Tag Archives: friendship

Making it all about you

“You’re making it all about you!” It’s an interesting accusation and one I’ve been on the wrong end of a few times in recent years. From my perspective, it tends to happen when I am unable to be a good resource for someone in the way that I have been. Now, most people if that happens, come back concerned about whatever’s knocked me about – because usually it means I’m ill. I hate letting people down, and I will push through as much as I can, but sometimes that’s not an option.

Sometimes I do indeed take the decision to make it all about me. Usually I do this when not doing so runs the risk of pushing me into serious dysfunction with either bodily health, or mental health. I do it to avoid burnout, to avoid spiralling towards suicidal thoughts, to deal with massive triggering experiences and suchlike. These are times when I think I should be entitled to make it all about me.

So usually when someone accuses me of making it all about me the answer is yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing and need to do. You might want more or better from me, but if I can’t afford it, I’m not giving it. If a person has ever claimed friendship, then I expect that to matter. It might be bloody inconvenient and they might have every reason to feel grumpy and let down, but friends do not ask friends to burn out for them. Of course sometimes it may be a failure to recognise that the situation is that serious and I may have done a bad job of explaining – because, you know… ill…

What’s the intended effect of saying ‘you are making it all about you?’ Is it to punish someone emotionally for not doing the things? Is it to try and get them to back down? I know in some circumstances this would have meant a grovelling apology was called for followed by jumping to do the things no matter what the cost. I don’t want to live like that, and I don’t want to deal with people who will not allow me to make it all about me now and then.

I have, in recent years, become a lot more suspicious of the people who get angry with me for being in difficulty. I’ve stopped assuming this is just because I am a terrible person and everyone is entitled to be cross with me. This is a consequence of spending most of my time with people who genuinely care about me, want me to be well, would be horrified if I broke myself running around after them, and who, if I express myself badly because I’m in trouble, will give me the space to come back and do a better job of that later. I’ve said no to friends a lot this year, and they’ve reminded me that they care, and that they hope I feel better soon, and to yell if there’s anything they can do. It’s not the highest set bar in the world.


Self Care and Relationships

My guess is that if you have good self esteem and a sense of self worth, then you’ll be more confident about when to step away from people. I’ve been paying attention to my own processes around this in recent weeks and have noticed some patterns I thought it might be helpful to share.

If something goes wrong and I express distress, there’s a small window where things can be ok. If the other person comes back with care and concern then I can work things through and it’s usually fine. Now, if I was watching a friend in this situation, and they expressed distress and the person who had caused it doubled down on them, I would have no qualms saying ‘get out of there, this person does not have your best interests at heart’. When it’s me, other things happen.

I think it’s my fault. I think I’ve done something wrong and brought it upon myself. I think it’s fair and deserved. Probably I wasn’t trying hard enough or giving enough. I should make more effort to be patient, generous, accommodating and forgiving. So when someone hurts me, if they don’t back off from that quickly I can end up trying harder to be nicer to them and feeling like a total failure while I’m doing it. I’ve got to the point where I can see myself doing it and I know it’s not good for me, but I still can’t stop the thoughts that come.

I find it difficult to step away from people. Even when I know they are harming me, a feeling of guilt can stay with me for years afterwards. I’m working on this. There are a lot of unhelpful places my brain goes when people double down on hurting me. It builds my expectation that any expression of distress on my part will be met with further punishment. I fight against feeling that people will hate me, blame me and want to knock me down for daring to say ‘ouch’. I find it really hard to trust people not to hate me.

Even when I’m not triggered into all the places this takes me, it remains in the mix. I’ve got to trust a person a great deal to express distress to them. I’ve got to value a person a great deal to give them the opportunity to double down on me. When it’s people I barely know, I just slink off – because I can manage that much self care, and the stress of raising discomfort with people is high.

When people respond to distress by telling me why it’s my fault, or justifying it, that sends me off to some really dark places. It brings up other, older, nastier hurts that I was told were my fault, one way or another. I can become unable to escape from those memories in the short term. Classic PTSD triggering.

I want to be someone who is reliably kind, patient and generous. I want to forgive everyone’s mistakes and shortcomings and I feel a deep sense of obligation to be nice to people who hurt me. I also know that this way lies madness, in a rather literal sense. I know that if I stay in there for too long with someone who keeps hurting me, I will end up in serious trouble. Self care means saying no to people around this stuff. If I put my own comfort first, saying no the first time someone doesn’t respond in the way I need them to would be the way to go. But the weight of the guilt is terrible.

