Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

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.

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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.

5 Stages of Letting Go of a Relationship with an Emotionally Abusive Woman

still rainingMany of my readers have expressed how difficult it is for them to let go of their relationships with emotionally abusive, Borderline and/or Narcissistic Personality Disorder wives and girlfriends. Several men who were involved with these women refer to them as “monsters.” One man in particular (Run4TheHills) writes that he prays to get cancer everyday because his marriage is so bad. It goes to show how terrifying these women can be when the prospect of a terminal illness is more appealing than another 15 years of marriage or a cutthroat divorce process.

There seems to be two categories men with abusive exes fall into:

  1. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free at last! These men are able to recognize that their relationship wasn’t based on love, but upon control tactics (fear, shame, guilt), unmet emotional needs, dysfunctional dependency and projection. Once they work through any lingering trust issues and why they were attracted to this kind of woman, they’ll move on and be just fine.

2. Just can’t get enough of your “love,” babe. These men appear to have bought into the lies their exes told them, such as: “No one will ever love you as much as me.” “You’ll never find anyone as wonderful as me.” “You’re crazy if you think anyone else would want you.” “You don’t know how lucky you are that I put up with you.” “You owe me after I sacrificed everything for you.” They swallow these lies hook, line and sinker and pair them with a handful of good memories. The result is a powerful, distorted belief, which keeps them from moving on and makes it difficult to have a happy, healthy relationship with someone new.

Despite the relentless abuse, rage episodes, mind games, projection, gaslighting and demoralization, these men believe they’re still in love with these women “on some level” and/or “will always love” them. They continuously remind themselves how bad the relationship was so they don’t fall into an illusory, sentimental nostalgia for their ex and get back together. This attitude is evidence of how emotionally abusive women brainwash or program their targets.

It takes time to grieve the loss of a significant relationship. No matter how awful your ex is, you still need to mourn the loss. This may be confusing because ending a relationship with an abuser should ultimately feel like an act of liberation, but for many, it’s also experienced as a loss. Not the loss of the “monster” she is in reality, but the loss of the ideal, fantasy image you constructed in your head and the relationship you wished you could’ve had with her. This fantasy image of the great sex and fleeting moments of sanity is not her true self; the abusive bully is her true self. The woman and the relationship you love and miss exist solely in the Land of If Only.

In other words, “if only she weren’t so crazy…” “If only she weren’t so cruel…” “If only she wasn’t such a liar…Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the five stages of grief (On Death and Dying, 1969) to explain how people “deal with grief and tragedy, especially when diagnosed with a terminal illness or catastrophic loss.” You have to go through this process in order to get through it, let go and move on. The five stages include:

1. Denial. You were in denial when you were with her and you are in denial whenever you consider getting back together with her. When you catch yourself thinking, “She’s not that bad. She really does love me. I’m not perfect either . . .” you’re diving headlong into an ocean of denial. She is that bad. She doesn’t love you. She’s not capable of loving you or anyone else because deep down she loathes herself. She views you as an object to control and to bolster her false image. To BPD/NPD women, people are props to use in their distorted, twisted fantasy world in which they’re special, entitled, above reproach and not subject to the rules of civility and decency most of us abide by.

If you think you can help the NPD/BPD woman to see the truth about herself, the way she treats you and the relationship in order to get her to change; you’re also in denial. Even when this woman is hurling the most abusive bile at you, in her mind, she believes she’s being magnanimous for pointing out the error of your ways, so you can improve yourself and be the kind of man she “deserves.” In her mind, you should be grateful she takes time from her “busy” schedule to criticize, abuse and condescend to you.

2. Anger. This is a good stage. Hold onto it for awhile. It’s what keeps you from going back. Try not to get stuck here, however. Feel the anger and then let it go. This is when you’re aware of how badly she’s treated you. You’re angry with her for treating you the way she did and angry with yourself for putting up with it. It’s natural to feel anger when someone is deliberately cruel, dishonest or treats you unfairly. You had to stuff your anger when you were with her because expressing it would’ve led to more conflict and nastiness. You have a right to feel angry. Just express it in a productive manner (i.e., don’t hurt yourself or others), create boundaries for yourself and channel the energy into something healthy like sports, exercise or a project.

3. Bargaining. This stage has a little bit of denial mixed in with it. You deny the reality of the situation (or the severity of it) and make deals with yourself. For example, “She said she’s really sorry and that it’ll be different if we get back together. I’ll give her one more chance and if she starts acting crazy again, I’m out of there.” “Maybe if I’m a little more patient and am very careful and avoid pushing her buttons, it can work.” Or this old chestnut, “I’m just going to have sex with her, but not get emotionally involved.

You can’t bargain with someone to treat you well. Being treated with kindness, common decency, consideration, respect and acceptance should be a prerequisite for an intimate relationship; not something you’re rewarded with for meeting one of her unreasonable demands or if she’s trying to manipulate you into doing or buying something for her. Either she’s capable of a reciprocal relationship or she’s not. It doesn’t matter what you do or how nice, patient and understanding you are with her. She is what she is; a controlling, cruel, abusive, emotional predator and bully. You can’t appease a bully or persuade them to be nice to you. If you do, she’ll see you as weak and bulldoze you all the more.

4. Depression. This is when it sinks in there’s no going back to this woman and that the woman you loved never existed. You mourn the loss of time and the abuse you tolerated. You direct the anger at yourself and feel stupid for being with her and fear getting into another relationship, lest you become involved with another woman just like her.

Like the Anger stage, you don’t want to get stuck here either. Feeling sadness over this relationship is natural, but don’t let your experience with this woman distort how you view all relationships. Not all women are like her and, if you can feel the painful and difficult feelings that ending this relationship brings up, you’ll get through it.

5. Acceptance. While you’re not ok with what happened, you accept the reality of who this woman is and chalk it up to a learning experience. You’ve let go of the anger and sadness and are ready to move on in your life. You may always feel a little pang when you think of this woman, like when a combat veteran remembers some wartime atrocity, but it won’t control you anymore. Eventually, that little pang will turn into a “What was I thinking?” attitude when you remember this woman, followed quickly by murmuring to yourself, “nutjob.”

These five stages aren’t always a lock-step, linear process. You may bounce back between a few of the stages and cycle through them a few times before you reach acceptance. You can expedite grieving for and healing form this relationship if you:

  • Maintain a strict NO CONTACT policy.
  • Disabuse yourself of the notion that you can “be friends” with your ex (“being friends” translates to “not ready to let go”).
  • Understand why you were attracted to this woman and resolve these issues.
  • Focus on taking care of yourself, reconnecting with who you are and rediscovering what makes you happy.

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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Photo credits:

  • Still raining by azli jamil on flickr.
  • Defense mechanism by Ray Fenwick on flickr.