Should I give up on friendship?
March 22, 2012 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I am angry at everyone who tries to be friendly with me because of a repeated thing that has happened to me socially and with my family as well. I really don't want to become bitter and friendless but I either feel like I'm putting on an act or I get angry.

Whenever I have ever understood or felt like I fit into a group, something happened to make me unwelcome there. Sometimes it was at least partly my fault, but a few times it was one person spreading rumors like a power play (or because I would not date them). I often end up with a few friendships with people in the group, but it stings to be excluded from many things and I have to limit these friendships so I can move on.

I do not trust anyone in my immediate family. The explanation most vivid of my family is a voicemail that my mother left me just to say hello, how are you - then, when she thought she had hung up the phone, she tore into me and spoke of the horror I was for three minutes straight.

Even with that I used to be able to trust people, but some bad experiences and an absolutely disastrous romantic relationship later I find myself having an angry reaction against people who are becoming increasingly close to me.

I meet many people through my work, which is somewhat in the public eye, and some of them are interesting and nice people (or are they nice?) At this point, I have people who are basically the fans who do not know much about me that I can have drinks with or go to a concert with and have a superficial conversation. It is ultimately empty and unilateral. Then I have people I want to be friends with. I spend time with them, but the more time I spend with them the more I start to become uncomfortable with them and finally actively find reasons to hate them.

Of course I want friends. I do not want to be a cynical asshole. I have no one to share or anyone to be honest with and it is deeply isolating. It is sad.

I know many people will say therapy, but I had a bad couple of therapists, including a psychiatrist who really abused my confidence for money when I was desperate and in a new city. I had a good therapist that I kept seeing and we were making progress so I quit...again having trouble trusting. It also seems risky. Right now I am at least functional on the outside and can do my job, which took a lot of work after the romantic relationship gone bad. The idea of ​​trusting a therapist and being rejected or having them talk behind my back or be deceived again ... I do not think I could go from there. I also assume that the therapist will hate me.

Is there some way I can tell if people will really be good, honest and loyal friends? Some way back to trust people? Can I learn to be happy with unilateral relationships?

I have almost given up on romantic relationships. Nobody is particularly wanting to date me and if it seems like they are it makes me really angry. Same problem.

Thank you for any help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
voicemail that my mother left me just to say hello, how are you - then, when she thought she had hung up the phone, she tore into me and spoke of the horror I was for three minutes straight.

This is horrifying. I'm so sorry that happened to you. No one deserves that, ever.

I sympathize a lot with your question because my family isn't so good either (not as bad as yours, but still) and making friends seems about 50/50 backstabbers and genuine nice people for me. I don't know if you'll find this helpful, but making connections to people online, on message boards, has actually really helped tide me over when I feel like I can't trust anyone and get too isolated. It's a "safe" way to connect because you can leave at any time, and people still get to know you, accept you, and miss you if you're not around. Yes, it's not as good as real life, but it might tide you over in the meantime.
posted by quincunx at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your trust issues are interfering with finding an acceptable course of treatment with a therapist, then you should consider some self-guided CBT work, such as through the Feeling Good Handbook.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

This is really tough. I can tell that you're hurting. I wonder how old you are -- mid 20s? 30s? 40s? The reason I ask is that I have found my anxiety related to how people think of me to continually diminish over the years. It's wonderful! And I also used different tactics to shrug things off in my 20s than I do today, in my 30s.

You say: Is there some way I can tell if people will really be good, honest and loyal friends?

Are you a good, honest, loyal friend? You defensively put up barriers and think the worst of people -- does that make you good, honest and loyal? Not in my book. Here's the thing that I have worked to embrace: everyone has flaws. No one is the perfect person. We can be "good" 90% of the time but maybe that 10% is dark and ugly and not fit for public consumption. If you can forgive yourself for putting up unnecessary defenses, maybe you can forgive others for not be 100% good.

Your mother. Ugh. That's terrible to hear. I think you should talk to her about it. "Hey, you may not know this, but when you left that call, you ended by saying all this nasty stuff. It made me feel terrible. I just thought you should know." Give her a chance to defend herself. Give her a chance to make it up to you. I think there's probably no one that can love us more than a mom and there's no one we can antagonize more than our mothers. But, it really hurts to feel like the love isn't unconditional. Give her a chance.

