Mr. Brightside 10 - Being the "Exception" + Emotional Capacity


You think that it’s not a love worth having if you haven’t got someone to make you the exception to their rule of behaviour.

This ‘exception’ thing is a recurrent theme throughout all relationships with Mr. Unavailables.

We want to be the exception because it will prove that we're special.

The reason we try to do this is because we had emotionally immature/emotionally unavailable parents who made us work hard for their attention.

The attention was intermittent, so we could get it, but we didn't know when, so we kept working to get it -  we tried harder. This is why in relationships with emotionally unavailable people, instead of walking away - as would any person who was raised with emotionally mature and present parents - we keep trying; bending and twisting in an attempt to get the intermittent rewards from an emotionally immature/unavailable partner.

The problem is that most of the time, these people (our parents, our partners) don't have the capacity to give us what we're looking for. We think that they're withholding something from us, when it's not actually something that they're capable of giving; it is not within their emotional capacity.

No one can give us what they don't have, and we have to stop assuming that they're deliberately withholding and realize that it's just not there.

They had childhoods that stunted their emotional growth, and they didn't become emotionally mature. The only way they can change (or that any emotionally immature person can change) is through the work of reflection. And that's their job, not ours.

By the way, I know it seems romantic and all, but don't count on the idea of being a man's "exception."

Your approach to finding the right man should be optimistic, but also very pragmatic. The fastest way to end up as a man's pastime instead of his girlfriend is to base all of your dating decisions on the hope of being a man's "exception."

Don't fall into the trap of working your tail off to convince an unresponsive, half-interested man that you're his exception.

- Bruce Bryans: He's Not That Interested

If you're practicing observing your parent or other loved ones and find yourself getting emotional, your distress is a sign that your healing fantasy has been activated. You've fallen back into believing that you can't be okay if they don't validate you.

If you start slipping into your fantasy that you may be able to get the other person to change, you'll feel weak, vulnerable, apprehensive, and needy.

This extremely unpleasant feeling of weakness is a signal that you need to shift out of responding emotionally and move back into observing mode.

If someone loves me they’ll change.

You feel that you can latch on to anyone, even Mr. Unavailable, and prove your worthiness.

When they don’t change you believe you’re not good enough to be changed for.

When you start thinking about what a man is not giving you, ask if he is even capable of providing it.

Many men discovered as children that when they didn’t suppress perceived weaknesses such as expressing emotion, displaying vulnerability and sensitivity, and communicating their feelings, it was often penalized.

It's no wonder that as adults, they struggle to relate to women who are asking them to share themselves and their inner emotions. It’s incredibly confusing because they are thrust upon the adult world and expected to have access to a whole range of emotions that they’re totally unfamiliar with.

If he’s out of touch with himself and his emotions, how can you expect him to know how he feels, and even more importantly, communicate it?

It's not that he's sitting on a wealth of information about how he feels – it's not there and even if it was, he wouldn’t know how to access it.

Some men just don't feel these feelings. What they attribute to feeling something for someone is comparable to an awkward concern for a pet.

Instead of learning about themselves and developing a strong, cohesive self in early childhood, emotionally immature people learned that certain feelings were bad and forbidden. They unconsciously developed defences against experiencing many of their deeper feelings. 

As a result, energies that could have gone toward developing a full self were instead devoted to suppressing their natural instincts, resulting in a limited capacity for emotional intimacy.

Not realizing the magnitude of their parents' developmental limitations, many children of emotionally immature people think there must be a genuine, fully developed person hiding inside the parent, a real self they could connect to if only their parent would let them. This is especially true if the parent was occasionally affectionate or attentive...

When people's defences have become an integral part of their personality, they're as real as scar tissue in the body... These limitations become a major part of people's personalities.

Whether they can ultimately become more authentic and emotionally available depends on their ability to self-reflect. People often wonder whether their parents can ever change. That depends on whether their parents are willing to self-reflect, which is the first step in any change. Unfortunately, if their parents aren't interested in noticing their impacts on others, they have no impetus to look at themselves; without such self­-reflection, there's no way to change.

My father, and Mr. Brightside, had childhoods that stunted their emotional growth, which never allowed them to develop their emotional capacities.

