Bob and me and why couldn’t I say “no”?

WARNING: this post contains a passing mention of self-harm thoughts and a very brief generalised mention of abusive relationships

I’m sorry for this ramble that isn’t necessarily of interest to anyone. I really have to get this out and there’s nobody I can talk to. Kinda wish I could call someone but I don’t want to be totally needy and a burden on people.

It’s Friday tomorrow, which means group therapy. I’m really nervous. It’s the first group therapy for about 3 weeks following the summer therapy break. After the last therapy break (over Christmas) I found it hard to engage with the group again, stay present to mentalise and keep safe between sessions. The main reason I’m nervous this time is something that has happened between me and someone else in the group. Let’s call him Bob. I know that what happened is going to be talked about in group (because I talked it over in my 1:1 session earlier this week and my therapist told me it also needs to be discussed in group).

There’s a rule that group members should not have contact outside the group. It’s accepted that chance meetings happen or that we may see each other when attending the same hospital or GP Surgery  or other places and we aren’t expected to ignore each other if this happens, but we are not supposed to arrange meetings. One reason for this is that we should not discuss what happens in group outside group where not all the members are present. In particular we should not talk about other group members and if group members felt they or their issues were being talked about, this could be very upsetting and damage trust between group members.

“Bob” and I sometimes bump into each other because we tend to head off in the same direction after group. We sometimes bump into each other in the supermarket or in town because sometimes we go to the same church. Small world and all that. At these times we’ve chatted and I never felt that was wrong. This has happened with other group members too; we’ve discussed it in group and everyone has felt that it’s okay when that happens. Some members live quite near to each other so it’s somewhat inevitable.

In early June, I talked a bit more to Bob whilst we were in the waiting room before group started, because he was going through some practical problems that I had also had experience of and I was glad to be able to suggest a couple of sources of support for him. Then Bob asked me to meet him for a drink. It was his birthday and I knew that he does not have any friends locally and had been through a rough time. Straight away I didn’t feel comfortable with this. It was breaking the group rule. It could be breaking other members’ trust. I felt this was different from all the previous times Bob and I had talked, because this wasn’t a question of bumping into each other or waiting in the same room together for appointments; it was going out of the way to arrange a meeting. I was straight away nervous about why he was asking me. Plus going for a drink with anyone is hard for me, especially someone I don’t really know very much. Crowded places and lots of unknowns are difficult for me, raising my anxiety. I didn’t want to say yes. But I was completely unable to say no. I knew he would feel hurt and rejected and upset. I would be being nasty and rude. There was just no way in my head I could say the “no” I wanted to.

[I’m scared…]

Instead, I agreed but gave the proviso that it definitely be a one-off, just for a drink because it was his birthday. I also said that I wanted to be very, very clear that this was as friends. I have a lot of issues of my own and I do not find relationships of any kind easy. I am not looking for anything more than friends and I would not be able to give to that kind of relationship what I would want to. I said I felt silly and awkward saying that but just to make sure there can’t be any confusion I wanted to say it outright. Bob said he totally understood that and he felt the same.

So we met for a drink one afternoon. Well, that was the agreement, I thought. Except that Bob made it dinner, one evening, at a restaurant. And he insisted on paying for me. And it wasn’t a one-off, because from there Bob contacted me more and more. He wanted to meet again and again. He told me more and more that he had been thinking about me and praying for me and that he thought I was a very special person. And every time, I didn’t want to. I wanted to say no. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And we met again, then another time, then another.

[I’m so scared even writing this. I feel I can’t breathe. I’m twisted up inside. Why?]

I couldn’t say no but I hoped it would stop. I tried to say. I said I was worried for both of us – that we’d get worried about the other and not be able to tell anyone, that we’d share things that we really needed to talk about (in group or with our therapist) and we wouldn’t be able to, that I wanted to share our meeting with the group, that I didn’t think we needed to hide it, that I thought he was trusting me and thinking of me differently from everyone else in the group and that could be damaging, that he was sharing things with me and not with the group and that could be bad for him (and the group)… I said these things, I think. Yet I let them be quickly brushed aside. Bob wasn’t dismissive. He wasn’t typically pushy or crass. Somehow though, I let my concerns be put away by what he said in response and I didn’t follow them through.

It was evident he cared for me very much and thought well of me. A lot of it seemed to be true Christian care and prayer and friendship. However, I knew it went beyond that. If someone cares for me, it frightens me. Bob would say in group that he had been thinking about me and it scared me there too. I wasn’t the only person he’d say it about but he seemed to say it about me more than about others. I know I get scared about this kind of thing and it makes it hard to know (or hard to trust myself when I think I know) if the other person is caring about me in a normal way or if something is unusual.

Scared turned to terrified when he seemed to care for me obsessionally. It sounds wrong to say that. It sounds like he did something wrong. He didn’t hurt me. He didn’t force me. He did nothing wrong. That’s what makes this harder. He did nothing wrong and he is not a nasty person and he is a kind, caring, generous, Christian man. But his contact became more intense. Even how he looked at me. He’d watch me so intently. He’d comment on tiny things in my appearance and say he couldn’t get over them. He made a few comments that freaked me out, like that he couldn’t resist me if I had long hair, things about wanting cuddles, that I shouldn’t let my father know his age [Bob is substantially older than me but – what??!!]… I wanted to run. His texts got more frequent. Several times within an hour at the end. I knew I could not be what he thought I was and couldn’t give him what he needed.

