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How Do I Get My Crazy, Abusive Girlfriend Out of My House and My Life?

May 4, 2010 58 comments

I received this email from a woman involved in a lesbian relationship. This site is for men involved with abusive women. I am publishing this variation on abusive women for two reasons: 1) to illustrate that abusive women’s behavior isn’t exclusive to men. Abusers are abusers; it’s not you. They target their nearest and dearest no matter your sex and; 2) to debunk the claims by the trolls who periodically visit this site that women aren’t really abusive and that men are always to blame. Acknowledging same sex (woman-on-woman) violence (psychological or physical) is a dirty “little” secret that’s often swept under the rug by feminists and our society.

Dear Dr Tara,

I hope you can help me. I am a woman. A gay woman. A gay woman in the middle of trying to lose her extremely disturbed girlfriend.

We were together for 7 years. It is only in the last few weeks that I’ve realized she’s “not on the planet.” Until I get out of this situation, I am terrified of becoming emotionally paralyzed by how blind and stupid I have been.

When we met, she was married with three children and four grandchildren. She fell in love with me. She left her husband and children. I got hooked. I now realize it wasn’t love. Nevertheless, we bought a house together and she quit her job to go to college full-time. I supported her for five years. The fighting, rage and abuse was always present. Initially, I questioned and blamed myself. Was I not sensitive enough? Was I communicating badly? Did I really not understand the pressure she was under? The abusiveness really escalated 3 years ago when I wanted to start a family by artificial insemination.

At the beginning of our relationship, she thought a child was a great idea, but when it came down to doing it, it was a very different story. I was an “airy fairy” if I thought I could bring up a child. How was [I] going to support a child when she claimed that [I] couldn’t even take care of [her.] When I pointed out that I managed to buy our home and support the both of us comfortably while she worked on her degree, she called me a “whore” and an “unsupportive c****.” Every time I asked her to discuss our relationship and how to improve it she would launch into a tirade within seconds.

I was on the receiving end of the following diatribes: ‘You always spoil things’ – ‘Why can’t you just let things go?’ – ‘You think your God, but your not’ – ‘You can’t control me.’ I stupidly persisted and insisted we go to counseling. Well, that backfired. She told the counselor I made her life hell and that if I would just change, we would have a wonderful relationship. My physical and mental health declined rapidly. The emotional pressure (i.e., tirades about what a “useless martyr” I am into the early hours of the morning after which I would have to go to work while she went to sleep off her rage buzz) was tremendous. My financial pressure was extreme.

This culminated in her standing outside my place of work screaming that I was a “disgusting whore” and should do the world a favor and kill [myself]. Even that didn’t stop me trying to “fix” myself to make her happy. I stopped jumping through hoops and began to detach from the relationship the night she told me she had more love, respect and loyalty to her ex-husband than she did for me. Her timing was beautiful. She had just completed her Masters exams, which I emotionally and financially supported her through. Over the past year, I have very slowly distanced myself from her.

But her rages continued. A few weeks ago, I stepped back and said to her, “If everyone else in my life thinks so highly of me, why am I listening and believing this?” She has been unemployed for the last year (I’m still paying the bills) and she is still telling me this crap. That’s when her attacks became physical.

I fought her off me. It lasted two hours. She got up the next morning, showed me her bruises and told me I needed help. How could someone as small as she was defend herself? I was in absolute shock. She attacked me and sustained bruises when I pushed her off of me. After this episode, I knew I need to get her out of my life.

I got a solicitor to try to remove her from my house. He sent two letters requesting that she vacate the premises. She ignored the first two letters until my solicitor sent a third one stating that he was going to petition the courts. She responded claiming she had been very busy on her Masters exams and that is why she ignored the letters. This was a lie as she had completed her program a year ago. She requested that all legal matters be halted so she could have ‘space and time’ to acquire my interest in the house.’ She then strutted her stuff around the house as if to say, ‘I’m not going anywhere – screw you’ and engaged the neighbours in what was going on.

My solicitor then responded by telling her she has 1 week to come to an agreement and that if she does not not that [I] will cancel the electricity, house insurance, life insurance, waste management and remove fittings, furnishings and appliances from the premises. She received this document 2 days ago. I know because of her behavior.

For the last 48 hours, she has been slamming doors, sitting in front of me, humming, getting up at all hours to take over the bathroom to cause me to be late for work and playing loud music to prevent me sleeping. Prior to this, there had only been one rage outburst in the last three months. I think purely because I have not engaged on any level with he. I have a huge sense of foreboding, which I can’t shake. I used to be really good at assessing people, but all I seem to think about is getting rid of her and what her next move is going to be?

Can you advise me in anyway at all?

Thank you for your site. It is enlightening and comforting to know I’m not losing my mind.

Ruth

Dear Ruth,

By your description, this woman sounds like a total nightmare and probably has one of the Cluster B personality disorders. Cluster B personalities rarely see themselves and their abusive, destructive behavior as the problem; it’s usually someone else’s fault. Additionally, Cluster B individuals refuse to hold themselves accountable for their behavior most of the time and have zero to little capacity for empathy, which seems to apply to your girlfriend.

Don’t beat yourself up for staying in a relationship with this woman. Your girlfriend is beating you up emotionally and physically enough for the both of you. Now is the time for you to get very clear, attend to the business at hand, protect yourself, your reputation and your property and focus on how great your future will be without this woman.

When you try to end your relationship with this type of person she will typically escalate the craziness and abuse and can become physically violent. Rejection is a grave blow to this kind of woman’s ego. In her mind, she’s perfect and you’re the one with the problems. How dare you leave her? Who do you think you are? She’ll show you, by god. Even if she’s the one who initiates the break-up—it doesn’t matter. These women often approach divorce and break-ups with a “winner takes all” mentality.

Ending a relationship with a woman like your girlfriend also represents a loss of control—over you, the relationship and her distorted view of reality. It challenges her world view and self view. These women react by amping up the craziness in a frenzied effort to get you back under their control. When she realizes she can no longer control you, she will then set out to try and destroy you.

She will try to take all your money, all your possessions, your relationships and your reputation. The goal is to have you walking around wearing nothing but suspenders and a barrel and to be shunned as an object of ridicule. It’s the equivalent of a General publically ripping the stripes off of a soldier for insubordination. Some targets of abuse cave at this point and try to appease the beast—many of these women can be truly terrifying when backed into a corner and/or if they feel like they’re about to lose control and/or be abandoned.

The menacing behavior you describe in regard to your girlfriend playing loud music so you can’t sleep at night, etc., reminds me of what the FBI did to the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas back in the 1990s. She’s trying to scare you and/or make being in your home so unpleasant as to drive you out of it.

