What is the trouble with being blinded by appearances when choosing a partner? It’s not that appearance/attractiveness doesn’t have a factor in attraction, of course it does. However, when you overvalue appearance above everything else, you end up in insubstantial, superficial relationships. If you’re appearance focused, you won’t see the leaves, never mind the wood for the trees and run the risk of being blinded to far more substantial problems. Likewise, if someone believes themselves to be exceptionally attractive, they may think that it opens doors, they can get by on appearance alone, and in being so superficially focused, may substitute appearance for intimacy. I know a number of people that believe that they just need to ‘show up’ and they’re only realising now that the years are ticking by and looks are fading that nobody goes out with your face, breasts, height, big penis, long hair or six-pack alone. These may get you through the door but you will also need something of substance behind you.
If you prioritise appearance when choosing partners, you’ll make blind assumptions about them and give too much credit for your powers of evaluation. You’ll assume that because you find them attractive, that it must mean they’re in possession of other qualities, characteristics and values that you’d like in a partner. These assumptions are dangerous because we end up going out with our image of what these things mean, not the actual person, which is why it feels confusing when things go awry.
Conversely, if you believe that your appearance is causing problems in your relationship, it may be indicative of an avoidance of addressing the real issues. It’s very easy to pick the thing you can’t change – genetics. For a start, if it was your appearance, it would mean you were with a superficial partner who avoids the real issues and any of their own inadequacies by blaming your appearance which is denial, delusion and really rather hideous. You can’t forge a relationship with someone that thinks like this – rationalising the irrational.
In my experience, I find that this is often self assumed and that it likely says more about where you’re at emotionally and on the self-loathing scale. It’s not your appearance; it’s the relationship. You could scalpel yourself into a different person on the outside and those same problems and how you really feel about you would still exist. Sure, you might experience a temporary ‘boost’ from a change of appearance, but that is short lived as you may never feel truly secure or truly accepted.
If you’ve made superficial changes to appease what you think is a superficial person, it’s like committing to believing that it’s how things look that counts, which is why you may end up in a relationship that may look good, but feel bad, or just be plain hollow. If you think you’re experiencing problems in your life due to your appearance, I’m a firm believer that everything is contextual. If you take one thing and run with it and don’t apply context, it becomes grossly distorted. If you’re in a mutually fulfilling healthy relationship, you’re not going to blame your appearance if an issue arises.If you’re not in a mutual relationship and are in fact in an unhealthy relationship, appearance is the least of your problems but it may be more convenient to blame it and be in denial.
If you don’t like and love you, you’ll believe people see the things that you hate too, which will cloud your judgement about why they say and do things. Clients get in touch about sex issues. Some think that if they can get the sex on track that everything else will fall into place – that shows they overvalue sex and believe it’s a cure all. When I ask if they’re in a mutually fulfilling healthy relationship i.e other than the sex, are they being treated well, both available and committed, no boundary busting stuff and the answer is always NO. In fact some of these people aren’t even in a relationship.
You have to start asking yourself – what can my appearance do for me? Yes it can help you to feel good but as any person that looks good and feels ugly on the inside can tell you, it’s just surface unless you solve interior problems with interior solutions and ultimately like and love yourself. Appearance changes and looks fade with age, which makes it conditional. By you or your partner being so focused on it, this means that the love is conditional. This is the same as losing weight or contemplating cosmetic surgery – unless the reasons are solely yours and what you’re doing is being done with some work to ensure that you’re emotionally nurtured in the process and dealing with any outstanding issues, I wouldn’t go there. Losing weight/cosmetic surgery to ‘win’ someone who just isn’t that special anyway means that it will never be enough. It’s like saying“I think you’re a really superficial person so let’s be superficial together.”
You know what diet may need instead? The BS Diet. Shed some pounds of denial and get a full focus view of people before you ‘reach’ for appearance again. It’s not your appearance. If there are other issues, address them first. What you think others think about appearance gives a window into how you feel about appearance. People who hate their appearance often gravitate to superficial people for validation – it’s like trying to catch a few rays. These same people tend to at best, be vacant, and at worst be full on disordered.
Appearance may open doors or get you through them but it won’t keep you in the relationship house especially with someone with one or both feet out anyway. Constantly flogging the appearance horse indicates that it is the uncomfortable comfort zone. Have an honest conversation with yourself and don’t construct superficial reasons around much deeper issues because you will get deep into an unhealthy relationship or persecute yourself unnecessarily.
You have this one life to live and the one skin you’re in. There are always things you can do to nurture and ‘improve’ yourself across all fronts, not just appearance, but do it from a positive place as a caretaker with a great responsibility. You don’t need a life that looks good but feels bad; you need a life that truly feels good. Expect more for yourself than that which is only superficial.
I’ve had a week out from both my private client and my corporate work, which has been a great time to reflect on and take stock of where my clients and I are in our co-created journey, as we approach the end of another year. My reflections threw up a theme for me, a theme that has been circulating and percolating over the past few weeks. It is the theme of feeling replaced and replaceable. I work with narcissistically inclined personalities, as well as those suffering from the effects of them. I hear variations on the same tale time and again. If there is a common cry from those left tending to the exit wounds inflicted by a pathological, it is, “Why is he/she so happy now? How have I been replaced so easily?’. Let’s take a closer look…
Nothing cuts deeper than than going through a drama-filled ending of a dysfunctional, pathological, abusive, addicted and/or sick relationship only to then find out that your ex has rapidly moved on and now seems ‘so happy.’ Women especially (so i’ll address the rest of my post to you) tend to conclude it must have been her fault. If her ex can be happy with someone else and not her, well then….it was some shortcoming in her and she needs to figure out just what ‘went wrong.’ and fix it. Ladies, ladies ladies…let’s begin with the ABC of Pathology. Pathology is:
- The inability to consistently sustain positive change
- The inability to grow to any emotional/spiritual depth
- The inability to develop meaningful insight about the effect of behaviour on others
When it comes to pathological behaviour (that of an individual with strong narcissistic, sociopathic or psychopathic traits and tendencies), the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So, what you have to ask yourself is how were his previous relationships? I don’t mean what he TOLD you they were (all her fault, she was a psycho and crazy) but what really happened in them.
If you developed a Relationship Time Line and wrote out all his relationships from his teen years forward, the ‘quality’ of them and why they ended, what would you conclude? How successful is this man in maintaining healthy relationships? Yup…that’s what I thought. How was his relationship with you? No, I’m not talking about the honeymoon cycle when both of you are living off of endorphins. I’m talking about the guts of the thing….the meat and bones of it.
So, he has a history of his own ‘Trail of Tears’ — a path littered with the lives of wounded women? Your relationship has left you as one more statistic of his pathological heart breaks.
