Learn To Love Yourself And Find Inner Peace

By Tracy Clifford

“If you knew you were fully loved, if you knew that you were whole and worthy exactly as you are just for being intrinsically you, your anxiety would disappear.” – Sheryl Paul

Anxiety is often viewed as a fear based response to things you cannot control. One in five Americans suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder. Both biological and environmental factors can contribute to anxiety, and its close cousin, depression. But when I read Sheryl Paul’s thoughts on anxiety, I started to see it in an entirely new way. I always viewed anxiety, fear, and control as closely linked. But I never truly viewed anxiety as the deep fear that you are not truly loved. I’m now starting to understand the interdependent nature of high anxiety and low self-esteem.

At the root of most anxious feelings is the fear of loss. If you have relationship anxiety, you might fear that your partner will leave you. If you have health anxiety, you might imagine that you have an incurable disease that will lead you to a certain death. If you have social anxiety, you might avoid gatherings of people because you’re afraid you’ll do or say the wrong thing. Or maybe your anxiety is the more run of the mill, mundane kind. You might be worried about the security of your job. Or you might think you won’t meet a deadline for school. Or maybe your anxiety is just like a dull throb, always in the back of your mind, with a source and a presence you can’t name.

I would argue that most of our anxiety comes from a fear of being alone in this world. Some may feel this more urgently than others. Our culture seems preoccupied with finding ways to assuage anxiety. But I’d like to offer a different viewpoint. Anxiety is not something to be resisted, but rather, understood. When you acknowledge anxiety, you can diffuse it. When you call it out, it threatens you less.

How would it feel if you knew that even if you failed, you would still be loved? You would feel safe. Anxiety cannot survive in a secure heart. If you have healthy self-esteem, you are not afraid to be vulnerable. You are not afraid to make mistakes. You feel an unconditional sense of acceptance – from yourself, from your loved ones, and from your higher power (if you believe in one). While anxiety is a normal condition, it does not flourish in the life of a person who feels solidly grounded in love.

If you struggle with serious levels of anxiety, it’s likely you may have tried medication or cognitive behavioral therapy – today’s most common treatment plan. For most people it works. If it works for you, by all means continue. But if you find yourself still challenged by anxious thoughts, I’d suggest you ask yourself the following: Do you feel truly loved and accepted in this world? Do you know, even if the worst outcome befell you, that you would find the strength within yourself and in your loved ones to withstand it? Do you know that you are beautiful just the way you are?

Self-esteem means believing in yourself and trusting that you did what was best in any given situation. Keep in mind that your self-esteem is based on your belief system – which is a blend of the way you feel about yourself and the way you believe others see you. Your view of yourself influences your perception of what you can do, how you get along with others, and how you cope with problems.

If you’ve dealt with breakup and divorce, your self-esteem may be lowered for some time due to the situation. Learning to love yourself is an inner journey which involves examining your past from a fresh perspective. If you can’t believe you are good enough, how can you believe a new partner would choose you? Take the time to investigate any carry over from the past that might impact your current relationships. Make a commitment to get rid of self-sabotaging guilt and fear. You deserve to have your needs met and you are worthy of love.

People who suffer from anxiety live in a world they view to be unsafe and unpredictable. And quite frankly, they’re right. The world is unsafe and unpredictable, full of ways to break your heart. The treatment for anxiety is not to convince you that the world is wonderful and that everything will be okay. The quite terrific task, is instead, to show you that even if something bad happens, you can endure. When you believe in your own resilience, and when you know that you are fundamentally strong and worthy just because you’re you, you stop viewing the world as volatile and precarious. Instead, it seems like a place without limits.

I’d love to read your comments about your fears of finding or keeping love and how that ties into your self-worth. Thanks! Tracy

We’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”



5 Ways to Deal With Feelings of Guilt and Rejection Post-Divorce

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

When a marriage dissolves, it’s a natural to experience feelings of guilt or rejection. Guilt can arise when a parent feels responsible for bringing pain to their children or for their behavior toward their ex-spouse. On the other hand, feelings of rejection probably stem from feeling left or betrayed by your ex. Whether a person is feels more guilt versus rejection is probably related to the reasons why their marriage ended.

So let’s take a closer look at both guilt and rejection and examine two common scenarios – whether someone is a dumper or a dumpee in the divorce process. These two terms were coined by divorce expert Dr. Bruce Fisher in his groundbreaking book Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. Fisher writes “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”

Since relationship patterns are complicated, it’s important to remember that the roles of dumper and dumpee aren’t always clearly defined and that sometimes they can be reversed. For instance, a partner might be told by their spouse that their marriage is over, and then they decide to file for divorce. Surprisingly, it’s not always the dumper who files for divorce. Sometimes the dumpee simply gets tired of waiting and takes this bold step as a way to take charge of their life.

By the way, some people have a strong negative reaction to the words “dumper” and “dumpee” while others can relate to these terms and like using them. In spite of these qualifications, I firmly believe that these categories are relevant to understanding both feelings of guilt and rejection after divorce.

When you think about it, aren’t guilt and rejection two sides of the same coin when it comes to post-divorce emotions? It makes sense that a partner who decides to terminate the marriage would experience more guilt, while the person who feels left would suffer from feelings of rejection. Notice the difference in their priorities. The dumper typically focuses on personal growth and will say things like “I have to find myself.” On the other hand, dumpees usually express a desire to work on the relationship and will say things like “Just tell me what you want me to change and I’ll work on it.”

