Tag Archives: relationships

an email

When I first moved to San Francisco, I went out of my way to find a tennis partner so that I could not only get exercise but find a friend as well. I found someone right away (via the internet), and it took some time, but eventually we became friends. We started hanging out more and more outside of tennis–grabbing food or a drink, etc. I enjoyed his company. He’s gay, and since I’m sort of up in the air about whether I’m straight, gay, or both (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this), there were some awkward moments.

He picked up on my feelings–and confusion–and questioned me by literally asking if I was attracted to him. At the time, I was slightly attracted to him (I guess?), but since I just started dating my girlfriend at the time, I lied to him and said I wasn’t. I think he could probably sense that I was lying, and so, long story short, we had a falling out.

The relationship sparked again after the rainy season when we started playing tennis again. We just didn’t talk about what happened. Anyway, we started hanging out again outside of tennis, and I finally told him the truth. It went something like this–

I don’t know if I’m attracted to you or not. I do think I have the capacity to love both sexes, but I am in a committed relationship, so that’s not something I want to explore at this moment. I do think, though, that I want a deeper friendship. I may be confused on what I feel on the inside, but I know I would like to be closer to you. I’ve never had a deeper friendship, outside of a sexual relationship, and so I don’t know what that’s like. I may have been confusing the feelings inside–instead of liking you more than a friend, I still wanted to be friends, I just wanted something deeper. And I still do.

I caught him off guard, he didn’t really respond–in fact I think he changed the subject altogether–and I haven’t heard from him since.

Anyway, I sent him a brief email last week–

How are you doing? I’m on break from school and heading to Kansas City next week to see the family. It was sort of sunny today, and it made me want to play tennis. Anyway, I miss hanging out.

Again, I put myself out there. I guess maybe he either had deeper, sexual feelings for me, or didn’t have any feelings at all. It just hurts that I tried to connect with someone and got shut down. Maybe I came on too strong, too fast? I’m tempted to send him an email detailing everything that’s been going on, as he doesn’t know I suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder–but I probably should just let it be. I tried, at least.

Anyhow, the point of this post is just to highlight how difficult it is for me to make deeper friendships. I’m scared to let other people in because of experiences like these.

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Perfectionism: Past, Present, and Future

Like most kids, I experienced lots of changes when I entered middle school. Most of my good friends from elementary school attended different middle schools, and that, coupled with the enormous pressure to fit in, meant a lot of change for me. I had to find a new clique–and fast. And I could no longer just be me. I had to be something different, something better and more profound. Suddenly, I desired popularity–everybody had to like me and seek me out for friendship.

Again, I wasn’t the only one experiencing change, but taking genetic factors into account, I believe change was harder for me (boohoo, poor me). I scrutinized, analyzed and reflected on everything I did, every move I made. Sixth grade was a very difficult year, and it was probably difficult for a lot of my peers. It’s a normal process for kids to go through, but for me, it was the start of my perfectionist tendencies–and the beginning of Social Anxiety Disorder.

I took every “failure” hard. When I didn’t get picked first for dodgeball in gym it wasn’t because I didn’t know the person picking very well or because I may not have done very well athletically the last time we played dodgeball, but because I was inferior, ugly, and altogether unlikeable. If I didn’t get an A+ on a math test I failed, and I had to do better the next time. I felt terrible when I didn’t get invited to a movie or to sit at a certain table at lunch or to a birthday party–all because of my inherent, negative qualities that everyone could see. I took everything personally. If I wasn’t first, I was last, and, more often than not, I was last. If I knew I couldn’t win at something, I wouldn’t even try. I stopped putting myself out there for friends, focusing less on things I couldn’t control and more on tangibles that I could control like my appearance and test scores.

And, since it’s impossible to always be number one and in total control of everything, I began to withdraw. I withdrew from sports because I was no longer the most athletic person. I stopped hanging out with certain friends because they were smarter, better looking, or funnier than me. I stopped raising my hand in class because whatever I had to say was never good enough.

