(Editors note: I was kind of, sort of, really really tired and yet wired so this thing might not make sense – you’ve been warned!)
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was learn how to protect myself. No, not from physical harm, but from emotional trauma. In fact it’s a lesson I’ve only learned fairly recently. But really, to understand we’ll have to go back a bit.
Now I’m not sure why or where it came from – perhaps from being a latchkey kid raising my little brother while my mother worked 20 hours a day. All I know is how to mentor. How to get people to overcome their issues, conquer their fears, understand their own motivations and all sorts of other essentially useless parlor tricks.
Most people wouldn’t exactly consider this a negative ability. And it probably isn’t, if you are a generally well-rounded individual and contained the whole gamut of conditions that makes us human. One of the most basal and important instincts is to not allow your body to come to harm. You know, the ole “My hand is suddenly engulfed in flames, I best remove my fleshy bits from the source of ignition and take care of this”.
Sadly, this “don’t allow yourself to come to harm” doesn’t really apply to the psychological state. It’s more of a learned trait. Like when you learned “fire = hot” and then no longer shoved your face into a bonfire, your mind learns patterns that manifest into emotional harm and also tends to avoid them.
That is, unless you have one of those “good plague” traits; self-awareness.
Everyone has heard the term and has a basic idea of what it means. The official definition is “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”
Most people don’t dive any deeper than something like “I am hungry, therefor I will eat”.
Unfortunately, my mind works something like this “I am hungry. Why am I hungry? When was the last time I ate? Am I truly hungry or is it because I’m bored/stressed/other emotions? Did I really just want to go somewhere and eating is a good reason? If so, why do I want to go somewhere?” and so on and so forth.
It allows me to be acutely aware of my mind’s eye and to know my motivation and the reasoning behind what I say/do. But if it is taken too far it is actually an exhausting activity that pretty much paralyzes you from doing anything. Both good things, and bad things.
This self-awareness bullshit especially comes into play in a relationship. Especially at the beginning. My mind is constantly running through a set of criteria – if Iwant to explain something complex, like something IT nerd related, I try to ensure that – based on all available known data – works likes this:
- Will she be able to understand the concept as I’m about to say it, or do I need to adjust it some?
- If I have to adjust it, what would be a good analogy to use that she would know based on her own line of work
- How can I ensure I don’t over-simplify it and thus make her feel like I’m taking down to her
- How interested do I think she’d be in it?
- Should I mentally prepare to engage in a longer more technical version of it, while still keeping the above steps in mind
- Is there any terms that she wouldn’t know and would take too long to explain and thus should I omit them?
- What should my cadence be to ensure she is kept interested in what I’m saying?
- Remember not to throw in a bunch of “Umms, Ahhs, errrs” and other verbal cues as I pause to gather my thoughts
- What would potential follow up questions be from her? Start preparing a list of answers.
- How does what I’m saying currently relate to the conversation we’re having
- How long do I think I can talk about this before she gets bored
- Be sure to stay away from anything that makes her feel dumb or inferior because thats not what we want
- Will this touch on anything that is a ‘hot button’ to her?
- … and about 20 more things
Most of the above steps I run through when talking to anybody about something technical or complex. I don’t explain, so much as teach, and I love to get the listener to understand what I’m saying, be captivated and engaged, part of the conversation, etc etc.
Now that is one of the reasons I’m damn good at my job, and IT in general. It’s a sales skill I picked up somewhere. To know your audience by instinct, and have a general idea of what their capabilities are. In fact if I had to list my super powers, one of them would be “I can take complex, highly technical concepts and break them down into something the listener will be able to easily understand and follow without ‘dumbing it down'”.
But that whole multi-step process of self-analysis is applied to pretty much everything I do or so. I’m conscious of it to a certain degree, especially when dating.
In an weird obsessive desire for ‘full disclosure’ I want to make sure I don’t have any ulterior motives behind what I’m saying. I want it to be purely based on the facts as I understand them, without any additional colorizations thrown in. Basically I never want to be accused of playing mind games, and go out of my way to try to ensure that.
AH! And I bet some of you know the achilles heel of the above statement!
It’s the line that reads “based on the facts as I understand them“. Yeah. That son of a bitch gets me almost every single time. Got me. Well, still does.
Having a basic grasp of psychology I also try to do the reverse; when I’m being spoken to, I hear the actual words, but I also analyze what was said, how it’s said, body language, etc and try to throw it all into a bigger picture and thus better understanding of her. But I go with a general overview of what she’s told me she wants, as well as my hopeless romantic ability to spin whatever negative thing thats said back into a positive thing and add it all together.
A relationship, like a house, needs a solid foundation to support whats above it. In this case, it’s her telling me what she’s looking for and all the basic dating overview. I take that initial ‘learning about each other’ stuff and treat it like canon. The foundation. Going forward I try to view things and process them from that point of view.
Now the most critical flaw in this path of logic is that I assume the other party also does all of this internal discovery and fact finding as well so what they say is a foundation of amazing rock solid concrete. And I build on top of that.