Talking trash to your neighbors and shaming you at your place of work are classic smear campaign tactics and is common behavior for women like your girlfriend. These women will often tell the most outrageous lies and make up abuse allegations to anyone who will listen—your family, friends, boss, colleagues and authorities. Your best defense is a good offense. Tell the people in your life what’s going on. Tell them you were embarrassed to admit that you were in an abusive relationship and didn’t want to involve anyone else. There’s no shame in this.

Abusive women like your girlfriend maintain their power by keeping their abusive behavior hidden from the outside world. Exposing these women for who and what they are diminishes their control. Oftentimes the best antidote for abuse is to shine a light on it. Some people will believe her lies. However, the people who know and care about you will be supportive and want to help.

My advice is: Don’t cave. It will only reinforce her bad behavior. Stand your ground. Don’t engage in the content of her accusations and insults. Calmly observe her as you would an out of control 5-year old child. Protect yourself and strengthen your resolve. It’s the beginning of the end of your life with her and the beginning of a much better life without her. Metaphorically, it’s like slaying the dragon to attain the treasure. The treasure, in this case, is getting your life and your sanity back.

If you haven’t already, I’d invest in a small digital recorder to document her abuse. Conceal it on your person and don’t let her know you’re recording her. You might also want to consider hiding a video camera to record her antics. Then, when she engages in her truly abusive behavior again (the physical abuse and the loud music playing into the night) call the police, show them your evidence and have them remove her from your home.

The recordings may not be admissible in court, but you need physical evidence to prove her behavior. I’m not a lawyer, so consult with your solicitor about this. Don’t feel guilty about surreptitiously recording her abusive behavior. Women like your girlfriend don’t play fair, so you have to protect yourself while not breaking the law.

Is the house is in your name? If so, I don’t understand why you just can’t have her forcibly removed from the premises—especially if she’s not paying rent and doesn’t have a lease. Change the locks while she’s out and give the local police a head’s up that they can expect a call and some high drama. The fact that you supported her through school could gain you some leverage. Even if she isn’t working right now, you could threaten her with a claim on her future earnings. I’m sure you don’t want support money from her, but you could use the threat as leverage to get her out of the house and your life.

You may also want to consider inviting a friend or family member to stay with you until you get her out of the house. These types will often behave themselves in front of witnesses. Meanwhile, if you have any treasured keepsakes or other valuables, I’d quietly remove them from the house so that she can’t destroy them or steal them. I encourage you to also discuss these matters with your solicitor. Hope this helps.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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How Abusive Women Brainwash You

February 24, 2010 303 comments

How do so many smart men fall for toxic, abusive women? Why do they remain in painfully self-destructive relationships when their higher intelligence knows better? Many men frequently cite, “but I love her.” Do they love these women or have they been brainwashed by abusive personalities? Are they confusing love with dependence on their partner/torturer—a kind of Stockholm Syndrome?

Emotional and physical abuse wears you down over time. It erodes your confidence, independence, sense of efficacy and good judgment. Successful abusers use brainwashing tactics to disassemble your personality and extinguish your natural responses to abuse. In other words, you become numb and submissive instead of fleeing or fighting back in the face of her abuse.

Abusive women establish control over their targets by using “brainwashing tactics similar to those used on prisoners of war, hostages, or members of a cult” (Mega, Mega, Mega & Harris, 2000). Most abusers instinctively know these behaviors. Their behavior is mostly unconscious; they’re natural predators. However, some abusive women know exactly what they’re doing. In such cases, I’d argue that they’re sociopaths.

Brainwashing Techniques

In the 1950s, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied POW’s from the Korean War and Chinese prison camps. He concluded that these soldiers “underwent a multi-step process that began with attacks on the prisoner’s sense of self and ended with what appeared to be a change in beliefs” (Layton). Lifton defined 10 brainwashing steps that occur in 3 stages.

Stage I: Breaking Down the Self

1. Assault on Identity. “You are not who you think you are.” This step is comprised of an unrelenting attack on your identity or ego. For example, You’re a jerk. You’re a loser. You’re selfish. You don’t deserve me. You don’t have any friends. Your family doesn’t care about you. You don’t make enough money. These kinds of attacks have a destabilizing effect that breaks your stride and keeps you off kilter. The assault continues until you become “exhausted, confused and disoriented,” which causes your sense of self, beliefs and values to weaken.

2. Guilt. “You are bad.” Once your identity crisis sets in, you’re then criticized for offenses great, small and imaginary. You snore. You’re not sensitive enough. You’re too sensitive. You breathe wrong. You blink too much. You don’t fold the towels correctly. You never do this. You always do that. Why can’t you be more like so and so? The constant arguments and criticisms that cast you as the bad guy make you believe you deserve to be punished and treated badly. You feel a general sense of shame, that you’re wrong and that everything you do, don’t do, say or don’t say is wrong.

Humiliation and shaming tactics destroy your confidence and make you feel bad about yourself, which puts you in a malleable and submissive state. Shame is a form of paralysis. Inducing a sense of shame doesn’t just make you feel bad; it makes you believe that you are bad.

3. Self-Betrayal. “Agree with me that you are bad.” Once you’re disoriented and feeling a pervasive sense of guilt and shame, she can manipulate you into going against your own best interests. You forsake your own needs and make choices that are detrimental to your well-being. This is when an abusive spouse or girlfriend may begin to isolate you and/or get you to turn against friends and family. The betrayal of yourself, your beliefs and the people to whom you were once loyal increases feelings of shame, guilt and loss and also makes you easier to control.

4. Breaking Point. “Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?” You no longer know who you are. You’re confused and disoriented from gaslighting and being fed a distorted version of yourself and reality. You may feel like you’re “the crazy one” and/or feel depressed, anxious, traumatized and a host of other negative emotional and physical symptoms like insomnia, paranoia and digestive problems.

You question your judgment, perceptions and sense of reality. She tells you she loves you yet continues to treat you horribly. You believe she loves you and that you must be a colossal jerk for her to always be so upset. If she’s successfully isolated you or gotten you to isolate yourself, you can’t reality test or receive outside support. By this time, she’s made you totally dependent upon her and solely focused upon pleasing her, gaining her approval and avoiding her wrath or disapproval. You probably feel completely alone. Alternatively, if you’re still in contact with friends and family, you fear that if you tell them what’s going on that they wouldn’t believe you or wouldn’t understand.

Stage II: The Possibility of Salvation

5. Leniency. “I can help you.” This is what I like to call the tyranny of small mercies. Periodically, this kind of woman will offer you some small kindness or you’ll have a “fun” afternoon together in which she appears normal. Because your perception has been so warped, the tiniest act of kindness or absence of overt hostility and/or icy withdrawal fosters gratitude, relief and a sense of adoration within you. In reality, she’s not kind and she’s not normal.

