Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, relationships > Why Men Are Attracted to Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Women

Why Men Are Attracted to Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Women

louise-bourgeois-maman1Are you a crazy chick magnet? Have you had one turbulent relationship after another with women? Do you attract volatile, demanding, needy, emotionally unbalanced women? Have you ever wondered, “Why?”

Adult relationships are choices and you choose to become involved with these women. Even if your relationship makes you miserable, you’re getting something out of it. You attract these women because you’re telegraphing the signal, “Hey you, I’m into crazy ladies. Come torture me,” whether you’re aware of it or not.

There are a few possible reasons why you repeatedly get involved with crazy women in all their forms. If “crazy” gets you hot, it’s in your best interest to figure out why and break the pattern.

When you feel an overpowering, immediate chemistry toward a new woman, like you’ve always known her, without rhyme or reason, be wary. You probably already do know her. She’s most likely a new embodiment of unresolved relationship issues from childhood and adolescence—same issues, different packaging.

1) Yo’ Momma.

  • Was your mom hypercritical and intrusive? Was your dad passive and henpecked?
  • Was your dad around or did your mom drive him away?
  • Did your mom, dad or siblings make you feel inadequate? Did they pick on you?
  • Were you made to feel that nothing you did was ever good enough?
  • Did you feel like you had to defend yourself from the people who loved you?

We create relationship templates when we’re kids based on our parents’ relationship and the way our parents, siblings, grandparents, or anyone we sought affection and approval from treated us. If we’re lucky, we have healthy relationship role models to emulate as adults.

If you’re not one of the lucky ones, you’re probably re-enacting childhood relationships in an effort to negate your original feelings of hurt and loss by trying to have an emotionally corrective experience. “If only I can get this person to love me the way I want to be loved then it will mean I’m good enough and everything is okay.” This is usually totally unconscious.

You’re trying to “get it right” as an adult, but with the wrong person. The women you’re attracted to aren’t anymore capable of giving you what you need and want than your parent(s), sibling(s), or whomever caused your original emotional injury. You end up repeating the same doomed relationship pattern with the same type of person. This pattern will keep repeating itself until you become aware of it and begin to make different relationship choices.

2) Knight in shining armor.

  • Did one or both of your parents have substance abuse or addiction problems?
  • Did your caregiver(s) suffer from depression, anxiety or extreme mood swings?
  • Did you feel like you had to protect your mom or dad from being hurt or upset?
  • Did you act as a referee or peacemaker because your parents had constant conflict?
  • Did your mom and/or dad make you their confidante when they divorced or during their marriage?
  • Did you feel like you had to protect your family from each other and outsiders?

If so, you were probably a parentified child—having to take care of the grown-ups who were supposed to be taking care of you. Parentified sons often grow up to have adult relationships with women who need to be “rescued,” when in reality, it’s the men who need to be rescued from these women who appear to be fragile waifs, but quickly turn into abusive aggressors when you disappoint them or fail to meet her expectations, which are often unrealistic.

Emotionally abusive women often present themselves as “helpless victims,” which makes the men who are attracted to them feel needed, strong, and powerful—at first. These women are usually bottomless pits of never-ending, un-meetable needs. They’ll make you suffer for not meeting their unrealistic expectations or for hurting one of their many ultra-sensitive feelings, which may or may not have a basis in reality.

This type of woman doesn’t need rescuing; she needs a mood stabilizer and a warning label. You can’t save another person. You have to start taking care of yourself and that means protecting yourself from professional victims who prey upon kind hearted rescuer types.

3) The first cut is the deepest.

  • Was your family healthy, loving and supportive for the most part?
  • Are you attracted to women who take you on an emotional roller coaster ride and aren’t able to reciprocate your affection?
  • Was your first girlfriend or crush exciting? Did you experience extreme highs and lows with her?
  • Does your family worry about your relationship choices?

Some men recreate their first painful romantic relationship from adolescence over and over again, even though they had healthy relationship models as children. You may be so scarred by your first love that you fall for the same type of woman as an adult, trying to  finally “win” her love.

Having your first love crush you is a shock to the system. It didn’t compute and you have probably spent a lot of time and energy trying to make the same relationship work with different women. My advice: Give it up and follow the path of least resistance.

Additionally, because this was your first relationship experience, you may mistakenly believe that it’s what relationships are supposed to be like and have patterned subsequent relationships on it. Perhaps you believe that romantic relationships are supposed to hurt and make you suffer and, therefore, are attracted to women who guarantee that outcome.

In all three cases, men choose the same kind of women repeatedly with the same results—painful and futile relationships. You’re compelled to make these women love you and treat you well, with the childish insistence that it turn out differently this time. Why?

  • It feels familiar.
  • It reconfirms what you believe/feel about yourself and relationships. This includes feelings of not being good enough, being unlovable, that there’s something wrong with you, that love is supposed to hurt or make you feel bad, or that you have to “win” love through meeting unreasonable conditions.
  • To finally gain the approval/acceptance you didn’t receive as a child.
  • To try to “save” the parent you couldn’t help way back when.
  • To win over your first love.

Explore what needs you’re trying to fulfill and what the old, no longer applicable rules of relationships to which you’re still abiding. Understand that these women are highly unlikely to ever meet these needs, which are typically for approval, acceptance, and unconditional love. Acknowledge how you were hurt in the past AND THEN MAKE DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP CHOICES.

This won’t be easy. Initially, being loved and accepted for who you are will feel unnatural and uncomfortable. Ride out the discomfort until feeling good in a relationship feels normal. You couldn’t choose your first familial love relationships as a child, but you can choose the kind of woman you want to be with now that you’re an adult.

Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to shrink4men@gmail.com.

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.


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Photo credit:

Maman by Louise Bourgeois on The Guardian.