I have a hard time accepting that I cannot be a good and kind friend to a person who triggers me and makes me ill. I feel like a failure every time I run into that. I feel like they are entitled to more from me. Even though I don’t have that to give. I want the people who care if I am hurt, and I want to feel entitled to only really deal with people who care about me, and not to feel obliged to care about who don’t reciprocate, but there’s a lot of old training to deal with here and it will take time.


A poem about friendship

Outside my Orbit

 

He wanted the cool relationship of planets

Held at predictable distances from each other

Moving in and out of proximity on pre-ordained arcs.

The friendship of planets; gas giants Jupiter and Saturn,

Of cratered moonscapes and lifeless, dry seas.

The friendship of rock enduring ages

Comets passing but never touching each other.

Influencing with gravity alone.

 

I want the relationships of woodland

Where we live and grow and die together

With our roots and branches intertwining as we

Exchange dreams, ideas, moments of life

Like birds, bugs and squirrels moving freely

Through the verdant home of our community

I want the relationship of woodland

Where we lay down layers in leafmould

For those who come after, where we

Make beauty, shelter and fresh air

Out of ourselves. Messy, overlapping, co-existing

Soil sharing, rain bathing and sun kissed

Together in disorderly involvement, in vibrant

Leaf rich lushness, co-created, co-living.

 

He is lost in space with his Uranus jokes.

I have earthy companions with thickets full of bird song,

And I know where I stand

 

(I didn’t make up this scenario, someone I once considered a friend has written a piece describing friendship in terms of planets, and I admit to not being impressed by the idea or their Uranus joke. When things annoy me in this way I try to emulate an oyster and grow something more attractive around the initial grit.)


Gifts of friendship

I’m on a mission at the moment to spend more time talking about positive aspects of relationship and community to balance up the darker stuff I also explore. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what it is that makes me feel good about a friendship. What do I want from other people?

First and foremost, I want people I can share stuff with. That might be online sharing things we’re enthusiastic about. It might be reading each other’s work, or working together, or spending time in the same space doing things. For me, doing stuff together is what underpins a friendship. The more stuff we do, and the more fun we have doing it, the better.

I’ll also be there to do the tough things as well. There are balances to strike between how much we ask of people and how much we give, but if a person can trust me with their tough times and heartaches I will do my best to honour that. I don’t want to just be the person who comes in to do the mopping up, but so long as I also have other roles, I often feel touched and honoured when people choose to share their troubles with me.

One of the things I really want from other people, is inspiration. I don’t need anyone to go out of their way on that score, just be interesting. I seek out people who are creative, imaginative, deeply thinking, open to ideas, living in interesting ways. I am very comfortable in the company of interesting people whose lives are not like mine. I like having friends of all ages. I want to get a sense of how other people see things and how they think. I value people who share their stories and insights with me, and people who know how to tell a good tale.

I appreciate having people in my life who are, in turn, interested in what I do. People who will show up if I’m doing something in public. People who read my blog, and books and give me feedback, or ask for things. I love it when people ask me to write on specific topics here, it’s always a good challenge. If I don’t go into enough detail on something and you want more, tell me! That’s always good news, from my perspective, even if at first I don’t know how to answer.

There are a lot of things I only do if someone else wants or needs them from me – writing and ritual both fall into that category, as does music. If what I do has a value to a person and they want more of it from me, then that really inspires me to do my best. I feel more enthused about my work when there’s scope to interact with someone through it. The company of people who are enthused about what I do is a massive blessing.

I do value affection, but I’m not very good at it. I’ve always felt more comfortable in more cerebral relationships, but I’m trying to learn how to show up with a body in spaces that have people in them. I greatly appreciate the people who give me time and space in this regard, the folk whose gentle affection has made it easier for me to do that sort of thing too.


Celebrating Friendship

I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about the ways in which human relationships can break down and go wrong. I think it needs exploring. However, there’s a lot to be said too about how good relationships work. I’m in the fortunate position of having an abundance of experience to draw on to write about good relationships.

Good relationships often don’t generate the same kind of drama that problematic ones do. What makes a relationship good tends not to be about massive, heroic acts. Most of us do not have to help Frodo carry the ring to Mordor nor do we have to help Harry defeat Voldemort. The material of our relationships is made of the fine details of everyday life. Small acts of care and kindness, support and assistance, generosity and encouragement.