The disparity between her bad behavior and good/neutral behavior is so great that the simple act of heating up a can of soup for you makes her seem like Lady Benevolence. Her minuscule and infrequent acts of normalcy cause you to romanticize her. “This is why I love her. She can be so sweet.” It also causes you to experience a destructive sense of false hope. “If only she could be this way all the time. Maybe she will if I just try harder to please her.” The only way you can please this kind of woman is by continuing to allow her to harm you, that is, until she starts to resent you for becoming a doormat that she demanded you be.

6. Compulsion to Confess. “You can help yourself.” You’re so grateful for the small kindnesses she bestows in between periods of covert and overt abuse that you agree with her criticisms and devaluations. For example, you agree that your friends are bad for you and that your family is controlling and dysfunctional (um, hello, pot meet kettle). You promise to be more attentive and sensitive to her needs and see your needs as evidence of your selfishness.

Alternatively, you agree with her just to make the rages, derision and accusations stop. By the way, this is why torture techniques don’t work for intelligence purposes. People will say anything to make the torture stop. By this time, your personality has changed. You’re hypervigilant to her moods and ego gratification  demands and wishes.

You’re overwhelmed and confused by her accusations and criticisms. Subsequently, you feel a compounded sense of shame. However, you’re so disoriented that you don’t know what you’re guilty of anymore. You just feel wrong.

The Goal: Pointless Control with No End to the Abuse

Individuals or groups who use brainwashing techniques are deliberately trying to convert followers, change political allegiance or get people to buy their brand of soda. The ultimate goal is to breakdown your identity and replace your belief system with their doctrines in order to make you an obedient follower. Once they achieve their aims, the psychological torture stops because you’ve become a faithful acolyte.

Unlike professional terrorists, cult leaders and prison camp commandants, most abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic wives and girlfriends don’t have an end goal for their brainwashing techniques. They don’t know what they want. They just know that they want to control you in order to feel in control of themselves. This is why they don’t progress past the sixth brainwashing step and complete the process through the third stage, Rebuilding the Self.

By keeping you stuck in the Possibility of Salvation stage, you become locked into perpetual hoop jumping mode. She says if you do x, y and z she’ll finally be happy. You do x, y and z and then she either has a new set of expectations, demands and requirements or tells you that you didn’t do x, y and z to her satisfaction or that you only did it to make her happy not because you wanted to do it. You’re caught in a maddening cycle of trying to please her and not being able to please her with no relief or “salvation” in sight.

Oftentimes, abusive borderline, narcissistic and histrionic women’s moods, beliefs and realities change from day to day and, in extreme cases, minute to minute. They want whatever their current mood or insecurity dictates and change their beliefs, demands and perceptions accordingly. The only doctrine they offer is, “You’re wrong and bad” and “It’s all about me, my needs and my feelings” and “you need to fight for me” or “you need to fight for this relationship” (never mind that she is the one who is destroying it). This keeps you destabilized and in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, hypervigilance and confusion.

She puts you into no-win situations, double binds and keeps raising the bar of her expectations for as long as you let her. You never get to reach the third stage of a new identity that brings some relief. She keeps you stuck in the cycle of abuse where she will psychologically torture you until there’s nothing left of you.

Next week, I will discuss other aspects and techniques of brainwashing and how you can deprogram yourself.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

References:

Mega LT, Mega JL, Mega BT & Harris BM. Brainwashing and battering fatigue: Psychological abuse in domestic violence.  NC Med J. 2000, Sep-Oct; 61(5): 260-265.

Layton, J. How brainwashing works. HowStuffWorks.

What to Do When your Abusive Ex-Wife or Girlfriend Tries to Maintain Contact with your Family and Friends After the Break-Up or Divorce

February 2, 2010 52 comments

So you finally had the courage to end your marriage or relationship, are moving on with your life and discover that your abusive ex is now trying to maintain or strengthen her relationship with your family of origin after years of trashing them and trying to cut them out of your life. Why?

When you’re in a significant relationship your social and family circles grow to include your partner’s friends and family. Some of her friends become your friends. Some of your friends become her friends and you both, hopefully, develop relationships with each others’ families. What happens when you break-up or divorce? Who gets custody of friends and family members?

The Best of Circumstances

When a relationship dissolves between two healthy adults, especially if they’ve been together for a considerable length of time and/or share children, the separation can be just as difficult for family and friends. Psychologically mature individuals don’t take sides or get in the middle and understand that the nature of their former relationships with the ex will change. The couple and the people who have been in relationships with the couple all experience a sense of loss and go through a kind of grieving process.

The Worst of Circumstances

When one member of the couple is dysfunctional, abusive and/or has a personality disorder, friends and family become just another mechanism by which to control and hurt the non-abusive/non-disordered partner. Abusive women often view friends and family (including their own children) as war trophies, human shields and weapons during and after a break-up or divorce.

The irony is that most abusive women try to isolate their partners from family and friends during the relationship. This kind of woman does this in order to consolidate her power and control over you and to suck up every ounce of your attention. She deeply resents her in-laws and your friends. If she’s not overtly rude and disrespectful to their faces, she’ll put on a sweet face in their presence and gun them down behind their backs.

After the relationship ends, many of these women try to cozy up to the same people they spent years vilifying. This is extremely confusing for most men since their wives or girlfriends incessantly complained about and trashed their friends and family while together and created crazy drama whenever a visit, trip or family/friend event loomed on the horizon.

Here are some possible scenarios after ending a relationship with an abusive woman:

1. The relationship ends and she leaves your family and friends in peace. Although, she may make it difficult for your family to see your child(ren). If this is the case, count your blessings and find a good attorney to help you work out a fair custody arrangement.

2. She demonizes both you and your family. This is fine when you don’t share children. Let her spew her venom and stay as far away from her as possible and ask your family to do the same. However, if you share kid(s), this is highly destructive and understandably painful for you, your family and the child(ren). This is a case of blatant Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAS) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), in which case you should find out your parental rights in your state and pursue swift and strong legal recourse.

3. The relationship ends and all of a sudden your ex spends more time with your family than she did when you were together. Why? It’s not as if some miracle occurred and she suddenly realized how wonderful your family is. She’s desperately trying to retain control over you by staying involved with your family. This kind of woman is especially likely to do this if you’ve begun a new relationship. She wants your family to like her more than you or your new love interest and/or she wants your family to take her side to show the world she’s “right” (whatever that means) and that you’re “wrong.”

She also does this to portray herself as the victim and you as the bad guy. She wants to try to turn your own family against you. She makes up egregious lies. Some of these women will even go so far as to claim you abused her and the children. For example, “He’s crazy. He’s changed. He’s having a mid-life crisis. You have no idea what I put up with all these years. How could he abandon the children and me?” The projections never stop.

I call it the Crocodile Tears and Sympathy Tour. It’s just more of her manipulative and controlling nonsense. She’s in a much better position to do this if there’s a child or children involved. She pretends she’s spending time with your family so they can see their niece/nephew/son/grandson all the while distorting the truth and playing upon your family’s sympathy. Bottom line: You should be the one who takes the kid(s) to visit your side of the family.

