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This is where all of my previous Q&A sessions are stored.


How do I become my Idealised Self?

For week three of Break The Cycle, I’m stuck on two things:

1) My greatest fear and need is to fully embrace my potential as a woman: sharp, successful at work (I am already), sexual, always well-dressed and classy, powerful, in control, respected. I want to be her, but I don’t know her. I am the scared, puritanical, ugly, f&*ed up child version of her. Boundaries are helping me detach from the child role, but I don’t know how to move towards that woman. 

2) My other big needs that I seek with work/parents/partners are respect, validation, to be ‘seen’; then the private ones, the need for intimacy and sexuality. I have done the work and know why these needs weren’t met but my question to you is how can I meet them now.

Nat’s Response

 So, this version of you that you say is your “potential as a woman” is your idealised self, the version of you that you think you’re supposed to be and/or that you desire that can become your chief source, not only of self-criticism but not listening to yourself and so crossing boundaries. There’s a full episode of the podcast on this.

Now the thing is, if you don’t get boundaried about who you’re aiming to be and so ensuring that this version of you is rooted in your actual values, including your needs, how you want to feel and continue feeling and what matters to you, not only will you disrespect who you are right now, which is better than who you make you out to be, but you will hate the journey to ’there’—and also find that it’s not some magical elixir.

You need to be honest with you about why you want these things. If you’re not, you will rebel against them and undermine you.

  • Are these your desires, or is it your internalised patriarchy, sexism, etc?
  • Are these your desires or what you absorbed from family, community, church, society, the media?
  • Who said that this is what it is to be a woman, and who says that this is what qualifies as being ’successful’ or ‘happy’
  • Who made these rules, and do you actually want these?

Rules are what we come up with to protect ourselves against what we fear. The idea is to follow the rule and we will be ’safe’, but we just feel guilty and shit because rules like this make us feel afraid and small.

 Use the clearing and releasing emotional charge exercise to uncover your associations but also ensure that you’re matching what you need and want to where you’re pushing yourself to be and that these are rooted in values. The current episode of the podcast about compatibility actually applies to work and just life in general.

Be honest about where you are now and then identify specific things that need to happen

You can then be intentional and have somewhere to aim.

Your second question is too big for the scope of an Office Hours question that already has another question in it, so you need to watch this class.

There are also two classes about needs on Break The Cycle. 

Will better boundaries be enough in my social interactions?

I don’t particularly like it when people try to bond with me on the basis of talking badly about others. Is this attitude common or am I the common denominator?

In my social circle/workplace, if I noticed that someone would speak badly about someone else, for example, I would get suspicious and feel difficult to be friendly. Then I would get angry when people befriended those ones despite their behaviour. Then I would feel I couldn’t mingle and start self-isolating as I did not like spending my lunch break gossiping about other people. I thought this was a problem of the place where I worked for years but as I worked in other places, went to workshops, courses etc, this would happen again. Because most of the times I did not take part in this behaviour, I ended up feeling isolated and lonely, the odd one out. Despite wanting to mingle. I just felt it was very difficult and exhausting. Is this just another thing I picked up (my inner critic picked up) to make me feel less then? Will being more boundaried help me?

Nat’s Response 

There’s nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable with someone attempting to forge a connection with you based on them talking badly about others.

It’s a normal reaction to something that someone else may consider The Norm but that fosters distrust in their dynamics.

While in genuinely close relationships, we can share our frustrations with someone else, this is entirely different to going around chatting about others.

Some people are fully aware that they do it, but plenty have low awareness of their habits.

It’s not about ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ people. Some people just don’t have great communication habits and yes, in some instances, the person gets off on running people down or finding fault for the sake of it.

What you have to work out is what “speak badly” means. That varies for everyone.

It’s also about context.

If some random person, for example, at work, came up to me and started chatting negatively about someone and they’d barely known me a hot minute, that’s a red flag.
If the main connection I have with someone is that someone gets on our nerves, then we don’t really have that much in common and I would feel wary if that were the only thing that we had to talk about. It’s like when some people make gossiping about one person the sport of the relationship or the social group.

