“The fundamental dynamic in a human life and the most important factor in the development and existence of human beings is attachment. Connection to another human being – the capacity to be present with and understand and see the other human being for exactly who they are and to accept them for who they are and to invite them unconditionally to be in your presence exactly the way they are, that’s what love actually is.”
I used to stare at the mirror, tears streaming down my face trying to recognize something, anything about my reflection. I needed to know that I still existed after a decade of losing my identity to covert manipulation, isolation, and shame. I would focus on my eyes and my God, were they full of sorrow and fear. They say the eyes are the windows to our souls and I can see why because mine were so hollow and desolate matching exactly how my soul felt. The spark they once had, the zest for life was replaced by darkness, an echo of who I used to be.
In Greek mythology there's a story told by Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses that speaks on the tragedy of love when one is in a relationship with a narcissist. In the story, Narcissus, an attractive hunter who would be the equivalent of your modern day "pleighboi", breaks the hearts of many women. When Narcissus was only a child a prophecy was made that said Narcissus would lead a strong life as one of the beautiful people so long as he never looked within himself (know Thyself). This prophecy proved true, Narcissus' only understanding of self-reflection being to quite literally stare at his reflection in the water, and because of this, Narcissus gained attention from many admirers with his looks and strength. However, all of this beauty and strength came with a hefty dose of self-absorption and arrogance, as well.
As the story goes, Narcissus became the object of infatuation by an equally alluring nymph named Echo. Echo was the kind of person that had no inhibitions about speaking her thoughts and opinions on things and because of this she was punished by the goddess Juno, who took away Echo's ability to speak freely. Anytime Echo tried to speak after Juno's punishment, her voice was only able to repeat the last words of others around her - no voice for herself anymore; Succumbed to a life of echoing others and losing all power to voice her own convictions.
One day, Narcissus was out hunting with his friends and became separated from them. Disoriented, he began calling out "who's there" in hopes of finding them but was instead met with the voice of Echo, who had been hiding out in the forest. Due to her punishment, she had no voice of her own and all she could do was repeat Narcissus' words back to him, "who's there". Startled, Narcissus called for Echo to come out of her hiding place, and she happily obliged, falling in love with him instantly. She craved his attention but was savagely turned away by him as he said, "may I die before you enjoy my body". Echo was humiliated and fled the forest, however, the admiration she had for Narcissus grew stronger every day. Over time as he continued to shun her, she spiraled into a vicious cycle of dependency and despair eventually withering away from Narcissus' unrequited love and cruel behavior, leaving behind only the echoes of her voice.
I think of this mythological story often because I am/was modernity's Echo. My own voice silenced by mind control in an attempt to no longer allow me to have thoughts of my own and my unconditional love, turned away and used against me by the narcissist(s) in my life. For some time, all I could do in this toxicity was to echo their thoughts and opinions until I had no voice of my own, losing my soul and sense of self along the way.
I have thought long and hard at how I, a strong individual who prided myself on my intelligence and wit, could have fallen for people who were such self-serving individuals. It's taken a lot of research and inner work to come to the realization that I was (still kind of am) an extreme people pleaser, a compassionate and emotionally intelligent person. I wanted desperately to see that all those around me were happy, often being able to read a person's mood based on their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice alone. It was an irrational duty I imposed on myself to do and say whatever so that there was no conflict or unhappiness amongst others. Essentially, I was at the opposite end of the narcissistic spectrum by having this fear of appearing too selfish, too dependent, and too good for others. I was a prime target because I wanted to believe in the broken, make them whole again, and was so gullible to believe that I had the ability to do such things. My empathy is sought after by those who have very little of it and it has been exploited through years of psychological manipulations, almost murdering my soul and leaving me like Echo, withered away and repeating in my head who I was told I was, whether through actions or actual words; a worthless human who had no voice of her own.
It wasn't just my own shortcomings that caused this, though, I eventually learned.
Scrolling through Twitter the other day I came across a tweet of somebody asking if there are more narcissists in the world today. Having married someone with a similar anti-social personality disorder and the individuals I've met since along the way, I feel confident saying I know first-hand the behaviors of these types and I, too, have often wondered if our society is now full of humans walking around with God complexes. I don't know if it's always been this way or if I have extra sensitive "narcdar" but it is overwhelmingly apparent that the world is full of individuals who appear to think of no one but themselves. This exaggerated sense of how important they are to us mere mortals runs especially rampant in the online world and daily I see these types having no qualms about tearing down others to obtain admiration from their hypnotized fans.