Although it’s not an exact science, we might expect about that roughly the same amount of people would identify themselves as the person who was left (dumpee) as the one who decided to leave (dumper). However, in a small percentage of divorces, people say their divorce was mutual. In these cases, it’s normal to feel both guilty and rejected at times.

Guilt is a complex emotion, which probably explains why Dr. Fisher outlines two types. Appropriate guilt and free-floating guilt differ in their intensity and impact on a person’s life. Most people feel appropriate guilt when they believe they’ve done something wrong that hurts another person. Some parents feel guilty because their marriage was abusive and they didn’t take action sooner. Others may feel guilt or regret because their child may be struggling emotionally with post-divorce life. On the other hand, free-floating guilt usually exists from our childhood reservoir of unexpressed guilt feelings and it leaves us feeling anxious and fearful about many situations. Appropriate guilt can be worked through more easily than free-floating guilt. In my experience, both types of guilt can be resistant to change and can lead to depression if they aren’t dealt with. For many people, therapy is an essential tool to help process these difficult emotions.

Feelings of guilt or rejection are closely tied to feelings of self-worth and self-love. Part of the healing process after divorce is recognizing and accepting the way you feel about yourself inside affects the way you relate to people in the world. As you learn to accept and love yourself, your feelings of guilt and rejection will diminish.  When you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.

Here are five ways to deal with feelings of guilt and rejection about your divorce:

  1. Accept the fact that it’s normal or typical to have these emotional reactions to the ending of a relationship. They’ve probably been there all along (in your marriage) and are simply intensified during and after the divorce process.

  2. Get to the root of your feelings of guilt and/or rejection. Self-awareness is the first step in recovering from painful emotions. Examine whether you consider yourself a dumper or dumpee and the impact this has on your emotions.

  3. Apologize to your ex or children if you behaved badly during or after your divorce. It’s never too late to make amends. A sincere apology can help you to forgive yourself and can promote healing for your children. Asking your ex for forgiveness, if you feel it’s warranted, can help mend the past and promote friendship post-divorce.

  4. Acknowledge that all relationships end. Just because your relationship is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.

  5. Cultivate supportive relationships. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of guilt and rejection. Get energized by the possibilities ahead for you.

In closing, looking at how feelings of guilt or rejection may have impacted your behavior can facilitate healing. A parent whose marriage ended may experience guilt because they brought pain to their children. An apology can go a long way to promote forgiveness. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your divorce experience is a crucial step to moving forward after divorce.  We’d love to hear your reactions to this blog and would appreciate your comments.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.



How Do I Know If My Partner Is A Narcissist?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Recently, I received the following e-mail from Haley, a 32 year old woman who is in a great deal of emotional pain and turmoil in her marriage with Eric, who she fears is a narcissist (fictitious names).

Dear Terry,

I don’t know how come I always fall for the wrongs guys. Eric and I have been married for seven years and our relationship has always been like a roller coaster ride. He can be very charming and swept me off my feet when I was in my last year of college. Sometimes Eric can be affectionate and loving – but other times he can be as cold as ice, critical, and rejecting. I just can’t figure out if he really loves me.  I feel like I have to walk on eggshells and watch everything I say or he’ll go into one of his rages – which can last for hours.

Eric can be so arrogant and selfish at times. When we were at a restaurant with our daughter Elli recently, he called the waitress rude and clumsy just because she accidently dropped a spoon. The other weird thing about him is that when he is upset about something, he doesn’t express sadness. He didn’t even shed a tear when his grandmother died last year and he was supposed to be her favorite grandson. When my mother died of cancer two years ago, he couldn’t comfort me and just said, “Get over it, you have to focus on the living.” This really hurt – it cut to the core because my mom was always my rock and Eric knows how close we were.

My parents were divorced when I was six and my childhood was chaotic – dealing with a stepdad and two stepmothers – not to mention four stepsiblings and two half-siblings. But when Eric and I get into an argument, he usually blames me and says that I don’t know how to be a good wife because of my background.  His parents stayed together even though their house is like a war zone – even today! Unlike Eric, I had a good relationship with both of my parents and stepdad growing up, but I’m starting to believe he is right. My self-esteem hit rock bottom a long time ago. Eric wants my love and admiration but he is so insulting and I’m sorry to say that I don’t love him anymore.

I went to see a therapist last month because I’m starting to feel depressed and it’s affecting my job and my relationship with our five year old daughter, Elli. The therapist told me not to blame myself because Eric seems to have traits of narcissism. She told me to go on-line and do some research before our next session, but that made me even more confused and upset.

How do I know if Eric is a true narcissist and whether or not I should leave or stay?

I appreciate any help you can give me and Elli.

Haley

Dear Haley,

Over the past several years, many articles have been written about ways to recognize and break off from a narcissist. The term “narcissist” has been spreading on-line like wildfire. In reality, there are degrees of narcissism and it’s a tough condition to diagnose – even for an expert.  In fact, many narcissists appear to be “great guys or gals” but can behave very differently behind closed doors. Often their partners report feeling a genuine connection to them at times, but say that they can turn on a dime and become cold and rejecting – especially when they don’t get their way. It’s not uncommon for a person in an intimate relationship with someone who is narcissistic to begin to doubt themselves and to lose self-confidence. In fact, most narcissists are perfectionists and their partners report that they feel that nothing they do is right or appreciated.

