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Is my friend abusing me?

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  • #408083
    Caroline
    Participant

    Anita,

    I never noticed that earlier. I started noticing it later, that our whole friendship was based on the fact that I listened to him and I used to help him a lot. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think we would ever be “friends” – not sure how to call it, now I don’t think it was friendship at all, it was his benefiting from my passiveness and people pleasing.

    Thank you for pointing that out.

    For the past days I’ve been thinking a lot about your posts, your insights, about how he behaved and how I suffered and was afraid. I did not even describe his other issues like bursting out on me or other people, how I was afraid to ask what was his floor number (he moved to a new place and I used to forget all the time) and just wandered around the building in hope I would recognize it somehow (I knew I could not ask him if he already had told me this once, because he will scold me)…. how I was afraid to say hi to my neighbor passing by, because my not-friend was talking to me at the time and implicated he would not stop so that so I could say hi, so I didn’t 🙁 I ignored my neighbor and his dog because I was afraid and knew I had to maintain eye contact so that he sees I am listening to him, although he clearly saw I was looking and smiling and wanted to say hi… or how he once told me someone sent him wishes and I asked what was the occasion and he scolded me that I did not know what it was (Easter coming in few days). Today, after a week since my message to him, and two weeks after his “escalation” I feel weird. Free and happy but also sad that I was abused and did not realize that, I was just trying to survive, walking on eggshells, avoiding asking stupid questions, or doing anything that would piss him off, but it was still not possible entirely to avoid it. Cleaning my place before he came, feeding my cat before so that she would not jump on the table because then he would see that my cat eats on the kitchen table and would be disgusted by it. I once borrowed his t-shirt because I needed something to wrap the computer while going to work from home and I washed it 3 times because there was cat hair on it. He once sneezed (at his place, not mine) and accused me of bringing cat hair to his place, and that I was the reason he sneezed. When I was at his place he used to order me to wash my hands after I touched something.

    And still after what he did two weeks ago I posted asking “Is my FRIEND abusing me?”

    I feel really sad and cheerless.

    Thank you Anita again for your time, for being here.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend 🙂

    #408095
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Caroline:

    Thank you for wishing me a wonderful weekend and I hope that by the time you are reading this, you don’t feel as sad and cheerless as when you submitted your post, almost 5 hours ago. I hope that you don’t feel badly about referring to him as your friend. I want to reply further when I am more focused, tomorrow morning (in about 12 hours from now).

    anita

    #408098
    Caroline
    Participant

    Anita,

    Yes it is getting better, thank you. Thinking about how to set boundaries in relationships with people so that it won’t happen again. I think it is easier when people are not evil. I will definitely be careful although I know a few nice people and I don’t think they would act this way, I think there is mutual respect there (except for my family but as I mentioned some of them I do not talk to anymore and some of them I meet for the minimum time during the year).

     

    #408104
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Caroline:

    I re-read some of our communication so to be better prepared for this reply. A few things I noticed:

    About your extended family, you wrote: “grandparents or uncles never talked to us, was never interested in asking me anything… they just rejected (me)”. About your male work colleague (previously referred to as a friend), you wrote: “I have to admit there is a success, my ex-friend was very polite to me today in front of other people, he even asked me questions“-

    – do you notice the parallels: your grandparents and uncles never talked to you, never asked you any questions, rejected you in front of the whole extended family; they were clearly not polite to you at all. So, when your work colleague was very polite, on that one day, in front of other people, asking you questions- that felt extra special, positively special, because it was very different from the opposite treatment you received as a child.

    It felt like a SUCCESS because this is what you wanted growing up and onward: to be treated well, and you tried (and failed) to make it happen. When your work colleague treated you well, you felt like you made it happen, that it was your personal success!

    my mom started being ashamed of me…she naturally thought her child was inferior.. .. But I don’t think my dad was ashamed of me. He did not care that much, he even stood up for me sometimes“- your mother as well as the extended family rejected you, which means that they also did not stand up for you, except for your father who sometimes stood up for you.

