In the darkness I will meet my creators.
They will all agree, I’m a suffocator. — “Smother” by Daughter
If you know me at all, you know I love using metaphors. Metaphorizing my experience helps me wrap my brain around and name what’s happening in the chaos inside me.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about naming the anxiety I feel in relationships. Kelsey in a relationship — whether it be romantic, friendship, or otherwise — is like playing a life-sized game of Chess. Every piece has its place. I know where each knight, bishop, and pawn will move and when. I’m always ten steps ahead, trying to gauge and control the future outcome of the game. Regardless of who wins or loses, it’s always my responsibility and I’m left to pick up the pieces. Rather than protecting the King and moving to attack my opponent, each piece needs to be as close to the Queen as possible, to protect her and keep her safe.
Interacting with others in this way is something I learned from the trauma in my life.
Through the help of my therapist, I have developed the strength to name the emotional and sexual abuse I have experienced. However, while abuse happened to me, I was taught the only person to blame for this harm was me. I was taught the trauma in my life was the sole responsibility of me. I was taught that I was the reason people hurt me and left, therefore I am the one responsible for cleaning up the mess. Imagine a 5-year old girl taking the blame for those who abused her — Mea culpa, “It’s all my fault.”
These lessons taught me that the only way to protect my wounded heart is to keep people as close as possible — for protection and safety, and to gauge their emotions and forecast when they would hurt me again. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” was the only way I felt I had any control in my life. If abuse happened, it was much easier to blame myself, clean up the mess, and draw closer to my abuser, to watch for the signs of oncoming harm and brace myself against the violence. Like my Chess metaphor, the safe people in my life became the knights and bishops that protected me — the Queen.
This is how I became a Smother.
Being a Smother is not only painful (and annoying) for those closest to me, it’s also painful for me. I am ridden with anxiety as I attempt to control the proximity of those around me, hoping that by keeping them close, I can prevent them from hurting me or running away. Instead, the opposite happens and I suffocate the relationship, smothering it to death. I end up feeling alone, heartbroken, and used.
Being a Smother feels like the world’s problems, emotions, and circumstances are solely on my shoulders. Mea culpa. Whether someone close to me is having a bad day, something out of my control happens at work, or someone glances in my direction the wrong way, I feel like it’s my fault and my responsibility to make it better and to fix it.
Bearing the burden of everyone’s emotions and problems is exhausting.
I feel shame and embarrassment around being a Smother. I am ashamed that this is the woman I have become. My hope in identifying my suffocating ways is that naming these patterns will bring me closer to healing and change.
The risk in all of this is relationship. By keeping people close to me, I risk suffocating the friendship. However, by letting go, stepping back, and allowing the relationship to breathe, I risk they will run away and bail completely. Giving space to the other goes against my being, however I am beginning to realize this is the only way I can salvage my relationships and change my Smothering ways. Some may run away, but the ones who care for me the most will stick around.
Being a Smother is ugly. Being suffocated by a Smother is ugly. Nobody wins in the tales of a Smother.
I understand becoming a Smother was a way I could protect myself when I was a little girl, however this defense mechanism no longer serves me. Rather, it harms me and in turn I harm those around me. The little girl inside me no longer needs to horde the people around her and keep them as close as she possibly can, controlling and manipulating them like the pieces on a Chess board. This little girl is not responsible for the emotions and problems of those around her. This little girl can finally let go, relax, and trust that those who love her won’t hurt her and will stick around.
I am grateful for this protective armor. I am thankful for this little girl’s strength, bravery, and cunning ability to create a defense around her for protection and safety. However, it’s time I set aside my Smothering ways and learn a new way of relating. This is an intensely difficult process that is filled with grief, mourning, and pain, yet with small changes over time, healing can occur.
For those of you who have a Smother in your life, my hope is this post gives you a bit of insight into the world of a suffocator. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be gentle with your Smother. They were taught how to relate in this way, however they can change with lots of love, patience, and therapy. Assure them and remind them of your presence. Don’t be afraid to hold to your boundaries. Boundaries are a beautiful thing and your Smother needs to know this.
For those of you who have experienced the Smother in me, I am sorry. I am sorry for holding on too tightly, for suffocating you, and not letting you breathe. I am sorry for stepping over boundaries, pursuing and pushing, and not giving you space. I ask for love, patience, and compassion as I continue this journey to shed my suffocating ways. The Smother in me is finally being put to rest.
***If you feel you are a Smother, struggle with anxiety around relationships, or are experiencing abuse, please seek the help of a licensed therapist. There is hope for you through the help of someone who’s trained in the areas of attachment style, anxiety, trauma, and abuse.***