It’s taken over 30 years, but I am finally understanding that most people don’t actually think like that. They state what they want based on what is in front of them. In other words, there statements are dirty, marred by multiple factors from their mood right then to the time of day, amount of sleep, so on and so forth. So what happens is someone tells me what they want. Then as we learn about each other I try to see where it all fits.
So how does that end up hurting me? Well, for whatever reason, for a super long time, my mind just didn’t, couldn’t – wouldn’t, analyze that core “What I want” – we made it canon, remember? So if they didn’t know what they really wanted and instead just came up with a general idea, I take everything they say and spin it to align with that. Which means I take some stupidly large artist’s rendering version of what was just said to get it to fit in that mold. And since I know what they want (Right? They told us after all!), my responses also try to fit into that “What she wants”.
Results may vary say the commercials, but in practice all of the above means I can be dead on to so far off base it’s not even funny, and I have to create delusional ways of processing it so it sticks to that model while also not being SO out there that my mind rejects it outright as silly. How dead on or silly I am essentially corresponds to the degree of…. issues, the other person has. And because I’m a hopeless romantic and want my partner to be perfect and without flaws I tend to dismiss any and all warning signs and proceed full throttle! And even if they happen to possess traits that are pretty much impossible to miss – say, un-medicated though diagnosed severe borderline personality disorder, what do I do? I just adopt my expectations and change so that no matter what it is, I can be sure of viewing her as perfect in my head.
I started breaking that habit around 25. Before that, I pretty much fell deeply whole-heartedly in love with whoever I was dating, instantly and without shame.
But that whole “Fitting what they tell me into their model of ‘What she wants'” was still going strong up until a year ago. I knew about it before then, and was working on it, but Christ it was tough. It essentially took a lot of processing, reading, meditating and more to tear down my normal methods and erect new ones.
And pretty much after I did that, my devious brain managed to figure out a work around: The Fixer! As in, “This person has many obvious and bad traits and in all actuality they are doing nothing more than hurting me over and over” into “This person is acting horribly towards me, but I am sure it’s simply because they are not aware of it or their motivations and if I help them through that then everything will be awesome and we’ll fall in love and yadda yadda yadda”
While people are generally good, and I believe they aren’t knowingly malicious, sometimes bad shit went down and as a result they appear to be actively hurting you as they try to process whatever it was that hurt them. It’s not their fault. People don’t even know it’s happening, don’t realize it.
But it’s bad when you don’t want to see the signs and allow it to happen to you. And that’s my main issue, and what I’m working hard to fix.
It’s so hard to do something to hurt someone to protect yourself. It feels wrong, selfish, like I’m so full of myself that I don’t want to help anyone ever and DEMAND ALL PERFECTION ALL THE TIME. But I know the truth now, at least when it comes to me – I do it because I don’t want to deal with my own issues, my own thoughts, my own demons. By trying to fix someone I have this wonderful, delusional reason to no longer worry about ME. Because I’m focusing on them and their motivations, I just outright neglect my own until the eventuality of me being super crushed and super hurt. Then I can close up shop and nothing can get in – not even me.
And then eventually I get over that pain, then guess what happens? Yep, same damn thing. Repeat hundreds of times. Feel like never loving anyone or opening your heart again because it always ends in heartbreak and omg we just can’t do that again.
But I’ve begun to change that. I realize that initial statements may “Not be as truthful as they appear”, and try to view the situation from outside of myself as a 3rd party. I use my friends’ input. I use the “The Annals of Basic Human Behavior Patterns and their Outcomes as observed by Jeremy D Pavleck”. I try to not open my heart up right away. I ask questions. More importantly, I watch actions. And I’m getting better at it.
Why am I writing this? Because I still fail. I just did recently. I was given a crumbly foundation, ignored any signs suggesting anything different, and tried to process words and actions as best as I could to fit that mold.
And honestly, without some amazing friends who asked me all the right questions and reminded me about all the similarities between this and past situations that ended in hurt, I would have keep diving deeper and deeper into my own self-delusional hell where I allowed the gravity well of the situation to pull me in and rip me in twain.
And for the first time I used meditation to help – but not focusing on anything, my brain was able to instantly and almost violently see everything the way it really was. I was able to reorganize things and put them in their correct bins and – guess what? It told me exactly what I had to do.
But it still hurt to do it. It hurt, because I know I hurt someone willingly. Even though in my head I like to try to pretend they never really cared and it was all a big game to them and thus no one got hurt, they just moved on – I know that’s not true. Rejection in any form feels bad.
But there is also a good feeling to doing it too. What I try to focus on. It’s about the closest I get to actually experiencing the phrase “Felt like someone removed a load of bricks from my back”. I focus on how it is a good and positive thing I”m doing. It makes me a more assertive, balanced human. Someone that will eventually be capable of fully giving and fully receiving love.
But of course, I also pretend that they will come to their senses, see exactly what I was talking about, and take the steps needed to fix it.
And no, I don’t intend on ever ‘fixing’ that.