  1. Jim
    October 27, 2010 at 7:31 am

    WOW!! Very educational indeed. Thank you all for sharing everything. My last relationship indeed climaxed for me as an emotional stroke, total emotional devastation, for 2 years I was in pain on a daily basis. Then the economy took a dump, being a 30 year veteran of drywall, everything is gone and quite frankly, I didn’t attain much during that time. I was responsible emotionally to my daughter, and irresponsible in almost all other areas. The ex wife had her grips and ways. The ex girlfriend left because I maintained a relationship with the ex that I really never wanted in the first place. She got pregnant and I married. The day of our court wedding, my mom asked me if I loved her. I said, “No, maybe I’ll grow to love her over time. Never happened. So the xgf always threw the exw in my face. I couldn’t win for loosing. Now the egf is gone and the exw when I get enough money to move out, yes I am living under the same roof, otherwise I would be on the streets. Was there as a kid, so that just gives you a clue as to my childhood. Very irresponsible mother and an alcoholic, never a father. Here’s the deal, now that you have some history. Since my break up, w/ the egf. I went through my entire life over and over again. I’ve had a lot of pain seeing what had been done to me, nothing sexual, but everything else. and I’ve had a lot of pain seeing how I’ve handled my relationships since. Now, I’ve met what I think is a great gal. Just friends, though I wrote her a letter telling her of my feelings for her and that I haven’t felt this way since before my child was born. Then I emailed it to her. She replied we’d talk in person. I figured as much, knowing her somewhat. Her reply was, “I’m damaged. I’ve had cancer and it could come back and I don’t want to put that on anyone.” (At which point, I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I did what I wanted and felt, I circled behind, hugged her and kissed her cheek. Letting her know it is ok. She went on to say, “I’m scared. I haven’t ever met someone that likes to play golf like I do, I don’t want to do anything.” Anyway, I wasn’t angry, as she said she expected me to be. we are still friends, though I want intimacy on all levels with her. She is 60 and I, 53. Through our talks we are, it is best said this way, she takes words out of my mouth, so to speak. In my letter I told her I love her and I do very much. Here’s the thing, we are both damaged and I think we’ve both done our share of damage in our lives. I don’t want to walk away from this one, I don’t want to entertain the option of leaving. Though, she has a history of leaving. This is where, as you can already tell, my greatest fear is, abandonment, neglect and rejection of the one I love. What I need is some good wisdom, knowledge on how to handle myself and her. More info to help understand, my last relationship was 5+ years with a gal that had the, Suspicious mind, always accusing me of things I didn’t and wouldn’t do to her. She ultimately left me for another, after all that accusing, she really put a hurt’n on me. I have that baggage to deal with too. I don’t mind dealing with any and all baggage so long as there is an end somewhere soon. I want to live and be happy in a healthy loving relationship for the rest of my life. Thank you for reading and your input greatly appreciated, Jim

  2. blighty
    October 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I’m so pleased i dropped on this. I’m a 42 year old male who had a very brief marriage about 10 years ago. My ex-wife was very controlling, jealous, the list goes on. I got suckered into the excuses of her having bad experiences and i felt compassion and understanding. After our child was born she wanted me out.

    Spent years in the court process, no one ever challenging her lies. She died a few years ago and i now have full custody of our son. The damage she caused is slowly being rectified, but for a while i had no regard for women, assumed they were all liars and kept myself at a distance from them.

    6 months ago, a woman i knew became available after her boyfriend left her. I decided to start dating again and we had an intense period of friendship before deciding to start a relationship. That’s when things started to go awry and i realised i had again fallen for her (true) history of tragic upbringing. She kept me at a greater distance dating than when we were friends. In the end i called for a break.

    I subsequently bumped into a dear old lady and by freaky coincidence she started talking about a relative of this woman i had tried dating. She told me to steer clear, the womans mother was an alcoholic and always dressed in black, like the woman i was seeing. She said that this woman would drag me down to depression; she nearly did. She advised me not to date out of loneliness and to ‘let go’ of this woman.

    There’s obviosly a lot more to the above, but i’ve tried to keep it brief. I don’t know why i am drawn to or get these women with emotional problems. I was ok until i married my late ex-wife, the toxic experience is something i want to avoid. I have had a lucky escape, this woman did leave me slightly depressed, but i have got out of it. I feel sorry for her, but i know i have a right tobe treated with respect.

    I will leave it a bit before trying to date again, i would not want to ruin a potentially good relationship by carrying the mistrust of my judgement into it. I would say of the last 4 relationships i was in, only one was with a relatively balanced woman. We split up on amicable terms and are still friends. We just wanted different things in life, so i know there are good women out there.

  3. Kiwihelen
    July 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Dr T this is a great list, and I wanted to comment in regards to what I consider to be a potentially successful (still early days) partnership between two people who are survivors of BPD/NPD relationships

    1) Does he still defend his abusive ex(es)?
    No, and he is doing a fantastic job of disengaging other than where they must discuss the children.

    2) Is he still in contact with her? ***For those men who have children with these women, unfortunately, they have to communicate with them. You need to ascertain if it’s proportional contact. For example, is it kept to a bare minimum with appropriate boundaries to share parenting responsibilities or does she have him on speed dial to yank his chain around the clock?
    Still early days, but already he has made it clear that he will not be buying a car to make her life easier (he has negotiated 50:50 care through the courts) in a town where there is excellent public transport.

    3) Does he engage in extreme approach and distancing behaviors? Does he place you on a pedestal only to knock you down shortly thereafter? You’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and then you’re Cruella de Ville because you didn’t magically intuit one of his needs.
    Not at all, and we had a bit of a recent disagreement around my not being careful to ask about his emotional state rather than stating what I thought it was – but we sorted it very quickly through clear communication.

    4) Is he as mindful of your needs as you are of his? Men like my ex are, emotionally and physically, like greedy infants. This is understandable. They have been deprived of love, approval and affection for so long that they’re starved for it. However, at some point, he should begin to feel secure that you’re not going to shut him out or abuse him, relax and reciprocate.
    We are managing this very well, which is challenging because we are doing this long distance at the moment – with timezones involved. We are both considerate about the timing of calls and can clearly label something as a “hot topic” if it is causing too much emotional stress at a particular moment – but equally we then agree to discuss the “hot topic” via chat or in letters.

