Woe Is Me! “I Get Too Attached to People or Not at All. What Do I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am an emotional mess. I am a hypersensitive, emotional being who gets affected by every damn thing in this world — be it people, animals or places. This over-emotional nature makes my relationships with people too difficult. For instance, a while back I met a guy and liked him instantly, although I knew he wasn’t the ‘relationship kinda guy.’ It was more casual, in terms of relationship and sex. One day he asked me if I had feelings for him; I obviously said yes. He was sweet and mature enough to tell me that we should end whatever physical relationship we had and asked me to not hurt myself in the process.
“I always knew this would come up one day, but still, I couldn’t help getting attached to him. It’s not just this, but each relationship I have with my friends, I am the one who gets more attached and ends up building false expectations. I can’t seem to get a hold of it, since being empathetic and emotional is me. I connect deeply with people and let it consume me or not at all. What do I do?”
— All or Nothing
LG: Dear All or Nothing, your emotional investment in people, places, and things sounds like your superpower; caring is great! The world needs more caring. But like all amazing superpowers, it comes with Kryptonite: the tendency to get your hopes up unreasonably, just to have them dashed down. A trained therapist might be able to suggest tools or new habits to help you manage your expectations and draw protective boundaries without losing your essential, caring nature. But I’m not a trained therapist, so I don’t have much advice. Frankly, you seem very self-aware and mature.
The only question I’d suggest asking next time is — are you investing yourself and your emotions in what a person/relationship/animal/situation, etc., actually is, or investing in what it could be? You sound like an optimist on the lookout for potential — that amazing guy who’s not a relationship kinda guy right now could be one day; you might not be getting what you want from a relationship with him, but it’s better than nothing. But is it? Optimism is a great trait, but a periodic reckoning with reality versus potential is helpful in drawing a healthy, protective emotional boundary and resetting expectations. Best of luck, carebear.
ADT: Hi, All or Nothing. You kind of remind me of myself. I was also terribly hypersensitive, quick to tears, quick to forming strong ride-or-die emotional bonds with people who may not reciprocate. I’ve also had my heart put through the grinder because I built a lot of false expectations for people who simply couldn’t deliver. Then, as you’ve described, everything feels miserable and you feel utterly humiliated by a world that seemingly behaves like it’s totally out to get you all the time. At some point, you’re tired, and think — this is absolutely ridiculous and needs to stop.
Here’s what you do. You stop saying hypersensitive and you say empathetic. You turn the empathy and love and fascination and interest and joy you reserve for other people inwards. You indulge yourself, put yourself first, feel whatever you want to feel without shame and self-hatred. Then, just as you begin to settle into your skin, just as you change your embarrassment of who you are into pride, you figure out that the people you’ve chosen to be around you aren’t a good fit, therefore you cull that circle and move on to people who can form strong, deep emotional bonds, friendships, and relationships. Because that’s the good thing that you want, so that’s the good thing you deserve.
SM: Dear All or Nothing, I think that what both Liesl and Aditi have laid out is extremely helpful in dealing with friendships and relationships as an emotionally sensitive person. I’m just here to tell you that you are amazing and we need more people like you in this world. A lot of people may not understand your language of loving and giving and caring with all your heart, but when you find people who do, it will lead to some of the most fulfilling bonds in your life. You do you. 🙂
AM: Hey All or Nothing, I think you’ve already taken a big step by identifying the problem. I don’t know what your age is, but I can tell you that the ability to assess the amount of investment into anything gets better with time. If you’re already aware of your personality and nature, why not take a moment and think about how much you want to involve yourself in any kind of relationship and do just that much? When you’re in the middle of it, why not take a few minutes and ask yourself about the amount of energy you’re putting in and if this is what you’d planned?
These kinds of self-assessment techniques will help you stay on track and leave you in a better place. And do this with everybody and with every plan, you’ll get used to it, and ultimately commit to something or someone thinking of whether they’re worthy of your time and energy. You’ll also think of the returns first before saying yes to everything or feeling for every damn thing in the world.
PP: I think there’s nothing for you to do. There’s nothing to change here: you are only thinking that being hypersensitive and emotional is a bad thing, a thing to change because society has told all of us that emotions, feelings < logic, stoicism. Caring about every damn thing in the world is the very thing that makes us humans, that makes us different from animals. And I think everyone feels just enough — some people express it passionately like you, some people choose not to and some people think it makes them lesser of a person so they suppress their feelings and judge others for being free enough to feel. So the thing that is making your relationships difficult is not your nature but the people you’re having these relationships with.
About the boy: the exact same thing happened to me. We decided we’d be friends with benefits because he didn’t want a relationship. I agreed but eventually started having feelings for him. I told him, he still didn’t want a relationship, and we parted ways. Did it hurt? Sure. But so what? I moved on and so will you. The same goes for friends who don’t live up to your expectations, simply because I can tell from your woe that you’re also going above and beyond to invest in these relationships to have those expectations in the first place. You have to understand: you can’t seem to get a hold of it because there’s nothing to get a hold of. You’re an all-or-nothing kind of person and that’s just fine.
I’m just like you, and I absofuckinglutely love it! Life’s too short to be lukewarm about feelings. And there are pros to being this way: 1) only the people who truly accept and love you will stick around, not the ones who make you feel like you need to change and 2) no matter how many friends or boyfriends walk out on you for being “too much,” you will never feel guilt. Why? Because you gave it your everything, you loved with all your heart. It’s brilliant.
RD: Hi All Or Nothing, I can’t really give you advice, but I can tell you what I do and how I think it works for me. I usually make a concerted effort to take my time getting attached to people — this would be in the form of reminding myself to lower my expectations, or if I feel myself slipping, to manage the amount of time I give them or ask them to give me, and also spread around my needs between friends so I always have an alternative if someone flakes — so when things don’t work out, I can easily brush it off and not feel super sad about it.
I know this approach isn’t the healthiest — it often culminates into not being able to get close to people for a long, long time. This time also helps me evaluate if the other person is worth putting so much energy and time into, and at a certain point, the reins can be let loose a little to test the waters and form closer bonds. I know this sounds so clinical and calculated, but honestly day-to-day I find it to be easy and low stakes. The hard part would be to know when and with whom to raise the stakes, but I think with time it gets easier to make the decision.
Again, this works for me, but I don’t want to prescribe anything to you. I frankly find the lean-into-emotions approach to be terrifying and mentally exhausting, hence an alternative, if you so wish.