Tag Archives: defense mechanism

Never the One to Quit

In my last two relationships, heck in most of my relationships that lasted more than a few weeks, I was not the dumper I was the dumpee. I have been left or asked to leave. Even when I was confident we still had a chance, that things would get better (but I’m an overly optimistic child), I was shown the door. Both times, in my marriage and in my last engagement, I was on the receiving end of a dear John letter. And now, looking back, both women were right in kicking me to the curb. Sure we might have done things a different way, but… I was also so unhappy, but also so conflict adverse that I stayed loyal in the face of huge betrayals and huge red flags that should’ve been grounds for ME breaking off the relationship. But I stayed.

One thing this did for me, in my mind, was give me the higher ground. I still catch myself saying, “But it wasn’t my idea,” still. UG. Victimhood feels so crappy. And I’m not a victim. But still, “It wasn’t my idea.”

I wonder about both women if they sometimes wonder, “Did I do the right thing?” And I get some sick satisfaction imagining that their answer is “No, I want him back.” But I’m dreaming silly thoughts. And thoughts that are not helpful in getting on with my healing. In answer to that question, to both women, I would say, “Yes, honey, you did what you needed to do. And I was just to scared to do it myself. So, thank you.”

But there’s no need to have that conversation. I am not on the higher ground. I to am 100% responsible for my part in the failing. That’s the part that I’ve got to accept and own. Avoidance is never a winning strategy, in business, life, or relationships. But I avoid like hell because I want everyone to be happy and to like me. I’ve always been this way. Seems to me, this has to do with the chaos in my early childhood where I was trying to soothe everyone while our home and family was going to hell.

I’m still learning. And while I’ve partially recovered from the grief of my last loss, I know I’ve still got work to do. We all do.

I think one of my biggest challenges is trusting myself, my feelings, and my anger. But anger is very scarey for a conflict-avoidant person. I have to own my sadness. I have to expose my anger. And I’ve got to learn to (sounds corny) love myself as much as I love others. I give myself a harder time than I would give anyone in my life. I’m downright mean. And it’s part of my depressive illness. When it gets out of hand I start falling away from reality and falling into some despairing hopelessness, that tends to overwhelm and freeze me. It sucks.

But they say awareness of the problem is the first step. So today, I admit I am powerless over my destructive coping mechanisms. And I’m turning my life over to the care of a higher power. And this takes place first thing in the morning, and many times during the course of the day.

In both of these devastating losses, I was still clinging to the hope that things would get better. And while I thought I was working to make them better, in both cases I was as unhappy as they were, I was just too dependant to admit it. Thank you to both these beautiful women, I loved them when they said it’s over, and I love them still. But I love them for breaking the toxic pattern and letting me go. Letting me fall back onto my own path. It was never their responsibility to take care of me, or make me happy, or do anything but be honest and live their own lives. We’re all on this journey, but it’s a singular journey. We may feel that a relationship gives us protection from loneliness and isolation, but it doesn’t. Everyone is doing the very best they can. We have to remember that at all times. About ourselves and about others in our lives. Nobody is trying to fuck things up. Give them and yourself a break. Take it easy. Take a step back. Then you’ve got to take action to preserve yourself and your journey. No one can do that for you. You’re on your own.

I hope you find your path to healing as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: breaking up, creative commons usage allowed

Avoidance Never Works

When I was little my dad was a rageaholic and an alcoholic. And I learned to run and hide. Sometimes as an adult this is still my reaction to conflict. I’m a chronic avoider and it’s hurting me and my relationships. The coping mechanism that served me when I was 5 no longer works, it actually makes things worse. And sometimes, even when I know I’m doing it I can’t stop myself. Later I can look back and see the foolishness of my non-action, and if I really examine the behavior I can begin the process of undoing my childhood trauma and become a better adult. That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m ready to explore it.

Avoidance can show up in my life in the simplest of ways. Like sometimes I don’t open my mail for a week. If it’s from the IRS or my insurance provider, I might go longer. But it’s not working for me, it’s actually doing self harm as I worry about what the IRS wants. Turns out it was a letter letting me know my tax refund was once again being delivered to my ex-wife for child support. Oh joy. Not bad considering I was sure it was an audit. A simple act of opening the letter would’ve spared me a week of pointless worry. That’s how it starts. That’s a little sign of my dysfunction.

At work this type of behavior has actually cause a lot of chaos and worry. It’s not really procrastination as much as it’s fear of hurting someone’s feelings, asking them to stay late, holding them accountable for delivering on a project. It’s called conflict avoidance. And while I am a people pleaser at heart, this is more about my fear, my worry, and my avoidance. It never helps and always makes my job harder. I try to toughen up, I try to get more organized and still I find myself avoiding unpleasant conversations, unpleasant tasks, and the unpleasant task of managing other people. You can see how this might be a problem.

In relationships the stakes are even higher. Love is the emotion I crave, perhaps to an unhealthy extent, but I’m willing to roll with that. The avoidance that comes along with always trying to keep your partner happy, now that’s another story. And a big problem for me. If I can blow off the conflict by not responding, sure I don’t get in a fight, but really I’m giving up my part of the argument before it begins. I’m lessening myself worth in some way so the other person gets their way and remains happy with me. This is a formula for disaster.

What other ways to I avoid things? Setting up dental appointments is always a struggle. Paying bills never comes first, heck I used to leave letters in the mailbox for days. And then I met someone who was exactly the opposite. She attacked the mailbox, the bills, the chores, the unpleasant discussions. I was in awe. I was also pretty shut down by her direct action. I admired her, I was amazed at her energy and resolve to just “do what needed to be done.” Whether she wanted to or not. She was never lazy. And she was rarely avoidant.

So I’m looking at my avoidance with a more clear perspective. It’s not a flaw in me or my personality. It’s something that I learned at a very early age that I also need to unlearn. I need to be a bit more like my friend and  just do things. Like take out the trash when the bin is full. And here’s the kicker: without being asked. Filling up the water filter in the fridge. Changing the air filters. It’s not that I mind doing the tasks, I just tend to not do them when I see they need doing. I tend to think, “Oh I’ll do that in the morning.” Not my friend. Not ever. She just does the dishes at 10pm even when she’s tired and would rather get in bed. She just does stuff. I just avoid doing stuff.

Now I have a saying I use when I feel myself doing this. “Just do the right thing. And do it now.” It works well with chores and minor tasks. It’s a bit more complicated with relationship discussions or opening the IRS envelope. It’s a trait that I’m learning how to unlearn. Avoidance never makes things better, in fact, it causes me to worry and ruminate over all the possible awful outcomes. Those worries are better confronted in the moment. Open the bill, open the letter, tell someone they are hurting your feelings. I’m getting there. But it’s not a linear process. While I know this information well, I’m still avoidant.

I could be mad at myself for this behavior. I could beat myself up, and do, when I finally open the letter and realise all that worry was just wasted precious time. A lot of time not being fully present. Sometimes it gets so bad I freeze up and stop communicating at all. And that’s when things get really bad. But I do recover. I am conscious of when I’m avoiding. I still do it, but I’m doing it less. And I’m learning to take the uncomfortable feelings or worry by the horns and looking the damn bull in the eye and saying, “To hell with you, fear, I’m going in!”

What kinds of things do you avoid?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-boy-256714/
creative commons usage allowed