Reaching out to internet strangers about a fear of reaching out
April 26, 2016 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I’ve realized that over the course of the last several years, I’ve developed a fear of emotionally reaching out to people. I’m writing now because of a very recent breakup. All of the breakup AskMes have been read, and armed with those as well as past breakups, I think I know how to do breakup recovery right. However, one thing I’m having a hard time with is asking for a sympathetic ear. Lots o' detail below.

The reasons, at least the ones I’m aware of, are:

• I don’t keep in regular contact with friends I don’t see on a regular basis. I moved away for school, and my friends tend to be scattered all around, and I’ve never been one to pick up the phone, send a random email, or post on Facebook. With longtime friends, we meet up maybe once or twice a year and catch up in person.

• Because of the above reason, I feel like I’m using or taking advantage of friendships if I contact them out of the blue because of breakup. I suppose I’ve internalized hearing about so many people (on AskMes and in person) complain about friends who will only call when a problem is afoot.

• This one is probably the primary reason – I’m afraid of owing the other person. I fear that I am not going to want to help that person, but I will feel trapped into doing it, and that I will be a bad friend if I opt out. I know it’s irrational because if my friend was going through a breakup, I know I’d be there for them. (This stems from a parent (from whom I am estranged) who was a bad one, to put it lightly. The parent made it clear that they sacrificed and sacrificed to provide for me and that I owed them everything I had, now and in the future, when requested. Of course I know this is preposterous, but as these family-of-origin things go, this has been following me around and pestering me in my adult life)

I know about cognitive distortions (a la Feeling Good) and will be flipping through it again. I’ve done therapy before, and will probably re-visit it once I’m done with my demanding program in a few months, but I’d love some insight in the more immediate future – anecdotes, tidbits of wisdom, resources on how to get over this large hump would be helpful and appreciated. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm kind of bad at this too. I have to make a very conscious effort to keep in touch with my friends, even ones I live close to. It helps that my friends understand this and are good about being proactive and will initiate plans and call me to check in.

It is of course awkward to call on friends you're not close to for support, but maybe one of your longterm friends (who presumably knows how you are about reaching out) would be a more comfortable choice for you. Sometimes this can even spark a closer bond, and you can both make a point of staying in better contact with each other, even when things are going well for you. This has happened to me several times, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a fluke. Just set a goal time (like in a day or two), and make yourself a promise that when that time comes, you will just pick up the phone and call them, no matter what. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how that goes :)

As far as a fear of owing someone, I think you answered your own question -- you would totally be there for that person, and fears around that are best worked through in therapy.

Best of luck.
posted by ananci at 12:16 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I always imagine what I would do if a friend of mine would reach out to me and then I base my actions on this. I would gladly be there even if you were merely a good acquaintance and I wouldn't expect anything back for it.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 2:42 PM on April 26, 2016

Your friends are not your parents, presumably you are friends with them because they are decent people who care about you.

Even if it were true that you wouldn't be able to be there for them in the future, after asking for their help now ... most people would still want to help you now.
posted by bunderful at 5:47 PM on April 26, 2016

I recently found 7 Cups and am thinking it might be a good place to practice reconnecting and allowing people to listen/help.
posted by bendy at 8:43 PM on April 26, 2016

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