I told myself I didn’t really want the things I so desperately wanted. When I didn’t get invited somewhere, I always found an excuse why I didn’t want to go in the first place. This not only made me feel like shit; it fueled my perfectionism, as well. If you tell yourself you don’t want something that you really want, it only fuels the desire. So, by telling myself I didn’t want to go to the movies with friends, for example, this only intensified my desire to connect and be included.

Even when I found a clique to hang out with, I still didn’t feel accepted. I had to always be on guard for the slightest signs that my new friends didn’t really want to be friends with me–they just “allowed” me to hang around because they felt sorry for me or something. Every word, every look, everything they did, I analyzed. And when you look at everything that closely, you’re bound to find something–and I did.

Over time, the things I found built up until I couldn’t trust anybody anymore, and I dumped all my friends.

***

Perfectionism is an ugly beast which has dominated most of my life. It started in middle school; its voice developed in high school and college, growing stronger and stronger; and it continues to control my life today–even in this very moment. As I write this, the voice in the back of my head is saying–

No one likes you or your little blog. You can’t write and, besides, nobody cares about your thoughts anyway. You should just give up.

***

So, now that I know all this, the obvious question for me is how do I control this perfectionist voice? I don’t think it’s a matter of control. I’m never going to be able to control my thoughts. Thoughts come, thoughts go. It’s up to me, though, to decide if I grab a hold of those thoughts and give them power or not.

For example, just yesterday I had some negative thoughts regarding my therapy appointment–

You’re not making any progress in therapy, they said. Your therapist is getting frustrated. Eventually he’ll quit on you; so you should quit first to avoid getting hurt.

When they came I immediately told myself to STOP! In that moment I made a choice not to let my thoughts drag me down. Instead, I focused on something else, and eventually the thoughts went away, losing their power. This obviously took a lot of awareness and practice, practice, practice on my part. Honestly, nine times out of ten, I let my thoughts get the best of me. But I am learning.

Changing my thoughts changes the way I feel, countering my perfectionist tendencies. It will take time and considerable effort, patience and persistence. The important thing is that I don’t give up because that’s what my perfectionist voice wants: to be fueled by my own pessimism.

letter to my father

My father is a very proud man. I’ve never understood him, but for the first twenty years of my life I lived in his shadow. He influenced my way of thinking, what I studied in college and how I viewed the world. I had a role-model, somebody I could admire and look up to. In my early-twenties though things began to change, or, more precisely, I began to change.

I moved away, first to Poland and then New York and finally San Francisco. I saw new things and was exposed to new ideas, new ways of thinking. I finally got to see the opposites–the things my father rejects, and never converses about. The things that make humans unique.

I started joining radical political groups and got rid of my car and stopped eating meat, anything to piss my dad off. For once, I wanted him to recognize me for me. I didn’t care anymore if he couldn’t see himself in me.

Because of all these changes, I’ve become angry at my father, and my father has become angry at me. We rarely talk. When we do it’s awkward and forced. I say hello, he says hello, I ask how he’s doing, he says fine, and then I ask to talk to my mom. At the time of writing I haven’t talked to him in at least three months. I’m waiting for him to call–it’s his job, right?

I’ll get to the point: I no longer want to be angry with my father, and I do not like this distance between us. There may always be geographic distance, but I’d like to be closer in a spiritual sense, or at least in a father-son sense. At this point, he’s less of a father to me and more of a long, lost friend. It’s sad.

What’s more, I don’t really know how to repair the damage between us, if that’s even possible. But I think a good starting point is for me to start being honest with him.

I think the most logical part to start with is his alcoholism. He’s been a functional alcoholic most of his adult life. It’s not easy to address because he’s not the quintessential alcoholic you see on TV or in the movies. He’s never hurt anybody in the family, and we rarely see him drunk. But he still has a dependence–and it has greatly affected our relationship.

I’m also afraid of my father. He has such a big ego. Nobody can tell him anything that goes against his way of thinking, and so I think the only way to get through to him would be through writing–

Dear Dad:

I hope this letter finds you well. I know we don’t talk much, and so you must be surprised that you’re reading this right now, but I think this is something we can address later. For now, I want to jump to the point.

