The Dating Again article and video series takes a different approach to dating after you’ve been in a bad relationship, or series of bad relationships. Rather than focusing on how to spot red flags and other warning signs a potential partner is FUBAR, self-absorbed, immature, a gold digger, personality disordered and/or a garden variety nightmare biped train wreck, it focuses on you. Specifically, the articles and videos focus on:
- Why and how you entered into these relationships.
- Why and how you tolerated being devalued, exploited and taken for granted.
- What you’ll need to heal before you feel attracted to healthier people.
Part One explores why you’ve chosen such damaged partners. Part Two explores possible unconscious motivators to maintain the old unhealthy pattern of relationships (i.e., secondary gains). Part Three discusses why many codependents feel a “lack of chemistry” with emotionally healthier women and men. Part Four identifies what you’re likely to lose if you become healthier and choose healthier partners with whom to have intimate relationships and friendships.
Giving up the fairy tale of the brave, loving and loyal codependent who saves the narcissist or borderline (from themselves).
Why do I hate Disney, Inc.? So many reasons . . . Primarily, I hate Disney because they destroyed the original Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. Disney is the biggest purveyor in the propagation of princess culture. I swear if one more little girl in an Elsa dress crashes into me with a mini-shopping cart at Trader Joe’s . . . To be fair, it’s not the children’s fault. It’s their parents. But I digress.
Fairy tales weren’t intended to be the Disney-fied princess-prince hook-up genre routinely served up for mass consumption today. Fairy tales, in their original form, are symbolic allegories. “It is a story that takes truths that are hard for the oldest people to understand and shows them to us through the eyes of a child. You might call it a small story about a very big thing” (Cambridge Library and Scientific Society). Fairy tales are often quite grim (pun intended), not the teapot-candlestick song and dance numbers Disney produces.
Cinderella is about childhood bereavement. Her mother died and father’s nowhere to be found. She’s left grieving in the ashes in the care of an abusive step-mother. Her only friends are mice and birds (i.e., representing the healing power of nature). Snow White is about another girl whose mother has died. She’s seen as a sexual rival by her step-mother who, consumed with narcissistic envy, tries to have her murdered. The Fisherman and his Wife is about a power-hungry, narcissistic woman incapable of being content with what she has, no matter how grand.
If you’re more familiar with Disney’s unreasonable relationship expectation porn, you probably have some pretty faulty beliefs about the magical power of love. For example, love can conquer all. No, it can’t — especially not characterological disorders, mental illness, pathological lying and addiction, for instance.
Or, if a very special prince kisses the beautiful, but demonically possessed princess in just the right way, she’ll become his perfect loving princess and happily ever after, the end. Love can be healing if it’s accepted when offered. It isn’t a miracle drug, however. Many clients have friends who love them and think they’re wonderful. It’s not as meaningful as getting the approval of a woman or man who’s unlikely to give it (just like mom or dad), though. Many clients also confuse codependency, trauma bonding and the highs and lows of abuse with love.
Doubt me? Okay. How many reading this have waited years (or decades) for a partner who’s consistently been, cruel, deceitful, selfish, unloving, immature, materialistic, lazy, irrational and unempathetic to bibbity-bobbity-boo back into the woman or man who love bombed you once upon a time? Unless you have a wand-wielding fairy godmother who’s been stuck in traffic all these years, that magical transformation you’ve convinced yourself is possible simply isn’t going to happen.
Common never-going-to-have-a-happily-ever-after fairy tales I see in my practice include:
- Nick in shining armor rescues the beautiful, helpless princess, Damselina von Distressing. After saying the magic words, “I do,” Damselina becomes the needy, control freak waif-like professional victim who devours the children. There are no magic incantations to re-metamorphose Damselina into the beautiful, yet whiny, manipulative and prone to emotional reasoning, princess.
- Jane is dazzled by the handsome prince, Mario Testosteroni. He sweeps her off her feet and onto a pedestal. After saying the magic words, “I do,” Mario becomes a foot-stomping, angry, controlling troll who devours the children. There are no potions to magically re-transform Mario into the handsome prince Jane thought she was marrying.