Maybe you see the new person as getting all the good parts of him you always loved and none of the bad parts! After all, the reason it ended was all that bad stuff! Does it make you want to call her up and tell her what’s just around the corner in the relationship? Does it make you want to curl up in a fetal position and cry that he has found happiness with another? Time to stop the drama.
Remember – Pathology is the inability to sustain positive change” “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour” — so just what does that mean? There are honeymoon phases of every relationship. Lovers live on the high of the ‘falling in love stage.’ We already know that pathologicals don’t ‘technically’ fall in love but they do hang around and experience some level of attachment. You experienced the whole endorphin falling in love sensation. Well, no doubt so is she. How long did yours last? A few weeks, months or maybe a year or two of ok-ness? What happened next? Oh yeah, you found out his lies or noticed his inconsistency, or caught him cheating. Once you confronted him then you got the narcissistic rage, then maybe you got the aloofness, or maybe he even went straight for the jugular and packed up and left.
Care to take a guess what’s highly likely to happen again? There will be another honeymoon, then she will notice his lies, inconsistency, or catch him cheating, then she’ll eventually confront him (or live forever with the miserableness of knowing what he’s doing and not having the ovaries to confront him) and then he’ll rage, punish her, reject her, ignore her or abandon her. So here we are – now she is also on his ‘Stepford Wives List of Rejects’. She’s one more tear on his ‘Trail of Tears.’ You haven’t seen behind their closed doors to know what she’s dealing with. He hasn’t changed. He is hardwired, so she’s going to be dealing with the same thing you did. It’s just a matter of when. Sure she may hide it and act like everything is rosy in the garden. Of course it is, when you live in denial and delusion about the very obvious and visible thorns.
If I were a gambling girl, I’d put my money every time on the consistency of pathology and his inability to ever change in ANY relationship–the previous one, your one or the future ones. She’s not getting the best of anything. She’s you. And in a short time, she’ll be another statistic. If pathology doesn’t change, this relationship is wired for destruction. There are NO happy endings in relationships with pathologicals. There are no pumpkin-drawn carriages, no sweet little house with three children…scratch that record! Stop attributing normal characteristics to a profoundly abnormal person. It is tempting to spend your precious emotional energy on obsessing about the quality of his relationship with the next victim instead of using that energy for their own healing. It is tempting to live in a fantasy world where you are deprived of this wonderful relationship and he is off living the life of a normal person. Believe me – this fantasy does not end with “And they lived happily ever after.” The fantasy thoughts of him being happy with someone is a projection pulling all of your focus, while you totally forget how this horror flick is going to end. Take a deep breath and come back…she hasn’t got anything you haven’t already gotten from him, except misery. If she doesn’t have it right now, she will have it shortly.
Once you really get it about the permanence of pathology you’ll understand that his ability to be different in the relationship doesn’t exist. If he was capable, he would have done the changing. He didn’t and he won’t. Whatever exists right now is that short honeymoon cycle until she realises what he is and isn’t and more importantly, what he can never be. Don’t bother trying to tell her what he is and isn’t, or trying to make someone see. A pathological will take care of this themselves. You may not be around to see it, but it is as certain as the sun setting at the end of the day. Your job is to focus your own recovery. From this moment on, it truly is all about you.
This Friend Card entitles the holder to pretend to be your friend so that they can feel better about their actions and exercise the right to hit you up for an ego stroke or sex, no matter how much time has elapsed or how badly they behaved.
*the holder accepts no responsibility
As many of you may have already discovered, it can be very tricky to shake someone with the tenacity of a cockroach after a nuclear bomb out of your life when they’re determined to keep you as a rainy day option. Someone can’t keep control of you and maintain The Status Quo (comfort zone) outside of the relationship if they do not have a foot in your life and are unsure of your interest. The holder of the Friend Card is all about their comfort zone. In their mind, you’re either going to be together on their terms or apart on their terms. As a result, the holder of this card is quite frankly, a pain in the proverbial.
I’m going to use the masculine personal pronoun from hereon in, but be aware that this behaviour crosses the gender divide. From pushing the ‘Friend Card’, poking around in your life, to chasing you for contact, attention, and even sex, he has devised a number of means to attempt to maintain control even when the relationship is over. . He can’t commit, whether it is to being with you or leaving you the hell alone, so he’s ensuring that you’re an option should he change his mind or have a use for you, while feeding his ego with the security of what he perceives as your affections for him. He’s rarely upfront about this so of course this wreaks havoc in the lives of any and all women who give him the time of day.
The moment that you appear to be moving on is when he’ll home in on you, blow hot, and set you back ten steps. You’ll readily accept his offer of his friendship because you don’t want to let go either and you keep reminding yourself how he’s so nice, what great qualities he has, and how ‘connected’ you are, and how he’s so like your soulmate except for the small problem of him being emotionally unavailable and unable to commit. Let’s cut to the chase: He’s not your friend and he is exploiting an innate human desire to be perceived as being friend-worthy.
When he suggests that you should be friends or comes back and dangles the ‘Friend Card’ when he’s trying to squeeze his way into your life on lesser terms, it’s because if you won’t give him the time of day, let alone your friendship, you not being his friend communicates that he might not be as ‘wonderful’ or ‘innocent’ as he believes.
There’s a universal belief that if someone is still prepared to be your friend after you’ve broken up, it means you’re a good person. Securing friendship and respect, even if it’s undeserved, becomes of paramount importance. What he’s failed to realise is that these are things that are earned and if someone was that concerned with being perceived as hurting or wronging someone, action reflect this, not words.
You know when he asks to be friends after the breakup and you don’t hear from him for a while? It’s because, in you saying YES he’s secured enough of an ego stroke that he only sees the need to get in touch with you to check that it still stands.
You know when he pesters you about hanging out, catching up, or whatever to show that you’re ‘friends’ and then you agree and he suddenly goes ‘dark’ or the arrangement falls through? He secured enough of an ego stroke through your agreement that he sees no further use for you. For now.
You know when he badgers you to understand things from his perspective or for your forgiveness, only for him to go off and mistreat you again? It’s because he’s gained what he wants – forgiveness – so the slate’s been wiped clean. Even though he may do more stuff to piss you off, in his mind you’re ‘friends’.
The truth is: only people who are undeserving of your friendship have to badger, railroad, and guilt you into being their friend. If they were someone who acted with love, care, trust, and respect, they’d have a relative comfort in knowing they acted well enough that there is a possibility of friendship, but they equally would respect your need for space and not assume that they have a right to your friendship.