In a relatively healthy relationship/marriage, it’s natural to want to maintain relationships with people who became your family through your intimate relationship. A relationship with an abusive woman is not a normal relationship. It’s like a cancer you need to cut from your body, your psyche, your life and your family of origin. You shouldn’t try to maintain a “friendship” with her and neither should your family because it allows her to continue to hurt you. Keep contact to a minimum and make it brief, civil and business-like. Give your family links to this website if they have a difficult time understanding the situation.

Why Some Families Go Along with It

1. Fear. If kids are involved, your family is probably afraid they won’t get to see them if they explain to your ex that it’s not really appropriate to cry on their shoulders or accompany the children to family get-togethers. She needs to use her own family (if she’s on speaking terms with them) and friends (if she has any) for support or hire a professional with whom to spin her tale of woe and victimhood.

2. To be nice and get along with everyone. This is commendable, but it doesn’t allow all parties involved to grieve the end of the relationship/marriage and move on. It also allows her to continue her manipulations and abuse, which need to end.

3. Cluelessness. Your family has no idea what your ex was like behind closed doors. They think they’re being supportive of you by allowing your ex to cling onto them. They think they’re being “big-hearted” when, in reality, they’re allowing your ex to manipulate them and hurt you, their own family member.

4. Dysfunctionality. Well, you were probably attracted to your ex for a reason and it would seem that your family is it. In which case, you need to mourn your relationship with your family in addition to your significant relationship/marriage, so that you don’t make the same poor relationship choices in the future.  This may require that you put some emotional and/or physical distance between you and your family while you work through it and get some therapy.

What You Can Do About It

1. Tell your family exactly what’s going on. Educate your family. If you kept your mouth shut about the abuse you suffered out of misplaced loyalty, shame and embarrassment or because you wanted to “protect” the mother of your children you need to speak up now. If your family doesn’t know what happened behind closed doors, it will make your ex’s smear campaign more effective because the break-up will seem out of the blue when the reality is it was a long time coming.

Tell your family all the nasty things your ex said about them over the years. Explain how much she hurt you. Tell them about the abuse. Ask them to support you in this. You don’t want to badmouth her? Telling the truth isn’t badmouthing if it’s the truth. The best way to stop abuse is to bring it to light. Rest assured, your ex is badmouthing you to anyone who will listen. If you didn’t stand up to her during the course of your marriage you need to do so now. This type of individual’s behavior is wrong and destructive, so don’t sugarcoat it and don’t let her get away with it anymore. Those days are over.

2. Ask them to invite you and your child to family events; not your ex and the child(ren). Abusive borderlines, narcissists, histrionics, etc., don’t respect boundaries nor will they accept that the rules of common decency, consideration and civility apply to them. Therefore, you need to create the boundaries within your immediate and extended family. This kind of woman will continue to push everything to the max for as long you let her.

3. If your family won’t respect your boundaries and actually believes her nonsense, you need to disengage. It’s yet another painful letting go process to contend with, but it may be a necessary one. Furthermore, these women are like small children; the more they know a specific behavior is getting to you the more they do it. Therefore, try to let it roll off your back and focus on the things that make you happy and bring you fulfillment. Your abusive ex will probably escalate her desperate and pathetic attempts for attention and to screw you over, but if you resolve not to give her that satisfaction she’ll ultimately frustrate herself; not you.

Endings are painful, but the longer you allow her to play her  shenanigans with you and your family and friends, the longer it will take for you to heal from this relationship and move on. Additionally, if you starve her of these sources of attention, she’ll be forced to look elsewhere for it, i.e., her next victim.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

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Social Media Platforms, Narcissists, Borderlines and Histrionics: The Lure of Blogs, Facebook and MySpace

January 26, 2010 89 comments

Over the last few months, many Shrink4Men readers have posted comments about how much time their spouses, girlfriends and exes spend on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter personal blogs and other social media platforms like mommy and bridal websites. Their behavior goes far beyond the typical sharing of family photos or funny news links. These individuals create their own public-relations-spin-control-propaganda-I-am-the-center-of-the universe profiles, networks and feeds.

One recently divorced reader’s (Still Recovering) ex-wife became obsessed with her profile and “friends” on a popular bridal site, TheKnot, and then a newlywed site, TheNest. His ex maintained her elaborate profile post-divorce—including photos of him and their wedding—and communicated with her followers as if they were still married. After repeatedly requesting that she remove his photos, he publicly outed her regarding the divorce. His ex and her online friends erupted into a flame war in which they portrayed him as the abusive psycho rather than his ex-wife who was masquerading as a perennial bride-newlywed in order to maintain her status and feel special. Still Recovering suspects that his ex-wife may, in fact, be a narcissistic personality.

Other readers report that their wives, girlfriends and exes spend inordinate amounts of time every day fine tuning their profiles and posting updates in which they portray themselves as busy “super moms/super wives/super martyrs” who single-handedly run their households and take care of their children and husbands. One wonders how they do all of this while spending most of the day online.

What’s the connection between narcissism and social media?

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and MomLogic are innocuous enough for average users who want a fun and convenient way to connect and stay in touch with peers, friends and family. However, social websites are an endless source of attention, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and a sophisticated weapon for many narcissists, histrionics, borderlines and other self-obsessed, abusive personality types.

University of Georgia researchers Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell (2008) found that Facebook profiles can be used to gauge narcissism. Buffardi and Campbell observed that the number of friends and wall posts people collect and predilection for glamorous profile photos vs. snapshots is correlated to how narcissistic they are in their daily offline lives.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reports: “Facebook provides a rather accurate method of ego estimation because this quantity-over-quality online attitude mimics real-life behavior in which narcissists concern themselves only with how things appear to others. Facebook permits any narcissist with Internet access to assemble an army of pseudo friends, employ the help of a thesaurus in writing contemplative wall posts and upload only photos in which the subject’s nose looks almost proportionate. By controlling every aspect of one’s profile, a user can create a compelling identity similar to the one that person implements in reality, but better.”

Social media platforms seem to hold appeal for narcissists and other relationship-challenged individuals for the following reasons:

1. Ms. Popularity. It allows her to have superficial relationships with lots of people at once, which gives her the appearance of popularity and all of its trappings. For example, “Look at how many friends I have! See what an amazing person I am. Everyone wants to be my friend.” Amassing friends on social websites is akin to the philatelic childhood pastime of collecting baseball cards. It doesn’t really say anything about one’s character except that you have a lot of free time on your hands and/or are willing to “friend” or be “friended” by just about anyone in order to gain another illusory popularity point.

