This is not a particularly happy post. Fair warning.
A friend of mine once said that as important as learning to feel secure in relationships is, sometimes the reason you don’t feel secure in relationships is because you haven’t been in relationships that are secure. Sometimes, insecurity is just as simple as your intuition telling you the truth about the person or people you’re with.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about having issues feeling secure in my friendships. I’m not really sure when this started, but I have guesses. I was in a really bad situation when I first started college. I had difficulties with schoolwork and friendships and back pain, and most of all, with the relationship I was in.
When I began college, I was in a relationship with a girl who needed a lot of support, support which I used to give freely, perhaps compulsively. I like being able to support people. It makes me feel needed and valuable. The problem, in this relationship, was that I was in had a partner who needed more support from me than I could give, and who was for the most part incapable of returning that support. She tried, but she just didn’t understand the kinds of things I needed well enough to supply them, in spite of our efforts to communicate about it.
So for my first year and some change of college, I was in a relationship that cost me a tremendous amount of emotional energy, I was in the early years of what I would later come to realize was an extended period of severe depression, and I was partnered with someone who (though it was through no fault of her own, and wasn’t for lack of trying) was incapable of providing the kind of emotional support I needed.
I didn’t have a stable group of friends back then, and didn’t really click all that well interpersonally with most of the people I met. I was constantly expending more emotional energy than I had to spare on the relationship, to say nothing of school itself. The result was that I ended up doing a fair amount of heavy emotional venting to people I didn’t know that well, because they were all that was available at the time. Sometimes this led to forming connections with people, but as often as not it led to relationships that felt unbalanced and unnatural. Carrying around all that heavy, unwieldy emotional baggage meant I was rarely all that good at being emotional support for anyone else. At the same time, I was in need of it from others so frequently that the need felt constant. The dynamics that creates in new friendships are complex on the best of days.
Those experiences have left me with some really fucked-up feelings about providing and receiving emotional support. The relationship’s persistent issues left me feeling like the emotional support I gave never made any difference. That it was essentially just pouring my own emotional resources into a bottomless pit, and no matter how much I tried to help tonight, I’d just need to keep pouring more into it in the morning. Even if I couldn’t afford it now, even if I barely had the resources to keep doing what I needed to be doing for my own sanity, much less anyone else’s.
I used to be very good at being emotional support. I think I still could be, under all the fucked-upness in my brain. But my reality these days is that as soon as I’m needed for more than a little support, my brain goes to a place I built when I was in that relationship. A place made of the intense, soul-crushing exhaustion that came from years of being needed so much and so often when my resources were so few. A place made of fear that any form of giving emotional support will lead down that road again. A place that remembers from back then that you don’t get out of this what you put into it. You only put into it.
There’s a flipside to this as well, that’s at times equally destructive: as much as I want to avoid going to that place again—that place where I always need to give more than I’m capable of giving—I have an equal fear of being on the other side of the equation. I don’t blame anyone, really, for the destructive impact that relationship had on me. We were both well-intentioned, we were both maybe a little stupid, and inexperienced, and young. I was far too prone to ignore my own needs for the sake of others, and she was cut out just right to accommodate and exacerbate that tendency in me. Regardless, the reality is that that relationship played an enormous role in exacerbating my depression. It wore me out and then wore me out again, and then wore me out again, so many times in a row that it became redundant to call it redundant to the point of a sick joke.
I cannot stand the idea of going near that place again, but with equal intensity, I cannot stand the idea of being the person who puts someone else in that place. This makes it very, very difficult to ask for support when I need it most. When I need it most is when I’m deepest into depressive spiraling, and when I’m deepest into depressive spiraling is when I most feel like my emotional pain is bottomless. It’s when I most feel like I am that bottomless pit, asking others to pour their emotional resources into me until there is nothing left of them. If it were easy to always see the end of the painful emotions that characterize a depressive episode, then maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it generally isn’t at all easy to see where depressive emotions end. It’s often impossible, or at least feels so.
When I’m most in need of people is when I’m most afraid that my need has the potential to do the same damage to them that being needed once did to me. And in a sickly twisted irony, that same experience has left me with feeling more incapable of reciprocating emotional support than I ever was before. I am that person who needs support and cannot return it. Not because I’m bad at it, but because I’m terrified of it. Because I associate being asked for emotional support with exhaustion and pain and futility. And when I most need the support of others is when I’m the most conscious of the fact that I am so close to being exactly the thing that made me this fucked up about emotional support. I am a person who needs a tremendous amount of support, and is incapable of reciprocating it. I am the thing that created this damage in me, that made me this way. I don’t want to be that same thing to someone I care about.
I want to heal from this, and I have no idea how. There are a host of reasons, only some of them related to this, that I have trouble connecting with people. I’m an outlier in a number of different ways. Back when I was in that relationship, I used to say I found it almost impossible to find people I connected with both socially and personally. It always seemed to be one or the other. I still have that problem. To have interactions that are genuinely satisfying to me on that wonderfully deep level that only happens once in a while, I need people who are smart, who are skillful thinkers, and who care deeply about the people around them, and who possess whatever combination of those traits and whatever possible others that makes genuine interpersonal resonance happen.
I have a tremendous amount of trouble finding that, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m going about it all wrong, or because I fail to appreciate or recognize what I already have, or because I just genuinely haven’t found enough people who are like me to be happy, or because I’m fucked up about the reciprocal emotional support that deep, abiding friendships require, or some other reason. Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m good at avoiding making that fallacy where you assume you’re more on the same wavelength as people than you actually are.
Either way, I feel disconnected a lot of the time, and afraid of asking people for support when it’s needed. And there are so many possibilities for what could be causing this sense that I don’t even know where to begin. As much as it could be something about my approach to the world, it could also be that I just haven’t found my people yet.
There’s more to say about this, but this is enough for now.