    Now I don’t think it was friendship at all, it was his benefiting from my passiveness and people pleasing“- I think that being passive and people-pleasing is how you tried to survive and to change your extended family’s rejecting behavior: if you are passive, if you do nothing- there’s less to reject;  if you please them- maybe they’ll think better of you and treat you better (or at least, they won’t treat you even worse).

    I was afraid to ask what was his floor number… I knew I could not ask him if he already had told me this once, because he will scold me…  I ignored my neighbor and his dog because I was afraid and knew I had to maintain eye contact so that he sees I am listening to him… he once told me someone sent him wishes and I asked what was the occasion and he scolded me that I did not know what it was (Easter coming in few days)“- Mr. Right (work colleague) was eager to let Ms. Wrong (Caroline)  know that she is indeed Wrong. By treating you as Wrong, he awakened and maintained your craving and eagerness to change his opinion and his treatment of you from rejecting to accepting, from impolite to polite.

    * As to his motivation, what did he get out of treating you this way? My guess is that it tickles him, he enjoys it.

    Today, after a week since my message to him, and two weeks after his ‘escalation’ I feel weird. Free and happy but also sad that I was abused and did not realize that, I was just trying to survive, walking on eggshells, avoiding asking stupid questions, or doing anything that would piss him off“- your work colleague is like any one of the family members who rejected and abused you growing up. Your reaction to him is the same as your reaction to your rejecting family members: (1) “just trying to survive, walking on eggshells”, etc., so to not  piss them off, so that they don’t treat you even worse, and (2) ambitiously trying to change their opinion and treatment of you from rejecting and impolite =>  accepting and polite.

    * In regard to your work colleague:  if he acted politely toward you all the time, he wouldn’t enjoy himself, it wouldn’t be fun or interesting for him. As I see it, there is no emotional motivation on his part to be consistently nice and polite to you.

    I will definitely be careful although I know a few nice people and I don’t think they would act this way“- yes, there are nice people, imperfect but nice. Resolve to only have nice people in the personal settings of your life (often people can’t choose the people in their work setting).

    I visit my mom’s family once in 5 months for birthday parties. I do not feel I belong to any of the families…I think there is mutual respect there (except for my family, but as I mentioned some of them I do not talk to anymore and some of them I meet for the minimum time during the year)“-a single visit with family members who reject you, is one visit too many. Any such visit (including the anticipation and aftermath of each visit) serves to maintain your childhood trauma and your reactions to it (the mental Freeze Response we talked about, the passivity, walking on eggshells etc.)

    It has been overwhelmed at work lately. Since I thought my coworkers may think I am dishonest, I get anxiety every day and feel like a fraud“- I still don’t quite understand your worry about being thought of as dishonest and a fraud. Growing up, did you feel like your rejecting family members, including your mother, thought of you as dishonest and a fraud… and/ or did you feel like this because your behavior was passive and people-pleasing, but inside you (understandably) felt angry, very angry perhaps?

    anita

    #408228
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Caroline,

    it’s great that you understood, with anita’s help, that he indeed was abusing you, and that you took steps to protect yourself from him in the future. What you wrote about in your last post – all the measures you took not to upset him (feeding your cat before he visited, not greeting a neighbor while he was talking to you, etc) – was basically appeasing a bully.

    It’s also called the fawn response (the term was coined by a psychotherapist Pete Walker). It’s the fourth response to trauma, the first three being fight, flight or freeze. You can read about it in the article “The Beginner’s Guide to Trauma Responses” on healthline dot com.

    Here is an excerpt from the article:

    This response, which he [Pete Walker] termed “fawning”, offers an alternate path to safety. You escape harm, in short, by learning to please the person threatening you and keep them happy.

    You might learn to fawn, for example, to please a narcissistically defended parent, or one whose behavior you couldn’t predict.

    Giving up your personal boundaries and limits in childhood may have helped minimize abuse, but this response tends to linger into adulthood, where it often drives codependency or people-pleasing tendencies.

