As we leave fundamentalism, we carry over vulnerabilities regarding relationships. I’ve made this section into relationship vulnerabilities and, second, relationship pitfalls. The two parts might also have been called Vulnerabilities A and B. There’s no real difference between them. We may have so many.
INTRODUCTION TO RELATIONSHIP VULNERABILITIES COMING FROM FUNDAMENTALISM
This section is where we look back to what we have come from and then fast-forward to see what its lingering influence might be in our lives. The long shadow of fundamentalism may extend to emotional attitudes, personal boundary issues, expectations for the use of language and truth, expectations for a degree of serious-mindedness about life, left-over issues from religious and childhood abuse, and on and on.
Some of the aspects of fundamentalism that we came from – such as the expectation of truth and that individuals would put their lives behind their words – are humane values for all of us to live by. However, that’s often not the way of the world. If we come with our left-over fundamentalist expectations, we may be quite disappointed in many relationships.
Our objective, of course, is to outgrow fundamentalism, to find our deep humanist values based on the Golden Rule, to do our inner work (such as developing strong personal boundaries and inner child work), and after we “get it together,” then to be able to recognize quickly when another individual can or cannot be a worthy friend to us. If we are already in a troubled relationship, as we become healthier we will outgrow that relationship.
Becoming healthy is somewhat like taking a trip to a far country where you find your self and your values, where you become the adult that you want to be. When you return to your own country, you look at your friend and feel the emotional disconnect. Then you see what your options are and at the right time, make your move.
In contrast, if your friend is not open to change and if you are still entwined in fundamentalist programming, leaving a troubled relationship might be traumatic, if possible at all, on your own. For example, if you are tight in a co-dependent or abusive relationship, you may need to call on professional assistance.
AS WE LEAVE FUNDAMENTALISM, WE CARRY OVER VULNERABILITIES REGARDING RELATIONSHIPS.
A lot of former fundamentalists want to do the right thing, to be a good person, to have a meaningful life – but often it comes down to not knowing how to go about it. We can be so dumb about things that are self-evident to those who were not brought up in fundamentalism. Well, we are where we are. If we have work to do, we have work to do.
How can you recognize trouble signs in a relationship? Your intellect or your emotions may be telling you that not all is right, that you are uncomfortable with this or that. The observations below may help you decipher a troubled relationship with a non-fundamentalist. That is, the particular troubles in your relationship may have underpinnings from the fundamentalist mindset – and you might not even be aware of that.
Is one ever a “recovered” fundamentalist, a “former” fundamentalist? I don’t know. I still find that connecting the dots brings a new insight occasionally, though more and more, my memory is growing dimmer regarding fundamentalism. I have had new insights in writing this web site and in reviewing the drafts.
If one emigrates to the U.S., are all traces of the pattern of thinking and cultural influences erased, even after decades? Of course not. In the same way, all traces of our former country, fundamentalism, are not erased, either. Life is growth, and we continue to put dots together and see patterns and connections all our lives, assuming we keep growing.
So let’s you and I put some dots together. If a recovering fundamentalist asked you for advice on some of the pitfalls that he or she might face in a new relationship, what advice would you have for that individual? Want to start a list? The comments and tips below are my attempt (with help from friends) to put dots together and to see patterns and connections. I hope you find them as helpful for your life as they have been for mine.
OVERVIEW OF THIS RELATIONSHIP VULNERABILITIES TAB AND THE NEXT SISTER TAB, ON RELATIONSHIP PITFALLS
The vulnerabilities are roughly organized as follows:
- Those related to expectations from our experiences in a fundamentalist community
- Those that are programmed in us from our time in fundamentalism
- Those that face us as a result of our worldly inexperience
There will be of course an overlap between these sections, but at least they are broken up a bit and not one long list. There will also be an overlap between comments and the headings I place them under. Some comments might fit under several headings. It’s the ideas that are important, not the overlaps. If you hear a comment twice, maybe it has more than one application.
Most of my lessons and observations have to do with heterosexual relationships with males. Male and gay readers will have to adjust the gender language as needed. You may also have to adjust the concept to apply to platonic friendships, with either sex. If you have, for example, collected a few friends who seem to be drawing off your energy, keep your antennae up for what might be going on, that is, for whether something in you needs adjustment.
Let’s get started.
RELATIONSHIP VULNERABILITIES RELATING TO EXPECTATIONS FROM OUR TIME IN FUNDAMENTALISM
Here is a rough outline of the points under this section:
- expectations of meeting good people
- difficulties in trusting a person in the world
- our training in emotional softness
- communication issues
- lack of personal assertiveness
- lack of a formed inner compass
We have an expectation of honesty in a new friend.
The religious people we came from probably did put their lives behind their words and were trustworthy. We are accustomed to expect honesty and stability in dealings with other human beings. That’s often not the case out in the world. Under the influence of fundamentalism, we can smile with expectation at whoever knocks on the door of our heart…and not be able to distinguish a good person from the big bad wolf.
Too often we are defenseless against new acquaintances. We believe their sweet words and smiles and tumble into all sorts of troubled relationships because of our own unmoored states. We are vulnerable to flattery, not realizing that if we do not respond, someone else will be hearing those very same words not far in the future.
We former fundies are not experienced with those who lie to us. We need to wake up and realize that there are plenty of folk out there who are comfortable with lies and lack a developed conscience.