First, I will define narcissistic personality disorder according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This manual has recently been revised and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat individuals who suffer from mental illness.

Keep in mind that Narcissistic traits can exist in anyone but that not everyone meets the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder – an pervasive (ongoing) pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early childhood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following traits:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievement).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Show arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

According to the DSM-V, narcissism exists on a continuum from mild to severe.  Author Darlene Lancer, posits that narcissism ranges from self-centeredness and other narcissistic traits to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Lancer writes, “NPD wasn’t categorized as a disorder by the American Psychological Psychiatric Association until 1987, because it was felt that too many people shared some of the traits and it was difficult to diagnose.”

Attorney Stephen Futeral of the Charleston Lawyers Blog, notes that anyone who is married to someone suffering from a personality disorder will report that their marriage is marked by periods of high conflict. He writes, “When you add the additional struggles that come from a divorce, then you have a recipe for EXPLOSIVE conflict between spouses and significant damage for children caught in the middle.

Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is: Do Eric’s behaviors make it impossible for you to live a happy, fulfilled life? More importantly, do you feel safe and capable of raising Elli in healthy way given your current family situation? I would recommend that you discuss these and other questions with your therapist.

Identifying and breaking up with a narcissist can be a difficult process – which in some cases may take years. The problem is that many narcissists are hard to spot because of their charm and charisma. Author and dating coach Sandy Weiner writes: “The problem is that many narcissists are cleverly cloaked in a different costume, that of the “nice guy” the one who says loving things to you. You feel a connection like never before. Sex is off the charts. It’s intoxicating to be around him. He’s fun, charming, and exciting. This feels like your true soul mate!” Keep in mind that although Ms. Weiner’s article is written with a female audience in mind, she could just as easily be describing a female.

One last word of caution, a true narcissist probably won’t take it well if you break up with him or her. You also have a tough row to hoe if you are considering trying to get full custody of Elli. In many cases, I’ve seen narcissists lash out in rage when they feel their children are being taken away from them because they view them as possessions. So be sure to get legal advice and protect yourself and Elli by being discreet and seeking help. You aren’t alone and there are many resources – which I cover in my next blog.

In my next post, I will address whether or not individuals in intimate relationships or married to narcissists should stay or leave. Stayed tuned in two weeks for this informative blog. I’d love to read your stories, questions and comments.  Please send them to me at terry@movingpastdivorce.com or simply select the Question Tab on our navigation bar on this website.

Thanks, Terry

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 



Finding Yourself Amidst the Rubble of Your Divorce

By Karen McMahon

We can get so entrenched in being part of a ‘unit’ when married that we lose ourselves.  If our spouse is the dominant one, we may have fallen into a pattern of acquiescing to his/her desires and demands.  If there are issues of anger management, abuse, addiction or control, we may have shrunk so far into the shadows of the marriage that we got lost.

That is what happened to me. When my marriage was clearly on the rocks, I reached out for help to a therapist I had seen years earlier.  I remember her stating (ever so gently) that I was a shell of the woman she had met previously. I was lost and truly didn’t know how to find my way back to being me.

If you haven’t been in that situation, you might cock your head to the side and wonder how is that possible.  But for those who have, I hope this article is a beacon of light to help you find your way home to the uniquely beautiful, powerful person you were designed to be.

When something goes ‘wrong’, whose voice do you hear in your head?  Do you immediately wonder how your spouse is going to react or what they are going to say and then figure out how you will respond accordingly?  When you want to do something, is the voice in your head encouraging and building you up or tearing you down?  Do you know what you think and how you feel and can you stand firmly in your own opinions?  Or do you have doubt and look toward him or her for direction, guidance, and acknowledgement?

If you have lost yourself, take comfort in knowing that simply being aware of it is the first step to finding your way back.

First, put your bat away!!  You have probably been ‘beat up’ enough by the words or actions of the controlling personality in your life and you do not need to berate yourself but rather to be gentle, loving and compassionate.  I used to call myself ‘such an idiot’.  That certainly didn’t help me get back on my feet.

Second, look at how you treat yourself.  No one is going to treat you with respect until you respect and love yourself.  If you have children, when they do something ‘wrong’ would you speak to them the way you speak to yourself?  Most likely not.  Begin to parent yourself the way you parent your children.  Show love and compassion and patience with yourself.

Third, draw up an eviction notice!  That’s right, it is time to evict him or her from you head.  They are renting space in your head and it is not serving you in the least.  Their voice is loud and booming and yours has become a barely audible whisper. Send them packing.

A fun exercise (especially if you feel intimidated by this person) is to imagine a caricature of them…all their most prevalent physical features enhanced.  Now imagine them with a worn out suitcase looking timid while packing and leaving.  Each time you hear their voice instead of yours in your head, imagine the caricature of you evicting them and you will smile and shift your thoughts.

Finally, now that they have been evicted, you need to move back in!  This is sometimes the hardest step and a great place to work with a coach to help you dust off who you are and who you want to be and step back into your power.  Ask yourself a series of questions when situations arise:

What do I think about ____?

How do you feel about ____?

How would I react if I did not have to consider anyone else’s perspective?

If his or her voice comes back, consider what you would do if they were not part of the equation…if they had taken a trip to the moon…no fear, no consequences, no criticism.