    It seems to me that you were trying to appease your “friend”, so he wouldn’t criticize you, attack you or bully you. You did it by staying quiet and listening to his hour-long monologues, and doing all the other things you mentioned above.

    You say:

    Today, after a week since my message to him, and two weeks after his “escalation” I feel weird. Free and happy but also sad that I was abused and did not realize that, I was just trying to survive, walking on eggshells, avoiding asking stupid questions, or doing anything that would piss him off, but it was still not possible entirely to avoid it. … I feel really sad and cheerless.

    It’s understandable that realizing how he treated you, and that you endured it for so long, causes sadness and grief. Pete Walker says this about recovery from the fawn response:

    “this work involves a considerable amount of grieving. Typically this entails many tears about the loss and pain of being so long without healthy self-interest and self-protective skills. Grieving also tends to unlock healthy anger about a life lived with such a diminished sense of self. This anger can then be worked into recovering a healthy fight-response that is the basis of the instinct of self-protection, of balanced assertiveness, and of the courage that will be needed in the journey of creating relationships based on equality and fairness.”

    You say:

    Thinking about how to set boundaries in relationships with people so that it won’t happen again. I think it is easier when people are not evil. I will definitely be careful although I know a few nice people and I don’t think they would act this way, I think there is mutual respect there (except for my family but as I mentioned some of them I do not talk to anymore and some of them I meet for the minimum time during the year).

    Yes, in your recovery from the fawn response you will need to set up boundaries so that other people cannot abuse you and disrespect you. The best would be not to keep in touch with people who you know will disrespect you and treat you poorly. Best is not to expose yourself to unnecessary humiliation, unless you can stand firm and call out those people on their rude behavior.

     

    #408281
    Caroline
    Participant

    Anita,

    Yes I can see the parallels: I was walking on eggshells around my coworker just like I did with my family who rejected me. I never thought of that this way, that this is behavior that started years ago, the pattern I did not invent last year with him, It is something I used to practice most of my life at family gatherings, but also with my mom on daily basis as well as I saw her behavior towards her partner later after my parent’s divorce. Lately when I told my mom about this coworker she told me it reminds her of her ex-partner.. I think I saw too much of fawn response in my life.  Thank you for making me see that this is not a success that he is “polite” to me now, even today when he was extremely polite I know he does not do it for me. He is a performer, a narcissist, he does this to feel superior, to make me feel that is he now acting superior by showing me how merciful and wonderful he is, being polite to me. I know he is a rude person and nothing will change that. I am okay with this and I am happy I walked away from him (His work behavior does not impact me – I work from home, when we do a project together we just send e-mails, I do not worry about this, but still thinking of changing job in the future)

     

    ” I think that being passive and people-pleasing is how you tried to survive and to change your extended family’s rejecting behavior: if you are passive, if you do nothing- there’s less to reject;  if you please them- maybe they’ll think better of you and treat you better (or at least, they won’t treat you even worse).” i re-read this time and time again and trying to fully comprehend this. This describes my life so well.

    “* As to his motivation, what did he get out of treating you this way? My guess is that it tickles him, he enjoys it.” – Now I understand it. He has been working at home for few months but came back to the office? Why? No one knows. Almost everyone work from home, except for those who do not have space for computer at home or have children, or live very nearby and appreciate morning walk. Except for those people no one wants to commute everyday. He does because he needs people, needs audience. He is friends with cleaning lady, 50ish lady who listens to him, is polite, does not argue with him and looks up to him because impresses her. Even when he has days off he calls her to talk. I now know he needs her, I know how this sounds but I am pretty sure this is one of the reasons.

    “* In regard to your work colleague:  if he acted politely toward you all the time, he wouldn’t enjoy himself, it wouldn’t be fun or interesting for him. As I see it, there is no emotional motivation on his part to be consistently nice and polite to you.” That’s all I needed really and now I know there is no way we can even be anything more than people who work together.

    “Resolve to only have nice people in the personal settings of your life” Thank you Anita, I will try my best to do that.

