I've been with my ex since high school. We were best friends and our relationship has been off and on. It's been mainly off and on because of him; he can't let go of the sexual abuse that happened in his past. He's forever thinking that he hurts me when I tell him that he isn't and he doesn't think he's good enough for me. He would always ask questions like why would I choose him to date when there's someone better out there. I would tell him that I don't judge by outside appearance and I look into their hearts and that he was good enough for me. I would tell him that whenever he got down. We spent Thanksgiving together and had a wonderful time. I met his family and they liked me a lot and Christmas also. During my break in college he admitted to me that he cheated on me with the person who had sexually assualted him and he felt guilty and dirty and he couldn't forgive himself. I forgave him and told him that I would still stay with him because I was in love with him and will always be in love with him. Then we would spend time together but he would always spend them with his friends and when I told him about that he said that he's trying to balance but really doesn't know how. I was his first girlfriend. Before we broke up he said he was always hurting me and that he doesn't want to hurt me anymore. The thing is I was never hurting when I was with him. When I tried to tell him that he didn't say anything and he kept apologizing and then said that he would always be there whenever I needed him.I called him one day and he told me not to ever call him again and his attitude totally changed. I was confused. One, because I didn't want to break up because I was in love with him and two because it was unexpected. I didn't do anything. I tried calling him and making contact with him but he just ignores me and he says that he's doing it for me and I am totally confused and hurt. My friend's would tell me that he looks happy and everything like he never cared; but I know that deep down he is hurting and he pretends that he's happy when he's not. He was my best friend for years before we dated.If it's for me then why am I hurting so much and it seems like he isn't? Why does he pretend? I love him so much...Is that a coping mechanism?
Yours is a sad tale.
You asked me three questions: 1) Why are you hurting and why is he not? 2) Why does he pretend? 3) Is that a coping mechanism?
Your second question, why does he pretend, answers the first question. Asking why he pretends means that you know he's hurting and pretending not to hurt! Your third question answers the first two!
You are surely right. He is doing what he needs to do to cope. All humans seek pleasure and avoid pain. The problem is familiar pain is actually more comfortable than the pain of the unfamiliar.
Being in a healthy, loving relationship is clearly too painful for him. He thinks he deserves to be abused and he is actually more comfortable being treated poorly.
How do I know?
Throughout your relationship, he told you in words and deeds that he didn’t deserve you, and that he didn’t know why you wanted him. He pushed you away, spent too much time with friends, and he also broke up with you repeatedly. He even returned to the person who abused him.
Your ex’s self-esteem is lower than pond scum. Sexual abuse survivors often feel this way.
I had a patient many years ago who had been molested in her childhood. She lived with the feeling that she was bad, dirty, and didn’t deserve love. One day, I discovered that she felt to blame for the abuse! Why? She recalled having felt sexual pleasure when she was being abused. Because of this she believed that she, somehow, asked for the abuse.
I helped her to realize that the human body is wired for pleasure. It is not uncommon for a person to feel sexual pleasure even when he/she is being sexually abused. This doesn’t mean that the person invited the abuse!
I see that your ex is like the patient I describe. He is confused and feels self-loathing and utterly unworthy of love. He is very emotionally disturbed.
I know you asked me the questions you did because hope springs eternal. You are hoping to hear that your ex truly loves you and is merely pretending not to care. You are hoping that by some miracle he will return to you.
I know that what I am about to tell you will be sad and heartbreaking news for you. But it is the truth, and you need to hear it…
Your ex is too broken to have a relationship with you. If a person doesn’t love himself, he can’t love another, nor can he allow another person to love him.
For a moment I want to turn to another matter that must be addressed, one that you didn’t contemplate in your letter to me: YOU.
I urge you to look at why you are chasing a rainbow, trying to get blood from a stone. Your desperate clinging to this man who cannot reciprocate your love gives me a clue as to your own injury.
I am certain that you are caught in a repetition compulsion (search this term in my archived columns). The repetition compulsion refers to the process by which we all unconsciously repeat our worst and most painful childhood traumas, hoping to achieve a “Happy Ending” this time around.
I’m sure that you had a parent who couldn’t return your love.
I’m sure you felt that it was your fault. All kids think that they are the center of the universe and that whatever goes wrong at home is their fault. This is called the narcissism of childhood.
Kids also think that if they try harder to be a better more giving, patient, forgiving and loving son or daughter that the parent will see their goodness and reward them with love. All kids labor under what’s called “magical thinking” combined with “omnipotent—meaning all powerful—fantasies. This is a dangerous combination because kids think that they have the power to fix their messed up parents.
When they can’t fix their parents, they feel like failures and their self-esteem plunges.
For all of us, this early wound goes unhealed; the kid grows up and carries the wound into adulthood.
Here’s where the repetition compulsion kicks in. The adult who was abused, neglected or abandoned in childhood unconsciously chooses a lover or spouse who emotionally resembles the parent who let him/her down. I call this “Setting the Stage.”
The next thing you know, you’re reliving the pain of your childhood all over again. Instead of healing the old wound and achieving a “Happy Ending” you just end up getting reinjured over and over again, driving the old wound deeper and deeper into your psyche and soul.
But here’s the tragic part. You can’t let go. You can’t give up. That would feel like abandoning all hope of healing. This is the place where you find yourself now.
I want you to hear that you will never achieve your Happy Ending with your ex. Why? Precisely because he’s damaged like your parent was. This means he can’t give you any more or any better than your parent did.
You need to let go of the hope of ever being loved by him and grieve.
Accept that you didn’t create your parent’s or your boyfriend’s damage. Also accept that you can’t fix either of them.
I encourage you to read my book Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First). It will help you to identify your exact wound and guide you on how to heal yourself.
As you come through the grief, and learn to love the wounded little girl inside yourself, you will be transformed, like Phoenix rising from the ashes. You will finally be free of this impossible repetition compulsion; free to find a partner who can truly give you that “Happy Ending,” and love you with all of his heart.