Posts Tagged ‘setting boundaries’

The No Contact Rule: Ending an Abusive Relationship

man looking at phone1But she keeps texting me. . . But she keeps showing up at my gym. . . But she’s emailing to say she still loves me even though she’s dating a new guy. . . But what if I just text to tell her to stop texting me. . . But she keeps calling me. . .

No buts. No what ifs. No bargaining with yourself. No Contact.

If you’re fortunate enough not to have had a child or children with a controlling, emotionally abusive woman or man of the Cluster B variety (narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, anti-social), the very best thing you can do for your emotional and physical well-being is to institute a strict No Contact Rule.

No Contact doesn’t mean No Contact except for x, y and z. By No Contact, I mean NO — zero, nada, zilch — Contact. To use Freshmen Orientation parlance: No means no.

[This is the first of a series of posts I’m writing about no contact and gaining emotional distance from an abusive ex. If you share a child, you can’t cut off contact entirely, but you can establish strict boundaries and emotional distance, which I’ll address in the coming weeks.]

Breaking Up Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic or Sociopathic Style

There are primarily five ways a break up with an abusive individual plays out:

1. You end the relationship and want nothing more to do with her, but she won’t leave you alone. Individuals who are more BPD or HPD tend to behave this way. Most NPDs won’t chase after you or grovel to get you back—they’ll bully and threaten, but not grovel.

2. She ends the relationship, cuts you out of her life and begins dating other men immediately. You wonder if you ever meant anything to her at all. You convince yourself that you’re still in love (Stockholm Syndrome) with her and contact her only to be ignored or emotionally smacked down. Most forms of Crazy are capable of this behavior. They view people as objects to use, therefore, everyone is replaceable after they suck them dry.

3. She breaks up with you and then begs you to take her back or “magnanimously” offers you another chance. You reunite, she breaks up with you again and a pattern of her jerking your chain develops. A BPD is more likely to beg and plead, while a NPD will make it seem like she’s doing you a favor by reconciling.

4. She breaks up with you/you break up with her and you receive a flurry of angry, hurtful, conciliatory, desperate and/or seductive emails, texts, calls and/or voicemails. She spews the most vile things at you—insulting your manhood and threatening “revenge” for the audacity of not wanting to further subject yourself to her abuse—or tries to lure you back in with her crisis du jour (e.g., my car broke down, someone threatened her, someone’s being “mean” to her) or explicit sexual come-on’s. The more you ask her to leave you alone or try to reason with her, the more she amps up her stalking-harassing behavior.

5. You get caught in a sick dynamic in which you’re both breaking up with each other (sometimes several times in the same day) and hurl insults back and forth via text or email. Then you get back together or plan to get back together or have sex, everything blows up, you break up again, compete to see who can hurt the other more and create a sick and highly self-destructive cycle of mutual abuse. If you’re engaging in this particular dynamic, I urge you to take a step back, look at what you’re doing and get professional help to break the cycle. This dynamic is typical when both individuals have one or some variation of the Cluster B disorders or if one partner is extremely co-dependent and the other abusive.

Why no contact?

If any of the above scenarios apply, you must distance yourself physically and emotionally from your ex and that means No Contact. If you’re having difficulty implementing and/or maintaining the No Contact Rule, ask yourself why and be honest. For example:

  • Do you have hope you can work things out with your ex?
  • Are you caught up in the conflict and drama?
  • Does it give you a rush?
  • Do you need to have the last word?
  • Do you want her to acknowledge you’re “right?”
  • Are you still clinging to some rescuer-white knight fantasy?
  • Do you think you can’t live without her?

You’ll have a difficult time establishing and maintaining No Contact if you answered yes to any of these questions. If your ex has a personality disorder, the qualities and behaviors that drove you away, caused her to abuse you or discard you are highly unlikely to change. If  you’re easily sucked into the drama, want to save her or don’t think you can live and be happy without her, you need to do some work on yourself to understand why you’re so dependent upon your ex.

No one else can love you enough for you to be able to love yourself. True happiness is contingent upon you; not what someone else does or doesn’t do for you. You need to be able to do both of these things for yourself before you can find happiness and love with another person.

Think of No Contact as going cold turkey. In many ways, a relationship with an abusive woman (or man) is like an addiction. A heroin addict cannot have just a little heroin nor can you handle just a little contact with your ex. In the best of circumstances, two reasonably healthy and emotionally mature individuals can be friends after breaking up. The opposite is true if you were involved with a borderline, narcissist, histrionic, sociopath or some variation of all of the above. An abusive relationship is not a normal relationship, therefore, you cannot be friends afterward.

Do not view No Contact as a way to “win” your ex back. This is a losing strategy. No Contact is to help you gain emotional, psychological and physical distance in order to heal and move forward in your life. The goal isn’t to make her miss you or to punish her. The goal is to establish peace of mind and freedom from the pain your ex caused you. Your ex is the source of your pain. To stop hurting and mend, you need to avoid the source of the pain.

Next week, I’ll publish the second post in this series that explains why No Contact is so important to your overall well-being and physical and mental health.

