Recently I was in a situation with an old friend, when I say old I mean a friendship 10 years in the making. As one of my oldest friends, you would think that the relationship would be one that I would hold dear, I mean 10 years is too long to hang on to anything that doesn’t fill you with joy.
Instead, every time I met her I would feel a ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Every time we would interact I felt like I needed to walk around eggshells to make her feel comfortable and every time I would tell myself that this is just how things are. I’d tell myself that ‘different people bring out different sides of me’ and that the anxiety was dismissible. I’d dread her phone calls, fear her presence at parties. But I continued dismissing the feeling as my general introversion.
Still, unconvinced, I continued meeting her, I thought I was trusting myself. I couldn’t imagine that I had spent all this time and energy building a relationship that just didn’t feel right.
Until I finally opened up to a friend, who admitted that they felt the same way.
The feeling of anxiety around them? They’d felt it too.
The fear of being ‘wrong’ or unaccepted? Yup, every time.
The feeling of being unwanted and uncared for? That one too.
The looming fear of feeling unsafe? …
Navigating through safety v/s familiarity
Unconsciously, we have an inclination towards things and people we are familiar with, even if they’re not good for us. Why? It’s called repetition compulsion, a natural tendency to repeat situations that feel familiar.
We all know someone who keeps going back to the same abusive relationship. Sometimes, it’s us. For example, if someone grew up with a verbally abusive parent for whom nothing they did was ever good enough, they may then subconsciously seek out romantic relationships with angry, dismissive people to try and fix the unresolved issue with a different person.
We see the same with animals too. Have you ever seen a dog who continues to give affection and come back to an abusive owner?
There is a pleasure hormone that gets released in our brain in the face of familiarity. Evolutionarily speaking, the most important function of our brain is to keep us alive. Our brain is wired to believe that familiar things are less likely to hurt us.
So the way our brain computes any situation is – if it hasn’t killed you in the past, it’s safe to do it again. From our brain’s point of view, the unfamiliar is risky. That’s why we unconsciously confuse safety or comfort with familiarity.
This has a major impact on our decision-making process, whether we realize it or not.
Comfort is relaxing
When you are comfortable with someone, it means you are relaxed enough around them to be who you are. (Horses, in fact, masticate when they feel safe!) To put it bluntly, when you feel safe and comfortable you don’t feel like you’re barely holding on at the edge of sanity.
How to recognise the signs …
Navigating through these feelings of familiarity, safety and comfort may be confusing.
If you find yourself asking the following questions:
‘I don’t want to do this again’
‘Why do I keep doing this to myself?’
‘Why am I so nervous around them?’
‘Am I the problem?’
‘Why is it so hard to have an honest conversation?’
You just feel like you can’t be yourself around them.
It ultimately (as it does in most cases) comes down to communication and respect.
Do you feel like this is a person who will respect what you have to say? Can you be a near-authentic version of yourself with them? Are they listening to you or just hearing what you have to say?
Paying attention to the emotions that get triggered around different people can really empower you to make healthy, long lasting and fulfilling relationships.
Does that sound like something you’d like? Maybe I can help. Book a (free) discovery session to find out.