#953: “I am anxious that I will become like the person who clung to and stalked me.”

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.

Thank you!

Signed,
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

112 comments
  1. I had this issue and my therapist recommended that I make several casual friends and practice only hanging out with them once a week. It really helped, and I found I was relying less on my close friends, which improved my relationship with them.

    • dr_silverware said:

      That’s really good advice!

      LW, part of your worry seems to be that you’ll flow over people’s boundaries like Ned did to yours. And because you’re really worried about that, you’re misjudging your friends’ boundaries too much in the opposite direction. Setting up some artificial but reasonable limitations like “once a week” may really, really help.

    • Muffin said:

      This is great advice, and similar to something my therapist suggested: I set up a once-a-week, low-key hangout with a bunch of friends at my place to watch a tv show (we did like three eps every week). It was always at the exact same time and in the exact same place, and we specifically agreed that there were no RSVPs allowed.

      That may sound counterintuitive, but it really helped my anxiety because it meant I didn’t have to do any emotional labor! No texting back and forth about whether so-and-so could make it this week, no apologies or discussion of whether we should move the meeting to another date or time. It took a few tries to set those boundaries, but once it got going and a core crowd developed, it became an amazing way to have low-stakes hangouts with people I liked where nobody was pushing for more or less involvement.

      You sound like a kind, conscientious person, LW — I hope this everything works out for you!

      • Mary said:

        We used to do this with the Wednesday night cheap seats at the local indy cinema. I found in my third year that one of my friends just went every week and told people she was going, and if other people turned up, great! If not, she took a book to read before the film started and enjoyed the film. It worked so well as a low pressure way of inviting people to stuff that I started doing the same thing when I moved back to the same city as a graduate student.

      • Anxiety Cat said:

        I love the idea of a regular meetup with no RSVPs. It releases both participants and the organizer from the guilt cycle of “I can’t make it this week, I’m soooo sorry”. Brilliant! I am going to try this with my next regular friends meetup. 🙂

        • Heather said:

          I was thinking “This sounds like a great idea” and then realised that I actually do this! My friend started a crochet club in our small town. we meet at the same time in the same place every week. We do advertise it sometimes, but mostly it’s advertised as “if you want to, come along!”
          Sometimes we have our own stuff going on, so we just go when we can. I figure if I end up being the only one there, then I have crochet to do and a great coffee to enjoy.

          • Anxiety Cat said:

            That’s definitely the key to the success of this: the activity should be one that someone can enjoy by themselves. I tried to do a low-key weekly bouldering (rock climbing) get-together at my climbing gym with some friends, but it really sucked when no one showed up. You end up waiting around for a long time in the main lobby, then feel bummed/rejected when no one else makes an appearance. I like climbing solo just fine, but when other folks come along you tend to all meet up at the same time so you can work on “problems” (climbing routes) together. So it would often be kind of a let-down. :-/

            But this is still a great idea! I just need to find a better activity to use it on. 😉

      • I got three friends who didn’t know each other together for what became known as Anime Collective each Wednesday while I was at uni. One of these friends was similar to you, LW, in that they had a lot of anxiety around friendship and it ended up being a great way for him to ease into feeling more socially comfortable.

        I low-key understand where you’re coming from, though not to the same degree. In my early twenties I was so petrified of being as annoying/entitled as the dudes I didn’t like who would hit on me that I was too anxious to even express interest in the people I liked, and as a result probably missed out on some good friends and/or relationships. I can only imagine how much worse it would be having been stalked. Jedi hugs if you would like them.

        It’s also ok to keep having anxiety around friendships and relationships. It’s not uncommon. There are many other commenters on this thread who have wonderful strategies for managing and existing with this kind of anxiety. Some of which I’m going to steal and use myself… *shifty eyes*

      • Parenthetically said:

        This sounds legitimately amazing.

    • YesVirginia said:

      A weekly class or club (or monthly class/club!) is awesome for making casual friends if you’re not sure where to find them. 🙂 (Clay class and a “women in science” club have been and were really good for me to make friends that aren’t BFFs but still friends to hang out with.) It’s low stress, it’s at a set time, and if you can’t go one week, it’s not the end of the world.

      • thathat said:

        I cannot recommend joining a club highly enough. I’m pretty bad at socializing, and sometimes Swing Dance club was the ONLY thing I did to really interact with other people in a week. But it’s exactly what YesVirginia said–low stress, easily planned for, ok to skip once in awhile. There’s enough people that you don’t usually wind up focusing everything on just one person (I mean, I did wind up with a regular dance partner that I hung out with, but it was organic, and there were plenty of other people to talk to as well).

        Even now, well out of college, there’s a weekly sketch group in my town for all the introvert artist types to drag ourselves to. And again, sometimes it’s the ONLY social thing I can get myself to do in a week. And sometimes I don’t even make it. But it’s always there.

  2. All this advice is great – I just wanted to add: don’t underestimate how much your peers feel the same. You’re especially aware of it because of your past, but moving to a new environment, maybe a new region, is stressful for everyone. It took me more than a year to feel like I had a couple really good friends at university, and I stayed in my home town!

    Anxious Brain (I named mine Tina) will tell you that it’s just you – everyone else is confident and comfortable and can tell that you’re not. This is not true! Almost everyone around you feels insecure because change, even good change, is scary. You’re ahead of a lot of your peers just in being willing and eager to ask for help.

    Look at how far you’ve come in the last year and know that you’ll go just as far in the next one.

    • Stephanie said:

      I think I need a name for my anxious brain as you put it. Thank you, great idea!

      • It was a recommendation from a former therapist that I adapted. For me it supports a good combination of empathy and objectivity for myself. I can recognize when Tina is overreacting, but still be kind and understanding towards her.

        Someone else once told me they think of their anxiety as a quivering greyhound hiding under a blanket and I really liked that, too. It makes me want to give myself a hug instead of beat myself up.

        • Big Pink Box said:

          That’s a really great metaphor for anxiety, the shivering.

        • jaynn said:

          Mine would be an armadillo, judging from my urges to curl into a ball and roll under the bed.

        • Parenthetically said:

          Churchill, I gather, had a similar metaphor for his depression that I’ve used and like — he called it the Black Dog. I’ve not read much more about that, but I liked the idea of my depression being something that could be difficult and even seriously horrible, like a poorly-trained, large dog who barks and bites and craps all over the house, but that with time and patience and care and long walks and the right food and maybe obedience school, it could become something that would curl up on a cushion of an evening and be a companion, even.

          • My daughter, who experiences both depression and bipolar 2 (plus chronic fatigue from a neurological illness), told me about a book called “Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression.” She recommends it not just to people who have depression but also to their family and friends as a way to help them understand what it feels like to have chronic (rather than temporary) depression.

            If you can’t afford* to buy your own copy, check the library; if your library doesn’t have the book, ask for an inter-library loan.

            *People with depression may also have financial issues due to inability to work full-time or in jobs that are high-stress. My daughter wrote her own book about that, and blogs about “frugality in an imperfect world” (i.e., the world of those who aren’t typical).

        • Magnet said:

          Mine is called Agatha, she is an old woman who lives in the attic of my brain and is always shouting unwanted advice down to me. I find it helps to be able to shout “shut up Agatha!” up the stairs when she is getting particularly worrisome.

        • SarahTheEntwife said:

          Yeah, I use the dog metaphor too 🙂 It’s like I have this really intelligent working-breed dog, but since I don’t actually need to be constantly on guard against threats it’s doing the mental equivalent of destroying the couch because it’s bored. So for me it can help to kind of mentally pat it on the head and say “yes, good, you identified a potential threat, but I’ve double-checked and it’s not actually harmful.” or “yes, that news story is very upsetting, but it’s not an immediate threat to me and I can’t do anything about it, so let’s go find something we can actually fix rather than chewing the couch about it”.

