Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

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Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by Hirundo Bos on Wed Mar 02, 2016 9:11 am

This thing people do. When they drop everything or get out of bed or override their own needs to be there for someone in a crisis. I feel so lost trying to get a grip on that. I'm so scared of having to do it. It's a main reason why I'm reluctant to get really close to anyone.

It's not that I don't under any circumstance want to do it. It's more about how to regulate when and how much, how to know myself well enough to when I need to say no, how to feel about saying no, how to communicate it to the person in need, what to do if my assistance is the only available option, how to process my own feelings about the thing, which after some time can become overwhelming.

My perception of the social norm is that a good partner or true friend will drop everything to be there. Like in the intro songs for shows like Friends (I'll be there for you) or Gilmore Girls (all you have to do is call my name, and I'll be there on the next train). And I hear people reassuring each other all the time. (– Just call me, even if it's in the middle of the night. – But I can't ask that of you, that's too much. – No, no, it's what anyone would do.)

But I suspect I'm not perceiving the social norm correctly, that there are nuances there I don't get. And I do know that in the actual world, not everyone is on call 24/7 for everyone else. And I know there are people who are reluctant about being that, but who are still good, caring people... It's just that for me personally, I just can't see the two being true at once.

So there are social norms about this, and my own perceptions of social norms, there are other people's expectations and my perceptions of their expectations. And I know that with my Asperger's my perceptions are probably somewhat rigid. And then there's my own expectations of myself. Colored by my history – what kind of person I wanted to be growing up (someone who gives without hesitation). The ugly failures I made with that in young adulthood (some pretty toxic behaviors on my part, because I couldn't/was afraid to communicate about boundaries). A particular experience I had in my early thirties, that I'll put in spoiler tags because it involves (someone else's) suicidal thoughts (they're doing well today), and my emotions about being told about those thoughts.

Involves someone else's suicidal thoughts:
I went out late in the evening because someone told me of their urge to end their life. I was the only one within reasonable distance they were willing to reach out to, and they would not consider getting professional help. Looking back, the actual danger was probably low, and they're fine today, and they're still a part of my life. But for almost a year after the event, I was in a state of high anxiety, relived that evening, was afraid whenever I was in touch with the person. And I still now, years later, get a pang of panic every time that person communicate any kind of need.

Doing what I did there was probably not the right decision for me... I just can't see how I could have said no. I know I could, I just can't... envision it.

So – I've been working mentally on this post for a very long time, it's a main reason why I don't get too close to people, why romance and sex isn't very much in my life, because when a relationship progresses to a point where someone would communicate their needs to me – I just imagine so much confusion and fear and frustration and that I would let others and myself down and cause harm. Do anyone know how I can begin to work this out?

(For the record, I am in therapy, and we've been talking about these issues and that specific experience for as long as we've worked together and that's how I understand that saying no is actually an option. But I still feel pretty lost as to how to say no and when I can't say no and how to feel about it with myself and talk about it with others when I say no.)
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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by eselle28 on Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:01 am

I'm sorry you had to go through that. It's more than I think most friendships would ask, and it's something I think would have an effect on most people. I think you did the right thing, but I think more was asked of you than should have been. I think you're right in perceiving that there's a lot of nuance to friends' asking and expecting to comfort each other. The dialogue you quote happens, and sometimes it's said by pairs of people who have vary different ideas of what that means. I'm usually a bit cynical, but I actually think most people mean those things. They might not mean the kinds support other people would think of, and sometimes they're not on the same page even between themselves, but I think many people mean it.

For you, I think you might want to break it down two ways. First, what kinds of support are you willing to give a friend. Not everyone needs or wants a friend who's willing to deal with an emotional crisis during the night. There are people for whom the deepest demonstration of friendship is looking after their pets while they're away or showing up early in the morning to set up chairs for their charity event. These things tend not to happen in the middle of the night, and if you're someone who has trouble saying no, people whose needs are more along these lines might be good friends for you.

The second would be considering friendships in part based on how much support someone needs. It's perfectly fine to decide not to get close to someone when you get a sense that they're going to be asking a lot of you. There are lots of people who are available to be good friends who aren't very likely to text you suddenly with an emergency - they might once or twice when major things happen, but it won't be every year in most cases. There are a ton of people whose lives just don't require emergency services. They don't come up much in advice columns because of a lack of problems to ask about.