I'm friends with a large group of people. Sometimes I get excluded. Sometimes I'm at an event where others have been excluded. 98% of the time it has nothing to do with the person who was left out. Everyone is pretty even keel but sometimes people want to do something in a small group with others who have expressed an affinity. I mostly don't get invited to crafting things even though I do occasionally like to craft. However, I know I can always ask to go or be invited to the next one and that's cool. It's not personal. Sometimes it hurts but it's not personal. People really don't spend too much time thinking deeply about how to hurt other people. Those that do, get cut out. So, if you can make yourself believe (because it is most likely true) that others are not out to get you or out to hurt you then you can start to forgive and let things roll off.

I gave advice to someone else the other day to lean back. You need to practice leaning in. Putting out your hand. Smiling first. Laughing first. Hugging first. When you start to feel that panicky, terrible feeling -- look for an out. Redirect yourself. Make a joke. Call a different friend and make a plan. Say 'yes' to a coffee date.

Give yourself a timeline. Six months of leaning in and forgiving. If you're still feeling like the world is against you, I urge you to look into therapy again. Maybe even go back to that therapist who you quit when things were getting good. They will forgive you. Start with why you quit. Best of luck!!
posted by amanda at 9:49 AM on March 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

So, you don't trust anybody and you want to have meaningful friendships. One of these two things has to change.

If you are as distrustful of everyone as it sounds like you are, you're always going to have a wall up, preventing them from being the friends they might be inclined to become. And you yourself say you "actively find reasons to hate" people you want to be friends with. Perhaps because you suspect they have ulterior motives. I don't know. But that shit isn't helping. I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry breaks up with a woman because of the way she brushes her teeth. It's not about the toothbrushing, it's about an unexamined dissatisfaction.

It sounds like you are semi-famous, and are interacting only with the people who know you through your fame. Perhaps you should mingle with people who don't know/care about your fame.

If you want to have friends, you have to accept the risk that your friends will let you down. If you want a romantic relationship, same thing. You just have to put yourself out there and be willing to take your lumps. Or reconcile yourself to being bitter and withdrawn.
posted by adamrice at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can I learn to be happy with unilateral relationships?
On your own, probably not. You (probably) don't deserve the treatment you get, anymore than the people you get so angry at (probably) deserve the treatment they are getting from you. You're reciprocating/miroring behavior that hasn't even manifested yet, or may never - by finding reasons to hate someone, by limiting your relationships. Maybe you need to find that balance between "close enough that the relationship is fufilling" and "so close that I fear they will hurt me," with people who are already in your life, as opposed to trying to join groups or meet new people, with whom you may repeat the same pattern. Is there anyone in your life that you think you could try that with?

I think if you are particularly motivated, self-guided therapy might be helpful, but it might also be even more isolating.
posted by sm1tten at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2012

Can you accept that you are okay? That what you're doing is what you have had to do to protect yourself? That it hurts when your trust is violated by people you love and that you expected to love you, and that you are not eager to be in a position of having that trust violated again? You're okay. You're taking care of yourself.

And it sounds like you're starting to want to change. Maybe how you're taking care of yourself isn't meeting a need that you're aware of. We're social animals, Aristotle says, so it makes sense that you have needs around being social. And that's okay, too.

You're in a bind. You want relationships, and you want to protect yourself from having your trust violated at the same time. Both of those things are perfectly natural and not at all wrong, but it sounds like they are a little bit in conflict. So that's hard. You're in a hard place.

And you wouldn't be in such a hard place, maybe, if other people hadn't betrayed your trust and hurt you in the past. You're carrying a burden that somebody gratuitously placed on you. So it makes sense that you would feel some anger. That's also perfectly natural and not wrong.

People will disappoint you in the future. If you let them in, if you trust them, sometimes even the best ones will drop something that's important to you, will forget to invite you, will say something that hurts you. It's unavoidable.

It's also not always the end of the world or the relationship. It sounds to me like you have some triggers around trust that make it feel like it will be deeply painful -- again, this is natural: it was painful before. You're going to have to address those triggers in order for you to start feeling safe enough and strong enough to start trusting people again.
posted by gauche at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

The thing is that every relationship fails until the one that doesn't. And even that one will end, too, at one point. Disappointing, I know. Depressing...maybe.

But that's reality. If you are actively not putting everything or as much as you can into relating with someone to protect yourself, then you're not really relating, are you? And that sets yourself up for the failure that you just knew deep down inside would happen. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And honestly, you won't go far with fan adoration. It's nice, but it's not something that can be sustained long-term. They like you for who they think you are and you won't like them back because you're sure they have a false face. How could that possibly be sustained.

But I think the first thing is wanting to make a change, to be a different person. To be open again to love, but also risking being hurt.