It’s easier to keep in touch with minimal effort, and with so many of us sharing aspects of our lives online that often link us to mutual friends and acquaintances, it has never been so easy for someone to poke around in our lives. When he’s in ‘investigative mode’, he’s looking for clues either from you or third party sources that 1) you haven’t moved on, 2) you’re still the person he thought you were, and 3) that you’re still an option. Unfortunately, sometimes we may be inclined to see poking around as something flattering; we think it’s a reflection of his feelings and inability to resist us. Be under no illusions – he’s poking around to maintain The Status Quo. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you haven’t heard from him, little do you realise, he may have done the poking around he needed without having to let you know about it. He may have asked mutual friends about you who told him that you’re OK but suffering (he thinks you’re still into him), or checked your social media and seen that you’re not happy or people sympathising with you (he thinks you’re still into him), or seen you walking around the office or town looking like someone has died (he thinks you’re still into him), seen a ‘tweet’ about how much your heart hurts (he thinks you’re still into him), or heard how you tried to date but decided to stop (he thinks you’re still into him).
Equally, he may have got confirmation that you’re still an option from you. He may have gotten a call, text or email from you checking in to ‘see how he’s doing’ (he thinks you’re still into him), or another message wondering why you haven’t heard from him (he thinks you’re still into him), or you told him he’s an asshole for treating you X/Y/Z but still responded to his next contact (he thinks you’re still into him), or you quickly reply to messages or agree to meet up (he thinks you’re still into him).
When you get the frenzied poking around, where he’s calling, showing up at your work or home, etc., it’s highly likely it’s because you’re not responding to any of these, or have responded in a drastically negative manner. Most of the time, even a very negative response is still attention in their eyes, but for some, a very negative response will trigger that out-of-control sensation, and – yep, you guessed it – they start pursuing you, thinking they want to get back together. If you eventually move from very negative to positive again, which confirms your interest and validates their ego, they’ll bail or turn into Mr Not So Interested. Beware the Friend Card holder…
When you’re used to having to work for love, you tend to be someone who doesn’t give up too easily. You’ve been trained to believe that just being you isn’t good enough, so you get really good at going that extra mile to get people not just to like you, but to stay with you and choose you.
The truth is, Codependency is a coping strategy learned in childhood to help us cope with traumatic events. The problem with that coping style is that it’s other person, or externally focused. It requires a suppression of needs in favour of those of others. It makes it feel normal and comfortable to then tip toe around the moods of abusive people. The profound message that someone with codependent traits keeps receiving is that everything is their fault, because they’re not good enough. The side effects of that are insecurity, low self-esteem, low self-worth, shame, anxiety, guilt, fear and feeling very uncomfortable in your own skin.
When this coping strategy is what you take with you into your adult relationships, you are bound to run into all heaps of dysfunctional behaviour. Codependents tend to:
Internalise rejection whilst pretending that they feel okay.
Make everything their fault and try to fix everything.
Feel responsible for other people’s moods and behaviour.
Give too much/put in the lion’s share of the work/effort.
Feel like they have to win someone over/win against all odds to feel needed and wanted.
Healthy relationships are about two autonomous people, who choose to come together to create a life together, while at the same time, they continue to be themselves, be responsible for themselves and they continue to have separate interests outside of the relationship. A codependent tends to lose themselves in relationships. They generally choose people who have problems and they become fixated on those problems, while pretending that they have no expectations or needs and subsequently, neglect their own lives in the process.
The problem with codependency and dating is this. Most clients with whom I have worked who have codependent traits also tend to have a very serious problem with rejection. For a codependent, rejection often doesn’t mean it’s over. What it means to them is that they have to try harder/that they’ve done something wrong/that it’s all their fault and they spend an enormous amount of energy trying to make it right and to be chosen.
If it doesn’t work out, even after only a short period of dating, the codependent is devastated. They’ve made the rejection all about them. They believe that if only they had done x,y or z differently then they might have stood a chance. They keep trying to impress their partner, by trying harder, by giving more, by morphing into what they’ve observed as clues as to what the perfect partner would be… ‘if they weren’t them, then they would have been chosen,’ is the message they take away. They want to be chosen so badly that they over-give to the point of being exploited. Except that they don’t notice. So fixated are they on changing their partners minds they can’t see how their behaviour is being perceived.
Even when faced with a statement like, “We want different things, “ many a codependent won’t give up there. They will keep hanging on waiting for their opportunity to change their potential partner’s mind. Letting go doesn’t even resonate with them, because somewhere in the recesses of their mind they believe that if they are finally chosen it will make everything else in their life okay.
They require external validation. So being chosen will allow them to feel good about themselves. “As long as you choose me, you see me as a good person, worthy of love, then and only then can I believe that about myself too,” they believe. It may also be a chance for redemption for them to prove to their disapproving, abusive parents that they were good enough after all. When they get rejected again it just confirms all of their worst childhood fears.
What the codependent seems to miss are that their repeated attempts to be chosen and to make others stay only weaken them in the eyes of those whom they pursue. Ironically, a codependent is usually drawn to the commitment-phobe, who will always abandon so both parties receive the pay off that they unconsciously search for to confirm their Script beliefs. When you show someone that you don’t respect yourself enough to walk away when you’re being mistreated, you open yourself up to being exploited if your love interest just happens to be an emotional manipulator. It gives them the message that you do not have boundaries and that they can treat you however they please, because you will still be there, regardless of what they do.
They aren’t going to wake up one day and realise, “Hey, that Heather is a real catch. I’ve ignored her, treated her like crap many, many times and she’s hung in there. What a great girl. I think I’ll make a commitment.” Sure, they might hitch a free ride with you, let you bend over backwards to take care of them, but ultimately, they will never give you the commitment that you truly seek because they’ve stopped taking you seriously. That’s the con and gimmick – chasing after something that does not actually exist.
By staying you are inadvertently telling them, “I accept this relationship on your terms and I’m willing to put up with copious amounts of your crap for a few scraps of your affection.”
Here’s what your behaviour is really saying:
You: I want to be with you.
Them: Yeah I know, but I don’t want that.
You: (Internalising this as a rejection of you) Why don’t you want me?
Them: I just don’t. It really has nothing to do with you. I don’t do intimacy. It’s me, not you. (It really is them)
You: But I do so much for you! I’ll do x and y and z – if only you’ll love me. Let me prove to you that I’m good enough and better than all of your ex’s
Them: I’m sure you’re great, but I’m still not interested and I will give you a ton of clues that tell you so, but if you’re still not getting the message I’ll take what’s being offered and everything will be on my terms. I might chase you a little if and when you’re not available, but that still won’t change the dynamic between us.
If this resonates with you, keep reading…
Dating Rules for Codependents:
- When what’s being offered isn’t what you want – that’s your cue to leave. When you realise that you are not on the same page don’t try to change their stance or yours – you accept it and you move on.