For the past year or so I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing my past in order to understand how those experiences create meaning for me in the present. You, being my father, are a big part of that, obviously. You’ve had your say in who I am today, and I thank you for that. I have inherited a lot of great qualities from you. I deeply care about the world and the people in it, especially those I associate with–which is why I’m writing this right now.

As you can tell, I’ve changed a lot since I moved away. I’ve taken the theories I learned from my childhood and adolescence–the things you taught me–and tested them in the real world. Some work, some don’t, and that’s okay. At this point in my life I think my most endearing quality is how open I am–I’ll listen to anything, I’ll give anybody a chance. Everybody has something to say, and everybody needs someone to listen to them. Right now I need you to be open, and I need you to listen.

I strongly believe that you are an alcoholic. You are not a fall down drunk and you’ve never laid a finger on anyone in the family, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. And it’s certainly impacted our relationship. Whenever I’m home, you’re always in the basement drinking, and when you’re not, more often than not, you’ve had too much to drink. Frankly, you’re less of a father and more like comic relief for me, as sad as that sounds.

You can do whatever you want now. Your actions are your choice. But I am no longer going to be an enabler. If you want to continue drinking, I believe the distance will only increase between us, and our relationship will continue to falter. What you do now is your decision. I’ve made my choice. It’s time for you to make yours.

I may never give this to him, but it still feels good to get it out in the open.

therapy, 9-28-10

Well, therapy this week continued right where we left off last Tuesday.

It was like I never left …

Last week I ended with- “Well, now I feel like I can’t bring anger into the room, which makes me angry.” And this week I began with- “I’m angry.”

I explained to Mr. J., my therapist, that I felt hurt because he didn’t listen to me last week. In our previous session, he made me angry because he changed the subject while I was in the middle of dealing with some difficult feelings, and he concluded that anger arose because the session was difficult for me–because I was trying to avoid something, in other words. I tried to explain that my anger was just anger but he didn’t listen.

He immediately apologized for not listening (which seemed sincere). I felt a lot better, and we moved on.

It’s interesting (and ironic, I guess) that I started going to therapy to get help with my relationships, and yet in the beginning of our session yesterday, we had to work on our relationship. A part of me thinks that was just a waste of time, but another part thinks that it’s great those feelings came up because my relationship with my therapist is a microcosm of how I view the world.

Once I become content with myself in therapy, and with our relationship, those feelings should extend to all my relationships.

***

Afterward, I told J. about my weekend (see the camping post, if interested), and we chose to look deeper at what’s behind my desire to keep my girlfriend away from my friends.

I’m very uncomfortable with my girlfriend connecting (or cathecting, as J. put it) with my friends, because in a past relationship my girlfriend “stole” one of my friends after we broke up–that is, for whatever reason, my friend stopped being friends with me (who I was friends with first) but kept hanging out with my ex. So I’m afraid this will happen again, and so my solution is to keep my girlfriend away from my friends, which is hard for me to do because she’s my “safe” person, so she ends up hanging out with most of my friends, and because she’s fun and outgoing and interesting (and I’m not) this makes me very uncomfortable (did I say that already?).

Why would so and so want to be friends with me when they can be friends with her–someone infinitely more interesting?

What’s more, I don’t have very many friends, and so I’m very protective of the ones I have, and I keep them at a distance because I’m afraid if they get too close, they’ll see the real me and then run the other way. Because of this I don’t have true relationships with them, and the relationships are very fragile.

“I don’t understand this behavior,” I told J. “I really want real friendships; I don’t like having to cling to my girlfriend all the time, but I just can’t seem to let my guard down. What can I do?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Develop a relationship with yourself. Relationships come and go; the only constant is your relationship with yourself.”

If I can develop an inner relationships (sounds easy, right?) I will have stability in life no matter what comes my way, and the real me will open up. My friends will see this and will connect more with me.

Okay, sounds great. How do I do that?

“You’re doing it right now,” J. said. “We’re doing it together, you and I. I give you the space to be yourself–the real you, whatever that may be in the moment–in here, while you slowly open up to yourself. It’s a lifetime of work, but it’s necessary because you can’t have happiness and joy in your life if you don’t have affinity for yourself.”