    I would have been very heistant to get involved if a) we had not come from the same faith community, so I understand his point of reference, and b)if he hadn’t already had some personal therapy which helped him realise how unhealthy his marriage was, and take steps to end it.

    Next challenge (and this will be some time away) will be introducing me to his daughters (10 and 13) as significant in his life…neither of us are certain of the timing of this as we both know that my work and study and his need to be near his children is likely to keep our relationship to a distance for some time to come.

  4. July 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Dan :Wow.
    Since my first crush I’ve been one of those guys who was attracted to the unattainable. If someone loved me, then they must not be all that great. And if they didn’t need saving then I felt like something was missing or that eventually the woman would find out that I wasn’t good enough for her.
    How can I support my kids without making them feel like I’m judging their mom? How can I give them solid guidance when my guidance goes against what their mom says?
    She is a very powerful presence and she has no problem lying and manipulating to come out of any situation smelling like a rose. How can I keep my kids healthy?

    Dan: I totally relate. I realized after 6 years into my second marriage, that I was always attracted to men with monumental flaws, because I just knew that I wasn’t good enough for a decent man who treated me well. I didn’t deserve it. I, too, have a bit of a ‘hero complex…’ hence, the tendency to want to ‘save’ the troubled souls of the world (ask me why I come to this site…).

    The only thing I can suggest is just to do the best you can with the kids when they are with you…be the normal in their life, to compare with the crazy of the life she offers.

    Your children are of the age when their Bull**** monitors are at their strongest. They may ‘know’ that she’s lying, manipulative and ‘a little nutty’ – but don’t dare think it much less say it out loud. It took me until my 20s to realize that that while my mothers says all manner of nasty, abusive, wicked things about my father, he has not once said anything like that about her. The other kids feel sorry for her, and so I’m the jerk for standing up to her and not putting up with her abuse. You might consider family therapy – or ‘lights out’ discussions…they may feel safer opening up about how they feel about the situation when you are all in a room with the lights off (don’t know why that works). That’s my 2 cents….best of luck to you.

    • Dan
      July 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Thanks TGI.

      Nothing is easy these days. And if you’re on my ex-wife’s “naughty” list (which, of course, I am), watch out. She’ll take you down – no holds barred. Scorched earth and all.

      And I’m tired.

  5. Dan
    July 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    PS – My kids spend half the time at my house and half the time at their mom’s.

  6. Dan
    July 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm


    I’ve been trying to find some information on NPD since a therapist friend of mine suggested that my ex-wife may suffer from the disorder.

    Since my first crush I’ve been one of those guys who was attracted to the unattainable. If someone loved me, then they must not be all that great. And if they didn’t need saving then I felt like something was missing or that eventually the woman would find out that I wasn’t good enough for her.

    When I met my ex-wife she had a beautiful 10-month old little girl. My ex-wife was aloof and a self-proclaimed bitch. But I fell in love with my soon-to-be daughter and grew what I thought was a deep abiding love for my wife. I of course believed I could see through the bitch and into the heart of the real woman that she was.

    After 12 years of “re-programming” I could never do enough for my wife. I couldn’t clean enough, I couldn’t work hard enough, couldn’t make enough money, have enough status, couldn’t satisfy her. When finally I said to her,
    “I’m doing all I can do, I can’t do any more”, everything started to go downhill.

    It’s a long long story and after 4 years of separation, I’m just now starting to see my patterns and am for the first time able to consider that I was in an abusive relationship.

    What I need to know is how to help my kids. When my 37 year-old wife left me for a 19 year-old, I was devastated. She told me I was no good. I was a failure. And that her new man was everything I wasn’t. She told me the only reason I had a relationship with my kids was because of her. She told me my kids did not want to be with me. I spun desperately. I believed every word she said. Now, I’m slowly starting to realize my 15 and 19 year-old kids love me for me – not for and perhaps despite anything my ex-wife has done or said to them. But I don’t know how do protect my kids from their mom’s Narcissistic tendencies.

    My 19 year old daughter adores her mom and seems to follow her into each new fad she becomes obsessed with (from boxing to Ultimate fighting, vegetarianism, tattoos, drinking…). My 15 year old son just seems to get left out and does everything he can to be close to his mom.

    How can I support my kids without making them feel like I’m judging their mom? How can I give them solid guidance when my guidance goes against what their mom says?

    She is a very powerful presence and she has no problem lying and manipulating to come out of any situation smelling like a rose. How can I keep my kids healthy?

  7. Mellaril
    March 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    One of the really scary aspects of reading the articles on this site is the slowly emerging idea that I wasn’t so much of a “victim” as I was an “accessory.” When I look at the relationship with my ex-gf, I didn’t so much get suckered into them as I engineered them. The difference between my ex-gf and some of my previous relationships was in her case, I tangled with someone whose problems went deeper than my own.

    • Bischoff
      July 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      “I didn’t so much get suckered into them as I engineered them… I tangled with someone whose problems went deeper than my own.”

      Wooooooo! Sounds *very* familiar; nail on head!

      BTW, THANK YOU for this resource, doctor. It’s helped me IMMEASURABLY!

  8. Danielle
    January 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Tim,

    I just read your post and it made me think of something I read online a while ago: http://www.enotalone.com/article/4871.html

    This article shows the biological/neurological reason for why it is sometimes SO hard to let go. It also touches on some of the steps we need to go through to disconnect. (I hesitated to post this link, but I think that it is really helpful/comforting, so I went for it.)

    Dr T: I will understand if you want to take it down, because the author is selling something. It just seemed to me as though his information was appropriate for this discussion.


  9. Tim
    January 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    This is a well written article!
    It made a few things a little clearer to me. Like why do I want to keep trying and trying to make a relationship work even though I’ve know since ages, that she ain’t the one for me and that the relationship is just plain unhealthy? Why can’t I find the strength to break-up and leave when I know it would be for the best? Why do I keep sacrificing myself for a cause which is lost from Day 1?

