Healthy Self-Love: The Foundation of Good Relationships

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.

  1. Bee
    March 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I cannot tell you how this is such an awakening experience for me. I’m in a relationship with a remarkable man who has every characteristic that I could possibly desire in a mate but I completely lose interest because I want him to be a bad boy type and to mistreat me so that I can chase him. I feel that on a subconscious level I don’t deserve love so I try to reject it. I’m going to fight through these bad beliefs so that I can accept it and his love and love him the way he truly deserves!!! I’m so glad I read this!!!!! Thanks so much!!

  2. akn
    February 21, 2010 at 5:26 am

    The concept of idiot compassion is directed towards humans which excludes cluster B personality disorders. They are almost, but not quite, totally human. So the idea is that if you stayed in a relationship and put up with abuse because you somehow knew that her suffering was driving her bad behaviour then you were the one using “idiot compassion”. Mea culpa: that was what I did. She often broke up with me or started absurd inflammatory arguments over nothing at all. Years of therapy taught me to watch for the patterns and, through watchfulness, I discerned that these moments usually coincided with the presence in her life of a more impressive or somehow more satisfactory supplier of attention. Over time I found out that the quality of the other mirror was deteriorating (ie, it looked to me like the bottom of the barrel was showing through).

    The I just stopped caring and decided to save my own skin.

    The concept idiot compassion explains my owm behaviour to me. Generous, tolerant, loving, enduring, intelligent and totally misguided.

    If she left you for your own good there is a deeply ironic sense in which she is correct although without intending to be. Nacrissists and other character disordered people will say anything at all to justify their behaviour. Her parting comments basically sound to me like: “I’m off now, coz you are a loser and not good enough for me”. Basically, she’s like a salt water crocodile who bypasses the goose in preference for the wallaby. Better meat.

    It takes a while for the sense of outrage at putting up with years of insults to wane. It passes. What they hate, should she attempt ever again to get your attention, is getting none. Really hate it. If you refuse to engage in her mind-effing games and loser dialogue she ceases to exist properly. Imagine how that must feel?

    Best wishes.

    • finallywokeup
      February 22, 2010 at 1:10 am

      Thanks, akn, for the analyis, and the reminder about the value of ignoring these women. I still do get a sense of outrage now and then, but only when she tries to pull something regarding the children. And you’re right, two years out and it is waning, except for these provocations.

      I have found that strictly (and I mean NO exceptions) limiting contact to email, and never even initiating email contact unless absolutely necessary for the children, is a lifesaver. When she occasionally sends an unwanted email, I respond with the formality I would grant a stranger, and invariably she goes quiet for weeks. Which, after what I went through, is like a well-deserved vacation.

  3. akn
    February 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Hi Dr T and thanks again for being clear and resolute about how no man deserves to be abused. I hope you don’t mind the cross post but I thought I’d share the following by the Buddhist Pema Chodron (I also am a Buddhist) on the subject of “Idiot Compassion”. I think it explains why so many of us stayed in an abusive relationship way beyond the point when sensible people ought to have walked. In essence, it was to protect the other from the reality of the harm they do to themselves through their behaviour. Mostly, they either end up alone or with a total doormat who tolerates their garbage. But the point is we don’t do either them or ourselves any favours by sticking it out with an abuser. Self respect is a good foundation, always.

    The link is below the article. If it is in violation of any rules or publication rights then sorry and just delete:

    three dancers Student: I’m interested in the idea of idiot compassion that was in Ken McLeod’s book [Wake Up To Your Life]”, and wishing compassion for someone who’s doing harm to you or that you need to remove yourself from. How do you differentiate the feeling of compassion and the need to remove yourself from a damaging situation?

    Pema: Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s whats called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of I can’t bear to see them suffering. In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them.

    When you get clear on this kind of thing, setting good boundaries and so forth, you know that if someone is violent, for instance, and is being violent towards you —to use that as the example— it’s not the compassionate thing to keep allowing that to happen, allowing someone to keep being able to feed their violence and their aggression. So of course, they’re going to freak out and be extremely upset. And it will be quite difficult for you to go through the process of actually leaving the situation. But that’s the compassionate thing to do.

