PQ 4.7 — In what ways do I protect myself from being hurt? Do those strategies help or hinder my search for connection?

2 images: the top image is a picture of a hand held sideways with a red heart drawn on it. in the bottom picture, the fingers of the hand are spread apart, making it appears asa though the heart from the first image is broken into 4 pieces - text on the palm of the hand in both images says "you make me sick because I adore you so"
Image by xanetia / CC BY

PQ 4.7 — In what ways do I protect myself from being hurt? Do those strategies help or hinder my search for connection?

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I know it’s folly to forever wait for the punch. To flinch against blows that aren’t coming. On the off chance that they might.

And yet, I still find myself doing it. Even now. After years of working on fostering a high sense of personal security. There are phantom strands of fear that come. But fewer as time goes on.

I also take solace in knowing that the current coping strategies are ever more mature and adaptive. And the list of maladaptive, immature ones? The exes, so to speak? It grows as they’re forced into early(ish) retirement. Here’s some stuff I have stopped doing.

Retired Maladaptive Coping Strategies (Good Riddance!)

  • Emotional Whack-a-Mole: Hiding in one relationship from the problems of another. In polyamory, these other relationships were romantic ones. But it’s also possible to dodge stress through focusing on friendships, hobbies, long hours at work, etc. Basically, all it takes is a shift of attachment and focus from something that seems scary to something that seems safer.
  • Having extremely low expectations of others. After trauma, I aspired to be someone impossible to hurt or disappoint. It was a sound strategy, served me quite well. Sure, people treated me like shit, but it was never surprising, never forced on me. I volunteered. Of course, the trouble is that if you never say no to people, you don’t really get to know them.
  • Dating whoever approached me. No matter how underwhelmed I was by them. I  based my level of interest 100% on their level of interest. And once in a relationship, I would work desperately to foster reciprocal emotions.  Basically make myself fall in love. If I was “out of their league,” that was an added bonus. After all, I reasoned, it would make them less likely to leave me. I tried to stack the deck against my lovers’ exits by lavishing attention upon them, sexual favors, gifts, kind words (I write a mean love poem). But time and time again, I’d end up so unhappy, ensconced in relationships that were unfulfilling and toxic. And even now that I’ve stopped doing it, I struggle with one terrible aftereffect: Because I know a person can force themselves to settle in that way (since I did it), I can’t escape the nagging feeling that partners are doing it to me.  I deserve this punishment; it was a shitty thing for me to do.

It’s Only Pain, Understanding that Getting Hurt is Inevitable

These days I don’t think it’s best to focus on protecting myself.

Instead I focus less on avoiding pain and more on reminding myself that it’s only pain. That there is life after pain.

You don’t have to think you’ll never get hurt to feel comfortable. Because honestly? Every now and then you’re going to get hurt.

You take the risk (getting hurt) to get the reward (connection).

All you have to trust in is that when you do hurt that you’ll know how to handle it.

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This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.

 

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