          • sistercoyote said:

            I may kidnap this, if it’s all right with you.

    • espritdecorps said:

      I call my nemesis Instagram Me. The perfect version of myself that has the benefit of hindsight and being imaginary.

      Instagram Me never flubs an introduction. She never forgets a pet’s name, or child’s birthday. She never spends two hours picking out just the right outfit then gets makeup stains on it as she’s walking out the door.

      • Amtep said:

        I have a work version of that. The person who is exactly like me except for already knowing how to do all the things I’m learning to do. Very hard to compete with. I can never figured out why they hired me instead of that person.

        • Esselyn said:

          Your work did that too, huh? I still wonder how other-Me didn’t get that offer instead. I’ve been here five years and still feel like a total impostor.

      • TyphoidMary said:

        ooooh, I call that my “Director’s Cut Life.”

    • I See The Hurt People said:

      You reminded me of “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides” a quote that cuts through my own mental confusions.

    • Anxiety Cat said:

      This is so, so true. I’m in school right now too, LW, and I often struggle with insecurity and anxiety about making friends. My therapist reminded me recently of just this thing: just because someone appears confident on the outside, doesn’t mean they feel that way on the inside. Most people struggle with these feelings when in a learning environment (because we’re all a bit vulnerable by trying to learn difficult subjects).

      You’re not alone, LW. There’s plenty of company in the Anxious-Uncertain-Awkward club! And now is a good time to practice making friends and learning what reasonable boundaries are (which will vary depending on the person). Asking for help around your insecurities is a great way to see who will be steadfast companions. You can do it!

    • My anxious brain is called Harald. I just appreciate the ease of being able to say “Shut up, Harald!” any time my brain goes into a weird direction.

  3. espritdecorps said:

    People love to tell survivors of abuse that they are more likely to abuse. Which is cruel and untrue.

    This is because many victims were abused by their families and there is a small correlation to future abuse there with many conflicting theories. Unfortunately extrapolating this data into the set of all victims leaves them in fear that the desire to do evil is a ticking time bomb inside of them.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Unrelated victims are much less likely to abuse. Even related victims have only a small chance of abusing others.

    I was not a kind person in my youth. I bore no guilt for it at the time, and had many reasons that seemed to justify it. I’m ashamed of that now, but then, I couldn’t have cared less.

    The fact that you care means that when you hurt people (everyone does sometimes), you will make it right. That’s what good people do.

    • Sugar of lead said:

      Exactly. Patterns of abuse can be replicated by the victim, but not if the victim is aware of them. My dad was abused as a kid, so he avoids doing what they did and looks to my mom (full of healthy parenting) for the rest.

      I’ve been mistreated a fair amount, though I wouldn’t call it abuse, and sometimes I have to fight the urge to do the same thing to other people, like getting revenge on the world or something. I know all the tricks and could probably send a grown man home crying if I really tried. But that doesn’t sound like OP’s situation; they’re more worried about where the boundaries are and how to tell when you’re crossing them

      One thing I have to add for the OP is that one way you’re not like Ned is that people like him cross boundaries at least partly on purpose. You try your damndest to respect others, and any mistakes you might have made were just that, mistakes. The cap’n’s right; you sound very self-aware.

      • Twitchy said:

        That’s a little over-simplified. My parents were abused as children, were aware of the abuse, went to therapy, and still abused their own children. It does happen.

        • Yeah my mom has been verbally abuisive my whole life. She recently addmited to me that for the majority of my childhood she know that she was hurting my siblings and I on a daily bases but making a change to stop was too hard for her so she continued to do it. None of us really like my mom now

        • I had a similar experience, Twitchy. My mother desperately didn’t want to become her mother, and in some ways, went too far in the other direction – but when struggling with her own mental health, she became more and more like her in many ways. But then she never really got the help or support she needed, and still hasn’t.

    • BetterInGreen said:

      Thank you for saying this. When I saw a so-called counsellor as a deeply hurt and grieving teenager, at a practice specifically for “incest survivors” such as myself, one of the first few things she said to me was “of course, you know you’d better never have children, because you will probably abuse them the same way. Statistically. *shrug* ”

      I can’t find the words to explain how devastating that was.

      • TyphoidMary said:

        BetterInGreen, I am very sorry that you had to hear that. With any luck, I’m telling you something you already know, but you are not your abuse and you shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of stigma when seeking treatment.

        I think I’ll go ahead and keep my response to the counselor to myself.

        • BetterInGreen said:

          Thank you, TyphoidMary. Once she started insisting that I must have done something to invite the abuse, and wouldn’t stop, I yelled at her and left that place forever, so I did realise to some degree that she was full of B.S., but the insinuations rattled in my head for a long time after. Thankfully no more. Thank you for your kindness.

          • How horrendous. It’s awful that this person was supposed to be an expert and instead just victimized the clients further. I wish you healing and peace.

      • Megan M. said:

        Oh my goodness, what a deeply hurtful and untrue thing to say to a CHILD who came to you for help! I am thinking very uncharitable thoughts towards that “counselor.” I hope you’ve been able to emphatically disregard that statement in the years since. All of the Jedi hugs to you, if you would like them.

        • Ewww. Sounds like that “counselor” was either the reincarnation of the Marquis de Sade or a cult member. I have heard of religious organizations who offer “counseling” that blames the victim for her own abuse because of some “sin” she committed.

      • espritdecorps said:

        Me too. I’m so sorry.
        It was deeply hurtful, and caused me a decade of pain. I was terrified to be in a relationship with a good person, because they might want kids someday.

        • BetterInGreen said:

          I’m sorry that you went through that too, espritdecorps. I hope you have been able to get free of it since then.

  4. hhhhhh said:

    Lundy Bancrofts’ ‘why does he do that’ book is helpful for a multitude of reasons, the main one being unpacking why abusers do the terrible awful shit they do – its’ not “oh no mental illness” its’ entitlement. You could have all the stressors in the world and still not act abusively. He didn’t do what he did out of loneliness.

    • Ira said:

      Yeah, Bancroft actually goes out of his way to say that victims of most types of abuse are generally less likely to abuse, because they have been there and will have empathy for the victim. It’s the people without empathy and with a sense of entitlement that go on to abuse. LW, you have plenty of empathy. Do not worry.

    • espridecorps said:

      Yes, this is an excellent point.

      I was very entitled. The world had done me wrong, and I shouldn’t have to work for love and success like everyone else. Everything should just fall into my lap because I had suffered enough.
      There was very good reason to be angry at the child abuse I endured, but my kind of permanent victimhood was poison to me and those around me until a wonderful therapist helped me unpack the crap.

  5. Nanani said:

    As the Captain said, the mere fact that you are actively trying not to Ned is a pretty good inoculation against becoming a Ned.
    Feather hugs if you want them, and enjoy the best your university years have to offer!

    • Smudgely said:

      Can Trying Not to Ned be a new CA term?

      • Proffie Galore said:

        I thought that too.

  6. Amber Rose said:

    You are not Ned. You’re also not Not-Ned. You are you, and you don’t have to define yourself in terms of what Ned was or wasn’t.

    Focus on your good qualities, the ones that make people want to be friends with you. The things you know are good about yourself. The things people tell you they like about you. Understand that comparing you and Ned is comparing apples and bears.

    And be gentle with yourself. It takes an instant to learn fear but much longer to unlearn it. Brains hold on to that stuff. You’ll get there eventually.

    • B. said:

      “You are not Ned. You’re also not Not-Ned. You are you, and you don’t have to define yourself in terms of what Ned was or wasn’t.”
      This, a thousand times.