I am in no doubt that life is better when we co-operate with each other rather than trying to compete. Life is easier when we share opportunities and resources. Life is happier when we enjoy each other’s successes rather than feeling jealous of them. If we see each other’s needs and concerns as opportunities to deepen relationships, rather than reasons for resentment, that helps as well.

It is interesting to ask how we share our lives with other people. What underpins our interactions? What do we want out of time spent together? What do we do together? Where is the joy between us? Can we talk about the big life issues when they come up? Can we laugh at life’s absurdities together? Can we hear each other? What can we share? And how often?

I have some profound relationships that are mostly made of emails and photos and shared creativity. I have people I see a few times a year at most, and it is always a delight to see them and to catch up. There are people I see every week, whose lives are increasingly intertwined with mine. There are people I see every day, and whose lives are inseparable from mine. Realities of time and space mean there are only a few people I can be totally involved with, but I am continually moved and delighted by the sheer number of totally awesome, lovely and inspiring people I know.

This weekend I will be at Asylum in Lincoln – a massive steampunk event. I’ll be seeing some of those people who I only get to spend time with occasionally. In the meantime, the blog will be populated with guest content from some of the splendid creative folk I know online – some of whom I have never met in person. As life has thrown me some curve-balls recently, I won’t be doing as much book reviewing into the autumn. I am throwing that Sunday slot open to guest bloggers, so if you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. If you’re unsure as to what might work, look at the categories list for ideas… As the year turns, I’ll be asking how we can help each other, who –specifically – I can help to best effect and what collective good we might do.


After the abuse

One of the things that can be very tough for someone leaving an abusive situation, is the emotional aftermath. Where romantic partners and friends are concerned, the process of coming to terms with abuse can be very difficult. I think coming out of bullying in the workplace is easier because the odds are you didn’t have that much emotional investment to begin with. That makes it simpler to recognise the bullying and to put it behind you.

You love someone – be that romantically or in friendship. You love them, and trust them and invest in them. You assume that they love you. When they tell you they were only trying to help, or it was for your own good, you believe them. When they tell you it was a mistake or an accident, you believe them. We’re all human, we all mess up. You accept your friend, or your lover, and you accept their flaws and shortcomings. Victims of abuse are often persuaded by their abuser that nothing wrong has happened. It is the love the victim has for the abuser that makes such persuasion possible.

Then, at some point, something happens to make you question this. You catch them in a lie. You find you just can’t take any more of how they treat you, and you reconsider what their behaviour means. Or perhaps they turn on you, telling you they despised you all along. Perhaps they are the ones who leave, and they knock you down hard as they go. All of their previous behaviour is now reframed by something that makes it look like perhaps they never were your friend or ally. Perhaps they hated you all along. Perhaps you were a resource to use, an ego boost, a whipping post.

If you’ve never been there, you may think at this point, shocked and heartbroken, that it would be easy to walk away. It isn’t. What you end up with are two incompatible realities. In the old reality, this was your beloved, or your dear friend, someone you were open hearted with and trusted. In the new reality, this person thinks ill of you, may be a real danger to you. It is painful thinking so badly of someone you loved so you may try and resist that. You may hold onto the old love, and try to find excuses for what’s happening. You may want to fix things or try to change things. If they come back after this latest offence and make sorry noises and offer excuses, you may accept that and go another round with them.

This is part of why domestic abuse victims often find it so hard to leave their abusers. If you love someone and are in the habit of forgiving them, it’s a difficult turnaround to accept that you can’t afford to keep doing that. It is really hard to believe the worst of someone you love. It is often easier to carry on believing they are ok, even when they are manifestly mistreating you.

If you have other people in your life who truly care for you and support you, then you will be able to compare them to the abuser, and it will help you see what’s not acceptable. This is one of the reasons abusers will often try to isolate their victims. If you are alone, and the abuser is the only person you’ve got, you may cling to them because there’s nothing else. Letting go is very hard in that context, as is believing that anyone else could ever treat you well.

It takes time to change the story of your relationship with a person. It takes time to unpick what seemed like love or friendship, and accept that it wasn’t. It is a hard thing to swallow, when you suspect that you’ve opened your heart to someone who has abused your trust. It is natural to resist that interpretation and to want to think the best of people. It is a hard thing admitting that your friend or lover is full of shit, and has no love for you at all. During that unpicking time, you are likely to feel disorientated and vulnerable.

There are no easy answers in this sort of situation. I think the important thing to know is that there’s nothing weird about finding it difficult. In the aftermath of abuse and the lies that always go with it, figuring out what’s real takes time.


