Monday, July 18, 2011

Trusting Others, Part Deux

This post is a follow up to this post.

Doesn't trust also require us to "assume that the same pattern will repeat itself indefinitely”? What makes trust any less presumptuous than mistrust?

One could argue that adopting a template of trust is more irrational and more presumptuous than one of mistrust, since mistrust only requires that we accept the fallibility of other humans and the potential for that fallibility to cause us harm. The outcomes of being wrong in any particular instance are far less hazardous with that model.

In fact, whether rational or not, expecting future outcomes to be like past ones is how we learn about the world. If we didn’t make (accurate) predictions based on past experiences we couldn’t navigate our way through the world at all: it’s the foundation of knowledge and intelligence. Isn't it the definition of insanity to expect different outcomes from the same behavior?

Philosophical nit-picking aside, I don’t know if I really expressed what I meant. I’m not talking about a “breach of trust” – which presupposes that one already trusts the person and they have done something to dishonor that trust. In that case, I agree, talking with the person is the right thing to do (depending on how serious the breach was and whether you want to salvage the relationship).

I’m talking about mistrusting someone from the start. Something just seems “off”. You feel it in your gut. Maybe you can find some rationalizations, but nothing definitive. It’s not worth talking to the person about, because you will likely alienate them, besides which, you don’t trust them, so why would you trust their reassurances? Opening yourself up like that makes you vulnerable, which is the last thing you want to be around someone who wants to hurt you. And that’s what I mean when I say I don’t trust someone – I don’t trust their motives. I don’t trust them not to harm me/people I care about.

How do you learn to trust your gut in those circumstances? I second guess myself all the time. I give people the benefit of the doubt over and over, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I don’t consider myself to be a trusting person - the issue is that I don’t even trust *myself* to assess the trustworthiness of others. And yet, I think I should, because I’m usually right. But am I right because everyone slips up from time to time? Am I right because I create self-fulfilling prophecies? And is it more important to have faith in others than to be right? I don’t know. It’s a big issue for me and I don’t have any answers.

I wrote a whole bunch and forgot to elucidate the problem: which is the torturous uncertainty of having misjudged someone/written them off unfairly. I find that very painful to deal with.You're probably going to say that's not the real problem, but it is from my perspective.

SOME PEOPLE ARE VERY sensitive to rejection. I'm one of those people. I've noticed a few things about people sensitive to rejection. First, they have a high need for quality intimacy even if the quantity is modest. Two, they are very concerned with hurting other people and that becomes a big reason not to get involved with them. Three, the fear of rejection hurts much more than the actual rejection itself. Four, they are actually quite strong, and when they face the fear of rejection/abandonment/being forgotten, they become immediately empowered. Five, they are very good at reading people, but poor at reading themselves. Sound somewhat accurate?

The fear of rejection (I like to think of it as a fear of isolation) is innate of course, but certain circumstances can heighten people's sensitivity. One is a rough childhood in which the child gets hurt by an abandonment and doesn't have the tools (often secure family members) to help them bounce back. Another source--and this is my own theory--is that kids can inherit fears of isolation from their environment. If a mother of father has a fear of abandonment, the kid can absorb it through interesting ways. The kid might mirror the parent's emotional panic or avoidance of close relationships or engage in inauthentic role-playing to appease others (for fear of rejection). A lot of that, I suspect, is subconscious.

When you have a strong fear of isolation, you tend to see the world as it relates to that fear. One thing that happens is you develop a script. That script might say "I will meet people, but they will always be in the process of leaving me." Then everything becomes connected to that expectation, monitoring it, consciously trying to avoid and unconsciously trying to confirm it. Your mind is always busy. You split up the world into categories of people like "trustable" and "unstrustable." You become preoccupied with evaluating others and yes, like you said, you run a very serious risk of pushing others away both accidentally and intentionally, to confirm your hypothesis that people cannot be trusted (the script).

I think I get the dilemma you're in, because I get into similar dilemmas, where I feel anxious (non-trusting) around someone but know that I'm biased and question the accuracy of my interpretations. I also understand your dilemma also has to do with unfairly disqualifying others.

