Recently, I had a breakthrough that might be categorized by most people as a completely unimportant event. I had an “impure” thought and said it out loud when it occurred. My significant other didn’t react perfectly to it, and immediately I began to feel shame for A) having the thought, B) expressing the thought, and C) potentially hurting his feelings. It was one of those moments where I had a hard time articulating what I meant, and there was a blip in our usually-very-effective communication. I got nervous as I was trying to explain, and he seemed to let it go, but my stomach tied in knots and I began to feel guilty. Instead of wallowing in the guilt and abusing myself in my head, I said to him “Now I’ve made myself upset.”
Expressing this, for me, is an extreme challenge. Because I had completely circumvented my rumination process and got right to the point: I was ashamed for what I had said even though the thought, feeling, and expression of it was completely normal. I think the standard issue with obsessives is that they think the thoughts they are having (that are upsetting) are abnormal and that other people don’t experience them.
The truth is, most people have disturbing thoughts all the time. Mostly everyone empathizes with a villain momentarily, or perhaps has an image of being violent towards a person, or has sexual thoughts about inappropriate people. But the difference is, most people are able to ignore them, or even don’t realize they have them. Because I (and other people like me) are so obsessed with perfection, purity of thought is of the upmost importance. At some point, in my mind, I made the connection that having a thought makes something true.
This aggravates a lot of standard feelings and thoughts I have, specifically in my relationship. Because of my previous experiences in relationships, I somehow have put all the responsibility on myself for this relationship to succeed and, because of my penchant for perfection, and irrational paradigms of what it means to be a good partner by people who treated me poorly in the past, I have unreasonable standards for how I am supposed to behave.
Case in point: jealousy. This is probably the most obvious issue I have in trying to exist in my relationship with obsessions. Most of my obsessions are wildly untrue and fabrications of an incredibly warped reality in my head. I can talk myself down from them easily because they are counter to behavior (by myself or my significant other). Jealousy is different because it exists almost entirely internally. My significant other does not do anything that really merits a jealous reaction (what I mean is: he doesn’t flirt with other people, doesn’t talk about other people in such a way as to raise red flags, is faithful and shows no interest in the doings of most other people). Jealousy is simply common for most people in any kind of relationship. It’s natural to feel like we cannot fulfill the people we love in every way they need to be fulfilled. It just isn’t possible.
But, because of how my previous significant others reacted to jealousy, I have categorized it as “bad girlfriend behavior” in my head and therefore punish myself for having jealous thoughts. Almost everyone I know has some minorly-serious jealousy about one of their significant other’s exes. Why not? Why shouldn’t you be jealous that your significant other, at one time, loved and slept with another person? Of course it’s upsetting.
My problem is not the jealousy itself (or the ex, for that matter); my problem is that I cannot tolerate a single thought about it. And because my mind is so efficient with making associations (thank you English degree) and has such a vivid memory, it’s hard for me to break connections or forget about things I’ve heard.
My poor boyfriend, in the midst of all this, has to deal with my coming home one day, sobbing and telling him that thoughts about his ex, who I don’t even really know anything about, have plagued me all day.
I try to contextualize it. If I think about my exes, it isn’t a fond thought. It usually isn’t even an angry or resentful thought (unless I’m considering one who was emotionally abusive). A memory of an ex is usually, for me – since I’m constantly psychoanalyzing myself – a way for me to explain my own behavior to myself. “Why do I hate myself for feeling jealous? –Well, self, because your ex-girlfriend did shit constantly on purpose to make you jealous. Or your ex-boyfriend cheated on you relentlessly and lied about it. Self, I think that’s a fair reason to chastise yourself for feeling jealous.”
I had a realization recently: I have never been the primary desire in an adult romantic relationship until now. Everyone who I have had an intimate relationship with has either A) openly desired another person or people or B) slept with other people.
If I’m being honest, I’m ashamed that this still has an effect on me. I feel stunted. I feel like a fucking thirteen year old. Everyone around me seems to have no fucking problem letting go of their baggage or getting over shit or dealing with day to day relationship things like jealousy and here I am obsessing over my boyfriend’s ex existing somewhere and relentlessly not forgiving myself for having somehow failed in the past as a mate.
As if all of the ways I was mistreated in my past are my fault. Of course they’re my fault. Because I’m unworthy of a good life or have somehow misbehaved in those relationships and caused my significant others to be driven away from me.
No wonder I’m so petrified that my anxiety will drive my boyfriend away from me. Because I’m the only one responsible for the success of this relationship.
I know what the solution is. I have to forgive myself. For what? Not being perfect? For being with shitty people in the past who certainly didn’t create my emotional problems (I had OCD long before I met them) but didn’t do anything helpful and in some cases may have made it all worse? That isn’t really their fault either. Life isn’t fair and sometimes you’re incompatible with people you end up with for a time.
But then I say to myself: how do you forgive a person who was abusive? Who has made you so fearful of having normal emotional reactions that it causes panic? And then I have this self-hatred that comes from these thoughts – I hate that someone I used to be with could have such control over who I am today, even though they may have been manipulative and abusive.
Is the expectation that I shouldn’t have baggage from an emotionally abusive and sexually coercive relationship too high of an expectation? Is this me being too hard on myself?
All of these very normal, common relationship difficulties that we all have to learn to navigate through and on top of it, I’ve got to deal with an incredibly visceral fear of abandonment AND the baggage of an emotionally abusive relationship. And I somehow expect myself to just be over all of the hardship that I’ve somehow managed to endure. Don’t get me wrong, I have grieved the death of my father, and I have gotten over the pain of the previous relationship, years and years ago. But these are the things that drive my panic, and I have to confront them.
I know my significant other. I know that he will not abandon me or mistreat me. This confidence in him is not the same blind, repressive trust that I put in that abusive and manipulative ex. I know that. My boyfriend is not the same as the people in my past who have hurt me (however they have hurt me). He is a safe place.
And I suppose that’s why I feel so much shame for all of it: the unfounded jealousy, the obsessions, the occasional anger towards people who have mistreated me in the past. It makes me feel stunted an incapable. And most importantly: it makes me feel like a bad girlfriend.
A few days ago, in a fit of PMS-induced emotional outburst, I said this to him: “I feel like a bad girlfriend.” And I couldn’t articulate why. I’m not perfect, that’s why. And the rational, reasonable side of me feels terrible for the abnormal, Mean Voice-induced Child Me. When the machine is running at full speed, I’m in a constant state of being two people at once. The Me that understands how this all functions and wants to comfort the other Me who is screaming and angry and sad and afraid. I’m trying to nurture that “lesser” side of me. I’m trying to drown out my Mean Voice and talk to it the way I would talk to my boyfriend or a close friend or any person I loved.
I have to learn to love that “inferior” side of me instead of ridiculing it. Because, after all, it IS still a part of me.