Relationships of obligation
I was considering this recently.
The thought occurred to me that I "really should" get in contact with someone from my old neighbourhood, since I had let the correspondence lapse. As is my nature I stopped to examine the motivations for that thought. I don't feel affection for this person, and would take no pleasure in seeing them again. I would not mind if I never saw them again. The whole situation is neutral to me.
But going back to the old neighbourhood, organising meeting with the person, getting together, making conversation and pretending to be a human being would actually be a lot of bother and expense that I would fail to enjoy, and that would gain me nothing whatsoever.
Why would the thought occur that I should do it?
The answer it seems is an ethical one, of sorts. I perceive that I should keep up with this person out of obligation, in order not to be rude or to hurt them by not bothering to speak to them again.
On further contemplation it seems that 90% of my limited relationships with people rest on a similar basis. I just do it out of obligation, so not to appear rude, cold, or upset them by disappearing from their lives, which may mean nothing to them at all (empathy deficits make this difficult to gauge for me). The other 10% are out of basic utility, sometimes mutual, that I see some shadow of future gain out of maintaining.
It occurs to me that many alexithymics may have a similar basis for relationships, but may not be aware of the motivation. I'm curious as to how other readers relate (or not).
It seems to me that obligation, a sort of dull burden, is not a sufficient reason for action anymore. I intend to stop operating on this autopilot and instead, examine the relationships closely and if they serve no purpose, stop perpetuating them by behaviour like this arbitrary "keeping in touch." There seems no reason for it, and I dislike the almost involuntary response of just doing it in order to fulfil an obligation, and avoid drama and emotionality.
Does this sound reasonable, or would this actually be incorrect an action?
How one defines ‘obligations’ is at the core of this thread’s issue. From the examples provided, as well as references to ‘ethics’ and ‘gains’ (rewards), I would probably use the term ‘good deeds’ rather than ‘obligations’. In that case, my take on it is as follows: Do as much of good deeds as you feel comfortable with, for the gain/reward is yours to reap until you get tired. And the most beloved of deeds are those that are continuous, even if they are few, i.e. there is a preference for consistency over quantity.
A self-seeker is a person who places expediency above principle. Doing good deeds to reap profits is an expediency and not a principle. For example, a mother always loves her child, because she complies with the principles of nature. A person who expediently loves is a self-seeker.
When it comes to doing ‘good deeds’; the rewards/gains should not be anticipated from any person(s).
Ah, but this gets tricky when one considers just correct action, and when one considers the context of relationships.
I believe in random acts of kindness, even if it is of direct detriment to myself, let alone personal gain. For example, I am on the bone marrow donors refistry. I do this for no other purpose but a sensibility of the need of others with serious illnesses for this substance, which I am able to provide. They would be complete strangers to me, possibly located overseas, and I would receive nothing from the donation. I would also have to endure minor surgery, risks of general anaesthetic, dealing with hospitals, pain at the donation site, and downtime for my own body to replenish.
But I believe this is the correct thing to do - one should assist, if one can.
Much of my behaviour functions like this. That is straight out "good deeds" as termed above (though that does seem to denote a certain piousness, as if one performs them only for recognition, which isn't the case).
But with relationships, it is less clear to me. It seems arrogant on one hand to believe your presence is that appreciated by others to the extent that they would suffer your loss, but if so, I don't want to harm others in such a way (as it's unethical).
But these relationships do seem arbitrary and burdensome to me. A chore, something that I really should do because I believe it's expected, not something I wish to for its own sake. Not to mention that it seems slightly dishonest - neurotypical peoples generally believe if a friend wants to spend time with them, then there is affection for them present on the part of their friend, and they assume a certain bond, a human emotional connection. As such isn't the case with me, it seems dishonest to behave as if there is and I was considering endin this behaviour for everyone involved.
Besides, "self-seeking" has become a dirty word, but is in my view not always a damaging position. Much of behaviour is self seeking, and much of that self seeking isn't harmful to others. For example, you may be able to gain valuable information on interesting topics from another person, and thus are seeking that information for yourself making you self-seeking in a way, but perhaps that person enjoys expounding on their topic of interest and your attention makes them happy. Reciprocal, mutual utility.
I don't know if I'm describing this very well, from the responses, however.
Oh my god, I could very much relate to your post!
"Relationships of obligation."
Love that phrase!
I have moved around a lot and I wish when I leave a place that I could just severe all the relationships, but NOOOOOO, some people want to keep in touch with me, so I do so out of "obligation."
It is a burden.
Sometimes I try to think whom would I like to meet if it was not out of perceived obligation - people who claim missing me, wanting to see me etc. I think the people I would actually like to meet proactively are something like 2 or 3. And I spend so much time and resources to meet "the obligatory ones".
But it gets even worse. I keep a relationship with a physically disabled person, since the time when I registered in a volunteer care center during a period of unemployment (I thought that doing some cleaning for someone who needs it would be better than idling at home). When I go to visit the person I feel physically sick. I don't like and mostly disagree on what she is saying, I don't enjoy the time spent together by visiting different cultural events, going shopping, walking the dog or whatever she needs to do. We don't have similar taste and similar opinions about global problems. Yet, her impression is that she found a very good friend to talk with, one that shares many opinions and views (that is because I do not express my disagreement - it would be another energy wasted). She wants me to move to her flat (where I would freak out the first day). I hold myself throughout the couple of hours spent by the visit, pretending smile when she wants it and compassion when she cries. She talks and I listen and occasionally answer what I assume is expected. On the way back home I usually stop in a bar for a glass of wine and feel like I have just been released from a custody.