“That’s too abstract,” I said. “It has no practical meaning for me now, in
the present. I don’t know what to do”

“You’re doing it.”

We sat in silence for some time.

“I know that you feel vulnerable and exposed in here,” he said breaking the silence, “but all I really see is a man trying to develop a relationship with himself. That’s all.”

“I feel like I’m twelve years old,” I said.

“You feel like you need someone to look up to and to take care of you?”

Yes. And I didn’t have anybody there–emotionally speaking–when I was twelve, but I do now–I have myself.

my perfectionism

  1. Internal: I hold myself to ridiculously high standards
  2. External: I hold others to ridiculously high standards
  3. Social: I believe others are holding me to ridiculously high standards

If I had to guess, I’d say that most people suffering from social anxiety can probably relate to at least the first and the third types of perfectionism. We think people are judging us, and so we hold ourselves to an even higher standard. We really just want to fit in, even if it’s not right for us.

For example (and this is an example of the first type of perfectionism), I have this idea of what “normal” is. It’s having friends and a job and a relationship–and balancing (perfectly, of course) my days with each of them. In this ideal, I go to work in the morning, talk to friends on my breaks and maybe see one after work, and then go home to my girlfriend or wife for dinner. All the while, being social, enjoying myself, and keeping busy. After dinner, we hang out in front of the TV, or we browse Facebook, or we go out with friends. This is how “normal” people go about their day. It’s jammed full of one social event after another.

I don’t want to live like this (and I can’t), but to a certain degree, I hold myself to that ideal because I want to fit in. I think I should be living that life, and since I’m not and maybe never will, I feel like shit all the time.

I hold myself to impossible standards I don’t even want to begin with.

This type of perfectionism is not limited just to social events; once it became a part of my life, it multiplied itself exponentially, touching everything–what I major in in college, what I do with my life, what type of food I eat, etc. What’s more, our consumption-driven society exasperates my perfectionism, as well: we’re affected by so much–bombard with so many different advertisements, so many different people telling us what we should buy and who we should be–it’s almost impossible to make any decisions without outside influence–and that influence is what influences my standards.

Even though in some cases I’ve made decisions for me, I think most of the time, I’m conforming to the standards of society. Whether I like it or not, I’ve always just wanted to fit in. I just want to be a statistic, lost in the crowd.

Further, I’ve missed out on a lot of social development, and my peers seem adept at certain things that I struggle at. They can smile when someone says hello. They can make small talk. They can laugh and joke. I can’t keep up with them. They’re perfect, and I’m not. I really need to go through like a social skills training program or something.

With regard to the third type of perfectionism, I feel like I have to conform to everyone’s standards. I have to be everything to everyone. I can never be me.

In fact, I don’t really know who I am anymore. I’ve gone through life trying to please others so much, I’ve forgotten who I really am. I’m lost in various characters and roles–roles I can’t really portray because they’re not really me. No wonder I’m anxious: I’m trying to be something I’m not. But who am I? If I strip away the labels (anxious, depressed etc.) and the roles I conform to, there’s nothing left because I’ve forgotten who I really am. There’s probably just a scared sixteen year old waiting for his mother to come back. Waiting for someone to take care of him (me) again.

As for the second type of perfectionism, I wouldn’t think many people suffering from socially anxiety can relate to it–but I really don’t know. I can relate because after I get passed the first and third types, I start judging others.

When I start feeling comfortable in relationships the judgments come out. This doesn’t happen very often, as I don’t feel comfortable with very many people. Parents, psychologists, girlfriends, to name a few. … Actually, let me rephrase: my mom, my current psychologist, and my current girlfriend. That’s it. Those are the people I judge. When they don’t live up to my expectations–usually the expectations I set for myself–I get angry. Some of it is projecting, and some of it is just me being pretentious.

I sometimes wonder if I actually did live up to my expectations more, would I be more pretentious? Would I just hold everybody to the standards and ideals I think everyone should live up to?