      Ned had an effect in your life, LW, but he can’t dominate it anymore. Give yourself time to heal and find your emotional feet again, but remember that, though the people who hurt us may influence our lives, they don’t define them.

      I wish I had some better advice for you. As someone who is terrified of starting a romantic relationship because I’m terrified of reproducing the abusive dynamics of my parents’ relationship, I feel you. But you are always more than the sum of your wounds. You are working on this. You will get there ♡

  7. I’m with the Cap and everyone else when it comes to “if you’re concerned about it that’s a good sign you’re not being problematic in that way.” Here’s my suggestion with regards to this: “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.”

    When you have that moment when you’re concerned and feel the urge to ask a friend whether you’re doing something wrong, take a second and think to yourself “if they were to ask me why I am asking, how would I describe my reasons?” I find if I have to articulate something like that – not just listen to my own anxiety or insecurity, but describe what I have seen in a way that another person would understand – it goes a long way towards helping me determine if this is just brain gobliins or if I actually saw some sort of indicator to make me feel that way.

    The other thing that might be worth it is asking myself “what would they maybe want to do if there IS a problem?” This is a good way, I think, to avoid putting folks in a situation where they need to be your reassurance or be the heavy.

    So when someone is talking about plans and you worry they don’t really want you along, rather than “are you sure you want me there?” you might say “you don’t sound real enthused about that; would it be better for you if i bow out? I understand if too big a crowd is hard and it’s not a problem for me to make other arrangements.”

  8. emmych said:

    Aw, jeez, this is 100% a thing I struggle with as well. When you’re afraid of emulating someone abusive, it becomes surprisingly hard to be vulnerable and ask for what you need and express intimacy!

    The Captain’s advice on this one is fucking solid, and I have a few more things to add:

    1) Intimacy =/= abusive clinging. You are allowed to desire intimacy with people WITHOUT becoming like Ned. You are also allowed to have needs within your relationships without being a Ned Level Clinger — this is not a case of being 100% cool and aloof or 100% clingy and abusive! You can find the middle ground.

    2) I would dive into why you think you, specifically, would emulate Ned’s behaviours. You know why he sucked, you know how it felt, so why would you do it? From the sounds of what you’re saying, and from my own experience with this fear myself, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. How much thought have you given to 18 year old you? How much care and love have you given to 18 year old you? How much forgiveness? You don’t sound like a shitty person who would use the tactics of abuse you will have learned from your abuser (because yup that sure is what happens when you get abused, you learn the theory of how to do it), so I would gently suggest it’s time to love and trust yourself not to do something like that.

    3) Captain suggests telling the story, which I love. I would expand this further, once you’re ready and it’s less of a raw experience, into disclosing it to new people. A way I’ve owned this fear in my own relationships is to be straight up with people: “Hey, so I’m afraid I’m going to do xyz. If you ever notice me doing that, can you tell me? I value this relationship and want to ensure things don’t get hecked.” And then, after doing that (and this is the kicker), trust your friends to tell you. If they don’t tell you? Trust that shit is probably okay.

    This sounds like it’s all fairly fresh and confusing, so as someone a lil older who has been around the abuse block a few times and ended my worst abusive relationship a year ago: it gets easier, and you get kinder to yourself. Love the fact you survived a scary, bad thing: that makes you tough as nails and deserving of all the love in the world ;w;

  9. Ramona French said:

    Learn to do something that quickly reminds you to relax when you tense up and start to ask your friends needy questions. Instead of speaking, smile at someone, breathe deeply a few times and give yourself a few seconds to relax. I learned breathing exercises, I think it really helps. But maybe some other little routine or mantra will help you get those needed seconds to get past the anxiety.
    I’ve been there, btw, on both sides.

  10. Signer said:

    I’ve had this issue and my therapist suggested that everytime I’m thinking “I’m being too much, did I just push boundaries, I’m scared I’m too clingy” to reframe it as “I’m thinking the thought that I’m too clingy (or insert whatever bad thought)”. Doing that reminds me that my thoughts are NOT truth, and allows me to look at why I’m having that thought. Maybe some mental reframing like that could help?

    • WilhelminaMildew said:

      Thank you for this. It will be a great thing to keep in mind when my own jerk brain starts acting up.

  11. Cora said:

    I’d add one thing: you are clearly a highly intelligent, self-aware and self-respecting person. The thing is, a lot of college-age people are, well, kind of dumb. (I know I was.) That’s not snark, but rather observation. You’re all learning How To Adult, and everyone messes up. It’s difficult, but you have to try and accept the fact that some people are just going to be insensitive sometimes, not because they’re mean (or at Ned-levels of wrong), rather they truly don’t realize how insensitive they’re being. This is where the whole talking about it like adults thing comes in, for which the Captain has tons of great scripts.

    Trust yourself that you can recognize deeply wrong behavior, as opposed to more common plain old mistakes people make. You’ve done it before, and handled it well. Okay, super cornball movie reference to illustrate my point.

  12. Twitchy said:

    I used to worry a lot about becoming like my abusers (family, in this case). I grew up twisting myself into knots to interpret the abuse as them acting in good faith. Which is understandable, you don’t want to think that someone you care about is just being a jerk because they can, but that led me to think that abuse was something you could do by accident, that anyone could just fall into it without really noticing. I saw ‘Why Does He Do That’ recced on this site, and it’s not a perfect book, but it did make some important points, and it helped me re-frame what had happened to me. Abuse is deliberate. People abuse others because they feel they have a right to hurt people in order to get what they want or make themselves feel better. Everyone feels lonely and insecure sometimes. You deal with it by considering your friends’ needs and your own and trying to find solutions that work for all of you. Ned dealt with it by bullying you and threatening suicide. That’s the difference between you.

    Communicate openly with your friends about what you need and want, and listen to what they need and want too. Be willing to compromise and consider different options when you come into conflict. You may accidentally make someone uncomfortable at some point; that’s just the human condition, but you will not accidentally fall into being like Ned.

  13. Thanksforallthefish said:

    The Captain’s advice is spot-on as usual.

    Storytime from someone who actually started stalking someone while being stalked and then recovered:

    While I was being stalked by a married man, I was kinda dating-but then not but still hooking up with-then really not-followed by stalking another guy. I liked him so much more than he liked me. I felt isolated in general but he understood me. He also became my emotional-crutch where I would run to him and tell him about all the creepy stalky things the other guy would do. He was not emotionally available, he signaled in numerous subtle ways that he wasn’t interested in the kind of relationship I wanted. I memorized the sound of his jeep as it pulled up to the building where we both worked. I walked into a mutual friend’s space to say hi to him when I could hear his voice through the walls. I really, really blew past unstated boundaries in a creepy way that I am still horrified by. He was always kind and never said a mean word to me. He never accused me of anything. Luckily I realized I was behaving terribly and driving myself crazy over it. I had to distance myself and get over him like an addiction. Therapy helped a lot. In hindsight I would’ve benefited from acquiring multiple part-time friends.

    The best advice coming out of this would be look for reciprocity in friendships. You take the initiative to see a person maybe 2-3 times then wait for them to initiate. Make sure you aren’t the one always finding, approaching, contacting, them. This will ensure there is balance in the relationship.

  14. Everyone who has commented has great advice. I just wanted to say that it’s been over a decade since I got out of my shitty all-consuming high school “friendship” and I’m doing well, and I’m sure you will get there too. I wholeheartedly agree with the Captain that time is an important factor. Your brain is still developing and got dunked in a vat of interpersonal WTF during a critical period of adolescence—it will take some time to regain a sense of equilibrium in your relationships. But you’re asking the right questions and seeking help, which are great steps. As you learn and grow and come into your own as an adult, your worries about becoming your abuser will begin to lessen.