Despite how many I observe or have personally experienced that seem narcissistic (or depressed, or anxious, or whatever psychologically disordered adjective you can fill in that someone is labeled with) I keep circling around this question of narcissism quite a bit because I am just not sold on the idea that this many people are walking around with personality disorders. I am inclined to believe that instead, most of these individuals have an attachment disorder - namely, an avoidant attachment disorder - and are moving through life letting their subconscious be the driver, unaware their subconscious is still stuck in childhood abandonment trauma.
*I imagine by this point you, the reader, is utterly confused and wondering what rabbit hole Cake has gone down, so I'm going to break it all down - please hang with me, it will be worth it - go grab a drink and a snack and we'll reconvene...
If you spend any time online, you most likely have seen something referencing "attachment theory". Taken from Wikipedia:
Attachment theory is a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory concerning relationships between humans. The most important tenet is that young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for normal social and emotional development. The theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby.
The popularity of this theory is growing, although I've been researching it for quite some time while trying to understand my own relationship hang-ups and behaviors towards them. There are 4 different "types" of attachments according to the theory - securely attached (my caregiver really was there for me in the right ways and I value relationships, intimacy, communication, and vulnerability), anxiously attached ("hoemaigawd, it's been 2 minutes and he hasn't texted back I must drop him 75 texts full of paragraphs explaining that if he leaves I might die because i looooooooove him), fearful avoidant (every 5 seconds I will question the integrity of the relationship before sabotaging it myself. *relationship sabotaged* i don't want to be aloooooone, someone love me), and dismissive avoidant (love doesn't exist, who cares if it all blows up in my face) - each one a manifestation (shown in different ways) of core childhood wounds (or lack-thereof). How insecure or secure one is in an attachment to another (primarily a romantic relationship) is a direct, albeit subconscious, response depending on how we have bonded with our caregivers, or how they exhibited to us love, comfort, safety, especially when we were in distress as children.
*From here on out I am only going to focus on the fearful avoidant attachment due to recently having a pretty profound epiphany about my own relationships, those of my peers in society, and how we are ignorant, as a collective, to the roots turning us into a distorted culture of narcissism, and also because I think 1) anxiously attached humans tend have more self-awareness (because anxious and constantly ruminating everything) and don't cause as much destruction to other humans/Self & 2) dismissive avoidants are probably actually narcissists and I don't care to waste my time on them (sorry not sorry). As a pattern's person with experience and years of not only observing others, but communicating with them, as well, I am confident when I say fearful avoidance is the attachment style that plagues most of us, causing cycles of trauma to continue for ourselves, our children, and those finding themselves in relationships with these having this attachment style.
Circling back and tying into my initial diatribe about Narcissus and Echo, a fearful avoidant seems to share an uncanny amount of behaviors that narcissists do, and I fully believe this is why it appears every human walking this Earth, especially in America, has an ego the size of Kanye and cares about no one but themselves, and why I should not have called some of those ex's narcissists (sorry guys), minus the legit disordered ex-husband, of course.
I was the recipient of a blindsided break-up o̶r̶ ̶t̶w̶o̶, followed by a ghosting o̶r̶ ̶t̶w̶o̶ (the one who does the breaking up suddenly vanishes without a trace), and was left in utter despair and confusion. Turns out, this happens quite frequently - a plethora of humans out there on the receiving end of very narcissistic behavior, dished out by someone who was just professing their love to them. Tell me that won't fuck a human up.
Spoiler, it does.
In between sobs and sitting paralyzed staring off into the distance, willing the universe to drop a giant meteor on me, I would search for answers, because the person who loved me one day and then blindsided me the next had metaphorically died and was unable to answer the fuckton of questions I had, leaving me alone going in circles in my head, primarily blaming myself. And as I'm going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, making stupid lists of all of my faults and countless hours feeling like a monster who wasn't even worthy of i don't know, a talk? or something, I stumbled upon a post on reddit. And the heavens parted, angels sang, everything aligned and finally, finally everything made sense.
posted by user u/imaginarysunday
This is a long one, sorry. I hope it will give those who have been blindsided some solace and insight into how it had nothing to do with you. If you’re a blindsider reading this, I hope this will give you insight into your behavior and actions you can take.
