Posts Tagged ‘Mental health’

Video: Breaking Up with an Emotionally Abusive Woman and Suicide Threats

shackled handsNarcissistic Personality Disorder/Borderline Personality Disorder women rarely make it easy to end a relationship with them. Once you finally decide you can no longer take the emotional abuse, the threats, accusations, outrageous demands, bullying, projection, projective identification and gaslighting, you probably feel a sense of relief. Then the maw of hell opens and the BPD/NPD woman ratchets her nasty behaviors a thousandfold.

Typical behaviors include: distortion/smear campaigns (lying to your friends, family and anyone who’ll listen in order to turn them against you); parental alienation (turning your children against you by badmouthing you, lying about you and putting you into no-win situations); and projection (blaming you for the rotten abusive acts that she is committing—for example, she engages in parental alienation and then accuses you of taking your anger out on the children).

Facing these threatening behaviors can be terrifying, which makes it all the more difficult to end the relationship. These women become unpredictable, wild animals when they sense they’re losing control. They don’t care about the collateral damage they inflict. They’ll bring the house down right on top of themselves if they think it will punish you.

I received an email request for advice from one of my readers, “Mike,” about breaking up with his BPD/NPD ex, “Susan.” He shared a rather lengthy email exchange between them, which I condensed into an Xtranormal video (with Mike’s permission). Here’s an excerpt from his email:

I guess my question is, “Where do I go from here?” I posted some of my experiences (under the name, fromCOtoAZ) previously on your blog. Your advice was very helpful and completely correct. Unfortunately, I didn’t adhere to your advice and got sucked back in. My ex promised she was seeing a therapist and that things would change. She finally admitted her words are hurtful and cause a lot of damage. I gave her one more chance to see if things really would change or if it was just window dressing.

Things were fine the first month, then they shot straight back to what they were by the second month. She has no problem throwing anyone under the bus if you try to hold her accountable. She blames others for her problems, even her kids. While we were together, I offered to buy her a car since she totaled her previous one in an accident. Even though I can’t afford it, I was willing to do it for her and her kids. Long story short, she blows up at me. Most girls would say, “thank you, what a guy.” Not her.  She HAS to find something wrong with the offer, some reason to be offended,  some reason to be completely negative and angry.

The profanity comes in waves, degrading words spew like bile, and it happens every time. It’s always someone else’s fault. So I finally had enough – again – and broke up with her. Now she’s playing the victim and it’s all my fault in her eyes. Here’s the dialog we had tonight. It’s a great example of how our “discussions” (my attempt) turn into fights (her attempt).

So here is my question to you: My nephew got into a fight with his girlfriend and hung himself when he was 21. I also made a very poor decision earlier in my life and considered suicide. Trust me. She knows suicide is very personal to me. I’m not asking you to have a crystal ball, but I’m scared that she’s serious. Then again, and I don’t mean to sound like a callous jerk, she could simply be playing that card because she knows it’s the ONE thing that will get my attention over anything else. So where do I go from here?

I can’t stay with her just because she threatens to kill herself. She’ll never stop being abusive and demoralizing and yet I don’t want to have that on my conscience if she does it. When I had ny own brush with suicide years ago, it was my decision, poor as it was, and I accept full responsibility. She would never see it as her choice. It would all be my fault. What should I do? This girl (“girl” -she’s actually a 43-year old woman with 3 children!) scares me in so many ways, but this is the scariest.

Hi Mike,

My head felt like it was going to explode while reading your email exchange with Susan. Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin…

1. Your first mistake was going back into the rabid lioness’ den (i.e., reuniting). It happens though. You wanted to give it one more college try. I understand. You stuck your hand into the fire again and got burned. This is a valuable lesson. Remember it.

2. Your second mistake was offering to remain friends with this woman. You cannot, not, NOT remain “friends” with these women. If you don’t share a child, the healthiest thing is a clean break (or as clean as you can get with a woman like this), which means no contact.

First, this woman is not your friend. A friend doesn’t abuse you. Second, as one of my other readers so eloquently stated, “As adult as you may think you are being by developing a “friendship”, this is not a normal adult relationship and you need to end the behavior patterns in order to move on. If children are involved, communicate by email with very direct, but not curt communications. Do not initiate or engage in any dramatic episodes even on email – Kind, Direct, Simple, the end.”