    It’s the compassionate thing to do for yourself, because you’re part of that dynamic, and before you always stayed. So now you’re going to do something frightening, groundless, and quite different. But it’s the compassionate thing to do for yourself, rather than stay in a demeaning, destructive, abusive relationship.

    And it’s the most compassionate thing you can do for them too. They will certainly not thank you for it, and they will certainly not be glad. They’ll go through a lot. But if there’s any chance for them to wake up or start to work on their side of the problem, their abusive behavior or whatever it might be, that’s the only chance, is for you to actually draw the line and get out of there.

    We all know a lot of stories of people who had to hit that kind of bottom, where the people that they loved stopped giving them the wrong kind of compassion and just walked out. Then sometimes that wakes a person up and they start to do what they need to do.”

    • finallywokeup
      February 21, 2010 at 3:03 am

      This “idiot compassion” is an interesting concept, but I get the impression that NPD types often use this kind of “I’m leaving for YOUR own good” rationale as a cover for their own bad behavior. How often is this concept hijacked by the NPD/BPD types who in fact have been the undeserving recipients of it?

      For example, my ex sued me for custody of a child she wanted to give away; stole money from me while refusing to work, refusing to keep house, and refusing to take decent care of our child; spent money on baubles and salon visits while raging that I wasn’t making enough to afford the lifestyle she felt she deserved; and devoted her time and energy to hobbies and showy volunteer activities rather than to her family or home or to making any income. Then she told me she was leaving to help me grow up, and for my own good – to show how serious she was about what she wanted.

      It struck me at the time that she had been coached to say this sort of thing, or had read it somewhere, because it seemed ludicrous in view of her own behavior.

      Any thoughts?

      • del
        September 26, 2011 at 2:59 am

        my ex-wife went on a buddhist retreat,wanted to volunteer in hospices and pet causes.Also into reiki healing and essentially said I was holding her back ,and that in 5 years we’d both be thankful for the divorce.Towards the end,she sort of became a spokesperson for our marriage–one of her quotes (she was speaking for the marriage and she also thinked for me with the good ole”we love each other but were not in love”)I remember always asking her why she loved me and she never had 1 simple specific answer…I mean never…Id at least be able to tell her…her beauty…sexual attraction…she worked…was a good mom…I rember in recollection the 10-15 times she slapped me punched me or threw an object me…chasing me with an object and the good ole”see what you make do”11 years of marriage ,17 altogether…and if anyone deserved to bail on the marriage it was me…the funny thing is Iwas actually thinking the marriage was at one of its high points,sex was pretty regular ..but after having seen other posts her the sex was at this point most likely transactional and I wa just fooling myself.Relocated to a new city with no friends as she was happier ,started making friends outside of the marriage—mostly divorced ones..while I plugged away trying to keep the marriage going…..i was shocked as hell and the weirdest thing is i thought it was a just a run of the mill fight and when I tried to patch it up w/some make-up sex–I was threatenec with”are you going to rape me?”hilarious in hindsight..all these stories Ive read here about the never ending hoop jum;ping,the brainwashiung,the bullshit lies,the “victim”she was was—-everyone was against her…the passive aggressive comments—all encompaasssed with her finding”herself”,the “real her”=====sure…..and she gets to leave as the “making the difficult decision person”it is funny….really,and again after seeing this site after 4 months divorced I finally found some answers to the mind screwing that undertook all in an effort to keep a marriage going thinking I was the good,right gut who thought you had to give 200%to make a marriage work,all the while your ex is just looking out for themselves—–hilarious—yea…”youre the enlightened better person”—sure you are…..