It is perfectly natural to be unsure, even insecure in your own thoughts and feelings if you have been living in the shadows of another person.  No worries.  It’s like riding a bike and before you know it you are clear, confident and fully capable of not only knowing what you think but of speaking your mind and standing by your values and beliefs.

If this article rings true for you or you used to be in this situation and have found your way home to yourself, we would love to hear from you.  Tell us your story or share your tips.

Karen McMahon, Certified Relationship & Divorce Coach and the Founder of JourneyBeyondDivorce.com.  Karen has created a team of divorce coaches whose passion is to work with men and women facing relationship challenges or going through the divorce process.  Her desire is to help them navigate their difficulties while focusing on personal growth and embracing the opportunities inherent in their changing circumstances.



5 Ways to Deal with Feelings of Guilt and Rejection Post-divorce

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

When a marriage dissolves, it’s a natural to experience feelings of guilt or rejection. Guilt can arise when a parent feels responsible for bringing pain to their children or for their behavior toward their ex-spouse. On the other hand, feelings of rejection probably stem from feeling left or betrayed by your ex. Whether a person is feels more guilt versus rejection is probably related to the reasons why their marriage ended.

So let’s take a closer look at both guilt and rejection and examine two common scenarios – whether someone is a dumper or a dumpee in the divorce process. These two terms were coined by divorce expert Dr. Bruce Fisher in his groundbreaking book Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. Fisher writes “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”

Since relationship patterns are complicated, it’s important to remember that the roles of dumper and dumpee aren’t always clearly defined and that sometimes they can be reversed. For instance, a partner might be told by their spouse that their marriage is over, and then they decide to file for divorce. Surprisingly, it’s not always the dumper who files for divorce. Sometimes the dumpee simply gets tired of waiting and takes this bold step as a way to take charge of their life.

By the way, some people have a strong negative reaction to the words “dumper” and “dumpee” while others can relate to these terms and like using them. In spite of these qualifications, I firmly believe that these categories are relevant to understanding both feelings of guilt and rejection after divorce.

When you think about it, aren’t guilt and rejection two sides of the same coin when it comes to post-divorce emotions? It makes sense that a partner who decides to terminate the marriage would experience more guilt, while the person who feels left would suffer from feelings of rejection. Notice the difference in their priorities. The dumper typically focuses on personal growth and will say things like “I have to find myself.” On the other hand, dumpees usually express a desire to work on the relationship and will say things like “Just tell me what you want me to change and I’ll work on it.”

Although it’s not an exact science, we might expect about that roughly the same amount of people would identify themselves as the person who was left (dumpee) as the one who decided to leave (dumper). However, in a small percentage of divorces, people say their divorce was mutual. In these cases, it’s normal to feel both guilty and rejected at times.

Guilt is a complex emotion, which probably explains why Dr. Fisher outlines two types. Appropriate guilt and free-floating guilt differ in their intensity and impact on a person’s life. Most people feel appropriate guilt when they believe they’ve done something wrong that hurts another person. Some parents feel guilty because their marriage was abusive and they didn’t take action sooner. Others may feel guilt or regret because their child may be struggling emotionally with post-divorce life. On the other hand, free-floating guilt usually exists from our childhood reservoir of unexpressed guilt feelings and it leaves us feeling anxious and fearful about many situations. Appropriate guilt can be worked through more easily than free-floating guilt. In my experience, both types of guilt can be resistant to change and can lead to depression if they aren’t dealt with. For many people, therapy is an essential tool to help process these difficult emotions.

Feelings of guilt or rejection are closely tied to feelings of self-worth and self-love. Part of the healing process after divorce is recognizing and accepting the way you feel about yourself inside affects the way you relate to people in the world. As you learn to accept and love yourself, your feelings of guilt and rejection will diminish.  When you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.

Here are five ways to deal with feelings of guilt and rejection about your divorce:

  1. Accept the fact that it’s normal or typical to have these emotional reactions to the ending of a relationship. They’ve probably been there all along (in your marriage) and are simply intensified during and after the divorce process.

  2. Get to the root of your feelings of guilt and/or rejection. Self-awareness is the first step in recovering from painful emotions. Examine whether you consider yourself a dumper or dumpee and the impact this has on your emotions.

  3. Apologize to your ex or children if you behaved badly during or after your divorce. It’s never too late to make amends. A sincere apology can help you to forgive yourself and can promote healing for your children. Asking your ex for forgiveness, if you feel it’s warranted, can help mend the past and promote friendship post-divorce.

  4. Acknowledge that all relationships end. Just because your relationship is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.

  5. Cultivate supportive relationships. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of guilt and rejection. Get energized by the possibilities ahead for you.

In closing, looking at how feelings of guilt or rejection may have impacted your behavior can facilitate healing. A parent whose marriage ended may experience guilt because they brought pain to their children. An apology can go a long way to promote forgiveness. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your divorce experience is a crucial step to moving forward after divorce.  We’d love to hear your reactions to this blog and would appreciate your comments.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 



How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Before a woman can begin to build successful relationships, she must have healthy self-esteem. The way you feel about yourself today is directly related to how you felt about yourself as a child. If your parents’ divorce left you with a limited ability to see yourself as loveable and valued, you must build a positive sense of self on your own. Although your childhood experiences have helped create the woman you have become, it is up to you to carve out a new story for your life. Take the time to examine how your relationships have played themselves out, and what role your self-esteem took.