Good Friends

I think it’s interesting to ask what makes for good friendship. I expect a wide range of answers are available, as we all have different feelings and needs.  Is friendship a description of a relationship? Or might it be something we do for each other? You can choose to be a good friend to someone when very little is offered in return. You can choose to act as a good friend to someone in the short term to help them in some way – this may be someone with whom you will not have an ongoing relationship. How much give does friendship call for, and how much reciprocity?

While it can be tempting to think of friendship as an arena in which we can heroically practice the art of sacrificing ourselves for love, massively one sided relationships do not do anyone much good for the longer term. It can be really demoralising feeling that people stick around to help you because they feel sorry for you. A relationship based on pity, and on other people being heroic, is not a good relationship to be in. That kind of friendship can help a person feel small and stay put, or it can create weird power flows around who has the biggest crisis, the most problems etc.

For me, the most rewarding friendships are based on mutual enthusiasm – liking what a person does and how they do it, how they think and respond and how they are to be around. We don’t have to be doing anything for each other if we can enjoy doing things together. That in turn is underpinned by care and respect. I think highly of my friends, and over time, what they do justifies my belief in them. I care about them, I care about their successes and setbacks, their aspirations and challenges. I like to be cared about in these kinds of ways, as well.

There have been people along the way who clearly didn’t respect me or much care for me, and wanted me to know what hard work I was. People who have to tolerate me in some way or find me a struggle. I’ve no idea why anyone thinks that kind of self sacrifice is attractive. If you don’t like me, move on, with my blessings. I don’t need to be put up with. I don’t need people having to make a massive effort to cope with me. I’d rather be entirely alone than have that role in anyone’s life. Not that this has ever been necessary.

When we run on a scarcity model, it can be tempting to hang on tight to anyone who stops long enough to let us do that. When we imagine there won’t be many people we have anything in common with. After all, how many queer pagans with an interest in comics can there be in a small town like Stroud? (Plenty enough, in case you were wondering).  How many creative people are there in a small town like Stroud? (more than I can get to know). How many druids are there… and so on and so forth. For any of the things that matter to me, for any of the overlapping areas, I can find people. I don’t think Stroud is that exceptional. Interesting people are everywhere.

How much do we owe it to people to include them? How much do we owe it to each other to provide one sided care? How much should we make ourselves available as resources, and make what we have available? How much crap should we tolerate from each other in the name of friendship? There’s clearly no one right place to draw the lines here, but the act of drawing lines is important.

Humans are social creatures. We all have a need for care and contact. Draw your lines in the wrong place, give too much in exchange for little or nothing, and it will eventually wear you down.  No one is an infinite resource. Ask too much of the people around you and you’ll find they can’t sustain it. Accept too much of the shit and you’ll take damage. Dish out too much crap and people will move away from you. We all have hard times and rough patches, and we all need to be supported through those, but friendship requires balance. It calls for respect, for mutual concern, and for scope to take delight in each other. If we do not find joy in each other’s company, it isn’t going to function as a friendship.


Resisting despair

Every day when I get online there is some new awfulness. An email or two in my inbox I have to delete without looking at because I know from the subject matter that I can’t take it. Some appalling and cruel political decision revealed on Twitter. Something in the news to weep over. There are new ones every day, and it is exhausting and demoralising, and what are we to do?

It would be easy to give up all hope, to decide that humans are awful and we cannot be saved from that. It would be easy to decide that trying to care for the planet is too hard, too painful. It would be easy to decide to ignore every new source of heartbreak and stop trying to do anything. To accept that all is futile. To give up. To let feelings of despair and cynicism in.

Of course, nothing is won by people who give up. No good change is brought about by people not caring. Perhaps the single most important fight any one of us faces right now is the fight not to succumb to despair.

I think that’s an important point to recognise right now. Your heart is a battleground, a microcosm in which all the big fights of the world are going on right now. If you give in, then all that is worst about humanity gets to move into your heart as well, and even if you don’t actively support it, in your silence and inaction, you’ll tacitly support it. If you can win this one in your own heart, if you can stay caring and compassionate, and stay hopeful, you can be part of the solution.

If we can keep our own hearts open, we can help the people around us to do the same. For as long as there are people prepared to keep caring and trying, there is hope. That’s all hope is – someone who hasn’t given up yet. We can hold each other up, and remind each other of what we’re fighting for rather than focusing always on what we’re up against. We can share good things – love, friendship, kindness laughter, gentleness. We can be the good in each other’s lives in so many small and every day ways. We can keep each other going. We can do this.