The good news is that I think there are ways to get out of this dilemma which I'll divide into 3 categories: surrender, distraction/humor, and confrontation. Understanding might be another option, but it doesn't quite work for me. 
  1. Surrender. Do nothing. The situation is complex, and trying to manage your thoughts and feelings and put them all in their proper place is hopeless. The problem is incredibly complex and it may not even be something you could ever solve with proper understanding and control. Acknowledge the full fucked-upedness of the situation and just wait. Let it remain confusing for a while. Maybe something will loosen up and a new option will present itself.
  2. Distraction/humor. Laugh at something related to your predicament. Yes, we know it's very serious and complicated, but in the end, what is it you're worried about? Reduce it to something so fundamental (like atoms avoiding atoms) that it becomes absurd and takes some of the edge off. Now wait. See if things feel as heavy as they did before.
  3. Confrontation. What is it that you're ultimately afraid of? Picture it happening and just wait. I believe that people who are sensitive to rejection are some of the strongest people you'll ever meet when they confront their fears and find courage. Are you afraid people will leave you? Hurt you? Look down upon you? Afraid you'll hurt them? Picture it and confront it.
Try them out and see what works. None of these are really solutions, they're just approaches to help your mind settle so you can decide with greater clarity and confidence. When your emotions aren't stewing around and making the waters choppy, you can look clearly and see what's at the bottom of the pool. Or swamp, depending on how screwed up you are. :) You're still going to have to figure out how to respond to the situation. Maybe you're right not to trust them, maybe you were worried about nothing, maybe something else entirely.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Parents Keep Hurting Me

Dear Edahn,

I have a terrible relationship with my family. I've never really had a good relationship with them as they have always been hyper critical of me, and have never offered me any kind of support or encouragement. If they do it’s minimal, and usually paired with a slap in the face. I guess it should be inserted somewhere here that as a kid, I was physically abused by them and now that I’ve reached adulthood, it’s just a continuation of that. 

My stress levels are really high after seeing and interacting with them at times. Sometimes it's positive, and other times they end up saying something unkind and hurtful. There's no telling when or why with them. In the hopes of having a positive relationship with them, I've tried working on it with them, and even tweaked the way I act to be more understanding, but I feel (and outsiders have also noticed) that the relationship is very one-sided with me being the giving, tolerant one. They have a way of either imposing their rude judgements and comments, or taking the extreme of ignoring and tuning me out all together. 

I cannot point to a single person in the family who has my back. The other night at dinner, someone threw an insult at me that just made me say: "that's it," and I just come to the conclusion that they are rotten people who are not going to change. I’m still really hurting from it and shaken up. Distant relatives and people outside the family have weighed in saying no family is perfect, and I'll live to regret not having a relationship with them, but I feel like my well being is really at risk here. Is there a better way of dealing with this situation?

YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY to avoid putting people in harm's way but what most people forget is that that responsibility extends to you personally, too. You can't let yourself get mistreated and belittled because it's wrong. Since they're your family, I can understand why you wouldn't want to abandon them altogether. So, I think you're going to have to pull back far enough that you don't keep getting hurt but not much farther.

Pulling back your feelings doesn't mean you repress them or ignore them. It means you don't let others have such a strong say in how you feel about yourself and life. All you really have to do is talk calmly. It's actually that easy. If you always talk calmly with them, you'll start to see that your reactions will be less extreme and painful.

So when your parents say "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, so just shut up," you say "Ouch. You really hurt me when you talk like that. No one should be talked to that way." When they say "Why don't you go find another boy to use you and dump you," you say "I don't know why you're so bitter, but I won't let you take it out on me" and walk away.

At first this'll probably feel awkward, but eventually it'll start feeling familiar. What you're doing is setting up boundaries and teaching yourself new responses to triggers. Instead of getting tragically hurt, you'll be moderately hurt, but you'll be able to navigate through it and move on with your day. You won't always know what you're doing or supposed to be doing but that's okay--that's part of the growing process. You do your best and when you mess up, you adjust. If you follow that philosophy, your life is destined to improve.

It's important that you react with the same calmness and composure to both mean things and nice things. Instead of indulging in the nice comments and compliments, just say thank you, offer a quick smile and move on. If you let yourself get wrapped up in compliments, you'll let yourself get lost in the insults. Why? Because you're giving other people the power to determine your mood and self-worth. You don't even need to worry about all that though. Just start with talking calmly and honestly.

If you follow that rule, you're going to notice your moods balancing out relatively quickly. Stick to it. You'll start reclaiming your self-worth and you'll start seeking your own approval instead of theirs. Hopefully your good communication will start to wear off on them over time. But if not, you tried.

tl;dr -- Keeping your voice calm will regulate your responses so you won't be so hurt.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You rack disciprine!

