are one of those people. I don't necessarily think that its bad thing, you just tend to have a worse time dealing with ending relationships. Its a huge psychological and emotional stresser to deal with something like this and you simply need a new focus.

If you are already not, I would recommend getting accustomed to a regular exercise and diet regime. Take it seriously and you will find yourself feeling and sleeping better. That is usually the route I take whenever I get in a similar situation. An alternative is to find another hobby that you are excited about. More importantly, don't wait till tomorrow to start working on this. Do it right after you read this post, or it will never happen until another stressor is introduced to your routine.
posted by opi at 10:03 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

What is it about being alone really bothers you? Is it that you need the constant attention of another living thing? Is it silence that bothers you? Are you afraid of thinking too much? I think once you can answer that question, it'll be easier to think of ways to ease you into alone time.

As for how to keep yourself from yelling, sobbing, etc., I find keeping my mouth shut when feeling confused or upset is rarely something I regret. Good on you for getting help!
posted by smirkette at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

You are not broken and you don't need "fixing". Your fear of being alone is a challenge you face, and it can be worked through. It won't ever go away completely, because the desire for intimacy and closeness is part of the human condition. Not only are you entitled to crave intimacy and closeness with a partner, you deserve to have the companionship you crave. You can't force it on to someone that doesn't want to (or is not able) to give it to you, though.

The fallacy that you're broken and need fixing, that your emotions and desires in and of themselves are wrong, are actually what you need to address. The feelings are real and they are yours. Your behaviors, actions and how long you allow yourself to focus on fallacious or "twisted" thoughts (that would be these) is what you need to address.

You actually do have it right: " this point I prefer the connection I have with my boyfriend. "

That is it, in a nutshell. AT THIS POINT, you have this PREFERENCE. That can be addressed and changed. Focus on that, like a laser, and you will get through this. The dramatic change that you will experience eventually is that you will get through the bad feelings, be okay, and learn to trust yourself and your ability to handle the uncomfortable emotions like an adult. Like a champ, in fact.

Hang in there. It feels really bad right now. You will not feel this bad forever. Remember as well, that just because you FEEL bad does not mean that you ARE bad. Feelings are not reality. They are only feelings.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:42 AM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

But how do I really, fundamentally, fix myself deep down? How do I not yell and sob and throw accusations when arguing? How do I not say any and everything I can think of to try to get my way? How do I stop being controlling?

How did I get this way?

These are some very serious things. As pointed out above, a lot of well-adjusted people won't tolerate this behavior from their SOs, because, you know, it isn't really constructive, and generally tends to be self-sabotaging.

How do I be alone?

I know lots of people have different tolerances for this, but being able to be independent is a pretty crucial life skill; in fact, it's one that helps you foster, and thrive in, good relationships.

Obviously, based on your background, this is going to be harder for you, because you don't have tons of experience with independence. Additionally, you are working through some behaviors that you find difficult and unsettling.

But: I'm in therapy

You've already started the process of learning how to readjust problematic behaviors, figuring out how to live on your own, and laying down the framework for a more awesome future. Before you think you have to move back in with your parents, consider that you've already begun to do the things that are going to effect the change that you are looking for.

Dive into therapy, and stick with it. You'll be able to work on all these things in that space. You may be surprised by how much you can accomplish when you work mindfully with yourself.

In many ways, you've already answered your own question. Yay! Keep at it!
posted by vivid postcard at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Stay in therapy and keep at it. Other than that, here's a system I use. Maybe it'll help you, in future situations.

First: Learn to identify the behaviors that have been problematic for you, and learn to be able to spot them when you're doing them. Become accustomed to reminding yourself, in the moment when you're doing these things, that even though you think this time is different and you're being reasonable, it's not and you're not.

Second: Remember those moments at the end of a relationship when you don't want to break up and they do and you're tormenting yourself with thoughts and memories of all the little things you miss about them, things you hold so dear and would do anything for a few more moments of. An in-joke you have with them, or the way they smile, or whatever. Remember those little things and ask yourself what little things there are in the current relationship you're in, at the moment you think of all this.

Third: Put it together. Identify the things you're doing that tend to cause trouble in relationships, and ask yourself, "What would I miss, if this freakout ended this relationship?"

Brings me back to Earth, usually. It becomes easier to see your SO as someone you care about and who's on the same side as you.

As to the rest, it's a lot of work and it's hard and it takes time. But the sooner you start, the sooner you'll get there. So just keep working at it. Stay in therapy and plug away. And you'll be all right.

Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

How many times has yelling and screaming fixed a problem for you? How many times has it made you feel better about yourself and the person you are with? I am betting not many.

The thing with going crazy on a person is that you think that you are getting their attention and showing them how much Big Important Issue means to you, but all you are really doing is shutting them down. People are loath to listen, sympathize, and correct their behavior for a person who is shouting. The minute that you raise your voice, he is going to stop listening and start trying to figure out a way to shut you up.

The reason to stop yelling, at its most fundamental level, is because it just doesn't work. It is a way to win the battle but lose the war.

Most people I know that use the "crazy" method of communicating have not been taught healthy ways of getting people's attention. Yelling is their way of saying "Hey! this is important to me even if it not important to you. I feel hurt and not secure in this relationship and I need to work on this with you".