If, however, someone noticed that I had the same crappy interaction with a person that they’d had, and they came to me and expressed their frustration about it, while that wouldn’t necessarily be the source of a ‘bond’ per se and of course, context matters, I would appreciate what that person had shared. It would allow me to be mindful at work and not take that person’s behaviour personally.

All workplaces have a level of gossip. While there are certainly toxic levels of it that interfere with the culture, the ability to work or have negative impacts on someone’s career, gossip is present in all workplaces that basically have more than a couple of people there.

It doesn’t have to be made into a ’thing’—you just have to decide whether you just steer yourself out of those conversations or just don’t contribute. Both are fine.

But it’s one of those things where you have to get clear on what is coming up for you and why. If you don’t want to gossip, don’t. But you don’t get to criticise you for missing out when you’ve also just determined that these people are not people you want to be around or that they’re having conversations you don’t want to take part in. The overwhelming majority of humans gossip at times. The key is to avoid being malicious and to know your line.

And it’s also a matter of taking note. If someone gossips about everyone, they gossip about everyone. Obviously, you don’t make them a close friend or share anything that you wouldn’t want to hear back. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy that person’s company, but you keep it grounded by not imagining that you are the exception to the rule.

Identify your associations with gossip and networking. Make sure that you are not mixing up the past with the present.
Make sure that you are not confusing what might be discomfort about networking full stop with people talking about work. And note: people are allowed to bitch about work if they want to. Workplaces are far from perfect environments and the sharing of information can be hugely beneficial. Obviously, it needs to be boundaried, but it’s not automatically wrong.
And being boundaried helps everything, so yes.

How can I handle the pain of the end of my marriage and move on?

I am married to someone who I’ve been together with a total of nearly 2 years (we married after 3 months – I know! I Know!). He is two people – a sweet, caring, open and lovely man and he’s also extremely verbally abusive and not particularly committed even though we are married. He asked me to move out of his house after 5 months together and I feel we are dating as opposed to being married. He doesn’t want to separate and get divorced.
I have initiated NC a number of times only to go back to him (sometimes it’s him, sometimes me but he usually contacts me). On one of the NC, he slept with someone else but says it’s not cheating because we weren’t together.
I have returned because the pain I feel is excruciating. I want to know how to deal with this pain. I am in counselling now. I work as a nurse and in these COVID times feel overwhelmed and also claustrophobic because I can’t move on and can’t begin divorce proceedings until August 2021.

Nat’s Response 

So, this is a lot, and I don’t blame you for feeling overwhelmed and claustrophobic, especially given that you’ve got all that you usually contend with plus COVID plus working as a nurse.

Most people would be on their knees just over the marriage bit, never mind everything else, so you need to acknowledge that you are going through a lot and that you are triggered by the rollercoaster of your marriage and feeling out of control of your circumstances on every front—COVID, working on the frontline, at home with your marriage.

While some people get married after three months and go on to have a mutually fulfilling relationship, some don’t. And it’s nothing to do with how ‘worthy’ you are but who you married and the foundation upon which you started, not just a relationship but marriage in. For each of you to go down this road at that point, bearing in mind that you could have opted to, for example, move in together, and for him to ask you to move out two months later, it sounds like a fantasy whirlwind gone sour.

You were both seeking a feeling and possibly trying to avoid something.

While you can get a good sense of who someone is in three months if you have a good sense of who you are and are grounded in healthy relationship habits, you can’t achieve this if, well, you don’t.

You are right to feel as if you’re dating because actually, legally, you have a stage 3+ relationship (see 5 stages of relationships) but the actual relationship is at… stage 1.

The relationship isn’t committed and hasn’t developed in intimacy. And he’s having his cake and eating it too because he doesn’t want to separate and divorce, but he also doesn’t want to be married.

He is abusive and controlling, and you’re effectively, based on how he wants to do things, in No Man’s Land.

If you accept that even though you’re married in name, that thanks to the back and forth, including his non-interest in commitment, you are at stage 1, then you will stop engaging from the place of believing that you are going back to a marriage and start accepting that this is not working.