    The feeling of not being able to succeed in a relationship and to try my very best to attain the much needed love and acceptance which I dearly missed as a child was eating me up over the course of many failed relationships.

    It certainly is a vicious circle of trying to mend what broke a long time ago. It is such approach which makes us suffer and not “move on” within ourselves.

    Thank you for this article! I now realize what I must do.. love myself and let go of the past without trying to fix anything which can not be undone..

    Best wishes,

  10. Mark
    August 9, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I was hoping that somebody out there knew of any additional recources for men as described above. Books, other web sites etc. I have always been attracted to “crazy” women due to a combination of finding the turmoil exciting and the abuse appropriate. Not sure if this is related but my entire life I have gotten the “nice” guy label and have no problem making female friends, but become intimate only with psychotic women (who often initiate the intimacy). Unfortunately, I do not date frequently due to intense hours training in a hospital. I am 24 now, but will be in school till I am ~30 due to residency. This is is a tough habit to break and I want to start before my next relationship, not during. All thoughts and suggestions are appreciated. Thanks

    • shrink4men
      August 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Mark,

      I encourage you to do some work, with a professional or independently, to figure out the source of your attraction to “psycho’s” and what needs your trying to meet by being with them. For example, an emotionally corrective experience of “winning impossible love” in order to feel good enough. Or trying to “rescue” her because you couldn’t “rescue” a parent.” Or feeling stable and grounded by comparison. Or perhaps not being attracted to healthy women due to a fear of real intimacy.

      You’re clearly capable of making yourself emotionally available to a woman and a relationship, but to the wrong kind of woman and wrong kind of relationship. You’re opening yourself up to women who aren’t capable of reciprocating, which ensures there’s no chance of emotional intimacy. As a future MD, you’re ripe pickings for a predatory kind of woman. I strongly encourage you to deal with this now, before you end up married to one of these women—stressed, miserable and on the hook for a boatload of spousal support.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  11. yo
    July 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Not sure I buy all this as ‘science’, it sounds more like socially acceptable stories with a scientific veneer of acceptability and authority.

    I was wondering if you could give me an explanation for my behavior patterns. I am a 40 year old male, divorced and have only ever had one relationship with a woman. I find it difficult to connect with women even if I feel physically attracted to a woman and sense some mutual attraction, I assume, I might be wrong, I may find her tedious or boring, or she might find me tedious and a bore, so I let the opportunity pass. I find small talk extremely boring in almost all situations, and I often drift away, do not listen or do so without commitment. I often think very highly of myself but know self consciously that conceit and arrogance are bad character traits and I only pity dumb people who play along and accept the reality matrix woven for them by the ruling elites, the, fractional reserve banking, corporations and the mass media. I believe I know how the world is governed by a small elite who benefit themselves at the cost of others through manipulation. I believe much of science is restricted by power interests not wanting to be displaced by new radical technologies or methods and there are powerful groups of scientists and thinkers who create myths because they serve the ruling classes and their own bank balances.

    I would like to earn more money in my job, but deep down believe earning less keeps me smart, as if I was rewarded too much I might enjoy life too much, grow fat, old and soft, and be very bored? Have you seen the movie Fight Club the rich consumer with no life!

    so what is your diagnosis and why is it science? Are you not projecting when you diagnose?

  12. Danielle
    April 29, 2009 at 4:12 am

    You are welcome and thank you again! I am going to print off these questions and keep them handy (although I highly doubt I will ever date anyone with an icky old ex still hanging around ever again.

    If I were to answer them for my ex, these would be the answers:

    1. Yes he does defend her (although he complains about her nonstop).

    2. Yes and yes, she has him on speed dial and he claims that he only keeps her in his life because of their dog. (If only he realized that he is the one on the leash!)

    3. Yes on the extreme approach and distancing. One week he tells me that he wants to marry me and take me on a trip to Hawaii and then the next week he tells me that I’m expecting too much because I’d like to make plans to hang out on New Years Eve (my favorite holiday). BTW: We did end up spending NYE together and that is when I met his washed-up ex-hag… err… I mean ex-wife. ;-)

    4. No. He definitely wasn’t nearly as mindful of my needs as I was of his and no amount of being open or loving toward him ever changed that.

    If only I’d discovered your Web site and answered these questions several months ago! Oh well… I will never, ever, EVER allow myself to go through anything like this again. And if I find myself floundering, I will keep your questions handy. I promise.


  13. Danielle
    April 28, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Dear Dr T,

    When I first read your most recent post, I felt the sting of knowing that your insight and advice was spot-on. It took me a bit to accept it, because, I kept thinking and hoping that somehow my situation was different. Yes, I do have a pattern of going for emotionally unavailable men and emotionally unavailable men have a pattern of going for me. I know where this comes from (emotionally abusive, narcissistic father) and it has taken a lot for me to admit that my most recent ex falls into this category–just like the rest of the men that I have dated.

    He didn’t seem unavailable when I met him. In fact, he seemed like the most available man I had ever met. He was dashing and persistent and oh-so-understanding. I thought that I had finally met “the one” (whatever that means).

    When things started going awry, he gave me many excuses and reasons that never felt right, but that I accepted out of denial and fear. I couldn’t admit that he was just another unavailable man in a long line of unavailable men. I wanted him to be special and he felt special, because our attraction was remarkably strong on many levels (stronger than anything I had ever experienced). I felt that we would eventually get past the issues and move forward together. (Oh yes, another classic situation where everything would be fantastic “if only…”)

    Of course things never got better. Last night I told him goodbye for good.This was only after I also came to terms with the fact that, just like his ex-wife, he is selfish, deceptive and emotionally abusive. The emotional abuse wasn’t immediately obvious, because it took the form of “gaslighting.” (Also, after reading my original post, you said that it sounded like she has BPD and that he is majorly codependent.)