Another possibility is considering friendships with people who aren't in the "don't need much" category but who are good about asking how and when they receive support. I'll confess a bias here, because I'm a high drama person who generally gets along better with other high drama people. I tend not to be friends with people whose lives never have nasty flare ups, so it's more useful for me to screen friends based on how they are when life isn't great. Someone who can send out a, "Hey, had an awful talk with my dad. Are you around? I'd like to get your perspective tonight, or maybe we could talk later this week if you have time," is a lot easier for me than a, "Call me...Hey, call me!...Are you reading this?"
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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by Werel on Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:24 pm

eselle has said very smart things, especially about choosing (close) friends based on how much support they appear to need. And prioritizing people who are good at expressing their needs in ways that work for you, however (in)frequent.

It's also worth noting that some people may just be more inclined towards being the emergency-call person-- especially for specific individuals. And that the desire to do that may be an emotion of its own, which could(?) be part of why it's confusing for you, if you have trouble sorting out emotions stuff. There is a short but extant list of people in my life for whom I want to be the emergency call. Who, if they have a pressing need, I actively want them to ask me. The desire to provide support for someone is something I feel, like any other emotion; it's in the family of affection/protectiveness/loyalty, but there are definitely people I love/am loyal to who I don't actively feel like I want to Be There for. I wonder if "desire to Be There for someone" is its own axis of interpersonal feelings, separate-from-but-related-to other shades of attachment? And that, for you, it may be an emotion that just doesn't come up much on its own, so forcing it may be as tough as forcing other kinds of emotions? (That's not to say it's carte blanche to never come through for a friend who really needs you, but it might be a good reason to choose friends who won't ask for a lot of crisis-type support--it's not that you're selfish or they're needy, it's just an emotional incompatibility).
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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:22 pm

A desire to be the person someone rely on... I have that, but in a general sense, not for anyone in particular. And I'm not sure if that even makes sense... But as I mentioned, when I was younger, it was a strong driving force in me. As I also mentioned, it took me to some not-so-good places. One reason is probably that I didn't have the cognitive empathy skills I needed. So I couldn't quite relate to their needs, couldn't quite understand the concept of other people's agency, and my desire to help became more about me than them. And I also didn't quite know what to do, once I was in a position to help. And I overextended myself, badly.

I still want to be helpful, nurturing, kind, I want very much to be that kind of person. When I get confirmation on the forums, for example, that advice I've given have been helpful, there's a little happy child inside me going yay, I did some good. I think the place I'm in now is really a conflict between that desire, and a fear of repeating my mistakes.  

Seeing the desire as an emotion is useful, very useful I think. It does follow the pattern of my other emotions. Sometimes it shuts down completely, at other times it's overwhelmingly strong, and I'm confused by all the nuance in between. And I've learned to handle other emotions, so I can probably get better with this one...

Do anyone here have examples I can read of some of those nuances in between? Relationships or situations that were neither "come to me whenever" and "don't even ask, go away, I can't deal with this"?

I think there's conflict also between the limitations I live with, and the person I feel I ought to be. But I don't have a calibrated sense of either, don't know how limited I actually am compared to others, or what expectations society and myself have about what kind of person I ought to be. In my head, almost everybody else would be willing to take a midnight emergency call from a friend or loved one, while I'm a cold person who wouldn't handle it at all... while in reality I know other people have boundaries about it as well, I just don't know what those boundaries are, or how far removed they are from my own. While I on my side most likely would respond to the call and go out on help, it would just cost me a great deal afterwards.

So, what kind of support am I willing to give a friend? I'm not exactly sure, but the thing I told about in spoiler tags stands as an example of the thing that I'm terrified to have happening again. And I think specifically, what I'd strongly prefer not to do would be

– to be in a situation where I'm the only person on hand (so a friend with needs of that size would need to have a larger support apparatus than me and few others)
– to be in a situation where I'd have to convince someone to take care of their health and safety (because I don't really know how to convince, when to push, when to leave alone, am much more likely to the latter, will often end up convincing myself that it's not so serious as I think)
– to have to leave my home or communicate with someone on days when I'm low on energy and sense I really really need some time by myself. (I actually have quite a good sense of how much in need I am of time by myself, and would be able to weigh that need again the need of my friend, but would want a friend who understood when I had to say no. and who had other people they could ask instead)

So the kind of support I would be willing to give is probably... quite a bit, if it didn't push against any of those limitations.