    The Captain has lots of scripts and analysis about setting appropriate boundaries and good communication that I have taken advantage of over the years, and may serve as a yardstick for your behavior if you have trouble figuring that out. I’m autistic and do not parse many social cues intuitively, and this blog has been a lifesaver for sure. Sometimes it can be a huge help to match your actions against a credible outside measure. “Captain Awkward says it’s proper to try to make plans twice and then leave it to the other person to bring it up again, and I’ve done that, so everything is fine.”

    As far calming the emotions behind it, I can recommend, in addition to seeking out more casual social opportunities at your college, that you find an activity that you’re really good at or very excited about or that always boosts your mood. It will help you not rely on other people for all of your self-esteem and validation, which can take some pressure off your social relationships and make them go more smoothly. There’s less worry about clinging when you know you’ve got a stable base of your own interests and skills.

    I wish you all the best.

  15. gemmaem said:

    I, too, remember this. One of my earliest relationships was with a guy who just would not leave me alone afterwards. Every time I tried to talk to my mother about it she’d get caught up in being sympathetic towards him. Every time I tried to talk to my Dad about it he’d worry that I was being too cruel in my descriptions of how much he was annoying me and how creepy I found it. And I wondered if the way he behaved was just what love *is*, if loving somebody meant selfishly grabbing onto them for your own pleasure. And I worried that I, too, would feel love, and use that as an excuse to not care about others.

    I grew into someone who had rules for flirting-with-consent. And, you know, sometimes they could also be rules for friending-with-consent. I knew how to put out feelers like “maybe we should meet up sometime” and then see whether I got back a mumbled “uh, yeah, sometime” or an enthusiastic “yeah, we should!” or a totally serious “How about Tuesday?” I learned that most people have a really strong sense of their own personal space; my rule was “don’t move closer unless they have space to move away”. And I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re really worried about this, there are systems you can set up; ways to give people the metaphorical space to move away, and then, if they don’t move away, you can know that they must not want to be away from you all that badly. A “no RSVP” friend meetup, as suggested above, is a good example. Back that up with a regular club meeting or something where you can get casual personal interaction on a regular basis, so that you don’t feel too insecure about whether anyone will show.

    Also: jedi hugs if you want them. That sounds like a really hard thing to have messing with your sense of friendship. Having it mess up my own sense of romantic love was bad enough. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be dealing with that on more than one level of personal interaction. Hang in there. You’re a good person. Keep respecting people. You got this.

    • DropTable~DropsMic said:

      > One of my earliest relationships was with a guy who just would not leave me alone afterwards. Every time I tried to talk to my mother about it she’d get caught up in being sympathetic towards him. Every time I tried to talk to my Dad about it he’d worry that I was being too cruel in my descriptions of how much he was annoying me and how creepy I found it.

      Holy shit, my parents did the same thing. Both of them were more sympathetic to my stalker than to me for being stalked. It seriously fucked me up and made me believe I didn’t get to have needs or boundaries for years after. Sorry to hear you’re also a member of this awful, awful club.

      • gemmaem said:

        It’s so weird, really. My mother was super-paranoid about acquaintance rape. She wouldn’t let me attend a party overnight when I was nineteen, just in case one of the guests tried to rape me while I slept. But she couldn’t see that responding to “this man will not leave me alone” with “oh, he must feel so bad!” was completely undercutting the idea of consent.

        I was lucky, in some ways. I had absorbed the assertiveness education that my mother gave me from a young age well enough to apply it to a situation where even she couldn’t see that it was needed. But it still messed me up for a while. I remember there was this moment, the next year, where this guy had been flirting with me pretty hard for a while, and, while I liked the flirting, I was pretty sure he wanted sex and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have sex with him. So the next time he flirted, I put up my hands and said “uh-uh” and … that was it. That was all he needed. I couldn’t believe it.

        Seriously, that guy pretty much single-handedly restored my faith in the human race, right there. Because it wasn’t like he was some sort of super straightforward, overly respectful guy. He talked about sex a lot, he talked about porn a lot, and he was no feminist — just your average guy who liked to get laid. But he knew a “no” even when it had barely been verbalized, and, damn, that meant a lot.

      • Yuck! What kind of parents would be sympathetic to their child’s stalker and not their child???

        • Willow said:

          Sucky ones!

        • solecism said:

          Parents steeped in rape culture and all the media everywhere that sends the message of “just give the guy a chance!” and “that just means he likes you!” and “don’t be mean to the poor, poor boy!”

          • Oh dear. I hope you’re not speaking from personal experience.

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          Crops up all the time. The stalker’s behavior is beyond their control, but if they shift the blame to the person whose behavior they CAN control, well, hey! What can’t be endured can be _cured_! (I actually think this is why 1. abuse victims tend to blame themselves, and will almost never leave if someone is “only” hurting them, until that very moment they stop sponging up the blame; 2. rape culture exists— we’ve already asked the rapist not to rape, let’s reduce rape by altering the behavior of someone who listens to us.)

          It really, really sucks to go through, and I’m sorry you had to, gemmaem.

          • Ugh, the good old Just Word Fallacy.

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          One’s that totally buy into the “boys will be boys” narrative and have Rom Coms playing in their head telling them the story about how it’s “supposed to go” which means the sad soulful ex holding the boombox outside the window in the pouring rain is romantic.
          Ugh.
          Like how my mom would say how she “misses ex and what ever happened to him?” for years after my sister and her abusive ex-fiance broke up and just could not understand how unwelcome broaching that subject is for my sister. She can only see how her narrative of daughters who go to college then get married and have grand-babies was not happening, and horrible abusive ex-fiance was the closest she ever got.

          • I’m so sorry your sister is experiencing that.

        • DropTable~DropsMic said:

          Same ones who responded to my brother’s abuse with “just ignore it.” My dad also gets offended by protestors against police brutality and hate speech even though he’s theoretically against those things.

          They are good, generous, kind people in most ways but when it comes to certain kinds of hurt they are way too quick to dismiss the problem

          • I’m so sorry you had to go through that! Sounds like your dad has a wide authoritarian streak.

      • I See Hurt People said:

        That’s something that can play out at work, too. My boss forced me to apologize to a man who was bullying me after I’d reported it. Naturally the circumstances were that I was terrified of losing a job in a scarce market. As you point out, that pressure is equal if not more disruptive than the original incident! I finally did escape.
        Things are far better now. 🙂

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          Ugh that is so terrible! The pressure to “not rock the boat” is so strong in so many places. I’m glad you’re in a better place now.

      • Minister of Smarassery said:

        Some people are so paranoid about their children drawing boundaries with THEM, that they discourage their kids from drawing boundaries with anybody.

        • DropTable~DropsMic said:

          This also. My mom in particular is really not ok with me telling her no and I can’t help but think there’s a connection with her not accepting my right to say no to others.

    • Minister of Smarassery said:

      I had a friend in high school whose parents did this, because the mom was convinced that “Bobby” was the only boyfriend “Mary” would ever get. Mary was quite shy and Bobby was her first boyfriend. He went from zero to emotionally abusive very quickly, and did so with Mary’s mother’s blessing and support. Bobby broke into her email accounts, deleted voicemails, sowed discord in our friend group to try to keep Mary isolated. And when she told her mother about it, she would sigh, “Oh, he’s just crazy about you. Just relax and let him love you. One day, you’ll live happily ever after.” One night he followed a group of us girls to the movies and we didn’t even know he was there until he followed Mary out of the theatre when she went to go to the bathroom. He insisted that the fact that she left the theatre was proof that she wasn’t there to be with her girl friends, she was there to meet some other guy! And if he was wrong, she had to leave with him, right that second to prove it. She said no, she was sick of this shit and told him to leave her alone, she didn’t want to date him anymore. They were through. She came back into the theatre, watched the rest of the movie, and Bobby followed our car all the way home, screaming and honking and swerving all over the road. It was scary. We went inside Mary’s house to tell her what happened and she sighed, “Oh, girls, he just loves Mary so much he loses his head sometimes. She just needs to learn to live with his mood swings. They’re going to live happily ever after!”