Sarah, for instance, has struggled with self-esteem issues since adolescence. At times, she blamed herself for her parents’ breakup because she was a strong willed child. At age twenty-one, Sarah is a tall, attractive, and athletic college basketball player. Her parents divorced when she was sixteen, and she describes her father as emotionally unavailable. During our interview, Sarah spoke with passion in her voice, saying: “I feel uncomfortable with men,” she says, “My relationship with my dad caused me to seek approval in the wrong way. I don’t know how to keep a guy without sleeping with him.” In Sarah’s case, her feelings of diminished self-worth caused her to settle for less than she deserved – to believe that she wasn’t worthy of being respected or being number one in anyone’s life.

Negative experiences in childhood forever change a woman; and can change how she feels about relationships and her expectations from her partner. Divorce can alter a girl’s self-worth and make her feel damaged, even if her parents tell her that it is not her fault. Studies show that from an early age, girls are socialized to seek approval from others and to look for connection for a sense of self-worth. For the most part, females tend to focus more on relationships than males so they may be more vulnerable to the loss of an intact family.

Don’t let your parents’ breakup, or your own, define who you are today. Like Sarah, you must examine your past and shed toxic self-defeating messages before you can heal and feel good about yourself.  It is important to realize that self-esteem exists on a continuum, and is often a matter of degree. Some women have suffered more than others due to a father-daughter wound, successive losses, or the breakup of their own marriage. Nonetheless, you don’t have to let the pain you’ve suffered in the past carry over to current relationships. Penny, for instance, has learned not to take on other people’s pain and she refuses to let anyone take advantage of her. Her real-life story illustrates the importance of exploring your past and taking charge of your life.

Let’s examine Penny’s view of herself and relationships. Competent-and-caring, Penny, age thirty-six, was raised to please others, and struggled to be on the good side of both parents. As a child, she was pushed and pulled in many directions in a frenzied search for approval after her parents’ split. As an adult, Penny’s self-esteem doesn’t match her accomplishments. A human service professional, she is raising a ten year-old daughter on her own. The truth is that Penny is successful at work, extremely self-reliant, and yet suffers from low self-esteem. But once she began to view her parents’ divorce and its aftermath from an adult perspective, she began feeling differently about herself and relationships. With the help of a therapist, Penny has reclaimed her life and is learning to love herself as she is today.

The following are steps to gaining self-worth and shedding self-defeating messages:

  • Examine your divorce experience and self-defeating messages derived from it.

  • Make choices that impact the way you live in a positive way. Don’t allow yourself to play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strength as a woman.

  • Surround yourself with people who support your journey and can allow you to build self-worth. This may mean shedding toxic relationships and developing new ones. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.

  • Build relationships based on mutual respect, integrity, and honesty. You can’t alter your past, but you can make better choices today.

Learning to love yourself is an inner journey which involves examining your past from a fresh perspective. Take the time to investigate any carry over from the past that might impact your current relationships.  At times, people may resent you as you start to set boundaries and take care of your needs. But rather than giving in, it’s important to embrace loving relationships without giving up part of yourself. Make a commitment to get rid of sabotaging guilt and fear. Like Penny, you can learn to assert yourself in relationships because you are worth it.  You deserve to have your needs met and you are worthy of love. 

 Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

We’d love to hear more about your struggle with self-esteem. Share your story with us so that we can support your journey. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

 



7 Ways To Let Go of Someone Who Treats You Badly

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Letting go of toxic relationships is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with a partner. It is possible to end a romantic relationship that is self-defeating, abusive, or self-destructive.

You may be at risk for a destructive relationship if you become so absorbed in your partner’s problems you don’t often have time to identify, or solve, your own. Or, you care so deeply about your partner that you’ve lost track of your own needs.

People Pleasing is a Common Pattern

Are you a people pleaser who feels that you have to be in a good mood or always positive when you are with your friends, family, or an intimate partner? If you have this tendency, you may find setting limits hard and have trouble asking for what you need from your partner. The good news is that this pattern, which often begins in childhood, can be reversed.

Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the key things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one will treat you with respect if you devalue yourself. You must rid yourself of self-defeating thoughts such as “I’m stupid” or “No one will ever love me” if you want to build relationships based on love, trust, and intimacy.

If your romantic relationship or marriage brings out your insecurities and causes you to mistrust your own judgment this relationship may not be the best one for you. Many people become involved or even obsessed with the wrong partner – someone who is emotionally unavailable, romantically involved with other partners, addicted to substances – or who cannot love them back.

7 Ways to Let Go of Toxic Relationships:

  1. Gain self-awareness about your former partner’s personalities and willingness to meet your emotional and personal needs. Counseling, blogging, and/or coaching can help you with this.
  2. Seek a partner you can be authentic and vulnerable with. In other words, you don’t have to walk on eggshells with him or her. You feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
  3. Set an expectation of mutual respect. You can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.  But if he or she values you, gives you compliments, and encourages you to do things that are in your best interest, your partner will be a boost to your self-esteem.
  4. Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core beliefs and stand by them. Ask for what you need and speak up when something bothers you.
  5. Be more assertive (not aggressive) in romantic relationships. If you want to form a new relationship based on trust you need to speak up when you have a concern or a request. Dating can help you learn what your non-negotiable or deal breakers are.
  6. Extend trust to a partner who is trustworthy.  Does your partner call when they say they’re going to?  Do they take you out when they say they’re going to do so? When someone is interested in a relationship, they keep their agreements. Look for consistency between someone’s words and actions.
  7. Select a partner who is interested in planning a future with you. If he or she says they’re not ready for a commitment, take them seriously – they’re just not the right person for you.  Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future.

