Afraid of causing problems to others

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    The Ruminant

    I am disproportionally afraid of doing something wrong and angering people.

    Couple of stories to illustrate what I’m talking about:

    When I was a child, around 9-10 years old, I was playing around in my classroom with the other children. We were throwing a ball around, and in general doing something I think we weren’t supposed to be doing. Our clay sculptures were drying at the back of the class and I threw the ball and it hit one of the sculptures and broke it. It belonged to this one boy who never really talked and didn’t really have a lot of friends. When he saw it, he got angry and I felt really bad for ruining his sculpture. Yet, I panicked and didn’t just apologize on the spot to him, partly because I somehow felt that being nice to boys was an invitation to be bullied and being nice to a boy who wasn’t terribly popular was like a gate to social hell. I can’t remember what I did or how I handled it (or rather, didn’t handle it), but I started to be afraid that he would tell the teachers and that I would be punished. I felt like I had committed a crime. The boy never said anything and probably let go of the incident a lot faster than I did…since it haunted me for around 2-3 years! Every time the boy opened his mouth, I was afraid that he’d tell what I had done. Sometimes I was stressed to go to school and when summer came around, I was relieved to know that I was “safe” for a while. It didn’t take over my life, but it was always there at the back of my mind and the way I responded to the guilt really was unreasonable. I think I still feel guilty for what I did, even if it was an accident, but I feel bad for not telling him that I was sorry, as he seemed so hurt.

    Yesterday for the first time in a very, very long time, I contacted some of my friends and logged into Facebook again. I had been living under the radar for about couple of years or so. What happened? Well, things in my life were rather difficult and somehow I managed to mess things up more and more all the time. I knew it was me who did the wrong things, but I was unable to change. Then a friend of mine asked me to create this website for his friend who had just started a company. I agreed and made promises to the man. Things had gotten difficult and I was escaping more and more, and that included mail and bills, and as a result my phone got cut off. I sought peace from escapism and online and found someone to talk to and spent the next couple of weeks mostly being into that. Every morning I said to myself that I would check my e-mail and start the work, but I procrastinated. Then I finally read my e-mails and found three from the man, starting with “so when can you start the work?” escalating into him basically threatening me. I completely collapsed, I was so afraid. I was unable to speak and was just in a shock. I knew that I had done something wrong and I had made a person very angry with my inaction. I started to fix the situation by calling him and he was kind of surprised by how dramatic I was being. I created the website for him and then I just disappeared. From everyone. I knew that if I were to contact someone, then my friend would hear about it, who was the friend of the man with the website. I was physically afraid of reading my e-mails and talking to people, as I was expecting them to be angry with me. I didn’t stop interacting with all people. Just with pretty much all of my friends.

    I don’t know how much damage and hurt I’ve caused others with this, which is kind of ironic. I do realize that I partly procrastinate and do other not so great things because I’m afraid that I mess up and get yelled at, yet if I don’t do things, I’m afraid that I get yelled at. So I become stuck. I wasn’t able to pinpoint what exactly went wrong for me before, but then this morning it became more clear, even though not completely. I simply am not equipped to handle guilt and I take it way more seriously than I should. To me it equals complete betrayal of other human beings, and it’s not just a mistake that I’ve made.

    I’m not afraid of people yelling or being angry, if they’re not angry towards me or if I know that I haven’t done anything wrong. So to me it’s clearly the combination of guilt and fear of the punishment; it’s like a primal fear of being cast out of my tribe because of my wrongdoings. As you can see, my idea of wrongdoings might be different to others’. I see other people doing much more questionable things and they don’t feel the guilt. Interestingly, I don’t judge them. I have several friends who have been on the wrong side of the law or have questionable ethics and while I don’t approve what they’re doing, I don’t judge them. Yet, I’m incredibly hard towards myself.

    I grew up in a rather dramatic household and I often escaped to my dreams and fantasies. Dissociation from reality was my way of coping with things. Both of my parents lacked relationship skills. My father was an alcoholic who often got angry and a bit aggressive, though not violent. My mother doesn’t like intimacy and has a rather selective memory. I wouldn’t say she’s emotionally cold, but she doesn’t show any kind of affection. I’m still confused when someone is affectionate towards me. I don’t know how to react and I don’t understand why they are being so nice to me. I often witnessed my parents fighting and it was scary, because I was afraid that I’ll lose them and I’ll lose my home. I have always craved safety, yet has come to realise that it’s a feeling, not a status quo that can be reached at some point and from then on it’s smooth sailing.

    I’ve healed a lot during the time I was away from my friends, so that’s good. I think I had managed to create several codependent relationships and to be cut off from those allowed me to focus on myself. I didn’t realize that this was another huge sore spot for me. Just the thought of being of inconvenience to others so that they get mad at me puts me into a state of anxiety. That triggers my need to escape reality and that in turn causes me to stop doing things, which doesn’t help, but just makes things even worse.

    I wish that someone would be able to look at this situation and offer another perspective or insight. I don’t think I can see things so clearly, because when I think about it, my heart rate starts to go up and I become fearful.

    Thank you for reading.

    P.S. I’m going to meet that friend of mine, who asked me to do the website, this Saturday for the first time in years. I wanted to meet him first. I don’t think he realizes what I’ve been obsessing about over the course of the time I was “missing” and how scared I was. I am going to tell him, but I don’t have the proper words yet.



