Tag boundaries

End Game Analysis: Connectedness

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my “end game” narrative, I shared the following topic which is one I find to be omnipresent throughout the spectrum:

“The challenge at this level is balancing one’s ability to produce efficiently and effectively while remaining reasonably connected with others.”

As a refresher, the primary reason for focusing so heavily on “deep work” is a continuous desire to maximize one’s potential. However, there is a second reason which exists at a more subconscious level that requires examination.

While this may not be obvious to some, one’s ability to form and maintain close relationships with others depends heavily on the quality of past relationships. This is true in both professional and personal contexts.

If one’s “success rate” is low, the desire to form new relationships in either context will also be low.

This can pose a problem for two reasons:

Reason #1: Challenging assignments and new ideas typically originate from other people. Not staying connected with others places an artificial restriction on one’s ability to learn about, and engage in new opportunities.

Reason #2: Spending too much time working, and not enough time interacting, goes against the principle of deep work. Hard work requires intense concentration, and thus time spent in this area is somewhat limited by default (~4 hours per day). Maintaining a balance is considered beneficial.

Over the past decade, I have personally experienced numerous challenging relationships which have tested me in countless ways. With each experience comes a period of recalibration, which is a necessary step towards establishing appropriate boundaries and controls.

I will explore this topic in greater detail in my next post.

Narcissistic Illusion.

After what seemed like a fairly continuous stream of “lows” spread across a period of nearly four years, in December 2011 I met a woman who I was genuinely interested in and attracted to.  At initial meeting, she had everything that I was looking for and I was extremely happy.

The beginning of the relationship started as most relationships do, but there were aspects that I (internally) questioned.  The first aspect was the fact that she established plans for us well into the future.  Needless to say, this was extremely flattering in that it showed 1) she wanted to spend time with me, 2) she was interested in doing fun things and 3) she was optimistic about our future.   As I would eventually see, the downside of this planning activity was the exclusion of things / places that *I* wanted us to experience.  Those ideas were simply not on her agenda.

Another boundary she set early on was communication.  While we saw each other on a fairly routine basis, our communication outside of these dates was limited primarily to texting (no phone calls).  Since I had unfortunately equated “conflict” with phone communication (i.e. phone conversations that involve someone with borderline personality disorder are typically conflict-ridden), I initially did not have any issue with this lack of communication.  Over time I believed she would open up and texting would be replaced by “normal” communication channels (i.e. the telephone).

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Communication hit a peak early in the relationship and then slowly tapered off until there was no communication at all.  By the time I figured out what was happening, the music had stopped and I was without a place to sit.

Early in the relationship I was told by close friends that my girlfriend had a “wall” and that I needed to be patient.  What was confusing was the speed by which she emotionally opened up.  Within weeks she was talking about eventually moving in together and spoke often about how she liked taking care of me and how we were progressing to the “next stage of our relationship.”  She even commented on how she liked “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” labels.  All of this was extremely flattering and encouraging.

If there was a “wall,” I was only seeing glimpses of it.  I believed that her wall was slowly (quickly?) coming down.

Unfortunately, these “glimpses” became increasingly prevalent as time went on.  We would start getting close to one another, but once the weekend was over, the method of communication flipped 180 degrees from interpersonal to electronic.  It was this very shift that prompted me to establish initial psychological & emotional boundaries.  This “push-pull” behavior (I’m feeling comfortable with you … now I’m not …) indirectly created distrust in the relationship.  What I didn’t realize was the strength of the undercurrent that had started to form; the relationship was becoming based upon activities vs. true communication and connection.

This lack of connection was also present when we spent time together.  For example, when walking side by side, her arm would be next to mine but rarely around me.  When we spent time with her friends, I frequently felt like a third wheel; just another “body” to be around but nothing more.  On dates, we were in the same general location, but not close enough to converse about what we were experiencing.  To be sure, this distance ebbed and flowed throughout the relationship, until the “tide” decided to remain far from shore.

The most puzzling aspect of her behavior was the fact that she would never “look back” when we (temporarily) departed from one another (I would always look back because I wanted to see her again before I left).  Clearly something wasn’t right, but I continuously attributed this to her “wall.”  If I was patient enough, the wall would eventually collapse and our relationship would begin.  In this case however, the wall was only getting stronger.

Towards the end of the relationship, her behavior and general attitude towards me became increasingly ambivalent and negative.  While extensive disagreement / conflict would normally be the cause of such behavior, there wasn’t anything specific to which I could trace her hostility and coldness.  I was puzzled.

At this stage, my self-esteem was rapidly eroding.  I felt isolated and alone, and any semblance of positive change was nowhere to be seen.  I was losing my friend and she was seemingly unaware of the damage she was inflicting.

At the end of the relationship I was told that I “needed more friends and confidence,” and that perhaps I should see a “life coach” to deal with my feelings (?).  While there were some truths in her comments (after all, this relationship was taking a serious toll on my self-confidence given her behavior), they were clearly projections of what she believed about herself.  Unfortunately I was the closest target.

