Tell Me More–A Relationship Red Flag?

I’m very curious to learn what others think about this topic. Despite my extensive formal education in psychology, I cannot recall learning about this behavior as a sign of a personality disorder or other psychopathy, although I believe it has to fit in somewhere. It is, at the minimum, a defensive posture and, if deployed with malice, an astute way of assessing someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To what am I referring? Namely, asking personal questions without offering any emotional intimacy or depth in return.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon in two areas of my life. The first, the more benign but still infuriating of the two, happens when someone posts a question on social media but does not offer their own stance, opinion or response. I’m learning to stop myself from responding to first check whether the person “put themselves out there” and shared where they are coming from before responding. I think I’m beginning to formulate a flexible rule of “you go first” when someone asks for vulnerability. Obviously, in situations such as healthcare, I do not expect my medical doctor or therapist to tell me their problems before I share mine. There are some relationships that are meant to be one-sided. I keep having a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, though, that those posting certain types of questions on social media either have ulterior motives or are not brave enough to start from a place of showing up authentically. “Sure, I’ll share….., but you go first” feels right in some contexts.

The more ominous of the situations occurred in a face to face situation in which I found myself the past few years, in which someone I once counted a friend and now only consider in our professional capacity repeatedly asked me prying questions while sharing minimal vulnerabilities in exchange. He would sometimes be arrogant and unrelenting in his questioning, which led to a traumatic experience and a whole host of other fallouts for me. I realize now that a giant red flag should have been raised internally simply from him asking too many questions without opening up in a corresponding manner. I don’t want to over-simplify here–every question does not need a like exchange. A pattern, though, of asking highly-personal and emotionally-charged questions, coupled with very little openness by the questioner, is a concern that the person is gathering information not being a friend, and is not interested in and/or capable of developing emotional intimacy.

I’ve always been alert to potential scammers. If I answer the phone when I don’t recognize the phone number, I will not even give my name or acknowledge anything until the person tells me who they are. If there is a paranoid to gullible continuum, I am far on the paranoid side. Where I’ve been lax, however, is in treating emotional and personal queries as being asked out of kindness, since so much of my experience growing up was of being ignored. “They’re interested in me” tracks way too quickly into “maybe they care about me” when in fact there can be all sorts of motives as to why someone wants to know more about another person. In this case, there is a relatively clear-cut way to know whether to lower my guard–am I being entrusted with secrets or only asked to unearth my own. I felt violated in the former friendship I described above when I realized the person had succeeded (for a time) in hiding so much of what they really believed and who they really were from me. I am someone who typically only needs to experience something like that once to get it. At the same time, I don’t want to over-react in future situations and get lost in inventorying how many vulnerabilities have been traded. I think I’ve shared a good deal of my own perspective here, so I hope my readers will share theirs!

The Blame Game (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

I’ve spent today getting blamed repeatedly for something that isn’t my fault and having every offer of help I’ve given batted out of my hand. I’m being cast in the role of villain in another person’s story and wow is that triggering as f*ck to someone with complex PTSD. It is so difficult for me not to take a personal attack to heart.

I was able to give myself a little space and realized that what was happening was that I was being manipulated with a “give me what I want or I’ll leave you” to which I said and meant “okay leave if you must” which only caused a further escalation of emotions. I hold my boundaries sacred and refuse to allow myself to give into manipulative tactics, but the emotional waves I have to ride in doing so are quite large. I feel angry and anxious.

It takes a lot of social support to resist the efforts of someone who is being abusive, which I’m sure is why abusers try to separate their victims from loved ones. I immediately sought out others who might be influential in the situation I was facing, both to make sure I was protected and to process my reactions. They helped me parse apart the practical part of the situation from the emotional aspect of it, which is allowing me to be dispassionate in my overt response.

I’m still reeling a bit and am not certain if the situation is resolved or if it will continue to escalate, so my anxiety is intense. I’m trying to calm myself and ground myself in the here and now but it isn’t working very well. Having someone else dump what is their responsibility on my lap and blame me for the mess makes me want to clean up what I didn’t spill. I need to brush myself off and walk away, leaving them to manage their own outburst and to seek me out if they choose to do so once they’ve found a better way to communicate. How do you handle being unfairly attacked and blamed for someone else’s issue? What do situations like this trigger for you? How do you protect yourself mentally when faced with another’s scorn and wrath?

Appreciating Risk

Being on T has led to so much unexpected personal growth for me; I was unprepared for the mental effects I would experience. The best way I can describe it is having an internal slider that can shift from a fine-grained, nuanced painting to one with broad and bold strokes of color. When I need clarity and decision-making, the lines are clear and I can make a choice. When careful deliberation and a weighing of multiple competing needs is relevant, I can zoom in with great detail. I hope that the easy/simple option doesn’t start to outweigh the more nuanced one over time if I continue to use low-dose T.