  4. Me
    February 8, 2010 at 6:59 am

    haha I am not sure if this is for Man only, but i accidently clicked on this link and read it and wow I found you describing how I am.. So it goes for both man and woman….
    its like everything said here, ive done it too… pushing away people that seem to be so great, just because I am scared of them finding out my imperfections and etc.. and those that are attracted to me well they can give me anything but love.. its like this article applies to both man and woman…

    Now I am starting to realize that it is just because I dont love myself… …

  5. Anna
    February 8, 2010 at 6:50 am

    OMG WOW!! I am speechless… I accidentally clicked on the link, and when I started reading it I could not believe. It was like you were describing me…. It is true, i do not have a high self esteem, though I know I have reasons to love myself, but I just dont.. it is like you said, i always started liking guys that I had to chase, and this would cause me to not love myself even more because they wouldnt love me back… but at the same time the guys that would come after me well they were not capable of giving me love and that kind of relationship,

    and then when a guy who was completely great and would start showing me interest, well i would find every reason to push him away and act like it right away, and come up with anything to think that he is not the right man or that he is not honest or something else, because i was afraid that he would find out my imperfections and i was afraid of love…

    which once again sets the cycle all over….

    what i am having trouble is, i just dont know how to get over this low self esteem image… its like i ll attract great guys to myself, they ll like me for my looks, start talking to me but then things fall apart.. and after reading this article it makes sense that it just because I have no love for myself, therefore, I attract people like that also, and those that try to give me love, well when i dont accept it they stop…

    and it is just sooo hard for me, but I dont know how to start loving myself. How do I get over this feeling that I am not worth it? How do I gain confidence and love? any suggestions anyone?

  6. JoelChris
    February 2, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Great site! Your articles and links have saved me many times. I’m an engineer by trade, so the question of “why” is always in the forefront of my mind.

    I gave my control and happiness to a BP/Borderline/Narc female for about a year. I have to thank her, because it has propelled me to be a far more self aware person. I attended (and still do attend) regular therapy to help uncover and deal with some childhood developmental issues, and I’m happier and healthier than ever. It is unbelievable how years of therapy and healing can go by before the the after effects of an abusive relationship subsides…

    Yet here I am running into the topic of this very article. I’m involved with a very responsible and kind young lady that is absolutely crazy about me. She sees my good qualities, she watched me tear myself to pieces with the past relationship, and she allowed me to find my way before we explored any level or intimacy. Overall, a pretty patient individual. Actually a person that does exactly what she means and says. She has been the first that I have dated since the abusive relationship.

    Yet, for the first time in my life I am finding myself hung up on physical appearances. I’ve never been one to act this way! I’m focusing on physical attributes and not on her as a whole. She is beautiful naked, but I catch myself staring at a little upper lip hair, or the fact that she is a bit heavier than my past girlfriends.

    She’s intelligent, smart, funny, great to talk to, understanding, and family oriented. I couldn’t write a better script. I am really struggling to bring myself to even be romantic with her…

    • a girl
      February 12, 2010 at 3:58 am

      Dear Joel,

      this is very much in line with a discussion about in comments of of the article from 20th of january – I wrote something some people disagreed with :niceness is not enough for a romance.

      I want to urge you, please please break up with the woman, before it would completely destroy her. You cannot talk yourself into loving or desiring someone out of gratitude. The longer you stay with her, the longer she is kept from meeting someone who would be smitten by her as both a good person and attractive woman – as she deserves.

      On a site for women this is very recurring story – I helped a guy through divorce/addiction/illness – as soon as he was fine he left me for someone else.. I feel so used..

      The dynamics of the relationship just started out wrong, and when the man healed, he did not feel romantic connection to the woman anymore – possibly because when she met him her nursing/caring instinct kicked in rather than romantic. You being hung upon on physical appearance is, in my opinion, just a symptom of you generally not being attracted to her, and seeking a thing which could explain it. I doubt her upper lip hair is the real reason.

      The worst is, the women then can’t stop wondering what they’ve done wrong, and feel awful.

      I would really like Dr. Tara to say her opinion.

      I hope very much guys didn’t stayed a minute with me out of friendship mixed with compassion.

      Please be kind to her and let her go.

  7. Johnboy
    January 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Well, that was a kicker in the pants. I struggle with most of the topics in the article.

