The suppressed truth

I had an emotional implosion last night, that is to say, I sat there feeling so miserable I wanted to punch myself, but I kept it all inside. I had been reading all day in that psychotherapy forum about people saying that they had to learn to accept love, and how emotionally challenging their therapies were, and how much they loved their therapists and at some point I realized that this tense, biting feeling inside of me was neediness, and the anger I felt at the people whose posts I read was at least partially envy.

What came before that realization, though, was the realization that I don´t believing in learning to accept love. If something that is called love doesn´t feel like love, then something about it hurts you, and you don´t have to learn to accept something from others that hurts. During my time with Athena I thought that if only I could accept that she loved me unconditionally, her vivisection of my personality wouldn´t hurt any more. When my father took rough-and-tumble too far I thought that if only I could completely surrender it would start to feel good. Both is psychologically plausible, but seeing this kind of acceptance or surrender as a worthwhile aim legitimizes treating me in a hurtful or even violent way.

There was one time when I experienced the kind of being in love I would have expected to happen in therapy. That was when I had a crush on my professor. And in this relationship, I had to learn to accept doodley-squat. I unequivocally felt that he liked me and that I was safe with him. And I had many daydreams about him doing hurtful things to me which wouldn´t have hurt all too much. In any healthy relationship, the trust and love should come before administering any kind of pain, and not after the fact as an attempt to alleviate the hurting.

If I hadn´t remembered those feelings and if I hadn´t had that realization, I might not have been able to acknowledge my envy. Or maybe not so much my envy as my own neediness. I need that kind of relationship, too, were I can be in the lower position, where I´m the one who´s taken care of, not the one who takes care. I need someone I can look up to for answers, guidance; someone who wants to give something to me. I´m very grateful for the normal relationships I have, where we are on the same level. But although we´re technically on the same level, I feel strongly responsible for those peoples´ feelings and that´s exhausting. I like taking care of others, but sometimes I just need someone to take care of me.

Here´s where accepting love comes into play. The ordinary explanation is that I look at others´ needs too much, and since I wouldn´t do it if it didn´t give me something I have to be an absolute control freak. My inability to voice needs of my own and get them met is just a symptom of me trying to be above everyone else. Actually, I´m not caring, I´m arrogant. The only way to make me feel better is to bring me down a couple of notches so I can accept that others have something to give, too.

What I realized yesterday is that the real explanation is far sadder. Sometimes people simply aren´t interested in meeting my needs. Sometimes people enjoy taking (which is a gift to anyone who loves to give), but don´t enjoy giving at all. Sometimes when I tell them what´s going on in my head and what bugs me they look at me in confusion and I know that they´ll resent me now for making them feel like my thoughts are too difficult for them to comprehend. Sometimes they´ll blindly look up to me and admire me for what I do, such as writing stories, and then I´m the one who has to give again: In order to get something out of the relationship (and admiration can cover up the wound of not being understood and cared for at least for a while) I have to deliver. More stories, more good ideas, until the other person´s admiration runs dry. Sometimes I´ll stay in the background and just let people talk and assume that I have nothing interesting to say anyway because I rarely get positive feedback for my remarks, or any feedback at all. Sometimes I´m just ignored. I´m just the invisible, shy friend. Sometimes people tell me what a stupid look I have on my face if I do as much as raise my eyebrows. Often people flat out tell me that what I say is too complicated for them if I just about open my mouth. Go talk to someone else about that, not me, I´m too stupid and that´s okay, intelligence is overrated. Is it really such a surprise that I stick to listening to others talking about their interests, about their worries, about their conflicts?

I feel like my truth, my own subjective experience is in such conflict with my environment that I have to keep it under wrap, that I cannot even access it myself. It´s like dynamite. If I assume that everything I wrote in the paragraph above is true, then how can I still love anybody? It does make me angry to be treated like this, but I feel like I have to take the blame for it if I want to be able to have satisfying relationships. Which sounds lunatic if I write it down like this. How is a relationship satisfying when you constantly have to take the blame for every blow you are dealt?

