How to Keep from Selling Yourself Out in Relationships – Anyone know how to do this?

Anyone know how to do this?

I have a pattern in relationships where I start all competent and confident, knowing and showing how truly awesome I really am, and then after a bit of avoidant shade thrown at me, I put up with crap from partners who seemed so lovely at first, which  I would never support my friends in putting up with, and which make my friends say “that’s not right”. I think this is a common problem.

So lets figure it out together, shall we?

I was thinking, what is my worst fear in relationships? It’s not that I will be mistreated, but that I will respond to mistreatment by enabling it, by throwing myself under the bus.

Clearly l need a program of self tough love.

“Self”, I say, “what would you tell yourself, if you were not you, if you were someone you loved – someone else you loved anyhow?”

Good question. 

“And if you took no thought to whether you would lose this relationship you used to value?”

I need to set boundaries

Boundaries are what others are not allowed to do with or to something that belongs to me. My thoughts belong to me. My body belongs to me. My posessions belong to me. My time belongs to me. My labour belongs to me.

I have a right to do anything I like with my body, my time, my stuff and my thoughts. I have a right to conduct my healing in the right way for me. I might trade away some of that short term, such as in a job, but and there might be consequences If others don’t like it, but in general I can do whatever I want.

I had a terrible girlfriend once who let herself into my house one night (she was expected) and came in to my room without a word and initiated a kind of sex that was vulnerable and triggering to me. I had every right to stop her. I did not want this kind of sex with her under these conditions. But I aquiesced. I threw myself under the bus, most likely because I was stuck in a fawn reaction. I should have said “no, stop, get out.”

This same woman used me for free housing, cheated on me, and didn’t treat me well. I kept trying to get her to understand that she wasn’t treating me well, get her to have compassion, to see me and change. Nope. I eventually broke up with her, but it took a lot longer than was good for me. The self betrayal of not defending myself from her was – I don’t even know what to say about how it was. It made me lose some faith in myself.

I was fawning.

Fawning makes it hard to set proper boundaries

Fawning is a response to danger – you can run (flight), you can hide (freeze), you can attack (fight) or you can fawn (manipulate for your own safety). When I get pulled into fawn, I will sell myself out. This is not a choice, it’s a conditioned response. Conditioned by the bad things we experience in situations where it was the only response that was available to us. I come by it honestly, and I hate it so much. I’m certainly good at staying calm and helping others feel comfortable, which is helpful, but when I fall into it automatically in relationships when a person does something that violates my boundaries, this is a problem. I should not be sucking up to people who are sucking, even if I love them.

“Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”

–Pete Walker, “The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex Trauma

I read these tips from another survivor, and I think it’s quite helpful.

I think this is the way to understand my self-betrayal and perhaps to release myself from it. I need to get better at just watching and tolerating other’s disappointment, criticism or anger of me without responding (ie: stepping in to appease them). Maybe what I need to do is just take a break.

“Look for the signs. Red flags can include feeling like a relationship is one-sided, feeling powerless, or even controlled. You might feel lonely, as if you can never say “no” or voice how you truly feel. You may notice that you’re rarely the person making decisions, that you’re a doormat, or that you cave more easily than others. You might even feel resentful, as though you aren’t getting what you want but it’s too frightening to ask. Guilt and self-blame can be really common, too, because we often attribute a relationship’s failures to our own shortcomings.” – Sam Dylan Finch: let’s queer things up

These signs look pretty familiar to me. I’m not going to blame my current sweetie for this, but the above is exactly how I feel.

It looks like unlearning sending myself under the bus, people pleasing is going to be a bit of a process.

I think what I need to do is learn to register when I’m feeling criticized with and just say so. I disagree. I think I need to say “I see it differently.” I’m people pleasing my current squeeze. And I don’t yet know how to stop. I disagree. I see it differently. No.

I need to start saying these words.

What works for you in stopping fawning?

Do you have any physical tricks to get your body out of the fawn state? I’ve heard singing, moving, dancing can help, anything that is anti-freeze. Let me know.

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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