- When you are being treated disrespectfully it’s time to go – no excuses, no minimising and rationalising. Just go.
- Pay attention to your feelings, if you are feeling hurt, or disrespected – if you’re being ignored, ghosted – that’s your cue to end it.
- You don’t have to try so hard to be liked – if being you isn’t good enough – stick a fork in it. If you sense them pulling away, be mindful of your emotional state. Battle the desire to put on a song and dance for them to spark their interest. Relationships only work when both people want to be in it.
- Learn to pay attention to the situation. Listen and don’t just hear what you want to hear. Sometimes the cues are subtle, sometimes your partner will actually say the words, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you.” Hear what they are saying.
- You cannot have a healthy relationship and neglect your own needs at the same time. Make sure that you are not doing all the work – doing all the planning, paying for everything, making all the sacrifices… if there’s no reciprocity there’s no relationship and your setting yourself up to be used.
You cannot have a healthy relationship if you keep choosing unhealthy partners. Heal yourself before you travel through the dating jungle – it’s dangerous out there.
Your leaving says a lot more about how you value yourself than your staying ever will. Always practice self-care and make sure that you are acting in your own best interest.
Marie asks: I met a guy a few months ago in my cycling club. He shared with me that for the last 3 years, he and his wife have had some sort of unfair open relationship, although she seems to have her cake and eat it more than he does since he’s a bit of a Mr. Nice Guy and doesn’t have much success with women. During this time he started chasing me, declaring his feelings to me, and she tried to push each of us together as well. I always bluntly refused but he still continued to pursue me, and we occasionally had platonic drinks and meals.
When I was feeling vulnerable, and I could see how badly it was going between them (she had recently had a three-ways with guys at the club), I finally gave him a chance, minimising potential impacts on me in order to give him a kick to sort out his life once and for all and to stop always forgiving her and going back to her. I want him to be out of this, without any regard to me. Truly, I hated seeing him doing this to himself.
So I slept with him and against all expectations, since I was not at all physically attracted to him at first, I liked it. It was not passion; it was pure tenderness and I really loved it. We saw each other a few times and he asked to see me more often claiming he was obsessing about this. I told him that I liked him a lot but that I would never share him with his wife and then I took a few steps back.
A few weeks later, he announced that he had finally decided to leave her after 7 years and two kids. Two weeks after that, he changed his mind. She sent me messages advising that I shouldn’t get “too attached to him”, that it was going “too far”, that it was not the deal that she had with him… so I bailed out completely. These two are toxic and I’m glad to be out. I feel overall better, but still, I’m mad at him and moreover at myself for having let this happen. How can I deal with the fact that I’ll have to see him again at the club and that all I want to do is scream at him? Should I leave the club?
Marie, Marie, Marie! You cannot be the solution to someone else’s problems. Do you know what I see in this situation? A child caught between her parents, feeling sorry for poor put-upon daddy, whom she has to protect from ‘evil’ mommy who doesn’t know how to be a proper wife never mind a mother. Very Electra Complex. That same child is also inappropriately used as a confidante and emotional airbag, and is so eager to be loved that she pledges her allegiance to the put-upon parent, only to be let down by that parent who never ‘chooses’ her, causing her to feel hurt, rejection and a sense of injustice.
You’ve taken one look at her and what you perceive as their relationship and and over-empathised with him. You’ve put yourself in his imagined shoes and projected some of your own beliefs and some hidden motivations. You appointed yourself as his saviour and decided to advocate for him with it; culminating in you offering your body as a vessel for him to sail away from this woman.
I’ve gotta say, this is one hell of a sacrifice for some guy you met at the cycling club who you felt sorry for, or what I should say is that he’s a guy that represents someone else you feel sorry for, and with whom you’ve attempted to right the wrongs of the past. What is it from your past that this involvement represents? Where else in your life have you been caught between two people and picked sides?
When you understand that, you will understand your hidden motivations along with the pain, fear and guilt you carry that have surfaced in this involvement and caused you to breach your boundaries in a way that’s left you deeply wounded. When all is said and done, you’ve been involved a three-way without you even realising it.
The truth is, it’s none of your business what is going on between this couple; fair or unfair; wonderful or crap: whatever it is, it is none of your business. You might not agree with the terms of their agreement or how she rolls, but evidently he does.
The cycling club is where they get their rides in more ways than one and what you have been absolutely blind to in all of this is that this guy is in an open relationship. You seem to believe that she’s in an open relationship and he’s some sort of unwilling participant who is held hostage to it.
There’s definitely an element of martyrdom in this tale. Either, he has amped up his situation and played on your sympathies in order to gain sympathy, or, you inadvertently made a martyr out of him in your head and through your actions and choices by exaggerating his discomfort to fit the narrative of what you had essentially already decided.
Either way you’ve been played. My senses tells me that you may not the first woman caught in the crossfire of this dysfunctional pair. They even tag-teamed you and instead of picking up the code red alert, you felt even more sympathy. On some level, because you had this narrative worked out where he’s the Victim, you’re the Rescuer and she’s the Persecutor (Karpman, 1956). His focus on you must have been flattering because he was assumed to be this poor, unwitting man who had no success with the ladies despite being free to do so and now you were effectively being deemed really attractive and suited to him.
When we examine why we get involved in and remain in piggy in the middle situations despite signs that we need to exit, what we see is that despite our very real complaints and hurt over it, we are motivated by what we get out of the role because we need to feel needed (Florence Nightingaling).
I don’t blame you for being angry with him and I also understand the anger that you’re directing at yourself. It’s the whole knowing deeper inside what was really going on and what you needed to be and do but being too scared to do it and hoping that you could have the fairy tale or that it would at the very least all work itself out without you having to get ‘mean’ about it (read: have some healthy boundaries). It’s feeling as if you have let you down and you don’t know how to get that decision back because you can’t turn back time.
You’re angry with him because he’s chosen her; the ‘villain’ of the story. This has sparked resentment and poked at old wounds because he’s not letting you be the saviour. The truth is, he doesn’t want to be ‘free’ because there is a hidden payoff to remaining in the Game. This marriage suits his narrative.
Acknowledge what this whole situation was really about. Yes, this couple are grossly inappropriate but when you acknowledge the story you’ve been telling you and where you had blurred boundaries, you can put healthier emotional, mental and physical boundaries in place. Work on your anger and get cracking on its expression. Only then will it become clearer to you about whether or not you want to stay in this club. Personally, I would leave. Why would you surround yourself in such negativity energy? Does it serve your highest, most evolved and loving self to be in this environment? My guess is that it does not. Personally, I would have zero interest in hanging around in any place that’s effectively a swingers or whatever club masquerading as social hobby. Don’t let your ego convince you that this is the only place you can make friends. Maybe pastures new would make for healthier interactions.
