My best friend Kristin can be…domineering. She knows what she wants and she will speak up until she gets it. She will accept that I have wants and needs as well and she knows that she has control issues, so she usually will back down if I ask her to. And that’s fine. But our past affects our present, even in friendships. And my former best friend (let’s call her M) was also domineering but in a very different way.
If I had been in another kind of relationship with M people around me would probably have recognized abuse warning signs. Before I met M I was shy and I didn’t have many friends, although mainly by choice. Then I met M and she got past all my defense mechanisms and we became “best friends”. Then she began wearing me down. I retreated from my other friends, to the point where I wouldn’t even defend them when she said bad things about people I liked. She belittled any subject that I excelled at (social studies, English and art mainly) and raved about what a math and science genius she was and that she had much better job prospects than I would because I struggled in the “real” subjects. So I wound up feeling dumb. I was also a big girl, although now my ideal weight is exactly what I weighed in high school, so clearly not “to big” and she constantly brought that up, so I felt ugly. Dumb and ugly, yeah I was definitely not going to even try to make other friends, assuming they would make fun of me for the “flaws” that M was seemingly willing to overlook. I never dared defend myself or my opinions to her because she was my only friend and I didn’t want to make her angry with me. And she got angry with me a lot. Her preferred “punishment” was to be “busy” whenever I wanted to hang out or talk, making sure that we interacted just enough that I never went back to my other friends (who all had their own stuff going on anyway, this was high school!), but also making sure that my interpersonal needs weren’t met. I wound up constantly feeling alone and lonely. It was terrible. We went to different colleges and I finally managed to make some healthy friendships and eventually broke ties with M. But those years of psychological abuse left me unable to defend my opinions, even to my closest friends. I often find myself giving way, even when it’s important to me, just because I don’t want to make people angry.
I’ve been working on that a lot lately, and trying to remind myself that my needs and wants are just as important as other people’s. This is especially important because almost all of friends are strong personalities, and I feel a little like “real Tina” gets lost in the crowd. I especially noticed this when Kristin and I were planning Jamie’s bridal shower. She was the maid of honor, so it really was her shindig, but we agreed to throw it together (especially as the other bridesmaids were too far away to help anyway). But sometimes I felt a little like the only thing she wanted from me was my pocketbook, and not any of my opinions. Like I said though, she was the maid of honor, it’s her shindig, whatever, and so I didn’t say anything. But now she and I are throwing another party, with another friend of ours. I suggested throwing the party, I thought up what I thought we should do for the party, and I’m the main go between for the other two girls as I’m closer with both of them than they are with each other. So today I went to Hobby Lobby to get ideas for the invitations and I wound up all conflicted because I could not make up my mind about what to get because I know Kristin has a tentative idea in mind. The thing is I have a solid idea. I know exactly what I want to do. So I guess the question is, will I speak up tomorrow when we get together to work on the invitations? Or will I let her steamroll me without even realizing it? Have I grown enough in the 10 years since M and I started drifting apart, to stand up for my ideas and my vision?
Please let me be clear here. Kristin is not anything like M. I could stand up for myself and she would probably applaud that. She is also the first truly healthy friendship I had recovering from the damage M did, and she’s a good part of the reason I don’t still call M “friend”. This is not an issue of her not wanting to hear my opinion, or making me feel like I can’t defend myself. This is all about my personal demons holding me back.