    As for my family I am aware it is not healthy. I see how my mom visits her mother and still plays this game and I don’t like that. I even told her recently that what happened to me is the result of the family dynamic. But she has her reasons, does not want to argue etc. But I think it still affects me, the fact that she is still doing this.

    “I still don’t quite understand your worry about being thought of as dishonest and a fraud.” Anita, thank you for trying to understand and I am sorry if I did not explain it properly. With two of my coworkers, a guy and a girl we sometimes talk, we like each other. They do not seem to like him. But they know he used to say we were friends etc, skipped the part that we did not see each other for couple years. (Sorry if I am repeating myself) One of the colleagues, M. asked me last week “could you make sure you don’t mention any of the jokes we make sometimes to G. (G. being my ex friend, the bully)”. We do not gossip about him but once or twice sometimes would make a joke. I felt like I was accused of being dishonest.  I was yet about to tell M. that we are no longer friends. But still I was concerned that he would doubt my honesty. So I texted him later that day that there is no friendship anymore between me and G. and I do not wish to be connected with him in any way besides work. there is no drama here, just end of friendship and I want it to stay that way. He replied Ok, good to know, thanks for clarifying. But I still worry he may think him and I will make up. Today I was obsessing about how little they spoke to me and I was afraid they do not like me or trust me anymore because I was his friend.

     

    Tee,

    Thank you for pointing out “the fawn response” I relate to this so much. Giving up your personal boundaries and limits in childhood may have helped minimize abuse, but this response tends to linger into adulthood, where it often drives codependency or people-pleasing tendencies. Unfortunately this is my life. I do not have boundaries and people walk over me. I show them I do not respect myself. Even when talking in a group I noticed everyone talks confidently, calmly and slowly and I speak fast, afraid someone will cut me off, I always try to say something fast like a kid who is not allowed to speak so it just says something, anything and immediately shuts up. I always try to remember to be more confident and speak like a normal person, but I can’t. I think people notice that and start to not respect me when they see I have no confidence. I don’t know how to change that. I know boundaries are important and to not freeze, to not fawn, but what is the point when I can’t even have the simple conversation. Sometimes I feel like I’m crawling. degrading. I try to watch videos about how to speak, how to behave but when I talk to someone I suddenly forget how to do it.

    I’m afraid those who like me now will soon stop respecting me and it will be over.

    “Grieving also tends to unlock healthy anger about a life lived with such a diminished sense of self. This anger can then be worked into recovering a healthy fight-response that is the basis of the instinct of self-protection, of balanced assertiveness, and of the courage that will be needed in the journey of creating relationships based on equality and fairness.”

    “Yes, in your recovery from the fawn response you will need to set up boundaries so that other people cannot abuse you and disrespect you.”-

    I will really, really try hard  to accomplish that, thank you for this, Tee.

    And you, Anita.

    #408282
    Caroline
    Participant

    Thank you both for helping me, I think it really took a toll. It’s happiness and relief mixed with no hope for the future. But I will still try, I know that. I think I need to read more how to change myself.

    I see people who had happy, respectful families and you can see it in their eyes, in their behavior.  I will never have that. I’m ashamed of going to therapy. but recently I am thinking about it.

    I would like to thank both of you with a song, not sure if you enjoy it but I’m hoping you would.

    The song is Beth Orton – Arms Around a Memory.

    Take care 🙂

    #408291
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Caroline:

    I read your three posts and will reply further in the morning (in about 14 hours from now). For now, I want to say: your lack of confidence, low self-esteem… this is how I used to feel and behave in real-life. I am still practicing a new, confident, I-am-no-less-than-anyone  behavior that involves really feeling equal to others (not any less). I used to always be cautious around people, always ready to let them know… that I know that I am inferior, so that.. they’ll go easy on me, so that they won’t hurt me too much.

    I changed and I keep changing, and you can too!

    anita

    anita

    #408292
    anita
    Participant

    *Ooops, sorry for the second me (it happens when I sign out, then re-read what I wrote, edit it and.. forget that I already signed out).