People who are attracted to partners who hurt them often confuse chemistry and compatibility. In fact, they are both essential to a long-lasting healthy intimate relationship. Whereas chemistry (how interesting and stimulating you find the person) is essential to keeping couples interested, compatibility (sharing common values, goals, and having fun together) will help a couple get through tough times.

According to author Jill P. Weber, many girls learn to tune out their own inner voice due to their family experiences, and this prepares them for one-sided relationships in adulthood. Weber writes, “As a woman develops a strong core sense of self, fulfilling relationships will follow.”

Jill P. Weber posits that many women consistently put other’s needs first and end up in one-sided relationships. The consequence for girls can be profound, with girls and women dismissing their own needs and ending up with a depleted sense of self.

For instance, Ericka, an outgoing twenty-six year old, provided Brian with unconditional love and did her best to make up for his dysfunctional upbringing by trying to meet his every need. After they moved in together, she devoted herself to meeting Brian’s needs – even helped take care of his six-year old twins on weekends.

Ericka puts it like this: “It took a breakup for me to realize that I was not responsible for Brian’s happiness and can only truly make myself happy. He never gave much of his time or energy to me. Ericka realized that she didn’t have any energy left for herself when she was so focused on Brad’s well-being.  Since their split, she has been able to put more energy into her college classes, other relationships, and hobbies.

Are You Settling for Less than You Deserve from Your Partner?

Both men and women stay in relationships that are destructive due to fears about being alone. Our culture promotes the idea that you have to be part of a couple and there is a lot of stigma about being single.

If you are currently in a romantic relationship, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship? Research shows that one of the main reasons why people stay in bad relationships is the fear of being single.  If this is the case, gently remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person regardless of whether or not you are in a romantic relationship.

Keep in mind that emotional intimacy is not emotional dependency. If your relationship causes you to be anxious or causes you to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you.

Many people stay in destructive relationships because they consistently put their partner’s needs before their own. Often women are raised to focus on others and defer their own needs. Too often they are left with a depleted sense of self and they look for their partner to validate them.

Unless you have self-acceptance and self-love, you cannot believe you are worth loving just as you are. You might try to prove your worth through giving too much to others and being overly tolerant and patient.  Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experience of your life.”

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 



8 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Relationships

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

I’ve been feeling very discouraged about my ability to keep a relationship together and notice that all of mine end badly. I’ve recently started counseling and my therapist recommended that I begin to look at my own behaviors and to stop focusing so much on what my partners do wrong.

Since I first started dating in high school, I’ve been mistrustful and fearful of ending up like my parents who divorced when I was young. I definitely have trust issues and seem to undermine my own happiness by finding fault in others. For example, when I was engaged last year to Michael, I’d blow small things out of proportion when he did something even slightly suspicious such as texting a former girlfriend or female co-worker. I usually didn’t give him a chance to explain and would issue an ultimatum such as “I’m done with you and breaking off our engagement.”

The final straw for me was when Michael said he was unwilling to stop going out for drinks with co-workers some Friday nights. I just didn’t see a need for it yet Michael said I was controlling and suspicious. He said that my mistrust was ruining our relationship and he ended up breaking off our engagement during one of our heated arguments. I realize now that he was only gone a few hours and we’d always spend time together afterwards (and most of the weekend) so it probably wasn’t a deal breaker.

Now that I’m on my own, I recognize that Michael was the love of my life and I’m devastated that I’ve lost him. I hope you can help me to stop sabotaging my relationships because I’m at the breaking point and know I need to make some changes.

Sincerely,
Alicia

Hi Alicia,

Most people who sabotage relationships are not intentionally self-destructive. Most likely, they begin all of their relationships with the expectation that they will do well and yet they watch them slowly fall apart. Like you, most relationship saboteurs are distressed and don’t really understand why their relationships are not working out.

In your case, there appear to be many ways your baggage is getting in the way of how you relate to intimate partners. Is it possible that you have not come to terms with your tendency to create self-defeating relationships that match your negative view of yourself and love and commitment? As you grow and learn about yourself, it’s important to look at the choices you make and to see what lessons can be learned from your experiences.

In order to stop sabotaging relationships, you are wise to examine how your trust issues are getting in the way of creating a loving partnership. For instance, as you describe your trust issue with Michael, it sounds like it was a remnant from your parents’ divorce and that you never really gave him a chance to explain himself when you noticed him contacting a former girlfriend or co-worker. Sometimes people’s actions are not intentionally hurtful and it’s possible that he wasn’t aware that this was a hot-button issue for you. Since you were convinced that your mistrustful feelings were because of his behavior, you spent too much time analyzing him rather examining ways you could have extended trust to him and worked on communication.

The good news is that trust is a skill that can be practiced in the context of a relationship with a partner who is dependable and shows consistency between his or her words and actions. The first step in building trust in relationships is to work on your fear of being vulnerable and not holding in your feelings with partners – allowing you to reach a deeper level of intimacy.

