Can’t Connect With Others

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Within the last three years the following events occurred in my life in order: my mom became schizophrenic and got a divorce from my dad, I moved in with my ex boyfriend who immediately began to emotionally abuse me and physically abuse a cat which he took into our care (he was a childhood friend, we dated for five years and he was always very nonviolent so I never saw the abuse coming. I also stole the cat when I broke up with him. I treat her very well and love her a lot), my mom ran away from home after getting a diagnosis (of schizophrenia) from her psych and nobody knew where she was for two weeks (she also stopped seeing him after this), a boy stalked and blackmailed me (and would threaten to kill himself whenever I did not cooperate with him) and turned my entire class in college and even some of the professors against me… I did finish that program and I moved back home for a little while before moving back to where the college was in order to earn a postgraduate certificate. At this point I was severely depressed, socially anxious and would routinely stay up for days at a time. I also used to have extremely screwed up nightmares involving myself (often as a child) and my imaginary friend (which I made up as a child but still talk to every day. I know that he is not real), and my imaginary friend would talk to me (in my dreams while I was sleeping) about how my dad used to abuse my mom, but I didn’t really believe him at first… After awhile I asked around and found out that my dad used to cheat on my mom and emotionally abuse her constantly (especially during my early childhood), and that my mom had agoraphobia during this time. She was always depressed and is always telling extremely sad stories, and would frequently encouraged me to never marry or have children. I tried speaking to a psych at the school for awhile about how I was feeling about these events but she seemed to be kind of disgusted by me so after a couple of months I stopped going. As far as I know she never made a diagnosis besides like maybe depression. She would never talk about a possible diagnosis; perhaps she was not even in a position to do so? I don’t know.

I spent most of my free time that year locked away in my apartment alone drawing, reading and writing. In fact, it is all I do even now. Eventually (in an effort to become more social) I became involved in some humanitarian-type stuff, which turned both of the other girls in my program against me… I haven’t had any friends (that were not just hanging around because they wanted to have sex with me) since before I hit puberty, so I became even more depressed when they began to bully me. At the same time some of the professors were taking an interest in me but they frightened me very much (I have always had this thing about authority figures. I never trusted them even as a young child) so I would avoid them. One of them thought that I was interested in him sexually (when I was actually just afraid of him), and initially acted as if I was the one who wanted him (which is incorrect) but then started blowing things I did or said out of proportion and then started giving me advice which I would later discover (as I learned more about him) really would benefit him more than I. He eventually hacked into a password-protected, encrypted file that I kept on an external drive that I would routinely plug into one of the school’s workstations which contained my journal and tried to use the information within it to meet me in a place that he knew that I was going to be so that he could hook up with me (not only was he twice my age but also married with many children)… The worst part was that I nearly said yes… I was really confused and lonely, and I always got the feeling that he was as well… But in the end it just felt too horrible for me to say yes. I naively kept hoping that we could just be friends afterward (even though I have been in similar positions before and it always ended with me being alone) and became extremely upset when I realized that he would not allow it… I was angry that he could only be satisfied with the friendship when it was actually a potential relationship which he was completely in control of and felt angry that he could pretend to be so moral when he clearly was not. I did eventually try to approach him online about this but he ignored me. This was kind of the last straw for me when it came to dealing with other people. I have almost always been alone in the seven months since this occurred.

All of these events had a profound effect on me emotionally; having lost all faith in humanity, I immediately returned home after finishing school and I locked myself in my mother’s apartment for four months… I was too afraid to even go outside and thought about suicide constantly. Then my mom revealed to us that she was stealing everyone’s rent money but not using it to pay the rent. This was supposed to allow her to have an excuse to move in with her parents and distance herself from us (we were completely supporting her financially at that point but we are not as rich as they are). When she told me her plan she was absolutely giddy and told me that she did not care about what was going to happen to me. We eventually did sort it out (particularly after my grandparents told my mom that she could not stay with them and suggested that she stay in a women’s shelter), and we all still got to live together but it really messed with my head, especially since my siblings decided to get a place without me and said many bad things about me during this time. After this I told my older sister that I did not believe that I was well mentally… I asked her for help but she made fun of me and gave me the cold shoulder (and talked others into doing the same) for a couple of months. Then my older brother (who was a very dangerous and violent person for much of his life) was hit by a drunk driver and was in a coma for a month. Then my dad stole my bed while I was out one day and told me afterward that he was never going to talk to me again because his girlfriend asked him not to. I was actually starting to leave the apartment semi-frequently after the whole thing with my mom went down, mostly because the only person that I talk to regularly outside my family (who lives in another city) started inviting me over to his place occasionally, and doing that eventually got me used to everything enough to start going outside for other reasons without experiencing any fear. I go outside maybe 5/7 days of the week now and am okay with talking to clerks and salespeople, but I am still severely unconfident and anxious around people overall. When I am around new people that I think I may have to deal with regularly I become extremely emotionally strained and tense.