“Friendship on these sites focuses a great deal on collecting, managing, and ranking the people you know. Everything is designed to encourage users to gather as many friends as possible . . . This promotes a form of frantic friend procurement” (Rosen, 2007). Social websites aid and abet some narcissists and borderlines to relate to people as objects. Their “friends” are thumbnail images to be added, ranked and deleted according to their fluctuating valuation and devaluation like moving pieces on a checkerboard. “You didn’t validate me. You’re going to the bottom of my friends list!”

2. Avoiding intimacy. Many narcissists prefer the superficial online relationships social sites provide because it’s easier to avoid the possibility of exposure, disapproval, rejection and heartache that true intimacy and emotional vulnerability entail. “Friendship is a relationship which, broadly speaking, involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific social (and cultural) contexts” (Rosen, 2007). Most people understand that their 200-plus contacts on Facebook or MySpace aren’t friends in the true sense of the word. However, most narcissists, histrionics and borderlines aren’t most people. They view these friendships as “real.” Instant, superficial relationships are their comfort zone. Facebook friends are props—just like boyfriends and husbands—who provide them with a false sense of normalcy.

Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist, told ABCNews.com, “At the core of most people who are narcissistic, underneath they often feel inadequate, lonely [and] a sense of shame because they haven’t learned the skills to connect with someone in a real way. Facebook allows them to stay in hiding.”

Another recent study conducted at University of the Pacific found that “those who engaged in romantic communication over MySpace tend to have low levels of both emotional intelligence and self-esteem” (Dong, Uristra & Gundrum, 2008). These platforms allow individuals to mask their massive interpersonal deficits such as warmth, depth and a lack of empathy.

3. Easy to use, convenient and time efficient. Most narcissists and borderlines constantly complain about how “busy” they are without ever seeming to accomplish anything. However, based upon their prolific tweets, blog entries and Facebook updates, they have ample time to endlessly focus on their problems, grievances, personal valuations and devaluations and smear campaigns against those whom they believe have abandoned them or hurt them in some way.

Additionally, conducting a smear campaign the old-fashioned way—individual phone calls, face-to-face conversations—takes a lot of time and energy. Blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook allow them to broadcast their lies, distortions, inflated “accomplishments” and messages of hate to the web with a simple click of the mouse. Modern technology at its best!

4. Me, myself and I. She gets to focus on her favorite subject: Herself. A personal profile page is all about the individual. The narcissist is the leading lady or star of her or his own universe. A social profile page is the perfect vehicle upon which to project her or his false self. Social websites are like interactive mirrors.

She can portray herself in the best possible light no matter how unfounded it is in reality. She can post her most recent wannabe supermodel/vixen mobile phone photos and obsess over which ones are the most flattering. She can post her most recent profound insights and her never-ending list of grievances of people who have wronged her. Her profile is all about her all the time.

5. Spin, baby, spin! Social media sites allow individuals total spin control. Buffardi states,”For people with narcissistic qualities, social networking sites are effective vehicles of self-promotion. Online, they can assemble armies of casual friends, choose the photos in which they look most attractive and, through quotes and comments about themselves, create a compelling personal narrative” (ABC News). They can create whatever illusion they like and collect “thumbs ups” from their friends, sycophants and, for those who use social media platforms to harass and stalk others, collect minions to mob their current target of blame.

Facebook, and its brethren, would seem to be a narcissist’s dream; these individuals want the world to think as highly of them as they think of themselves, and social networking sites allow a high degree of control over what information about a person gets presented to the public. This ranges from photos and quotes to ostensible measures of popularity, such as the number of connections a person has made” (Arstechnica).

6. Emotional terrorism. Many narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, antisocials and other abuse-prone types are gifted when it comes to knowing how to find your sore spots. They intuitively use social networking sites to lash out, attack and hurt others while portraying themselves as the injured party. Many conduct smear campaigns via their blogs and profile pages. “They tend to use their site to put other people down. Narcissists need to have power over others. They tend to be manipulative, using people for their own advantage” (AssociatedContent).

Many of these individuals also use these platforms to cyber stalk, cyber bully and cyber harass their targets. They use these platforms to keep track of who you’re chatting with, your activities, photos and whereabouts. Some go so far as to contact your contacts to trash you, to attack “that new skank you’re dating” or even contact the friends and colleagues of the new woman you’re dating to smear her. In the wrong hands, social media websites can be highly effective weapons.

These aren’t new behaviors for narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, sociopaths and other emotional terrorists. It’s the same old-same old. However, technology has increased their ability to simultaneously reach a wider audience in a highly controlled and efficient way. It’s like war. War has been around since humans were able to pick up rocks and throw them. However, with modern technology, we can now kill hundreds of thousands of people at once instead of one at a time with a spear. Technology also allows abusive emotional terrorists, bullies, narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and sociopaths the ability to do the same.

For example, a crazy ex no longer has to go through elaborate machinations to choreograph an “accidental” run in with you, herself and a new boyfriend. She can post photos of herself with victim du jour and Facebook sends out an alert to all of her “friends.” They’re the same old behaviors, but the method of delivery is more immediate and sophisticated.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

References:

  • Buffardi, L.E. & Campbell, W.K. “Narcissism and Social Networking Websites,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 10, 1303-1314 (2008).
  • Facebook takes narcissism to a new level. Columbia Tribune.
  • Facebook: Where narcissists connect? ABC News.
  • Rosen, C. “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism,” The New Atlantis, Number 17, Summer 2007, pp. 15-31.
  • Dong, Q., Urista, M. & Gundrum, D. “The Impact of Emotional Intelligence, Self-Esteem and Self-Image on Romantic Communication over MySpace,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, October 2008, 11(5): 577-578.
  • Facebook profiles out narcissists. LiveScience.
  • Social media is for narcissists. Mashable.
  • 5 Ways to spot a narcissist from their Facebook page. AssociatedContent.
  • Narcissists easy to spot on Facebook if you know how. arstechnica.

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More on Emotional Detachment: Surviving Ongoing Abusive Relationships

January 20, 2010 63 comments

Emotionally detaching from an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult. Many men believe they still love their abusive wives, girlfriends and exes. Therefore, developing indifference and detaching from their abusers—even when they’re a consistent source of pain—seems antithetical.

Nevertheless, learning to detach is vital if you ever hope to regain your health, happiness, sanity and sense of Self. This also applies to people who have divorced or broken up with their abusive spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, but have to maintain some degree of contact because of shared children, working for the same company or attending the same school.

Emotionally detaching requires that you change many of your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Detaching is not about enabling your abuser; it’s about disarming your abuser by eradicating her or his ability to hurt you. It’s not about changing your behavior so that you don’t trigger your wife or girlfriend. In fact, if you successfully detach it will probably provoke your her to become even more nasty and controlling for awhile.