    I’m sorry for your suffering, and can understand why guilt is so difficult for you to settle. You have kind of a perfect storm for that: codependency patterns with a high amount of empathy. So, not only do your actions carry with them a lot of emotional weight, being very sensitive, but you also take responsibility for the emotions of others. A few things came to heart as I read your words.

    Consider that when we are in pain, the space in our brain collapses, and we become enmeshed or entangled in the events. When you broke the sculpture, the shock and horror of the possible futures was too much to bear, for such a young heart, and so your mind just stared, feared. So, instead of “oops, I’m so sorry”, it was social hell, detention, the silent kid’s pain, oh my god whywhywhy, and so forth. Your brain was stuck, dead end, no way out. What a terrible burden for a child to bear, and for so long.

    Stepping back (actually inward) a little, consider that it really is a matter of feeling safe, so you can be patient with yourself, your actions, and the responses of others. Because your self esteem is low, however, it is difficult to be patient and apologize, make amends for your actions. If they told you that you were unlovable, perhaps your heart would break. So, to protect yourself from that, you hide. You imagine. You fantisize. Perhaps you pick up the stick for the loner child, and beat yourself up for the pain you caused. Perhaps you pick up the stick and beat yourself up for the procrastination on the website. Perhaps you even think that imagining a worst case scenario makes you somehow more prepared, more capable.

    Mu! False! Wrong! Consider a different approach. The entanglement, the fear… rises because of a decrease in your self confidence. This happens normally when we become over stressed, and is also more of a “status quo” byproduct of parents in an addict/codependent connection. Said differently, you perhaps feel like your heart can’t take the pain of being authentic, apologizing for the wrongs you’ve done, accepting your mistakes, accepting the frustration others have for you. This is normal, usual, and completely workable.

    The solution is actually far simpler than you’re making it out to be. Spend time being kind to yourself, and learn boundaries. Consider picking up Pia Melody’s books on codependency, which is a very down to earth step by step guide to both self nurturing and boundaries. She even has a workbook that you can use to track and reshape, reparent, and find your authentic tune.

    Considered that strong empathy is a shining gift, but until you learn to grow some roots into your light, it feels more like a curse. Basically, it can leave you feeling like an emotional victim, bouncing around from fear and uncomfortableness, rising and falling based on what visions come to mind, or situations come into your life. This is why finding your home, your safety, your tenderness and gentleness is so important. You have such a radiant heart, such a powerful and fluid love, that as you do grow some roots, find some equanimity and patience, the ruminant will evolve into the radiant.

    If you’re resistant to reading Melody’s work, consider at least starting a metta meditation practice. Metta (loving kindness) is such a helpful thing for the mind to engage in, it is like emotional fiber. It helps clear out the left over crap stinking up your bowels, so you can be free, light, buoyant. As we spend time wishing for happiness, thinking about happiness (for ourselves and others), over time we grow that happiness. Then, the situations pass right through us, without staining us, cankering in the mind.

    Our heart and mind becomes fresh, smooth, detached… prepared to comfort that little boy with the broken sculpture and the little girl who goofed her throw. They both deserve happiness, freedom from the pain that accompanied that event. So, we can take them in our arms, and sing to them, rock them to sleep, help them see how loved and safe they are, how mistakes happen and it sucks, but it will be OK. The little boy, tense and angry, feeling alone, uncared for perhaps, in our arms, rocking him back and forth, telling him we’re sorry for his anger, for the loss of his art, his pride. Feeling his muscles unwind, relaxing, letting go, ready to take another shot at building some art. Then, taking the little girl in our arms, and rocking her to comfort. Such a heavy fear for a mistake, her just wanting to have fun, play the game, be included, find home… then suffering from such a shock, with so much fear. We can feel her muscles unwinding as we gently hold her, giving her our love and understanding, helping her see that she is lovable, mistakes and all, no danger, just growth. Just trying to be loved and find joy, and tripping up along the way. Normal, usual, forgivable, safe.

    With warmth,

    The Ruminant

    Thank you, Matt. I wasn’t sure if the codependency was a factor in this, so it was good that you pointed that out. I can’t see this particular situation clearly, because I get too emotional and anxious. It’s frustrating, because I’m aware of the problem, but I feel like I’m unable to stop myself.

    I have been working on my codependency issues for the past couple of years and have made some great progress. I have stopped taking responsibility for other people’s emotions most of the time. I have studied and practiced being more centered and having healthy boundaries and I’m doing great under most circumstances. However, there are certain things that clearly still work as triggers. Romantic intimacy is one and the possibility of angering or annoying other people is another one. Those cause something which I think is what they call an “amygdala hijack”, where I’m no longer in control of my mind and body, and I just panic. It is under these stressful situations when I revert back to my old, immature ways of handling situations and completely forget what I have learned.

    I’m open to all forms of therapy and self-help. I do have some of Pia Melody’s books on my wish list in Amazon, but for some reason I haven’t felt like they were the ones for me. I shall re-evaluate this. I’m also very interested in different forms of meditation, so I shall look into Metta. I have been to Al-Anon meetings, which have been really helpful. In general, it’s so much easier to see the problems when you see and hear other people struggling with the same things. I can see it in them, even when I can’t see it in myself, but I know that I’m struggling with similar issues. For that reason I’ve found this place extremely helpful as well and by trying to give advice to others, I’m simultaneously helping myself.

    Thank you.

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