The essence of beauty isn’t the label on your clothes, the shape of your body or the colour of your skin. No. The essence of beauty lies in the way you carry yourself and the amount of respect with which you treat yourself.
I remember seeing an ad last year that really stood out to me. It was of this stunning, curvaceous, woman, walking through, what looked like a castle, in her lingerie and the male in this script couldn’t help but notice and give chase. It was an add for a brand called Additions, which sells plus size clothing and the model was Ashley Graham. I couldn’t help but think how sexy she looked.
She was far from the typical size zero you see on the catwalk and in fashion magazines. This woman had curves, hips, thighs and she stuck out in all the places that models usually do not. Her face was stunning, her hair long and shiny and her skin, flawless, but what really made me take notice was the way she moved. She strutted through the commercial like she was sexy and she knew it – and she was.
It really made me think about how our beliefs about ourselves shape who we become. The amount of self-confidence we have impacts our character, our behaviour, the decisions we make and what we put out there to be perceived by others.
All of us have flaws. All of us have things about ourselves that we would like to change, but it’s our attitude towards those things that ultimately decides whether or not we will succeed or fail in life. I’ve met people who can barely leave their house because they’ve been mistreated and they fear the judgement and cruelty of the world and I’ve met others who are so comfortable in their own skin that they are fearless and there is no limit to what they do and experience.
So how much do you allow limiting beliefs to affect your life? I showed two sets of pictures to five men with whom I work. One set was of super model, Gigi Hadid, the other was of Ashley Graham and I asked them, “Who would you rather sleep with?”
It’s ok, these men are used to me asking them strange questions! All of them said that they’d take both women. I then said what if Gigi wasn’t comfortable with her body? What if she couldn’t relax and felt inhibited during sex and Ashley was comfortable in her own skin and with her nudity? All of them quickly said, “Ashley.” When I turned the question around so that Ashley was the inhibited one, they all then said they’d want Gigi.
The mitigating factor in their decision wasn’t who was heavier and who was thinner, but rather who was more at ease with who they were. I used body size in this example but you could sub in anything, intelligence, confidence, etc. It’s all the same. Confidence matters. How comfortable we are in our own skin matters. It’s the difference between trying and not trying, taking risks or staying in our comfort zone. When we feel good about ourselves we feel like there is nothing holding us back. When we are comfortable with who we are we are limitless.
For many codependents, the idea of accepting themselves as imperfect beings is unmanageable. They have usually been told that there is something wrong with them, that they are flawed and they should be ashamed of these flaws. These perceived flaws lie in shadow, keeping the core self subdued because they become a very real part of who you may believe you are. What you may not realise is that they were the projections of someone who was taught to hate themselves. Children are easy targets. They are helpless, dependent and too emotionally immature to know better. Our job now as adults is to get out from under these repressive beliefs, by getting to the bottom of where they came from, acknowledging their illegitimacy and learning how to reprogram our minds.
Mindfulness: Always, always, always, keep your attention on what you are thinking. Challenge your harmful thoughts and don’t let them run wild all through your head. Ask yourself where they are coming from. Dismiss them and replace them with more empowering thoughts.
Redefine the standards you hold for yourself: Many codependents believe they have to get to Perfectville or bust. The problem with perfection is that it’s an illusion. It doesn’t exist and spending your whole life chasing it will have you missing out on really connecting to yourself and those around you. You’re an adult now and we get to decide what is acceptable and what is not. Let logic, compassion and reality be your guide.
Change the parts of you that you can and accept the parts of you that you can’t: Being a healthy individual means practicing self-care. Self-care means that you take care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. Accepting yourself doesn’t mean that if you are behaving in an unhealthy manner that you’re just going to be ok with that. You owe it to yourself to be the best you possible. Know the difference between what you can change and what you can’t and learn to embrace what you can’t.
I don’t care: Let go of the need to impress or people please. What other people think of you is none of your business because their opinion doesn’t matter. Know that the world is full of people who are looking for a reason to be offended and people who get off on making other people feel small so they can feel big. Never give away your power to someone else. When you value and trust your own opinions, those of others will matter less.
Reclaim who you are: You are not everyone else’s expectation of you. You are who you say you are. You don’t need anyone’s permission and you don’t need anyone’s approval to be yourself. When you stifle your individuality and try to be someone else, you deprive the universe of the wonder that is you. Embrace who you are, put yourself out there and have the courage to be you.
There is such a thing as exaggerating the hell out of somebody. When we don’t feel that great about ourselves and on some level recognise that we’re putting up with less than palatable carry-on, we pump people up. It’s like reasoning that, ‘I know that you’re not the actual centre of the universe but if I treat you as if you are, you will feel so good that you will love, validate and appreciate me. What possible reason would you have to leave me when I’m willing to make you look this good no matter how you behave?’
When we truly love somebody, we don’t need to exaggerate them. If anything, we put people on pedestals and keep going on about how great they are when we’re trying very hard to hold on to an illusion. After all, if somebody is truly that great, why aren’t we living that greatness with them? It’s not because we’re “not good enough”; it’s because who we think they are isn’t real, just as the magnitude of our so-called flaws isn’t real either. We protest too much.
We roll out descriptors like the Best Guy/Woman Ever or Best Male Friend and so on and so forth, because if we didn’t refer to them as this, we’d have to admit that we’ve been putting up with some pretty bad treatment. Moreover, we would also have to let go of our ideas about this person, admit who they truly were and are, get into the present, grieve and begin to rebuild our lives with a kinder, more compassionate view.
It’s why when we’re in a casual relationship (oxymoron alert) or we’re involved in an affair (exorcism alert), we might claim that they’re our “best friend”. We may forget that we weren’t ever really friends in the first place or that if we actually delved under the hood of the friendship and examined what it contained, we’d see that it’s very imbalanced with a passenger and a driver, where it’s effectively all on one person’s terms and reliant on us pumping them up by extension of our fawning over them and insisting on our love no matter how badly we’re treated.
This so-called friendship allows us to be kept on a string and we end up playing armchair therapist, ego stroker, chauffeur, nurse, bed partner and more in an effort to show how dedicated we are. We may claim that we know this person really well, that we have an intimate relationship and that we know things about them that no one else knows, except for that they also don’t tell us stuff either and we’re often the last to know when it comes to information that would certainly cause us to question our allegiance to them. They neglect to mention that they’re sleeping with other people, or that they really are not interested in a relationship or that their idea of the ‘friendship’ is very different to ours.
