Dear Dr. Love, I had a 4 year relationship with a man who is a dear person but had a tragic childhood. He and 2 brothers were raised by a paranoid schizophrenic mother who alternated between being very loving and abusiveness.When his father gained custody of them, they had a stepmother who was verbally abusive. I could not live with his explosive temper, but we remained friends and he now has had a relationship with another woman for many, many years. She and I get along well.Within the last 5 months both his mother and father passed away. His girlfriend has phoned me to say his temper is acting up again and he is verbally abusive. She is asking me for advice, as if she might leave him also. I would hate to see him lose support at this vulnerable time.Can you advise me what I should say to his girlfriend?
What a lovely woman you are. Taking the time to help out an old boyfriend’s girlfriend is quite unusual indeed. Here’s what you need to tell her to tell him.Every child forms his or her identity by taking on his or her parent’s traits. If that child’s parent was an abuser, then the child takes on the traits of an abuser. The most diabolical thing is that even though the child hated the parent’s abusive ways, he or she will find himself acting exactly like that hated parent.Now, here’s the kicker. When the abusive parent dies, the surviving child (who is now an adult) will find him or herself acting even more like the now deceased parent. Why?Because people who have been abused in childhood unconsciously wish to go home again, hoping that this time around their parents will love them correctly. When the parent dies, suddenly there is no hope to go home again, so the unconscious mind actually makes the parent come back to life inside of us.So the unconscious mind makes us become clones of the very parents who damaged us. By resurrecting the parent’s traits, the unconscious mind feels that we are symbolically keeping the parent alive. In this way, we don’t have to face the horrible pain that we would feel if we faced the truth–we can’t go home again, and we can’t redo our childhoods.So this explains why your ex. is acting like his abusive mother. It is very unlikely that he is going to be able to understand what I said all at once. To help him begin to understand the process I described above, his girlfriend might ask him, ‘Have you noticed that since your mother died that you are behaving more abusively? Why do you think that is?’If he is willing to explore that question, then he might be able to make the link that I spoke about on his own. Another angle that she might take is to get him to realize that he is making her feel as battered as his mother made him feel.To achieve that realization, she could ask him, ‘Should I be feeling battered when you speak to me that way?’ She could also ask, ‘Why do you want me to feel as abused as you felt when you were young?’I would also encourage your friend to begin couples therapy. When he is feeling safer with the therapeutic process, he might be willing to enter individual therapy.