3. You’re using too many words with her (Mike’s email responses to Susan were very long). These women don’t process dialog/conversation like the rest of us. Crafting long, factual explanations–especially ones that don’t fit with their distorted version of events–are completely lost on them. Even if it seems like she’s reading or listening, she’s just scanning for specific hot-button code words that she can twist around, distort, and blow completely out of proportion in order to use your words against you. These women should become professional taffy pullers. Their ability to distort facts so that they fall in line with their distorted emotional reasoning is unparalleled.

4. Never agree with these women’s insults and name-calling. Appeasing these women by agreeing with them in order to get them to stop the verbal abuse (i.e., shut up) is usually a bad idea. They take it as a green light to keep going and that their behavior is acceptable. You can’t humor these women. It only amps them up.

5. When they invoke the authority of a therapist, attorney or some other professional it means they’re getting desperate. It’s like saying, “I told mommy/daddy/teacher on you and boy are you in trouble now!” It’s a control/manipulation/shame/fear tactic. No competent therapist would encourage a patient to emotionally blackmail a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, ex or family member by threatening suicide.

In fact, Psychologists adhere to the Tarasoff vs. the Regents of the University of California ruling, which means they have a duty to protect their patients from harming themselves or others. This includes breaking confidentiality by contacting the authorities or having them voluntarily/involuntarily hospitalized if the Psychologist decides the patient has intent, the means and a plan to kill herself.

I highly doubt she even showed your emails to her therapist. Then again, perhaps she did and that’s why Bonnie is recommending inpatient treatment. Furthermore, just like NPD/BPD women twist around things that you say and do; they also twist what their therapists say if it helps them to control and abuse others. Additionally, if Bonnie criticized you it’s probably because your ex has given her a highly distorted account of your relationship.

6. You are NOT responsible if this woman takes her life. Period. This is classic emotional blackmail. Don’t bite on it. If you’re really worried about her, call or email her therapist and let her decide if Susan needs to be pink papered. Forward Susan’s emails to her therapist. State you understand she can’t discuss or even acknowledge that she’s treating Susan, but you’re worried that she may harm herself and her children by exposing them to her parasuicidal threats and possible gestures. Mention your experience with your nephew and that’s why you feel obligated to notify her. And truly, Mike, that’s all you’re obligated to do.

I apologize if my feedback comes across as harsh, but for goodness sake, I feel violated reading her attacks on you secondhand. Do you have a therapist or someone who can help you set and maintain your boundaries and figure out what attracted you to Susan and what makes you susceptible to women like her? If not, I strongly encourage you to focus on that instead of being friends with Susan or having anything else to do with her.

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

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.


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

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Another 5 Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Women

Rope_LadderThis is part three of Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman and 5 More Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman. These strategies aren’t guaranteed to help you avoid an attack or “fix” your relationship. If a BPD/NPD woman is determined to raise hell, she’s going to do it. Even if these strategies aren’t effective every time she’s looking to hurt you or get a reaction out of you, they can help you become aware of what’s going on in the moment and not get sucked into another endless conflict.

These women want you to react to their hurtful behaviors, so they can feel righteous, indignant, hurt and justified. If you don’t react, that upsets them, too. Remember, ultimately, there is no winning with this kind of woman. You win by not giving her the reaction she wants, disengaging, and if you can do it, ending the relationship and recovering yourself. Maintaining this level of hyper-vigilance and behavioral maintenance would be emotionally, physically and psychologically exhausting and I urge you not to do so:

11. Just the facts, ma’am, i.e., hold her accountable. Some of these women may become violent if you hold them accountable for their behaviors. If your wife or girlfriend is the non-violent type, holding her accountable may give you a respite from the yelling, carping, kvetching, insults, accusations, etc. She won’t admit you’re right. She’ll never accept responsibility for her abusive behaviors, lies, and distortions. You won’t get the validation and vindication you long for, but it may make her blink and go speechless, if only for a short while.

Don’t yell. Don’t get in her face the way she gets in yours. Calmly and clearly bring it all back to the facts. Commit these phrases to memory: “That’s not true.” “I won’t admit that’s true no matter how angry you get.” “That’s not how I remember it. Here’s what happened. . .” She’ll probably continue to talk or shout over you, change her story as she goes along, deny it ever happened and/or call you a liar, but that still doesn’t change the facts of her behaviors and events.

