Even though people with mental illness can be seen as very needy, it can be a very isolating experience. Here is the reason why needing people is terrifying for me:
People Who Need People
Barbara Streisand sings a song about people who need people. She sings, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” To some, that may not make much of a statement. But for me, it’s a painful reminder of something I can’t ever seem to achieve in my life.
Most of my life, I’ve done my best to NOT need people. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I realized just how much I want to need people in my life (even though that has always been the case).
I’ve made a habit of surrounding myself with people because I love people. I especially love when people need me. When someone needs me, it’s a close imitation of friendship. For years I managed to fill my life with enough people who needed me enough for me to think that I had good friendships. However, there was never any deep connection in these friendships. It was always odd to me that I was never overly upset when a friendship ended, either because one of us moved away, or because we simply drifted apart. I have since realized that it was because I never allowed myself to need or deeply care for these friends.
When Facebook became a thing and I reconnected with several friends from high school, I was taken aback by how many of my old friends still maintained deep friendships with each other. I can count on one hand the number of friendships I have that have survived the test of time. I don’t even need all the fingers on that hand. And the credit for each of these friendships goes completely to the other individuals.
Sometimes, I get really bitter about my lack of real friendships. I see all these people around me with deep friendships and I want that so bad, but I don’t know how. Somehow, I’m always an outsider. I’m like an extra puzzle piece that got thrown in the wrong box. Some times when the loneliness is so painful, I’m not sure I’ll survive it. I get angry with everyone around me, blaming everyone else for not accepting me. I think of all the acts of kindness I’ve offered to attempt to form one of these friendships and I feel hurt and confused that they haven’t produced the strong friendships I’ve been seeking. Recently though, I realized that there is more to friendship than just being kind. I’ve been forced to accept that the lack of strong friendships in my life is entirely a problem within me.
Fear of Rejection
I don’t know how to let myself need other people. I have this constant, powerful fear of being rejected that overpowers everything else. Even though I set the best of intentions in my current friendships I always hold at least a little part of me back, so that I don’t form a real attachment to that individual or to our friendship. That way, when the other person rejects me (as I believe is inevitable), I will still be intact. If I never needed them, I’ll be just fine without them.
I’ve only actually been rejected a few times in my life. I’ve learned that some people with bipolar disorder are prone to misreading facial expressions and misunderstanding situations. I fall into that category, so I think that I’m being rejected almost constantly. Without meaning to, I fall into the habit of preemptively rejecting everyone else first—particularly if I feel myself growing too close, or liking someone too much. Your rejection won’t hurt me so much if I rejected you first.
Sometimes I’m more sensitive to these feelings than others. When I’m in a good place, I can reason through most of these feelings. I can find details and facts that give pretty solid proof that the person(s) in question is not hating me or about to reject me. Other times, even if I try to find proof otherwise, these thoughts are too painful and compelling. During these times, I withdraw and isolate as much as possible. It’s too hard to convince myself that people want me around, so it’s just easier to avoid them altogether.
Rejection is Inevitable
There have been a handful of exceptions in my relationship struggles. My marriage to my husband never ceases to amaze me. It is both a miracle and a testament of his patience and strength. Imagine having to spend days reassuring your spouse of 13 years of your love, after even the smallest of arguments. My mom is another exception because she’s just always there. And my dad has initiated a few conversations over the past several months that are helping me to trust in his love as well.
I’m working hard to learn to trust in these relationships. But in the quiet moments in my life, I find that there is still a dark emptiness surrounding them and any other friendship I’m trying to develop. I know that eventual rejection by everyone is inevitable. Because deep in my core, I am empty. I know that there is nothing there to actually love or be loved. I know that as I let people in closer and closer to that core, eventually they will come to know that too. Then the rejection that I’ve been afraid of and attempting to avoid my whole life will happen.
If I am to let myself love someone completely and then be rejected, then what is left? Confirmation of what I already knew—that I am not worth loving, that there is nothing lovable in me. So, if I continue to keep people at arms length, then they can’t get close enough to discover that there is nothing lovable in me. So, if rejection does happen, it’s not as painful because they never really knew me anyway. And I don’t have that ultimate confirmation that I am not worthy of love.
Everyone Is Worthy of Love
Of course, this all flies in the face of what I believe: That every soul carries intrinsic worth as a son or daughter of God and that God loves each of us. For some reason, I am convinced this is true for everyone else, but I cannot feel that it is true for me.
I’ve had multiple “break-throughs” in therapy with multiple therapists, where I’ve briefly found something to love at my core, or accepted God’s love for me as proof that someone else can love me too. I work hard to be open and honest, especially with my husband, and so far I haven’t experienced any real rejection. I try to internalize these experiences and make the logical leap that they must mean that I have value in the eyes of others. But I still find myself waiting for each of them to wake up one morning and discover they are wrong.
The quest to love myself is going to be a long journey for me, I’m sure. I’m so grateful for those who continue to offer me friendship, even when I pull away in fear. I’m grateful to those who write me notes. These are read and reread for reassurance when my mind is telling me no one cares. I’m grateful to people who include me when I feel like my presence doesn’t matter to anyone. And I’m grateful to people who allow themselves to need me and show me that the gifts of true friendship far outweigh the risks of rejection.
But first be a person
Who needs people.
People who need people
Are the luckiest people
In the world!
–“People” (from Funny Girl)