I am angry. I am angry with myself mostly.
There is a lot of responsibility that lies squarely at my own feet for how I allow people to treat me. I am not blameless, though truthfully I’ve never claimed to be.
Rather I am achingly aware of my shortcomings and I spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on them. I have low self-esteem and in incurable desire to care for people, to “love them whole”. Noble but not practical. It’s like having a neon sign above my head that reads “Free Heart Repairs Here While You Wait”. I unwittingly make myself available to the emotionally deficient and manipulative.
What is it about these people (men) that doesn’t stop me from getting drawn in? When it becomes clear that these people (men) are not suitable, why do I not turn and run?
I spend a lot of time processing the emotions of other people and I’m not very good at turning this off. It’s for this reason that I avoid social contact, unless it’s with a close knit group of people, because walking into a crowded room is like receiving the signal for hundreds of radio waves which all broadcast simultaneously. I allow myself to be affected by each one of those radio waves as opposed to letting them simply move through or past me.
Sometimes I project these feelings without realising their origin (meaning they aren’t my emotions). This is bad, especially when I’m under stress and have the tendency to dissociate which impairs my reaction to an emotionally charged situation. I will either shut down completely, try to run away or I will become defensive, agitated and shouty.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. On the positive side, my empathy makes me very good at helping others with their problems, talking through deeply emotional issues and providing comfort because I can feel their pain, sometimes on a visceral level. I can relate to others on a very intimate level and as a result of this the other person feels cared for, understood, appreciated, and I feel needed. This is the hook.
I am primarily focused on helping the other person but I do this at the expense of my own emotional well-being and welfare. Something that is apparent in a co-dependent relationship. This disorder was first identified around a decade ago while studying the interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics but the term has broadened to include any dysfunctional family or relationship.
Often co-dependency is called relationship addiction because people with co-dependency very often form and maintain relationships that are predominantly one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. Co-dependents have low self-esteem and will look outwards to make themselves feel better and may do so through alcohol, drugs, food and/or sensory pleasures like gambling or indiscriminate sexual activity.
This can also be true for the INFJ who when stressed is forced to process data using our extroverted sensing function with which we have very little experience and with which we have extreme difficulty managing.
It’s been said that there is no better way to deal with your own pain than by helping someone else with theirs. It seems this is something I have taken to heart as a method of ignoring my own pain and consistently not dealing with it. Noble but not wise.
Childhood bullying, emotional trauma suffered at the hands of my ex-husband’s family, the divorce of my parents and my father’s subsequent marriage to a woman who despised me and my siblings, my emotionally distant relationship with my father, as well as my own divorce have all had long term effects made worse because I didn’t adequately deal with them.
The more I have tried to dull, cover and numb these painful events, the more I’ve sought out a subject to nurture, take care of and “fix” without ever having afforded myself the space and time to sufficiently process my own traumas and heal sufficiently.
So where to from here?
It’s easy to feel uncared for when people cannot love you the way you need to be loved. It’s also difficult (for HSPs especially) not to internalise this as a reflection of your own self-worth.
The truth is, how people behave and operate has so much less to do with you than you think. It’s about their own insecurities, their own struggles, their own anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
This is not evidence of your failings and it doesn’t mean you are difficult to love. Nor does it mean you are unworthy of love.
The fact that you can empathise and are able and willing to share your love even if it means having your heart broken, is a strength. Loving someone else is a courageous act.
And so the work isn’t to fundamentally change who I am, the work is to deal with what happened and leave it behind in the past where it belongs and make better choices. To stop making a choice of people who only make an option of me.
I am not too much, I am not needy, I am not too sensitive.
I am thoughtful, I am empathetic, I am kind, I am vulnerable, I am generous of spirit and I am enough.
You are enough.
If I am completely honest, I knew the day that the – what I once believed – great love story of my life was ending. I remember the exact moment.
It was late on the evening of October 8th, 2015. It was that night, when his fists came crashing into my head, hitting me so hard that all I could see were white flashes of light, and I was lying in a heap on the concrete floor of my bedroom, bruised, crying and frightened when I knew I would never again be the same person I was before that moment. At some point I managed to scream and he stopped punching my head into the concrete floor long enough for me to get to my feet and get help.
