People are disappointing.
The closer you get to them, the more detailed your view of their issues. You know what I mean—poor choices, addictions, negative thoughts, obsessions, weird/annoying habits, etc.
The hermit lifestyle seems appealing at times. No conflict. No drama. No listening to how so-and-so is mad about such-and-such. I could hide in a cave and shield myself from all of it.
But I know people who live this lifestyle, or as close to it as they can get. They attempt to stay within the bubble of connections that they are obligated to keep—kids, grandkids, a few relatives, maybe one friend that they still keep at least an arm’s length for fear of betrayal.
Eventually, though, you will see imperfections in every person, and it is not easy to love people despite the imperfections. Even the most well respected people have them, and sometimes, they harm others.
The fear of getting hurt usually stems from past betrayal—either abandonment or emotional harm. We could discuss the psychology behind it, but it wouldn’t change anything. Being hurt hurts. Why keep reaching out to people if you’re likely to get hurt again? Is it really worth it?!
Donald Miller, New York Times best-selling author, admits in his new book Scary Close that he has tried to live the hermit lifestyle several times. He has searched for fulfillment by tossing out words for the whole world to read and then retreating back into his introverted shell to avoid the backlash of critics.
The fear of being a disappointment poured over into his personal life. He spent years not letting anyone get close to him. He talks about his journey of discovering how to open his heart and grow in his relationships with others. He explains why it was such a difficult task:
“I don’t trust people to accept who I am in process. I”m the kind of person who wants to present my most honest, authentic self to the world—so I hide backstage and rehearse honest and authentic lines until the curtain opens….You can only hide backstage for so long.”
He is not encouraging us to be an open book (no pun intended) and share all of our deepest secrets with anyone who comes along our path. We should be guarded. We should seek out people who are striving to build healthy relationships. If we want to build good relationships, however, we must acknowledge our own imperfections and insecurities first. Many of us use manipulation as a means to get what we want out of people, whether we realize it or not. Miller explains 5 kinds of manipulators: The Scorekeeper, The Judge, The False Hero, The Fearmonger, and The Flopper.
“The Flopper” is likely the only one you can’t figure out by its name. “A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention.” He chose this name based on athletes who dramatically fall or slide across the floor after barely being touched.
He reflects on years of trying to control everything. “Before, I’d try to control whoever I loved so she couldn’t get away. Much of it was passive control, but it was there all the same. I used fear and guilt and shame to close my fingers around my girlfriend’s heart, and without exception I killed whatever love could have grown. I now know there were two dominant influences that caused me to clench my fist. The first was the fact I was trying to use women to heal old wounds, and the second was the false assumption I could be made complete by any of these women in the first place.”
“Because intimacy is based on trust, any form of manipulation will eventually break that trust.” Enough said.
Most of his stories are based on his relationship with his wife Betsy, but the concepts can be applied to any relationship. Friendships and romantic relationships will fail when they are defined by codependency, which “happens when too much of your sense of validation or security comes from somebody else.” When you obsess over what other people think of you, you are relying on them for validation; if that is the purpose for your relationship, it won’t be very healthy and will likely end in conflict and/or disappointment.
I learned this the hard way in the early months of marriage. I relied on my husband for my sense of self-worth. If he was upset about something, I interpreted it as meaning I had failed as a wife. I spent more time than I want to admit trying to make life perfect so that I could feel better about myself. It proved exhausting and impossible. Our relationship is more fulfilling now that I recognize how unhealthy that was. I no longer rely on him to fill my cup, although he often does now that he has a more supportive wife who isn’t using him to find her own happiness. We try to live by the “triangle theory”; when we each work on our relationship with God, we naturally grow closer together.
Miller says, “I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”
I”ll leave you with one more quote from the book:
“I no longer believe God is working behind the scenes to make me powerful, rich, or famous. Instead, I think I’m supposed to contribute something to the people around me and create an environment where heathy relationships can flourish.”
I hope to live this way.
If you want to dive more into these issues, I encourage you to get a copy of this book.
We need people. They will hurt us from time to time, and we will hurt them, but the more we strive for healthy relationships, the more fulfilling they will be.
Linking up at Literacy Musing Mondays: http://www.maryanderingcreatively.com/book-power-literacy-musing-mondays-28/