12. Choose your battles. You can’t respond to everything she says, does or demands. You just can’t. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Figure out your bottom line. Make concessions on small issues to allow her to feel like she’s “winning” and stick to your guns on the big issues. This will help to preserve your sanity.

13. Contain any and all emotions. Whatever you do, DON’T ask these women to explain their feelings and DON’T express yours. Yes, women complain that men don’t express how they feel enough, but expressing your emotions to a woman like this is a trap. It will be held and used against you in the future if you tell her what you’re thinking and feeling.

BPD/NPD women can’t handle their own intense emotions much less the emotions of others. That’s why these women are human projection machines—engaging in what I like to call “emotional projectile vomiting.” Think of feelings like anxiety, fear, self-doubt, worthlessness, self-loathing, anger, etc., like a case of food poisoning. As the bile starts to rise in your throat, you vomit, sometimes violently, wipe your mouth, burp and then say, “oh, that feels better.”

These women do the same thing, but with their emotions and guess who’s the toilet. . . you. You become the receptacle for their emotional bile. After they deposit the contents of their highly disturbed psyche onto you (projection) or into you (projective identification) they feel better because you’re now carrying their toxicity for them.

Of course, this leaves you upset, which these women don’t understand. They feel better, so why don’t you? You’re upset because of something they did? What’s wrong with you? You’re making things up. You’re being too sensitive. If you don’t just take it and pretend you’re alright afterward, it may trigger another attack episode. Remember, these women are genuinely taken aback when you express displeasure with their abusive behavior (see #7).

So when she starts projecting, don’t discuss her feelings—because that’s a bottomless pit—and don’t tell her how bad she’s making you feel because she’ll interpret that as an attack on her, which will then compel her to attack you again (that’s in addition to her initial attack). Briefly acknowledge her upset feelings and then direct the focus to something else.

These women are too emotionally raw and vulnerable, no matter how shut down they appear to be at times. Discussing feelings with them will only trigger her to escalate the abuse and dump on you some more. Don’t ask her how she feels, but rather, what she thinks you and she should do about it, assess the feasibility and proceed from there.

14. At the risk of sounding like a Zen devotee, because I’m not, DETACH FROM THE OUTCOME. You can’t control her. You can’t make her change. All you can do is make choices for yourself, decide how much you can tolerate, set boundaries and decide when enough is enough and end the relationship, which leads me to. . .

15. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.  Ordinarily, I’d encourage people to expect the best from others to create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. However, expecting the best from women like this will only lead you to feel broadsided, perpetually disappointed, and hurt.

For all their crocodile tears and hyper-sensitivity, these women are emotional predators and bullies. If you stay in a relationship with one of these women, the best you can expect is more of the same. You may achieve some periods of “peace” if you can learn how not to trigger her 30% of the time (remember, she’s not responsible for her behavior; you’re responsible for her behavior and your behavior and all the other problems in the universe), how not to take her attacks personally (even though they’re extremely personal in nature), and how to maintain your boundaries through implementing behavioral consequences a small percentage of the time.

Again, these strategies are meant to be short-term coping skills, not long-term solutions. Next week, I’ll post the next 5 techniques, so please check back.

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

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.


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

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5 Ways to Avoid Becoming Involved with Another Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Woman

beautiful woman maskMany men have a long established pattern of dating and/or marrying crazy, emotionally and/or physically abusive women. If you’re one of them and have managed to end your most recent abusive relationship, here are some warning signs and ways you can avoid becoming involved with another one of these highly destructive women:

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

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

If she tells you up front how crazy she is don’t minimize, ignore it or explain it away; look for the nearest exit sign. People will give you warning signs very early on in a relationship, so pay close attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Beware of grand gestures or extreme selfishness. If she gives you an extravagant gift or orchestrates some incredible fantasy date within a few weeks of knowing her, be alarmed. If she expects you to take care of everything, make all the plans, entertain her, pay for everything and doesn’t reciprocate, be alarmed.

The former shows inappropriate boundaries and she’s probably working from the angle of “now he’ll owe me” and the latter indicates you will always “do” for her and get nothing in return except complaints and criticism. Nothing will ever be “good enough” for this kind of woman. Abusive types sometimes do very nice things or show empathy, but it’s on the condition that you will be available to them on demand.