    Instead of saying goodbye by exchanging pleasantries or disappearing into the ethers, I articulated exactly what I thought of him, his ex and the way that he treated me. I left him no way to reenter my life and when he responded to my email with a one-word, condescending response, I sent it to the trash. I’d already said goodbye and I meant it. As my friend Sharon used to say, “I was d-u-n done!” ;-)

    I know that the things that I said to him are going to sting, but he needed to hear it. I don’t think that he is proud of who he has become in recent years and he shouldn’t be. He didn’t treat me well–even though he played the sensitive guy act very well. He was always so apologetic about this or so sorry about that, but he never modified his hurtful behavior.

    It took a while, but my love for him eventually transformed into anger and disgust. Eventually I could barely even remember what I liked about him in the first place. It sounds odd, but being openly angry and disgusted was a major breakthrough. I’d made too many excuses for him for too long (just like my mother for my father).

    I will never regret my relationship with him, because I was able to work through a lot of childhood issues and release a lot of unhealthy beliefs along the way. Although it might be a bit of a challenge, I am now willing to ride out the “weirdness” of dating an available man. I know what that weirdness is, because I have run from it several times in my life (thereby missing out on good relationships with healthy men). I am positive that I would never have run from these men if I’d been raised by parents with a healthy relationship.

    It’s a good thing that I don’t have to repeat their pattern (again) now isn’t it? I am moving onward and upward in my own development. There is no looking back…

    Thanks again,

    • shrink4men
      April 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

      Hi Danielle,

      Not all men who have been in emotionally abusive relationships are like your ex. Many of them can and do get over the past. They don’t miss the drama and conflict. They’re sick of it. They want someone who is kind, gentle, loving and exciting in the non-psychotic way. If you read through the comments on my site, you can get a good idea of which men are ready for change and the ones who can’t let go and are stuck.

      Here are some questions men and women can ask to determine if they’re ready for a healthy relationship or if they’re stuck:

      1) Does he still defend his abusive ex(es)?

      2) Is he still in contact with her? ***For those men who have children with these women, unfortunately, they have to communicate with them. You need to ascertain if it’s proportional contact. For example, is it kept to a bare minimum with appropriate boundaries to share parenting responsibilities or does she have him on speed dial to yank his chain around the clock?

      3) Does he engage in extreme approach and distancing behaviors? Does he place you on a pedestal only to knock you down shortly thereafter? You’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and then you’re Cruella de Ville because you didn’t magically intuit one of his needs.

      4) Is he as mindful of your needs as you are of his? Men like my ex are, emotionally and physically, like greedy infants. This is understandable. They have been deprived of love, approval and affection for so long that they’re starved for it. However, at some point, he should begin to feel secure that you’re not going to shut him out or abuse him, relax and reciprocate.

      It’s painful and hard to break this pattern, but if you can do it relationships and life get a whole lot better.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Ron
        October 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm

        Here is something I discovered while going on a few dates with some women who were in past abusive relationships. You CAN NOT fix them. Some will make YOU pay for every transgressions that there ex made. If he was a cheater her jealousy issues will be HUGE! If he was verbally abusive she will often become so as well. I think it may be a defensive reactions. Kind of a I’ll get you before you can get me type thing.

        Being new to the dating scene it took me a while to learn this. Then I started to look for the warning signs on the first date or two. Anybody who would spend the whole date talking about how much of a serial cheater he was etc.

        I hate that I may have broken a couple of hearts but why should I have to pay for everything their ex did to them? I even made the statement to one that “I am not him & I WILL NOT pay the price for HIS transgressions. Of course I was told I was the jerk for not being more patient.

        I even fell for it once. I asked for her to get into therapy & I would stick around until she completed it. I hate to admit it but the only reason I even said that was I KNEW she would never go into therapy.

        How did I know? She was a professional victim. After 2 months & not even an appointment made (which I offered to pay for) I broke it off. She played the victim AGAIN. Now I was a jerk for not waiting until she took action.

        I told her “well there is one positive”. This of course caused a puzzled look on her face & she asked what. I said “now you have a brand new person to blame all your problems on. This should gain you at least a couple of more years to play the victim to your next guy”.

        Funny though, I ran into a friend of hers at the grocery store a couple of months ago. She remembered me & said “Thank God you got away from her”. She does that to every guy she dates then blames them for all her ills”.

        Then she said “Oh & by the way, she was NEVER abused by anybody. She was the abuser”. Sad but true. This was 9 years ago that we dated. Her friend told me she has been married & divorced twice since then. She filed false abuse complaints against her last husband. He proved it was false & she was arrested for filing as false report. So she actually fit several; categories described in your wonderful blog. Professional victim, narccsist & abuser. So very sad. Keep up the GREAT work. You are helping a lot of people, men & women, recognize their situation & get help.


        • April 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm

          ron! there are guys on this site!

  14. Danielle
    April 17, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Dear Anonymous, Nicole and Dr. T,

    Thank you to all three of you for your honesty and insight. As someone who recently had to stop dating a person that I cared deeply about due to similar circumstances, I thoroughly relate to everything that has been mentioned on this page and find it comforting to see that I am not alone in my experience. (Please forgive me for drawing my comfort from the category of “misery loves company!”)

    Seriously though, this is the first time I have come across just the right insight and advice for my recent dating situation/heartache. Other advice just didn’t seem to fit or feel right. It wasn’t that he wasn’t into me. He wasn’t a jerk (although his behavior crossed into that territory toward the end). He wasn’t a player. It’s “just” that his relationship with his mentally-ill, abusive ex-wife severely damaged him. I have had a terrible time accepting that as the truth, because I still really care about and miss him a lot.

    I am sorry that you went through this recent experience, Nicole. I know that it can be terribly confusing and disorienting (not to mention painful, depending on the depth of your feelings). Like you, I felt like Anon’s post could have been written by the guy that I was dating and your story was eerily similar to what I experienced. There isn’t a whole lot of information (if any) out there for women that are dating men that have been abused. This is yet another reason why I am so thankful for this site. The insight and advice that I have received directly and indirectly here has been extraordinarily helpful.

    Thanks again,

  15. Nicole
    April 15, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    I know your site and advice are geared toward men, but I just wanted to comment on how helpful I have found the information you provide.

