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


some birds aren't meant to be cagedHello Dr Tara,

I’m a man with a history of toxic and abusive relationships with Borderline and Narcissistic traited women who managed to accidentally break the cycle of emotional abuse by dating some one who doesn’t fit that mold.

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

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

-Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara

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.

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

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