    . . . Mother diagnosed BPD, ex wife w/NP tendencies, then I hooked up with a schizotypal PD. 2 years she was the perfect person, then just before proposal she flipped out. I mean I went from angel who floated 6″ above ground, to the devil reincarnate. The things she did was a nightmare!

    I spent about 6 months trying to find solutions to her health . . . to heal her . . .

    It has been almost 2 years of weekly therapy since then, to get where I am, attempting to recover from a completely messed up mind. I yet to have a single date because I still think every woman is messed up. I still struggle with my own “messed upness” . . .

    Hey. Great site. Great articles. Keep it up!

  8. Mill
    January 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm


    Sorry for my bad English, hope you will understand my point ;)

    I just wanted to say that this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read. All your posts are so true but this one is remarkable.

    I grew up with bpd mother (almost two decades of living hell) and I experienced everything you’re writing on this blog (btw, keep on doing this exelent work!).

    It would be really helpful that you write more about our false believes that we are unworthy and inadequate, how we don’t think they’re false and how to finally overcome it.


  9. melove54
    January 11, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Love this article as it portrays the reality of pre and post counter-productivity of self and the inter-personal relationship. By nature and upbringing, how and why we approach the opposite sex. Our proclivity to engage and perceive “love” because it’s what we believe makes us feel better when in an abusive relationship,i.e. we think we’re in love but we’re not. Then we rid ourselves of the crazy relationship, discovering a certain “fear of love” when entering the new relationship. The quandary is “freeing” ourselves, truly learning from those bad experiences, leaving history behind, and moving forward with new standards for future relationships. I believe that most of us have an initial “fear” based standard coming into the new world of dating(post-abuse). As an example, approx. 4 mos. after breaking up with my X-N, I decided to get on a dating site. As I never took the opportunity to date anyone from this site, I did find it an interesting study. I found that the common statements in 80+% of men and women’s profiles were phrases like, “if you have drama in your life, you’re not for me”, “if you can’t simply be honest and be upfront with me”, “if you lie and deceive people for your own self interest”, “if you feel you can’t be monogamous”, “if you feel the need to play head games”, etc.. It’s scary in couple of ways, 1) you feel empathy towards these people that they’ve experienced crazy relationships too 2) then you snap back and begin to think, hell, they themselves could be as crazy as the one you just left, because in the same breath they tell you how wonderful they are, disclosing all their attributes!! In essence, these profiles mean absolutely nothing. You will never know anyone until you spend time with them. At best you may find mutual hobbies, or a physical attraction because they put up a nice pic of themselves. However, as we all know here, that’s a small % of what we really seek in a person. After rationalizing the nature of these dating sites, I concluded there are most likely more “crazy bitches” there than I would encounter probably anywhere else! It would be interesting data to know the average success rate of all dating sites. Most likely if that information was available, I would venture to say those sites would soon begin to evolve into oblivian. Maybe not, who knows? I’ve been wrong once before! LOL!

    To put it all in perspective,it was apparent from this dating site, there indeed was a rampancy of drama and stress in these people’s previous relationships. In turn, more emotionally distraught individuals to deal with, with god knows how much post traumatic symptoms because of it. Imho, despite whether it’s a dating site, or you casually meet someone in a grocery store, your chances are literally about the same. You will either meet another crazy person, or you could meet the love of your life. The reality is, as we live with self each and everyday, we must be transparent to others,expose ourselves freely, let go of our fears. The reality is, we cannot live in a bubble protecting our emotions, our feelings, our heart,..we must take those chances. Take your time and be comfortable with your phases, or steps in a new relationship, and don’t let fear control you. I would say more times than not, a woman’s egregious nature/charatcter flaws will show up rather quickly (90-120 days),.. hopefully less. I’m sure most of us will know what to do when that snake raises its ugly head! Better than spending 1,5,10 years, or a lifetime with another crazy person.