One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It’s about believing that he or she has your best interests at heart. Every person is born with the propensity to trust others but through life experiences, you may have become less trusting as a form of self-protection.

Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life. For instance, you seem to have unrealistic or rigid expectations of how others should treat you and so you are easily disappointed. Then when a partner treats you badly, your suspicions are confirmed. Yet you failed to set healthy boundaries from the beginning.

People who enjoy healthy relationships have learned from their mistakes and have treated their setbacks with compassion. With an empathic attitude, you can start to connect to the rest of the world, as you remember that we are all flawed in some way. And you start to realize that the wonderful thing about behavior is that it can be improved. You might not get a second chance at your relationship, but there is still a chance for recovery for those who have made mistakes.

8 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Relationships:

1. Gain awareness of your history – dating back to childhood. For instance, if you are a people pleaser you may be drawn to partners who you attempt to fix or repair. Learn more about how your parents’ unhealthy patterns have impacted your choices in partners.
2. Accept your part in the dynamic. For example, if you’re experiencing mistrust try to figure out how much your feelings are based on the present and how much on the past. It’s natural for one person to see their style as preferred and to be convinced that their partner needs to change – neglecting to see their part in the struggle.
3. Let go of being a victim and positive things will start to happen. When you see yourself as a victim, your actions will confirm a negative view of yourself. Instead, focus on the strengths that helped you cope so far in life. Don’t obsess about past choices in partners but learn from them.
4. Examine your expectations about intimate relationships. You might be focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is – leading to disappointment. There is no such thing as a soul mate or perfect partner. If your partner lets you down, don’t always assume that a failure in competence is intentional – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
5. Take your time getting to know a new partner before making a commitment. Make sure you’ve dated someone for at least two years and are at least in your late 20s before you make a life-long commitment to reduce your chance of divorce.
6. Make sure that you have common values and beliefs with people you date. Pinpoint destructive traits in some of the partners you are attractive to. Finding a good match may require that you choose a new “type” in the future, according to dating expert Cija Black.
7. Use positive intentions such as “I am capable of creating loving, trusting relationships.” Recognize the newness in each day and that you have the power to make positive things happen.
8. Write a new narrative or story for your life– one that includes taking your time picking partners who are trustworthy and willing to work on a committed relationship if that’s your desire.

With time and patience, you can begin to visualize the kind of life you need to thrive. You don’t have to let your past dictate the decisions you make today. You have an opportunity to learn from your experience and build the kind of relationship that eluded you in the past. Remember to be gentle with yourself and others on your journey.

Regards,

Terry

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.


7 Things To Consider Before Entering A Rebound Relationship

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Getting involved in a rebound relationship is a risky proposition. If you’re feeling lonely after a divorce, it’s easy to fall for someone before you’re truly ready to begin dating again. So it makes sense to explore the reasons why rebound relationships should be avoided. However, rebound relationships can serve a purpose and be healthy if both parties go into the partnership with clear boundaries and they’re on the same page.

First, let’s consider the fact that divorce is painful and people usually experience a variety of emotions including confusion, anxiety, anger, regret, betrayal, and sadness. Some people would argue that a rebound relationship is a good way to get past some of these feelings and can give the newly divorced person a boost of endorphins and elevate their self-esteem.

However, most experts believe people who are newly divorced probably aren’t ready to jump into a long-term committed relationship. The chance of a rebound relationship having long-term potential is slim. Truth be told, there are many reasons why it rarely ends well.

Let’s start with my own experience. As a newly divorced woman with two school age children, I fell headlong into a rebound relationship with unrealistic expectations. The person who I dated was also recently divorced and neither one of us had healed from our divorces. Needless to say, we were both vulnerable and in need of a little ego stroking – but not ready for a committed relationship. We were simply too needy ourselves.

In my case, I saw the potential for a long-term relationship and was heartbroken when it ended. For many reasons, this relationship was a painful reminder that most rebounds don’t last. What I learned the hard way was to take it slow and to give myself time to heal from my divorce.

While most rebound relationships don’t do any permanent harm, they can postpone the recovery process and don’t allow a person time to consider their contribution to their divorce. In fact, it can be an easy way out of dealing with emotional pain – an essential part of healing. Escaping by means of a rebound relationship can prevent you from gaining self-awareness about the reasons your marriage ended and the lessons you need to learn from it.

7 things to consider before entering a rebound relationship:

1. Rebound relationships are typically short-term and usually don’t allow the newly divorced person time to process the end of their marriage and grieve it. Rebounds can complicate or delay this process.
2. Newly separated and divorced people are usually feeling pretty lonely, needy, and vulnerable so are probably not ready to engage in an intimate relationship.
3. The timing is probably off. Consider this: even someone who might be a good match for you in the future probably isn’t a good bet now. One or both of you simply needs more time to heal. As a result, the relationship may end abruptly – leaving damage in its wake.
4. A breakup can temporarily damage your self-esteem and it’s important to build your confidence before you enter the dating world again.
5. Learning to deal with loneliness is part of the grieving process and essential to discovering who you are post-divorce. Regaining a sense of self can give you the confidence you need to move forward and make wise decisions in your next relationship.
6. If you’re eager to remarry, consider that the divorce rate is over 65% for second marriages. One of the main reasons is that people date too soon after their breakup and end up picking a partner who has similar characteristics to their ex.
7. Rebound relationships can be fun but you may be relying on your new partner to fix some of your problems. Be careful! Looking to your new love for validation is risky business.