The therapeutic answer I hear in my head now is, of course: “But it wouldn´t hurt so much anymore if you could learn to put less emphasis on the intellectual!” But it´s not me who puts all that emphasis on the intellectual! I just say things! It´s not like I want to talk about astrophysics at breakfast, cell biology over lunch and Kafka at dinner! All I want is not to have to censor myself all the time without everybody left and right taking offense at how “complicated” I am!

I´m scared of these truths because they might lead right to abandonment, including terrible accusations about how selfish, arrogant and uncaring I am. Still, putting the truth out there gives me a little bit of self-confidence. Nothing can replace the sense of security that comes from allowing yourself  your own perspective.

But back to the original topic. Accepting love. For me, the idea of learning to accept love was always an exercise in lowering my own self-worth. That sounds crazy, sure, but it makes sense if you look at my history of social conflict. I typically took the role of the giver and at times let people downright exploit me because that was the only way I could relate to them at all. It takes a lot for me to feel exploited, anyway. Sometimes other people told me I was being exploited while I just thought: Well, but I can take it, it doesn´t really matter to me, I don´t feel any loss. I gave to myself, too, what I needed by creating in daydreams the kinds of givers I longed for. Often I completely forgot they weren´t real. By doing so I learned what to give to others, and giving something to them made me feel comforted, too. I´m not per se a martyr, I like to give.

And yet there is a sense of deficit, a yearning for attention, yearning to be seen, yearning to be important enough for someone to selflessly take an interest in shaping me, developing me, challenging me, pushing me to the top of what I can achieve instead of leaving me alone to do just about enough to leave a positive impression on my teachers and otherwise try to save friends who have all kinds of dramatic problems which are all more important than me and my life. This reaches a point where watching movies makes me miserable because I can never identify with being the main character, the one whose struggles are important and who gets all the help. I´m always just the helpful friend who gets on so well that her own life isn´t interesting. Nobody ever feels the need to mentor me.

Then along comes Athena. She goes all the way from wide-eyed admiration to scornful condemnation. She admires me for my self-critical introspection, she gets terrified and in turn angry whenever I´m anything other than self-critical, whenever I dare lash out and be angry and accuse the world of being a pile of shit. She needs me to be a certain kind of person and if I´m anything else I´m on the same level as the people she sees as the villains in her life and our friendship cannot be the same anymore. She´d just be playing a role, she´d be dutifully giving, but she wouldn´t see me as her intellectual and moral equal anymore. Her conflict isn´t so different from mine, it just takes an interesting new edge when she starts to compete with me, and, yes, essentially she started it although she blamed it on me. It was her who thought she suddenly had to learn all the time, study all the time, be the top of her class in order to prove herself. And, yes, that did affect me and I started to learn and study, too, in order to keep up with her. It was my very own realm I was defending, so far I had been the intellectual one, and now she simultaneously wanted to be in my place and wanted me as a mentor.  So at the same time she was competing with me and wanted me as someone to look up to, someone to mentor her. She wanted me to be someone to look up to and yet she forbade me to compete with her, but how would I have kept up with her, then? What happened on an intellectual level also happened on a moral level: She wanted me to make her a better person by criticizing her and pointing out her character flaws, yet at the same time she was so mercilessly dissecting everything I said, did and felt that I didn´t feel competent any more to make any judgments on others. I was longing for kinder standards, less inquisition, but that was impossible to admit, as it was asking for lies, hypocrisy, make-believe. It was betraying our friendship, admitting failure, weakness, it warranted nothing but disdain. I saw her as hopelessly superior, as a punishing force than went down on me with increasing frequency while I was blindly stumbling around trying to get it right. My failure to criticize her, however, was interpreted by her as an attempt to hinder her development so she didn´t rise any higher above me. 

