Failed Twice, Feels Hopeless
Q: I was married for 12 years to a man a decade older than me who turned out to be very controlling. Later I met a man younger than me. The first year all was great but then I started missing money and other things, and I found out he had a drug addiction. I tried to help him by getting him counseling, and I got him into school and a job. I finally realized you can't help a man like that. I lost my house, my car, and pretty much everything I owned. I've been alone now for nearly a year, slowly replacing what I lost. But am I destined to be alone? How do I work through all this and still trust a man? I seem to meet guys who are married and wanting to cheat, or men who just want someone to take care of them. The sad thing is I still love the man who did the drugs because at the beginning he made me feel very special by telling me I was pretty and that he loved me. We cuddled and did things together, he helped around the house and so on. I know that I have low self-esteem. I'm going to the gym to work out some of the anger I carry towards my past. My whole life I was told I am ugly and that I am nothing, and sometimes I think they're right, or why else would I get used and left behind? Please help me figure out how to move on and start over and not kill a potential good relationship. -- Renee, 36
Dr. Susan: It's said we choose our partners based in some way on our upbringing. You were always told you were ugly and worthless, and so you chose men who either (husband #1) controlled and abused you, or (relationship #2) took advantage of your neediness by telling you what you longed to hear, and then abused you. It takes a mostly whole person to be able to form a mostly healthy relationship. You don't necessarily have to go back to your childhood to work out your problems, though it's helpful that you recognize you were made to feel bad about yourself. A good family gives you a better start than that. No one is ugly or worthless to people who truly love her. You say you wish to start fresh. Then stop giving any credit to those people in your past who took away your normal human confidence in yourself. They were wrong! (They probably were raised badly themselves, which is no excuse but can help you let go of your fury at them and focus on your own future.)
Going to the gym is a positive move, as would be making a few small outward changes to give yourself a lift (a new hairdo, clothes that bring out your best features). Obviously it feels great to hear compliments from a man, and we fall easily in love with someone who makes us feel good about ourselves. When a man wants something from you, he'll say what you most want to hear. You can't build a life around sweet words and cuddling. That doesn't mean you can't trust men. Just understand where the flattery comes from, and get beyond that to the real character of the person. Since your confidence in your own judgment is so weak now, I'd recommend finding a counselor or good friend to confide in now, so that the next time you're on the verge of falling in love, you talk it over before going too far.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.