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How to Have a Healthy Relationship After Being With an Emotionally Abusive, Borderline or Narcissistic Woman

May 1, 2009 34 comments

Shawshank-Redemption-swimming-through-a-river-of-shit-and-coming-out-the-other-side-Tim-RobbinsThe following is a comment posted by a man who was married to an emotionally abusive woman with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). His advice on how to heal from and get over an emotionally abusive relationship in order to prepare yourself for a new, healthy relationship is so excellent, that I’m posting it as its own blog.

Dr. T,

I stumbled upon this site when I was doing research on how to initiate Mother’s Day events between my ex and my children when their mother is emotionally abusive and has not had a consistent relationship with her children in many (16) months. As I began to read the blog entries, I was struck by the fact that few men had posted. This is an excellent site for men , but only women seem to frequent it.

I am a 45-year old man who finalized an 18 month separation/divorce a year ago. I spent my whole relationship hoping my wife would “grow up” and had no understanding of BPD and its impact. What I got from the relationship was adoration, but not love and I mistakenly confused the two as the same thing for many years. I loved that she adored me, I loved being the savior, I loved having the answers, I loved giving my ex-wife the life that she never had as a child – but that was not a loving adult relationship. It was a parent-child relationship.

I would have continued in this cycle for who knows how long if she had not released me through her behavior during the separation. I give thanks to god that it happened and that I have the opportunity to grow and make changes in my life and emotional well being.

I believe the following:

1. Recognize that you were attracted to this person for a reason. Most likely that you were comfortable with the behavior you received from them. Reach deep into your childhood and recognize parental behaviors that might have felt similar.

2. Do not get into a relationship too quickly (I am talking years). When you have been emotionally battered for years, you need time to heal before you try to jump into another relationship. Also recognize that jumping too quickly might push you back into a relationship with your ex-wife. You may begin to compare the new relationships before you are emotionally ready. In-turn you may go back to what feels emotionally comfortable for you – BIG MISTAKE.

3. You must end your relationship with the ex-wife. As adult as you may think you are being by developing a “friendship”, this is not a normal adult relationship and you need to end the behavior patterns in order to move on. If children are involved, communicate by email with very direct, but not curt communications. Do not initiate or engage in any dramatic episodes even on email – Kind, Direct, Simple, the end.

4. Do not identify with being victimized. Be a big boy and realize that you made decisions and you knew the outcomes whether you admitted them to yourself or not.

5. Frequent a therapist. Try to understand why YOU made the choices that YOU did. It is not always easy, but definitely worth it. I remember one time my therapist told me to “stop going back into the museum”. What she meant was stop looking at the past. There is a time for this, but not too soon. What I told her was that the museum was a mess. Valuable artifacts had been broken, overturned and everything was in shambles. I needed to go back into the museum no matter how painful it was and clean it up. Once it is clean, lock the door and only visit it on the occasion when you determine a better spot for a memento.

It has been 2 1/2 years since I separated from my ex-wife. I have concentrated on my children and normalizing their lives and my own. Recently, people have begun to ask me if I am ready to date since they know someone they would like for me to meet. I feel I am now ready to take that next step and will let you all know how it is progressing.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I am ready to have an adult relationship and my future seems wide open and full of possibilities. However, I have to admit, there is a little piece of me that is afraid I will be attracted to the same type of person even though the greater part of me is determined not to do it again.

—Man with ex-wife with BPD

Hello,

Thank you for reading and leaving such a heartfelt and well considered comment. It’s all the more impactful when given by someone who’s had your firsthand experiences. Thanks again for posting it here.

Actually, most of the comments on my site are from men. The female presence is a recent thing, which I welcome as long as it doesn’t discourage men from participating. I think they found their way to my site via the post, Why Men are attracted to crazy, Emotionally Abusive Women, in an effort to understand their broken relationships with men who were emotionally abused by their exes and still tethered to them psychologically. Women who become involved with emotionally abused men are usually affected by the residual of the abuse, so I understand why they find my site useful. In some ways, it’s like dating a combat veteran with PTSD.

Men who’ve been involved with an emotionally abusive woman (or women) desperately want a healthy relationship. Yet, they’re not going to get there unless they do exactly what you describe in your comment above. Even men who wait before jumping into a new relationship  can muck it up with a healthy women if they maintain a ‘friendship’ with the ex, don’t do the work to heal from the abuse and/or don’t connect the dots regarding their attraction to abusive women and past relationship choices. I’ve always found the maintaining a friendship thing puzzling. Would you invite the man who waterboarded you and beat you in prison over for Sunday barbecue after you’ve been released? “Maintaining a friendship” is code for “not ready to let go.”

