When not all vampires fear the light

Scrolling down the Internet these days I’ve seen a question on a page saying If you could go back to your past and unmeet someone, who would it be? and it really got me thinking. If I could unmeet people from my life, those would be a friend and two of the men I’ve loved so far. Three different persons, but with a really important shared trait: they’re all takers.

My friend was a simple girl, wanting to have a successful life and turn into a better woman. And I tried to give her some help with it, as she asked me to. I started to share with her books, film recommendations, to try and have debates on topics that mattered to her, to help her gain clarity. And, still, she kept on doing the same mistakes and complaining about the same things year after year.

Everything till one day, when I got to understand that it was never about me not being a good enough friend to her, but about her unspoken need to be constantly in the spotlight. She wanted attention, wanted to make everything about her, and she discovered that the easiest way of getting it without having to give something in return is to be the victim of the story. But only the fact that she wasn’t willing to admit, once I got tired enough to try and fail to be helpful, that she wanted to vent and have my attention, not help, made me leave the friendship behind.

Talking about the men, there are much shorter stories to be told. One was a nice guy, you know the type, who wouldn’t take a no for an answer, no matter how often it was told. Because, obviously, he was such a nice guy that managed to always make feel guilty about saying no. The other one seemed to be the perfect man, but loving him proved to be one of the most toxic experiences I’ve got so far.

What’s the common point? They wanted to have it all. Attention, resources, affection, everything I got, and was good. But when it came to giving back? Less is more seemed to be the golden rule. They were not able to fully understand that not everything has to be around them. That one could have joys, sorrows, worries, anxieties…that has nothing to do with them. Nope, those were quickly dismissed, as the main subject was put on hold. And the main subject was also something about them.

It hurt at first, admitting to myself that I cared so much about people who’ve got such a bad influence on me. It still leaves a bitter smile on my face, but I still have a reason to smile: because of them, I’ve gained a better understanding of this kind of person.

I know it is not something they’re fully aware of. It is a painful subject to be addressed, the source of this type of behavior. I also know it is not about me, either. I did what I was able to do, with the knowledge I had at those points in my life. Truth is it wasn’t more than a sad encounter in any of the cases.

And this is how it usually happens: the giver meets the taker. It is the toxic half of the duo that one’s looking for without even knowing. And, as draining and as painful as it could be for the giver, they will meet until they learn their lesson. About how to establish and respect boundaries. There’s nothing more important when it comes to human interactions than this one aspect.

I know the narrative where saying no is making you a selfish, evil person, but it’s wrong. It is wrong and harmful. A taker wants to fill up an inner void, but they never think about how constantly taking without putting something else in place affects the giver. That they are recreating the same void they try so hard to avoid but in someone else’s life.

They don’t think about it and will make a whole tragedy if you tell them. Because, in this story, there has to be only one receiver, and it has to be them, always them. They are, always, the helpless ones, the ones that require to be taken care of. It doesn’t matter how they do it. It can be by never listening to you when you’ve got something to tell them that means a lot to you, but doesn’t affect them. It can show up like never really feeling happy for your accomplishments. It can be an attempt to convince you that your feelings are not valid. It can take a lot of forms, much more than you could possibly imagine, but in the end, it is about the same thing: about being out of the spotlight.

I remember reading some of Eric Berne’s books, and seeing something that stuck with me to this day: for children, receiving negative attention is preferable instead of being ignored. At first, I looked at the sentence a bit surprised, then read again. Now I am just as surprised as I was when I first met the idea, but because it amazes me how many adults act just the same. The father of transactional analysis was jus saying that children associate being ignored with being abandoned, which could, in older times, bring them in dangerous situations. Therefore, they did what they could to receive attention from the grown-ups. Whatever paying attention to them meant to the adults. It could’ve been as reproaches, blame, didn’t matter that much as long as it was attention, it was about them. For some people, doing something bad and being punished was, sadly, the only form of parental attention they’ve ever received, because why bother when everything works well?

This means that the people that received more attention when they misbehaved, even if it was negative, taking the shape of slurs or quarrels, become grown-ups acting the same due to their wounds. They prefer to start an argument with you, rather than not talking at all. Why? Because that’s how they were taught it works. And any lesson about emotions that we’ve learned as children will be painfully difficult to be unlearned as adults.