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

5) Mine! Mine! Mine! Extreme possessiveness. If she’s resentful early on about how and with whom you spend your time, this is a bad sign. Abusers feel jealous and threatened when you spend time with your family and friends—even talking on the phone with your sister who’s having a health crisis will set these women off. If she becomes nasty and berates you about having outside interests and hobbies, then, in the words of the Apollo 13 crew, “Houston, we have a problem.”

This is an early warning sign that this woman will use any means necessary to isolate you from your friends and family—the people who care about you and your well-being. If a woman like this can effectively isolate you, then you’re basically under her control and at her mercy without any outside support to tell you that she’s nuts and you deserve to be treated better.

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

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

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.


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

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Am I in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman?

weight of the world on her shouldersThe following question is from a frustrated husband who feels blamed and neglected by his wife. He wants to know if his wife might have Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic personality Disorder or if something else is going on.

I stumbled across your website in a search to determine what’s going in my relationship. I’ve been married for 8 years (we dated for 5 years before we got married). We have a beautiful 5-year old girl whom I love dearly.

My wife comes from an abusive family. Her dad physically, verbally and mentally abused my wife, her mom, and her siblings. My mother-in-law announced she was ending the marriage on my wife’s 21st birthday. I was there. Awkward!! From that time until we married 5 years later, my wife felt  she had to take care of her mom and brother and sister and became very bitter and resentful about it.

My wife was a marketer in a large metro area when we married. After 3 years, we relocated to a smaller area in an effort to start a family. This was her idea so she could be close to her mom. We immediately became pregnant and once our daughter was born, I became the blame for everything wrong in our relationship. She chose to be a stay at home mom and absolutely loathed every minute of it. She repeatedly complained that everything was “falling on her shoulders.”

She still holds on to the bitterness and resentment of her past and wears it like a badge and allows it to interfere with our relationship. Now my wife’s back to work in the marketing field again, but not in the capacity that she desires. Her job’s stressful and when she comes home, she’s too tired for me and our daughter. I work full-time as well, but also take care of the house, cook, get our daughter ready for school and drop her off. All she really has to do is get ready for work. I do these things to alleviate some of the pressure so she won’t feel like it all falls on her shoulders.

She recently took a temporary consulting job on her days off, which she seems to enjoy. As it stands right now, she barely has time for me. I don’t appear on her radar and when I do, I’m just another item on her to do list. I encouraged her to take the consulting work because I wanted her to find something she loved in order to bring that good energy back into our marriage. I fear that it will be for naught.

When I try to talk to her about how I feel neglected, how our daughter feels neglected, how she just sits there and watches me pretty much do everything around the house and take care of our child, it always becomes my fault or she dismisses me by saying I just don’t understand how hard her job is.

I don’t have a lot of people encouraging me to stay in this marriage at this point, including my wife’s sister and brother.  I love my wife and I want stability for our daughter. Last night, she did stay she would work on “us,” but I feel I’m just being placated. I’m at my wits’ end. I don’t know what to do anymore.

– Martin

Hi Martin,

I’m very sorry to read you’re going through such a difficult time in your marriage. I don’t know enough about what’s going on to determine if your wife falls into the BPD/NPD spectrum.

My hunch is that she’s the oldest child and, as such, in an abusive family, she probably became the parentified child. Meaning that at an early age she felt she had to or was required by her parents to take care of/protect her mother and siblings.

It appears she was sucked back into the professional caretaker (martyr) role, that is, if she ever broke free, when her mother divorced her father. Parentified children often grow up to be professional caretakers. When children feel responsible for their parent(s) and/or sibling(s), they create an identity of self-sacrifice in the service of others, but at their own expense.

While they eventually begin to resent this role, it’s hard for them to let go of it because it’s a distraction from dealing with their own issues and feelings and also gives them a sense of control. An abusive family is a chaotic environment for a child. Learning behaviors that offer some control and protection are incredibly difficult to un-learn even when they become a problem later in the person’s life.