You are capable of love and are worthy of love. Don't forget that. It is possible, but I can't guarantee you'll never be hurt again. Unfortunately, that happens to all of us. But it's about the good times more than it is the bad. And you shouldn't define a relationship by how it ended, but by how it made you feel in the best moments and hopefully you have a lot more good than bad. That's real life.

I wish you the best.
posted by inturnaround at 10:22 AM on March 22, 2012

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself. - Aruthur Schopenhauer, Bitter Old Man

People can only make you happy to the extent that you give them the opportunity to make you sad. Given your early experiences with you family, you probably have a distorted view of the risks involved in getting close to people. That said, I'm sure even the best-adjusted people hurt one another at times. Dealing with that is probably better than being alone.
posted by phrontist at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Short version-

1. Be very kind to yourself.
2. Start with animals and children, not adults. Ideally, get a dog. Else, a cat or a plant. Anything that depends on you for its survival (that isn't another adult). Tend to it daily.
3. I would discourage you to put more effort into relationships/friendships at this point before you heal your older wounds first.

Longer, personal version-

I understand what you are saying. Memail me.
posted by xm at 10:37 AM on March 22, 2012

Can you go back to the good therapist? Tell her what happened (she probably knows already) and try again.

If the kind of BS your Mom pulled is indicative, the programming you have to work against, is pretty huge, so don't beat yourself up if you don't get things right the first time, including your relationship with your therapist. Progress, not perfection, should be your goal.

I have had to build a sort of "relationship dicernment gauge" from scratch, as an adult to help me figure out what friend behavior was acceptable and what was not. The gauge that was installed when I was a child was not only unhelpful, but was actually giving me harmful misinformation.

The way I built this "relationship guage" was to run things by people whose opinions I trusted and valued.
-Did this seem normal to you? Yes/No.
-Is my reaction normal, do you think? Yes/No.
-What would your reaction have been?

I did some of this with the help of a therapist, but 90% of it was through going to Al-anon meetings and meeting people there who had also had to build their own gauges from scratch, so they didn't think I was weird for having to check in about things.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The thing is, you're not coming in here and saying "I try to make friends but 100% of them stab me in the back."

What you're saying is that some of them let you down, but other times you push friendly people away.

That tells me that you are aware when someone has betrayed you and when they haven't. Your problem is that you daren't give them a chance to continue to not betray you. If you actually couldn't tell the difference between someone who has betrayed you and someone who hasn't, it would be a lot more worrying. You know exactly who is going wrong and where, from the sounds of it.

I do think you need therapy, but I also think you're going to solve this. You're not flailing around hurling hostility in all directions, you have a clearly identifiable problem that you can work through with help.

It's great that you want to solve this, too. What your mother did to you - OUCH. That's so horrible, I can't even. You're very resilient and positive to be asking this question after all you've been through.
posted by tel3path at 11:02 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had a good therapist that I kept seeing and we were making progress so I quit

Honestly, if you're going to let this sort of "reasoning" stand - with a professional who not only has training to exercise an high degree of discretion and ethics in the relationship with you but also faces potentially serious legal consequences for violating those standards - what hope is there that you are really going to sort this out for yourself in your everyday dealings with the rest of us? What you're dealing with just seems so obviously beyond the scope of "hang in their baby" encouragement from the internet hoi polloi. Go back to your therapist and be honest regarding your mistrust of them.
posted by nanojath at 11:07 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

You have to commit to pushing through that "Things are going so well, I'd better bail now before this person betrays me" barrier. If you can go back to the therapist with whom you had a good rapport and speak frankly about that with them, that might be the simplest way to start.

I am so sorry that your trust was so terribly betrayed by your family. That just fucking sucks beyond words. But, you know, you can either let them "win" and ruin the rest of your life, or you can do the hard work of moving past their shitty behavior and creating a new family of friends and romantic partner(s) for yourself. It's up to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:16 AM on March 22, 2012

Just to unpack my last statement a bit: your family told you you weren't worth respect and love. Are you really going to accept that? Because I can tell you they're wrong.

Augustine of Hippo said "Hope has two beautiful daughters, Anger and Courage." I bet that if you channel your anger into courage you can solve this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

But, you know, you can either let them "win" and ruin the rest of your life, or you can do the hard work of moving past their shitty behavior and creating a new family of friends and romantic partner(s) for yourself. It's up to you.

This is absolutely true advice.

Here's a story about me: I have habits that I learned as a child, because my parents imposed certain rules and expectations on me. And even though I thought that those rules and expectations were stupid at the time, I grew into my habits because I didn't have a choice. I was a child.

