Holly: Lessons, Love, and Loss

Holly Ann Williams
Kelly Ann Catlin
You can see the similarities but also the differences in name alone.

Kelly was my twin sister, center of my life, who committed suicide. Holly was my best friend, sometimes my girlfriend, and we had a bit of Sherlock and Watson routine going. Ultimately, Holly was my replacement twin sister. For a time.

Six months ago, I was betrayed by Holly. We were both going through a tough time, much of the world was with covid, and we were thousands of miles apart. She apparently decided she needed to end our friendship. She did so by disappearing completely and suddenly. It closely mirrored Kelly’s suicide. I wish I could say it wasn’t deliberate, but she’s smart and surely must have seen this approach would cause significant pain.

Holly also did nothing to correct that pain, only her sister Beth called, with no apologies, only a ‘it’s for the best’ message which, yeah, being told my then suicidal feelings are for the best is not good. I tried to establish a dialogue and was met with silence. Healthy conflict resolution, sadly, has never really been not an option for her.

I was at an all time life low from this. To lose my twin sister and then to lose my best friend, in the first case feeling I was to blame, and the second being blatantly told I was to blame, was bad. I spent the next couple of months blaming myself, dangerously close to the edge, and trying to root out every problem in me that could have caused such a thing.

I went looking for help, from friends and professionals, looking for whatever major flaws in me could have made me deserve such treatment. And… I did not get the answers I was expecting. I was prompted to really reassess how Holly had been treating me for years. My flaws, as they were, seem now most of all to be a vulnerability after Kelly’s death and a lack of self-esteem that led me to get trapped in being treated in my relationship in a way that was, as you shall see… unacceptable.

I also want to do better. Holly spent ages blaming me for everything, and to turn around and blame her for everything is just me being dragged down to her level. That makes Part Two of what follows the chance for me to look at what I can learn. Holly went way too far in hurting me as she did over the years, but some of her complaints were valid things I can improve on.

Update October 2021: Shortly after I published this post, Holly made a court case against me featuring it. It was not particularly hard to get the case dismissed, but it came at great legal cost (and stress). I was horrified that her response to hearing about me being hurt by her actions was to try and hurt me more. If she really cared so much, asking (nicely) to have it changed or removed would likely have gone much further.

I am sorry it hurt her to have this out there. Yet in the end, this significantly helped me to overcome the suffering she brought and finally recognize that she is the kind of person would rather start a petty court case and waste everyone’s time, rather than apologize. Or maybe it was just a pragmatic practice run for her future divorces?

After all these years, I still don’t understand her. How can one person be both so good and smart at times, and a complete monster at others? If we are really honest, that desire to understand her was probably one of my greatest interests in her. Many of the most important people throughout my life (including, I’m sure she would argue, myself) can be like that, and I have both out of need and curiosity always wanted to understand it more. One of the overarching lessons here, though, is that I should stick to emotionally healthy people for my closest relationships. Which may sound stupidly obvious to you, but is something I really have not looked for before.

<end update>

Holly’s Dark Side: A Guide to Abusing Colin

Unfortunately none of what follows were one off, rare occurrences.

It is a sad statement but unfortunately true that Holly spent far more effort over the years trying to find my weaknesses and hurt me rather than exploring how to bring out the best in me. I am confident her most preferred ‘love language’ is “words of affirmation” followed by “physical touch” (although the latter might be more a cat-like desire for body heat in winter). I am also quite confident that she has no idea what love language is really most important to me in turn. Four years, and she never figured it out.

  • Tell Me My Sisters Deserve to Die

I don’t showcase care for many things, but for my sisters, it has always been the exact opposite. I unashamedly care for them, even with how hard that has sometimes been. I think Holly was jealous, and I know she definitely hated Christine. This is somewhat understandable, as Christine has problems. It gets weird in that Holly had never even talked to Christine ever in her life, and yet it was completely forbidden for me to talk about Christine because it always started a fight. 

The worst she discovered to say was that Kelly was weak, and deserved her suicide. Not many things will make me openly show pain, but that, that will do it. The thing is, Holly knew Kelly well and by all appearances, seemed to like her. 

I understand that Holly had anxiety and that I could trigger that – although just driving a car for her triggers the anxiety strongly. I am sorry for being a challenge to her, I could have been less of a challenge.  I blamed myself for this always happening, for causing her to hurt me, but was I really any more at fault than her car was at fault for making her afraid? No, not really, as we shall see.