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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5 More Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman

Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown footballThis is part two of last week’s post, Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman. Remember, these skills are meant to be short-term coping strategies while you figure out how to end your abusive relationship. Maintaining this level of hyper-vigilance and behavioral maintenance long-term would be emotionally, physically and psychologically grueling and I urge you not to do so:

6. Be suspicious if she pretends to act like a normal, reasonable human being or is “nice” to you. Quite simply, these women aren’t reasonable and they’re not nice. Being “nice” is a last resort tactic in order to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do when their usual behaviors of bullying, insults, threats, high drama, tears and guilt have failed. They use these strategies to disorient you into submission. Pretending to be nice is just another maneuver in their bag of tricks, so don’t fall for it. It may also be a Hoover, if she suspects you’re thinking about ending the relationship or have told her you want to separate.

When these women are uncharacteristically nice, you’re probably relieved and think, “Maybe there’s hope. Maybe things will be okay.” They lull you into a false sense of security, you let your guard down and then WHAM! the rug is pulled out from beneath you. It’s like the old Peanuts gag in which Lucy van Pelt yanks the football away from Charlie Brown as he’s about to kick it. He lands on his backside every time, tricked again and wondering why Lucy just can’t play nice.

Don’t be a blockhead. Don’t respond like an eager puppy dog who’s grateful that his usually abusive mistress gave him a treat only to kick him in the ribs a few minutes later. Figure out what it is she’s after and then plan accordingly.

One of my readers, JP, shares an example of this behavior in which his ex-wife tries to get him to pay more spousal support than he’s required that he calls the rapport breaker in a comment (left on June 9th; 1:39am). I refer to this behavior as well, but call it the one-two sucker punch or the smash and grab (same comment thread left on June 9th; 3:00am by shrink4men—scroll down to the very bottom of the page; for some reason it’s out of sequence).

7. Avoid anger. As crazy as it seems, this kind of woman is genuinely surprised and taken aback when you become angry in reaction to her verbal and emotional abuse, attacks, manipulations, general selfishness, lack of empathy and inability to see any viewpoint, but her own highly distorted one. When you respond with anger (and rightly so), to her distorted emotional reasoning, she perceives this as rejection, criticism and a put down, which she’ll then feel compelled to punish you for.

As far as she’s concerned you don’t have a right to your feelings and she’s the only victim, even when she’s actively abusing you. When you stand up for yourself or hold her accountable for her bad behavior, she perceives it as an attack and will either respond in kind or scurry away to lick her wounds while she plans her next attack.

8. As loathsome as it may be, praise her for whatever admirable qualities (or quality) she has. Try to appeal to her “better nature.” Believe it or not, these women fancy themselves to be high-minded and just. Did you just choke on your coffee? I did.

When she’s behaving badly and/or making outrageous and unreasonable demands, say something like, “I know how much you love our son and what a good mother you are. I know you don’t want to scare him by fighting in front of him. You love him too much. Let’s wait to discuss this when he’s at basketball practice.” Or, “I know what a good Christian you are. Everyone at Church thinks so. No one’s perfect. If Jesus can forgive, so can we.” Or, “You’re so smart and aware about these things. I know you’d eventually think of this yourself, but why don’t we…” You get the idea. By doing this, you flatter and acknowledge her unfounded superior sense of self, which may buy you a little peace.

9. Avoid responding to personal attacks or criticism with defensiveness or long-winded explanations. Being defensive only amps her up to attack even harder and she tunes out any explanations (i.e., what you and I call REALITY) because it contradicts her delusional world and self view.

When she accuses you of saying or doing something that you didn’t say or do, apologize for “mis-communicating” or “misunderstanding.” Say you’re sorry she feels ignored or belittled, because that wasn’t your intention when, for example, you were putting your son to bed after working a 12-hour day or don’t think it’s a good idea to put a $30,000 addition to the house because you’re struggling to make ends meet. This may help her shift back to a positive position.

When she engages in name calling or other demeaning behaviors, set a clear boundary and if she won’t observe it, walk away. For example, “I see you’re upset. I’m willing to discuss the problem with you, but calling me names makes it difficult for me to hear you. If you continue to make personal attacks, I’m going for a walk.” Depending upon the severity of her issues, this may or may not work. The point is to give her a clear consequence if she doesn’t stop her bad behavior. Don’t make concessions just to end the conflict du jour, because it only validates her distorted thinking, which empowers her to make more outrageous criticisms, attacks, demands, etc., which leads us to…

10. Set clear boundaries. This kind of woman will take a million miles if you give her half an inch. Figure out your bottom line when it comes to tolerating certain behaviors, draw a line for the ones that are absolutely unacceptable and state them gently, firmly, clearly and repeatedly. Like a 5-year old child, she doesn’t take “no” for an answer and will continue to push and push and push until she wears you out or she wears herself out, whichever comes first.

These women may respect the boundaries you put in place one day and the next, it’s like you never had the conversation. You will have to consistently and continuously reset the boundaries with her, so if you plan to stay in the relationship, get used to sounding like a broken record. Unlike an actual 5-year old, these women neither grow up nor grow out of these behaviors and their grandiose sense of entitlement. They will maintain their hostile dependency for as long as the relationship continues and afterward via alimony, which is a form of financial abuse, but at least she’s not in your face everyday.

Again, these 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

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Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz on