Help! Can He Change?
Steph (pseudonym) recently contacted me in regards to her ex-boyfriend. They broke up more than six months ago, but she is struggling to heal. There was an amazing first month and then he seemed to transform into a bit of a nightmare. She reported that he could be verbally abusive, flying into rages, lying, suddenly only having time for his friends and even engaging in occasional physical attacks on his friends (yeah I know, this guy is a real catch!). He even claims that he knows everyone and can make her life hell, which may go beyond the usual ‘narcissistic tendencies’.
Steph blames herself for the end of their relationship and rationalises his behaviour with the belief that “nobody is perfect”. She still loves him and believes that it ended because she was cold to him after his last rage. She describes him as “the loveliest person on this Earth most of the time” but can’t understand how he can switch from sobbing and remorseful, to cold and finishing the relationship the next.
Steph’s own father was a narcissist, prone to raging and even threatening her. She is a high achiever with a great job, lots of friends, has “the perfect look”, yet she still feels insecure. Despite a former therapist describing her ex as a “psychopath with a truly shallow emotional span”, Steph contacted me to explore these words and also wondered if she could have ‘saved’ the relationship by not being so harsh with him over the phone.
When clients tell me stories like this, it hurts to be reminded that as women, we can be prepared to put up with so much and quickly blame ourselves when we are getting so little back. Steph is right – nobody is perfect. Does that mean that you should be with an abuser and wait for the occasional good time? Should we just say ” F*ck it, nobody is perfect so I’ll take the first guy that comes along?”
I think the very act of writing down the problems in itself should be a wake up call but if in doubt, break it down to facts: He displayed his true, overriding character which is:
- He is abusive to himself, her and others
- He is disrespectful
- He goes into rages, even fighting with others
- He isn’t just displaying narcissistic tendencies (talk about delusions of grandeur with being threatening)
- There temporary remorse, before the cycle repeats
The whole thing is just one great big abuse cycle.
I fail to see what is so attractive about this guy. Serial killers are often quite charming and can even be kind to people when it suits, but that doesn’t mean that you can suddenly write off all of the bad qualities and focus on the few glimmers of good. This is where we keep falling into the trap; focusing on the initial behaviour that is displayed by these men, ignoring the real consistent behaviour and then betting on the potential of the original behaviour.
This guy is an abuser. Even if he isn’t a narcissist, he is certainly displaying narcissistic tendencies. Making excuses for this man’s behaviour and trumpeting his amazing qualities is akin to when a woman, who is being physically abused by her man, says that he is so sorry about what he’s done and if only she hadn’t left a crease in his shirt/answered him back/breathed, then wouldn’t have beat her. It is just plain wrong.
What Steph is doing is ignoring red flag behaviours and fatal flaws in the relationship because she doesn’t want to let go. She is focused on the good moments, and she essentially knows no better.
Steph has been raised by a man who is a narcissist that threatened and raged at her. Even though she recognises her father’s poor behaviour, she, like many women who have issues from childhood, is more comfortable with the familiar behaviour than she would be with the unfamiliar. In situations like this, you’re gravitating to the dysfunctionality that you know. Why wouldn’t you? You get let down by the primary male figure in your life and if you don’t quickly resolve these issues as an adult, they become the primary basis for bad relationship patterns.
When we find ourselves with someone like our parents, it can often be about righting the wrongs of the past; something like, ‘I couldn’t help or fix my father but I’ll do it with this guy.’ Trust me, that it setting yourself up for a lifetime of pain.
The problems that this guy has are fatal blows to the relationship because they are the type of issues that, irrespective of whether he has some good qualities, are extremely destructive and damaging and are bigger than you or the relationship.
This has all of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship and the best thing that Steph could do is stay in therapy and deal with the demons of the past in order to heal, build her self-esteem and lose her interest in parasites like this man. There is no fairy tale ending with men like this and you can’t love a man into being Mr Wonderful. Love is not enough.
We can’t just decide “I love him” and then place our love on them as if bestowing some magical healing power. The world doesn’t roll like that and there are millions of women out there that are living testament to this. Deciding that you love someone is not a justification for continuing the relationship, especially when the feelings about yourself, love, and relationships originate from negative places.
Men like this behave in this manner regardless. He would be emotionally available and possibly a narcissist EVEN if she licked his feet and behaved like the perfect woman. Moreover, he’d still be this way if she behaved badly. It’s not a phonecall or her being cold towards him why the relationship ended – it is more likely because he is an emotionally unavailable, abusive, controlling potential narcissist.
Ultimately, without respect, everything else crumbles around it. If a person behaves without respect to themselves or others, then they cannot love or do anything that benefits self or others in a positive way. The only person that you can truly change is you. Change your self beliefs and learn to respect yourself; you will no longer care to entertain disrespect from or make excuses for the poor behaviour of others. Food for thought indeed.