  • Be Hateful of Large Groups of People and ‘Splitting’

Holly loved hating groups of people. Muslims. The poor. The Catlin triplets, apparently. It all comes down to something called ‘splitting’ which is to say, only really being able to see black and white, all good or all bad. You can read about that here, for example: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7877900/

I understand it, because I can also be very judgemental, but Holly’s inability to see the grey and complexity takes being judgemental into an even more toxic realm. It makes relationships hard too in that she is either deeply in love or deeply hateful – the more long-term middle ground just doesn’t seem to exist.

There is one curious fact that results. The rollercoaster of her feelings that results is actually kind of addicting to an adrenaline junkie to me. Addicting, and definitely not healthy.

  • Invalidate My Every Feeling

Holly is very sensitive to what others are thinking, as part of her anxiety. The problem is that she started to fixate on the fact that I was having negative emotions rather than considering why I was feeling those ways. In our relationship, Holly was always pushing through a narrative of how mean I was to her, and how my negative feelings were completely unacceptable.

An underlying problem here is that ever since Kelly died, I have been extremely vulnerable, although I couldn’t really admit that to myself. I blamed myself for Kelly’s death, and it felt only natural that I should be to blame for countless other failures. It is actually a much older problem for me than just Kelly’s death too. Going back to my childhood and OCD,  I have always believed that my emotions were broken. Holly took advantage of all of this, and used it to constantly pull me down.

I have always been very thankful that Holly was there to support me after Kelly died, she did a lot for me. Yet seeing how much I have improved since she left, looking at this, Holly was also to blame for holding me back from healing. Her toxic handling of her anxieties was not the place for a vulnerable person to be.

  • Trash Me Behind My Back

Almost from day one, Holly began constantly talking down to me to her other friends. We knew each other for four years, and I don’t know if she ever said much if anything explicitly nice about me to those close to her. She did share plenty of bad things about me – I guess it is only fair now that I return the favor.

I think it started as a bit of a power dynamic, overwhelmed by all that Kelly and I were together at that time. But she knew that I absolutely hated it, and no doubt that is why she continued to do it. I understand that she felt, with her anxieties constantly holding her back, on the low-power end of our relationship, but surely there were plenty of healthier ways for dealing with that.

  • Throw Tantrums and Enjoying Causing Pain

I had a habit of calling Holly a childish, immature princess. I am sorry, it was a cruel thing for me to do, but you can see why. She threw genuine tantrums. For example, when she was staying with me at my family’s farm for a couple of months, she made a habit of screaming, crying, running into my room, and ripping all the sheets off of my bed. Why? Because that bed is a pain in the ass to remake, she wanted to hurt me, and that was as far as she’d go before the watchful eyes of others.

She accused me of being a monster for not welcoming her tears more, and I felt she had a point. She did have a point. I definitely have been working hard on trying to be more validation of others, and better at comforting people. Still, there is also an element of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ here. After years of seeing the same self pity over and over, how many people could still have been as supportive as she wanted?

I have actually seen this behavior in several other young, highly-anxious people. Holly would come home, say, from a stressful event and start attacking and lashing out at things – like me, or some of her hate groups. The truth is, she just wanted comfort and validation of some high stress feelings, but that she hadn’t yet had a chance to reflect on what the problem really was, and so she would start firing blindly at targets hoping to get a response and, presumably, some feeling of control as a result.

In theory, I can handle this, but as I said, I was fragile and Holly, with her well-developed set of Colin-hurting lines of attack, would get right to me. She liked to demean me and say I started everything, but the fact is that most problems started from her anxiety and her preference for causing pain over healthier coping mechanisms for it.

  • Unreasonable Demands

I feel sorry for Holly because of how hard she is on herself. Her perfectionism and anxiety together make her life very stressful. I wanted to help, and I guess I sort of did, by becoming her scapegoat or whipping boy. That was definitely not how I planned to do things.

When it comes to demands on our relationship, I think one fact in her mind really justified a lot of her horrible behavior towards me. I wasn’t really comfortable getting ready to marry her. I would date her and break up with her, and just couldn’t figure out what I wanted. To her, this lack of serious commitment was unjust and in doing so, earned punishment. That just wasn’t fair, I was in my young 20’s, and while I know it would have been nice if I was more committed, not being certain about what I wanted is normal and to be expected. It was true of her as well.

Holly seems to have enjoyed causing pain to others for what she feels were unjust wrongs. Failing to meet her (usually nor clearly stated or not stated at all) expectations resulted in her feeling justified to give out revenge. And in many ways, this rather imitates how Kelly was.

Kelly was also full of unreasonable expectations (although she created the strength to do them anyway) and a tendency to see things in black and white too. Kelly could also get violent at times when you broke her rules. Kelly and my parents frequently also invalidated my emotions. You are probably wondering why I spent so much time tolerating Holly, and I think one of the best answers (besides the fact that Holly and I shared many positive things) was that Holly really was like Kelly, but with less self control, less brute strength, and with her toxicity directed more outward while Kelly’s was mostly internally focused. 

