March 17, 2019 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I don’t want to be the center of attention anymore, even though that’s what got me through hard times—friends and family recognizing that I was in crisis and showering me with love and support. The hard times are probably over; how do I keep myself from reliving the patterns I’ve been in?

The love and support of family and friends feels good. Now that the real trauma is over, I’m afraid I’ll do things to create that same sensation. How do I feel good about getting back to normal, to not being the person that everyone is taking care of or worried about? Perhaps more importantly how do I recognize and stop behavior that I might be doing unconsciously to keep those good feelings coming?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Look for ways to help out both formally (volunteer somewhere) and with the people who have supported you. Do things that make you feel capable (cooking, hobbies) and strong (exercise, learn skills.)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:24 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

The ideal relationships are mutually supportive caretaking ones. You experienced support and caretaking. Of course you want to go on having that. It's a human drive slightly below needing air and water, but about the same level as food. Now interest yourself in what is happening to the people who supported you and give them a chance to be looked after.

Figure out what is serious and what is non-serious in your life, and make sure that you don't start treating the moderate stuff as major stuff. For example, I can't make myself go to work: serious. I was late for work and am afraid I will be fired: Non serious. Make a strong effort to deal with the non serious on your own. If you decide to discuss it with them, make it a mutual discussion - how do you deal with issues like this, what situations like this have you dealt with, etc. and implement measures on your own.

Remember that when you were in crisis, there is a strong chance some of the people who helped you were also in crisis, but never mentioned it and never asked for help. For example that warm and consoling nurse may have been facing the fact that her adolescent child was going to fail at life, but she never mentioned that to you.

Look after yourself as much as you can so you prevent future crisis situations. Examine your problems and look for ways to pre-empt them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:39 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Learn to self-soothe, be it by book or therapy or meditation. You may think that "the hard times are probably over" but, in my experience, the trauma monster don't care. I've had many times moving through grief where I thought: "This is it, I feel good again, the hard times are done!" only to get hit with a wave of awfulness and crying later.

Outside of that, I agree with warriorqueen above on more ways to move past that possible loop of "I feel bad//people comfort me for feeling bad//I want comfort//must cause bad thing to get comfort." Finding ways to feel strong and full of purpose will help. Also, maybe finding ways to be comforting to others is something to explore.
posted by JaneTheGood at 8:41 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

Definitely plus one to learning not to catastrophize. I'm trying to get there myself. It's really hard not to interpret what's happening around you as part of a larger trauma-inducing pattern. You're taking a good first step just asking this question, because you have to learn to recognize and take ownership of your own feelings to get past this.
posted by limeonaire at 8:43 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

For wanting to step away from being the center of attention:

When people ask you how you are doing, you can just keep it brief, something like "Much better, thank you for asking, how nice is this weather we are having?". Or, "Great! How are you?"

You could also give some kind of gift or formal acknowledgement of the support you have received, as a way of concluding this chapter of your life.
posted by nanook at 9:13 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Other people have some really good comments about getting emotionally more resilient, but I also think that wanting and enjoying the endorphin boost that comes from feeling the love of your support network is perfectly normal and valid! You just have to start focusing on fun and good times bonding rather than trauma bonding. It's definitely work to intentionally pursue these things, but now that you're not in catastrophe mode you can start thinking about what makes you feel bonded and connected to people, and intentionally try to foster those emotions with something other than trauma as the basis.

For example: did any event or action (taking you out, coming over to make food, watching a specific movie together) make you feel particularly happy? Try making that happen again, except this time you do the organizing yourself. Your loved ones will enjoy themselves and hopefully appreciate that hard work, and you will enjoy yourself and hopefully feel empowered to create your own warm fuzzy feelings. People like giving love and support, and now you're finally in a position where you can enjoy giving back as well.

Invite people over to do a big batch of meal prep with a new recipe. Go over to a friend's place bearing takeout to lounge on the couch doing nothing in particular. Have people over to drink wine/play board games/cook/watch nature documentaries on Netflix and put on a playlist with the dorkiest music so you can dance around together singing bad karaoke. Go on nature walks! Buy your friends and family flowers or food just because! Focus on being happy with your friends and family, and those endorphin-y feelings of community will come with.