I guess I could just easily say that I am sorry and cannot keep visiting her as I moved to another country. Yet every time I come for a holiday back home, I rush to visit her. Why do I keep this, I have no idea. Maybe I just feel it is a right thing to do, as her life is really miserable, full of pain and loneliness. But at the same time, I am not sure if the "good deeds" should involve such a level of hypocrisy. Donating blood or bone marrow or money or spending time cooking for the homeless people or shopping for immobile seniors is a pleasure. This relationship is not. Its a pure obligation.
I know that I am probably very cruel, thanks God this forum is anonymous.
^ @ Kat - not at all.
I'm in the same position with an elderly relative, and it recently built to a proverbial crunch.
This person is racist (a white supremacist in denial of indigenous culture and history, as well as against refugee assistance) sexist, misogynist, nationalistic, homophobic, transphobic, religiously bigoted and has begun displaying behaviour consistent with clinical paranoia, persecution, and some behaviourisms of early dementia. She is also relentlessly negative, and cannot hold a conversation unless it is a complaint.
Going there every week is a punishment. And yet I continue to go. It makes no sense logically and I do not understand my reluctance to simply discount this person from my life. There would be no detriment to me if I did, and no gain to be found in continuing. But I do so because I am obligated, and emotional drama would be directed at me if I did not. And of course no one else will, because no one else can stand her as staunchly as I can, as my emotional deficits actually make me able to tolerate a lot more than normal. She has alienated everyone but me with her offensive behaviour.
Somewhat goes against the stereotype that alexithymics are all psychopaths, I believe. Both our behaviour seems to indicate some form of guilt, and some awareness of compassion, in wanting to help others who are in miserable situations. Perhaps alexithymics actually are more inclined to become entangled in relationships like these, which I believe are mildly abusive, because any emotionally reasonable person would have drawn the line and acted in self-interest to sever unwanted connections long ago.
Yes CV, I feel that lot of my life is driven by perennial feeling of guilt for something. I believe that this something is my lack of emotional understanding to people, lack of immediately shown compassion, that I was reproached several times (e.g. "would you smile at least a little, I have just given you a present!" or "I have been looking forward to meet you such a long time and you don't even ask me how I was?"). I inevitably interpret all these hints as me being morally very low, selfish, arrogant. And guilt it an obvious result.
Guilt let me making purposeful mistakes in school tests (because I don't deserve a good mark anyway), to give up dating one man (because my friend deserves him more than me) and even up to mental anorexia (because I don't deserve the satiety). Thankfully, all those side effects are now over, as I got a better understanding to my personality, but the feeling of guilt remains intersecting various aspects of my life.
Guilt easily leads to artificial obligation, including relationships of obligation. I guess we feel we should compensate the world for the (perceived) lack of morale. But in these relationships we are in a vicious cycle, as the guilt created by hypocrisy of the relationship is perpetuating the feeling of obligation...
Anyhow, even guilt can have some positive outcomes. In my case, it has driven me down to Africa, where I work between people whose language I don't understand and when I react against their expectations, its just another difference of mine that is already expected. So I feel comfortable, not because I would feel useful, but because there is lower burden of communication and compassion.
I can understand the perception that to continue such a relationship with someone you don't like and only do so out of guilt is hypocritical. A similar motivation was behind this topic, except that I perceived it as more dishonesty than hypocrisy, but perhaps they're the same thing. One of my motivations in wishing to end the relationship I mentioned with the white supremacist is because it seems dishonest to me to simulate affection, or at least positive regard, when none exists. It misrepresents my regard for the person and decieves them into thinking we are friends, when in fact we are not (at least not from my perspective.) And I interpret dishonesty to be unethical.
I don't know about you but guilt is difficult for me to understand, identify, or interpret. So it doesn't automatically occur to me that this is the basis for my apparently inexplicable behaviour in continuing the relationship.
Plus, when you examine it, it's illogical always - neither of us are responsible for the state of these people's lives, and have done no wrong by them. I know that if the roles were reversed, I would not want someone else's sole motivation for interacting with me to be due to guilt, obligation, or pity. It does seem hypocritical to then interact with someone else on that basis - but then again, maybe they welcome manipulating others through guilt?
My interactions with this person have really proven the alexithymia to me - I just do not understand, or experience, so many of the emotions at play.
When talking about guilt, I did not mean a guilt towards the particular person I feel obligated to or a kind of responsibility for their situation. Its rather a general unspecific feeling of guilt that somehow soaks my life. I remember it started at the opportunity of funeral of my grandmother (situation many times mentioned across the forum). I was eight and I did not cry, cause I did not feel anything. I remember my 12-years old sister telling me "did you not like your grandma? or why are you no sad?" That was probably the first time I noticed there is something wrong with me and I interpreted it as a lack of ethics (although by that age I did not know what ethics means) - the fact that I did not need to cry inevitably meant that I did not care for someone valuable and thus I was a disgraceful selfish egoistic bastard who does not deserve any good. I concluded that if I don't feel any sadness naturally, I have to punish myself at least materialistically in order to suffer as the others do (hence the later mental anorexia, developed from self-destructive fasting). And the feeling of egoistic bastard have been "confirmed" to me by many other occasions - I did not cry by sad scenes in movies (my sis always did), I did not feel love towards anyone etc. Which created more and more general guilt, which then led to creation of RoO (relationships of obligation, lets call them like that). Guilt is definitely one of the few feelings that I sense time to time very strongly (and, huh, I would love to trade it for anything else, if possible)
I am a final year Psychology student at the University of East London, in Stratford. My dissertation is a research project on alexithymia and language ability. If anyone is interested in taking part in paid research during February 2017 at the UEL Stratford campus in East London then please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.