I’m very happy that you managed to end your relationship and put yourself back together. You’re living proof for other men in similar straits that they can also break the cycle of abuse. I think you’re going to be ok and will find a healthy, loving and reciprocal relationship. You’re an expert on women like your ex now. Pay attention to the warning signs when you meet a new woman. Here’s what I recommend:

How to Avoid Getting Involved with Another Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Woman

1) Do a little gentle digging (i.e., no police interrogation tactics) about her past relationships and why they didn’t work out. Does she blame all of her exes and make them out to be bastards? If so, steer clear. You want to hear a potential love interest take some responsibility for the demise of her past relationships. “I was young and immature. I didn’t know what I wanted. I realize now that I…

Taking responsibility for her choices and holding herself accountable is a good indication that you’re probably dealing with a grown-up. However, don’t confuse self-blame and responsibility. If she trashes herself, puts herself down and blames herself for her failed relationships, get out while the getting’s good.

2) Beware of an inexplicable, instant, powerful and overwhelming attraction to a woman or feel like you already know her because of an instant connection. Odds are you do already know her. She’s probably just another embodiment of the old issues. Yes, instant chemistry exists and this new woman might be as wonderful as she appears to be, but go slowly.

The wonderful, but illusory façade of emotionally abusive women usually cracks fairly soon into the relationship, but gradually, which is why so many men minimize, overlook, deny and/or excuse the abusive behaviors. She seems amazing and then there’s an attack out of nowhere. She goes back to normal for a few weeks and then there’s another incident and another and another and another. In most cases, the period of time between abusive episodes becomes shorter and shorter. Don’t wait that long to get out.

For example, the two of you meet and she’s great. Two weeks go by and she has her first rage episode in which she accuses you of being insensitive or selfish or something equally unfounded. You’re bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened?” This is when you should go on high alert and pay very close attention to what she does next:

a) Does she pretend like it didn’t happen? Does she minimize or deny that it happened? This is called gaslighting and it’s abusive. Get out now.

b) Does she apologize prettily, cry and say she was having a bad day at work and her boss was being mean to her and then when you didn’t call her at the exact minute she was expecting you to call and she just couldn’t take it anymore and snapped? Don’t fall for it. This isn’t really an apology. She’s not taking responsibility for her bad behavior. Rather, she’s blaming her boss and you. Everyone has a bad day from time to time and maybe you want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Ok, but when it happens a second and a third time, she’s not just having a bad day, this is who she is.

c) Does she blatantly blame you for her bad behavior without even feigning an empty apology? There’s no gray area here. She’s an abusive personality and you need to walk away.

d) Does she cry and beg you not to leave her, flushed in high drama, saying things like “I don’t know what I’ll do if you leave me. No one has ever made me feel this way. I don’t want to go on without you. Please don’t leave me!? Get a restraining order, change your phone number and get a new email account. This is probably full throttle BPD.

3) Beware of grand gestures or extreme selfishness. If she gives you an extravagant gift or orchestrates some incredible fantasy date within a few weeks of knowing her, be alarmed. If she expects you to take care of everything, make all the plans, entertain her, pay for everything and doesn’t reciprocate, be alarmed. The former shows inappropriate boundaries and she’s probably working from the angle of “now he’ll owe me” and the latter indicates you will always do for her and get nothing in return except complaints and criticism. Nothing will ever be good enough for this kind of woman.

4) Getting too close, too fast—BOUNDARIES. Another warning signal is if she tries to insinuate herself into your other relationships and personal space too quickly. For example, you’ve been dating for two weeks, she finds out it’s you dad’s birthday that weekend and buys him a gift. Or she has roommate troubles and could she stay at your place temporarily after only knowing you a month. Or she wants to introduce you to her family in record time. This is evidence that she has poor or zero boundaries and it only goes downhill from here.

When you meet a kind, loving and healthy woman, it’ll probably feel a little strange to you at first. That’s normal. Ride it out. Remind yourself this is what you want and let yourself enjoy it. Consciously make the decision to be open to it and you’ll get there. Relationships really can be that mutually rewarding and satisfying.