A specific area of my life where this new experience of flexibility is showing up is in interpersonal relationships. I find myself speaking where before I would have suppressed my voice; my inner bravery in being honest with myself is being shared with others. Alongside my growing fondness for hearing my own voice (cringe!), I find myself feeling calmer in confronting others. The feeling of “this needs to be said” is taking precedence over “what harm might I experience if I say this.” It isn’t that my assessments of situations are necessarily changing, but my risk/reward balance is shifting. Almost bizarrely, people are starting to listen to me! I find myself being taken more seriously, although it is too soon to tell if it is in regard to a particular situation or a general shift. I do not know what will continue to change physically or cognitively, but I am here for it and am appreciative of being able to see the simple and complex at the same time. If you are on HRT as a trans and/or non-binary person, please feel free to share if anything I’ve described fits for you or if your experience has been different.

Invalidation or Acknowledgment? (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited me to consider vulnerability and sharing in confidence with others. What it led me to consider is how I can discern, both inwardly and outwardly, whether my pain and needs are being taken seriously or not. I know how to spot invalidation, experiencing and acting from a place of validation is more of a challenge.

Signs of A Validating Relationship

RESPECT

Respect includes boundaries. No one can solve all of our problems or bear all of our burdens. When someone respects me, they care enough to ask how they can be there for me, and to be realistic if there is something I need that they are unable to provide. The message “I agree you need this. I can’t provide it right now, but let’s talk about how you might get what you need” is my clearest approach to respectfully declining something I can’t take on personally.

Respect also includes holding what people share in confidence. This has been a struggle for me for reasons I’ve never fully understood. I think holding someone’s secret feels like lying to me and I have been known to gossip at times. Perhaps being forced to prove my “loyalty” by hiding the fact that I was being sexually abuse as a child has made me averse to knowing someone’s business but having to pretend to others that I don’t. I’m not a hypocrite in that I don’t expect others to hold most things I share with them in total confidence. If I have an area of providing a validating environment on which I most need to work on myself, this would likely be it.

Responsiveness

People express empathy in different ways, but there has to be some degree of caring shown in order to feel validated. People who ignore me by not responding at all when I’m venting show me that my concerns are unimportant to them. Likewise, those who listen to my needs and then immediately focus defensively on discounting my concerns and/or on asserting their own conflicting demands demonstrate to me that they only want to take, rather than to engage in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Responsiveness includes acknowledging my perception of the experience, apologizing if harm has been done and discussing ways to improve the situation with a non-defensive, open mind.

Recollection

In terms of feeling cared for, having someone remember a sensitivity or remind me that they care about a particular burden I’m carrying feels extremely validating. On the other hand, having to remind someone again and again that something upsets me leads me to believe they don’t actually care deep down. Sometimes, through dialogue, I’ve learned that they simply struggle with memory in general. Other times, repeated failures in this area have proven true as an indicator of their lack of concern for my general well-being.

Which relationship behaviors are necessary for you to feel heard and seen? What red flags show you someone might not be a trustworthy person who cares about you? What do you do in relationship to validate others?

Creating a Safe Place (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw focuses directly on inner work, requesting insight into how communication among parts of self can be fostered as well as reflection as to what’s been learned and what’s still unknown. What I’ve decided to spend some time describing and designing is a vision of my internal dwelling. I’m currently listening to bands like Skald which I’m sure is influencing my imagery.

When I’ve dipped my toes into Internal Family Systems (IFS) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) theories and therapies, I’ve gotten stopped immediately because I cannot internalize an externally-derived “safe place.” I will immediately start having flashbacks when led through this type of visualization. I think it has to with the extent of my trauma history and the fact that I have Dissociative Identity Disorder but I’m not certain as to what the cause is. I’ve therefore given up on this practice until lately, where my attempts at drawing and artwork have encouraged me to consider whether I can create my own mapping of a place of security and safety.

To start, I know I need water as that is the element to which I am most fully drawn. High stone cliffs with crashing waves, separating me from possible threats feel appropriate. Atop the land, then, which isn’t an island but is connected to a place resplendent with both mountains and valleys, lies the place I make my inner home. It’s a humble country village, with the sound of sheep and the hustle-and-bustle of daily life lived close to the land carrying through the corridors. Smells of freshly-baked bread and locally-grown fruit permeate the air.