People can be more than one thing. It’s possible for him to be sweet, caring, etc., at times and for him to also be verbally abusive and commitment-avoidant and all the rest.

While you cannot begin divorce proceedings until the summer, you need to decide whether you can accept that you are dating a man you are married to. And it’s OK to not be OK with that.

  • Where else have you felt, thought and acted similarly? So, think about the feelings, thoughts and actions you experienced during this relationship and then try to notice where else you have felt, thought and acted this way?
  • Who does this man remind you of? So, what does his extremes in behaviour remind you of? Is he like one or both of your parents or someone else?
  • Who is it that even if you got it in the past, you still crave their attention, affection, approval, love or validation?

This will give you clues about what is going here.

I would also try getting in touch with the loss of your relationship and what you hoped this marriage would be, and I’ve included the Facing Regret journal. It will take time to get to where you want to be, and right now, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep things absolutely honest and let go of any fantasy about him as if you are dealing with two hims. You’re only dealing with one and he cannot meet your needs.

How do I become realistic with goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed?

As you know, I ended a 1.5 yr relationship in November. I journal and listen to your podcasts daily. I helped my dad move out of his home of 26 yrs. I presently am working on readying mine for sale as well.

I understand that I am doing a lot. I work two jobs which are great outlets. I am cultivating better boundaries and healthier relationships.

I am working on the internal boundaries. I know when I get overwhelmed that is a signal to stop and pause. So whatever goal I have to ready my home for sale needs to be realistic. I get the emotional elements to this are draining me. So I am taking notice of that and pivoting. In a sense this is how I am getting things done without the “should” devil tapping on my shoulder. That is an unrealistic expectation and leads to ridiculous standards that are not only not feasible but are kinda laughable. I find that I do stuff in smaller bits. If I am tired, I go to sleep. This is how I am trying to slay the overwhelming dragon. Thoughts?

Nat’s Response 

Being the adult child of an emotionally immature parent means that you’re over-responsible and you’re not always aware of your limits or where you are expecting too much of yourself, because you’ve never really had to fully consider your needs. Throw in raising your children and you’re only just starting to have you back for yourself.

You are doing a lot. If one of your children or co-workers or anyone else you care about was doing what you are and had also grappled with what you have over the last year or so, you’d be like, Mate, cut yourself some slack. Don’t you think that you’re expecting too much of yourself?

The great thing is that you’re aware that elements of prepping your home for sale are draining you. This means that you can be mindful of the way that you are approaching these—mentality, actions, the shoulds—so that you take care of you in the process. You are right to pivot.

Be aware of what your “shoulds” are, and then question them. Whose rule is this, and is it a rule you want to follow? Can you make the rule into something you want to do so that it’s not powered by fear?

I would also prep the house for sale with the aim of it being B- instead of A+. Now, before you shudder, you operate at trying to make things into A++++++++++++++++++ standard. Reining yourself in, dialling things down, while you might feel like they’re B-, they’re actually where you need to be without overdoing it.

You can sell you home and change your life with B- effort. Not everything has to be a bust your gut. You don’t have to do ‘all the things’.

Work out what would be perfect, enough and not good enough with the house. There should be very clear differences between them.

I also agree about doing things in smaller bits. I admire people who can empty out a whole room full of stuff and Marie Kondo the place, but that is my nightmare. Clearing out a drawer, a cupboard, a something, feels so much better and fits with how I work.

You have to identify what feels so much better for you, and lean into that. Big time.

And don’t even wait until your tired to go to bed. Make it a bit before that so that rest from something isn’t just what you do when you’re tired but also because you want time to yourself to relax.

When people look for a home, there’s nice-to-haves and deal-breakers. Trying to find the magical ‘perfect’ home can cause someone to be house-hunting for years. You need to work out what’s nice to have and essential. And then you can focus on the essential and probably along the way, you’ll start to get a sense of if they’re really essential or even if you need to do the other things on the list.

It’s also good to be clear in your intention, so the why behind what you’re doing. If it’s rooted in desire, in a genuinely positive outcome, in your goal, this is different from doing something because of fear, because you want people to think you’re X person.

When you know your why, you can enjoy more successful outcomes. 