- Nick no longer in shining armor meets Effy Yoo, the strong, independent, employed “I don’t need a man” princess. She pays her own way most of the time and doesn’t blow up his phone each time a light bulb needs changing. The opposite of Damselina! After saying the magic words, “I do,” Effy still doesn’t need a man for anything — except to financially support her because she stopped working. Effy becomes the angry, hostile dependent, cruel, nothing-is-good-enough queen-like witch who devours the children. There aren’t any magic spells to re-enchant Effy to her previous illusion either.
The enchantment of your family of origin issues and love bombing is what made Damselina, Mario and Effy appear so very attractive and charming to you. As stated in Part Three, healthier people wouldn’t find your narcissistic or borderline partner or ex as attractive as you did or do, or attractive at all for that matter. Especially, once the ex reveals the horror show lying under the beautiful mask of the false self.
I can’t think of a single Grimm fairy tale in which the monster, evil queen/witch (who hid their true identity to seduce) is magically transformed into the loving, beautiful and benevolent being they pretended to be. There are fairy tales aplenty in which the frog, peasant, old hag, farmer’s daughter or son, a character of humble origin, etc., turns out to be the hero, princess or helpful fairy who grants wishes.
How does that typically occur? When a character possessing virtue and humility shows them kindness. It also occurs when an unlikely hero/heroine displays ingenuity and bravery, especially when afraid, in facing the monster. That’s who wins the treasure in fairy tales.
In reality, this is how you heal. The little story explains the big story. No one is going to magically appear to “save” you, or make the grief work required unnecessary. If you’re honest with yourself, weren’t all the exes supposed to have been “the one” who would love you and magically make the pain of the past disappear? Did any of these women or men do that for you?
More than likely, they were all just different, but similar versions of the old childhood pain. In order to become healthier, you’ll have to release those old childhood fairy tales about monsters who can be magically transformed into loving parents or partners. This isn’t simply a cost or a loss. These words aren’t strong enough. I’m talking about grief work.
The costs of becoming healthier and having healthier relationships.
Just as staying unhealthy has benefits (i.e., secondary gains); becoming healthier has costs (i.e., secondary losses). “These are attitudes and behaviors people would need to give up or let go, in order to create the realistic possibility of addressing and resolving their difficulties . . . [they] are avoided as disadvantages for making adaptive changes to remedy their . . . physical, neurotic, and character disorder(s)” (Will Joel Friedman, PhD).
A common thread that weaves through the “disadvantages” of becoming healthier with my clients involves giving up old ways of being. Specifically, one’s self-concept or identity, how one views others and how one understands relationships. This includes faulty beliefs about relationships and what love feels and looks like. For example, many people have been taught (often by abusive parents and reinforced by abusive adult partners) that love is unconditional.
Unconditional love is for children and dogs. And, okay fine, cats (if you’re a cat person). In an adult love relationship, it’s critical to have boundaries and behavior expectations. For instance, no abuse, no lying, no treachery and no cheating. Many narcissists, borderlines and other chronically immature people think unconditional loves means that you have to accept them unconditionally, just as they are without complaint, but don’t expect to get the same in return.
Changing old beliefs and their corresponding behaviors is easier said than done, of course. That which is learned in childhood can be hard to unlearn in adulthood. It is possible and, if you want to be healthier and have healthier relationships, it must be done!
It’s painfully difficult for some codependents to let go of the dysfunctional fairy tale that a healthy loving relationship can grow out of abuse, drama, chaos and deception. This is what you desperately wanted to believe as a child. It’s what you had to believe to survive psychologically.It’s too terrifying for a child to believe otherwise.
As kids, adult codependents frequently felt unloved, unsupported, unrecognized, unwanted, unaccepted by and unimportant to their parent(s). As a result, you lie to yourself that if you’re good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, patient enough and accepting enough of the mistreatment the princess/prince who became the monster will turn back into the princess/prince.