    I also had some questions after reading this article and the comments that were posted here. First, that anonymous question might as well have been the man I was just dating! So like I said before, although I know your site is geared toward helping men I was hoping that maybe you could shed some light on my situation with the kind of man that you would normally give your advice to.

    I stumbled across your site while trying to find answers about why a truly decent man with a history of horrible relationships and a BPD mother wouldn’t be able to accept (or reciprocate) the love of a kind and emotionally healthy woman (although I don’t feel like I am that now!) even though he seems to want to. I know intellectually that it has nothing to do with me, but the whole situation got to be so confusing that by the end I started to feel like it was me and that I wasn’t good enough. I still have doubts about some of the decisions I made regarding him… and I guess that is why I am posting this. I read that article, then I read the comment, and your response. They really got me thinking about what has transpired between this man and myself.

    The man in the comment above says that he couldn’t call her his girlfriend after 6 months. This was my exact experience. Although I thought I was his girlfriend for some time, until I realized that a lot of his behavior wasn’t really “Boyfriendly”. He held me at such a great distance from himself the majority of the time. Meanwhile telling me that I was the greatest girl he had ever met. He almost never opened up about anything personal in 6 months, but towards the end I got tidbits about his mom and some of his exs. And none of it sounded good. Mostly a series of women making him feel terrible regularly. But he never really told me much. That is just what I could glean from some rather evasive comments. The tidbits are what confused me the most though. They make me wonder if I did the wrong thing by ending the relationship. If I bailed out just when he was starting to actually get to the point where he could open up to me. I read your response to the comment that said he should just ride out the weirdness. What if the woman can’t ride it out? Did I just compound the trust issues he already had? I don’t think so, but the whole situation, the whole 6 months were so confusing and so filled with give a little and then run and hide a lot that I don’t really know anything.

    I do know that when I ended the relationship and explained that I couldn’t keep feeling like sh** all the time and that I couldn’t keep being confused and pulled around— he said that he was surprised by what I was saying because it sounded so familiar since he was the one who usually said that stuff. Similar to what you were saying about possible the abused becoming the abuser. He was never mean to me though, just thoughtless. I told him that I felt like I had a lot to offer some one and that I deserved to be with some one who after 6 months knew at the very least whether or not he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I said that I wasn’t asking him to be in love with me, but the fact that he could spend all this time with me and still couldn’t decided if I was his girlfriend or not was breaking my heart too frequently. He agreed that he wasn’t calling me his girlfriend and that he knew I was confused because so was he. I said that I felt like a place holder because of it. That he liked me just fine and I was good for now, but that he was just waiting for the next better thing and then he’d move on. He said that was never the case. He never felt that I was a place holder for anything better because he can’t even imagine that there is better. He has never known another woman as good as me… and he isn’t sure if he knows another person as good as me. He asked if when he sorts himself out if we could try this again. To which my answer was that I won’t make promises I don’t know if I can keep, but that I would like him to be in my life. The conversation ended well and friendly and it seemed fine.

    The reason I mention that conversation is because I care a great deal for this man. I don’t want to be just another woman who has let him down. I am also afraid that I may not have been patient enough. If I had just waited a little longer. (I actually don’t think those things are true because I don’t think I was unreasonable to say that I was ready for a committed and open relationship with some one, and yet the thought still pops up). Since this site is about men who have been through the same things my ex has been through and that previous comment might as well be my ex I was just hoping you could give me some insight into how this played out. What it is that he needs before he is capable of a loving relationship? And I guess, did I do the right thing by both of us ending this relationship –since he wasn’t ready? I’ve never dated a man with his background so I am just hoping to gain a little more understanding since I truly care.

    • shrink4men
      April 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

      Hi Nicole,

      My site is geared toward men, but women are absolutely welcome to participate in my blog. Women who date or marry a man who’s been in emotionally abusive relationship are definitely affected by the aftermath of his previous abuse. It’s sort of like being the girlfriend/wife of a veteran with PTSD.

      Being in a relationship like the one you describe can leave you feeling confused, angry, not good enough, and cause you to question your own sanity. There’s something extremely intoxicating about hearing, “I’ve never known a girl like you before. You’re so aware. No one has ever been this nice to me.” It makes you determined to be even more loving and try even harder to help him heal. Sometimes this is possible; sometimes it isn’t. It depends on the severity and length of the man’s history of abuse and his ability to tolerate the strangeness and discomfort of not being abused by someone who loves him.

      Men who’ve been involved with emotionally abusive women need to go through a period of “deprogramming” and relationship “re-education.” Being with these women warps their perspective on love and relationships. They view crisis, criticism, conflict, drama, insults, etc., as normal because, with these women, it is the norm. Sometimes, it’s difficult to break out of this pattern because of the adrenaline rush they get from being on constant high alert and the exquisite thrill of the rare occasion when these women are nice to them.

      There seem to be two kinds of men who get involved with emotionally abusive, narcissistic and/or borderline women:

      1) Men who had an emotionally abusive, distant and/or intrusive parent(s) who believe love is supposed to hurt and, on some level, get turned on by the abuse. They equate the conflict, crisis, chaos, abuse, conditional or transactional love/acceptance, and the exquisite tension of trying to please the NPD/BPD woman rather than setting her off with chemistry.

      When these men are in a relationship in which the tension is absent, it feels “off” to them. They generally can’t articulate what’s missing, which is very confusing to them and you. If they’ve never met anyone as wonderful as you then what’s the problem?

      The problem is that they don’t have a mental roadmap of what a healthy relationship is. You don’t compute. Consciously, they know that they hated being criticized and made to feel bad by their exes, but it’s what they know. It’s familiar. Change is scary; even a change that you want. It means dredging up and acknowledging a lot of painful memories they’d rather not deal with and/or they don’t want to stop nursing these old wounds because it means letting go of the past and moving on.

      These men often get stuck in this weird twilight area. They don’t want to be abused anymore. They want to be in a healthy relationship, but miss the adrenaline rush from the drama and conflict and making up. Intellectually, they want something different, but can’t quite get there.