I have fantasies where I am a male, and I enjoy it way more than I probably should. I go back to my college days and become friends with everyone instead of being alienated by them (or alienating them) or stalked or hurt. I always blame myself when people do not want to be around me. Sometimes I actually feel angry at myself because I am female because it makes me feel like I am destined to only ever hurt other people and be hurt in return. I am an artist and when I draw pictures of myself it is always as a male. It is hard for me to draw my real self. In some ways I identify even more with this image that I have in my head than I do with my real self. I have this extremely deep fantasy world in my mind that I withdraw into when things get bad in the real world. I spend so much time daydreaming within that space that I worry that I will waste my entire life doing so.

When I am around people, especially new people, I feel as if I am entirely at their mercy, and that I have no real control over what they will do with me, and that nobody will like my real self… Sometimes I feel like no matter how much I object I will just be forced to play whatever role the people closest to me will want me to fill. I have a very good idea as to what I am like and what I stand for but I cannot shake the feeling that I can’t be that person and still have others around me. I can’t help but believe that if I am not useful then nobody will want anything to do with me, and because of that I respond to new people with great anger and fear without entirely desiring to.

My fears have prevented me from really expressing myself, starting my career or making any new/positive connections with others. I work freelance over the Internet (and have never met any of my clients face-to-face before. They know very little about me but are happy with the work that I produce) and have attempted to take a part-time job in various occupations that I actually do not care about but would involve me talking to strangers regularly (so that I can become more comfortable being around new people) but I can’t even get past the first part of the interview process without screwing it up. I have avoided looking for non-freelance jobs in the field that I have my degree in because I know I would be even more afraid if I did and that I would not be selected. I had a job in sales before I went to college and I was one of the best salespeople they had at the time, but I just can’t do it anymore. They always see my hands shake or I start studdering like crazy and they cut the interview short and then never call back.

I don’t know what to do with myself or how to move past all of this, or what exactly I have wrong with me, and I cannot afford to talk to a psych in person, so I don’t know what to do. Please help me. I’m sorry for rambling on for so long.

A. Please do not be sorry for “rambling.” I appreciate that you’ve provided many details regarding your situation. The more information you provide the easier it is for me to help you. It seems that you’ve had multiple traumas and stressors occur throughout your life. I am sorry you are experiencing so much anguish and distress. It must not be easy to handle so much all at once.

You wrote about being secluded in your apartment. You are unable to leave your residence because you’re too afraid to go outside. You said you think about suicide constantly. You have imaginary friends that feed you information about your parents. You have an “extremely deep fantasy world” in which you visualize yourself as a male. Furthermore, this fantasy world is a place where you revert to when “bad things” happen. You also seem to be experiencing paranoia. You wrote that you are worried about other people around you. You feel that these people may be able to control you. You feel you are at their mercy. You fear that you will be forced into acting how they want you to act. You worry that you will lose your ability to be yourself. You not only fear this will happen but when it does it makes you angry.

You not only wrote about your current symptoms but you also offered some of your mental health history. Your mother has schizophrenia. You parents are divorced and your brother was severely injured by a drunk driver. You moved in with your ex-boyfriend and he abused you and your cat. These are all very difficult life circumstances. Any one of these situations might cause an individual to be traumatized, or at the very least stressed and upset.

In addition to your complicated family situation you may have a history of paranoia. You wrote about the boy who stalked and blackmailed you. Then there was the professor who thought you were sexually interested in him and then who you believe hacked into the external drive of your computer (for reasons that you did not specify). You said that on several occasions different groups of people turned against you, one occasion was your college classmates and the professor (as a result of the boy who stalked you) and the second was the girls associated with the humanitarian efforts you were involved in. I am not saying that these events or situations did not happen. Only you know if they did. They very well may have. What I am saying is that there does seem to be a pattern of paranoia currently and historically throughout your life. That conclusion seems reasonable and tenable.

It is difficult to know what you are experiencing. My two main concerns are that (1) you have a family history of mental illness and thus may be at a greater risk for developing a disorder yourself and; (2) you are currently not stable. At this point in time you are unable to interact with others, get a job or to move on with your life. As you have correctly noted, your fears have put your life on hold.

Are you sure that you are unable to see a mental health professional about these issues? There may be a community mental health center in your local area that might be able to provide counseling services to you for free or at a very low rate. There may programs that you are unaware of in your community. I’d encourage you to check your Yellow and White pages in the phone book and look up the words “counseling,” “Psychologist” or “social services.” Please look into this. You need help to deal with these problems with the help of a mental health professional or your life may continue to remain on hold.

I’d like to add this last thought. You have no reason to believe me or trust me. I am just words on the Internet but I’d like to tell you this. You can have a happy, productive life. Every problem that you have detailed in your letter can be solved and I have seen them solved over and over again. You think that your problems are overwhelming and you are held as an inescapable prisoner by them but this is simply not the truth. Your life seems frightening and you’ve contemplated suicide, not because you are weak but because you have tried all that you know and have had no success. Do not believe the illusion that all is lost. The truth is that you can be helped back to a perfectly happy successful life-in all ways. I have seen this and in your town or city there are many therapists who have accomplished this for their clients. If you want to believe the truth, believe this. Help is outside your door and all you have to do is believe it is there and then seek it out. I hate to see someone with so much sensitivity suffering when a cure and an end to that suffering is available. Good luck and please keep me posted on your progress.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Apr 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Can’t Connect With Others. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/04/06/cant-connect-with-others/