Professional caretakers will agree or volunteer to help others, often without being asked and when they’re already stressed to the max, because these other people (usually the same group of family members or friends) “need” them. These same people rarely return the support they receive from the professional caretaker; it’s usually a one-way street. On the flip side, professional caretakers have a difficult time accepting support from others. It conflicts with their identity of “having to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

Unfortunately, it seems as if you’ve been wrongly added to the “just another person I have to take care of” list. I can only imagine how hurtful it is to seen as an “obligation” rather than a partner, lover or helpmate—especially since you seem to be doing more than your share of caring for your wife and daughter. She probably isn’t able to recognize that you’re trying to help her because, on some level, I think she’s really pissed off about being pulled back into her screwed up family dynamic and she’s stuck in the martyr/caretaker role.

Maybe she believed that once she was out of her parents’ house and married that she wouldn’t have to take care of them anymore. And what happened? On her 21st birthday, when she was technically an adult, her mom announced she was divorcing her father and was pulled back into the family drama. Never underestimate the power of a sick and dysfunctional family dynamic.

Your wife is no longer a child and neither are her siblings. Her mother is probably the main source of the guilt and continued obligation. Your wife will have to be the one to set boundaries with her family because the people on the receiving end of the professional caretaker’s ministrations rarely do. However, first she needs to recognize there’s a problem and that she’s a big part of it.

Leaving the major metro area and giving up a job she loved was her choice and definitely not your fault. She was an adult when she made that decision, not a child at the mercy of her parents. Being the parentified child is a difficult role to break out of. Unfortunately, by sacrificing her career (and now it sounds like her marriage) to “take care” of her mother and siblings, she’s in jeopardy of losing the one person who actually puts her needs first.

This isn’t unusual. Professional caretakers don’t know how to relate to a person who isn’t dependent upon them and reject help and support from others (or seem unappreciative of it) when offered because it makes them feel powerless and out of control like when they were very young.

It appears that you’ve gently tried to explain how her behavior makes you feel and the toll it’s taking on your relationship. If you feel comfortable, perhaps you might want to discuss some of these issues with her and ask if it’s something she’d be willing to work on in counseling together. Try not to bring this up in an “I’ve been analyzing you and I know what’s wrong with you” way because that will just put her on the defensive.

I’d approach it from an “I love you, but you’re not happy, neither am I, and I want both of us to recommit to our marriage to make it better.” She’ll probably try to put you off or resist at first by saying she’s too stressed, doesn’t have enough time, and/or “as if I don’t already have enough to do! Now you want me to make time for therapy?!

I encourage you to gently, but firmly stand your ground. Remind her that you want your marriage to be a mutual source of support and comfort—that you don’t want to go to therapy to make her more stressed, but to find a way to come together again. Tell her that it hurts you to see her so angry and tense because you love her, that you know she’s made a lot of personal sacrifices for her family (mother and sibs), but she’s hurting her own family (you and your daughter) right now with her behavior. Try to do this in a non-blaming way.

I hope this is helpful. Please check back and let me know how you’re doing.

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

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.


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

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Can a Man Who Was Emotionally Abused By His Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Have a Relationship with a Healthy Woman?

picasso-wounded-bird-and-catHi Dr Tara,

I had some questions after reading Why Men Are Attracted to Crazy, Emotionally Abusive Women and the question from Anonymous  in your last post, Can a Man Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse After Being with a Crazy Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend?, could’ve been written by the man I was just dating! I know your site and advice are geared toward men, but want to say how helpful I find the information you provide. I’m also hoping you can shed some light on my situation.

I stumbled across your site while trying to find answers about why a truly decent man with a history of horrible relationships and a Borderline Personality Disorder 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. Intellectually, I know it has nothing to do with me, but the whole situation was so confusing toward the end that 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, which  is why I’m posting this.

He held me at such a great distance most of the time while telling me I was the greatest girl he’d ever met. He almost never opened up about anything personal in 6 months, but near the end I got tidbits about his mom and some of his exes. None of it sounded good—mostly a series of women who made him feel terrible.

When I ended the relationship, I explained that I couldn’t keep feeling like sh** and confused and pulled around all the time. He said he was surprised by what I was saying because it sounded so familiar except he was the one who usually said that stuff. He was never mean to me though, just thoughtless—similar to what you said about the abused becoming the abuser in your response to Anonymous.

I said I have a lot to offer and deserve to be with someone who knew, at the very least, whether or not he wanted me to be his girlfriend after 6 months. I said I felt like a place holder until someone better came along. He said didn’t see me that way and was also confused because he’s never known another woman as good as me. He asked if we could try again after he sorts himself out. I said I won’t make promises I don’t know if I can keep, but would like him to be in my life. The conversation ended well and seemed fine and friendly.

