Am I the Problem?

Woman with her hands out looking upward, wondering if she is the problem

Riding in the back seat of the car, she uses massive kitchen shears to point at something on my face.

“Woahhhh there,” I say as I push the scissors away. “We’re in a moving vehicle. Don’t point those things at me.”

After a bit more discussion, now the car is in reverse, and this woman puts the tip of the blade a centimeter from my eyeball. I snatch the scissors away from her and say, “What the fuck?!”

Somehow she manages to be upset with me, but before she can blurt a whole sentence full of I don’t even care what out of her mouth, I interject, “You did it once and I asked you to stop. Then you did it again. If I let you do it a third time, I’m the fucking problem!”

I immediately thought to myself, Mmmm… that’s a good line. I gotta remember that one when I wake up.

Most of my dreams are about not being able to find a place to pee, being late for something, or any number of fear-based annoyances, so I generally ignore them. My dreams are stupid. But every now and then something significant happens and some part of my brain (or my soul?) takes interest. Sometimes I literally do dream analysis from inside the dream. Not sure if that makes me a freak, but it’s a thing I do occasionally.

If I Let You Do It A Third Time…

I’m not particularly interested in explaining to you, dear reader, what this dream means to me, personally. That’s neither here nor there. However, as a relationship coach, I work with a lot of people who end up in terrible relationships over and over and over again. Some incredibly abusive and tragic.

Is this how I counsel them? “If it happens more than twice, it’s your fault!” Haha. How insensitive and unhelpful would that be? Pretty victim-shamey, right?

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but reflect on those words. I knew there was something truthy buried in there. But what?

Here’s what I came up with:

When people suffer abuse, abandonment, or neglect in their formative years, they adapt to protect themselves and get their needs met. Maybe this adaptation is dissociation, perfectionism, self-abandonment, codependency, or any number of things. But they develop what I have come to understand as trauma responses that are compulsive in nature.

And because these behaviors are so deeply ingrained and automatic, many people assume they’re intrinsic parts of their personality, or that they are choosing to do these things. It’s like they believe they literally are their trauma response. They become identified with it.

I’m The Fucking Problem

When foul-mouthed dream Adam took personal responsibility for someone else’s potentially harmful behavior, I don’t think he was blaming or shaming himself, necessarily. If we could ask him to expound upon his thoughts, I think this is what he would say:

I am not the problem, per se. But allowing others to repeatedly mistreat me points to a problem that is living in me. I may not have caused the problem, but it’s certainly my responsibility to deal with now.”

For example, let’s say you’re dating another emotionally unavailable person, complaining all the while about how you wish they could meet your emotional needs. Do you think you are the problem for choosing another partner like this? Or do you suppose past experiences taught you that vulnerable connection is dangerous and your nervous system became wired to seek safety in breadcrumbs despite what you think you want in a partner?

In the latter case, it wouldn’t be that you are the problem, but rather, that you have a problem. Big difference there. And your options are to get busy solving that thing or to just hope that maybe someone else will do something about it.

Choice is yours.


Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have survived, recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

5 thoughts on “Am I the Problem?

  1. This is soo true….by continually engaging with npd sister & being emotionally & psychologically abused I kept placing the blame on her….until…..I finally found the courage to let go despite fear of being ostracized in family…when needed, I am light & polite, but I no longer seek her out & its made a world of difference

    1. Love that! Well, done, Gigi. Pia Mellody uses the phrase “a wall of cordiality,” haha. I like to think that wounded, dysfunctional people are the bottleneck in any relationship. That they will dictate exactly how close I can be to them while still feeling safe. And I don’t have to explain ANYTHING to them. Because the skill set required for them to understand why it’s not safe for me to be close with them is exactly the set of skills they would need to not be unsafe in the first place!

      Being more emotionally healthy than other people inherently means you’ll have to learn to be ok with being misunderstood. Which, of course, is part and parcel of being emotionally mature anyway. But it’s still tough to not be able to fully connect with people we love because they just aren’t capable of that level of intimacy.

  2. As someone who is currently trying to get better clarity about why I stay with emotionally unavailable partners long after it’s crystal clear that’s their nature, I love the simplicity of if I tolerate it a third time, it’s about me, not them. I will be using this evaluation moving forward!

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