      Many of these men just can’t let go of the self-destructive impulse to recreate their abusive relationship from childhood with a woman in the present who is the psychological embodiment of the abusive parent(s)/caregiver(s). They’re drawn to these women because they’re seeking an emotionally corrective experience, which is never going to happen. If only I can make Emotionally Abusive Annie love me and be nice to me, it will mean that I really am a good person, deserve to be loved and then everything will be ok.

      This is what I call being in the right neighborhood, but knocking on the wrong door. Part of the healing process does involves having an emotionally corrective experience, but he’s not going to get it with a woman who has the same traits as his emotionally abusive parent(s). He’ll only experience this phenomenon with someone who is capable of love and acceptance. He may have to do this in a therapeutic setting before he tries it out on a “civilian.”

      When these men meet a woman who accepts them as they are, the thrill of being abused and the possibility of being able to stop the abuse vanishes and they miss that. Other reasons these men can’t fully transition into healthy relationships include not being able to let go of being the “knight in shining armor” thing or the Stockholm syndrome effect.

      They find the lure of crazy, emotionally abusive women all too seductive and, unfortunately, being patient with them, hanging in there, and giving them time usually only results in wasting your time.

      This is truly heartbreaking because these men have many wonderful qualities, but sometimes, people are just too damaged. You can’t help someone else by sacrificing yourself. Well, you can sacrifice yourself, but that won’t help the other person to change.

      Maybe, at some point, men like your ex can find their way out of the in-between world they inhabit, but they have to be the ones to pull themselves out of it and that requires a lot of work and probably some professional help. You can’t do the work for him.

      Additionally, men who get stuck, often begin to behave like their abusive exes when they’re involved with a kind and reasonably sane woman. They recreate the abuse pattern that’s familiar to them, in which case, you must end the relationship.

      2) Men who don’t have a previous history of being emotionally abused have a much better prognosis when it comes to having healthy relationships in the future. They can remember how it feels to be treated well and they want to have that experience again.

      These men were somehow sucked into a relationship with an emotionally abusive, BPD/NPD woman. The abuse is just as disorienting and damaging, but they’re better equipped to heal and tend not to get stuck in that weird, in between place.

      So, to answer your question, I don’t think you did the wrong thing by ending your relationship. He’s the one who needs to resolve his issues and ride out his weird feeling; not you. You did not compound his issues. If anything, you have shown him that a person has the right to be treated well in a relationship and the right to move on when the relationship becomes hurtful.

      By your account, you appear to have been extremely patient and gentle with him. You didn’t blame him when you ended the relationship. You told him how you were feeling and that you needed to take care of yourself.

      The emotional pursuit and distancing behaviors are also not unusual for men like your ex. However, in their emotionally abusive relationships, they were the pursuers of intimacy, which NPD/BPD women avoid. I’m sure he didn’t know how to handle it when you not only didn’t avoid emotional intimacy with him, but sought it out.

      You did not let this man down. You showed him that kind and loving women really do exist. As you point out, he’s just not ready for a healthy relationship yet. Sadly, he may never be.

      You need to figure out if being attracted to men with these issues, who can’t commit to a healthy relationship is a pattern for you, what it means, and then start making different choices.

      I hope this helps.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Lynn
        June 24, 2009 at 3:34 am

        My name is Lynn and I was severly abused emotionally
        by my ex when I was married to her. I don’t have hope for
        any future relationship with a woman. I’m too damaged by
        her treatment of me. I’ve done the counceling and it hasn’t
        worked. Will not go into it with detail, but sometimes people
        Cross the line in how they treat someone and there Is no
        turning back.

        • shrink4men
          June 24, 2009 at 5:05 am

          You’re right Lynn. When certain lines are crossed, it’s the point of no return and you have to move on in your life without the other person. I wish you well and hope you are able to recover yourself from that relationship.

          Kind Regards,
          Dr Tara

    • anna.s
      March 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      This sounds so much like what I just went through. My situation is a little different in that we were long distance and had not actually gotten around to meeting yet, but his behaviour was very similar – telling me I was the best thing that had happened to him, then being distant for a few weeks, then finally calling me his girlfriend, then diappearing. Like the man you describe, he also had a history of abusive women in his life.

      We are broken up now, by his choice rather than mine. He claims he is ill and doesn’t have the energy to focus on our relationship, which might be true as he did have some health trouble. But I suspect there is more to it than that. I did everything I could to take things slowly and make him comfortble to give him time to get used to being with a “normal” woman, but I suspect in the end he just couldn’t make that change. Of course given the nature of our relationship it is entirely possible he simply met someone else, but I don’t think that is the case.

      I chose to accept his explanation for our break up, but left the door open, telling him if he was later ready to try again I would like to hear from him. For my own sake I have decided to let him go rather than trying to talk him down from this (which I have already had to do once), because as deeply as I care for him it isn’t fair for me to have to carry so much, and there are the complicating factors of the distance combined with his evasiveness that leave me even more vulnerable to being hurt. But in all honestly I would take him back in a heartbeat if he said he was ready to try again. He was very special to me.

      I have been spending a lot of time on this site as I try to process what happened between us. He is badly scarred from the women who came before me, but still I cared more for him than I have for anyone, and losing him has been very hard on me. I suppose I am trying to work out whether this was the inevitable end, or if I could have or should have done more. I know intellectually that wouldn’t have been fair to me, but if he hadn’t walked away himself I would have riden it out as long as I could. Like Nicole, I have regrets of my own, and wonder if I shouldn’t have made more of an effort to keep us together.

      This site is proving very helpful as I grieve for this man. Thank you.

      • shrink4men
        March 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

        Hi Anna,

        You may have encountered the ever elusive male BPD. They’re masterful at pulling you in with their tales of how they’ve been hurt by everyone who was ever supposed to have loved them and simultaneously making you feel very special. Once they wine you over, they pull the rug out from underneath you and leave you to wonder what the heck happened.