But, and this is a huge one. It is not your job to heal them, it’s theirs. You can only support them and be there for them. Of course, they will not do it, because it is painful, uncomfortable, and a losing move for them. If they heal, they will have to reciprocate, to give in return exactly what they pretend to receive. And that means a whole other journey of learning how to open up and give. To actually give to other people meaningful parts of who you are.

Your job, however, is to take good care of yourself. To understand that being picky with who you’re giving access to your resources won’t make you a bad person. Will only help you preserve those resources and your sanity for people that deserve having access to them, to people that will give you other things in return. Your job is to look in the mirror, see what you’re truly being made of, and not letting anyone else suck the spirit out of you, no matter how helpless they seem to be.

Because being selfish, being self-absorbed, is not the same as being a person that is going through dark times. There is a difference, and that difference, the moment when you can accurately spot it, is the game-changing point. And the sooner you’ll find it, the better your life will be. Vampires will always be around, ready to take every good thing you could give, while they’re ready to put your dark side in the spotlight and demonize you, but they don’t fear sunlight anymore. They fear boundaries, so state yours clearly, and make sure everyone, including yourself, is respecting them. What you have to offer is good, important, and necessary to many, so choose those that really deserve it.

Work hard, dream harder

I was reading an article in a magazine about the emotional work, and it remained with me. Even if the main ideas were about how women tend to do more emotional work, and for free, the simple thing of seeing the emotional help we tend to offer as work brought me an idea worth reflecting upon.

I have always been a giver. I tend to run away from my problems by helping others solve theirs. And I’ve never thought about what I was doing as if it was some kind of work.

Of course, I’ve always known that it is a kind of investment, that I give a part of my resources- time, energy, knowledge, kindness, patience- for another person’s well-being. But it felt more like an act of generosity, of friendship, rather than a service that I was making to those people.

I thought, for a very long time, that the only thing that I get in return should be the fact that I have a meaning that doesn’t allow me to fall apart in irreversible ways. That this should be enough to make me feel like I do the right thing.

And even if giving, if helping others is more of an inner calling than something I am doing for an outcome, trying to see this as work has forced me to shift the perspective for a bit.

It made me aware of the fact that not only I can, but I have to choose the people I would share some of my resources with. But it took me an eight-years-long friendship ending in not-that-friendly-terms, to learn how to distinguish between people who need attention and those who are looking for help.

Thinking about what I do provide for others made me aware of the fact that I don’t provide the same things, in the same ways, for myself. That during my quest of saving the world kindly, one person at a time, I was neglecting the only person I could save: myself.

But, first, I had to become empty. Before I’ve got to understand the importance of being selective and aware of what I bring to the table, I had to get to the point where I was talking myself out of panic attacks in the mirror, crying, somewhere at 2 a.m. or maybe in the afternoon.

And only when I’ve seen myself reaching a new level of low, I’ve understood that you can’t help others without taking care of yourself. If I want to be able to keep giving, I also have to allow people in, to let them see me struggling and fighting my demons. That I can be a friend just as much as I let others be my friends, as well.

And this was hard to admit. It was hard, as I’ve always valued the feeling of power that is usually brought by being independent and having your life together. I’ve always hated to appear in front of others as vulnerable, even if I am. I’ve never wanted my loved ones to see me crying, even if, so many times, I have had no control of it, and it just happened.

Somehow, being the strong one has always felt like it is the only option for me. Even if, in an almost ironical way, I’ve always encouraged people to be their own, real, authentic self. With good, bad, strong and vulnerable points.

Seeing written on paper about how emotional work is work, real work, made me ask myself questions. And the most painful one was Were all those people worth it, would they ever do the same for you?

It left me a bit bitter, to know that I need to choose with more care the people I get close to, that need my help. That I can’t fight any battle I feel to. That I have to think twice before deciding to put in the work and resources for somebody.

Because emotional work, like any other type of work, is tricky, as it can be meaningless, as it fills you up with frustration and exhaustion when it turns out wrong, or, contrary, to bring you purpose and enlightenment.

This happens because emotional work, more than any other kind of work, involves care. Authentic, genuine care and openness established between two people. An exchange of vulnerabilities, experiences and, why not, information. This is why it is almost always seen as a feminine kind of thing, even though, the truth be told, I’ve also met a lot of wonderful men doing it, and I am grateful for all the things I’ve learned from them and stayed with me.

Because emotional work is not about a schedule. It is about seeing the good in the other person, and help it see that good, too. And this is one of the most beautiful parts of being human, a type of work as stunning and glowy as a dream, but as challenging as the real existence at the same time.