Each part of me has its own dwelling which reflects their needs and skill sets. Some parts are scientists, using the latest technology to deduce the best ways to proceed in any situation. Some are defenders, constantly scanning for threats from high towers and in dark alleys. Others are engaged in healing, helping wounded parts recover from their injuries. The littlest ones are the ones who hold the trauma; they have soft beds and delicious foods and gardens and trees to explore as they grow. There are teenagers who have also been through trauma. They are the source of my creativity and are provided with a studio and art supplies to make manifest their inner gifts. They also slip into the woods and forests that surround the village to draw inspiration from the animals and plants that live there. In addition, there are the nurturers, the kind parental figures that sit with those who have been traumatized and provide comfort and space to process their tortures.

This inner world would be incomplete without villains. I have parts of who represent those who have abused, neglected and betrayed me. Those who wish death upon all of us to stop the pain. Those who want to hurt us as we’ve been hurt, believing it will somehow undo the past. Parts who criticize without mercy as a way of keeping us safe from external critics. Those who desire revenge and who hate others with the same level of hatred which I’ve experienced.

I don’t think, underneath it all, that I am a bad or evil person, despite all these in-dwellers who would seem monstrous or dangerous. They are my inner mercenaries, policing both my internal and external relationships and administering “justice” to their satisfaction. They have mostly come to an armistice with the other villagers and instead are deployed in response and reaction to those in the external world who wish us harm. The image that keeps popping into my head is that of an immune system; they treat others as invaders who must be repelled at all costs.

My inner world does not take kindly to strangers and does not welcome visitors to the village. Almost all who we’ve tried to allow in only want to interact with the healers, the scientists and the nurturers, depriving us of the healthiest parts of self for their own benefit without meeting us in kind.

My inner world is good at exiling people; we cast them outside the farthest reaches of the village and act as though they no longer exist in our presence if they harm one of us. This may feel like the “silent treatment” to those on the receiving end, but, given the type of hatred of which we are capable, it is the safest method of defense we have. There is very little forgiveness between us and those who spoil their visit because they do not admit their behavior or attempt to make amends. Instead, they protest the whole journey to the wasteland, expecting us to act like one of us wasn’t harmed or that it was our fault that it occurred. We prefer to keep any who come to see us now only at the outskirts, trading wares without revealing much else. This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that all parts are content to be entertained by each other only, so the dilemma is not yet resolved. This is the unknown.

I started this post attempting to discuss what a safe place might look like for me. It may seem that I’ve strayed from this goal but in fact an inner world without defenses is anything but safe from those who violate our boundaries. It is not possible to bond with everyone we meet or to form deep connections without a respect for each other’s inner experiences. Someone without access to or who is in denial of all parts of self is also unsafe as they will ignore their own “villagers” running rampant and causing havoc and will only focus on the defenses the other person is deploying in response. I own my shit and people keep using that as a way to avoid their share of the problem instead of taking advantage of that space to reflect on their own role in situations.

The imagery of my inner world that I’ve created is helpful to me in understanding why I can be very brave at times as well as extremely reticent and avoidant in others. To what extent do you have insight into the parts of self you possess that influence your thoughts, feelings and behaviors? How much communication exist among your parts? How do you hold space for parts with different agendas and views of the world?

Feeling the Breeze and More (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I stood outside and meditated on the feeling of air as it passed over my skin. Today is a rainy, cloudy day where I live, but it is the type of inclement weather that is warm as well as gray. So, the breeze felt gentle and soothing rather than chilling as it enveloped me.

I brought my dog with me on my excursion and he was less than enthusiastic. He unexpectedly leaped off the bench on which we were sitting and made a beeline for the door. I’d always fashioned myself a fair-weather outdoors-type of person, one who only finds pleasant a narrow range of air conditions, precipitation and sunlight, but, in contrast to my dog, I am a wild adventurer. There is more than the lightest of wind movements, he won’t walk. It rains, he won’t walk. It is outside of the acceptable range of indoor climate settings in the U.S. in terms of temperature or humidity, he won’t walk. It is dark outside, he won’t walk. I sometimes carry him a distance because he’ll at least walk towards home!

Given that my pup’s behavior limited my time experiencing the breeze, I also engaged my appreciation of touch by petting his freshly-washed hair, which is one of my favorite sensory experiences. It is soft and fluffy and he turns just so in order to have whichever part needs a scritch brought within my reach. I love that, barring nerve damage, our somatosensory experience is both receptive and expressive, that we can touch as well as be caressed. Although, at the end of it, all my dog wants is more food! What did you touch today that brought you enjoyment? When is the last time you enjoyed the feel of a gentle breeze against your skin?