Also, check out Goals With Soul

I’ve fallen off the NC wagon for a third time after an Xmas Hoover how do I deal with this?

I’ve messed up in breaking NC after he unexpectedly turned up at my door, said he wanted to say Merry Christmas and had heard my dad was struggling with cancer. I won’t lie I felt like someone was finally there, I’d been so lonely. I felt he cared and within a few weeks he’s pressed a HUGE reset button, so fast it’s floored me, I don’t know how to feel or what to do. We exchanged a few friendly texts and suddenly he seemed to want to cram in as much as possible about himself, how his business was turning over 250k a year and that he’s running to be our local councillor, he even offered me a flat to rent that he bought. He went from friendly chat to asking me if I was still single, who had I been with since him, now keeps asking me to send him “cheeky pics” he’s married and still asking for casual fun! I feel stupid because I’m terrified of ignoring him, I panic. He’s acted like he didn’t say “I’ll delete you” and disappeared. I feel like a fool, this is my third time falling off the wagon, but I do feel differently this time, I don’t just want to disappear. I want stand up for myself but don’t know how to after all my people-pleasing behaviour so far.

Nat’s Response 

Goodness, I’m sorry that you’re going through this, although at least you no longer have the tension of ‘what if?’ to contend with.

Something I’ve come to learn in life is that you have to be careful what you ask for because life will always meet you there. It’s like when people say “I just want to meet somebody.” And then I have to point out to them that that’s vague as hell and that actually, when they look at their life, including their romantic one, they are “meeting” people. That objective is being met. If they were specific, not just about who they wanted to meet but that they wanted X type of relationship, it would be a different setup.

You worked very hard at being NC but I also think that you were somewhat convinced that it was a matter of when not if he would be in touch. The two things can be true at once, but one of them was stronger than the other.

Your desire to be NC was not quite as strong as your fear of not hearing from him again. That’s why you kept the ‘energetic’ lines open by bracing yourself for his return and checking your phone.

If he still has the ability to text you, for instance, via WhatsApp, then he also has the ability to see when you were last online which would confirm that you had not blocked him. Of course, if you can see when he was last online, then there’s a part of your brain that goes, Wait, hold up a feckin’ second. He said he was going to delete me, but clearly he hasn’t. I wonder what this means. Maybe he still cares. Maybe he wants to hear from me or reach out. And what if he sees that I’ve blocked him because he can’t see when I was last online? That might enrage him, but also, I won’t get to be in touch with him at a distance and will finally have to accept the ’not knowing’ and get on with my life.

It is intermittent reinforcement.

Also, once he’s run the gamut of testing out how responsive you are, he has confirmation that you are still, in his mind, compliant, and so he feels free to drop the charm.

There is no such thing as a “friendly chat” with this man; there’s just you being groomed.

You are not a fool; you are hopeful, lonely and scared. You have also been in an abusive relationship with this man, and the average number of attempts to leave an abusive man in this country before it is successful is seven. That does not mean that it will take you seven attempts; it means that this man has abused you and played into old trauma, plus you have a very ill father and feel out of control of your life.

Engaging with this man represents an old unmet need from the past. Figure out what that need is. Use the What’s driving you? Exercise in the foundational resources. Your involvement with this sociopath is about a far-out fantasy—figure out what your fantasy is—that if it were to come true, it would mean achieving the goal of finally meeting that need.

Get back on to NC. Continue where you left off. What you previously built up isn’t a waste.

He is a sociopath, so expecting that you can dialogue with him in such a way to ’stand up for yourself’ that he would ‘get it’ would be like peeing into the wind. You can’t tap empathy and a conscience that isn’t there. Standing up for yourself means cutting the cord and not caring if he gets upset, or caring about it to a degree but still cutting him off. Don’t wait for a perfect moment.

Was the u-turn really about him not being ready for commitment?