    Once bitten, as many of us men on this site have been, we come away more educated, are able rationalize, face certain realities, and move forward without the fear of the mental masturbation we alays engaged in before. I was married for 18 years, in another committed relationship for 5 years. We tend to ignore the outside world when being consumed in such relationships, not realizing what turns our world outside of us have truly taken. Over the past year of being single again, I am seeing a world of people that have lost faith in fundamentals of moral and ethical issues, they just want to play, to be non-committal, no strings attached if you will. They find this as an easy escape from the drama, and it relinquishes their need for solidarity in a relationship. In actuality, it complicates their lives even more. There are now dating sites for “Cheating wives”, “Cheating Husbands”, “Get laid tonight”, etc…WTFO! It’s a sad state of affairs.

    I still have faith in woman-kind and humanity in general. I truly believe there is someone out there for me that I can spend the rest of my days. Everyone of us here on this site begin to change the nature of this world by healing ourselves, and to help others heal from abusive relationships, as well,this abhorrant phase today’s societal influence has upon us. Yes, we will have to be far more cautious and conscious of future relationships due to this influence, but we come away better people because of it. I’ve said it a dozen times and I’ll say it once more, Thank You Dr. T, you are a blessing to all, and a major contributor to changing our world, and our quality of life.

  10. Jim
    January 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I remember the first date I had after my divorce. This really nice and pretty professional woman was expecting me to take the lead and she was being so charming and supportive. It floored me.

    After living so long with the conscious and unconscious controlling behavior of my X spouse (who secretly reviled me), I had forgotten how it felt to be treated warmly and with real respect.

    The abusive behavior creeps up on you. You are like a frog in pot of water on the stove. As long as you slowly bring the water to a boil the frog won’t jump out and he gets boiled.

    Or how about the learned helplessness. Like a flea in a jar banging his head on the lid, he learns never to fly high. You can take the lid off and he will never fly free. You are constantly getting whacked and you just avoid the lid, or the “third rail.”

    I came from a very loving and supportive family that to this day treats each other with fundamental respect. Without hesitation, each one of us would give their life to save the other. I was raised where it was unthinkable to treat a family member poorly. I think in love relationships I don’t have the radar to ferret out sociopaths – especially really good ones. The Jekyll/Hyde switcheroo is still mind-blowing to me. I look at all women and now think – what the hell kind of psycho is she?

    I want genuine love and deserve it, like we all do. I want to receive it as well. And all the pain that goes with it is fine too. But when you add in that the little honey can be Jeffrey Dahmer in a dress, it does make you a tad bit skittish.

    On the next one I am going to get her to TAKE THE MMPI FOR FUN! I am going to convince her to let me give her some SODIUM PENTOTHAL FOR FUN. Plus, she is getting the INKBLOTS FOR FUN TOO!

  11. LGDD2
    January 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Fantastic article Dr. T!

    • shrink4men
      January 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm

      Thanks, Jon and LGDD2!

  12. Jon
    January 5, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Excellent article Dr. T. Perfectly stated. Thanks for writing this. Everyone should read this.

  13. Amegioa
    January 5, 2010 at 2:39 am

    I don’t agree with the running from love aspect of this. One of the things that drew me to my ex was that she was so loving and caring. It was the hook that reeled me in. It was an act of course, took a year before the crazy fits, the no win situations, the gaslighting, the imposible to please her to emerge. By the way… is it common for a woman like this to be the one that inititates ‘constant breakups’. I mean like together for a few weeks and then she’s gotta break up cause I don’t come over enough or whatever… only to want to get back together later (of course in the beginning it was me that did all the chasing, which I guess helped to make it so bad). I found that I kept chasing her and then when she had to chase me, I kept taking her back, cause I think it had to do with my mother. She was impossible to please, control freak, who was pretty stingy with the love (again, why the ex looked so appealing in the beginning, the love came easy). So there is an element of “I guess relationships are supposed to be this hard” and “it was sooooo good in the beginning, I want that back”.