When this person is no longer in our life, we may continue calling them The Best Guy/Woman Ever because all of our hopes and expectations are tied up in them so it’s as if our last chance saloon is gone, but what we’re really doing is delaying letting go so that we don’t have to face forward. We don’t want to look ourselves in the mirror. We don’t want to get to know us. We don’t want to know where the pain comes from (the past). We don’t want to admit that we think of this person in the way that we do because we saw them as a chance to become special at last. We’re afraid that if we admit the truth then it will mean that we’re really not good enough because we were only thinking of us as having worth when we were in the relationship.
One of the dangers of getting involved in these faux friendship situations (casual sex and mistreatment masquerading as legit friendship) is that each party makes a dangerous assumption: We assume that because we’re their bestest friend ever, that we will be treated differently to all the other ‘friends’. We assume that surely they won’t do to us what they normally do. They assume that because we’re supposed to be friends, that we know what they’re like. As a result, if we call them out on their behaviour, they’ll have no problem reminding us, “But you knew what I was like” or “I never told you that we were exclusive”.
It does hurt when we’re not appreciated, respected, cared for and loved by a person who we feel as if we’ve invested a great deal in and who, let’s be real, our whole dream is banking on. It is a dream because at some point we’ve stopped being real with us about who this person is (an ordinary human being) and what we’re putting up with. We have to examine our motivations because on some level we exaggerate people because we want them to do the same with us. We put up with poor treatment because we hope it will activate their conscience and cause them to do better which would also cause us to be made the exception to the rule. We feel cheated because in our mind, we would not treat someone who behaved like us in the same way. We also feel cheated because we feel as if we have met all of the conditions to be chosen or for this person to act differently and they haven’t. We then feel owed or we feel bad because it feels as if we’re “not good enough”. We feel that in spite of doing all of this stuff, we just didn’t cut it.
The problem is how we see the problem. A friendship is a mutual relationship between friends. Sure, we can be friends with someone we love but once romantic inclinations are in the mix, it is not a friendship. It’s also not a friendship when one person sees the other as a means to an end, even if they won’t admit it. No friendship truly prospers from one person living off of the fringe benefits of what the other party provides and a true friend is not comfortable with a friend mistreating his or herself in order to keep the friendship going.
Also, we have to start asking ourselves whether we see someone as being that special because relative to other experiences, it was like getting a cracker in the desert after not eating for several months. When we’re starved of affection and attention both from us and others, a crumb can seem like a loaf.
When we put people on a pedestal, the only place to look at us is from above and the more we pump them up, the more we shrink ourselves. We have to ask ourselves whether we’re looking for something out of this friendship that can’t be gotten – by invalidating us as well as showing lack of respect, appreciation, trust, care and love for us in our efforts to be a ‘friend’ to this person or to exaggerate them, we’re creating a much larger void. These situations are not love never mind friendship. If you have a Best Guy/Woman Ever in your life, they’re just not that special that you have no worth without them.
Many moons ago, I had made of list of all the things I wanted in a man. It was a piece of great advice given to me by a close friend. “If you know what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to spot it when you see it,”she told me. And then I met him.
He was tall, good looking, great career and his own home. He was intelligent, kind, respectful, charming, family oriented; all the things on my list. And he liked me. He wanted to get to know me, to spend time with me, to talk, to share and to make me laugh.
After our first date I went home and called my friend. I said, “This guy is perfect. He’s everything I’m looking for.” Four weeks later it was Valentine’s Day. I went over to his place and he had cooked me an elaborate meal. We drank wine and talked. It was wonderful night. However, in my then unhealthy mind, something didn’t feel right.
He would call when he said he’d call. He was eager to share news of our relationship and I…. well, I started to want out of the relationship. I started looking for reasons, because really there wasn’t anything wrong with him at all. I came up with foolish things like – he didn’t have a 6 pack. I told myself that given that I am into training and good nutrition, I couldn’t be around someone who wasn’t. I told myself that I wasn’t attracted to him and when he kept calling me one night, I kept ignoring his calls, getting more and more irritated at his attempts to reach me. Shortly thereafter I broke up with him via text message. It wasn’t until much later that I realised what I was doing and why.
He really was/is a great guy. My need to break up with him had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. You see back then, I was not comfortable at all with the idea that someone could want me and like me, for me and unconditionally. It was such a foreign concept and so against my Script that I was scrambling for any reason to get the hell out of dodge.
Moreover, I had a history of high risk and high intensity relationships. I was used to having to work for affection. I was used to soaring and crashing in my relationships. I was calling those high intensity peak feelings love and they were anything but and they made any normal relationship appear boring and lacking in excitement or feeling. They were an unhealthy high I got from getting back together with an emotional manipulator. They are those peak moments when they chose you and for a very brief moment you are soaring, because they want you and you feel validated. It’s equivalent can only be compared to as receiving a hit of heroin (not that I’ve ever done heroin). I use the comparison because as soon as the light of day hits, everything goes back to the way it was before and you’re in the same relationship you were in before and nothing has changed except now your heart is broken again, you feel like a fool and you have to crawl around in the valley again, waiting for the next peak.
If this is what I was calling love, then it was no wonder that when the potential for the real thing approached I mistook it for something else and ran the other way. Until that point, I was used to jumping through hoops for love and because this came easy and felt comfortable, I called it boring and vanilla. Because someone was interested in me, I kept thinking, “If you’re interested in me, there must be something seriously wrong with you.” When a healthy man tried to have a healthy relationship with unhealthy me, I looked for any reason to run and I did. I’d use phrases like, boring, vanilla, I’m not attracted to him, no chemistry, he doesn’t do anything for me,…or I’d make up any other number of excuses to explain why he wasn’t evoking those intense feelings in me that the unhealthy partners did.
So what does healthy love look like? It took me a long time to learn what healthy love really looks like, to understand that I didn’t have to dim my own light or change who I was to be liked. I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with anyone until I learned how to have a healthy relationship with myself. I had to accept the things about me that I didn’t like and couldn’t change and when I came into contact with someone who thought otherwise, I simply walked away. I stopped jumping up and down trying to get them to like me regardless and instead found someone that was ok with me and accepting of me.
Real love looks like this: It’s respectful – knowing that you are both valued and worthy of good treatment. It’s trusting – knowing that you can predict your partners behaviour and that behaviour will have your best interest at heart. It’s reciprocal – both partners are contributing equally to the relationship. It’s consistent and stable – there aren’t peaks and valleys and periods of hot and cold behavior. It’s supportive of individual growth and development. It’s accepting of each other having other close friendships and activities outside of the relationship. It evokes feelings of security and contentment – you are not always guessing where you stand and where your partner’s interests lie and you’re comfortable and trusting in that knowledge. It’s about self-care – making sure that both partners take time for themselves and take care of themselves. It’s about accepting each other as they are and not trying to fix or change the other. It’s about living in reality where you are fully aware of all aspects of yourself, your partner and the relationship. That’s what real love looks like to me.
Getting to the place and into a relationship that actually resembled something like that was no easy feat. Keep the following in mind:
Ultimately this is about you and your relationship with yourself: The more you learn to respect and value yourself the more others will follow your lead. You do this by repetition – keep treating yourself with respect and as a person of value – this is how the subconscious mind learns and how thoughts become beliefs, which transpire into “things”. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Learn the difference between real love and toxic love: If you are calling the intense peak and valley feelings, that a toxic relationship evokes, love, then you’ve got to rearrange your thinking, because that’s not what love looks like. Those peak feelings are akin to a drug high and they are not normal or healthy. They’re obsessive and addicting and healthy looks like eliminating them from your life. By contrast, healthy love is all the things I have mentioned above and maybe they aren’t as dangerous or thrilling in those twisted sort ways, but when you have real love, you’ll wonder what the hell you’ve been doing all this time.
Know Where the Line Is: The biggest problems that codependents face is with the cut off point. Anyone can get duped by a narcissist, but the difference is that healthy people have a line and when that line gets crossed, they end it. They don’t stick around jumping higher and higher, putting up with poor treatment, all in the hopes that someone will choose them. They walk away and don’t look back, as they aren’t going that way.
Stories about unhealthy relationships or situations where it’s not mutual (but there are attempts to make it so) are about someone not knowing when to stop/reduce their giving. All of these people end up extremely hurt, rejected and even blaming and shaming themselves because in the quest to get what they wanted through giving, they lost sight of their identity. Perhaps saddest of all, they not only had their boundaries busted, but also they busted their own boundaries.
A frequent tale is the rather painful experience of making yourself indispensable so that the other person thinks that you’re so valuable and devoted, that they will give you the relationship that you want. There is often a very quiet expectation that because you’ve been giving so much that they will overlook what you perceive as your ‘flaws’, or you expect that they won’t reject you or get into conflict with you. In some instances, it can literally be giving with a view to the other person doing exactly what you want. When it all blows up and you end up reminding them of what you’ve given, the other person can get very defensive. It can even cross into you inadvertently attempting to guilt them into coughing up what they ‘owe’ – “I gave you eleven years…” or “If I’d known that you weren’t going to do _____, I wouldn’t have done _______.”
When you give and give and give and give and possibly give some more, it’s because you’re an over-giver who doesn’t truly believe that you, without the excessive giving, is enough. You overdo it because you’re attempting to create a tipping point where the other person will reciprocate and match you and you’ll basically get a return on your investment. When you don’t, you feel devalued by the experience.
It’s not that giving is a ‘bad thing’ – far from it. However, giving because you attribute so little value to your own worth that you think that the only way that you can ‘get’ and ‘keep’ people around you is to give the crap out of yourself, isn’t a good thing because people who do not have limits do not have boundaries, standards or much self-esteem with which to work. Dress it up however you like, as an expression of love and care, but one day you may just realise that you are someone who gives too much in the wrong situations and to the wrong people and that you’re being mistaken for a doormat who doesn’t know when to fold.
You wonder where to go from ‘here’ and may even feel ‘bad’ about the possibility of not giving and heaven forbid, saying NO or waiting for others to step up, because you feel guilty as if Good People don’t say no, let other’s do things, or walk away. You may even feel ‘scared’ that if you stop giving that you won’t have any ‘power’ or control anymore, possibly because you don’t know your own personal values and seek to control covertly. You value yourself in terms of what you can do for people (and what they give back), not what you’re able to do for yourself, or your qualities, characteristics, and values. Giving with hidden expectations and as a way of keeping tabs on someone and controlling them isn’t wholehearted giving.
Moreover, over-giving is a distinct sign of trying to use external solutions (read: people) to fix your internal problems, whilst using ‘giving’ as your control mechanism. When you address and begin to mend your relationship with you, you can put more energy into you instead of basking in the reflections of others. Let’s be real; who truly feels good about themselves when they feel like they have to ‘buy’ people’s attentions and affections with over-giving to overcompensate for their perceived flaws?
When you’re hungry for love, attention, affection, friendship etc, you can be so high on the possibilities that you rush around doing an excessive amount of stuff that looks particularly odd in the context of hardly knowing someone. There is something critical that gets forgotten by people who have the equivalent of an Overactive Giving Muscle – if you keep giving blindly because you’re focused on trying to fill up a void within you and to generate a tipping point, you do not get a chance to truly see what the other person is about nor do you truly get to see what their own capacity is to give.
I’ve heard hundreds of stories where the person was so in love with being in love, or focused on getting the commitment or validation, or in their own little illusionary world doing all this giving to build their ‘future’ together that they didn’t realise that the other person wasn’t onboard. Then they felt blindsided or wronged.
Over-giving blurs out the other person – you’ll know who they are and what they’re about if you slow your giving roll. You can know who someone truly is and where your relationship is at if you have boundaries and are ‘meeting’ people in your relationships instead of chasing and trying to pull them in with your giving.
When you hold your own and act like you’re worthy of being treated with the basics of love, care, trust, and respect, you don’t keep trying to overcompensate or to fix issues by over-giving because you think it’s something ‘about you’ that created the problem and will be the solution.
Mutual relationships , romantic and otherwise, are organic and you always know that the relationship isn’t that mutual or organic when you’re acutely aware of what you’re giving. You may think about your interpersonal relationships in terms of investments that you feel that you’ve put too much into to walk away from, even though you may be desperately unhappy with some of these relationships.
I’ve asked many over-giver’s why they continue to give into a situation that is leaving them emotionally bankrupt and barely able to nourish themselves – because they’re afraid that if they stop or reduce giving, that the person isn’t going to step up and then they’d have to admit that they have been pouring their energy into something and someone that isn’t mutual. The thing is, they know it’s not mutual already because if it was, then it wouldn’t be over-giving.
It’s a false economy – all of this giving is done to prevent the person from leaving (but they may do anyway) or prevent the person from failing to recognise your worth (but they may not attribute the same value that you do to your giving) or to prevent other ‘unfavourable outcomes‘, but all that excessive giving will do, particularly in an unhealthy relationship where you’re being treated without care and respect and not experiencing other ‘landmarks‘, is actually create far more unpleasantness than you would ever have experienced if you’d stopped doing all of these dodgy preventative measures.
When you do not regard you as a worthwhile valuable person, you’ll take crumbs as if they are loaves because they are better than what you’re giving to you. You end up clamouring for more crumbs (because you’re starving) and so you go into giving overdrive in the hopes of getting the loaf. They’ll do one thing, you’ll do seven in the hope that next time they’ll do two, only they actually think “Wow, they did all that when all I’m giving is that?” and suddenly one equals seven and you’re in a relationship where you want more but are pretending that you are happy with next to nothing. Try as you might, the anger and rage you will feel at losing your control will be plain for all to see; even the person from whom you hid it from in the first place..