Is your new friend a “Jesus in search of a manger?” Does he bend over backwards to help you with chores and make himself useful? Anything you need, he will do to ingratiate himself with you. He sounds like he is looking out for your interests, but this isn’t a real relationship. He’s looking for a home. There are men (and women) out there who cannot support themselves, at least at the level they would like to become accustomed to, and are out to find a person of some means to latch onto.
One man I emailed for awhile from a dating web site told me about his uncle. The uncle was getting on in years and figured he’d find a younger woman on-line to cook and clean and drive him around when he could no longer drive. He found the woman, and married her. By the time that I was corresponding with his nephew, the uncle could no longer drive, and the woman was cooking and cleaning and driving him around. I guess you’d say that was planning ahead.
We need to be up-to-speed with the idea of hooking up (one night stands), because that’s too much of our culture now-a-days, and permeating the on-line dating scene. I’d suggest that you read Donna Freitas’s The End of Sex. It will alert you to what may be going on in the mind of the person you are considering dating.
We are primed to be gullible and to believe pretty words too easily.
We were comfortable with the level of trust in our former religious community. Now we are moving out to the larger society, where words often don’t come from a person’s heart, though they may appear to. As we emerge from fundamentalism, we are far from being street-smart.
Recovering fundamentalists may give too much credence to male and female come-ons, even from individuals who seem mature and sound like they know what they want.
Words can be easily divorced from reality. We would do better to examine the reality and take heed to warning signs, rather than pay that much attention to the words. What evidence is there of action, of giving, on the man’s part? Where’s the evidence that his words and he are trustworthy? Does he have a good track record? With someone from an internet dating site, perhaps all that has been established is that he can write an attractive profile… which may have attracted 50 other women before you.
We are used to words meaning what they say, and people standing behind their words. Because we are not street smart, we are at risk for people who are charming, clever opportunists, or who are happy to feed off us emotionally. We take what they say at face value. Perhaps, too, they are under the influence of sexual drives and are not really thinking at all. They just know what they want. Do we have to jump just because someone wants us? Not at all. That’s his problem, not ours.
Flattery comes in many guises. Even words such as “You are the greatest, you saved my life,” can be flattery. Beware. We former fundies aren’t used to flattery and can fall victim to genuine-sounding flattery, especially for a recovering fundamentalist casting about for purpose. Does your friend feed into your wanting to please and be accepted and loved? Is his appreciation suspect? What’s behind it? What’s he doing with his life?
We tend to be oblivious.
We can miss the red flags in a new relationship for assorted reasons, such as: we want the relationship to work, we naively trust in the positive parts of it and do not give sufficient weight to the negative parts, and we listen for words instead of watching the action. When we don’t know what we want in a friendship and are not focused on that, a troubled individual can ooze into our heart before we are even aware of it.
Is he willing to accept responsibility? My mother gave me wise advice regarding men. Choose someone who would stick with you if you had a disabled child.
What kind of father would the individual make? Would he have the maturity to hold to healthy boundaries and discipline for children? Was he raised by permissive parents? Does he like children? Do they like him?
Is the individual a commitment phobic? Maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, because he doesn’t know who he is. If you also don’t know who you are, you can be confused together.
In fundamentalism, we learned not to trust outsiders.
It can take a leap of faith to trust people outside our fundamentalist circle. For a former fundamentalist, actually trusting another human being as a close friend can be very challenging. We are so used to self-censoring “worldly people” out of our range of consideration. We are so used to expecting the worst from the unsaved.
Now worldly people populate “our” world. Laying a foundation of trust is the first step to friendship. Learning whom we can trust and to whom we will open our heart to takes experience, intuition, and wisdom.
We need to choose carefully whom we will trust. There are plenty of good people in the world, both in and out of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism itself might agree with that, even if the church teaches that the “good people” are headed for hell.
Is the individual living a life of integrity? What examples of integrity do you see? What sort of community is he is?
We have been trained in softness and in giving to others.
People who have tender hearts can be a soft touch for a relationship that could cost a great deal. Couple a tender heart with our weak personal boundaries, and we might as well have a target on our back for needy persons and even con artists. Some needy persons are also con artists, two for the price of one.
Predators sense the weaker ones (which we are as we recover from fundamentalism) and cull us out from the flock. We may have shown great courage and strength in leaving the church, but that courage and strength are on a different plane from dealing with emotional and sexual predators and from dealing with even those who are trolling for kindness.
The person looking for kindness may be passive, living a surrendered life. Our gift of kindness may result in co-dependency and in not even helping the other person. They may need to take responsibility for themselves, not cling to us. Maybe the day would come in such a relationship that we would have to own our responsibility for being part of the problem.
Is he dependent, focused on you? At first, you may respond really well to this, soaking up the emotional warmth. Dependency doesn’t stand the test of time, though, especially if it turns out to have an element of jealousy and possessiveness to it. You’ll get bored by a dependent friend and may eventually feel trapped.
Be careful of feeling sorry for someone. We’ve been programmed for compassion, even if within narrow circles. Be alert to being dragged into an unhealthy situation because we “feel sorry for” an individual. Feeling sorry for someone is not a sign of an equal relationship. Feeling sorry for someone is not emotionally healthy on our part, because we feel superior to the person we feel sorry for. Instead, treat that person with respect as an adult. Maybe the individual has a heavy burden to carry, but they are still due respect. We cannot fix everyone’s heavy burdens, and we need to be conscious of that fact.