When I looked at the story of Athena and me just a second ago, I thought that all this terror would never have happened if I wasn´t such a competitive person, and I despaired thinking it. Now I suddenly realize that the opposite is true: It wouldn´t have happened if I was a properly competitive person.* Right at the beginning of this studying race, when Athena and I had had the first conflict about me competing with her, my mother said to me: “Well, just keep on studying and don´t talk to her about it!” At the time I thought this advice was typical of her: Antisocial, secretive, hypocritical. She gave me that advice at a time when I thought I came from a very bad family (for the record: other than when I started this blog, at the time being I don´t bother myself with trying to access how good or bad my family is). Now I think it´s the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation if you don´t want to leave straight away. I live in a country whose constitution grants me a right to self-growth. Nobody can reasonably demand that I stifle my own development in order to serve theirs, other than, possibly, my own nonexistent children. Also, I have a right to privacy and to self-protection. A healthily competitive person would have followed my mother´s advice. I, however, would have felt guilty, and so I more or less had to negotiate with Athena how much and what I was allowed to learn.** We had a similar discussion at a later point when it came to weight loss. The premise was always the same: If I was going to compete with her, I was ruining our friendship. The question was, thus: What is more important to me, my ego or our friendship?

What I see today is that no friend should force another friend to make such a decision. No friendship should rely on one person arresting her own development. That is truly antisocial. Competition is a fact of life, and somehow, inexplicably, love manages to exist alongside it in a great many cases.  Maybe we were both too insecure and competitive to have the ultimate, special, radically honest friendship we wanted. She wanted. A certain distance would have been needed, and there would have been some things we couldn´t have talked about. I believe we still could have had fun, felt close to each other, even felt deep affection for one another. There were such moments before the inquisition started, and even afterwards, when for some precious moments we disentangled ourselves from one another, we could just be comfortable alongside each other. I believe feelings of friendship can be honest even if there are things which aren´t talked about. Right now that is so self-evident to me I don´t know how I could ever not know it. Sometimes trusts shows in how much people dare tell each other, sometimes trusts shows in how much they don´t need to know. We tried to dare tell each other more than we should have known, up to the point that I felt like I had to report to her. And yet this is just what ruined all remaining feelings of trust for each other. Even though we appeared to know each other more intimately, we weren´t truly more intimate, and where feelings of intimacy arose in me, they were the result of emotional violence, a false dawn, an internal flowers phase where I anxiously hoped that from now on I´d never do anything wrong anymore, never doubt anymore, that my ego was finally gone. This is what I connect with “learning to accept love”.

Then I enter therapy. I perceive the comments I get from my therapist as shallow and meaningless, if not plain wrong. I´m told in not too tactful words that I´m demanding and arrogant and that I don´t value other people. He´s wrong, but he´s only partially at fault for it. He doesn´t know me outside his office. Outside his office, I´m a giver. He wouldn´t accept that; I´m pretty sure he´d stick to the “arrogant control-freak” explanation. Still, he certainly didn´t get to know the most pleasant side of me because I entered therapy thinking that this was a situation where I was allowed to take, to demand. I think I made it very hard for him to want to give something.

One reason I can now divine is that in ordinary life, I don´t assume people can give me this strange, mysterious thing I´m looking for. Therefore, I don´t really blame them if they don´t, or if I get mad or frustrated, I don´t let it show. I assumed that a therapist, however, can give this to me. I feel bound to him, anxious, because he seems to have so much power, and then when I realize he cannot give this to me at all I respond with scorn. At the same time there´s this fear he´s just withholding it to torment or punish me, and so I cannot resolve the bound, I stick around, angry, looking for proof that he really doesn´t have anything to give.

I still think I was right – he didn´t have what I was looking for, his comments were shallow, he had nothing to give to me. I´d deal with it differently now, though. I´d act the way I acted towards Mrs. I don´t remember it if was D or B. I wouldn´t demand anymore that he tells me all his thoughts and plans, but I wouldn´t reveal everything to him and leave everything open to his judgment, either. I´d either leave straight away if it becomes clear that he is intolerant towards BDSM folks, or I wouldn´t even put him to the test and keep aspect of me secret from him. I´d keep my distance and treat him with the same politeness with which I´d treat an ordinary doctor, but I wouldn´t adopt his view on me, either. I wouldn´t even ask for his judgment, and I´d never see a therapist again without a clear-cut aim and a reasonable expectation that he can help me with it.

