I frequently encounter situations where someone has taken on the developmental or recovery work of a friend or loved one. They mean well, and they want to help their loved one in their process, but somewhere along the way a line gets crossed and their efforts turn from helping the individual in question to hurting everyone. Again, this is all with the best of intentions, but with terrible results.
We quite simply can’t do other people’s work for them. It may seem loving to try, but it’s anything but. The result is quite often the we inhibit their already overdue growth process. Housing the perpetually unemployed or the addicted person, tolerating inappropriate interpersonal behaviors of a loved one working through a trauma history, or allowing people to repeatedly overstay their welcome not only hurts them, it hurts the members of your family who are entitled to your attention and affection. Your partner and your minor children deserve to be the object of your love and support. Other adults quite simply need to grow up and figure life out. Their issues are not your issues.
A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title
implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.
Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.
Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.
When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.
We all carry a certain amount of emotional baggage. Often that baggage impacts our relationships before they even start. How can that be?
If you find yourself attracted to person after person who, it turns out, is emotionally or otherwise unavailable, then any “relationship” you believe you are engaged in is doomed from the start. For example, if you are attracted to someone who is in a committed relationship then in point of fact you may not be attracted to them but rather to their relationship status. Why? Someone who is already in a relationship is in no position to decide to take their relationship with you to the next step. If you are still attracted to them the truth may be that you find them to be “safe” because they won’t ask you for a real commitment. Many people in these scenarios begin to panic when it looks like their committed boyfriend or girlfriend might leave their partner, to the point where suddenly they aren’t attracted to them any longer!
The same is true for people who are emotionally unavailable. If you are with someone who never tells you they care about you, or who never tells you anything of any depth about themselves, or who seems relatively disinterested in you, you may actually be attracted to their emotional unavailability. You may not be ready or able to be open to anyone else and so might unconsciously be looking for someone who is in the same boat. The problem is that when either you or the other person start to get healthier and actually want an emotionally intimate relationship, the other person is likely to run away.
In the end, if you are really looking for any kind of relationship at all, you would be best to start with someone who is available on all levels. That’s not asking a lot.