Beware of succumbing to another person’s need. In fundamentalism, we learn to carry one another’s burdens. In real life outside of fundamentalism, you can’t carry another person’s grief, or inability, or lack of understanding. All you can do as a person is to be with them in what they are going through as they cope, and hopefully, grow.
Is he confused, without a sense of who he is, using words of endearment that have no foundation and could change by the next day?
Is he a taker or a giver? There are many takers out there, and we ex-fundies are prone to give too much. Be on guard against giving too much. Beware of someone who gives a little (and your guard goes down) and takes a lot. Beware of making excuses for someone’s lack of giving. “He’s under so much pressure.” “He’s had a string of bad luck.” “He doesn’t feel well.” “What he faces is worse than what I face.”
Monitor your communication.
Monitor your communication. Avoid the fallacy that if you share more of yourself than he does, he will recognize what he has been looking for in you. Look for equal sharing and equal interest in the relationship. Look for someone who is willing to work for the relationship and fight for it. Look for someone who can call you on something where you need to be called on.
Unconditional love is a myth of religion. Adult relationships are more what two people build and continue building, as each continues to grow.
Anyone from a lonely background can be a sitting duck for emotional warmth, but unconditional love is not adult love. You need someone who can spur you on to be your best, not a warm bath that leads nowhere and becomes boring eventually.
Be careful of letting yourself be seduced. “That which deceives enchants,” is a quotation from Plato in the frontispiece of Sherrie Turkel’s book, Alone Together. We might bear that in mind and be better armed against being seduced by someone who might sound like just what we were hoping for. We former fundies have to watch out for ourselves, perhaps more than the average person would have to. Perhaps your new friend has said the same words to a half dozen others before you, or to five dozen. Maybe he’s still romancing others, while you look at him with trusting eyes full of hope. These are not people from your Sunday school.
Our emotions can be unmoored and prone to wishful thinking. We can fail to look below the surface or give sufficient weight to red flags, such as examples of poor judgment or money problems. We can put too little importance on not being in the same frame of mind with the other individual. We can fail to recognize the person who needs our vitality because he lacks his own. We can fail to recognize the Peter Pan who doesn’t want to grow up or the older person in midlife crisis.
Conversely, we, too, can feed on others without being aware of it, feed on the expressions of gratitude they give back to us. Recovering fundamentalists typically are used to getting high on emotion.
We can fall prey to pity instead of keeping our focus and holding the prospective partner to account. Is the individual able to give? Is he or she growing and able to face hard questions? Is there evidence of process in the individual’s life? Follow the action. There might be none. Watch the use of words. Are words anchored in reality or in a rosy vision?
If our lives are dysfunctional or off-balanced, we may not be able to recognize ugly. Being too sympathetic and long-suffering can blind us to ugly.
Is he more committed to an “ism” (such as Buddhism, meditation practices) or to an addiction (alcohol, drugs, food, gambling) than to you? There may be no room for you in his life.
Are you being controlled by the little boy in a man? Women tend to be vulnerable to the little boy in a man. If that man is still a boy in his personhood, he can, perhaps subconsciously, control the woman by his boyish ways. There is subtle intimidation of his ego. The woman turns herself into his servant, not his equal. She becomes focused around his needs and wishes, his smiles and his shy, just-for-her looks. She sees potential where there is none.
She may need to demand to be a partner, an adult partner, not a passive “mommy” who remains silent, cleans the house, and supports only his interests. She needs to beware of being too nice.
She needs to be able to ACT as an equal…because that will flush him out if he is not able to be, or desirous of being, an equal. If she acts as a servant that will just prolong the doubts and the treadmill. You don’t ask permission to be a living person in a relationship you want to share as an equal.
What is an adult? He may live on the surface of life, when you want to go deeper. What is the difference between an adolescent and a man? That bears thinking about, because your happiness could depend on how good you get at telling them apart. For that matter, how do you know if you are a man rather than a boy, or a woman rather than a girl?
Recognize that we are used to confessing.
Without personal boundaries in fundamentalism and without a right to our selves, we had no privacy – except of course in sexual matters in marriage. This lack of privacy would be part of the long shadow of fundamentalism, and we should not expect that suddenly we would have an appreciation for privacy. We may not be practiced in what should be private and what is public. My first male “friend” out of fundamentalism told me that I’d “make a good wife because [I] told all.” He surely didn’t.
Learn to set your boundaries on what you will share and what you will not. Do not say “wow” if “bow” is enough. This can be a hard lesson, with no clear guidance at times. There are different levels of relationship, and the boundaries will be adjusted accordingly. There are relationships that are casual, business, acquaintance, socializing friend, close friend, partner, parent-child, etc.
I mentioned the movie, The Descendants, previously. If you watch that, notice how much George Clooney’s character communicates, with relatively few words – just the words that are needed.
We recovering fundies can confuse the drive to “tell all” with our emotional needs: the desire to touch and be touched, the wish to be understood and accepted, and the futile attempt to draw out of the listener what he’s not giving. Remember the definition of “crazy” – to keep doing the same thing and expect different results?