      I will spare you the details of the next month or so, because they’re triggering as fuck, but suffice it to say, Mary’s mom enabled Bobby’s invasion of every part of Mary’s life. She wasn’t safe at school, work, and definitely not at home, not even in her own room. We went to our parents to explain why this was so fucked up, and almost immediately, the moms had a sort of intervention with Mary’s Mom. I believe they threatened to call child protective services on her if she didn’t prioritize her daughter’s safety over her own fantasy life. Bobby moved back home. Mary moved out of the house the MOMENT she could and told her mom to fuck off directly into a fire. She went to college in another state and moved to the opposite side of the country. She does not speak to her parents.

      Despite the fact that this was Mary’s first significant relationship, she did not turn into Bobby. She respects boundaries. When someone tells her no, she accepts it. She doesn’t expect to be the center of her friends’ lives or her partner’s life. As much as the experience sucked, she’s stronger for it, because she’s really good at picking up on body language, verbal cues, and facial expressions from people who are trying to take advantage of her or put her in a situation she finds uncomfortable. She avoids those people like poison.

      • ….did I read between the lines that Mary’s mom LET BOBBY MOVE INTO THEIR HOUSE?????????

        • Minister of Smarassery said:

          Yep, Mom and Bobby contrived a problem with his parents that “forced” him out of the house and “forced” Mom to take him in.

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            wutttt!!!! I am so glad your parents all intervened on her behalf. That is so very very very wrong!

  16. I See The Hurt People said:

    LW, your letter has stolen my heart! You are doing everything right. I’m so sorry you had that terrible experience. You deciding to get counseling and be the best you possible, makes the world around you better and safer for everyone you come into contact with.
    Picture “Ned” getting smaller and farther away, every passing day, until you can’t hear his voice even if you try. The wind carries it away. All you hear are birds singing in the world around you.
    People actively shaping their best life are exactly the kind of people I hope to become friends with. Thank you for writing your letter!

    • The wind carries it away. All you hear are birds singing in the world around you.

      OK NO THAT’S FINE I’M NOT CRYING OBVIOUSLY

  17. ladybear said:

    I had a Ned when I was in high school, but with a slightly different dynamic because rather than getting anxious and scared, I got anxious and angry. It played right into that classic “No *you’re* the abuser” tactic and was just really awful all round. I remember going away to university (away from my Ned) and actually saying to myself, “ladybear, you are going to meet new people who could be those amazing uni-friends everyone is meant to make, now for the love of god try not to get irrationally angry at them for no reason like you did with Ned”.

    I did make awesome friends. Away from Ned, the anxious anger stopped completely, without me having to hold it in or anything. It just went away. My friends tell me they think I am a very laid-back, no-drama kind of person. Turns out I’m not some angry, abusive person after all, that was a lie my Ned had installed in my head.

    Your reactions to Ned were/are a response to stimuli, not a fundamental truth about you as a person. You are working this through with a therapist, that is a great idea. As the Captain says, unlike Ned you have the insight to identify a problem and the fortitude to address it. Anyone who is a good friend, or friend-candidate would completely understand if you said something like, “I had a seriously clingy friend at school and it was awful, so these days I’m vigilant about being clingy myself, please let me know if I’m coming on too strong.”

    And then it’s up to you to hear them and take them at their word, which is hard when you’ve been so enmeshed with someone as untrustworthy as Ned. Be kind to yourself as best you can while you’re figuring this out.

    • Angela Zane said:

      Oh, Christ, I hear you on this! I reacted to the abuser in my life with anger and got it turned around back on me in just the same way. Which only made me angrier and gave him more to point to about how clearly I was the one in the wrong. So much sympathy.

      • wow, suddenly I have a name for the constant, barely-banked fury that inflects every interaction I am forced to have with my father. “anxious anger”.

  18. mehting said:

    It has always helped me to look at the times my friends set boundaries with me. When they say no to an invitation because they’re tired without needign an excuse. When I say I really want to do something and they say no, and suggest something else. I often find it hard to find those moments, because I try not to push boundaries, but when they happen, I relax, and the less excuses they give for setting a boundary the more I relax, because that means that when they say yes to something it’s because they want it, not because I’m pushing too hard.

    The other thing that helps me is looking for reciprocity: if my friends and I are asking each other at about equal rates, I’m probably not pushing for more than they want to give.

  19. Nelalvai said:

    Lot of great advice here. Your concern about your friends not setting boundaries is valid even if you aren’t Ned (and I agree with the cap, you are not Ned). In my part of the world the setting of boundaries is not at all trendy. If it’s the same in your place this might be a “be the change” moment: you want your friends to be comfortable setting boundaries with you, are you comfortable setting boundaries with them?

  20. SurvivingStudent said:

    I would seriously think about seeing if your school has a survivors’ support group. The one at my school is for anyone who’s experienced any sort of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, and it’s been a wonderful way to meet people who have gone through similar things to you and have similar fears. And most of the time, the conversation isn’t super grim- it’s all ‘how has your week been?’ and ‘what are your classes like?’ with the expectation of honest answers, not polite ones. Of course, this is just my experience, but I haven’t regretted going, and it’s been a wonderful way to meet really accepting people.

  21. calcifer said:

    You have all of my sympathy LW. In high school a friend’s boyfriend pulled the whole “stay with me or I’ll hurt/kill myself” thing on her and on her friends who had become his friends with some added sexual harassment for flavor. It’s a hard thing to deal with, and I totally get the second-guessing yourself now. I’m gonna nth what everyone else has said about your awareness being pretty much a guarantee that you aren’t like Ned. You sound very kind, LW, which is something that people like Ned aren’t.

    I get the anxiety around friendships though, it’s hard to know if you’re overstepping sometimes, especially with new friends. You could maybe make some personal rules either on your own or working with your therapist. Totally arbitrary, like (if you live in a dorm with friends) you knock on their door once if you feel like hanging out and ask them, and if they say no you don’t knock again that day or whatever you’re comfortable with and instead give them a chance to initiate. Or if you feel anxiety and think you messed up in your friendship with someone, a rule that you ask them once if you upset them and take their answer at face value (hard with anxiety brain I know). Personally, I found that laying some ground rules for social things helped ease my anxiety a lot, so maybe it’ll help you too.

  22. Greg M. said:

    Becoming your abuser can be a valid concern especially when it happened so young. I went through repeated bullying and harassment my entire childhood and it warped the way I interact with people. I basically legit thought it’s how people acted and it took a long time to suppress my snarky asshole side that had developed and even now it still rears it’s head after a long day.

    Take it slow, learn to recognize the voice in your head telling you do the behaviour and stop it before it starts. You’ve made a great start with recognizing the issue and taking steps to prevent it. You don’t have to be that person and the fact that you wrote this letter is probably an indication that you won’t end up being that person.

