by Claire A

Hostage-taking is a difficult topic for me to write about, because I don’t want to admit to it. The phrase struck me because I remember feeling that my own mother took people hostage, and I remember observing that my mom seemed to be held hostage by her parents and her brother in a family that was 100% alcoholics. Each person propped up the others and sucked them dry at the same time. Everyone but my uncle from that group has keeled over at this point, and my overwhelming feeling is “thank God they’ve found peace at last.”

I wanted my friends to concern themselves with me only

My past behavior has a lot of hostage-taking in it. I would try to “own” friends, I am uncomfortable to admit. I wanted my friends to concern themselves with me, only. I was happiest hanging out with just one person, so that I could be sure to have their undivided attention. I always said to myself that it was because I wasn’t comfortable in groups, and I wasn’t, actually, but the reason is not that I was shy, but that I wanted to control the situation and the friend. I didn’t want the chaos of people relating to each other around me. If you introduce a third person into a conversation, then I couldn’t try to manipulate the person in front of me. I had to be straightforward, honest and authentic, and I couldn’t handle that. I had to stop monopolizing the conversation. I believed that I had nothing to offer in a group situation, so I kept silent, often tuning out completely.

My challenge now is to have friendships without taking hostages. The way to have friends, I had learned, was to be enmeshed with the other person and to be exclusive. I always wanted to know what the other person was thinking, and what they were thinking about me. Never mind that they were probably thinking about something else entirely.

do somebody a good turn and don’t get found out

Of course, I don’t go around thinking in terms of taking hostages. But my instinct is still to own people, if I am honest about it. When a new friend invites someone else to join for coffee, my first feeling is not “Great! Another new friend!” My instinct is to feel that the friend is inviting the other person because I am not enough. It has taken (and is taking) a lot of work for me to remind myself that I have something to contribute, just by virtue of being myself.

The other night I caught myself mentally ranking my friends at a party – categorizing people in my head according to the “level” of my friendship with them. Were they top-shelf friends? How much time should I spend with them? Most importantly, was I better or worse friends than the others around the table were with each other? How exhausting! A party that is intended to be a time of relaxation became fraught with anxiety and comparisons. No wonder I never want to go to parties.

Another side effect is that others—if they are healthy—start to feel smothered. Who wants to spend all their time with one other person exclusively? Being in the program has helped with this issue. 

No wonder I never wanted to go to parties

Being of service to others is a prime way to get out of my own head and my selfish fears. Another thing in the program that helps is that Just for Today card. When I “do somebody a good turn and don’t get found out,” I am able to get beyond the need to hold people hostage. It is hard to humbly and selflessly take hostages.

Taking action fills me out as a person. It’s like they say: if you want self-esteem, do esteemable acts. If I feel like I am not enough, and I need to take hostages in order to have friends, then a way to combat that is to do more, to grab life and live it, to experience things, to help people, to be unafraid to enjoy life. If I stay focused on the challenge of living a fuller life, I can let other people go and live their own lives fully, too.

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