Confidence and friend issues aside, the ending of this relationship was extremely painful, not just because of the loss of a “friend” and companion, but of a relationship that “could have been” (fill in the blank: great, wonderful, fulfilling).

To have hopes that you’ve found a true partner only to have those same dreams dashed was (and is) very hard to process, particularly when you’ve fallen for the wrong person (which coincidentally resulted in extreme feelings of shame).

The kind and gentle woman who I met in December eventually turned into a complete stranger.  In the end, I realized that our relationship wasn’t about us, it was about her.

Appendix: Warning Signs

  • Family background
  • Fast-forwarding
  • Excessive boundaries
  • Disrespectful behavior towards waitstaff / friends
  • “Fiercely independent”
  • Always need to be in control
  • Push-pull behavior

Appendix: Statistics

  • Relationship Duration: 4-5 months
  • Grief Cycle Duration: 4 months
  • Primary Feelings: Shame / Embarrassment / Isolation
  • Books Read (narcissism, relationships, boundaries): 5
  • No Contact Policy: Permanent


Resilience IV – Is my dog unhappy?

In an earlier post, I summarized the ABC resilience methodology described by the authors of The Resilience Factor.  In this post, I’ll introduce a very simple example of a belief that seems to affect me on a fairly routine basis.  I will likely progress into more advanced examples in the future, but this is an easy one to explore and share this particular analysis methodology.

Adversity: My dog is staring at me and I am not sure what he wants to do.

Belief: What does he want now?  I need to focus on other things right now and I am not sure I really want to go outside again.

Consequences: A combination of frustration and guilt, and sometimes even anger.

While it’s perhaps easy to see why I would feel frustrated and even guilty, I have often been puzzled why I sometimes feel angry – sometimes to the point of being stressed out!  Let’s explore what these emotions are really saying about my belief system in this particular case.

Question: I take care of my dog almost better than I do myself.  Why does his staring bother me so much?

Answer: Because I don’t know what he is feeling and whether he is bored.

Question: Let’s assume he is bored, what is the worst part of that for me?

Answer: If my dog is bored, then I think he is unhappy.

Question: What does that mean to me if he is unhappy?

Answer: It means that I am not taking as good care of him as I should be and he deserves more than I may be providing.  It may mean that I am not doing a very good job at being a pet owner and that ultimately I may not be able to achieve a good balance between work and personal life if and when I do have children.  In some respects, I feel helpless.

It’s a safe bet that some pet owners don’t experience these feelings, but I am sure that many do.  Guilt, I think, naturally comes with having children or pets.  If you truly care about your pets and/or children, you are always going to want the best for them (i.e. their happiness) and thus any activity that impacts those feelings is going to result in some feelings of guilt.

As it relates to my feelings of anger, clearly these feelings are inward-facing.  My dog has done nothing wrong, and frankly it is unlikely that he is bored; perhaps he is staring at me out of pure affection? (or he just wants another treat!)

My anger is primarily about not being able to understand or satisfy a need that may not necessarily be there in the first place; feelings of helplessness are a natural byproduct.  At a much deeper level, it’s about potentially failing later on in a future partnership or family environment either due to a lack of understanding and/or an inability to make a positive impact / change (i.e. will I be able to attain a balance between my personal interests and those of my wife’s and or children’s?).

As you can see here, by taking a closer look at my emotions surrounding this particular adversity, I’ve learned quite a bit about this seemingly innocent dynamic. Given this in-depth analysis, however, it’s clear that this belief needs to change.  Being resilient in this case means the following:

  1. I’ll never understand what my dog is thinking, so yes I will perhaps always feel helpless but I can do what I can to ensure his happiness.
  2. Achieving a balance in this relationship (and in future relationships) is a simple means of establishing “boundaries” (in this case a loose schedule) and continuously measuring against those same boundaries to see what is working and what isn’t.
  3. There are some things in life that I will be able to change and many others that I will not.

While this is a simple example of approaches recommended in the text, you can see just how much information is uncovered and whether existing beliefs should stay or go.

Electronica Genius.

I recently acquired Joris Voorn’s 2008 mix – “Balance” – on double CD.  In short, the compilation is simply a masterpiece of electronica and well-crafted mixes.

Joris’ introduction pretty much says it all:

“The process of making these mixes has been more like painting with sound rather than performing a traditional DJ-mix.

“As you can see, I have used a lot of tracks.  My intention while working on these mixes, however, has not been a simple case of ‘more is more’ – some of the tracks have been reduced to portions as small as a 2-bar loop, or are just a break or an intro.

“The process was inspired and inspiring, and although this Balance project is over, it has created many new leads and ideas for future works.

“I hope that people will enjoy the results.  Some listeners will be surprised by what they hear, but I believe I’ve pushed my boundaries in not only a technical way but – even more so – in a musical and artistic way as well.”