When our boundaries are firmed, we will no longer be driven to tell all. We will have personal control. We will be in our own business, not in the business of how the other person responds. Love will reside in us, and we don’t have to try to extract it from someone else.
In contrast to “confessing,” how well do you communicate about differences? Can you problem-solve together? Is he the type of person who is there for the long haul, or would he bail if he decides he needs his freedom or is tired of problems? We were not used to superficiality in fundamentalism. Marriages were a covenant before God, for better or worse. Can your friend make a commitment of the will, or is he living only on the level of fleeting feelings?
In fundamentalism, we learned forgiveness, over and over.
Consequently, we can be attuned to being too nice and too giving to others who show a modicum of regret and wanting to change. Without strong personal boundaries, we ourselves can “flow” into another person in an unwarranted manner. That is, if they give 10%, we’ll give 90% – and be grateful for their 10%.
Being too nice can set us up as patsies, as targets for those who are willing to take what we can give and pick our bones clean. This can be done intentionally on their part or unintentionally, where they shower us with gratitude for being there for them.
If you put up a roadblock to what the individual wants, see how he reacts. He may be very agreeable if he gets what he wants but you may see another side of him if he is frustrated. He wants to marry you? “Let’s talk about this in six months and see how our relationship goes in the meantime.” Your job is to keep being the adult and see what happens.
Is he himself unforgiving? If you do something that displeases or hurts him, will he shut an emotional door? It’s kind of hard to work things out, when only one is willing to try. Why does he wall himself off? What’s going on there? Why do you want to stay with a man who is unavailable?
Recovering fundamentalists are not used to speaking up for themselves.
Who is your “self” when you are leaving fundamentalism? If you cannot assert yourself in a relationship, you may be walked on. Get a book on assertiveness training or seek professional help on this subject.
Is he emotionally available? Do you feel warmth from him? A long time ago, before I had much sense of “self,” I dated someone who I later learned was gay, though I didn’t pick up on it for quite a while. I told myself that he was just being respectful. I can remember sitting next to him at a concert, touching the edge of his jacket just for some sort of contact. Some sort is right.
Distinguish between “good listeners.”
We are primed for having attention paid to our communication-starved selves. Hopefully the other individual is a good listener because he has his life in order and is able to pay attention to what you are saying and enter into real communication with you, where he is giving 50% and not just passively listening.
Conversely, maybe the other individual is listening because he has nothing going on in his own life, and he is delighted to find someone to entertain him or even teach him. Maybe his passivity would bore you to death eventually.
Beware of charming individuals. Go beneath the surface, not only for looks, but also for charm. Charming people can be very superficial. Try to figure out what their inner compasses are. What drives him? What does he value?
Hone your communication skills. Learn to ask questions to draw out the other person. “That’s interesting. Why do you say that?” “I’m trying to understand. What do you mean by….?” Does the other person show any interest in you? Is he curious about this or that about your life and your journey? Can you trust his wanting to know? Is it idle curiosity or flattery, or is his wanting to know connected with his own process of growth and caring?
Are you pleased with your own control when conversing with him? You don’t have to respond to a question just because it has been asked. You maintain your boundaries and are self-protective until you know if you can trust and respect the other individual.
Is communication a two-way street, and do you feel that you are growing together as you converse? Because we are set in “forward mode” from fundamentalism, it can be hard to step back and get the larger picture. Some things are not going to change. Some people, even if we gave it our best efforts, are not going to change. If we are aware of this possibility from the start, we might find it unnecessary and even counter-productive to extend our “best efforts.” Rather, we’d accept reality and stop giving. Sometimes it’s OK to just give up on a person (contrary to our early teaching in fundamentalism).
The word “communication” comes from word stems meaning “building together.” Extending your best efforts isn’t “building together.” Extending your best efforts when there is minimal response is one person trying too hard.
Watch for the action. Words are cheap. What is the person doing to develop himself and contribute to the world? What is his character? What are his thought processes like? How much do you have in common? Could he be an equal partner for you?
What do you do if you sense that you are talking too much without an equal response? Be open to drawing back in the conversation and in the relationship. Sometimes we learn things from drawing back that are disappointing. Perhaps the other individual turns out to be clueless, to have an ego that is a fortress, to be cynical because he thinks he has all the answers, to be all about himself, to be looking for a yes person, to be looking for a soul mate who is really an accepting mommy, or to be looking for a playmate.
Perhaps, on the other hand, you’ll find him to be humble and humane… but then, if he were, you’d likely have known that already and not be going through these emotional gyrations. Take time to flesh out the honest picture. Give what you get.
You might find out that what you are giving is carrying the other person in relation to you, and if you stop giving, the whole dynamic changes. You might find out that he doesn’t even notice that you’ve withdrawn. You need to understand as much as you can who the other individual is and, thus, to understand emotionally what you can expect from him.
Are you more verbal by far than he is? That may or may not be a concern as the years goes by if he has enough gray matter to be understanding and wants to grow. Verbal ability has to be balanced out with other things, but give some consideration to the subject.
When you can share on deep levels, verbalizing may not be so important. Go to a book discussion group if he isn’t into words. No one person can meet all our needs.
The lack of a developed inner compass can be a serious weakness.
If your inner compass has become strong, you will have a much easier time of finding and recognizing someone with a similar inner compass. Conversely, if you are unformed and confused, you may attract someone who is happy to take you over for his own purposes. If you don’t have your own opinion, someone else will give you his.