  23. Sunshine said:

    I think this is my first time ever commenting, because this really speaks to me.
    Mynbest friend in middle/high school was basically emotionally abusive to me. It started out as her genuinely having life problems that I was of course willi to support her through- but ultimately resulted in a you can’t be friends with others/but every time we talk it’s never going to be about you dynamic that was so unhealthy and made me miserable and afraid of being too clingy with other people and also ending up in a friendship like that again!
    So, some advice that may or may not be helpful, because all humans are different.
    1) keep going to therapy! Therapy taught me about boundaries, and how to friend dump someone, and recognize when they are the reason I am breaking down crying in the middle of sophomore English!
    2) don’t be afraid to mention your anxieties. My college best friend is partially my best friend because she is someone I can trust in absolutely to never judge me and I will never judge her. Sure, sometimes we go down “anxiety spirals” together because our anxiety disorders are quite similar, but other times we can just hang out and have fun and she will understand if I suddenly ask her if she hates me.
    3) on that note…so this is the advice that I am most worried about typing out because it’s maybe not going to work for a lot of people. BUT when I was 20 I had this one friend who became very moody due to relationship troubles with someone else, and because I am who I am and I worry about people secretly hating me, I would ask him all the time if he was mad at me, or hated me, and one day he just went “no, but if you keep asking me that, I will be”. and it was the kick in the pants I needed to take a deep breath and reassess how I was acting around people. That being said, it’s not something I would recommend saying to people or to think to yourself. I only use this story because it’s why I sometimes now, when I worry about me being clingy, take a deep breath and go “I will seem/feel clingier if I ask about this, I will trust these people to let me know if I am ever too much, but I don’t think I am, becaue I’m me, not ‘Ned'” and for me it’s like a reset button.
    4. Know that you are not Ned, you are you! And other people are not Ned, and they are not you. I sometimes feel most anxious about my relationships when I’m planning something, because my friends are a lot more spontaneous than me, but I like to have at least a loose game plan. So sometimes I feel like I’m being overbearing, but I remember they are different than me, and they have told me they appreciate my planning because otherwise we would never do anything fun together.
    5. And finally, when you feel yourself pushing the people closest to you away? That’s another time I take a deep breath and think about what I want. Do I personally need some alone time because it’s all been too much and I want to just sit and watch Netflix? Do I want to see a friend I don’t get together with as much? Or am I just trying not to (and these are the words of my brain) “inflict” myself on others because I’m so annoying and I’ve spent too much time with them and oh god it will make them hate me. And if my brain is doing the last one I take another deep breath and I say “shut up brain” and I say “yes I would love to grab tacos and a movie with you”. But if I need me time, I tell my friends that.
    6. Ok wait actually this is the last one, but I PROMISE you that you are now a Ned-type expert. You may meet someone who reminds you of Ned a little bit, and warning bells will go off, and maybe you give them a chance and possibly it’s fine, but anytime you find yourself anywhere near entering another “Ned” relationship, you will (with the help of your therapist) realize it and get the heck out. Also, because you can now recognize that, you can recognize that you are not Ned. You could ever be Ned. You are you, and you will always be you.

    Sorry if this was long or not applicable to not me. This just resonated with me on a personal level.

    • Allya said:

      This is a good comment.

      My own abusive friend situation was somewhat similar, the difference being that rather than refusing to let me have other friends, she would control me by acting like she didn’t want to be my friend any more. If I did something she didn’t like, she was “leaving the friendship group” and I had to work really hard to beg for forgiveness and prove I wasn’t going to do it again to get her to stay friends with me. If she did something that upset me, ironically, it was the same deal – she was so overcome with guilt that she was “leaving the friendship group” and I had to put aside my own hurt and forgive her without having a real conversation about it (because she was already so guilty, how could I make things worse by talking frankly about what she’d done?) and convince her to stay.

      Your advice in point 3 resonated with me a lot because as a result of how my friend treated me, I became very protective of my own boundaries for a time, and one particularly sore spot was other people making me responsible for their insecurities. I didn’t mind offering reassurance on occasion and on a reciprocal basis, but if I was regularly being asked to prove my friendship was Real and Genuine it became a huge problem for me. It was just too similar to how my friend had controlled me.

      A couple of years back I became quite close friends with someone who had an anxiety disorder and often NEEDED the kind of reassurance that was difficult for me to deal with. We talked about it frankly though – they told me what helped them and I talked about ways that they could ask for reassurance that I was comfortable with (eg, if asked, I would talk in specifics about why I liked them/a thing we had done together that I really enjoyed and in exchange they would do their best to trust and believe my answer rather than making me convince them. I also tried to proactively show them that I genuinely enjoyed their company – in ways that were healthy for us both – so they felt the need to ask less). You might think that a relationship with two potentially conflicting needs like that would be unsustainable but about a year after we became friends we started dating. Earlier this year we got married :))

      With that in mind, LW, I highly recommend the Captain’s advice to tell the story of what happened between you and Ned. Even if it’s just to yourself/in a journal, I think it will help, but if it’s something you might be comfortable with, telling at least some of your close friends might help too. Giving your friends the context of your history with Ned will help them support you.

      Because my situation was a bit different I’m not sure how useful my advice will be to the LW, but here are some things I know about abusive friendships:

      Even if it doesn’t feel like it or you’re scared of making the same mistakes, you’ve learned from the experience. It affected you deeply and you’re hyper-aware of others’ interpersonal boundaries, to the point that you’re scared the slightest misstep is a sign you’re violating them (some people also become very sensitive to their own boundaries being violated). Over time, that hyper-awareness will fade as you learn to trust other people and yourself again. But you’ll take with you that respect for others’ boundaries and, I hope, a respect for your own boundaries as well.

      I want to be clear that it’s awful and unfair you had to learn this. I don’t believe things happen for a reason – sometimes terrible things just happen. But you don’t need to fear that it’s turned you into a threat or that you’re naturally a dangerous person. If anything, the opposite is true.

      Be good to yourself, LW, and give your friends the chance to be good to you too, because you deserve it.

  24. Traffic_Spiral said:

    I find something that helps is separating actions from feelings: “what do I feel,” vs. “what did I do.” Because, at the end of the day, it’s what you did that people will be affected by.

    For instance “I feel really anxious and clingy towards this person and I worry that I’m smothering them.” Ok, what did you do? Texted them 14 times without a single reply? Yeah, that’s not cool and you should back off. Suggested a mutual activity that you both did? Totally cool. Focus on the bad actions Ned took and make a point not to do those actions or tolerate them in others. Then, let the feelings slosh around as they please and ride them out.

    • aebhel said:

      This is such good advice. I too had a Ned when I was in high school, and it was hard to separate the two out for me, since I was able to empathize with a lot of the whys of his horrible behavior. I started thinking that because I was feeling anxious and insecure about my relationships a lot of the time, I must be smothering people the way he was. Being able to separate out the actual behavior was very helpful; I wasn’t calling people at 2 AM to threaten suicide if they didn’t come see me immediately, I wasn’t berating people every time they didn’t want to hang out with me, I didn’t yell at people for having other friends; I wasn’t acting the way ‘Ned’ did.

      Full disclosure: I’m 31, and I still struggle with this. I’m an anxious person by nature, and being abused in that way did some damage that I’m pretty sure is permanent. But I’m able to be okay most of the time, to maintain good relationships with people I care about.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I want to chime and an agree with how important this advice is!

      It might also lead you to decide that it’s not necessary, or even helpful, to show all your feelings to your friend–that sometimes your anxiety can be completely omitted from the conversation (so don’t say, “do you hate me?”).
      And other times, you might decide that actually, your emotions are the point, and instead of hiding them or hinting about them, you should just drag them out into the open: SAY, “I’m feeling unlovable right now, and I need a friend to fuss over me a little.”

  25. “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.”

    You know, I think you need to take a mental pencil to that sentence, because your mind is currently underlining the wrong part of it. It’s picked out ‘my friends are too frightened of me to tell me if I do something wrong’, and so of course you stay frightened: there’s an interpretation of the facts (your friends don’t object to how you treat them) that makes you feel bad.

