Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a young woman, eighteen years old now, and studying at university. Three years ago, when I was in secondary school, I had an abusive friendship with a boy named Ned.**
(**all identifying details changed for quality assurance.)
Ned had no friends, and I, as a somewhat awkward outcast in a small country school, quickly connected with him. It became very clear that he was not a good fit for a friendship – he shut down my interests quickly while begging me to participate in his, he told me I “couldn’t” be friends with other people and that I was the only thing keeping him from suicide, and he reached the point of physically stalking me.
The Ned situation was handled, but it has left me feeling frightened of myself. I am at university and have a few very close friends now, but I’m terrified that I may end up clinging to them as tightly and as unhealthily as Ned did to me. As a result, I find myself pushing away from the people who are closest to me – I ask them, more than I should but less than I used to (yay therapy) if I’m doing something wrong, etc. I am frightened that, just like I felt about Ned, my friends are too frightened of me to tell me if I do something wrong.
I know that this hurts my relationships far more than just me being myself ever could, but I don’t know how to squash my insecurity completely. That, of course, just freaks me out even more, and I end up in this ridiculous cycle of panic and insecurity that really needs to go.
Do any of you humans on Team Awkward have any suggestions on how not to become a Ned-type person, and on how to stop being so afraid of it in the first place? I’m at my wit’s end.
Nope, Not Ned
Dear Nope, Not Ned:
I am not at all worried about you ever becoming like “Ned,” do you want to know why?
- You are self-aware about the issue and actively trying to work on it (with a therapist, for example).
- You have experienced this from both sides (anxious feelings around attachment, being in the crosshairs of someone’s obsession) and have empathy for what that’s like. You also don’t have the dangerous sense of entitlement that Ned developed.
Empathy you’ve got in spades, and you’re doing the work, so the third factor here is probably time. What Ned did to you was very wrong, and very scary, and it’s not surprising that it’s had some longer-term consequences. It will take time to get over all of it. You need time to feel safe again, time for therapy to do its work, time to relax into your university routine and feel safe in your friendships.
I have three suggestions for things you might try as you move forward:
When you can, with the counsel of your therapist, find a way to tell the story of what happened with you and Ned and where it’s left you emotionally. Whether it’s telling your closest friends, writing a journal or a letter or an essay, making an art project – tell some people you trust what happened and where it’s left you. With friends, you could add “Sometimes when I need a little extra reassurance, it would help me if you could (not make a big deal out of it)(listen to me without interrupting)(just know where it’s coming from and be a little patient)(distract me and help me snap out of it)(whatever it is you think you might need).”
Be a part of things. As your schedule and energy allow, take advantage of the university social landscape of clubs, service organizations, campus social events and screenings/speakers/readings. Making friends is a skill. Meeting people and becoming more loosely connected is also a skill. It’s hard to get started (to go to an event where you won’t know anyone, for instance), but the more you practice the easier it gets. There is an enormous opportunity here for you to learn to become connected to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. You are not that teenaged outcast anymore, and your social scene is not going to be one of scarcity while you’re in these university years. Is it possible you can be less anxious if you can remind yourself that you have lots of options, lots of connections?
Is there a way to connect with other survivors? Sadly, you’re not the only person who has gone through an abusive situation at a very young age. Is there an organization or community – at school, or online – where you could connect with and find ongoing support from other people who have gone through similar circumstances? The site I linked above, The Sunflower Project, was started by a brilliant young woman who was abused by her boyfriend in high school. The Scarleteen message boards are a remarkable resource. Maybe just having a safe place you can turn to where you don’t have to explain anything to be believed and supported will help you as you go on.
I’m sure our community will have other suggestions. Keep awesomeing and be gentle with yourself.