When your wife or girlfriend takes an ugly turn into consistent abuse and other controlling behaviors, attaching your self-worth to how she treats you and placing all your effort into her and the relationship guarantees exploitation and self-destruction. For your psychological survival in this kind of relationship, you need to develop and feel indifference and emotional detachment. Before you can begin to detach, you need to accept the following:

  • Love does not conquer all. What you’re experiencing in your relationship probably isn’t love; it’s a distorted, twisted version of it.
  • You can’t fix or rescue someone from being abusive, sick, dysfunctional and lost in their own highly distorted reality. In fact, trying to rescue an abuser—particularly if she’s a borderline, a narcissist, a histrionic or a sociopath—is akin to trying to rescue to drowning person who’s crying for help and then holds you under water until you begin to drown. The more you try to rescue her, the more she’ll drag you under.
  • You give your abusive spouse or partner the power to hurt you.
  • You can survive and thrive without your abusive relationship. You don’t “need” her or him. You had a life before this person and eventually you’ll have a much better life post Ms. or Mr. Crazypants.
  • You’re not responsible for your spouse’s, partner’s or ex’s happiness, failures, shortcomings or bad behaviors.
  • The person who you want your spouse or partner to be is in conflict with the person she or he is in reality.
  • Continuing to hope for the best from someone who consistently gives you the worst is a set-up for more pain and disillusionment.
  • You are not helpless, powerless and incompetent. The relationship with your abusive spouse or partner causes you to feel that way, which is why it’s often so difficult to take care of yourself and break free.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need to walk away from a relationship that’s destructive and toxic. It’s vital that you begin to develop a rational perspective and distance yourself from an ongoing hurtful relationship that you can neither control nor change. Many people remain in abusive relationships well beyond a point of personal pain and devastation that defies reason. You need to come back to your senses and see your partner for who she is and your part in it.

Here are some detachment techniques:

1. Make yourself solely responsible for your own well-being and happiness. Catch yourself when you begin to utter, “If only she could . . . If only she would . . .” and knock it off. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is the language of regret and pipe dreams. Keeping you in a beaten down and depressive state makes it easier for an abuser to control you. Feline predators don’t target the swiftest and strongest impala in the herd; the one with the limp usually becomes lion lunch. Take back the control you gave her over your feelings, happiness and well-being and start meeting your own needs by making different choices and acting on them.

2. Accept that you can’t fix, change, rescue, save, make someone else happy or love someone enough to make them be nice to you. Don’t just pay lip service to this. Really wrap your brain around the fact that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. Understand that no matter how much you do for her; she’ll always expect and demand more. Acknowledge that the more you appease, compromise and forgo your own needs; the more entitled, demanding and ungrateful she’ll be. She’s like the Iraqui War; you’re throwing good energy after bad with no victory or end in sight.

3. Eliminate the hooks of your abuser. A hook is typically an emotional, psychological or physical stake that you have in the other person and the relationship. For example, GUILT is a big hook that keeps many men in abusive relationships with destructive narcissistic, borderline and histrionic partners.

“I don’t how she’d take care of herself. What would she do without me? I’d feel guilty if I left because of the kids.” The flip side of guilt is EGO. If you leave an abusive woman, I hate to break it to you, but she’ll do just fine without you. She’ll probably try to suck you dry financially while lining up her next target to control and abuse. It’s not personal—especially if your wife or girlfriend is BPD, NPD, HPD and/or APD. These personalities view others as objects to be used. She’ll simply replace you with another object and do the same damn thing to the next guy. Guilt is a control device she uses to keep you in line.

Other hooks include shame (e.g., of failing or not being strong enough), loss of status (e.g., being perceived as a nice or good guy), loss of material assets or access to children, perfectionism and your own need to control others, situations and outcomes.

4. Learn to control your body language. Your body language and facial expressions can betray what you’re feeling and thinking on the inside without you saying a word. Since your wife’s/girlfriend’s covert and overt attacks are designed to elicit a reaction, you need to learn how not to give her the reaction she’s seeking. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yell back. Seeing the pain flicker in your eyes, your face wince and your shoulders slump in dejection is often reward enough.

Stand in front of a mirror and think of some of the nastiest and most hurtful things your wife or girlfriend has said or done to you. Maintain eye contact and practice a calm, blank facial expression or a knowing, slightly amused smile. Practice slow, steady and relaxed breathing. Lower the tone of your voice (higher pitched voices reveal anxiety and agitation). Your shoulders, arms and hands should hang loose. Keep practicing relaxed and detached body language until you actually feel indifferent and unruffled by her barbs, jabs and eye rolls. In other words, fake it ’til you make it.

5. Lower your expectations. Ordinarily, I encourage people to expect the best from others to create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. However, expecting the best from an abusive woman will result in you feeling broadsided, perpetually disappointed and hurt most of the time.

For all their crocodile tears and hyper-sensitivity, abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic women are emotional predators and bullies. If you stay in the relationship, the best you can expect is more of the same. You may achieve some periods of “peace” if you can learn how not to trigger her (remember, she’s not responsible for her behavior; you’re responsible for her behavior and your behavior and all the other problems in the universe), how not to take her attacks personally (even though they’re extremely personal in nature) and how to maintain your boundaries through implementing behavioral consequences.

“Happiness reflects the difference between what you expect versus what you actually get in life—so if you keep expecting good things to happen, but they never do or take a turn for the worse, you will suffer constant unhappiness.” (Sutton, 2007, p. 134) Your wife/girlfriend is abusive. She probably has significant characterological pathology and is unlikely to change. Therefore, keep your expectations for her behavior low, but continue to believe that you will be okay once you remove yourself from the situation and/or stop giving her the power to hurt you.

6. Do something that removes you from the abuse and centers you. Meditate or whatever your version of meditation is—reading, walking, woodworking, painting, music—anything that’s restorative. Find pockets of sanity and safety with friends and family or physical spaces like your office, the gym, the pub or social/professional organizations. Find activities that will take you out of the line of fire and minimize your exposure to her and the abuse. Find a hobby or activity that makes you feel good about your self and restores your confidence and esteem. Ignore her when she becomes jealous or puts down these new activities and friendships. She does so because she sees them as threats to her control.

7. See the big picture and don’t get distracted by her minutiae. The ultimate goal is to not let her abusive behavior effect you anymore and to end the relationship. Expect her to hit even harder—emotionally and/or physically—when you stop reacting to her tried and true button pushing. It seems counter-intuitive, but if she becomes nastier in response to you setting boundaries and detaching, it means your new behavioral strategies are working because she’s fighting harder to retain her control. By detaching, you’re taking back the power that you ceded to her.