Did I do the wrong thing by ending the relationship? Did I bail out just when he was starting to actually get to the point where he could open up to me? In your response to Anonymous, you said he should just “ride out the weirdness.” What if the woman can’t ride it out? Did I compound the trust issues he already had? I don’t think so, but the whole 6 months we were together 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 care a great deal for this man and don’t want to be just another woman who lets him down. I’m also afraid that I may not have been patient enough. Maybe if I’d just waited a little longer… but then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be in a committed relationship with someone after 6 months—yet the thought still pops up.

Since this site is about men who have been through the same things my ex has been through, I’m hoping you could give me some insight. What it is that he needs before he is capable of a loving relationship? Did I do the right thing for both of us by ending this relationship since he wasn’t ready? I’ve never dated a man with his background and want to gain a little more understanding since I truly care.

– Nicole

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 emotionally abused are definitely affected by the aftermath of his previous abuse. It’s sort of like being the girlfriend/wife of a veteran with PTSD.

I was once in a relationship similar to the one you describe. It left me feeling confused, angry, not good enough, and questioning my own sanity. There’s something extremely intoxicating about hearing, “I’ve never known a girl like you before. You’re so kind and understanding. 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 length and severity 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 crazy, abusive narcissistic or borderline women warps these men’s perspective on love and relationships. They view crisis, criticism, conflict, drama, insults, neglect, etc., as normal because, with these women, it is the norm. Sometimes, it’s difficult to break  this pattern because of the rush from being on constant high alert and the exquisite thrill of the rare occasion when these women are nice to them.

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 move on to healthier relationships.

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. It sounds like your ex is in this group. These men equate the conflict, crisis, chaos, conditional or transactional love/acceptance, and the exquisite tension of trying to please the NPD/BPD woman while avoiding her wrath with “chemistry.”

If these men are able to enter into a relationship with a healthy woman in which the tension is absent, it feels “off” to them. They generally can’t articulate what’s missing, which is very confusing for 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 abused 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 a weird, in between twilight space. They don’t want to be abused anymore and desperately want to be in a healthy relationship, but miss the adrenaline rush from the drama and conflict. Intellectually, they want something different, but can’t quite get there.

Many of these men just can’t seem to let go of the self-destructive impulse to recreate their abusive relationship(s) from childhood with a woman (or series of women) in the present who is the psychological embodiment of the abusive parent(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 involve 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 need to address these issues in a therapeutic setting before trying with a “civilian.”

When these men meet a healthy woman woman, the thrill of being abused and the possibility of being able to stop the abuse vanishes (i.e., winning acceptance and love from a woman who isn’t capable of it). They miss that. Other reasons these men can’t fully transition into healthy relationships include not being able to let go of 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. I believe these men can break the cycle, but they have to consciously work at it while mourning the loss of the past.

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

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 feelings and confusion; not you. You did not compound his issues. If anything, you’ve 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 were 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, which you describe as “give a little and hide a lot,” aren’t 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 if he won’t confront his past and make the conscious choice to move forward.

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 start making different choices. If you have a pattern of being attracted to men with emotional abuse histories and/or who are otherwise emotionally unavailable, this may be an issue of your own that you need to resolve. It could be your way of avoiding intimacy and a reciprocal relationship.

If you do have a pattern of being attracted to or wanting to “save” someone like your ex, it might mean that you’re not ready to make yourself completely vulnerable to someone either. Perhaps you recognized this similar aspect in your ex, which made the attraction “safe.” In other words, a lasting, intimate, healthy relationship isn’t going to happen. I wonder if this is what’s going on with you?

If so, the good news is, you can un-stuck yourself. Consider this relationship with your ex another step in your development toward having a mutually satisfying, reciprocal relationship. Maybe you were trying to prove (to yourself) that you are “good enough” by trying to make him see that he should want to be in a relationship with you. Conversely, it sounds like he wanted to be in a relationship with a woman like you, but didn’t feel good enough about himself because of his abuse history. This can get very circular.

It’s important to really understand what happened in your last relationship. Look at it in the historical context of your previous relationships and see where it falls in your progression toward achieving what you consider to be your ideal relationship. Keep trying and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in a relationship.

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

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