Overall, the most damning thing I see is this: I only accidentally hurt Holly, usually through my vulnerability interacting with her anxiety, whereas she frequently and deliberately hurt me. Yet call me a foolish optimist, but in the end the only real problem I see overall is the splitting. The ‘black and white’ thinking meant that there wasn’t a middle ground available to her, and her lack of compromise makes any mutually healthy, long term relationship impossible for her. 

What I most wish of all was that Holly had somehow understood one thing. That while I saw her as imperfect, I loved her for being the imperfect person she was. To her, that was an unforgivable crime. Her perfectionism and anxiety said that I had to love her for being perfect. That perfectionistic love can only ever be satisfied with lies, and I don’t like lying.

Even now, for better or worse, I still care for her, even after all the terrible things she did.

Lessons Learned

Holly and I had a lot in common, enough that I was able to fill a page with bullet points about what we shared. Sadly, none of that stopped her from hurting me.

Still, I learned a lot. “No pain, no gain” seems true in this case. There was lots of pain, but, for me at least, a good opportunity to improve.

  • The Importance of Emotional Validation and Words of Affirmation

A lack of words of affirmation is one of my deepest problems. In parallel to that, I also rarely practiced emotional validation, which is the art of first accepting others’ concerns (even if they are wrong or hurtful). That has led people like Holly to attack me for lacking empathy and compassion, something I took to heart and which devastated my self esteem.

I grew up in a household where my sisters and I insulting each other was routine to the point we stopped really even noticing it. Meanwhile, kind words were almost nonexistent from our parents, in an ‘effort to avoid playing favorites’ as they put it. I also grew up generally in an environment where any emotions that were inconvenient were quickly attacked by those around. I defended this ‘tough love’ or ‘drill sergeant’ approach too much, mostly because I didn’t know better.

Holly is right in that I was not treating her in a reasonable way for her anxiety. But she was wrong to assume that my bad habits made it right for her to try and hurt me, especially as she also struggled to give out words of affirmation and to validate others feelings.

Action items:

  1. Say more nice things. Even if it feels overkill, too much kindness is a lesser problem!
  2. Practice “I hear you” type statements where I actively acknowledge others feelings
  • The Importance of Sharing Feelings

There is this vague but very problematic thing in the world called ‘toxic masculinity.’ For my purposes here, the problem is a focus on strength with a total disregard for feelings from self or from others. Ironically, it was a female, my sister Kelly, for reasons beyond the scope of this essay, who most adopted this and encouraged it in me. 

I think it is understandable that I grew up fearing to share any hint of weakness. In the intensely competitive environment we had, sharing weaknesses invited attack. It often happens that people, if they see unacknowledged flaws, leap upon them and try to smash awareness of them through the person in question. Sadly, I have done this a lot. Holly did this a lot too.

In the last few years, I have been trying to change the game with, perhaps excessive, openness. Yes, I have problems, we all have problems. Let us focus on how to fix or at least contain them in healthy ways, rather than just smearing them around and arguing about them.

I also just need to simply state my feelings more. When Holly was hurting me, I usually responded with either a critique of what she was doing wrong or else an overly complicated expression of feelings. In general, I feel that my feelings are complicated things, for which I always want to share a highly nuanced view with complete history. What I think would usually have been better would have been to just state something simple, ‘I feel hurt by what you are doing’. Simple stands a much better chance of getting through, while my complex narratives were ignored or disdained by her.

Action Items:

  1. Share simple expressions of feelings.
  2. Acknowledge that I have a right to feelings, like feeling hurt. Not to always make a big deal of it, but not to let my feelings get invalidated so often either.
  • The Importance of Self-Respect

It might seem counterintuitive to some people, but it seems one of the most important things to treating others well is first respecting yourself.

As someone who has frequently been accused of being arrogant, self-esteem might seem like something I already have, but it is far from the case. I am very confident, even arrogant, about the knowledge I have collected and contained in my mind, but I have long been filled with self loathing at my own emotional and social nature. 

I am still rather skeptical about the “love yourself” type messages I see. It sounds like it runs the risk of just ignoring personal problems or becoming arrogant. I am still not sure what self-respect looks like at its best. Very clear to me, though, is that self hatred should be avoided as much as possible.

Action Items:

  1. Avoid self-hatred. Respect both for self and for others needs to be balanced.
  • Apologies are Actually Nice

I grew up, like many people, being made to apologize in the stupidest ways. It feels like the subject of the apologies was either just an innocent mistake or else it was an adult being annoyed for reasons beyond the understanding of a little kid. I’ll have to put that on the todo for if I have kids: better examples of apologies.

