Dating Advice #53 - Unraveling the Past
The pattern is not a good one. It stretches back to childhood. How does she climb out of this hole?
Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am in the process of a divorce. I have come to realize some things that occurred in my life and I am not sure how to overcome them.
When I was a teenager, my mother told me that I would never be a success. This has held true all of my life. I have come to realize that all of the men I’ve been attracted to have been emotionally abusive. I don't know why I attract these people. I truly want to have a successful marriage with a decent man.
Needless to say, my opinion of men isn't very good. I avoid any type of social contact with them, even if it is friendship. This also affects how I view God. I never had a close relationship with my father. When I was growing up, Dad worked two jobs so he wasn't home much.
Please point me in the right direction.
We're glad that you wrote us. It seems that you are using the experience of your divorce in a positive manner, by reflecting back upon your life and recognizing patterns in your behavior that you were not aware of before. It is insightful of you to realize the correlation between the negative things your mother said and the choices you've made in life.
Many times, parents don't realize that the negative things they say to children can become self-fulfilling prophesies. Almost all adolescents experience periods of low self-esteem, and if a parent, teacher or peer group repeatedly says or does something to harm that already fragile self-image, the child begins to believe it. That child may be bright, creative, attractive, loyal and personable. But after experiencing constant negative reinforcement, the child will feel, deep inside, that he or she is not a worthwhile human being.
A woman who has a poor self-image may not achieve much in terms of education or career, because deep inside she feels she cannot. She may unconsciously set herself up for failure each time she sets out to accomplish even a small thing. When it comes to dating, she may not think she deserves a "nice" guy, and will gravitate to someone who is abusive, controlling or just plain mean-spirited -- because she thinks "that is all I can get or deserve."
When you realized there was a correlation between the way you were brought up and the choices you've made as an adult, you took the first step to changing your life for the better.
The next step is improving your self-image. When you really believe that you can succeed, and that you are worth of having a loving marriage with a "decent" man, then you will be able to live life differently.
These are steps you cannot take on your own. We recommend you use the services of a qualified therapist. We realize that therapy can be expensive, and it certainly requires an investment of time and effort. Yet this is the best investment you can make in your future. (Your health insurance may cover part of the cost, and many local Jewish Family Service offices charge on ability-to-pay.)
You can maximize the benefit from therapy by trying to more quickly internalize what you learn in each session. Instead of simply attending a session and making vague mental notes of the insights gained, keep a journal to write down what you have experienced and learned at each session. The very act of writing helps you understand, remember and absorb on a much deeper level. And by periodically reviewing what you have written, you can keep track of progress.
In addition to addressing your self-esteem, your therapist may also help resolve open issues you may have with your parents.
For now, we think it is wise for you not to date. This isn't because we agree with your opinion of men or your fear of having a healthy friendship/relationship. There are plenty of decent, good men in the world. But when you think better of yourself and have resolved some of the resentment you feel toward men, you will be much better equipped to throw your hat into the ring again and work on developing healthy dates with a "nice" guy.
In the meantime, it will take a great deal of emotional energy to heal from your divorce and work with your therapist. We suggest that you replenish some of that energy by finding an activity that you enjoy on a regular basis -- perhaps an adult education course, craft, community service program or a creative outlet for one of your talents. In addition, engage in regular exercise several times a week, even something as simple as walking, or aerobics in your den with a video instructor. These activities will make your life more fulfilling, enjoyable and healthy.
We know that our advice is not a quick fix, but we're sure it will help you in both the short and long term. We wish of the best of luck.
Rosie & Sherry