For a long time in my life I wondered why important relationships (personal and work) in my life tend to implode, or why I tend to feel bullied and I seemed to be in chaos and misery no matter where I was.
Only upon hindsight, with a lot of inner-work and self-honesty, was I able to see that I was self-perpetuating unhealthy relationship dynamics and patterns with people. Of course, it takes two hands to clap, but it is important to recognise that I possessed one of those hands. It meant that I had some power (versus none) and yet with power comes responsibility. It was hard to acknowledge that I have a responsibility towards how people behaved with me.
It is always easier to blame one party or the other, but I grew to learn that things are complex and never binary. I thought it may be useful to share how I have contributed to unhealthy relationships and why it was important for me to spend the time and effort to work on myself so I can lessen the the negative impact I have had on people and in turn, they on me.
Giving up my power
I had very low self-esteem, so I never felt or thought I could have any power in my relationships. I felt like everyone else was better than me, so I was more than willing to give up my power to them. I thought that by being submissive, deferential and accommodating people would like me more (and hence I can feel better about myself).
The power hungry types would not feel bad for stomping over me and here was I wondering what did I ever do to deserve such treatment. The healthier types would be exhausted dealing with me, because they try ways and means to get me to assert myself, make decisions, or sometimes, simply try to understand my needs so they have a better idea of how to interact with me.
There are truly terrible people in this world but there are also people who need us to take responsibility in the relationship so they can interact with us better. Most sane people want an equal partner to collaborate with, to contribute to, to respect, to seek opinion from.
Another consequence of this was that I formed many emotionally-dependent relationships because I didn’t have it in myself to be independent. This was exhausting for them — it was like having to feed a crying baby all the time (yes I was the crying baby).
Not defining boundaries and not communicating my needs
This is related to the point above. I was a willing doormat, so I tend to keep my negative feelings to myself because I was afraid that I would hurt people or they would dislike me.
People would think I am okay with doing certain things or accommodate to them. I would be silently, secretly, thinking to myself: why did so and so do this to me? But I wouldn’t communicate my unhappiness to them, and it would just accumulate, until one day I implode or I simply go missing-in-action.
No one has magical powers to read our minds. Most people are just too caught up in their own needs and issues. It is helpful to communicate openly so the other party has a chance to rectify or negotiate. It is not fair to expect the other person to magically know how we feel, or they didn’t do certain things we expect because it should have been obvious. It is also not fair to blame the other person if they do not know why.
Inability to regulate emotions and bring myself out of destructive mental loops
I can’t regulate my emotions (I recommend reading this). Something small will trigger a torrent of emotions and pain. And I’ll spiral deeper and deeper into a swirl of negative thoughts: why am I always so useless, why do people keep hurting me, why do I have the worst of luck, why is life so unfair, why do I exist…etc.
I didn’t even know regulating emotions was a thing. I thought people just had tempers. Good or bad ones. I didn’t know healthy people have a braking system whereas I simply crash and burn. And burn. And burn.
The worst is when both parties are unconsciously acting out unhealthy patterns to each other in loops, triggering each other’s spiralling emotions and driving each other to despair and helplessness.
Inability to recognise unhealthy dynamics and patterns
I didn’t have a healthy model of what should a healthy relationship be, so I assumed the way my relationships played out was “normal”. In my romantic relationships, I thought being the person playing Richard Marx’s Right here waiting while waiting patiently for the other party to see that we’ve always been meant for each other was romantic (rolling my eyes now).
Because I was unaware of my own inner dynamic, I was always attracted to the unavailable types. And I wondered why they were so hurtful to me. And they wondered why I wanted something that that they could not give. I brim with pain, they run at the sight of pain.
And there was I, wondering why this kept happening to me.
Putting it all together
Here is what I’ve learned: when I express a certain dynamic, I am naturally attracting other people to fulfill the other part of it. This is not some new age law of attraction. If I am always needing to be saved, who will I be attracted to and who will be attracted to me? People with savior complexes. I myself swung between trying to be saved and trying to save someone. If I was an employee who has no boundaries and is always deferential, who do I tend to end up working for?
Many times it is not that the other party is evil or out to hurt other people. Sometimes we don’t realise we’re unconsciously playing out the opposing dynamic. Other times we had been hurt so we cannot help but hurt the other person back thinking by doing that we can gain some equity.
I have been hurt and I have hurt other people. It is not fun and I don’t feel powerful at all to hurt someone, so I think that it is terrible for people to hurt me either. It brings pain to both parties usually.
If I could learn to hold on to my power, to recognise unhealthy patterns, I could put a stop to it, define my boundaries, communicate my needs. I would be appreciative instead of hurt if someone defined their boundaries with me. I would stop taking a lot of things personally. I would leave some relationships earlier, not just to save myself but to spare the other person from bearing the weight of inflicting too much hurt on me. I would recognise the other times I was hurting other people carelessly. I would see that some relationships have no chance of working at all. I would have more awareness over how people trigger me and how I trigger other people. I wouldn’t spiral and drag people into my spirals. I would be pickier about the people I work for and be with. I would save myself and other people a lot of unnecessary grief.
If I was more self-aware, I could be more conscious of how I engage and interact with other people. I could intervene with better communication skills and perhaps some relationships had a chance of overcoming the unhealthy dynamic.
All of this is why I have spent so much time and effort in trying to understand myself. I realised I would just be repeating old-patterns in an infinite loop unless I can change the dynamic I express. And in order to change that, I have to change myself.
I don’t know if it seems self-centered, but I have learned that to an extent we need to center on ourselves in order to simply be better people in our interactions with others. We can’t contribute anything meaningful if we’re always hungry and hurting. Hurt people hurt other people.
If I could turn back the clock I would go for therapy in my teens. With a good therapist, who knows the adult I could have become? Who knows what I would have accomplished if I was equipped with the right coping and management skills?
I survived still, from the outside until 2015 it seemed like I survived brilliantly. But I was so broken inside. I spent the last two years going through debris of my old self. I don’t think I am done yet.
But I hope, I really do, that I can learn to become a person who is capable of hurting a little less. To myself, and to the world around me.
Originally published on Medium.