In the absence of friendship rituals

The only formal dedications we normally make to each other in rituals, are dedications of marriage. We have contracts to shape our working relationships, but we don’t celebrate those, and they can prove fleeting. We do not have rituals of friendship. We may welcome someone into a group by initiating them, but that doesn’t happen in most contexts.

Dedication between people in a non-romantic context is a vital thing, I think. Friendship that is invested in for the long term has a very different impact on your life from transient, superficial acquaintance. We may pick people up at need, put them down when they no longer have what we want. We move on, change jobs, take up a different hobby, and the friendly thing we had going on with a person around that does not endure, because we were never that invested in them anyway.

When is it the right time to say to someone ‘I intend on being your friend for as long as we both shall live’? In the absence of any kind of social framework supporting such a declaration, it can seem pretty weird. It may even feel creepy or threatening to the person on the receiving end, simply because it’s not what normally happens.

If all our dedication goes into our romantic relationships, that can leave us really vulnerable. It is harder to spot toxic relationships when you don’t have any others for comparison. It is harder to function socially and emotionally when you don’t have multiple people who you can count on to be in your life. Friendship is an intensely rewarding thing, and people who are only looking for romance miss out on a lot, and can feel incredibly alone when not in a romantic relationship. At the same time, if we make the romantic relationship the main goal, we can put a lot of pressure on our partners. If we only dedicate to this relationship, we require our partners to be all things in all ways for us, and that’s demanding and difficult to live up to.

There’s so much good that can come out of investing in each other for the long term. We have so much power to support each other and enrich each other’s lives.


Shapes of relationships

Some of our relationships are necessarily structured. When there’s a professional shape to a relationship, all kinds of rules and requirements are in place and this is good and necessary. Professional relationships create obligations, responsibilities and power imbalances that need managing. Some family relationships have some of the same issues. Even so, there are choices to be made about how we shape such involvement – how much power over? How many arbitrary rules? How much service? How much expectation?

As Druids, we may often take on informally the kinds of roles that can be held professionally. Priest, teacher, counsellor, life coach… If we stray too far from what’s professional, we can end up abusing power and mistreating people. If we over-invest in our semi-professional status we can end up arrogant, self important and doing ourselves no favours whatsoever. As in most things, there’s a fine balancing act to achieve. Unlike professionals, we aren’t automatically keyed into a system that has support networks, resources, information and reliable paychecks, and it’s worth thinking about how that impacts on our relationships, too.

We tell each other a lot of stories about relationships – in fact friendship and romance are often central to our stories. In all kinds of ways – including adverts and laws – we tell each other about the shapes we think those relationships could and should have. Over time, that changes. It used to be much more acceptable for a man to beat his wife. We used to see marriage as a well defined relationship with a definite power imbalance in it. We seem willing now to explore less authoritarian approaches to parenting while at the same time being far more controlling of our children’s time and activities.

It’s easy to default to a standard relationship shape, an off the peg, one size fits all, it was good enough for some other person so it’s good enough for me kind of approach. This can have us replaying dysfunctional family stories, acting out what we’ve seen on the telly, aspiring to advert-family lifestyles that could never suit us and all sorts of other self-defeating things.

We have a notion that friendship means people of the same gender and about the same age, but life, and communities are much richer when there’s inter-generational contact. There are no stories about the natural friendship patterns for queer and genderfluid people. We tend to move towards people of similar class and educational background, but again that’s really narrowing. Some of us need big networks of friends, some of us need to deeply invest in just a few people. Some of us need a mix of that. There are no right answers here, but there can be wrong ones. If you end up doing what you think you should do, not what’s right for you, then you suffocate yourself.

Every relationship should be unique, because it is a meeting of two people. Each relationship may be framed by a context, or multiple contexts. We may give each other roles even when they don’t formally exist. It takes a certain amount of deliberation to refuse standard-issue relationship shapes and let something find its own form. It takes a certain amount of confidence as well, to do something with a relationship that is not what others might expect. People can be unpleasantly judgemental about having their expectations denied. Coming out can be a case in point for denying your family’s expectations.

It may seem easier to have all our interactions neatly arranged and tidily categorised. It may be simpler that way. There are no doubt some people whose natures mean that tidiness and simplicity are in fact the best choices. But not for all of us. Not for all relationships. Putting down the assumptions and seeing what happens can let magic in.