        Dr T

        • Dawn
          August 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm

          That’s exactly what happened to me. My exes previous girlfriend literally disappeared one day, now I know why!

      • Nicole
        March 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm

        I feel for you. The turmoil I went through 2 years ago when he and I finally split was nearly unbearable. I really couldn’t understand what had happened. My head was spinning. I was so caught up in the nice things he had said to me once or twice that I forgot completely that he had jerked me and my emotions around for 6 months. I made excuses for his behavior. “It must have been something I did” “I didn’t try hard enough” “I didn’t love him enough” “I didn’t give him enough space” “I didn’t do this and I didn’t do that” All my fault. Everything. He was too broken to be held accountable. (Phooey) It has taken me until now to realize that (for me) this was me reenacting my childhood issues and looking for that corrective experience that Dr. T has talked about. Sadly… this was not the place to go looking for it. Luckily though, he was my A-ha moment. Something clicked. I saw where it really was my fault… not my fault that it didn’t work out… it was never going to work out. It was my own doing that I let it get to the point it got to with him. He gave me all of the signs early on that he wasn’t going to be what I (claimed) I wanted and I still waited.. and was patient… and saw his “potential”. But now I see that I loved his “potential” but that wasn’t him (nor will it ever be). He was broken and scarred and had no desire to be anything but that. But NOW I can finally see that.

        What I am trying to say is it gets better. You will see through the fog he has left around you eventually. You will see that if he was truly a man of integrity and good character (worthy of all the love you are bestowing on him) he wouldn’t have used you as an emotional airbag and then left you hanging there. At some point you will also see that his excuses are only excuses… and as a grown man they can only go so far before he needs to take personal responsibility for how he is treating people (like you). At least that was my experience, which is really all I can offer, but I hope that some comfort comes from knowing that you are most certainly not alone.

        • March 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm

          You may be right. Maybe I’m totally in denial. But I look at all his red flags, and when I hold them up against all his good qualities I still can’t get the bad to unbalance the good. I look at them and see someone who wants a normal relationship but is too messed up to make it happen. I had once been with a guy who was a genuinely bad man, who had all the red flags and then some, and none of the good. That’s not who this man was. I know that doesn’t change the fact that our relationship was bound to fail, but it just seems like such a shame. I think he wanted this as badly as I did, but he just couldn’t make it happen. To his credit, he never tried to hide the fact that he had issues, and I made the conscious decision to stick around despite them, so that’s on me. I was warned. Nor did he ever blame his issues on his ex, beyond recognizing that that was where they stemmed from. He didn’t hate her, and took responsibilty for his part in the end of their marriage, but he was not over it. Issues he definately had, but he wasn’t BPD. I suppose I should thank him for leaving though, because I would have stuck it out a whole lot longer and been in much worse shape than I am now if he hadn’t.

    • Nicole
      March 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      After Dr. T’s responses on this post I realized how right she was about emotional unavailability being the root of the problem. Not just him, but me. It was really hard to recognize actually. I started seeing a therapist (really helped) and I started looking for other resources on the web about emotional unavailability. I found another site that, as a woman, I found truly very helpful. I just want to recommend it to the women who have commented on this post in case you are looking for further information and support. It is geared toward women who are perpetually involved with unavailable men (or just stunned from a one off experience). The thing is, it doesn’t allow you any sort of victimhood. It isn’t a man hating/blaming site. It really emphasizes how we tend to involve ourselves with these men because we choose to (whether we are aware at the time or not)… much like Dr. T mentioned. It is really about moving on. I can’t stress enough how much I feel like this helped me move through the “stuck” place I was in after the relationship I talked about here. I also recommend the comments sections of the posts, the people who participate (similar to this site) are very supportive and open about sharing their experiences. Anyway, I hope this is useful to someone….


      P.S. – Thanks again Dr. T. Your advice and articles here are really an important service to many people.

  16. anonymous
    April 14, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    and by commit… i mean that i couldn’t even call her my girlfriend… or even consistently treat her like my girlfriend.

    • shrink4men
      April 14, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      You got out of an emotionally abusive relationship and met someone who was kind and loving. You were able to recognize the difference and that’s a good first step. Breaking the cycle of emotional abuse and believing that you deserve to be treated with kindness, warmth and respect doesn’t happen overnight. You didn’t develop your penchant for toxic relationships overnight and it’s going to take awhile for feeling good to feel normal.

      Did you discuss your abuse history with your non-abusive ex? It might have helped you in being able to be fully open to a relationship with her. On the other hand, don’t fall into the trap of using your abuse history as an excuse not to commit to healthy relationships.

      Look, being in a healthy and loving relationship is going to feel really weird initially, even when you know intellectually what’s going on. It’s kind of like adjusting to the temperature in 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 your resistances or fears are about being loved and accepted for who you are and take the plunge.

      You may find individual or group counseling helpful in getting past this emotional block. 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 may want to try to get a handle on these questions before you’re ready to fully commit to any new relationship. You’ll get there, you just need to do a little soul searching before you make yourself vulnerable to another woman. And, by the way, emotionally healthy women don’t punish, torment, or make fun of you for being vulnerable. I’m sure this wasn’t the case in your other relationships.

      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? Not acknowledging her as your girlfriend, etc., sounds pretty harsh. 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 learn from your former abusers that being nice, reasonable and fair is a sign of weakness—that’s what they did to you.

      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.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

    • george
      July 13, 2013 at 3:30 am

      Agreed…I’m having the same problem…

  17. anonymous
    April 14, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    what about in the instance that a man with a history of toxic and abusive relationships manages to accidentally break the cycle by dating some one who doesn’t fit that mold?
    in this case it would be that i just got out of the toxic relationship met a great girl completely the opposite of anything i have 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 feel like i wanted to. i just never got there. so she left.

    so… is it really possible to break the cycle? if you have an opportunity and you even recognize it as such, but still can’t act on it…

    • JARU1821
      August 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      realizing that she is diferent … and that u could find someone diferent proves u can break the cycle!!

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