Being powerless is scary: confronting the delusions of the romance narrative trap

Over the last few weeks a good friend and I have been having this recurring conversation about attachment and intimacy. We have both been struggling with attachment issues arising in different situations. She says needs intimacy but doesn’t know how to pick which situations are worth her energy. She will meet someone and think they have a connection, only to find that person ambivalent, or find herself in the reverse situation, withdrawing from a love interest who has become too needy. Sound familiar? Just more of the ins and outs of the romance narrative trap, right?

We have been going over and over various factors in this conversation, and listing our limited options: look for someone who is…, learn to be single better, etc – when it occurred to me that maybe our biggest problem is that we think we actually have more control (or should have) than we really do. “That’s a scary thought,” my friend replied, “How do you navigate romance if you have no control?”

Really, with these ‘matters of the heart’ we don’t really have much control, do we? We can’t control who we like or how they will respond to us – our control is very limited to small gestures and behavior… It’s kind of like steering an inner-tube down a river. You never know who you will bump into or whether you can stay connected for very long… or what debris you will encounter along the way.

“So is the bottom line that you should just accept the lack of control in romance and let yourself be swept down the river?” – That’s up to you, but given the lack of control, is it not a bit futile to gesticulate wildly at the current? “Very futile.” And we do seem to strain ourselves going over and over our very limited options… but lack of control is so hard to accept that we get caught up in the minutiae all the same.

This was starting to look rather bleak: “What that means is even though I’m putting time and energy (and getting caught up) in situations I maybe shouldn’t, there is no point trying to do anything to change the pattern, as I really don’t have any control over stuff.” Well, you only (mostly) have control over how you react to the powerlessness… which is your pattern. It is hard to face sometimes, especially if you’re someone with slightly neurotic over-thinking tendencies, but while some things can be relatively self-determined, a lot of the time in life things just happen to us and all we really get to choose is how we react.

“Being powerless is scary, people never care enough about me for it to feel okay.” For you to feel safe? “Yeah… seems that the only person in the end who fully cares about my well-being is me.” Well.. we are all the centre of our own universes – so that makes sense – for everyone…

“It would mean that if you want to be looked after by another person you’d have to accept that they won’t always care about you.” They may not – and they will definitely die at some point too. “Another truth!” Yup – it’s the dirty truth about attachment – and why Buddhists say it’s the root of all suffering… which it kind of is… but is also pretty integral to life. “Maybe life shouldn’t be totally without suffering.” Well, if it should be, we’re all doing it wrong – these are all things that are we are better off learning to accept – over and over – acceptance is a practice, not a one-off event. it’s like emotional breathing. “Emotional breathing?” It’s a metaphor. “Oh”…

republic of mind

Republic of mind


People tend to be chained to particular ways of seeing…

We are meaning-making beings, and while we don’t really 100% know if any of the meaning we’re making is actually REAL, outside of our heads, we continue to make meanings all the same – in much the same way a spider spins her web. We have some ‘free will’ or agency in the meanings we choose to create, outside of those we are taught from others. We can question, observe and weave new meanings from experiences.

Subjective experience

We can look at whether the meanings we are making actually serves us of makes life difficult (PSYCHOLOGY). We can construct interesting patterns of meaning and argue about whether some are better than others (PHILOSOPHY). We can develop ways of testing our meanings with repeatable, measurable observations (SCIENCE).(Yes, I know science is a methodology, so stop treating it like a religion already). We can turn our intuited, felt or thought meanings into art, music, creation, function. We can sell or buy some representations of meaning, others, we may consider priceless.  The bottom line is, we are all continuously creating, co-creating and re-creating meaning. That is basically what human beings do.  If nothing else is gained from an experience, we can use meaning to learn and interpret experience into ways of making sense (THINKING) that may serve us better and perhaps even lead to less suffering and more joy… or we can keep being miserable, if that seems like the easiest, safest option. Either way, people tend to choose the meanings that they think will cause them the lease amount of pain. We are pretty simple that way.


There may or may not be a greater ‘meaning of life’ or lesson – but having one may either help or hinder us. It is more practical to have meaning that helps us. ‘Objective’ reality is possible, but we are not it – we are meaning makers. We have some relatively consistent experiences of ‘reality’, day and night for example, but we cannot help but make meaning out of them – it is our condition.

Even to say something is devoid of meaning is a kind of meaning and assumption. The only real truth is not to know…
But we can chose to make meaning that serves us.


meaning making 1


Does my meaning serve me? (THE ETERNAL QUESTION)
• Does it resonate?
• Does it make me happy, or worried?
• Does it help me do/be well?
• What does it make me create? (relationships, dramas, pictures, love, art, communication, joy, spreadsheets..?)
• What am I afraid of?
• What am I joyful of?
• Can I alter my meaning to make me more joyful and less afraid? (if not… why not?)
• How?

Some potential meanings:
We are the universe’s meaning-making babies – we were created by god/universe/whatever(?) To make meaning (love, art, abandon)

Having purpose is practical – whatever it is (within reason… uh?). Without purpose the chances of being effective are very low.
Some purposes:
 To learn
 To love
 To be safe (the catch 22)
 To make better
 To challenge and question
 To help
 To share
 To be recognised
 To change
 To heal
 To be happy

It’s hard to achieve any goals if you don’t have any. Achieving makes for happy brain joy <3. Unfortunately, having goals makes us vulnerable. If we want something, and it has meaning for us, and we are attached to that meaning, it can feel really shit if we don’t get there.  On the other hand, it will feel really shit anyway if we’re too scared of getting hurt to even risk having goals. Life’s tricky like that. This is why they invented motivational posters.

Other people’s meaning is different, not necessarily inferior… bastards. Sometimes other people’s meanings don’t make sense – at all – but that is probably true for everyone. That is why self-examination is quite handy.  There are probably a handful of wobbly underlying-thought’s/meanings that underpin your basic assumptions about life. If you don’t mind excruciating mental discomfort for ultimate rewards, try picking your brain apart, piece by piece, figure out where all the things you think you know come from… Mum/Dad? Science? Religion? Yes, they were all a bit wrong. That is how meaning works. It is always at least a bit wrong, because we are subjective meaning-making creatures. That is just what we do… so when you come across those meanings that seem dreadfully wrong, in comparison to yours, just remember not to be a dick about it, or all the other people will learn is that you’re a dick.