Note: I’m talking serious relationships where the blindside came completely from left field. I am not talking about casual or short term relationships where there is no significant attachment. I’m also not referring to abusive and narcissistic relationships as there are other dynamics at play (but there are some similarities)
[TLDR: Blindsiding comes from a maladaptive coping mechanism. People who end a serious relationship through blindsiding are acting out of subconscious fear and shame. This type of person typically lacks the capacity to self reflect and usually would need the help of a therapist to work through their issues in order to communicate in a healthy way. Being blindsided is one of the cruelest acts imaginable because of the long term ramifications that blindsiders never consider. If you have been blindsided, you will get through this and have more knowledge to choose better partners in the future.]
Using a blindside to end a serious relationship is incredibly callous and spineless. If you’ve been blindsided, you’re probably looking for answers and closure. You won’t get this from the blindsider as they most likely do not understand the drivers of their own behavior.
A blindside is a power play. It is a tool, used very intentionally by the blindsider to control a situation. Using a blindside to end a serious relationship, instead of discussing concerns during the relationship in a healthy way, shows massive emotional immaturity.
Underlying the blindsider’s need for control is fear. Fear of vulnerability (fear of commitment, rejection, failure all play into fear of vulnerability) and underneath this is shame. It is almost impossible for this type of person to be genuinely vulnerable because protecting the parts of themselves that hold the shame is an automatic process they have been doing their whole life. Shame is usually driven by a belief of not being good enough, probably formative from childhood, possibly trauma. Even for those who had “good” childhoods, if in their early years of life their caregivers couldn’t give them what they emotionally needed enough of the time, they internalized this. It impacts how they view themselves and it impacts how they attach romantically in adulthood.
Someone with a secure attachment style most likely wouldn’t blindside as they would be capable of raising issues during the relationship in a healthy way. It’s more an avoidant attachment behavior (the anxiously attached would be more likely to voice concerns in a maladaptive way). A blindside is a form of manipulation and it makes sense that an insecurely attached person would do this, because they can find it difficult/don’t know how to ask for what they need directly, instead using indirect or manipulative ways to get their needs met).
They probably have a pattern of lashing out and/or distancing when their shame is activated. They are probably sensitive to criticism and have passive-aggressive traits. They may be manipulative in other ways. It’s all shame-driven behavior. This is why they couldn’t recognize their feelings and open themselves up to having vulnerable discussions about their relationship doubts in a healthy way. This shame is so deep and locked up so tight they can’t contemplate looking inwards or questioning what drives their behaviors. Ironically, the reasons that these people would benefit from therapy are also what keeps most from going to therapy.
While all of this is going on internally and subconsciously for the blindsider, the focus is only on the short term. They ultimately want to control feelings that they are unable to understand or tolerate. There is also a “get them before they get me” coping mechanism, which compels them to act. This all happens very automatically and subconsciously. They won’t consider your feelings, they don’t have the emotional ability to truly empathize (if they did they wouldn’t be blindsiding you in the first place). This is only about their self protection.
They are unlikely to be able to have a meaningful conversation about their reasons for the blindside and even if they give you a bunch of reasons, these are not the true motivations, because most of what is driving the behavior is subconscious. The blindsider believes their reasons for the blindside are true, they will cling to all sorts of obscure reasons. They believe they are being honest and they believe their actions are justified. They may even believe they are being virtuous or brave. The reason it comes across as being dishonest is because it’s not the truth, however the blindsider has no insight or ability to understand their actual drivers. They see the blindside as the only option (it actually is a choice, because if you are a full grown adult your actions are always a choice).
That said, emotional inability does not EVER make harmful actions ok. Behaviors do not have to have malicious intent to be harmful. Toxic behavior often has its roots in maladaptive, protective mechanisms that happen subconsciously, which compels some people to act in harmful ways, in order to protect themselves, without ever identifying that their behavior is significantly harming those around them (including themselves).