Be the person you would like to meet. Do the hard work of developing your own human potential and value system, your awareness and consciousness. Develop an intimate way of viewing the world. Be a world citizen. Enjoy solitude. Find your passion. Grow through learning and through action, through work. Outgrow your need for another person. There are plenty of sources of love and warmth out there.
Is he just out for fun, someone looking for a sex partner? Playboys can be most charming. That is what they’re about, and an inexperienced woman thinks that he recognizes something in her that he’s been looking for all his life… or at least he will once he gets to know her. After all, we had the early programming of being so special that the deity sent his son for our salvation. Perhaps there is some carry-over there.
Is he oblivious to the deeper meanings of life and relationship? Don’t assume that he’ll recognize what he was looking for all this time in you. You could be replaced the next week, if he’s not already talking with other women on-line.
Watch out for narcissism, where everything is about him, and he is self-centered. If you really want the relationship, you may miss this. A narcissist can be a charming adolescent, especially if he wants to draw you in.
Be aware that you may be programmed for patience. Remember those “deathbed conversion” stories in fundamentalism? Remember how fundamentalists never give up on anyone? You have this training, too. The reality is different now. If someone isn’t holding up his end of the relationship, it may be time to move on. Don’t hang in there waiting for his love somewhere down the road. If you can’t flourish in the relationship, move on. Stop the passive waiting if there is no action on his part.
Through communication, sense the degree of awareness on the part of your friend.
We spoke above about pulling back in a relationship in order to see what is true. Your doing nothing puts the ball in his hands. Maybe he won’t even be aware that something is happening, or maybe even wrong, in the space between you. It is important for you to be able to see if he is aware and comes to you about this, or if he isn’t aware. You need to find out who he really is. If you don’t bring this to a head, there is the burn-out factor for you emotionally.
You can’t make him get it if he doesn’t understand that he is shutting you down and pushing your spirit and your emotions out of the space between you. He has to be aware to be willing to change, and if he isn’t aware, you can’t make him aware. This is not just one incident here. This is indicative of a whole system of body, mind, and feelings. You can do nothing to change this dynamic. It has to come from him – and he has to be aware to want to make changes.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP VULNERABILITIES MIGHT RELATE TO OUR PROGRAMMING IN FUNDAMENTALISM?
A rough outline of the subjects addressed in this section include:
- Passivity and magical thinking
- Wants vs needs
- The strength of the wish (for love as salvation)
- Self-esteem issues
- Sense of superiority/entitlement
- Heart/head disconnects
- Emotional discrepancies
- Used to rigidity of thought
- Women as second class citizens
We are used to passivity and magical thinking.
As we leave fundamentalism, our orientation may be still be a superstitious consideration of “God’s will” in every encounter. Why wouldn’t it be, even if we are no longer believers? Unless we become aware of our orientation and consciously correct it, it’s still there, whether it’s labeled “God’s will” or not. It doesn’t just disappear because we stopped going to church. The pattern is, “We wait, and God brings his choice for our lives.”
One net result is passivity. Whoever crosses our path gets our attention. Then we don’t tend to hold our prospective friend to account, nor are we particularly aware of his actions. We tend to take what the new friend says at face value, without seeing if the words are true. We tend to cut him slack and make excuses for him and troll for evidence that things are improving.
A contrast to this would be to put up an invisible shield against strangers who come on to us. If we know who we are and what we want in a relationship, then we will have control. The burden of proof will be on the other individual, to show us convincingly that he is a good person, with a good value system, steady and honest, and an adult – and that he cares about us and wants us.
Notice if the individual is passive, feeding off your activities while he does nothing. You may be so used to magical thinking, that a deity will work things out, that this person may be “the one,” that you might not even notice his passivity. You might carry far more than your share of the relationship, which feeds into his passivity.
You may cross paths with a person who has no sense of direction. He is not growing, is not curious, and is not interested in being a world citizen. Over time, such an individual could become very boring to you. A good question to ask a prospective friend is, “What do you do in your leisure time?” Perhaps the person wastes his leisure time, watching a lot of sports on TV, and is happy with simple-minded entertainment. What can he add to your life? Not much.
Be careful not to transfer magical thinking into a new relationship.
We are used to ideology trumping over reality. That is, when we were in fundamentalist religion, our spirit-world was the real world to us. Don’t transfer that magical thinking world into a hoped-for relationship.
Here’s an example from Internet dating. You read a very attractive profile at an Internet dating site and decide that this individual sounds like a perfect match. You proceed on that basis, expecting the person to recognize you. You meet, and the first date goes well. The “perfect match” aura spreads further over him. He clips something meaningful for you to read and sends it to you. “How sensitive,” you think.
However, the individual fails to mention until later that he is not financially stable and doesn’t want to be questioned about a string of poor decisions. You fail to pick up on the signs, though, because you have the unconscious wish and “foregone conclusion” imprinted on your heart already. “He could be a match, and I want to go further with this relationship.”
Don’t get tied up with adolescent romanticized ideas. Deal with facts, with reality, as an adult would. Anyone can write pretty words, or get a better writer to pen them for him. In real estate, falling in love with a house is not a good idea. Falling in love with a man or woman also may not serve you well.
We have been imprinted with the desire for a heavenly father.