These new behaviors will take time for you to learn and perfect. It takes a while to develop indifference. It runs counter to our fundamental beliefs about love and relationships. However, if you’re in a relationship with someone who verbally and/or physically attacks you, devalues you, makes you feel less than and who raises herself up at your expense, you must learn how to make yourself less vulnerable and eventually immune to her. Abusive personalities have no soul and they will destroy your soul if you let them.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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Bad Relationships: Change your Role and the Rules of Engagement

January 15, 2010 132 comments

Many people engage in abusive behaviors, covert and overt, to get what they want. Whenever you appease, capitulate, ignore or simply stay in an abusive relationship, you reward and reinforce your partner’s abusive behavior.

An abusive personality will continue to rage, withdraw, name-call, degrade, shame, guilt-trip and other more subtle abuse tactics such as dirty looks, smirking and gaslighting as long as there aren’t any consequences for doing so. Even when there are consequences they’ll often continue to engage in destructive, abusive behaviors. It’s their nature; just like it’s a snake’s nature to strike at you with its fangs when you get too close.

Unhappy couples tend to engage in what psychologist John Gottman calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. “They get stuck in negative, destructive patterns, have fewer positive interactions than happy couples and are unable to resolve problems.” These four behaviors are frequently how abusive personalities, particularly narcissists and borderlines, control and communicate with their partners.

When you tell someone that their behavior is hurtful and unacceptable, there are several possible outcomes. She or he can:

  1. Hear what you say, hold themselves accountable, respect your feelings and actively try to change. Translation: I love and respect you. I care about your feelings and will make every effort to change.
  2. Hear what you say, hold themselves accountable, respect your feelings, communicate which of your behaviors are contributing to the situation and you both actively try to change. Translation: I love and respect you. I care about your feelings and will make every effort to change.
  3. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior, but hey, you knew what they were like when you married them so get used to it and stop complaining. Translation: I don’t care about your needs and feelings. I won’t change.
  4. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior and then blame you for it. Translation: I’m not responsible for my actions. It’s your fault. You deserve it. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  5. Acknowledge their hurtful behavior, make a lame apology while justifying their actions (blame you), repeat the same hurtful behavior over and over again as if you never talked about it and become angry if you don’t forgive them. Translation: What I want is more important. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  6. Deny their hurtful behavior and accuse you of being the abusive one. Translation: I’m above reproach. You’re crazy. My needs and feelings are the only ones that matter. You need to adapt yourself to my silences and rages and pretend like nothing is wrong. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.
  7. Minimize their hurtful behavior and accuse you of being oversensitive and unreasonable. “It’s not that bad. Don’t be such a baby. You’re so thin-skinned.” Translation: I’m not accountable. Your nose broke because it got in the way of my fist, so your nose should apologize to my fist. I don’t care about your feelings. I won’t change.

People persist in both positive and negative behaviors because there’s a payoff; a primary gain or secondary gain. They’re rewarded with pleasure, they avoid punishment or an unpleasant consequence, their beliefs are validated or they get to feel good about themselves. There’s always an emotional, psychological and/or physical stake—feeling good or avoiding feeling bad.

Scenarios 1 and 2 are the only mutually satisfying long-term relationship outcomes. Scenarios 3-7 are either “get out now” or “live a life of resignation” outcomes. This may seem black and white, but if someone won’t acknowledge their bad behavior, blames you for it or acknowledges it and refuses to do anything about it, you’re not in a mutual two-way relationship. You’re in an abusive, one-way relationship.

Staying in the relationship and engaging in the same pattern over and over again, telegraphs that the abuse is okay—even if you actively complain about it to your partner and specifically say “it’s not okay.” If you really weren’t okay with it, you’d communicate with your feet.

If you’re not ready to end the relationship just yet, you need to change the one person you can change: YOU. If you’ve told your partner how hurtful her/his behavior is and she/he refuses to acknowledge it and/or attacks you even more, you need to change how you react and respond to the hurtful and abusive behaviors.

A relationship is a “field.” Field theory was developed by Kurt Lewin, a Gestalt psychologist and founder of Social Psychology, in the 1940’s. “Field theory holds that behavior must be derived from a totality of coexisting facts. These coexisting facts make up a ‘dynamic field,’ which means that the state of any part of the field depends on every other part of it. Behavior depends on the present field rather than on the past or the future” (Wikipedia). In other words, a change in one part of the system creates a reaction or ripple effect throughout the entire the system, just like throwing a pebble into a pool of water.

Changing how you respond to your partner’s hurtful behaviors, will change how your partner responds to you. If you’re dating or married to an abusive personality, they’re unlikely to respond well to any changes you make. Abusive individuals make the rules and break the rules. Thus far it’s been your role to go along with her whims, tirades, and more subtle forms of abuse. Her hurtful and insensitive behaviors are designed to get a reaction from you. She wants to see pain flicker in your eyes. She wants to see you wince and become crestfallen. She wants you to sink down to her level and lash out in return so she can play the victim and portray you as the bad guy—never mind how much she provoked you.

Here are some possible primary and secondary gains for remaining in an abusive relationship:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of losing money and assets
  • Fear of losing access to children and parental rights
  • Fear of being viewed as the “bad guy”
  • Fear of “failure”
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Need for approval
  • Need to be liked or loved
  • Need for acceptance
  • Need for affiliation or feeling like you “belong”
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you’re unlovable
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you have to be perfect to be worthy of love
  • Reinforces your beliefs that you have to work hard to earn love
  • Reinforces your beliefs that the people who love you are supposed to hurt you

These needs, fears and beliefs are what make it possible for your abusive spouse or partner to hurt you and keep hurting you. They prey upon these fears, needs and beliefs even if they’re not consciously aware of it. Many abusers, narcissists, borderlines, sociopaths and bullies are intuitive predators. They intuitively know what buttons to push to get a reaction. In order to change your role and the rules of your relationship, you need to rewire your “buttons.”

Since your abusive spouse or partner is unlikely to change their behavior, real change is up to you. Here are some alternative ways to respond to her abusive behaviors:

  • Practice emotional detachment.
  • Develop a blank, benign facial expression when you’re under attack, baited, ignored or made to feel stupid, wrong or bad.
  • Work on maintaining a non-defensive body posture.
  • Learn to modulate your voice so that it doesn’t betray any anxiety, agitation, fear, hurt or anger.
  • Meet her attacks, put-downs, smirks, eye rolls, hysterics, etc., with unblinking calm and firmly state, “These tactics of yours don’t work anymore. Let me know when you’re ready to respectfully discuss these issues one at a time” and then end the “discussion.”
  • Plan ahead and designate a place you can go if she won’t let the matter drop like your office, den, workshop or a friend’s house.
  • If she follows you and continues to try to get a reaction out of you, look at her as if you’re watching a toddler throw a tantrum and tell her you’re taking a timeout.