    Is it normal for a woman like this to constantly initiate breakups? I know she’s done it in all her other relationships too, even her marriages (sleeping at her sisters every other weekend kind of thing). She’s very hostile, she doesn’t have the kind of pathetic ‘don’t leave me’ attitude some of the borderlines have, nor the stalking behavior either. I chalk it all up to she so good at this that she’s not going to appear the ‘weak’ one, she’s going to make ME the weak one. She’s had lots of success at her bullying I guess, though not long term success obviously lol

    • shrink4men
      January 5, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      Hi Amegioa,

      Of course, what I describe above doesn’t apply to every individual. Many NPD’s, BPD’s, HPD’s, APD’s and other predators are gifted natural actresses and actors. Many men and women are lured in by the old bait and switch and then have their confidence and sense of self slowly chipped away.

      You write that you and your ex engaged in distance/pursuit behaviors, alternately chasing after each other and that her behavior reminds you of your mother. Perhaps you weren’t running from love, but you were chasing after love from someone who couldn’t give it to you. Have you had other relationships with women you didn’t have to chase?

      It’s not uncommon for women like your ex to engage in frequent break-ups. It’s just another control tactic. They punish you and then feel desirable when you chase after them. It also keeps you jumping through hoops and disoriented, which makes you easier to control. It also leads you to mistakenly believe that you’re “losing” something that you have to win back. It’s kind of ingenious, although I doubt that most of these folks plot it out consciously.

      • Amegioa
        January 6, 2010 at 2:38 am

        “Have you had other relationships with women you didn’t have to chase? ”

        I don’t suppose I have. I mean, most of the relationships I’ve been in; the lady and I really clicked and they all started off being really sweet etc. In the beginning, it always comes ‘easy’, I don’t have to chase (which frankly I find odd… don’t guys have to chase women?). Then they back away, and I fall into a pattern of chasing them (very small ways at first and then eventually the break ups, etc). Then eventually I learn, “this is pointless” and then they always start chasing me… If they didn’t always start chasing me, I’d think I was just interested in women that weren’t interested in me. But they’re interested… they just don’t hang around. And they don’t just call to catchup or something simple (that I might misinterpret) like that, they pursue a relationship, they ask to get back together. But they don’t hang around. Its like once they figure out “I’m there”, once they know they have that hook in me… They start playing the games, become impossible to please, the sweet talk and remorse they had is gone and all a sudden I’m a horrible human being cause the surprise gift I got her wasn’t bought at the same store as what I had gotten my daughter when we my daughter and I went to the mall (last ex actually moved out of the house I bought for us over that). But that was 2 years before the last end of the relationship with her haha. She kept chasing me for 2 more years.

        Its like they try to get me back just so they can ‘break’ me emotionally again and then leave. As far as the mother thing… The love coming easy, is nice and very enticing, but putting up with a very difficult mother I think also trains you to believe at some level that relationships are going to be hard, they’re going to be hard to please, even completely unreasonable, and thats just natural…. Even though my conscience mind tells me, ” you know it shouldn’t be this way ”

        I don’t pretend to get it :) Thats why I’m here!! :)

      • Amegioa
        January 6, 2010 at 2:54 am

        Oh and I would also like to say, I was married to a woman for 9 years that DID NOT behave this way. She was loving and caring and we had a great marriage. No running or splitting every few weeks, etc. But in the last year, we grew apart and she had left with another man she met at a new job (who broke up with a month later). And that was basically it, we divorced (the trust and everything was gone). The marriage failed, but I wouldn’t attribute any ‘craziness’ to what was going on, on either side really. Its like the marriage just ran its course. Probably could have been saved at some point, but we were both not really sure how to save it and then it was too late with all the damage done.

        I only mention this cause I do feel I am able to have a healthy relationship, and all that. I have just had lots of trouble meeting stable women it seems.

        I do agree with the concept of something attracting me to them, and something attracting them to me. But I’m not sure what haha… I’d be tickled to death to meet a loving, emotional healthy woman. I’ve never said a woman was ‘too boring’ or ‘too nice’. Of course there are plenty I’m just not attracted to, but the ones I am usually seem very quiet and soft spoken and sweet… really… and then they tell me something like they just out of ‘exotic dancing’ but how much they enjoyed the crystal meth they did that year… (that was a first date experience, I didn’t not purse that lol)

      • Amegioa
        January 6, 2010 at 3:02 am

        BTW, I love this site, been reading all the stuff. You are a godsend.