Though as things stand today, I have this fear that almost any support I'd give someone would be taken as promise I'd go to those lengths as well. This is a matter of anxiety, fueled by the spoiler bracket event and my overreachings in the past, and I think it's something I'll be able to work through.

So, where do my limits place me, compared to the limits of... well, who to compare myself with? The average person, whoever that might be? Society's expectations, the expectations someone would assume as a default? Or maybe compare myself with a hypothetical person who's able to have some close friendships in their lives? And we've been talking about friendships, but what about other kinds of relationships... friendships with benefits, romantic relationships? I don't know, I'm just looking for some kind of contrast, or context... to calibrate my sense of myself and weaknesses and strengths.

And your input so far has helped me get quite a bit closer.
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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by Wondering on Fri Mar 04, 2016 7:02 pm

I fall more on the "cold" end of the spectrum. I would never want someone calling me in the middle of the night for something that wasn't a medical emergency. And even then, only for family. And I've never said, "Call me anytime!"

When my best friend was having marital problems precipitated by one event she suddenly found out about, I did not drop everything for her, and she didn't ask me to. We did talk on the phone more than we normally do, but during normal waking hours when neither of us were working. And we got together in person to talk within a few days when both our schedules allowed. I asked her if there was anything she wanted that I could provide (note, when I say that, I really do mean what I'm willing to/capable of providing, not absolutely anything they're going to ask of me), and she said no. Just that she wanted time to process and then talk. We did a lot more social events together for a while so that she wasn't alone, but it was more me taking her along to things I was already going to, or us finally doing things we'd said for years we should find time to do.

One day, we got a call from my mother-in-law that my brother-in-law had been hit by a car and was in the hospital getting checked out. He was about an hour away. She lives across the country, so we were closer. We were not asked to help, just informed about what was going on. We didn't go see him, but he wasn't kept in the hospital, just released. If he'd been kept in the hospital, I might have insisted we go see him, even if my husband didn't, but I'm not 100% sure there, either.

When my brother called to tell me my dad was in the hospital because he'd had a heart attack, we did drive up to see him (about 45 minutes away). It was a weekend, though, so there wasn't anything to drop other than the dinner we were eating. And actually, he wasn't expecting us to come and was surprised. While we were there, we went out and got food for my mom and stuff for my dad to do. I don't remember if we were asked or volunteered to run those errands.

The only person I would expect to drop everything for me is my husband. And I've only asked him to do that once, when I got to work and realized my wrist that I'd injured the day before was probably broken or sprained. I asked him if he would leave work and take me to get it checked out. He did.

So...those are some of my examples. Does that help at all?
Also, I'll note that all of this was before we had the baby. Now, I'd be less able to help out.

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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Mar 04, 2016 7:15 pm

Yes, it was exactly the kind of examples I was looking for. Smile Thank you for sharing.
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Re: Being there, obligations, expectations, many questions [adv]

Post by HSavinien on Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:02 pm

Hirundo Bos wrote:– to be in a situation where I'm the only person on hand (so a friend with needs of that size would need to have a larger support apparatus than me and few others)
– to be in a situation where I'd have to convince someone to take care of their health and safety (because I don't really know how to convince, when to push, when to leave alone, am much more likely to the latter, will often end up convincing myself that it's not so serious as I think)
– to have to leave my home or communicate with someone on days when I'm low on energy and sense I really really need some time by myself. (I actually have quite a good sense of how much in need I am of time by myself, and would be able to weigh that need again the need of my friend, but would want a friend who understood when I had to say no. and who had other people they could ask instead)

Those sound like absolutely reasonable limits.  Being someone's only support is incredibly stressful and draining, something that's rough on most people, whether that's for friends, romantic partners, or family members. And if you haven't got the emotional energy to deal with a stressful situation, it's not going to do either of you any good to try to push past that.

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