November 7, 2012

Marked: Damaged Goods, Return to Sender

Recently, an old and dear friend of mine let me know that he is interested in dating me. And instead of being flattered and flirtatious or flattered but graciously decline (which are my normal responses to advances from someone so familiar and beloved to me), I just felt anxious and uncomfortable because I am still more emotionally damaged from a previous relationship than I care to admit.

Allow me to begin at the beginning. Though, bear with me since much of this is my first attempt to articulate this to anyone outside of my own head.

My issues from childhood with my then-teenaged mother are many and varied. In my young, formative years, I learned that my feelings were invalid and to be kept to myself. Sharing negative feelings directed at my mother or at anyone 'above me' or in a position of authority led to reprimand, ridicule and/or manipulation from my mother. Based on this very important mother/daughter relationship in my early life, I learned to be quiet and agreeable in order to minimize physical and emotional abuse. Later, I came to the conclusion that love could only be given to me with a healthy dose of scorn and that my trust WILL BE betrayed. As a very depressed teenager, I made a silent promise to never allow someone to have as much access or power over me as I gave to my mother. As a result, for most of my life I've had issues with being emotionally open and available with those close to me.(It is programming that I have consciously worked very hard to overcome as an adult. I'm not always successful.)

Fast forward about 10 years.

I started doing a lot of introspection, examining many of my philosophies. Reconsidering love and relationships was part of that, including allowing myself to be vulnerable. When I decided to try polyamory and a power exchange relationship for the first time with a couple I had known for a couple of years, we spent many months discussing fears, goals, and expectations. When asked what my main fear was in entering into this relationship, my response was something along the lines of, "I am afraid of being emotionally vulnerable for fear of being manipulated through them. I'm afraid of being taken advantage of through my submission and I'm afraid of having it all used against me." By the end of my 8-month relationship with The Husband, each of these fears came true. Once again, my trust had been betrayed.

While I'd learned a lot about myself during the course of that relationship with someone who described himself as "an extremely selfish and manipulative person," (verbatim, on multiple occasions) those hard-earned lessons not only reopened old wounds, they created a few new ones that are still tender today. I found myself newly repulsed by the men that I didn't know well and entirely disinterested in all others, particularly those whom identified as dominant (and even more particularly those dominant men with certain mannerisms, attitudes, and a few other specific physical and personality traits). For me, all of them were unsuitable relationship material because they felt unsafe, untrustworthy, and placed the happiness of others secondary to their own. I understood that these generalizations were based in my own fears as a reaction to a short-lived relationship, but I didn't care. Nearly three years later, I still cling to these fears along with my irrational generalizations.

Fast forward to today.

I can no longer find my bottom headspace that was so raw and cathartic before. I just cannot give of myself in that way anymore. Handing over that type of control, even temporarily, triggers the unpleasantness of fear and panic. Simply interacting on a social level with some self-identified dominant men makes me uncomfortable. I was once flirtatious and playful, indulging in the exchange. Now, I just feel awkward and unsure and I choose to withdraw by redirecting the conversation or excusing myself.

Which leads me to my discomfort and anxiety over my dear friend's interest. He is a self-identified dominant man and it scares me that my emotional reaction to him was so negative. It has forced me to realize that I am far more damaged than I wanted to believe and that even my relationships with close male friends is being jeopardized. I hate that my ex and our relationship still affects me this much in this way. And I feel so impotent because I don't know how to unfeel my repulsion or disinterest. I don't know how to get past these issues. They're a form of protection and self-preservation is a difficult instinct to override...

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