Now I'm not a child anymore. I still have those habits. And some of them, it turns out, were actually pretty stupid and I don't need them. But I find that I'm holding on to them anyway, even when they make me fail at things. I find that sometimes I deliberately fail at things by following the habits, as though I need to prove that the rules and expectations were wrong.

You see where this is going. My holding onto these habits and deliberately failing at things is self-destructive. I'm not showing my parents anything. They're not even there to see me fail. They are never going to say, you're right, that was a stupid lesson we tried to teach you and you are free to do it the way you want to. They don't even remember teaching me the lesson. I am putting on a comedy of the absurd for an audience of me.

And I should stop.

But I don't want to stop. I want to win. I want to prove how stupidly wrong they were in their stupid wrongness, and one of the ways to do that is to follow their stupid wrong rules to the letter and then -- inevitably -- fail at everything. That will prove it. Then I'll win. By failing.

It takes a lot of effort to overcome the desire to win. It takes a lot of effort to break my well-learned habits. And I need help sometimes -- that's what therapy is for: helping me to see when I'm acting out of habits that I know aren't healthy, or motives that aren't going to get me what I really want, or both. Because I don't really want to fail, even though I want to win.

End the story about me.
posted by gauche at 11:47 AM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I love how people think that therapy is always the answer 100% of the time. Listen, I have the same problem. I am in therapy and yes it helps a bit, but there's a lot of work and discovery that you have to do on your own.

I agree with everything that gauche stated and highly recommend the Feeling Good book someone else mentioned, too.

It's going to take time though. You have to learn to trust yourself fully first and to believe that you deserve to be treated well. That isn't so easy for some. Once you start on that, you can set boundaries for yourself and very slowly let people closer to you based on their behavior. Your family experiences may have skewed the way you view people. You basically have to retrain or fight against your upbringing.

You may tend to see the worst in people. I tend to do that too, although, I believe I'm being realistic. However, I have to put that on the back burner and give them a chance.

It's a hard road really and it takes time. You need to be patient with yourself and not beat yourself up over not being close to anyone. There's a lot of superficiality in the world and things with others are not always as it seems. I have met some great people and slowly let them in and they understand! Good people, great friends will understand. Yes, therapy can help, if you can find a good therapist, but don't discount the work that you can do on your own too.

Btw, you may be right about your work environment, so I think it's wise to be guarded. Some places/professions/environments breed competitiveness, backstabbing or politics.
posted by Polgara at 12:02 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think that in this case, the very safest place for the OP to practice trusting someone is with a professional therapist with whom they have a good rapport. A good therapist is far less likely to flake out in ways that would trigger the OP's sense of betrayal than any other person chosen for the trust experiment.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, he already knows this therapist, so the whole "getting-to-know-and-trust-you" part is well underway. It can take a long time to get there- jump starting it is good for your wallet.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:30 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've had a rough start with the pathology in your family, and it hasn't given you firm footing for figuring out who is trustworthy and who is not. I dated someone with that same issue, and it was like she'd throw her trust at a person she hardly knew, then blow her stack when they betrayed her, then lash out at the people around her who cared for her and were, more or less, trustworthy, as if by running them off she could protect herself from future hurt.

If this sounds like you, then you need to retool your trust-meter until you get to the point where the meter itself is trustworthy. I agree returning to your therapist and coming clean with her is an excellent start to that.

If you have someone around you, a friend or manager or co-worker, who generally has good, stable, low-drama relationships, try watching who they trust with what* and how quickly they trust or distrust someone new around them. Learn by watching and modeling, and ask questions if you can about how they make decisions about trust. Also, see if you can identify a gentle person, someone good with kids and animals who is patient and rarely raises his or her voice, and try trusting them with something specific, and then something else. And don't date until you've made good progress recalibrating your trust.

Trusting people is always a gamble, but with your heart instead of money. The thing is, though, we have nearly unlimited heart, so we can take a lot of losses and still get big wins.

*Trust is rarely absolute. We all have things we keep to ourselves due to some kind of vulnerability, and that's okay. People often talk about trust as if it's an on-off switch, like we either trust someone or we don't, but that's a big oversimplification. We might have a friend we trust to have our back out on the street whom we wouldn't trust to be a good petsitter. We might have a friend we trust to give good advice, but we wouldn't want to drive our car. We might have a co-worker we trust to give good feedback but we wouldn't trust with personal issues.
posted by notashroom at 6:59 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

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