Overall, most experts advise against rebound relationships because newly divorced people need time to recover from their divorce and any “ghosts of the relationship” that need to be dealt with. Put simply, we need to put these ghosts and past memories in their proper place so that we can be fully available for a new relationship.

On the other hand, dating several different people casually can give you the opportunity to figure out what type of partner you need to thrive. Trying out new relationships can be less risky if both partners have realistic expectations and don’t see the partnership as long-term. If you go into a rebound relationship with your eyes wide open, you stand a better chance of recovering more quickly if it ends badly and you are less likely to repeat any dating disasters. Being cautious as you proceed into the dating world post-divorce will serve you well in the long-run!

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.


5 Ways That Your Belief In A Soul Mate Is Holding You Back

By Lisa Arends

I’ve never been one to believe in soul mates. Even when my 22-year-old self said “I do” to the man I thought was perfect for me, I didn’t perceive him as “the one.”

And that idea may have saved me.

Because when the man-who-wasn’t-the-one decided to leave the marriage with a text message one day, I believed that I could create a happy marriage again and that I wasn’t merely a victim of fate.

There’s an allure to the idea of a soul mate, the belief that there is one person that is your perfect companion. The idea brings peace when relationships end (it’s over because he/she was not the one) and serves as a beacon of hope that everything will be okay once the right person enters your life.

We like the idea of a predestined partnership.

It’s romantic. It’s encouraging.

But it’s also limiting at its best and damaging at its worst.

Here are five ways that your belief in a soul mate is holding you back:

Relationships Are Formed, Not Found

I recently completed a furniture assembly project with my second husband. It was a ground-breaking endeavor, not because of our skills with hex wrenches and flat washers, but because we carried out the entire project in perfect harmony, anticipating and responding to the other’s needs with few words needed. My ex-husband and I used to be able to work together like a well-oiled machine and I had concluded that such easy teamwork would remain elusive in my new marriage after several frustration-tinged projects. What I neglected to remember were the years my ex and I spent learning how to work together.

A fulfilling relationship occurs when both partners are open and vulnerable, creating an environment of mutual understanding and intimacy. It takes time – often lots of time – and effort to reach this point. It’s all too easy to compare the beginning of one relationship to the fully-developed stage of another and reach the conclusion that the new partnership is somehow lacking when maybe all it needs is more time to ripen. Think of how many good relationships may be discarded before they mature, dismissing a life mate while searching for a soul mate.

Passing the Baton of Responsibility

I used to tell my ex-husband that he made me happy. And that worked okay as long as he did. But then one day, he walked out the door and I had to learn to make myself happy.

One of the most difficult exercises after the end of a relationship is turning a critical eye inward. Not to blame or assume guilt, but to identity thoughts and behaviors that proved maladaptive to the relationship. It’s uncomfortable to be honest with oneself and scary to accept full responsibility for your own well-being. By placing your contentment in the lap of a soul mate, you are avoiding your liability for your own choices and actions. Do you really want to give someone else the power to decide your own happiness?

Life in the Waiting Room

It’s a big world. And even with the far-reaching arms of social media and online dating, you will only ever come in contact with a small percentage of people. If you are waiting for “the one,” you may be waiting a very long time. And living life in the waiting room is no way to truly live.

Are you postponing your happiness for when you find your soul mate? How about finding your happiness first. Rather than looking for someone to “complete you,” complete yourself first and then look for somebody who complements you.

All too often, a search for a soul mate is really a search for contentment. But that’s only a snipe hunt for happiness. Because true satisfaction can only come from within. So rather than waiting for your soul mate, nurture your own soul first.

Paring Down Possibilities

We all enter dating with some compiled list of our “must haves.” Some of them are critical – values, lifestyle, character, etc. But others, such as height and even certain personality traits, are much less important. And yet, if we have built up some image of the “perfect” mate, we will inevitably eliminate viable candidates who simply didn’t measure up to the imagined ideal.

Many strong relationships start off slowly. My current marriage almost didn’t make it past the first date – he thought I was too reserved and analytical and I thought he was too abrupt and arrogant. It took time for us to truly understand each other and to recognize the core person beneath the initial impressions. And that abrupt and arrogant man? One of the traits I most admire about him is his willingness to admit his faults and wrongs. Although I’m still working on not being too analytical…

Inflated Expectations

If someone is your soul mate, then the relationship should be effortless. After all, they are your perfect match and you should fit together like hand and glove.

In the beginning of a relationship, this may appear to be true. After all, in the early stages, we present our best selves and only see the best in our partners. But that honeymoon stage always comes with an expiration date; it is an unsustainable state. A successful relationship has to navigate this changing relational terrain as reality sets in and idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities are revealed. And that takes effort. If your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you may throw in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord, assuming that he or she must not be your soul mate after all.

Relationships are not a passive endeavor. If you want to create a connection, you have to look for it. Work for it. Everything worthwhile in life requires effort. Including relationships.

A relationship with “the one” is more than just a person with the right boxes checked, it’s also the partnership that you nurture and cultivate.

Lisa Arends tells the story of her own divorce in her book, Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Website: http://lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com

Twitter: @stilllearning2b

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