    Scrub out that underline, and instead underline the beginning of it: ‘I am frightened.’ This fear you’re having is an emotion you’re experiencing, not an objective assessment of the situation. It’s not surprising you’d be nervous after your Ned experience, but it’s helpful to remind yourself, when you’re having these scary feelings, that they’re coming from inside, not outside. You had a bad time in a previous friendship, that makes new friendships more daunting for you (especially, I suspect, as Ned worked hard to make you feel guilty and hyper-responsible for the feelings of others) … and none of it proves you’re a bad friend. Your feelings are not your character.

    As to how to avoid becoming Ned yourself – well, you’ve clearly got the ‘don’t be entitled’ bit covered, as others have said. A couple more tips that might help you:

    1. Try to keep a lid on how many times per get-together you ask your friends if you’re upsetting them. Once or twice should be your limit, because after that – well, you won’t be acting like Ned, but it does get a bit exhausting having someone constantly ask ‘Am I doing something wrong?’, and that could turn into a different type of problem. Treat it like an anxiety problem, which it is, and work on self-soothing rather than looking to others.

    2. Find your self-soothing method. Exactly what works for you is going to depend on you as an individual – some people like mindfulness or breathing exercises, others like to spend a few seconds accessing a happy memory, others like to use Cognitive Behavioural techniques. Try different things and see what makes you feel good.

    If you’re interested in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, David D. Burns’s ‘Feeling Good’ is a great place to start. It’s all about how we can think ourselves into anxieties and how to think our way back out again. Much recommended. For a taster of how CBT works, this website has a good summary: http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/cognitive-distortions-cbt.htm. I would say that you’re dealing with several cognitive distortions, particularly ‘mind reading’, so here’s what you do:

    a. Ask yourself what thought is bothering you. (Say, ‘I’m making my friends miserable and they’re too scared to tell me.’) Assign it a percentage – say, 80%.

    b. Ask yourself if there are any cognitive distortions at play. (Mind reading, almost certainly, and probably disqualifying the positive and emotional reasoning.)

    c. Ask yourself if there are alternative explanations of the situation. You don’t have to be ironclad sure they’re correct, just that they’re possible. (For instance, your friends aren’t telling you you’re doing something bad because, in fact, you aren’t.)

    d. See if you can find any evidence to support the alternative explanation. (Nobody’s edging away from you, they look physically relaxed, nobody’s making excuses to go home early…)

    e. Ask yourself how much, as a percentage, you believe the bothersome thought now. Probably it won’t be 0%, but if it’s down to, say, 55%, then hey, go you, you’ve got the number down!

    Keep doing that, and you’ll build up some less anxious mental habits and get better at not panicking.

    3. Ned wanted to squash your interests? Support theirs! Enjoy your things, and their things, and enjoy sharing things with each other.

    4. Ned didn’t want you to have other friends? Be happy for your friends when they do!

    5. Ned guilt-tripped you? Let them make their own choices and support them doing what’s best for them!

    ‘What wouldn’t Ned do?’ is going to be a pretty good rule of thumb here. But you know, those last three bits of advice are probably nothing you need me to tell you.

    Listen: you sound like a really nice person dealing with some anxiety issues. Really nice people who have a few issues generally make excellent friends. Right now, I don’t think the problem is your friendship skills, it’s your anxiety. You work on that sucker, and your friendships will probably be fine.

  26. lisakoby said:

    Great advice re: having casual friends, friends for different contexts, low key social interactions and reading social cues! Wish I had this community in my teens and 20’s (and, um, early 30’s).

    Try to go easy on yourself, and accept that there will be times when you misread signals and that this will happen periodically forever even to the most socially adept person. That’s normal, and doesn’t make a weird stalker, just human. When you’ve misread, accept the information, try to incorporate it into your next interactions and move on. The agonizing sense of self consciousness, though compounded by your history, fades with time and with working on it.

    You’re awesome, and will continue in to be awesome! Good luck LW.

  27. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Adding my 2 cents that you are far from acting like Ned.
    Even assuming for the sake of argument that you are as clingy and insecure as you are afraid you are, you still don’t have what it takes to be a Ned, because clingy and insecure aren’t what made Ned dangerous.
    The critical sentence here is “he shut down my interests quickly while begging me to participate in his, he told me I ‘couldn’t’ be friends with other people.”
    Unless you’re hiding gross entitlement and utter lack of empathy, you can never be a Ned.

    “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.” Ned’s treatment of you was highly manipulative and abusive. No wonder you were frightened to tell him when he was wrong. Abusive and manipulative behavior is threatening because by definition it promises more of the same if you don’t comply.
    You haven’t been threatening your friends, making them responsible for your life by telling them they are the only thing keeping you from suicide, and you aren’t stalking them.

    You are not going to become like Ned because you are a kind person and Ned is not. As the Cap said, the fact that you are concerned about it means you are not.

    Be kind to yourself and allow your friends to be kind to you, be kind to your friends and let them be kind to themselves.

    I also highly recommend “Feeling Good.” It probably helped save my life.

  28. TyphoidMary said:

    LW, thank you for sharing such a thoughtful letter with us. It IS really great that you are thinking about this! Sometimes, when we have been through an abusive situation, we learn strategies for getting our needs met that end up hurting us later once we are out of the situation. It sounds like your strategies are not nearly as toxic as Ned’s!

    I am really struck by this: “I ask them, more than I should but less than I used to (yay therapy) if I’m doing something wrong, etc.”

    My first thought is, “Wow, LW has ALREADY gone to therapy and achieved some behavior modification! Do you know how hard behavior change is? It’s super hard, y’all. Super hard.” So in my mind you’re basically already ahead of the game.

    Secondly, I would like to gently remind you that there is no such thing as linear recovery. Recovery of ANY kind (substance abuse, trauma, whatever) not only takes time, but it doesn’t go in a straight upward line. You may have days where you slip into that clingy behavior; that doesn’t mean your progress is negated! It means you’re human.

    I know we’re all probably sick of this Mary Oliver poem, but I hope you know that “You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

  29. TyphoidMary said:

    OH ALSO one thing I do is, if I want to apologize*, turn it into a thank you.

    “I’m so sorry for sending you so many texts!” = “Thanks for texting with me!”
    “I’m sorry I got here so early” = “Thanks for your patience with your early arrival!”
    “I’m sorry I kept you on the phone all evening” = “Thank you for the lovely phone conversation last night”

    *Obviously this is for cases where an actual apology isn’t really necessary, and you’re just trying to overcome that instinct to seek reassurance.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Good suggestion about turning habitual apologies into thanks. I have a friend who is an abject apologizer and I think I will suggest this to her.

      • Clarry said:

        Do you have any advice for the person who is on the receiving end of the abject apologies? I have a friend who first thing when calling apologizes for not calling. I automatically say that it’s okay, that I haven’t called either, and she repeats. She’ll apologize for being late when she hasn’t been, will apologize for being in a bad mood when I haven’t noticed anything amiss. She’ll thank me again for tiny favors that I’ve done 6 months ago- little things that are easy for me like making lunch or giving her a ride. Usually I find it boring, but sometimes I become resentful at having been manipulated into reassuring when there was nothing to reassure her about.

        • Obviously not this OP, but I used to be an abject apologizer. It’s definitely not something that will go away overnight, but I can think of a few things that people did that helped (or would have helped) me! The biggest one, I think, would be to model this proactively: “Friend, hey! I’m so glad you called, I kept thinking I ought to call you and I’m so glad to hear from you,” or “Thank you for coming; it’s so good to see you.” It may short circuit the shame-spiraling, and by addressing it beforehand, help her feel reassured without needing to ask for reassurance. Another thing that might help, especially with the belated and extended thank yous, would be to say something like “I was happy to do something to help! You don’t need to thank me, just pay it forward whenever you’re in a position to, yeah?” YMMV, but it may help her shift from conceptualizing herself as “in debt” to you to conceptualizing herself in a productive, positive cycle where she is an agent who can help others.