As children, we look to our parents for security, love, and guidance. That emotional habit can be carried over. As older people, wouldn’t it be nice to have an authoritarian figure to fulfill the same role? To give security, love, and guidance? Why not? It sounds good to me. The only problem is that if I continue to look outside myself for that sort of authoritarian figure, I’m not going to become an adult. I have to take over that role for myself.
In the book, The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Lhosa, members of the inner circle around the charismatic dictator, Trujillo, were described. When one fell from grace, the author notes that he had a “childish” reaction of panic. Charisma can be beguiling.
Maybe all humans start out with that habit of dependency. Growing up is to outgrow it. Fundamentalist religion keeps us dependent, though, and tells us that dependency is what we were made for. I asked an older friend what caused him to grow up. He said that he joined the navy.
Former fundamentalists can have a continuing undercurrent of longing for an invisible friend – even if we put the deity on the shelf or no longer believe at all – until we “put childish things aside” and assume responsibility for our own selves. The emotional habit of looking for a father figure was imprinted in us, and now we have to consciously address it. Terri Gross of NPR, interviewed a man who spoke of “getting the character out of my head,” when he left Orthodox Judaism.
Be aware of wants vs needs.
Try to distinguish in communication and in his acts whether your friend primarily wants or needs you. He may be a boy needing you, when you need a man wanting you. Your heart may go out to the boy, but that wouldn’t be healthy for either of you. You need to understand what you are dealing with in order to retain your power and make the best determination. You have a choice about who you will let into your heart and your life. If he is not trying to correct anything in his own life and in communication with you, that tells you something important.
Watch out for passive-aggressive individuals.
My observations are that passive aggression is not uncommon in fundamentalism. A person can be passive, waiting for God to speak, but with Bible in hand, that passive, surrendered person can become aggressive. “God said it, not I.” That mindset can carry over.
If an individual was passive aggressive prior to coming to fundamentalism, fundamentalism gives its stamp of approval to the dysfunction. Now the individual knows he is right and can be forceful with all the weight of scripture behind him.
It’s not just in fundamentalism that a passive-aggressive individual is found. You might experience a familiar feeling with someone out in “the world,” too. A passive aggressive individual always wins and always looks innocent unless you understand how that works and what to do about it. The aggressive part makes him always hang around, feeding off your emotions, but the passive part means he does nothing except when it needs to win. So, whether you are meeting with the aggressive or the passive part, he doesn’t leave. By your feeding into the passive part, the passive part wins. He tames you. Both intellectually and emotionally, you have to have his number.
Passive aggressive individuals can draw you in and checkmate you, if you’re not careful. They set you up so that they look innocent and you look like the bad guy.
We may be driven by loneliness.
We have already spoken about how lonely fundamentalist religion can be. Some of us tried to bring “worldly” dates into the religion and get them “saved,” so that we could be with them. When the dates reneged and exited the scene, we experienced loss.
This loneliness can heighten the wish for connection with an equal partner. “The wish” can have a very strong pull and at times overrule our mental faculties. Emotions may be well out of proportion to the situation.
When this happens, as Katie says, (www.theWork.com) we get into the other person’s business instead of paying attention to our own business and life. Listening to her CD (or reading the book), I Need your Love – Is that True? can be very helpful here.
If you stay in your own business, you will be focused on your own journey and the purposes in your life. Being in a bad relationship will drain your energy and emotional reserves.
Your objective is to have a happy and fulfilled life on your own. If you are happy and fulfilled and then meet someone, you will have a much better foundation for assessing the relationship and for either making your exit or for growing a real friendship with the other person.
Many older women who have spent long years in difficult and unrewarding relationships are glad to be free. They may have no intention of getting connected up with another partner. Hard experiences can clear the mind and make a man or a woman value solitude and independence. This seems to me to be a safer stance than to be “out looking.” Figure out what you love and do that, and perhaps a partner will come along naturally. Or not. We can come to be ok with either contingency.
Does he dangle something that “could be so good” before you, but does not follow through? That can be hard for an ex-fundamentalist who has a strong wish for a good relationship and perhaps even an overpowering wish for salvation-through-love, reflective of the fundamentalist mindset.
I found this occasionally with on-line dating, where the man’s write-up was attractive but things turned sour soon. In such cases, as hard as it is, cut loose. If you stay with on-line dating for a while, you will find that with practice, cutting loose becomes easier.
I have no problem with someone that I am writing to telling me he is also writing to a few other women and would like to meet a few before going further with any. It’s the come-on, the writing for awhile, the plan to meet, and then the lack of follow-through that’s hard, especially with those who sounded like good people in their profiles.
Individuals are not chopped liver, to be cast aside when a more attractive candidate arrives. A reply about what happened and why he is saying goodbye and to say thank you for sharing this moment in time seems common human courtesy to me… not just disappearing without any warning.
If you are thinking about dating from an on-line service, beware of an embellished dating write-up. The sharks are out there, and they know how to hook women or men. Fishers of men, indeed. One man reflected that he “didn’t know why” women came after him so much. His write-up and initial letter were the answer. They were not at all tentative and were designed to reel in whoever he wrote to (and he was a good writer). You think he’s recognized you? Ha. You’re the 18th woman who got that letter.
We all probably have stories of happy couples who met through on-line dating, but for every happy couple…how many others?