Because the blindsider has little capacity for self reflection, they do not consider the real impact of their actions. Blindsiders want to protect themselves from shame in the short term and are not considering the long-term impacts of their behaviors on themselves (there is often remorse that comes later) or on the blindsidee.
A blindsided end to a serious relationship is one of the most profound forms of betrayal. It is a premeditated, intentional betrayal, intended to sever the relationship immediately and irreversibly and disallow any real discussion. It is is akin to adultery, actually worse in my opinion. Most relationships could never recover from a breach of trust so big (not without significant effort and therapy for both parties) and this is why reconciliation or friendship is not a realistic option most of the time after a blindside.
The cruelest part of blindsiding is not what it does to the blindsidee in the short term (yes, their trust in that person along with their heart are completely shattered, and that in itself is excruciating and takes a long time to recover from), but the long term impacts are the real kicker. A betrayal this big is life changing. This is what the blindsider never considers. They made a deliberate choice to betray and harm the person closest to them and that bell can’t be unrung.
We can learn from the experience. We learn how to select better partners, we learn how to be more resilient, we learn how to be vulnerable even though we never know what the future will bring, we still love anyway and that in itself makes us stronger. We can use our adversity to help us grow. But that doesn’t mean the adversity needed to happen in the first place. It is a loss of innocence in a way, where even in trusting relationships we go on to have in the future, we forever live with the knowledge of the harm that people are capable of causing to us. This is the deepest harm of blindsiding, because it changes us forever.
The worst injustice is that some people, for whatever reasons, may not have the ability, resources or bandwidth to go down a path of healing. They will live with permanent and preventable wounding that will interfere with their future relationships for a long time, or even a lifetime. How much potential joy and love might someone miss out on.
I think in reality a lot of us probably end up somewhere in the middle of these two paths. We grow and heal as best we can, but we still carry a degree of hurt and mistrust in our hearts, even when we love again.
Because of the typical profile of a blindsider, I highly doubt that many will read this, but if you have been in the position of blindsiding your (then) significant other: First of all, fuck you. Second, you need to reflect on the irreversible and life changing harm you caused another human through your actions. If you are in any way remorseful, develop your emotional skills so you can communicate in relationships in a healthy way. You need to do this in therapy with a professional as you most likely won’t have the skills to do it on your own.
If you are the blindsidee, I am sorry this happened to you. You can grow through this and go on to have good relationships. You have more information and discernment to choose a better partner in the future. Their blindsiding was never about you and wasn’t caused by you. Your justice is in the fact that the type of person who blindsides is not capable of the level of vulnerability, communication and secure love needed for a healthy relationship. Rest assured, they will not go on to have healthy relationships (even if it looks that way, they will bring maladaptive patterns to all their relationships if they don’t work on themselves in therapy). By you going on to genuinely love and trust others, you win. That is your justice, your truth and your closure.
If you have made it this far, I'm going to buy a drink someday because holy all over the place, Cakey. But I think this is something that is crucial to start recognizing for the future of civilization and in the present moment, our children. And I also think each one of us, as humans chosen to be here, owe it to ourselves to be the best humans we can be. To show up for ourselves and for others. And to stop treating each other with such unkindness, creating self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to something closely resembling a culture of narcissism.
I think if one were to read through the entire thing, considering their own behaviors and ones they have received from others, they can begin to see that most of our treatment towards others is a manifestation of childhood trauma, not depression, not narcissism, not any of those psychological disorders people get labeled with, fed medication for, use as justifications for poor treatment of others. All of these "illnesses", even physical ones, have roots in either secure or insecure attachment as a child and throughout life.
This society is beginning (has already begun?) to be fearful of things as simple as communication while simultaneously promoting marriage and the nuclear family. The problem unless people start healing, is having a bunch of fearful avoidants walking around, having no "happy" marriage or nuclear family, just masks they wear laying everywhere. There will always be a cloud hanging over, perpetuated by maladaptive coping skills that aren't being acknowledged, therefore cannot be changed. This is why avoidants find comfort in other avoidants - there is no need to be vulnerable, face your feelings and change. They find comfort in chaos - the toxic push and pull from partners just like them - because that's all they know, what their kids grow up knowing and repeating.
We've to get away from our fixation, as a collective, on the "how's" and instead start focusing on the "what's" - we must stop reacting and start looking deeper. For the kids and the future of our species.