So – where is my envy coming from? It would seem that I learned a lot and if the forum users´ experiences in any way resemble my experiences with too close relationships and “learning to accept love”, then there is no reason to envy them. Indeed sometimes I´m just relieved I´m out there. And yet it makes me angry to see how they are validated by other users for what they write. I feel like they might actually experience something which I couldn´t experience. Maybe I´m too difficult, maybe I´m too skeptical, too much of a threat even to my therapists.

Then I remember my professor. He was so blatantly a giver, at least in his role as professor, and he was so selfless in the way he supported me, and for some reason I had no trouble accepting this at all. My only worry was that I would disappoint him and that he would find I´m not worth the trouble. I told him so, and his reply was simple: “You need to be content with what you write, not me!” I could cry just thinking about it. He was the first person I could look up to without feeling like I had to crouch down first. He was so sure of himself that he didn´t feel threatened by me. I could ask him any obscure, complicated question and he never reacted defensively, he just sometimes gently stopped me from getting caught up in a labyrinth. I feel like I´ve ruined everything for me by not sending him my revisions of that essay, I beat myself up over it, but I know exactly why I didn´t do it: 1) I fear I´ll get on his nerves, be excessively demanding. 2) I don´t want to have to deliver something in order to be cared about. I don´t want him to be my intellectual mentor, I want him to be my mentor in life, but again, not completely, not as some kind of authority figure. I want it to be a game we play, like in D/s, something we can stop anytime. And yet that is something I will never get from him. When I read about peoples´ therapies I sometimes fear that this is exactly what they get from their therapists, and the idea that they might have this kind of sadomasochistic relationship I´m thinking of makes me jealous. It also makes me laugh, though, to think how they´d react if I labeled it as such. That´s some comfort after all.

*Then again, I doubt I could have evaded it other than by ending the relationship. I´d have had to pretend I didn´t know the things I knew, and her believing I was getting the grades I got without learning as much as I did would just have fueled her fear of inferiority and she would have studied even more. If I had ever slipped up and revealed I knew something about the subejcts she was studying….well, I can almost hear the deadly coldness in her voice asking me: “How do you know that?” It probably wouldn´t have ended worse, but it would have ended just the same way.

**A typical answer was that she didn´t forbid me to learn anything, she just wanted that I only learned stuff because I was genuinely interested in it, not because I wanted to compete with her. What I was interested in, though, was knowing stuff, not any specific kind of knowledge. The only kind of knowledge I´m genuinely uninterested in is trivia about movie stars and other celebrities. I pursue knowledge because I value knowledge as such, not because I have a passion for math, physics or biology. If I´m really passionate about something, I prefer to think about it myself because I´m jealous of everyone who has ever written something about it.

Knowing things makes me feel self-confident, not knowing things while the people around me know them lowers my self-confidence. I guess that´s fairly natural. In a way, her sudden eagerness to study burdened me because I realized I might have to get to work now, but on the other hand it was a positive push. Healthy competition is something that can help people grow, it can be that extra bit motivation to actually pursue the goals they value. Also, I can turn this around – if she had been studying purely out of passion, then why would she have minded if I had competed with her? I was hardly the only one with an ego to feed, and I don´t see why she would be the only one who had the right to look for food. She actually openly admitted that if I “started” to compete with her, she´d have to compete as well and she didn´t want that because competition ruined friendships. As a matter of fact, I so far had never ruined a friendship by competing with someone! And besides, why was she allowed to recourse to a deterministic self-conception and tell me she would “have to do” something harmful? She told me all the time that I had a free will and the power to decide how I dealt with the character I had, that I could change and that if I didn´t change I simply didn´t want to! How I wish I hadn´t been oblivious to the irony of this back then!





3 Responses to “The suppressed truth”

  1. writingthebody Says:

    Good ness you are so hard on yourself….well, I am nominating you as a wonderful team award….which to me means a great and thoughtful reader….and you really are.

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