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What to do when a safe person becomes unsafe?


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I am currently struggling with an issue that I do not know how to handle. One of the people on my (short) list of "safe people" has become a HUGE trigger for me, to the point that I cannot be in the same room with her, have panic attacks when I know I may see her, find myself constantly worrying about what she may do or say in certain situations, etc. I find myself avoiding her to great extremenes. I have thoughts about her which are probably not rational, like wondering if she turned off my internet when I can't get online or thinking she is hiding mail from me.

This is the person I used to go to the grocery store with or run errands with and since I no longer "trust" her, I don't do those things. I went to the grocery store in the middle of the night last week while the kids were gone but we will be out of groceries again soon and I don't know what to do. I need to renew my DL but can't go to the DMV by myself (it is a HUGE source of anxiety and panic for me) so I have not gone.

I feel totally abandoned right now but I absolutely recognize that much of the problem is MY reactions and MY perceptions of her behavior and not necessarily her actions or behaviors.

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I'm tempted to ask you to describe what it is that this person has done to make your feelings about safety with regard to her change so dramatically. Well - I am asking for you to elaborate a little bit please. But where I'm going is that I recognize that even if we can establish that this is all about a series of cognitive errors you are making (e.g., if you are starting to be a little paranoid, for instance) - even if you can talk to yourself about what the "truth" might be, there is still how you feel - which is unsafe, and it will be hard to simply think that feeling away. Heck - if that was easy, you wouldn't be in the position you've found yourself in. So - this is hard, and clearly impacts your ability to function. But it would be helpful to know what has changed and to the best of your ability, why you think that change has occurred.

There is a certain level of coping that needs to happen here in order to get by. Not emotional coping (which also needs to happen) so much as household coping. Food needs to be gotten, etc. Between the two things you've listed, food is more important than driving. Sometimes it is most useful to make a list of all the things you need to get done, and then to prioritize those things. If you only have a limited amount of energy to spend with regard to keeping the household semi-functioning, then it is helpful to know which things are the most important to work on.

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Thank you, Mark. Just so you'll know, this is a close family member I am speaking of, which makes this more difficult for me.

To answer your question, it was a small series of things that have changed my perception of her and now that perception is spilling over into every dealing with her. She is, and has always been, a very manipulative person. Not with me, but I saw it in her a lot. Like how she would start talking real sweet to people when she wanted something. Or, how she would laugh off things so as to appear as if she hadn't really meant to offend someone. She uses the silent treatment a lot and is passive aggressive when she doesn't get her way. She has also always had a problem with being on time, which I personally find offensive because it indicates that you do not value the other person's time. I am perpetually early for things because I always expect things to go wrong so I build in time so that I will not be late when things do gor wrong, while she is perpetually late. Well, it got to a point that I simply could not trust her to do the things she agreed to do. For example, I recently asked her to go with me to my son's soccer game because his dad (my ex) would be there and I did not want to be there alone, as he is a source of anxiety for me. She agreed to go but showed up 10 minutes before the end of the game. So, in my mind, things like this have made her unreliable and, in my world, I need stability and reliability.

In March, I had to fly my son several states away to undergo surgery for a very rare congenital heart defect. It was his third surgery, all of which we have had to travel for. A good friend agreed to travel with me but I was going to have to leave my 6 y/o DD behind because the hospital had a "flu lockdown" in place and she would not have been allowed to visit. It is very difficult for me to leave my children with others. But, I trusted this person and she agreed to watch her. A week before we were supposed to leave she tells me she is going to NY for work (another situation she had manipulated) the SAME week she had agreed to watch my DD. She was absolutely non-apologetic about it and could not understand my distress! (This was NOT a required work trip. It was one she had begged and pleaded to be included in.) It was then that I realized she is very self-centered and, no matter the consequence, will always put her own needs first.

After all of this, I have begun to question her reliability, her ability to keep her word, and because I know of her passive aggressive tendencies I constantly worry about what she will do or say to me. When my internet does not work right away, I start thinking she has disconnected it. I have a difficult time checking my mail or answering the phone so she often gets my mail for me. Now, I wonder if she is hiding mail from me. I have changed all of my bank and computer passwords because I worry she will try to access them in an effort to harm me. The list goes on. Basically, I worry a lot about how she may manipulate or bully me and, as a result, feel manipulated and bullied though she has not techinically done anything, yet.

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that does help clarify what is happening. Thanks.

So a few incidents have clarified for you that this formerly trusted family member is self-centered and will put herself and her comfort before your own needs. You knew this before about her but didn't really connect up how it applied to you and your own family - you only saw it applying to other people she would manipulate. I'm curious about that - (not that it will be helpful to you necessarily) as it seems to be an instance of self-protective denial that had occured. Other people get the manipulative treatment but not me. Now your eyes are more open. And it's frightening!

Your anxiety and depression issues make it far more difficult for you to function socially than the average bear. But can you function if you need to function? For instance, it is much easier to go grocery shopping with a safe person. But if no safe person is around, can you make yourself do it? or is it so awful of an experience that you just can't face it really. Under what conditions can you face it is what I'm looking to explore. Becuase, in the absence of this safe person and no easy way to get more safe people, you may need to rely upon yourself and push yourself to do things you don't feel comfortable doing.

The thing about anxiety is that it is literally fear of fear. It is the act of avoidance and the (very understandable) unwillingness to experience the fear feeling that keeps anxiety strong. Something called habituation happens when you get yourself to a point where you can and do tolerate the fear enough to step into it and do what you need to do - you feel it for a while and typically it isn't quite as awful as you anticipate it to be and you get used to it and it loses some of its grip on you. This is true even for very heavy anxety forms like panic attacks and agorophobia which is something along the lines of what your not being able to function well without a safe person suggests.

You might want to get yourself a copy of this book - mastery of anxiety and panic which describes one of the better treatment programs for dealing with the sort of agoraphobic-esque scenariio you face.

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