Fast forward to now, and I noticed one of the things some of my more supportive friends do is they apologize occasionally. Holly rarely apologized, and on reflection, that’s something that could have made a huge difference in how her actions felt. I apologized to Holly, but mostly I think she just took it as a confession of guilt, which is not the full intention. It is something I realized I could improve on as well: the acceptance of an apology is an art that matters as much as the apology itself.

Action Item:

  1. Take giving and receiving apologies with serious care
  • Be Aware of Sensitivities

I really hate false accusations, or even the hint of them. To be honest, I would start fights when Holly would do things like say I lacked empathy. It wasn’t nice of her to say, but I only just made things worse by getting so worked up about it.

Holly fell into a trap where, because I can take many sorts of nasty things being thrown at me without concern, she was the ‘sensitive’ one and I the ‘insensitive’ one and that therefore it was my job to make all the emotional concessions in our relationship. There needed to be more reciprocal balance of the sensitivity. I think this applies to politics as well, younger generations’ sensitivities now differ from those of the older generations, and then both sides tend to accuse each other of not caring about the right things…

The recipe to deal with this seems to be: apology to them + emotional validation of them + thoughtful pauses to make it sound like you’re not just quoting a textbook at them + acknowledgement that it was hurtful to you as well.

Action Items:

  1. Be aware of sensitivities that cause overreactions, and balance them on both sides of any relationship. For me, a major sensitivity is perceived accusations.
  • Fault Tolerance: Have More Friends!

I have not been particularly social, and Holly is a jealous person who didn’t like me giving attention to others (especially other females). This led over time to the vast majority of my social interactions being just with her. There are a number of problems with this. The biggest, of course, was when she abandoned me I lost most of my support network in one shot. Hard time + poor support network = big problem. 

It was actually a problem before that as well. Having only one friend to share all your burdens with puts a lot of burdens on that friend. Having more friends to spread around some of the support needs makes the duty much lighter for everyone. As much as Holly wanted all of my attention, she probably would have been happier in the long term with me not having to share all of my stress just with her.

Luckily this problem has an easy solution: more friends! I am still figuring out how much time to invest in friendships. Honestly, it is a ton of time to maintain close friendships. Time that I want to spend on my hobbies… I’ll figure out the balance, someday, maybe.

Action Items:

  1. Keep a diverse mix of friends. People who can support me, and who I want to support in turn.
  • Other Lessons Learned:
    1. Beware of intense, addicting relationships
    2. People really do date like family and what they knew growing up
    3. I can’t hold myself responsible for everything.
    4. The best use of money for happiness is buying time

Since these last oddments are self-explanatory enough, and since I have written far more than enough already, I will leave you to puzzle over them on your own. Enjoy!

Full List of Action Items

  1. Say more nice things. Even if it feels overkill, too much kindness is a lesser problem!
  2. Practice “I hear you” type statements where I actively acknowledge others feelings
  3. Share simple expressions of feelings.
  4. Acknowledge that I have a right to feelings, like feeling hurt. Not to always make a big deal of it, but not to let my feelings get invalidated so often either.
  5. Avoid self-hatred. Respect both for self and for others needs to be balanced.
  6. Take giving and receiving apologies with serious care
  7. Be aware of sensitivities that cause overreactions, and balance them on both sides of any relationship. For me, a major sensitivity is perceived accusations.
  8. Keep a diverse mix of friends. People who can support me, and who I want to support in turn.

1 thought on “Holly: Lessons, Love, and Loss”

  1. Colin,
    That is a full list if action items. In case it may be of value to you, I will offer what worked for me.

    Several years ago, I sought help of a therapist, and she shared an observation–nit a judgment–of me: I am great at putting other people’s needs ahead of my own. I would defer, tough things out if I didn’t like them. She encouraged me to seeking to use three phrases to help people understand me:
    1. I think _______.
    2. I feel _______.
    3. I need _______.

    If I do not express those things to others, they will understand me less, and when I may need their aid, they will come to my aid only by chance. I do not have to go it alone, nor do I want to.

    You can build new friendships and deeper rel by asking others “What do you think? What do you feel? What do you need?”

    From your posts, I get the sense that what YOU thought, what YOU felt, and what YOU needed went unexpressed, explained away as wrong or unnecessary, or ignored, or that some people may not have thought to ask. That is more than a little unfortunate.

    Your posts reveal your thoughts and feelings things you need. I hope it helps you and helps others around you.

    If there is anything you think or feel that you want me to know, you can say it. And if there is something you need, you are welcome to ask.

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