You need to learn to get people's attention without stream of conciousness yelling. Sometimes, just saying "I need to talk to you about this now, it's important!" does the trick. Use a statement like this when you get angry. Tell him (when you are not in the middle of an argument) that when you say whatever attention getter that you decide on, you mean business, and that you won't yell, but you will expect his full attention.
posted by Shouraku at 1:45 PM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might find Co-Dependents Anonymous helpful.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:49 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your fear is controlling you. And that fear is leading you to attempt to control others. Control is antithetical to love, so it's a vicious cycle causing you to destroy what you desperately want.

You sound fairly self-aware here. That self-awareness can be very painful - you are aware of and can describe what you're doing and, perhaps, why you do it; you feel guilty when you know you're doing the wrong thing. Self-awareness often leads to self-criticism. Self-criticism can lead to low self-worth - and depression, because hearing that negativity in your head so much makes you feel bad!

The fear of being alone may well be caused by
1) not wanting to actually be alone with nothing to distract you from being wrapped up inside your own head with this painful self-awareness and negative thoughts
2) at least if you're not single, then someone finds you worthy, even if you don't find yourself worthy. So that sense of self-worth is provided by something outside yourself since you're not finding it within yourself

So hating being alone and seeking to be in a relationship is a coping mechanism for your fear. The controlling behavior, the ugly fighting tactics, the manipulation is all a coping mechanism as well. Your fear causes you to lash out - maybe you need to be right, and win, so the other person doesn't leave you. Maybe you feel you need to manipulate their feelings to keep them with you. Maybe you are just so afraid they will leave, when you fight, that your emotions overtake you out of proportion to what you're fighting about.

You need that connection, that relationship, because you're propping your self-worth on it, so I would say it's practically an addiction - you're caught up in keeping that fix, and you're frantic at the idea of not having that fix because you don't know how to create that sense of worthiness (self-love, really) on your own. Other relationships would definitely feel less necessary compared to your love relationship because you're using it to sustain yourself - you need that intense connection to keep yourself going. If you get another chance with him, it might happen that you'll continue going on as you have been because you will not be forced to do the deep work of figuring out how to sustain yourself - how to, well, accept and love yourself.

I think the good thing here is that if you have that self-awareness then you are already on the first step to healing yourself. It's an important step. You need to know what you're doing, to understand what you're doing, to understand why you're doing it, to help you find a better way to handle yourself, and then to help you change what you're doing. If you love someone, you don't want to control them or use them. If you love someone, you don't want to hurt them. But these habits are stubborn, so you will default to them. You have to retrain yourself, and that's hard to do. If you persist, then yes, you can change. You can make yourself stronger. I think this is very much worth doing.

I'm not a therapist (I am very glad to hear you are going to one - that is committing yourself to this internal work!) - this is just me analyzing your question from a position of empathy, because I too have hated being alone, have been depressed when I'm alone, and have used relationships to affirm my self-worth when I could not sustain that on my own. I hope this particular angle of insight might help you in trying to understand and heal yourself.
posted by flex at 2:12 PM on February 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

You need to start seeing other peoples point if view and acknowleding their desires and opinions. Because they are just as valid as your. You question is a good example of you not doing this at all. You identify your problem as you not wanting to be alone. Your bf identifies the problem as you screaming at him, being manipulative and generally acting like a crazy loom. Can you see the disconnect there? Do you think he's wrong or can you understand his pov?
posted by fshgrl at 3:53 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey all, thanks for the responses. FAMOUS MONSTER, seriously, wow. Thank you for that, I think it'll really help.

I'll still be dealing with this through the weekend, so any more answers are appreciated.
posted by krakenattack at 4:24 PM on February 9, 2012

Like fshgrl says. 40 or 50 times. The way you framed the question is very telling.

It's great that you realize this isn't working (although this seems to be because your relationship is breaking up). What do you want relationships to be about? What do you see as your role on other people's lives? A therapist can help you work through a lot of this. Some form of mindfulness or CBT would be a very useful way to train yourself to fake it till you make it.

And why is moving back in with your parents the next step? I'm worried that you're putting up roadblocks.

If you do have to move and find another therapist, given how miserable you were when you wrote this question, don't you think working with a competent therapist with whom you don't quite click would be better for you than floundering on your own?

You should give up on the relationship. You have a lot of work to do and you need to do it for yourself, not because you think there's a prize waiting.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:12 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find concepts like "fixing myself" and "changing my personality" infinitely less useful than goals like "learning new skills" and "practicing more constructive behaviors." Best of luck to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:33 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

How do I not yell and sob and throw accusations when arguing?

It sounds like you have a lot going on, but here's one thing to consider if the crying is basically involuntary and at a level you haven't really experienced before. Are you on hormonal birth control? It can seriously screw with you if you don't get it right; tiny things going wrong can set you bawling, etc.
posted by ktkt at 12:39 AM on February 11, 2012

I just finished reading Attachment Theory, discovering that I am very much an anxious-type.

What you describe is very typical of a person with an Anxious-type attachment system. It was a fascinating read, and I'd encourage you to talk to your therapist about it. It has, truly, really helped me understand myself a lot more.
posted by Thistledown at 5:37 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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