     

    #408300
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Caroline,

    you are very welcome.

    It’s happiness and relief mixed with no hope for the future. I see people who had happy, respectful families and you can see it in their eyes, in their behavior.  I will never have that.

    I am sorry that seeing things as they are caused you so much grief. Please do not fall into despair, because there is so much hope for the future, now that you know what the main problem is. You can still build happy, mutually respectful relationships, even if this wasn’t possible in your family of origin. Things can change, you are only 32 years old and an entire life is ahead of you!

    I think at some point my mom started being ashamed of me. Not sure why, I think I was a normal child, she had some issues of her own, was not feeling confident, pretty or loved so she naturally thought her child was inferior too. I often felt that, she was afraid I was going to look not pretty, someone would comment on my appearance (I had acne) and she immediately was downcast.

    My mom’s family never liked me, my dad or my mom. We use to go there for holidays etc but grandparents or uncles never talked to us, was never interested in asking me anything. They did not like my dad because they thought he was drunk. They just rejected him and us, that’s all what they did.

    So this is what I think has happened: your mother never felt loved by her own mother (My mom’s family never liked me, my dad or my mom.) Because of that, she felt ashamed of herself. She transferred that shame onto you, when she became ashamed of you as well. You were a normal, healthy child, but for her, you were a potential source of shame. That’s why she saw your acne as a potential source of shame for her, in front of her family. It’s not just that she felt defective, but she also felt that you – her offspring – was defective and not good enough for her family.

    So she exposed you to huge amounts of toxic shame, which you absorbed of course, because that’s what children do. But please note that there was NO REASON for her to be ashamed of you. She was ashamed of you only because she was ashamed of HERSELF. No other reason, there was nothing wrong about you!

    Luckily, your father didn’t shame you and even stood up for you a few times, so that helped a little. But not in a major way, since the overwhelming message you received in your childhood is: “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

    You got this message not only from your mother, both also from your mother’s family, and from your father’s family. And each time you visited, this message was reinforced.

    Unfortunately, your mother is still visiting her mother and still taking the shaming and the lesser treatment without saying a word: I see how my mom visits her mother and still plays this game and I don’t like that.

    I even told her recently that what happened to me is the result of the family dynamic. But she has her reasons, does not want to argue etc. But I think it still affects me, the fact that she is still doing this.

    You see that well – it does affect you, but most importantly, it affected you immensely while you were growing up.

    Luckily, there is a way out. In order to counter the toxic message you received in your childhood (that “You should be ashamed of yourself”), you need to start telling yourself: “There is nothing wrong with me. I deserve to be treated with respect!

    Of course, you won’t be able to do it overnight, but start befriending yourself with this new message. You should have heard it in your childhood, but it’s never too late – you can “deprogram” your old programming and start anew!

    And thank you for the song by Beth Orton! These verses seem quite pertinent:

    Once that I saw how to see
    All of your love was looking back at me
    It was hard not to full fill the prophecy we’d always been

    Once that you see what happened in your childhood, you can start feeling love for yourself, and fulfill the prophecy that you have always been: a beautiful, worthy and deserving human being!

     

    #408321
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Caroline:

    “He does this to feel superioracting superior by showing me how merciful and wonderful he is, being polite to me”- the ….Superior one showing mercy to the Inferior one?

    “He needs people, needs audience. He is friends with cleaning lady, 50ish lady who listens to him, is polite, does not argue with him and looks up to him because impresses her. Even when he has days off he calls her to talk. I now know he needs her”- he needs her to look up to him, so that he can feel Superior.

    “My coworkers, a guy (M) and a girl.. they know (G) used to say we were friends… I texted (M) later that day that there is no friendship anymore between me and G…. But I still worry (M) may think (G) and I will make up”- it is as if what The Superior one (G) says is.. superior to what the alleged Inferior one says, and therefore what he says is believable and powerful, and what you say.. is not believable and weak…?