I can't seem to break old habits. I feel like it's destroying my soul yet I succumb to old habits within a blink of an eye. I don't understand why I choose to poison myself over and over again when I am aware that it's damaging my spirit and my health. I don't know whether I need to go to rehab or to just accept that its okay to lose control and get wasted sometimes. I am not a conventional alcoholic but I have been binge drinking since I was a teenager. Every time I go through huge changes in my life I regress and turn into that adolescent that I thought had grown up. The next day I always wake up wondering what happened. It's not an everyday thing or even a weekly thing but I feel like it shouldn't happen at all. It's self destructive. Why is it so hard to break old habits? Can you suggest a way to break old patterns of self abuse.

IF YOU'RE REGRESSING, IT'S because you're giving yourself permission to regress. No one indulges in their addictive habits without first giving themselves permission. I'd assume that you're using your life-transition as a license to drink. Maybe you're drinking so you don't have to deal with the confusion in your life.

I used to work with addicts (not suggesting you are one, though) and the toughest part is getting them to see that their behavior is ruining their chance at having a peaceful, satisfying life. You seem to have a few doubts about whether drinking is really bad for you or not, even though you call is self-destructive and abusive. Well, which is it? What role is alcohol playing in your life? Are you drinking to avoid the chaos, complexity and confusion in your life? If you are, then you need to cut that shit out, because if you don't you're going to end up more confused and more lost. It's like you're watching TV every time someone delivers a bill to you. Eventually your bills are going to keep piling up and things are going to become even more daunting.

Instead of drinking you could examine what's making your life complicated and how to start simplifying it. (A good place to start might be how you interpret the world and how psychological and spiritual jargon have infiltrated your perception of the world.) Keep in mind that some confusion is a natural part of life that you can never escape.

If you firmly believe drinking is preventing you from addressing things in your life that need to be addressed (or doing some other damage) than it's really a matter of discipline and being smart. Make a commitment not to drink for a year, throw out your alcohol, and forswear all bars for 6 months. Create a ceremony that has some personal meaning that marks your one-year commitment. And, keep it private. Don't tell people you've given up drinking and are making a big change in your life--don't give it away like that. Keep this to yourself. When you have an urge to drink, don't fuss over it and analyze it to death and talk about it. Just let it be and use it, instead, as an opportunity to ask "Where is there conflict or confusion in my life? How do I resolve it?"

All my bestest,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friend with Benefits...and Detriments

Dear Edahn,

I’ve read through your blog and advice columns and I think your advice is really authentic, clear, and helpful. I appreciate that you have a young perspective and tell things how they are without being too harsh or too coddling. I would love some advice on an issue that I’m really struggling with, it’s similar to some of the others I’ve read but would like some of your perspective. Thank you.

I’ve been seeing this guy off and on, mostly on, for two years now. I am 20 and he is 31 with a 13 year old daughter. We began our relationship as a “friends with benefits” deal. Gradually I’ve bonded with him more and more over time, assuming the role of friend and lover and girlfriend. I’ve invested a lot of time, advice, effort, compromise, favors, and some money into our “relationship”, but so has he. Although we have fun, and spend time together like a family, although he says I’m beautiful and great and would make a great mom one day, he doesn’t want to be my boyfriend. When asked all he says is that I’m too young for him. Could age be the only deciding factor in an otherwise fine relationship? The issue comes up once or twice a month and a blowup/ breakdown ensues, followed by a period of separation (just friends) and then by us having some kind of connection (either sex, a good time out together, a conversation) then we get back together until the next time he rejects me. We are fighting more and more frequently. It’s fast and intense and hurtful. I can tell he really cares about me, and I him, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter. He is my best friend and lover and I feel like I’m losing him.

I know what you may be thinking first hand. “Non-girlfriend relationships are just for fun, not commitment," “that sounds exhausting, you should break it off,” “look inside yourself for the answer, young grasshopper,” and other such ideas. And they are probably right, but just because you know you shouldn’t eat the chocolate cake, does not mean that you’re not looking at the plate 5 minutes later with chocolate all over your face, wondering what the hell happened. I know this is not the best situation, and I know that he may never accept me and that I should work on making myself whole before trying to be in a relationship, but I just can’t. I can’t make myself break it off with him when I care about him and his daughter as much as I do, not after all this time, and all we have been through. I can’t forget the images of him, kissing my face over and over, and the possibility that the experience could be repeated. It consumes me, this thing that feels like love, so much like love that I would settle for it in doubt that the real thing exists in my future. Some people don’t love, some people live their lives alone and end their lives alone and this terrifies me because I have so much of it to give and seemingly no one to give it to.

Any insights, answers, examples, comments, questions, would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

I'M SO SORRY, THAT'S a tough position for any person, especially a 20-something, to be in. 