I was in a stage 2 relationship with someone for 1.5 months. We talked on the phone daily for hours, he cared for me when I got sick and told his family about me right away. I met his brother and he wanted to introduce me to his parents. After I shared something that has scared others before, he asked me to be his girlfriend. He brought up this thing with me at a wedding a few days later, but after talking, it ended in tears because I hadn’t felt prepared to talk about it then. We discussed the next day but he said he doesn’t want a relationship with tension so soon so it felt precarious. But I know the thing wasn’t the issue. He later started acting differently, like leaving during a movie to get dressed and put shoes on, preparing for me to leave, when the movie wasn’t halfway over. I commented on these things and he said I kept making tension. He broke up with me saying he wasn’t ready for commitment, does this sound true? Is there any hope for commitment-phobes? He called later asking me to get an abortion if I was pregnant.

Nat’s Response 

While there’s no issue with being in a stage 2 relationship for 1.5 months, from the sounds of things, this involvement moved too fast and had stage 2 interactions at stage 0 and 1. It’s either that or it still moved too fast but it did so by the relationship quickly going into stage 2.

“We talked on the phone daily for hours, he cared for me when I got sick and told his family about me right away.”

While all of this is lovely in theory, it’s also fast-forwarding.

I know we like to think that we are that fabulous that someone can know instantly or very quickly that they know us or their feelings enough to know that they want a relationship and that we are the one for them, but this isn’t realistic. And this doesn’t mean that we aren’t indeed fabulous, but it takes some time for us to get to know them and they us. This person seemed to be into the newness of things, his ideal, the romance, moving things to a certain place… and then once reality started to intervene on the fantasy, he gradually pulled back because now you were a real person instead of the fantasy he had made up in his mind. Now, presenting as a human being is sending him into a tailspin because he wanted to be in this romance bubble, not actually get to know you.

Don’t you also think it’s odd that you shared something with him “that had scared others before” and that he then asked you to be his girlfriend?

Was he trying to prove that he wasn’t That Guy, you know, like the ones who couldn’t handle whatever it is? Was he trying to paper over discomfort by asking you to be his girlfriend so that there was now something ’new’ to immerse in?

A few days later, he brings up what is clearly something very personal that you’ve confided in him at a wedding, the very definition of a commitment, but also, going to a wedding with someone is something that one normally does with more relationship under their belt.

Now, granted, some people could go to a wedding at the same point and continue on. The problem is that someone who has been living in a fantasy bubble, who has commitment issues can’t.

This is why I hear from so many people who’ve been in what seemed like the makings of a great romance only for a birthday, meeting of the friends/family/co-workers to happen/a vacation or wedding together or the like to mark the end of the relationship.

Your ex is loose with words and also rash with actions.

Just as quickly as someone like your ex can swoop into your life and claim a load of stuff, they can swoop right on out of it because they change their mind like they change their underwear (hopefully frequently, the underwear, I mean).

He didn’t change, you just got to know him.

Read back through what you’ve described and you will see that he fast-forwarded, did a spot of gaslighting and basically sabotaged things because this man cannot handle actual intimacy and lives in a fantasy. And what a gross thing to call you up with after the breakup. The man is a fantasist.

How to have conversations about topics you disagree on?

I really struggle with having conversations with friends, family, significant others about topics we disagree on. To them, it’s probably just a normal conversation to volley back and forth ideas or hear both sides of an argument. But for me, it feels like a debate, and like the other person is doubting my intelligence, integrity, etc. This comes up the most with politics/social issues (e.g. education), but also even with family – if I disagree with something my brother says or how he treats others, I won’t speak up. Rather than raise my opinion (and feel like I’m getting challenged), I just let things go and say “ok” or stop talking about the topic. I don’t do this at work, where I’m actually quite good at raising concerns or debating information/content with clients and my team; but in any of my personal relationships, I really struggle on how to break this cycle. Do you have any advice for how I can calm my fears a bit in order to engage in these conversations?

Nat’s Response 

On some level, you regard the conversations with family, friends and significant others as more threatening. You associate these situations with being unsafe or that you will be judged, or maybe that what you have to say will be judged and then you will feel “wrong” as a person.

There’s a general societal habit of perceiving people with different values as being wrong. So, we have a societal pattern of viewing differences as being wrong and then feeling that either we or they are wrong when we become aware of those differences.