As outlined above, it wasn't their fault; they grew up in environments that encouraged them to suppress their emotions which is what they did until whatever might have grown internally couldn't due to the pressure of all the constraints.

Think if it as a process akin to a geisha binding her feet; "foot binding was custom of breaking and tightly binding the feet of young girls in order to change the shape and size of their feet; during the time it was practiced, bound feet were considered a mark of beauty."

The feet were bound so tightly that they couldn't grow freely, which resulted in horrific disfigurations. (Here is a link to a photo; I chose not to post it here because it's incredibly disturbing so you can decide for yourself if you want to see it.)

Emotionally, this is how I see my father, Mr. Brightside, and so many of the men I've dated: they grew up in environments that so tightly restricted their emotions, that their inner selves never fully developed resulting in these twisted and grotesque caricatures of what they could have been had they been allowed to grow freely. Their insides are just as disfigured as that of an Asian woman's bound feet.

However unlike bound feet which can never again be what they should have been, I do think there is hope for at least some growth with emotionally 'bound' people. 

But I think that it can only happen in someone who "knows that they don't know" - someone who has at least enough of a seed of self-awareness to understand that they have things to learn, as opposed to someone who is so emotionally stunted that they aren't even aware that they might have emotional blocks. That seed of awareness is the first step, followed by a lifetime of un-learning, re-learning, unfurling.

You - me - we - thinking that we can cause a person to open up and grow emotionally is as equally preposterous as thinking that we could unfurl those gnarled feet; it's not gonna to happen.

Overworking in Adult Relationships

Many internalizing children optimistically believe that when they grow up, they'll be able to single­handedly love another person into a good relationship. Reflecting on her failing marriage, one woman put it this way: "I thought I could be enough for both of us."

Internalizers are accustomed to supplying most of the empathy and doing more than their fair share in trying to get along, and for a long time they may not notice that they're getting worn out while the other person isn't changing at all.

Internalizers sometimes take up emotional slack by playing both parts in their interactions with people. They act as if there's reciprocity when there isn't. For instance, they might thank someone for being patient when they are actually the ones being inconvenienced, or they might repeatedly reach out to self-centered people with a thoughtfulness they never get back.

They are so familiar with supplying the sensitivity that was missing in their family members that they automatically do this with everyone. They make up for other people's lack of engagement by seeing them as nicer and more considerate than they really are.

You probably think you’ve been working hard at your relationship and that it’s a measure of your commitment that you’ve persisted with your Mr Unavailable…

I don’t deny that you’ve put in effort but of course it’s going to feel like hard work - you’re working at a limited relationship with a limited man. If you keep putting your bucket down an empty well then yes it is going to feel like very hard work, but it’s highly unproductive and not real work.

Emotionally immature parents don't know how to validate their child's feelings and instincts. Without this validation, children learn to give in to what others seem sure about. As adults, they may deny their instincts to the point where they acquiesce to relationships they don't really want.

They may then believe it's up to them to make the relationship work. They may rationalize why they have to try so hard in the relationship, as though it were normal to struggle daily to get along with your mate. 

While effort is needed to maintain communication and connection in a relationship, it shouldn't feel like constant, unrewarding work. The truth is, if both partners fit each other, understand each other's feelings, and are positive and supportive, relationships are primarily pleasurable, not arduous.

Good relationships do take some effort and forbearance. But it shouldn't take work just to be noticed. Making an emotional connection ought to be the easy part.

Mr Unavailable blindly assumes that he acts as he does because he’s never met the ‘right’ woman. His ego forgets to remind himself that in his unavailable state, he’s not the right man – for anyone… He’s failed to recognize that his resistance in relationships isn’t caused by the women he’s involved with, but by himself.

… he believes that when he finds what he’s ‘looking for’ in a relationship, or it finds him, that he’ll suddenly, spontaneously combust into an emotionally available, commitment willing man with great relationship habits, and all of his problems will magically vacate his life.

The night Mr. Brightside and I broke up, I called one of my friends and told her about the whole "not falling in love thing."

She called bullshit on that immediately.

"Well that's very cheap and self-serving. If he thinks that him "falling in love" would have altered his behaviour then he's living in la-la land.