    “Unfortunately this is my life. I do not have boundaries and people walk over me. I show them I do not respect myself. Even when talking in a group I noticed everyone talks confidently, calmly and slowly and I speak fast…  like a kid who is not allowed to speak… I think people notice that and start to not respect me when they see I have no confidence… Sometimes I feel like I’m crawling. degrading“-

    -in the animal world, when a predator (ex. cougar) approaches potential prey (ex. opossum): there are only 3 options for the potential prey: Fight, Flight or Freeze. There is no predator-pleasing behaviors (akin to people-pleasing) in the predator-prey context because such would be akin to volunteering oneself to be the predator’s dinner, sooner than later.

    Animal-pleasing behaviors (akin to people-pleasing behaviors) happen in the context of social  animals living in social groups where one individual threatens another individual of the same species, within the group with physical injury or death. The aggressor is not a predator: it doesn’t want to eat the one threatened, it only wants to subdue it. Therefore, when the one threatened acts weak, small, submissive and pleasing-to-the-aggressor, the aggressor is satisfied and withdraws the aggressive threat for the time being.  This happens in the context of social animals who live in social groups, such as elk, deer, wolves, coyotes, chimpanzees and humans.

    A submissive chimpanzee submits by crouching (bending the knees and moving the upper body forward) bowing (lowering the torso and head), so to appear shorter and smaller in front of the aggressor, having a fear grin on its face and sometimes it  whimpers.  A submissive wolf submits by lying on its back and exposing its sensitive underbelly, or staying low to the ground, appearing smaller, weaker. A dominant wolf does the opposite: standing tall, appearing strong! A submissive dog will lower its head, lie down, making its body looking smaller, hiding, avoid eye contact, etc.

    Dominance hierarchy is a form of animal social structure where each animal is dominant over those below it and submissive to those above it in the hierarchy. A dominance hierarchy serves to maintain order in the social group and therefore, it promotes the survival and well-being of the individuals within the group: it has a positive value. Even in human society there is positive value to dominance hierarchy when it comes to such contexts as the family (parents need to be dominant over children, although not abusively of course), and the work place (without appropriate dominance, there will be very limited, if any productivity).

    BUT in too many human contexts a dominance hierarchy has no positive value, and only a negative value: it lowers productivity, and it lowers the well-being of the individuals within the group. For example, your past submission to G kept you mentally unwell and it kept him.. well, unwell too. No winner, really.

    In the dynamics between the Superior/ dominant individual and the Inferior/ submissive individual (of the same species), the individual seeking superiority and dominance does not really want to fight because he/ she/ it may lose the fight and/ or get injured. It wants to AVOID a fight by threatening the other from a distance. If he/she/it is successful and the threatened one submits, that’s a personal win for the aggressor without bothering with actual, physical aggression. It is my belief that in the human every day context, when it comes to aggressors like G,  If the threatened one does not submit, the aggressor will most often withdraw and rarely fight.

    I will stop here and if/ whenever you want to respond to this post, please do.

    anita

    #408322
    Caroline
    Participant

    Anita, I am letting you know that I have read both your posts and I am giving myself time to think this through, as usual. I think it works for me better when I give myself time. I want to fully comprehend it and refer to what you wrote. I hope it’s Ok with you. Take care and have a great day/night.

    #408323
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Caroline:

    Thank you for your note, it is kind of you to post it for me. Please do take all the time that you need, and take care of yourself!

    anita

    #408324
    Caroline
    Participant

    Anita, thank you for understanding. Take care.

     

    Tee,

    thank you for the message and kind words. So much new and useful information to me. I will respond to it once I give myself some time. It has been overwhelming but I am spending a lot of time (maybe too much) thinking about it. But I know I need to.

    #408326
    Tee
    Participant

    Dear Caroline,

    you are welcome. Sure, take as much time as you need. Be easy on yourself – you don’t have to figure it all out immediately. Maybe some things I’ve said resonate, and others don’t. Take only that what resonates with you. And as anita said, take good care of yourself, practice self-care, lots of compassion and empathy for yourself. Talk to you later!

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