I had written a long answer about making tough decisions and how to make them, but truthfully, if he doesn't want what you want, then what can you really do? There's no decision to be made here because you don't have any options. He's not interested in a future with you, but you can't take that personally, as a reflection of your worth or value. Just like you have a concept of your ideal relationship, he has his, and it includes someone that's closer to his age (and farther from his daughter's age). That's okay. We don't have to try and persuade him otherwise. Let's respect it.

You have so many feelings that are tied up in this relationship. It makes sense and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but it's going to make it hard to let go. Your feelings will keep seeking him out and attaching to him. They're like a charged magnet. Your strong feelings are the reason it's hard to see the situation for what it's worth and decide what's best for you--to acknowledge that the relationship has hit a ceiling and to move on. But I'm telling you that if you let go, stick it out, and grieve, the sun will eventually scatter the clouds and you'll know in your heart that this was the right move.

As a practical matter, if you keep breaking up and going back to him after sex or spending time with him, don't have sex and don't spend time with him for a long time until you fully recover (as a rule of thumb, wait half the time of the relationship). It's important that you give yourself time for your feelings to run their course so you can heal and move on and eventually find someone else to share your big heart with. I know that must be scary, trust me, but everything will work out just fine.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is reality?

I thought I've been having lately is the weirdness that is reality. and it's been really pleasant.

Most people rarely have the time or curiosity to ask this question. But it's really an amazing question. What is reality? Ask a person and they'll give you a little speech about physics or cosmology, but these are all pointless words because they don't even get close to touching the essence of reality because the essence of reality is pure WTF. It's totally, absolutely weird. Why does anything exist? What exists? What is the fabric of this stuff, and what is it doing?

Questions like these don't have any sensical answers, and the joy is in asking them, not answering them. When you have a choance to reflect on e nature of reality, you're struck with the awesome realization that you're an inseparable part of it and that is...neat. As well as relieving.

So many people are so stuck in their agendas for power, longevity, answers, image control, resolving their private issues, etc., that they forget to do this very important reflection. It's a shame.

Next up: girl and older guy and cake

Sunday, July 3, 2011

How important is passion?

I went on a date last Saturday with a guy named Mark. He's handsome, driven, romantic, an Ivy League graduate, also an NFJ. He's a film maker and is obviously going places. I like the guy, and he has made it quite clear that he wants to see me again and I would like to see him again. The problem is he doesn't ignite that burning flame of passion and desire that I so richly enjoy. He feels more like a platonic friend but I'm open to the possibility that that flame could develop. My mind tells me that it needs work and kindling, but once ignited it will be a strong fire that will burn long and hot.

Three months ago I went on a date with this fellow named Jack. He's handsome, funny, intelligent, if I had to guess I'd say he's an NTJ. He's logical, somewhat aggressive and teaches kids with autism (all these qualities I find attractive). Jack most definitely ignites that flame of passion, however, this intimidates me. From my friends' experience I recognize that flames of passion and desire tend to burn the people they take hold of. The thing that scares me about Jack is that he's not looking for something deeper than getting together every few months for a date and a romp.

To put it simply, Jack lights my fire, baby. Michael does not. But Michael has my trust, even though I have no reason to give it to him. I don't distrust Joshua, but I have no reason to trust him. What do I do?

THIS IS PROBABLY GOING to sound controversial, if not dead-wrong, but I actually think passion ruins relationships. When people are friends, things are simple and straightforward. They aren't looking to get something from the other person. They related to the other as a whole person.

The process of developing passion is really a process of objectification in the sense that you convert the person into an object of sexual desire. Passion changes the way you see a person. You start seeing them more narrowly and less holistically. You project all your neurotic needs and wishes that are connected to that sexual desire and lose touch with who they actually are, and often lose touch with who you are as you become more driven to possess and acquire something (the object).

So while passion definitely has its purpose of bringing two people together, I don't think it works as something that keeps people together and feeling close. All these seminars and workshops about reigniting passion, in my opinion, are completely misguided because a good relationship doesn't require intense passion. Occasional playful pouncing maybe, but burning desire, no. Yet we've all been trained to put a high premium on passion from stupid gurus with big mouths.

Onto your situation. If you just want something intense and chaotic, go with the passionate relationship. If you want a shot at something more fulfilling, for with the platonic relationship. But don't wait for it to turn passionate, but (a) your expectations will make you judge the situation and (b) as I've tried to explain, it's not necessary or worth it. Just see where the friendship takes you. The feelings that come up will help guide you. You don't have to plan it out. If it works, great. If not, back to the drawing board.

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