          I’m sure you already know that a “stop apologizing!” wouldn’t help, but you can always (when you’re in the right headspace for it, not out of irritation) bring it up with a “Friend, you seem really anxious today. Do you want to talk about it?” or “Hey, friend, you’re being really hard on yourself lately. I know a lot of this stuff makes you anxious, but is there anything I can do to help reduce that anxiety?” I’m sure it’s frustrating to have someone apologize to you all the time! But I know that, at least for me, picking up on other people’s boredom/irritation was one of the only things I could do easily, but anxiety brain didn’t register that they were bored/resentful/frustrated/irritated at my apologizing/shame spirals rather than something inherently flawed about me. So if she does ask, it may be tempting to say “No, there’s nothing wrong with you, we’re fine!”, but it may actually be more helpful to say something like “I am frustrated/sad/etc. that your anxiety is making you so upset, but I’m not frustrated/sad/angry with you. I just wish that it didn’t try to keep you from understanding that I value and appreciate you!”

          I know it seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes just letting the apologies happen and moving on (“Well, thank you for calling, it makes me happy!”, “Well, thank you for thinking kindly about me! I’m glad I was able to help. Oh, that reminds me, [subject change]”) will do more to help her feel comfortable than trying to directly reassure her. If it doesn’t seem like you make a big deal out of it, it may help her feel like it’s less of a big deal.

          And it may be a while, so, y’know, make sure you take care of yourself. It’s okay if you need a bit of a break! If it starts really getting on your nerves and you feel like snapping, that’s probably a sign that you need some time away from this friend. But take her at her word that she appreciates you, because it sounds like she does – she’s just learned/internalized a not-super-helpful way of expressing it.

          Hope this was helpful, and thank you for reading this whole thing!

          • Clarry said:

            Thanks. I did read the whole thing and was glad to do it. I did do most of the things you suggested, and I’m afraid I did snap– not in too huge a way, but I got to the point where years of dealing with anxiety spewed on my head made me want a permanent break. I started to think of the apologies as the air freshener that doesn’t actually help to mask the awful smell of the underlying anxiety. I kept pretending I couldn’t smell the anxiety, and it got harder and harder to act like it wasn’t there. I hope that if I’m ever in the situation again I’ll be quicker at recognizing what’s going on.

          • johann7 said:

            I, too, find this extremely helpful! It’s thanks to this space that I learned that the frequent apologizing habit is often a function of an anxiety disorder or trauma (sometimes acute, sometimes just existing in a society that low-key debases one constantly), and there are some great specific suggestions here that I will definitely employ.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          I think it depends on the abject apologizer, and why they do it: habit, insecurity, or a deeper problem?
          If it’s just habit, I think I’d point it out to them tell them they don’t have to apologize for everything.
          If insecurity, kadimonster’s suggestions below seem good. I especially like her idea of just moving on cheerfully to reassure them that everything is fine.

          Alas, my friend’s apologizing is rooted in the deepest crevasses of her brain after a life of codependency and never being good enough, so it will take professional heavy lifting to make substantive changes, but I can at least tell her how she can change some of her behavior that gets a negative reaction.
          She’s also an abject thanker, but I find thanks less annoying than apologies because at least they’re positive.

        • bat lord said:

          My twin used to abjectly apologize to me and everyone, for a few reasons. She has an anxiety disorder, a deep-seated fear of being rude or hurtful, and also, because she’s autistic, she felt like she couldn’t predict what would make people angry, so she apologized constantly just to be on the safe side. It took several years and a lot of arguments for us to figure out what was going on and how to work with it. (I will admit to being pretty mean; I snapped at her for apologizing a LOT.)

          If you’re close with your friend, I’d recommend sitting down with her and asking her to try replacing her apologies with thank-yous, or to try to reword her feelings in a way that is not an apology. (Ex. “I’m sorry, I’m sure I’ve been really annoying,” becomes, “I’m afraid I’ve been annoying just now, but I know you will tell me if I really was.”)

          With my twin, I could plainly say, “Constant apologies are not a positive or polite gesture toward other people. Giving apologies without any thought toward whether the other person may want or need them makes them all about you–you’re demanding reassurance constantly, which is a lot of work, and often derailing what the other person has to say.”

          When I explained my feelings on the matter clearly, she put a lot of much-appreciated work into rephrasing her anxious thoughts, but being that direct might really upset other people whose brains work differently, IDK. Just throwing some data out there.

          • bat lord said:

            As I read over this post, my approach would go over horribly with some allistics. Proceed with caution! (My twin was happy to be told how I felt so clearly because she couldn’t intuit the reasons for my feelings about apologies, and because I was able to provide a concrete social guideline. That helped alleviate her fear of screwing up.)

        • Part-time Jedi said:

          My bf is an abject apologizer as a result of a really dysfunctional first relationship. When he says he’s sorry for something that he doesn’t need to apologize for, my go to response is just to ask him in a neutral tone “Why are you apologizing?” I’ve found it’s slightly more reassuring than asking him to stop apologizing (which just leads to more apologies), and has the added benefit of guiding him towards examining and confronting the feelings that compel him to apologize all the time.

          Now, granted, this only started after several long conversations about his history with his ex, and delving into the root of your friend’s apologizing problem may not be appropriate for your relationship with your friend, so YMMV.

          • Clarry said:

            This discussion is helping me understand so much. I now see that abject apologizing and abject thanking (great term!) are pretty much the same thing when the underlying dynamic is a much deeper problem than mere habit. Her thanks were a way of putting herself down. If I did something like remember that something was happening or help with a project by making a list, she’d exclaim that I was so organized over and over. When I’d say that it wasn’t much really, she’d turn that into how she forgot things. When I’d say that I forgot things sometimes too, she’d spiral into how great I was because I made lists. One time when my friend was apologizing for calling when we might be eating dinner, I told her that it was fine to call at any time because if it wasn’t convenient for me, I’d just let the machine take a message. I thought that would reassure her that she never had to worry about bothering me. The next thing I knew, she was leaving messages that said “If you’re there, pick up!” I guess she needed reassurance that I’d pick up the phone instead of just ignoring her. When I tried to move on gently from an apology after reassuring her a few times, she’d excuse herself from apologizing by saying “I know I shouldn’t apologize so much – I’m really sorry – but I’m sorry …” I don’t think there’s any script I could have given her that would have changed things.

          • I can understand why you’d snap occasionally. If she actually knows she shouldn’t do it and says so right while doing it, then whether she sees it that way or not, her message is ‘I know this is bothering you but I’ve decided my own feelings take priority.’ The excessive praise suggests a reason: she has the idea that you’re so much more powerful than her that nothing weak little her does could possibly have an impact on big strong you.

            That’s exhausting, because it feels like she’s relating to a projection rather than the real you.

            Of course, this is not the sympathetic interpretation; it’s unlikely she thinks any of this consciously. It just sounds like her self-esteem is so low that it’s instinctively difficult for her to grasp that she has the power to cause stress to other people, because that would mean she had some power, which she finds inconceivable. And probably, too, the idea that she was bothering you would feel so annihilating that she’s fighting against considering it, not least because, feeling so powerless, she believes that any conflict between you would be like a mouse arguing with a lion. (Which might make her rather extreme if you do have a conflict: when you’re a mouse against a lion, you don’t feel much compunction about throwing Molotov cocktails.)

            I’m afraid I don’t know a gentle way to address this – I’ve only ever managed such situations by either ending the relationship or getting openly angry and making some serious ultimatums, neither of which I’m eager to recommend with such a fragile person. Anyone know other methods that work?

  30. As an abject apologizer, I appreciate everyone’s comments on this topic. I had no idea how obnoxious this habit is, and this is giving me motivation to curb it.

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