        If I ever decide to start dating again, which seriously, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do. I’m just exhusted with the idea of it. I plan to have all the articles memorized first! :) I need to get better at recognizing people I don’t need in my life before I really let them in.

  14. applause
    January 5, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Being one of those guys macdaddy refers to, could you explore that aspect more?
    To be honest, it took a lot of therapy, self care and healthy experiences for me to finally have a sense of confidence and higher self esteem – but I’m sure I was fine until after a few intense months of being in a relationship with someone has a NPD.
    But maybe, my issues just went dormant? And that’s why I left a loving woman who I found “boring” (for example suffering through 20 minutes of getting a traffic report or hearing about the classroom seating more than the content of the class.)
    While I’m here, thanks for the enlightenment stimulated by your blog, only wish I knew of it last year.

    • shrink4men
      January 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Hi applause,

      We all have sore spots and baggage from early childhood and past relationships. You seem to have done some work and felt pretty good about yourself until you became involved with an NPD. Narcissists and other emotional predators can inflict damage to even the healthiest egos.

      Perhaps your relationship re-triggered old issues that were dormant. Alternatively, sometimes being re-exposed to conditions similar to the ones that damaged your confidence/self-esteem early in life can cause a person to regress. Perhaps your NPD was just that awful and she wore you down.

      Sometimes, even after an individual has done a lot of personal work and feels confident overall, they can regress if old wounds are re-opened or they find themselves in another toxic environment.

      For example, I feel pretty confident and secure most of the time. However, when I find myself in a work setting that is rife with bullies and backstabbing, controlling, micro-manager-y troglodytes, I regress by putting up my defenses, barricading myself in my office, retreating inward and becoming oppositional like I did when I was a kid when one of my parents behaved in this way. This is also a huge indicator for me to find a better environment. Being around people like that is like swallowing spoonfuls of poison. I rebound pretty quickly after exposure, but it takes a little “cave time” to do so.

      As for the “boring” woman you left, many women (and men) like to have a daily “minutiae” report as a way to converse. Next time this happens, try redirecting the person by asking questions about their day that you would find more interesting.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

    • Mike91163
      January 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm


      Been there too, lived that. I too ended a three-year relationship with a loving and kind woman, maybe out of boredom, maybe out of the classic “grass is greener” thinking…maybe because I was a stupid kid of 25. However, 6 months later, I started dating my BPD/NPD wife…and 20 years later, my life is in shambles and my self-esteem sucks.

      HOWEVER, as Dr. Tara mentions below, these women are incredible actresses, who are very skilled in hiding the evil which lies just below the surface, until you’ve been sucked into the black hole via marriage or other commitments. And, when the evil comes to the fore, you’re early on (relatively speaking) that you allow “love” to blind your thinking-you just find it hard to believe that this is the same person, and being a decent man (and somewhat brainwashed by society into thinking that YOU are to blame for her misery), you bend over backwards to “fix” YOUR problems…which of course, are NOT your problems! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, too bad we can’t use it “in the moment”…So, for months or years, you try and try and try to make the relationship work, until you eventually reach a breaking point.

      But hey, it is what it is, life must go on, but do not continue to wreck your self-esteem by beating yourself up over “woulda-coulda-shoulda” scenarios. We ALL make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.

      • applause
        January 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply Dr. Tara and thanks to you also Mike91163.

      • Recovering Alpha
        January 10, 2010 at 10:12 pm

        Reading your blog made me say “Ouch!” My story too. (I’ve detailed it other places in this blog.) Guess we all live, learn, and work on being better next time …

  15. macdaddy
    January 4, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    This is so true. It’s hard to read because I recognize what you’ve written in myself. While it’s true that my XW was cold, controlling, the typical NPD, I chose her just as she chose me. A seed will only take root in receptive ground.

    Although, what about the guys who had good relationships and then met their BPD/NPD and had their confidence and esteem slowly destroyed? Does this still apply?

  1. July 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm
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