This isn’t reality-based thinking. Again, it’s the magical thinking of a hurting child. It’s highly self-destructive, magical thinking when applied to narcissists, borderlines, psychopaths and other immature, self-absorbed and exploitative human beings in adult relationships. Magical thinking can imbue one with a false sense of hope and power, though. In this respect, it’s self-reinforcing.
As is the memory of the love bombing and the “good times.” And what are the “good times” in an abusive relationship? They’re the times when the abuse is absent. Not fantastical or magical moments that can’t be experienced with healthier adults. Just abuse, conflict, drama and chaos free. In a healthier relationship with a healthier adult, no abuse is the norm, not the extra special couple of times a month treat it is with narcissists and borderlines.
The costs of becoming well from Friedman’s list that I observe most commonly in my practice include:
1. “People will want something from you that you may not be willing to give.” This is usually the fear of allowing someone to see you as you really are. In other words, letting a potential partner see your authentic, vulnerable self. Many codependents get a lot of juice from being the strong hero, fixer, rescuer, people-pleasing savior or angel (i.e., the “good husband/good boy” or the “good wife/girl”). Thus, you continue to attract and be attracted to damsels or dudes in distress, drama queens or kings, etc., with predictable results.
If you were healthier and whole, you wouldn’t be looking to rescue or fix people into loving you. Even if that were to happen, which it won’t, then what? If the thrill is in fixing someone, will they love you as you are once they no longer require fixing? Would you have been initially attracted to them if they were healthier? You try to fix partners because you couldn’t fix your parents and, as a result, felt unloved. Getting healthier means letting go of this, figuring out who you’re meant to be and giving that Self the love, attention and compassion you didn’t receive as a child.
2. “People will . . . misconstrue your values, intentions, commitments, attitudes, and actions by drawing erroneous conclusions.” Becoming healthier will almost certainly be misconstrued by a dysfunctional, abusive and/or disordered spouse. They usually view any attempts to heal, grow and improve as a threat to or loss of their control over you. The healthier you become, the less willing you’ll be to tolerate an unhealthy partner. In which case, they’re right to feel threatened. Except that someone who actually loves you supports you in being well!
If your ex runs a smear campaign, engages in DARVO (i.e., falsely claims victimhood), friends and family may also misconstrue your efforts to get healthy. This is more likely to occur if you didn’t confide in anyone about the abuse while in the relationship. For example, you may be accused of having a “mid-life crisis,” an affair, of being selfish, abandoning the family or of being “ungodly.” If a person is quick to believe the ex’s smear campaign, it isn’t a loss. It’s good riddance.
3. “To give up and release all your best excuses, cop-outs, lies, half-truths, misleading omissions, justifications, intellectualizations, and ‘good reasons’ for life not adaptively functioning.” Common rationalizations and lies clients tell themselves are that “all women” or “all men” are [fill in the blank]. The dysfunctional relationship isn’t or wasn’t “that bad.” Their mother or father wasn’t “that bad.” The best way to get over an old relationship is to start a new one.
No one could resist love bombing. If they’d just tried harder, been more patient and loving, etc., the relationship with a disordered ex could’ve worked. There was no way to have known what the ex was really like. You don’t know why this keeps happening to you. You have bad luck in relationships, etc. Unhealthy people choose other unhealthy relationship partners. Codependency and trauma bonds are unhealthy.
4. “To recognize and give up unrealistic, irrational ideas and beliefs.” This is about the necessity of giving up the old faulty beliefs, behaviors and fairy tales that tolerating pain and abuse can magically fix another person. It means no longer believing that sacrificing yourself on the altar of someone’s pathology is a measure of your love for them. It’s a measure of your willingness to be abused by them.
5. “To give up and release significant anxieties, upsets, fears, frustrations, depression, and other unprocessed somaticized, or behaviorally acted out emotions, by learning and consistently practicing constructive ways to help process feelings ‘through’ one’s guts, body, mind, and spirit.” The most consistent fear I see in my clients is that they don’t believe they can simply be who they are and be loved. They fear they aren’t enough.
They believe they’re unlovable, lack worth and are inadequate. This is also why they’re so susceptible to love bombing. It fills up their empty spaces. Confronting these fears about the self is the foundation of the healing work to be done. It’s the cornerstone of becoming healthier.
