Hiding in the Silences

I made a previous post about one kind of silence in an abusive relationship, and today I’m thinking about a different kind.

Jack had surgery today. It was a minor outpatient procedure, the second time he’d had it done, and we showed up at the hospital at 7:30 and were done just after noon. This is the third time since April 2010 that I’ve found myself sitting alone in a hospital waiting room. This time was easy. Back in September, when it was over eight nerve-wracking hours while he had brain surgery – that was hard. And yet it never occurred to me to ask anyone to come wait with me. When his mother volunteered to fly out from the East Coast, I told her no. (Honestly, I’m not sad that I did that; the last thing I really needed was the additional stress of a houseguest.)

This morning, sitting alone in a waiting room crowded with families, it occurred to me that this is leftover from years of emotional abuse.

Growing up, I learned that asking for help meant getting in trouble, and showing emotional vulnerability meant opening myself up for ridicule. This is part of what committing to emotional honesty is undoing: teaching myself that it’s okay to feel things, and it’s okay to tell people. It’s easy to be emotionally honest with Jack; inside the safe space of our relationship, I’m never afraid to not be okay. But emotional honesty is also about asking for help from other people, and that’s something I’m still struggling with. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone. I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want people to hold it against me. And then the residue from Isabel pops up.

Isabel was convinced that everyone was talking badly about her, and it bothered her well past the point of sense. This meant that you could never say anything less than glowing about her to anyone, and heaven help you if you did and she found out. So I learned, once more, that telling people that something was wrong just meant getting in trouble. She also reinforced the idea that my feelings weren’t important and no one would care about them through a mixture of ignoring, belittling, and – her favorite trick – telling me that I was “stealing” her feelings. She had an incredible knack for figuring out what was upsetting me and telling me that it was actually upsetting HER (even when it made absolutely no sense for her to feel this way), and therefore if I claimed to be feeling the same way, I was taking something from her. This happened virtually every time I tried to tell her how I was feeling about something. (Understand that she also claimed to be an empath and fervently denied the possibility that I might be one – but there’s no way that she could possibly be picking up on my emotions. Of course not.)

This is a lot more rambling than I intended it to be, but what it comes down to is that I have a very hard time asking people for support. It’s something that I’m actively working on – this blog, obviously, is one way – but I still get tripped up.

Why is asking for help so hard?

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~ by Amber on January 19, 2011.

6 Responses to “Hiding in the Silences”

  1. Man, I never know what to say on your posts because they’re all eloquent and shit.

    It’s easy to get isolated, I think, especially when you’re taking care of someone else. You do this thing where, since I’m the one in actual pain, you focus on my needs perhaps to the exclusion of your own. And you don’t need to do that. ❤

    • Like I said to you last night, I think it has to do with my definition of “need” being very focused. A need is something that you can’t do without. I can do without help and support from people who are not you… so I don’t ask for it. Because I don’t need it. What I need (ha!) to process is the fact that I deserve to have more than just my needs met. Getting my wants met is okay too.

  2. +1 to Jack’s comment. I always want to say something but never feel like I’ve got the words for it.

    It always makes me sick when I hear about the things Isabel did to you – you’re a sweet person and I may not have gotten to know you guys very well, but I really and genuinely liked you. Which is more than I can say for her – I had a long talk with Jaqui about it after I finally met Isabel, and I realised that I felt very much like I was being confronted with a predator in a realm where I am very vulnerable (emotions and spirituality and other intangible things), and it made me… very uncomfortable around her. Which of course I tried (and probably succeeded) to never show because showing weakness to a predator is not exactly smart.

    I continue to be deeply glad that you and Jack got out of that situation – I don’t want to know what it might have done to you both had you not. Storm damage is hard to repair.

  3. I ditto the never knowing what to say because of the eloquence and all that. You have a gift.

    But this… I don’t know. I grew up with a similar idea, that asking for help was a sign of weakness. I got the idea it usually meant I did something wrong, so I would get in trouble for it. Mistakes weren’t tolerated, nor were any feelings but loud, brusque, righteous things. And they had to agree with Father very, very exactly or they were truly Wrong.

    More than that, though, I value my independence. I value my privacy in a crowd, my anonymity. Sometimes, at least. I can be an attention whore with the best of them other times, but there is no bliss like being able to be comfortably alone? Sometimes that’s the only way I can really get at my own needs and fulfill them. Because if anyone else is in “the pack,” I tend to take whatever is going on with them in to account first–or try to. Being a party of one is easier. I’ve just finally learned it’s not that healthy. Being a proud loner has hurt me in the past more than I wish to admit, and calling on others properly is totally my lesson right now.

    … So if I get an answer to why it’s so hard, I’ll let you know? =/

    • Thank you for sharing that. I think that growing up in an emotionally abusive household teaches you that your emotional needs are not ever going to get met, and asking for help/support just makes you vulnerable – and vulnerability gets you attacked, over and over. Meanwhile, if you do it yourself, and you fail, nobody finds out right away, and you may be able to fix it or do it correctly before anyone notices. What I (we?) need to learn is that not everyone is going to attack me/us for being vulnerable, and that other people actively do want to help and are pleased for the opportunity to do so. (You know how you like to help others? Other people like that too! If you let them help, it makes them happy too!)

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