If you feed you with some self-love, which you need to do whether you’re in or out of a relationship and irrespective of whatever has come to pass before, you’d walk before you downgrade you or start inflating someone’s ego simply to keep them there. The sky will not fall down if you quit the excessive giving although a poor relationship won’t be left with anything to stand on. If you’re wondering where to start with reducing, it’s very simple:
If you’re giving away your self-esteem and dignity, you’re giving too much.
If you’re giving with a view to what you think the other person will do and you haven’t communicated this, you’re giving too much.
Narcissism has been described in many ways; a stage of development, a characterological structure, a disorder of the self, a type of sexual perversion and a defense mechanism. The Oxford Dictionary (2001) defines it as “excessive or erotic interest in oneself.” Lowen suggested that narcissists can be identified by their lack of humanness and that “narcissism denotes a degree of unreality in the individual and culture, and that the unreality verges on the psychotic”. Many clients have at least some degree of narcissistic disturbance, and for some people, narcissistic wounding might describe their core psychological problem.
The various theories suggest that narcissism can be seen as either a primitive developmental phase or a pathological state with a defensive characterological structure resulting from a developmental problem. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a disorder of the self in which the sufferer is “self-centred and demanding, overestimating his or her own abilities and specialness, is envious, exploitative and unable to console others’ feelings but underneath this apparent self-importance, the sufferer is often deeply depressed and has profound feelings of emptiness” (Holmes, 2001).
I believe that the origins of narcissistic injury can be traced back to the first years of life, and as an early and deep-rooted part of a person’s personality, it is difficult to change. During normal, healthy development, children go through an important phase of normal narcissism in which they experience being the centre of the universe. All they have to do is cry and the world responds. If all goes well, the child’s grandiosity will be gradually deflated as he or she goes through a series of minor narcissistic wounds. There are two main types of narcissistic structure: exhibitionistic and closet. In the case of the exhibitionistic narcissist, the child never goes through the period of narcissistic wounding; for example, the child’s parents need the child to be special to gratify their own narcissistic needs. They indulge the child, teaching him or her that his or her every wish is a command and that he or she deserves prominence without even minimal effort. Exhibitionistic narcissists want others to be their admiring audience. In the case of closet narcissists, narcissism is a defence against feeling abandoned. They see others as special and unique and want to bask in their glory. Joines and Stewart suggest that people with narcissistic structures were “devalued or not recognised when they were being natural and normal children with dysphoric feelings and dependency needs, and only validated when they were exhibiting a grandiose, false self’.
Shame is a central affect of narcissism. Shame, self righteousness as a defence against shame and the movement between the two parallel the self-deprecation and grandiosity evident in the narcissistic process. This process can also be explained by using the transactional analysis concepts of passivity – in particular, minimisation and grandiosity and the existential life positions of “I’m Not OK, You’re OK” and “I’m OK, You’re Not OK,” respectively. Shame and self righteousness reflect the defences used to avoid experiencing the intensity of how vulnerable and powerless the individual is to the loss of relationship. Shame represents an unaware hope that the other will take responsibility for repairing the rupture in relationship, and self righteousness involves a denial of the need for relationship. Unresolved archaic shame increases the pain of current criticism. In fact, one of the main characteristics of narcissism is an acute sensitivity to criticism.
Shame is, in a basic sense, the experience of not being seen. The parental failure goes far beyond a failure of empathic attunement or mirroring; it is as though the child is of no significance or interest to the parent beyond the child’s meeting the parent’s narcissistic wishes and fantasies. Erskine and Cornell also discuss shame in relation to the Script System. They suggest that with shame, the client has a pervasive and tenacious script belief that “there’s something wrong with me.” The intrapsychic function of this core script belief is to maintain a sense of attachment in the relationship at the expense of a loss in natural self and the fusion of one’s self and one’s behaviour i.e. “I am what I do.” Self and ego do not differentiate. Without the consistent, positive internalised experience of self, the shame-bound individual tends to constantly seek and often tries to earn literal evidence of self-worth and selfhood through performance.
How does this play out in the therapy room? The client projects onto the therapist an all good omnipotent self, who is the source of immediate and eternal gratification, as well as an absolute model toward which he or she can strive. P1+ is an idealised image the client has built up of themselves and has assumed as a substitute for the actual maternal image. The client is searching for a mirror of and for his or her own perfection. By projecting his or her P I+, the client enters a symbiotic relationship. Psychotherapy in this phase is aimed at helping the client “reappropriate” the P1+ that he or she has projected onto the therapist. If the therapist does not accept the projection and symbiotic bid, the client will be left without protection against his or her own destructive P I-. The client will then perceive themselves as “awful” or “dangerous” and, as a defense, will perceive the therapist in the same way because they have experienced them as abandoning. The therapist will have failed in his or her function as transference mirror.
Narcissistic clients are exquisitely sensitive to disappointments, and as they perceive further real or imagined “abandonments” by the therapist, they will invest the therapist with all the negative emotions reawakened in their C1 by the presence of PI-. The therapeutic goal in this phase is for the client to reappropriate the projected bad object without permitting its “destructiveness,” that is, the goal is to confront the client’s defenses and acting out, which he or she uses to avoid suffering and to help him or her make contact with the very real feelings of anger, shame and guilt, and finally to accept these feelings.
As a therapist working with narcissistic clients, I have regular supervision to deal with my own countertransferential reactions (e.g., these clients use projective identification, and induce strong reactions in me). In my work, I feel that it is important to help narcissistic clients see themselves in a realistic light by identifying and relating to attributes of their real self rather than to their idealised self as this is manifested in sessions. They need to learn to tolerate negative feedback. disappointment and failure. I encourage them to observe themselves and have empathy for themselves when they act out (e.g., drinking, overeating, promiscuity, etc.) rather than only feeling their disappointments. For example, I use an empathic reframing of acting out by explaining that there is an important reason for the behaviours. In this way, clients develop empathy for themselves as they learn to stay with their painful feelings, which leads in turn to their developing empathy for others.
When working with narcissistic clients it is important that they take permission to be ordinary. That is, like every other human being they have a need for relationship and to accept that will experience successes, failures and disappointments. This is a huge and important task that necessitates the client learning to neither denigrate nor idealise self or others. The treatment of narcissistically structured clients is difficult and challenging, particularly in the case of pathological and destructive narcissism. It takes a good deal of time and energy to help transform the grandiose self and the primitive object relations (both the defensive and the core pain) into the therapeutically needed relationship.