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Atwater: Those who look outside of themselves to fill their needs come up empty

Sue was getting tired of being angry all the time.

Her friends initially found her personality change amusing but now were finding it annoying. She had driven off her last two boyfriends and knew inside that it wasn’t them, it was her. She was scared to death to be alone, and yet she demanded “space.” She felt like she needed someone to care for her, yet she resented anyone’s attempt to do so.

“Sue” knew her dad had been overprotective and her mom’s prescription drug problem had been a factor in the family’s problems, but she never thought any of that would affect her.

She only began the discovery process when her second ex-boyfriend made some uncharacteristically astute observations on his way out the door that got her attention. He said, “I’ll miss you, and I’ll always love you, but this wasn’t going to work anyway because you don’t know who you are.”

Those words echoed so loudly for Sue that for a rare moment, she had nothing to say – no snappy comment, no angry retort. After a good cry and a “How dare he say that to me” session, she found she couldn’t get his observation out of her head. She realized he was right.

She had been the “good girl” all her life. She did what her father asked of her in large part to keep the peace in the family. Her brother and sister were both in trouble most of the time, and they certainly didn’t want to disturb mom or she would have one of her “spells” and need to hide in the bedroom with a bottle of pills for a couple of days. Sue always got good grades, never drank or took drugs, followed the rules and didn’t move in with her boyfriend until after they were married. She was a “good girl” in her marriage as well, even though he wasn’t such a “good boy.” In fact, he was an extremely controlling and jealous guy who manipulated and second-guessed her all the way to the end of that marriage.

Although Sue didn’t recognize the causes, she knew she felt like an empty shell, lonely and angry. She looked outside to satisfy her inner need and always came up short. Thinking it wouldn’t help but desperate and scared, she called a counselor, who fortunately knew this routine.

Sue has started on the journey to find out who she is, and although there have been bumps in the road, some painful realizations and changes in the way she relates to her family and others, she’s made some real progress. She’s not so afraid of the inner landscape anymore.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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