Sorry, I know this post is all over the place; I should revise because it’s not up to my standards … but then again, maybe I shouldn’t …

Poland, part 1

n 2005 I met a girl, fell into a relationship, and abandoned all my friends. I couldn’t handle maintaining the friendships because of my anxiety (and my issues with constancy), and besides, I had a girlfriend who took care of all my needs. Why would I need anybody else? My friends thought otherwise, and they kept calling me–wanting me to hang out, wondering where I’d disappeared to. I never answered their calls, but they just kept on calling. I felt guilt and shame and regret and remorse. I just wanted them all to go away. I needed a clean break–and one finally came. Poland.

After living together for only three months, my girlfriend and I decided to study abroad together. She’d lived in Hungary for a year with her family and really enjoyed many parts of Eastern Europe. I didn’t care where we went–I just wanted to get away. We … err she chose Poland, and we left in January of 2006. I told almost no one. Finally. I got the break I needed. I left everything behind, hoping I could start over.

In the weeks before moving, I pictured my girlfriend and I only spending time with each other when we were there. I knew there would be other Americans there, but I didn’t want to get to know them. My girlfriend had other ideas, though. She wanted to connect with others and make the most of her experience abroad. So in those first few days in Poland, my girlfriend hung out with others and made friends while I stayed hidden in my dorm room. I cried a lot. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to feel comfortable talking to others. I wanted so badly to be anybody but myself. My depression coupled with the terrible weather meant I barely left the dorms. I don’t remember much from those first few weeks, but I do remember taking a lovely stroll downtown braving the cold and the fog and the snow and the slush–

This hiding continued for about two weeks, ending when I decided to escape again by running home. At the time my mom was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, and so I told everybody I was extremely upset about her cancer–which was partially true–and I fled back home. Finally. I could relax again. But right when I got home, the depression hit again. I felt like a failure. I just wanted to go back. Things will be different, I told myself. I’ll be different. I booked my plane ticket back to Poland the very same day I landed home in Kansas City.

My time at home was hard. I slept late. I sat around watching TV and playing video games. I cried. My parents didn’t know how to help because they didn’t know what was wrong with me. My dad ignored me altogether, but my mom confronted me one day, asking me why I came home. I said I didn’t know. I wanted so badly to open up to her and tell her all the things bothering me. But I didn’t. I passed up another opportunity to connect with a family member.

On the plane ride back to Poland I promised myself I would be someone different. I would make connections. I would be popular. This of course didn’t happen. I spent the rest of my time in Poland miserable, hiding in my room, planning out how things would be different when I got back to America. Now I honestly don’t remember much from the remainder of my time there. I can tell you that it was hard. I can tell you I felt depressed. I can tell you I felt like dying. Beyond that, though, there’s only some flashes here and there. I’m not going to detail them … yet. I may come back to this someday and fill in what I remember or start a new post or something. But right now, I’m exhausted. I can’t think about this anymore.

I added another part–Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

constancy

Maintaining friendships is very difficult for me. This is a very complicated issue and one that isn’t easy to talk about, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

It all comes down to trust. I don’t like who I am on the inside, and so I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid they’ll see who I really am and run the other way. By not letting people in though, trust does not develop. Trusting others is risky, and I think people need to put themselves out there in order to build trust. This includes opening yourself up to others by showing them who you really are, speaking your true feelings, and revealing secrets–all of which I don’t do. Without trust, relationships become disposable. There is no replacement for trust; yet, I’ve spent my whole life replacing trust with constancy.

Constancy is stability; it’s being faithful and loyal.  Constancy is part of trust, but it’s definitely not a replacement. In my case, constancy develops through repetition: the more I see somebody, the more I feel comfortable around him or her. It’s vital for my personal relationships. Without it, there is only anxiety.

So because constancy, rather than trust, is the glue holding my relationships together, my friendships never feel right. I always question them. I think the person doesn’t really like me. I think he or she is always talking negatively about me behind my back. I think he or she is always trying to find a way to get out of the friendship. I think he or she doesn’t even really like me. In reality, I am the one talking negatively about myself. I am the one trying to find a way out. I am the one who doesn’t like me.

The problems are with me, and yet instead of dealing with them, I project them onto others.