He's putting it on you and he's coming up with a reason that's kind of ridiculous because he's suggesting that he could have behaved in a different way in a different circumstance. That it's not because he can't meet the basic requirements for being in a relationship, it's because he's "not falling in love."

It's as if he's saying to you "if you had met my standards for falling in love, suddenly all of those things that were lacking would have gone away" as if he himself wasn't a factor in all of it.

That's a cop out, but it's an easy way for him to explain it to himself because it kinda puts the blame on you; he used that as an excuse not to face his own inadequacies which are pretty significant. You're probably as close as he's come to looking in the mirror and facing those inadequacies.

And now he's gotten to a point where you asking for normal things is just too much so it's easier for him to walk away."

The Lure of Old Patterns

...All humans share the primitive instinct that familiarity means safety. Therefore, if you grew up with emotionally immature parents, you may feel subconsciously drawn to the familiarity of egocentric and exploitative people... the people we find most charismatic are subconsciously triggering us to fall back into old, negative family patterns...this kind of instant chemistry can be a danger sign, indicating that self-defeating roles from childhood are being reactivated beneath the surface.

If you don’t get wise about unavailable relationships, you will spend your life around men that send a message to you that you’re not ‘good enough.’

This isn’t because you’re not good enough but because you’re trying to make an unavailable relationship into a committed relationship, which is like trying to make a pig’s ear into a silk purse...

Let me say it again - he’s just not that special. There’s a reason he’s not in the ‘perfect relationship’… he’s a pain in the bum!

It’s not your job to make him a better man or even an available man - it’s his.

We may find distant or avoidant partners alluring because their avoidance is a challenge for our ego …

We might find it more exciting to be caught up in a push-pull dynamic with someone than to say yes to love that is readily available and healthy for us.

The excitement comes from eroticizing rejection - it feeds that part of us that still feels like have something to prove.

Prove we’re lovable or worthy. That we are so special that we can change someone’s mind or behaviour.

But that excitement you feel is also draining your energy and soul-sucking on so many levels.

When we abandon ourselves for someone who’s undeserving of our energy, our inner-child is is usually hurting deeply and feeling afraid to be alone.

It's ok to walk away when your heart isn’t being cherished, honoured or supported.

We're all going to have days where we show up as the worst version of ourselves. But at the end of the day, we all deserve to be with someone who we know is in our corner. Someone who loves us on the hard days and treats the relationship as sacred.

Any time we waste chasing someone to give us love, there’s an unmet internal need for love and nurturance toward our inner-child.

You don’t need someone else to reflect back your wounds without being willing to heal with you. You don’t need someone to trigger all of your insecurities by treating you like an after-thought or avoiding intimacy.

It might feel unnatural to let go of this type of connection because you’re breaking a very old pattern … you might even find it “boring” to move towards love that doesn’t trigger you.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t make you “crazy,” it means you really want to heal. And to heal, you have to practice letting healthy love in.

Healing occurs as you sever your addictions to shadow relationships and move toward people who hold you in your highest light.

Healing comes from doing self-acceptance work and making the relationship with YOU and your inner-child the number one relationship in your life.

And healing occurs from understanding yourself...

My relationship with Mr. Brightside was a replica of the relationship dynamic I had with my parents: work very hard for intermittent rewards.

That trained me to always try hard in relationships. And that's why I'm always emotionally exhausted - completely spent - when relationships are over. Because I've truly been working so very hard just to get a few crumbs.

I just can't do it anymore. I literally can't.

I've gone back to online dating recently and have noticed that when I sense that emotional unavailability from the man I'm communicating with - one that means I'm going to have to work my ass off to get just a little bit of attention or kindness - I already feel a bone-deep weariness - just from the e-mail exchanges. I feel pre-exhausted, if there's such a thing.

So again I say: I just can't do it anymore. I literally can't. My body rejects the interactions, and I know to walk away right away.

I no longer need to take a frog and turn him into a prince in order to to prove I'm special.

I'm done with 'projects' or fixer uppers.

If there's "some assembly required" then that's not for me; it's the reason I hate buying IKEA furniture. I expect the next man I date to be like buying a sofa off the show-room floor: ready to use immediately.


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