I had previously said to him and others that I would be forever changed as a result of loving him. To be fair, I didn’t think it would be exactly this thing that would change me so irrevocably but nonetheless, the changes he wrought in my psyche have been significant.
That’s not exactly right. He was simply the vehicle that Christ would use to bring about some of the most significant change in my life to date.
What was the “great love story” of my life was in fact a journey of destruction, high highs and low lows, and the near annihilation of the person I am.
I’ve been told that I have an incredible amount of love to give, that I am kind, that I am compassionate, that there is much goodness in me, and that I am a rescuer. It’s true. It’s also these very qualities that make me a desirable target for the self-serving, the narcissist, and the emotional vampire. And on this occasion, I was thrown into the orbit of one of the most damaged men I’ve come across to date. The trauma and loss that this man has suffered sparked in me the most prodigious desire to pour as much of my love and myself into him as I could in an effort to heal him, to ease the pain that he has carried around with him his whole life and give him back some of what he lost.
This would prove to be naive, idealistic and futile because no matter what I did, no matter how I behaved – and there was a large amount of self-denial, self-sacrifice and very poor choices made on my part in an attempt to strengthen our bond – it was never enough for him. No matter how low I sank into the pit, I could never quite reach him in the darkness. And he likes the darkness, it’s familiar, it’s safe, he is alone there. He and the darkness are companions and he will not break from that which he has known since he was a child.
The narcissist is focused solely on themselves and this stems from a profound and very deep wound, most often inflicted when they are children, which has unraveled and fundamentally damaged them.
Enter the Empath who responds with a visceral need to care for, love, and heal the narcissist.
You can ask any HSP (highly sensitive person) or Empath and they will tell you that they were drawn to the narcissist like the proverbial moth to the flame and I most certainly was. From the moment we met, I knew I would love him.
I met someone charming, affable and intelligent and who very much appreciated my giving, sensitive, and kind manner but before I realised it, I was living with someone who was focused solely on themselves and having each selfish need met with little to no thought as to how much havoc he was wreaking in me.
The lower I felt and the emptier I got, the more I sought comfort from the person I believed was my safe place from the world. Only I had it all wrong. I was battling to hold it together with my friends, family and job because of how he was emptying me out on a near constant basis.
He once said to me that he felt ‘bad’ that when I was sad or feeling low he was unable to provide comfort. Quite.
And so after the night of October 8th, I came home to our apartment (he was away for that week) knowing I wasn’t going to leave him. I loved him and I thought he loved me enough to work through what had happened and move on, together. We were engaged after all.
Only there I sat, alone, more broken than I have been, possibly ever, and I prayed. It had been a long time since I had come before The Lord. In complete and utter supplication, I asked Him to do the work for me. I asked to be pushed so far out of his life, to be given no choice but to walk away because I knew that I would have held on to that which was slowly poisoning me, until all of me was destroyed.
It took four short months for this prayer to be answered. And the separation was traumatic because in many ways I was not ready to let go. The truth all came crashing down around me when I did what I have never before done and probably should not have done that day.
I looked at his phone and in true Pandora’s box style, I found exactly what I was looking for.
The knife that ripped into me that morning zigzagged through my soul and each message I read sent a barb that tore at my innermost being, leaving me in shreds.
I would like to say thank you to the women – yes that’s plural, though there seems to be one front runner – who helped remove him from my life. I owe you a debt that I am unsure I will ever be able to repay. I owe you my sense of self and my self-worth. I owe you what I now know is my very bright future.
For a time I laboured under the misguided belief that any of that relationship was about me. When I realised that it was not, it was as if a switch flipped. My self-worth and my value are not tethered to that person.
And then, after a few weeks, I received the inevitable phone call. Sobbing, apologising for how he had been so cruel, so damaging, so unable to love me the way I need to be loved.
And I cried too.
I told him I missed him, it was a knee jerk reaction.
I didn’t miss him.
I missed the person I thought I knew, the person who is no longer there.
Image: I wish I knew the artist, so that I could give credit.
If you know the artist then please let me know. Thank you.