What’s more, I’m always searching for someone I can have a deeper relationship with. Everyone needs to have some deep friendships. We need someone to talk to about our feelings, someone to confide in and feel save with. I don’t get to have those things in my personal, platonic friendships so I seek out deeper, sexual relationships for my true friendships. Then once I do find that true friendship and start connecting, I abandon all of my disposable friends. I think it’s normal (to a certain degree) to desert friends when one enters into a relationship, especially at the beginning. In my case, it’s hard to view my life objectively at the start of an intimate relationship. I’m lost in euphoria, filled with happiness and excitement. When that phase is over though, people generally reconnect with friends, creating balance between their intimate relationship and platonic one’s. I however continue to cling to the sexual relationship.

So after I find a sexual partner and establish an intimate relationship I don’t reconnect with friends and so I just ignore them altogether until they eventually go away. There isn’t a malicious intent, and I’m not even really conscious of this behavior–it’s a coping technique because I lose the stability or constancy I once had in the platonic relationships.

Let’s look at this deeper. Why is it so difficult for me to reestablish relationships? It’s simple: because constancy is lost. That’s the one thing needed for my friendships to work. Some people can go weeks or months without seeing someone and still be “close”, and when they finally do see each other, “it’s like nothing changed.” They go right back to what they had before the separation. If I get separated from a friend for even a week (depending on the situation, of course), that relationship won’t be easy to pick back up. In a sense, I feel like I have to start over with that person.  Often times, it’s easier just to abandon it altogether.

Sexual relationships, on the other hand, are easy to maintain because I generally see my partner every single day. There’s constancy. Plus, I generally open up to my partner so there’s actually trust. But constancy is still more important. For example, if I’m dating someone and we see each other every day for a month and my partner decides one day not to see me, I’ll get very, very upset. I’ll feel depressed, lonely, uncertain. I’ll think my partner doesn’t really like me.

All this because of constancy.

***

The hardest relationships for me are the casual kind in which constancy haven’t been established. It’s the people I see semi-regularly but not regularly. The people who live in my building. Co-workers I’d see at work but not really know  (when I used to work). And those I have to say hello to at my girlfriend’s work. Even deeper relationships–like with parents or life-long friends–can become difficult and anxiety-provoking when I don’t engage with them for some time.

Again, part of the issue is that I’m just not comfortable with who I am on the inside. How can someone else accept me if I can’t even accept myself? I wonder what some of the other causes are? Maybe my parents didn’t give me enough attention? Or maybe I was afraid my dad wouldn’t come home from work–and maybe he didn’t for a while (like he went on a business trip or something)? With my hyper sensitive nature, issues that seem small or trivial to other people can have a profound, lasting effect on me.

Consequently, a number of events could have been the cause for me to have difficulty with relationships. I don’t think it’s that important to find causes from my childhood or adolescence. I do, however, believe it’s vital that I become more aware of this issue and learn to deal with it as it arises. Trying to maintain balance in my relationships is vital when I enter into an intimate relationship. I could also share this with my close friends–and maybe even talk with old friends about this so they have a better understanding as to why I suddenly started to ignore them. Finally, I need to work on becoming more accepting of myself so that I can build trust with people and let them in. By doing so, constancy becomes less of an issue.

***

I addressed this very issue in therapy a few weeks ago, and my therapist and I concluded that I lock myself into romantic relationships to protect myself. It’s a defense mechanism.

To summarize: It’s very difficult for me to maintain friendships because I don’t open up to people. I replace trust with constancy, which doesn’t really work. The friendships seem superficial and disposable–and in a way they are. When I’m not in a serious romantic relationship I strive to make friends, and I succeed. But there’s just something missing. I feel empty inside. That’s because I don’t allow people inside, to see the real me. Consequently, I settle into a relationship, somewhat open up, and allow that relationship to fulfill my interpersonal needs.

Fortunately, in my current relationship, I’ve recognized this past behavior and am trying to have more balance in my life. It’s been difficult.

“By giving yourself solely to the other person,” my therapist asked, referring to my past romantic partners, “is that your way of showing that you love and care for her?”

Of course not. I’m using them to protect myself from the world. Love is secondary. Up until my current relationship, I don’t think I’ve ever loved any of my romantic partners. There was an intense emotional feeling that I thought was love, but it was only there because I was being saved.