When you change your role in the relationship dynamic, your partner will probably begin to escalate her hurtful behaviors. Another tenet of field theory is that all systems fight to maintain homeostasis or the status quo. An abusive partner will use every weapon in her arsenal to keep you under her control. When you refuse to give her the reaction she wants she’ll frantically try pushing all of your buttons at once—kind of like when the TV remote control isn’t working and you push the power button repeatedly so you don’t have to get off the couch.

If you can maintain your cool, she’ll eventually give up and walk away in frustration or pout. She may even become physically aggressive when she realizes her typical verbal aggression isn’t working. Adopting the above behaviors and changing your role in the relationship is for your well-being; not hers.

Behaviors and beliefs are strongly related. When you change the way you behave, your beliefs and attitudes will change, too. You’ll grow out of your old familiar role of target/frustrated spouse/scapegoat-for-everything-wrong-in-her-life-and-every-bad-feeling-she-has and become a person who stands up for and respects himself. This is a significant piece of identity development that may very well cause you to outgrow abusive, one-sided relationships altogether—and that’s a good thing.

When she sees that these are lasting changes and she can’t control you anymore, she’ll accuse you of having changed, engage in projection and tell you that you’re being abusive and controlling and/or may actually end the relationship herself. She may enlist friends, family members and professional therapists or pastors to force you back into your old role in an effort to maintain the status quo.

Alternatively, she may withdraw entirely and become the sullen martyr. Nevertheless, her power over you will be gone because she won’t be able to manipulate you and your emotions like a puppet on a string anymore. Are you ready to change your role, the rules and the balance of power in your relationship?

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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Photo credit:

Ripple effect by Tom Bunny on flickr.

Healthy Self-Love: The Foundation of Good Relationships

January 4, 2010 32 comments

You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. . .” Everyone knows this platitude. Self-help “gurus” and therapists regurgitate it as a mindless mantra ad nauseum.

I don’t know its exact origin, but whoever first uttered the phrase confused things terribly. Accepting and loving yourself is a precondition to being in a healthy, reciprocal relationship. However, the oft-recited advice has it backwards: Before you can LET YOURSELF BE LOVED by another, you must first accept and love yourself. If you’re not capable of receiving love, you will attract and be attracted to others who will give you anything but love.

There are men and women who have no trouble chasing after quarry; “loving” them without rhyme or reason, only to have their feelings rejected. These are usually the same people who run in the opposite direction when they’re offered real affection by another person. When they have a chance at a real relationship and love, they’re uninterested for a variety of reasons.

If you believe the cliché, “You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself,” then there should be no pursuit of a love interest until you learn to love yourself. If you’re attracted to others who can’t love you in return, you’ll begin a futile cycle of pursuit and distancing behaviors. Think of it as “mutually assured unhappiness.”

This pattern of behavior typically reinforces your inner and oftentimes unacknowledged feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. In other words, you seek intimacy and love from others who either can’t tolerate or aren’t capable of intimacy and love, which confirms your faulty beliefs about being undeserving or having to work for love.

The end result: When you’re lucky enough to meet someone who sees your positive qualities (that you can’t or won’t see in yourself) and who offers you affection and acceptance; you push her or him away. You devise many reasons and excuses why the other person isn’t “the one.” Typical excuses include:

  • The other person is nice, funny and smart, but there’s some missing ephemeral quality you can’t quite articulate. (Like a proclivity to be rejecting and/or abusive, perhaps?)
  • You’re just not feeling “it.”
  • You only date a specific “type.” (e.g., abusive).
  • He or she is “too nice.” (Isn’t that what we all claim to be looking for?)
  • He or she is “boring.” (This is usually because the thrill of having a corrective emotional experience with an abusive personality who reminds you of mom, dad or some other early formative relationship is missing and you don’t have to work for or prove yourself worthy of love).
  • There’s no “chemistry.” (Mind you, the only “chemistry” you’re likely to feel is with someone who isn’t interested in you, has their own intimacy issues and keeps you at arm’s length and/or an abusive personality).

Buying into the above excuses are how many men and women end up in relationships with narcissists, borderlines and other abusive personality types. These excuses enable you to reject people who are capable of love and who would accept you as you are.

“Loving” someone else is easy enough, especially since people who languish in this position tend to idealize those whom they “love”—at first. If you’re caught in this pattern, you may tend to have an unrealistic, highly selective vision of the other person—until one of their flaws are exposed and then your “love” disappears as soon as you realize the other person isn’t “perfect.” Alternatively, if you’re attracted to abusive personalities, you probably minimize, rationalize or ignore their hurtful and abusive behaviors and tell yourself you need to “work harder” to win their love.

How do you begin to love and accept yourself?

First, you must acknowledge and wrestle with your inner daemons. Explore your faulty relationship beliefs, for example, the belief that you’re unworthy or undeserving of love. Figure out where these beliefs come from, challenge them, lay them to rest and adopt healthier beliefs.

Second, you must accept that you’re not perfect, will never be perfect, but that doesn’t make you unlovable and unworthy. “Perfection,” if there is such a thing, has nothing to do with peace and wholeness. If you can’t tolerate your own imperfections, you won’t be able to tolerate them in another person. Others will always fall short and you will reject them. Alternatively, you will accept hurtful behavior from others because you’re not “perfect” and on some level believe you deserve to be treated badly

Third, you must develop the ability to hold and sit with the discomfort and strangeness of the new and unfamiliar, such as being with a kind, loving person who accepts you warts and all. Being with a woman or man who is capable of returning love and values you—including your imperfect parts—will initially feel really strange and uncomfortable. At first, you might feel the urge to flee or push away. You need to ride out any feelings of discomfort until feeling good in a relationship feels normal and feeling bad feels strange and uncomfortable. It will be a big change from your previous relationships. Remember, if change felt the same as what you’re accustomed to, it wouldn’t be change. (Repeat the last sentence to yourself a few times.)

Fourth, you need to be able to tell the difference between forgivable imperfections and abuse in all its forms: covert, overt, emotional, physical, psychological and financial. For example, leaving the toilet seat up, talking too much or difficulty expressing emotions are forgivable “imperfections.” Abuse is unforgivable—at least while it’s active and ongoing. Loving yourself also means creating boundaries and not accepting bad, hurtful, crazy and abusive treatment from others.

The fear of being loved is related to the fear of being “discovered;” of having your vulnerabilities and those aspects you don’t like about yourself exposed to another. This is fundamentally silly because we all have things we wish were different or better about ourselves. It’s the fear that he or she won’t love you if they find out how “horrible” you think you are. At heart, this is what causes narcissists, borderlines, bullies and other abusive personalities to lash out and try to control others and it’s what causes you to be the target of these emotional predators.

Having a healthy and happy relationship begins with you loving, accepting and forgiving yourself. Once you cultivate love and acceptance of yourself and let go of old, counterproductive relationship beliefs, you’ll be surprised how good being in a relationship can be.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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Photo credit:

Self-love by fernando’s_graphicos on flickr.

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