A large number of emotional wounds have come up to be looked at and treated during the past twenty-four hours. As a result, I feel as if I have been through a war zone.
This harrowing experience has made me see that I have to make certain abiding promises to myself: The main one relates to my ingrained, life-long habit of running away and hiding whenever anything frightens or threatens me. So, my promise, to me, is to stand still and face whatever it is that is scaring me head on.
The greatest threat, and the earliest I can recall, comes from other people. Let me make that a little clearer. I do not mean, by this, the element of bullying and intimidation which we all suffer, to some extent or another, during our lives; no, I mean that sense of threat I felt in friendship groups, and, once I got that far, relationships, of being replaced, obliterated, by a superior other.
This goes back as far as I can remember, as does my response: To get the hell out as quickly as I can and, as intimated above, hide – and then peek out, or over, to spy on the loved one and his/her new friend.
Even writing about this brings the anxiety flooding in to such an extent that I am shaking as I type. But, I have promised myself that I would turn towards, rather than away from, such fears.
I have always been needy, clingy and insecure – convinced that my value was so much in doubt that anyone I loved/befriended was bound to choose others in preference. You may well ask the obvious question, ‘What’s wrong with all being pals together, eh?’ and it is a more-than-fair one.
But I have real difficulty putting my rational understanding into practice. I think part of the problem is that, from childhood onward, I have tended to make best friends – but not always with people who were comfortable in that kind of an intense bond – and then been devastated when my best friend wanted other friends, who seemed better than me, as well.
I can vividly remember a cycling holiday I went on in 1973 (when I was fifteen). There were four of us (my best friend, me and two others, one of whom I found almost intolerably threatening)and we went to the beautiful Peak District, staying in Youth Hostels at Matlock Bath, Ravenstor and Buxton.
It should have been idyllic – and, in many ways, was (my love of landscape was certainly given a huge boost) – but my intense jealousy made things very difficult for all concerned. My way of dealing with this I will come to in a moment – but first, what do I mean by my jealousy?
Simple: I become convinced that the threatening other is everything I am not, would be a far better friend/girlfriend than I would (because I am without the necessary qualities) – and I pull away, to give the usurper (in my eyes) space to usurp and withdraw.
‘How,’ I would ask myself, ‘could you possibly like/love me when he/she is around?’
I think all this was made worse by the fact that I was never a talkative child (my preferred medium was the written word, as it is now) and felt easily trumped by the vast majority of girls who were naturally chatty.
Be that as it may, on this one day, I was absolutely at the end of my tether with my best friend and this other girl – and felt so intensely threatened that I ran away, into a small field overlooking the road to the Youth Hostel. I confess that I wanted my best friend to be concerned, even worried, to look for me. So manipulative. I can see that clearly. But also so bloody tempting.
To this day, I can remember clambering over huge rhubarb leaves, and mud, sobbing hysterically; I can recall looking down at the heads of my friends as they arrived, hearing their natural joyous laughter, and feeling such a freak, so abnormal – and so bloody left out.
I could write this scene, with a few changes of venue, person and trigger, a hundred – damn it, probably a thousand – times, and the same destructive scenario would be repeated ad infinitum.
Why run away, though? This is the question I have asked myself today.
Does running away help at all?
Does it reduce the anxiety and threat by even a small fraction?
No. Actually, it makes it worse.
So I then asked myself what it was I was so afraid of. A good question, I think, and one that should, by rights, have been asked in 1973, if not before!
Is it the thought of a friend/partner having other friends per se?
What the hell is it, then?
And today it hit me: It is the terror that I will disappear, become invisible and completely unimportant, forgotten even, in such a transaction. In other words, the fear that I am only good enough until something/one better comes along. That I will be usurped, and all the roles I had in the friendship will be taken over by the new other.
But why do I esteem myself so low that such a vicious circle of clearly-destructive behaviour has so dominated my life? Why is it that seeing myself as just-as-good-as is so bloody hard?
The reasons go back to childhood and my relationship with my father. He struggled to cope/converse with more than one of us at a time (there are five of us), had a clear favourite (not me) and could, without I think meaning to, appear rejecting of the others when his focus was on the one. Under such circumstances, I very often did feel as if I had vanished, become nothing, and that I was, in some way I still can’t quite grasp, of inferior quality. I guess my rationale was that I must be otherwise I would have been the favourite child.
I wouldn’t have been allowed, as a child, to run away from such encounters, so I learned very quickly to disappear into my own head, or, even worse, into a kind of terrified blankness which afflicts me still when I feel hugely threatened.
But, as I say, these days I run away – and have done for decades.
This remains the most difficult and painful behaviour pattern in my life. It is terribly hard to get out of what has become a wired-in habit, and, of course, my body – ever somatic – doesn’t help by kicking in the Fight or Flight system as soon as emotional threat rears its ugly head.
Recognising, and analysing, the problem is the first step, however, and promising myself that I will not run for the hills is the second.
Loving myself is, of course, central to the whole thing – and, through that, admitting that I am worthy of the love and desire and attention and fondness and friendship of other human beings: That it is not a competition, as it was in my childhood, and that I do not have to fight, or flee, because, let’s face it, those who are true friends will love me no matter how many other pals they have – and those who are not, well, they aren’t worth bothering with anyway.
My question, though, is this: Can any rational, well-intentioned promise battle such a deep-seated, profoundly painful and expertly-rehearsed ‘script’?
I sure hope so because I am sick and tired of running scared all the time.