6. “To tolerate feeling awkward and uncomfortable with highly unfamiliar healthy, successful attitudes and behavior.” In other words, growing pains! As I tell my clients repeatedly, healthier people feel different than the dysfunctional and the disordered. Healthier relationships will begin less intensely and unfold and feel differently than dysfunctional relationships with the disordered do. This is a good thing!
The highs won’t be so high; and the lows won’t be so low. Conflicts and disagreements need not be a source of anxiety and fear, or something to be avoided. You’ll be allowed to have your own feelings, wants and needs. In fact, with healthier partners, they’ll be just as much of a priority. Scary, huh?
7. “To recognize and give up dysfunctional coping strategies such as doubt, denial, avoidance, escape attempts, going unconscious, suppression, not remembering, and not caring.” This is another significant part of healing and maturing. It’s important to recognize the maladaptive defense mechanisms learned in childhood and later employed in your toxic adult relationships. Healthier people aren’t going to tolerate them for long.
As previously noted, the personality disordered expect that you accept them 100% as they are — abuse and all — while demanding that you change everything about yourself. An accepting, kind and loving adult isn’t going to reject you for being who you are because they want to be accepted for who they are, too. You’re who they want to be with! Echoing (i.e., telling someone what you think they want to hear), hiding and distancing will push healthier women and men away.
8. “To accept and learn to tolerate the realistic idea that nearly nothing can prevent you from taking the next scary, risky step in creating and claiming your True Self and taking your true power.” No one else can fix or save you, but you. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. It begins with self-care, learning to love and accept yourself, developing boundaries and self-respect. It also involves a willingness to step into the unknown.
Meaning, you adopt different attitudes and beliefs and make different choices in combination with new corresponding behaviors. It means making calculated risks and being vulnerable enough to share who you truly are with another person and feel the transformative power of acceptance. As I often tell clients, you’re sitting in a cage of your own building with the door wide open.
9. “Be willing to become tolerant and accepting of other peoples’ choices that are unworkable and destructive, without “carrying” them, rescuing them, or making their lives fundamentally your business.” This is one of the most difficult aspects for codependents to let go. Stop trying to “fix” others and start dealing with your issues! Think about it. How much of your life have you spent trying to “fix” someone in the hope that they’ll then be able to love you? Stop doing this.
10. “Learn and practice daily whatever verbal, assertive, limit-setting, emotional coping and environmental management skills needed . . . and become firmly intolerant of irresponsible and/or destructive attitudes and behaviors, abusive behavior, ‘injustice collecting,’ and all forms of harm to any living thing.” To summarize, BOUNDARIES. You need them, so get some. Not having any boundaries (or having weak ones) plays a large part in why you’ve had such unhealthy, one-sided relationships. Additionally, identify how much self-defeating, negative self-talk you engage in and flip it around. If you tell yourself you’re an unlovable loser that no woman or man would want 30+ times a day is it any wonder you think and feel the way you do? This os actually a great thing to lose as you become healthier!
Letting go of those old codependent fairy tales probably won’t be easy. They’re the bedrock of what you grew up believing about yourself, others, love and relationships. But let them go you must if you’re determined to become healthier and have healthier relationships. The first step is showing yourself kindness, love and compassion, so you can recognize it when it’s genuinely offered to you.
Whether you realize it or not, you have the ingenuity and bravery to face your fears, inner demons and unresolved grief of childhood and old relationship wounds. The coping mechanisms (albeit unhealthy ones) you developed in childhood served a purpose. They protected you from at least some of the toxicity of your family system. Now it’s time to let those go and develop healthier beliefs, attitudes and coping mechanisms.
If you still want some magic, here’s an incantation for you: “I’m ending the relationship. I’m taking my life back. I want to heal.” In taking responsibility for yourself and your choices, you’re free to leave and deal with the issues that caused you to confuse such ugliness for love and beauty in the first place.
Now, repeat after me, “I’m ending the relationship. I’m taking my life back. I want to heal.” Then you make it so.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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