In the end I was scared enough that he was obsessed with me that I stopped it. I checked out my feelings searching online to see if people can be obsessed with other people and if this happens in relationships, knowing the answer really but having to check out whether it is something bad and whether it can lead to worse – because I couldn’t trust myself. Partly because he really was being so “nice” and not doing anything wrong. As well, I was scared he was telling me things that he wasn’t telling the group. I was trying to encourage him to tell the therapists and tell the group. I knew too much about pressure he was under and danger he could be in and help he might need. I knew it wouldn’t be safe for either of us. I felt that whenever I ended it or whether I just let it carry on, I would end up letting him down and not being what he so much thought I was and he would get hurt and the longer it went on the worse it would be.

I couldn’t trust myself. I felt so strongly that there was a sexual or at least physical attraction undercurrent, that he was attracted to me, that he wanted more and wanted me to be something I never can be to him, that he was becoming what felt like obsessed with me. It is so obvious to me now and it scares me now and scared me then but for so long I couldn’t trust this instinct and end the relationship.

[I want so badly to cut. I won’t. I won’t. I am determined to sit with this and try to stay present to feel in group tomorrow and not numb everything down by self-harming.]

Though I was scared I don’t think he knew it. I don’t think he knew I was uncomfortable because I said nothing and pursued none of my objections. Actually, I was dishonest with him, in sharing time with him but actually wanting to get away whilst he thought we had a connection, or were sharing something important. I feel so guilty for that. But then, we did share something. We are both Christian and we spoke often of God and hope and mercy and that is something I cannot share so fully with many people. It’s something I don’t really talk about in group, not yet anyway, and it’s a different kind of conversation. Genuinely we did share that and it was good. It’s not black and white and I don’t blame him and he did not do anything bad or wrong.

I know a lot of my fear and my feelings came from triggers in our conversations and relationship which probably would not have been triggers to anyone else. To the next person perhaps it would have been easily passed off or nothing important. For me there were so many triggers to my emotions and behaviour that reminded me of when I was being abused. That sounds terrible to say. It makes it sound like he manipulated or took advantage of me. All he did was kind. Apart from me not wanting it and feeling we were deceiving people and feeling scared. He didn’t know. But it’s how I felt. I started behaving and thinking like I did in the abusive relationship. It’s why I couldn’t say no. It’s why my feelings totally disappeared for me in the sense that I dismissed them all and followed only what his feelings and his needs seemed to be. It’s why I couldn’t say no, couldn’t trust what I felt, wanted to run but it was utterly impossible to do anything about it. I fell into the same patterns of watching and silence and trying to get it right, perceive his needs and his emotions correctly, trying to save him and keep him from danger. His obsession with me and his need for me reminded me – in my emotions if not in facts – of the abuse too. When my abuser wasn’t threatening me she was attributing bizarre powers to me, largely perhaps stemming from her own delusions (or perhaps it was all part of the plan of the abuse), powers I did not have, powers that I was to have because I was born at a particular time because she had planned it for a reason; she’d watch me obsessionally and intently, she’d have me keep secrets… I ended up emotionally right back there when Bob talked about how good I am, how he thought about me, how important it was we shared these conversations separate from the group, how it should not be shared with anyone in group because that would get too complicated, when he so intensely contacted me and needed me.

When I did finally end it, I told the service because I was so afraid what Bob would do. I am not so arrogant that I think contact with me can matter that much to anyone, but I was sure that he’d interpret me ending our contact as total betrayal and breach of trust. I know those kind of feelings put him in danger, because of what he’s discussed with me both in group and outside. I didn’t want him to know I was scared, because of a particular thing he shared in group once. I thought for days about how to do it. I told the PD Service right away that I’d ended it and told them I thought he’d be in danger. If the service hadn’t been there and I hadn’t believed they could try to keep him safe, I would not have dared to end things.

I’m scared for group tomorrow. What’s going to happen. How it’s going to affect Bob when we have to talk about it. If I admit I wanted to stop the meetings, or that I had worries, it makes it sound like he forced me. He didn’t do anything to force me. So many times I could and should have said no. But I have to be honest. I’m scared how what’s happened will affect other people in the group and what they’ll feel. They may be hurt, they may feel betrayed, angry that rules have been broken and trust has been broken, they may think we were trying to do something in secret to exclude them. I think everyone will lose trust. I don’t know what Bob feels about it being discussed in group and I don’t really know what he feels about me having ended contact. I told him that I had told the service, but I don’t know what he feels really. I just feel so sure he feels totally betrayed. I’m scared he mightn’t come back to group. I’m mainly scared about him and about the rest of the group and how they’ll feel but I’m also scared how unable I was to act on my feelings and say no.

My head is imploding with all these feelings. Maybe I’ve really turned the proverbial molehill into a mountain but for some reason this whole situation is leading to really strong unbearable feelings for me. I’m fighting so so hard not to self-harm tonight. I’ve been trying self-soothing, trying to do creative things, trying to do practical things, hot drinks, texting a friend about something else, trying to take the focus away from the emotion and away from myself. Then I wrote this. In a minute I’m going to try a weird approach that just occurred to me – I’m feeling totally nervous and wound up so maybe if I watch a DVD that makes me just a little bit on edge and in suspense it’ll give another direction for the feelings and get some of them out. Not sure how that’ll go down and it’s just a thought that occurred to me, but here goes! A couple of episodes of Grimm should do nicely.

Ginny xxx

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