Are you comforted by cuddling or physical touch? Odds are some of your support network also enjoys that kind of intimacy, even when it isn't "for" the specific purpose of comfort. Maybe they would like to cuddle or hug or braid hair as part of your normal friendship. Do you like words of affirmation and compliments? Model the kind of compliments you want to receive by affirming and supporting your friends, and many of them will pick up on that and mirror them back to you. Do you feel loved and appreciated when people actively reach out to you and check on how you're doing? Tell them how happy it makes you feel when they do that, and try to reach out to them in return.

It's not wrong to need love and support. Right now your brain might be associating trauma = getting love and bonding from the community, but if you can retrain your brain into associating "I have people over for Sad Movie Night/I invite my friends to a picnic/put in effort and labor into my relationships" = "I feel loved and bonded." Don't rely on specific people to fulfill your social and emotional needs, but do try to make sure those needs are fulfilled.
posted by storytam at 10:16 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Agree with nanook [and on preview, storytam] -- write your biggest supporters a kind of thank-you note (acknowledging their caring help and offering to be there for them should the need ever arise), to make a bright demarcation line for them and for you. Then deliberately plan positive shared experiences to further bond with your loved ones and create happy memories.

Also, you write "now that the real trauma is over," and the aftermath of trauma often needs to be processed. If you don't have a therapist, getting one is probably a good idea, and will also re-inforce that you're in a different stage now. People in your life stepped up during the crisis, which is terrific; working with a professional, you can talk about the past (and manage any urge to re-create difficulties to receive the same level of attentiveness and love).
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:34 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

You don't mention your social media use, but if you're someone who uses it to reach out and write about hard times, you can stop doing that.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:41 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest spending more time alone, getting to know yourself again. Filling up my time with Other People was a thing I did a lot in the aftermath of my own trauma but I didn't really start to heal until I learned to be alone with myself for an extended period of time. Being in constant contact with others is an easy way to not listen to ourselves. Meditation can help with this, so can hobbies, so can just turning off the phone for a day or half day on weekends.

Volunteer to do something totally unrelated to your trauma, like (assuming it isn't food trauma, apologies if it is) volunteering at a food bank. Don't mention your trauma or healing or anything to the new friends you make there, at least not right away. I realized that now (almost ten years out from the start of my trauma) it barely comes up. In the beginning it "came up" with everyone I met, and quickly. I had to train myself out of telling new people about it because I was letting it define me.

Honestly I had some "friends" after my trauma that were more interested in being my friend because they were trying to avoid their own shit. I slowly drifted away from those people and that was very healthy for me as well.

Therapy. For real, weekly, work it out therapy with a therapist you can be totally honest with.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 10:05 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Well, maybe a healthier way to think about this is...

I bask in the attention of family and friends, which I got a lot of during a recent trauma. (Maybe my love language is quality time or words of affirmation!) I know this makes me feel really good, and I might be tempted to drum up fake drama in order to get this attention in the future. Instead, I'm going to just own that I love this kind of attention. I can't expect it at the same level as during the trauma, but I will be mindful of my own needs, and when I am feeling this need, I will ask my loved one(s) for what I need: some attention. Because attention needs are real needs; they are not wrong, and I will not judge myself for enjoying this and needing it. I will endeavor not to ask too much of any one person; I will also be mindful of their needs and make sure I am attending to them in the way they want, so that we create even healthier relationships all-around. If I can accept and acknowledge my needs for healthy attention, I won't need to create drama or negative situations in order to get my needs met.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:46 AM on March 18

On my birthday this year I was sad because I only received one birthday card in the mail. So sad!

Why? Because the year after my wife left me, for my 40th birthday, I received 43 cards in the mail and they were full of money and gift cards! Being cared for was amazing!!!

I had to check myself when I got sad. Because, like you are alluding to, I didn't want to be the victim. Now that I was doing better, those other 42 people who sent me cards before were able to lend their love and support to other people who needed it. The joy and love was able to spread more because I didn't "need" it all anymore.

That mental re-framing helped a lot.
posted by tacodave at 4:40 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

It might help to think about how, while all that support and attention feels good for you, it is emotional labor for the people providing that support and for them it can become very exhausting and even distressing (by proximity to trauma). If you think about it from their perspective and the amount of work you are really asking them to do, it might help discourage you from continuing to seek that from them.
posted by a strong female character at 8:32 AM on March 20

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