Another word about Internet dating sites… For many men, there are so many younger, accomplished women out there that they can have their pick. Couple that with a sense of entitlement, and they may be more interested in how attractive the woman is or how much money she may have, what her status and earning power are, than they are interested in a person.
Materialistically oriented men may have little or no sense of an inner compass or of finding a kindred soul to walk with through life. There are a lot of men looking for women with money, and women looking for men with money. If they think they have a good shot at getting what they want, they can afford to be agreeable. Don’t let on if you have money. Better that you should fall short of the competition. Feel relieved, not rejected.
Beware of individuals who want to marry a U.S. citizen. Flattery and attention can be laid on thick. It’s not about you, sweetheart.
Resolve feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness needs to be understood and resolved in a way that is right for you. Get to where you enjoy your solitude and have found your creativity. Look for like-minded friends, just one or a few. All these steps will take time, but meanwhile recognize your possible vulnerabilities associated with loneliness. If needed, find an interpersonal counselor and participate in group therapy. Do what you can to speed up your recovery. Take advantage of whatever resources you can. Get involved in activities that hold interest for you or that, once you are involved, might fire your passion.
We may lack healthy self-esteem. We may not subconsciously believe that we deserve more than to be treated shabbily or to be with anyone who treats others shabbily.
Our self-esteem may have been destroyed in fundamentalism. That, coupled with feeling invisible, can set us up for an abusive relationship or for a relationship where the other individual does not make us a priority in his life.
Again, be alert to the difference between “want” and “need.” Maybe he just needs you as a mommy figure but doesn’t want you as a life partner.
Conversely, we also had a sense of superiority and entitlement in fundamentalism.
When we were fundamentalists, we thought that we had all the answers. We felt superior because we knew everything about people. This is a common mindset of any type of fundamentalist.
Now as recovering fundamentalists, our perspective undergoes a 180-degree shift. We no longer operate as people who are exempt from the challenges of being human. Now we get to see ourselves and others differently. We bring ourselves differently to a friendship or professional relationship. We get to learn that we are not as smart as we once thought we were. We experience the feeling of relief to know that we are ordinary and get to build our lives, just like everyone else.
Watch out for justification by the ego instead of just the simple owning of a mistake.
Can your friend own a mistake, make amends as best as possible, and change direction? If not, perhaps he has a sense of entitlement about what life owes him that got in the way of living from the heart. If you continue to give more and more of yourself into the relationship, looking for little bits of hope, you will start to doubt yourself and end up on a treadmill of doubt, questioning, and blaming yourself for not saying this or that better. Meanwhile, he is not changing anything and is even closed to the possibility of change.
Does he enjoy argumentation and debates? Is he a contrarian thinker? This trait can be hard to live with. You don’t talk together cooperatively, and you get verbally attacked. Bring up those questions, “I’m trying to understand. Why did you say…?”
What underlies this contrarian tendency? Arrogance? A superiority complex? Does the man think that you and the rest of us are intellectual peons?
We are primed for boundary problems in fundamentalism.
Our “souls” were open for the plucking. There was no sense of soul-privacy when it came to getting a soul “saved.” Think for a moment about fundamentalist funerals, which should be occasions for honoring the deceased and reaching out to one another. In many fundamentalist churches, funerals are typically about using the occasion to try to reel in unsaved relatives and friends of the deceased. What an opportunity. The “unsaved” are viewed as vulnerable in the face of death and grieving and therefore “more open” for the message of salvation. This funeral may, indeed, be the only occasion in their whole lives that they get to hear the “gospel message.” The pastor would be remiss if he didn’t share that message. And so he rolls earnestly into areas of private grieving that he has no business being in.
Even after being “saved,” if we were perceived as stepping out of line as fundamentalists, the whole congregation could be praying for us. We were accustomed to and expectant of a lack of privacy as fundamentalists.
Personal boundaries just don’t magically appear when we leave our congregations. The safer path would be to assume that we have work to do on boundaries and either get a book on the subject or get some professional help. Boundary issues are a huge topic in therapy.
Here is an example of boundary issues, incorporating shadows of both “openness in the unsaved” and “the pull toward salvation.”
A person stands before us and says, “I’m hurting, help me.” That may appear to be a no-brainer. Our first thought is that of course we would help. But a wiser person would step back and determine if he should get involved or perhaps instead refer the other for professional help.
When it came to the unsaved, anyone and everyone was of interest, a target. Recovering fundamentalists can be subconsciously attuned to anyone and everyone crossing their path. For the other person to ask something of the recovering fundamentalist may cause strings to resonate in the recovering fundamentalist: “That person is open, and something may come of it.” Alas, small acts of helping can often lead to larger acts of helping until you are in over your head. The pull toward salvation is strong. We need to recognize it and realize that we cannot save the world.
Before you get too involved, seek mature advice, maybe even professional advice. Sorting out when to say yes or no in view of other people’s needs can be hard. Some needs are legitimate, and your help might end up making a big difference for someone. Other needs are not legitimate, and you could be giving to a black hole. You might give to someone you trust and who appeared to have a string of bad luck, only to find out afterwards that the individual was a gambling addict. We former fundies are not used to dealing with master manipulators.
Follow the action in the other person, as stated above. Words are cheap. What is the person doing with his life, with his leisure, with resolving difficulties in your relationship?