You’ve already undertaken the two most difficult steps: You extracted yourself physically and psychologically from the cycle of abuse. You seem to have an incredible amount of awareness and maturity from your experience. I have every faith that if you take your time, exercise good judgment and open yourself up to being treated well, you’ll do just fine.

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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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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Still from Shawshank Redemption on 100ker.

Can a Man Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse After Being With a Crazy, Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend?

April 20, 2009 26 comments

some birds aren't meant to be cagedI’m a man with a history of toxic and abusive relationships [with Borderline and Narcissistic women] who managed to accidentally break the cycle of emotional abuse by dating some one who doesn’t fit that mold.

In my case, I had just got out of a toxic relationship and met a great girl who was the complete opposite of anything I’ve ever had… emotionally open and supportive, patient, understanding, etc., etc. We dated for 6 months and I still couldn’t completely commit. Even though I felt like I wanted to, I just never got there, so she left. And by commit, I mean that I couldn’t even call her my girlfriend or even consistently treat her like my girlfriend.

Is it really possible to break the cycle of abuse—especially after you have an opportunity to be in a healthy relationship and recognize it as such, but still can’t act on it?

-Anonymous

Breaking the cycle of emotional abuse doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take awhile for you to truly believe that you deserve to be treated with kindness, warmth and respect. You didn’t develop your penchant for toxic relationships overnight and it’s going to take awhile for feeling good in a relationship to feel normal.

You say that you just ended an emotionally abusive relationship and “accidentally” met a kind and loving woman. Being able to recognize the difference between your emotionally abusive ex and the non-abusive woman is a good first step. Perhaps, on some level, you’re ready to begin the process of breaking the cycle of emotionally abusive relationships and that’s why you were able to recognize this woman as “open, supportive, patient and understanding.” Odds are, you’ve met women like her before, but weren’t able to see the difference in the past because you weren’t ready.

Recognition is growth. Now you have some insight regarding healthy vs. emotionally abusive relationships, however, to paraphrase Irvin Yalom, M.D., insight alone isn’t enough to effect change. Insight only gets you into the vestibule of change. In order to “get through the door,” you have to combine your new found insight with action. This means consciously making different relationship choices and tolerating any initial feelings of discomfort or anxiety.

Now that you know the difference, you can begin to actively pursue what you want in a relationship and avoid what you don’t want. Keep in mind, being in a healthy and loving relationship is going to feel really weird initially, even when you know what’s going on intellectually. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool. At first, it’s a shock to the system, but then you adjust and the water feels cool and refreshing. There’s no magic solution for this. You have to ride out the weirdness, get over whatever resistances or fears you have about being loved and accepted for who you are, and take the plunge.

You may not be able to sort through this on your own. A man who’s been involved with an emotionally abusive, Borderline or Narcissistic woman or string of women can benefit from individual or group counseling that helps him:

  1. Mourn the loss of his abusive relationship, old relationship patterns, beliefs and old ways of being.
  2. Understand what secondary gain (an unconscious or hidden reason for staying in a painful situation or engaging in self-destructive behaviors) he derives from abusive relationships.
  3. Understand why he’s attracted to these women. For example, determine if he has a pattern of being attracted to these women because he’s recreating an abusive childhood relationship with a parent.
  4. Work through these issues in order to make healthy relationship choices in the future.

Whenever we resist doing something we know we need to do, something that’s good for us, it usually means there are some very painful emotions, self-doubts, fears, and self-limiting beliefs connected to it. That’s probably why you couldn’t “completely commit.” Also, from what you wrote, you appear to have just ended your previous toxic relationship.

Have you sorted out the reasons you were in abusive relationships? Do you know what patterns you’re repeating or early childhood relationships you’re recreating? You need to get a handle on these questions before you’re ready to fully commit to any new relationship.

Sometimes, men who have been treated badly, treat non-abusive women the way they were treated by their abusive exes. I wonder if you did that with the nice woman? When you’ve been in sick relationships for awhile, you get a warped perspective on relationships. This is something I encourage you to be cognizant of as well. The abused sometimes turn into abusers when treated with kindness.

You can get through this, break the cycle and have better relationships if you can get honest with yourself and face whatever emotional ghosts you’ve been avoiding. Part of this usually involves mourning the loss of your old relationships and old ways of being. Try to be patient with yourself. You’re just getting started. You’ll get there, but you need to sort through your issues before you’re ready to commit to another emotionally healthy woman.

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products 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.

Related content:

Photo credit:

Some Birds Aren’t Meant to Be Caged by calvina on flickr.

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