Keep your boundaries strong. Avoid sex too early in the relationship. If a man doesn’t view the world intimately, having sex is not going to change that. You deserve more.
Understand how, especially coming from both the ecstasy and the loneliness of fundamentalism, the wish for a loving relationship can be very strong in you, maybe much stronger than warranted by the current relationship. Deal with reality. Don’t superimpose your wish for a loving relationship on a troubled relationship, hoping that time will work things out. All the wishes in the world won’t turn a frog into a prince. Your friend has to want to be a good human being and to be willing for the hard work it takes to build an adult relationship.
Be cautious about responding to someone who wants you. He may not have your respect if you knew him better. He may not be capable of being an equal partner. He may never have experienced an adult relationship. His wanting you may turn out to be unlucky for you. You do not have to respond to his need just because he wants you. Decide the level of relationship you want from an individual – acquaintance, friend, lover, committed partner.
Our personal boundaries are important for determining what we don’t want, as much as what we do want and will allow.
If we don’t know who we are and what we want, then we might not be able to recognize what we don’t want in a relationship. We may be oblivious to thoughts of a new friend’s character or what we might have in common. We may register discrepancies (“we really don’t talk very well together”) but ignore them and go forward from there, plowing right through stop signs. We may not critically assess some of the things our new friend says or does.
Once we’ve done the hard work on raising our consciousness and setting personal boundaries, then we can take care of ourselves and have ourselves well enough in hand to say, “No.” “No, I’m not comfortable with that.” “No, I’m not ready for that.” “No, I’m not happy with our level of communication.” “No, I don’t think we have that much in common.” “No, we aren’t kindred spirits.” “No, you are not honoring me as a priority in your life.”
Conversely, until we can say “No,” we cannot say “Yes.” We may be mixed up and addicted to “greener pastures”. In such a case, saying “yes” to a worthy friend may mean little. If someone more enticing then ensnares our emotions, what exactly did that “yes” to our true friend mean? Was the “yes” just reflective of our good intentions and feelings of the moment? How could our true friend trust us if we could be so easily swayed by an attractive charmer?
We need steadiness within ourselves before we can trust ourselves. We need to be secure in what we want and what we don’t want.
If you are unsure whether the man is feeding off you, keep silent. As mentioned above, if you stop giving, you will see what he does, or doesn’t, do.
Your greatest strength is the gift of friendship, and if you give it to someone who doesn’t want it or is incapable of being an equal partner, your strength turns into a weakness. Your friend must activate his own personal and intimate resources of mind, of heart, of intellect and find those resources of his own awareness. No one else on the planet – not a counselor and not you – can do that for him. If he is careless or doesn’t care how he creates himself, he will not be able to be an equal partner for you.
Conversely, you must know who you are in the face of this relationship. You have to be strong, because you are aware of your dignity and of your precious human spirit. You have to protect your self and honor it. You have to cherish your mind and your capacity to use words to problem-solve and to grow awareness.
You have to stand for the capacity to have feelings and emotions, to think, to choose, to grow and to become, to stand for the capacity to love, and to have the strength to connect for the survival of all this through friendship. When you withdraw your giving, you may find that you do not even have a friendship with this individual. What you thought was a friendship might have been no more than his feeding off you emotionally.
Physical intimacy can be mistaken for real intimacy.
If we know who we are and what we want for our deepest happiness, we will be better able to recognize a worthy relationship which honors both parties, including bodies. Then we can let nature take its course when we are ready, when we want to know and be known sexually.
Avoid getting involved sexually too early. It is a fallacy that having sex will help the other person to true intimacy, to a deeper level of sharing. I read once that having four meals together is enough to let you know if you have something good going or not, to decide if you two would be a good match or not. Meals, not overnights.
Men who lack self-awareness, who haven’t done their homework to grow up and who are non-verbal about their feelings commonly use physical contact in place of genuine communication. They may pressure you for sex before you are ready. You’d soon get tired of such a shallow relationship… or you’d get hooked and keep giving, thinking that your giving may elicit more of what you need from the man. That’s not how it works. Give it up. He has to do the wanting more, you can’t do it for him.
Beware of the lure of “pillow talk.” If a guy can’t talk to you upright, a change in position isn’t going to change that.
Be alert to possibly being a relationship addict yourself.
Loneliness and being off-balance to begin with can result at times in unexpectedly strong emotions that may seem uncontrollable. If this happens to you, protect yourself. Get a counselor involved. The stakes are too high if you get involved with a charming but troubled person.
The director of a drug recovery house for girls commented, “Every girl who comes in here is in love with Prince Charming” – a Prince Charming who hooked her on him and then on drugs. What a deal.
We need to have firm personal boundaries if we hope to protect ourselves.
When our boundaries are not firm, and when we don’t know for sure what we want, someone else will flow into that situation and take what they know they want. Our programming is to be wide open to “God’s will.” That wide open stance needs to be examined for what it is and reined in.
We need to find out what is precious in our core and protect it with our life. That’s what personal boundaries are all about.
Be careful with someone from a background with childhood abuse, even if he has been in therapy for it. He might be a nice person but also may be overly sensitive towards perceived slights and may withdraw instead of engaging with you.
What are his interests? Is he mainly interested in his own healing, or is he engaged with the world? If you want to go forward with the relationship, some joints sessions with his or another therapist may be in order.
…to be continued in the tab, Relationship Pitfalls.