In a work situation, because it’s your job to do these and you don’t necessarily have an emotional investment in these relationships, you say what you need to say. That, and you’re also not necessarily talking about the same things.

What would benefit you is to work out the differences between the situation, so everything from the people, environments, how you think, feel and act, to what you are afraid of.

There is clearly a difference of opinion in your perception of people in your intimate relationships versus those in your work ones. For you to respond as you do, you have to believe, on some level, that they are going to do you harm, that you will do them harm, that they can’t handle differences or that you will be alienated or abandoned.

If you can risk the possibility of difference at work but you can’t with your other relationships, identify what those differences are and how you think of these people.

While they are different environments, they don’t require you to be such a dramatically different person.

Who are you in each of these contexts, and why is there such a radical difference?

There are some other things to consider:

You don’t have to have these conversations with people who you can’t have those conversations with.

You’re under no obligation to talk about politics or whatever with someone who can’t converse or who it drains you out. But what you have to work out is whether there is genuine cause for you not to have that conversation—I tend not to talk politics and race with my mother as it’s exhausting, and I am OK with not having that conversation because I just don’t care that much about having it, especially as there are so many other people in the world and she’s also entitled to her views even if we are also related to each other—or whether you are villainising some or all of these people, so turning them into people who react badly, who will do horrible things to you etc, even though that isn’t the case?

What are your associations with being challenged? Explore that (Clearing and Releasing exercise). Use “being challenged” as your prompt and you will have your answers as to the baggage that’s coming up and then you can use what you’re already learning to process it.

I would also consider what is coming up for you. So, where else and with whom have you had the fear? Where else do you think, feel and act similarly? What are you trying to prevent? You might answer these questions as a result of doing the exercise.

How can I show up when others ask me if I'm dating or seeing someone?

After yet another collapse of an unavailable relationship (SOP of mixed signals, hot, cold, in and out, mind f*kery) which I stayed in too long for and got out of recently. Yes, he met someone but still wanted to remain friends. The shit he flung about “let’s be friends and I’ll maintain my boundaries” and other hogwash was all too much. Now I feel dejected, humiliated and the self-loathing consumes me. I just am exhausted from it all. I wish to move forward and I want to connect with others I haven’t seen in a while but I dread the question of “are you seeing someone/met anyone/ and in some cases you should really be settling down conversation” conversations. It reminds me of the lack of a relationship which I want so much – real intimacy…and is so painful to realize…I feel like I’ve let myself down again. How do I cope when putting myself out there again and reconnecting with people I have not seen in a while….and not feel so anxious about it?

Nat’s Response 

I’m sorry to hear that you’re hurting. Right now, you’re licking your wounds and giving you a few wounds too as you beat yourself up for having been involved with him.

I get it. Lord knows we all do it at times. But, most of why you’re feeling crap right now is about how you’re responding to you, not him being The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread That’s Slipped Through Your Fingers Due To Your Unworthiness and Ineptitude. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been shady and disappointing with his mind effery, blowing hot and cold and the like, but given that you’ve got out of the relationship, albeit later than you would like, you’re really just using the opportunity to round on you and give you a hard time.

The truth is, you knew that he wasn’t the guy for you but you stayed a while longer because you were also giving you a hard time when you were in the relationship. Maybe part of you thought you were better with him than alone, or perhaps you hoped that you might get lucky and he’d spontaneously combust into being better than he is. It’s possible that you felt lonely and he was good for right now. And that’s OK. But keep it honest.

If you got together or stayed with him because you thought it suited your need right then or that you would cope better, be honest about that. Don’t spin this into a whole ‘I’ve been a bad girl and effed up another relationship.’ You know why you went there with him, and no, you might not be proud of those reasons, but they do only make you human and the experience has reminded you that it’s not worth gambling your self-worth for crumbs.

It really doesn’t matter if he met someone else—he’s not for you anyway, and he sounds like a tool. Of course, he’s moved on with someone else at lightning-bolt speed. People like him tend to. If you don’t connect with your conscience or are keen to leave your latest mess in the dust, you throw yourself into new possibilities while still trying to hold onto the ex by saying that you want to be friends. He’s a pisstaker.

Now, on to the actual question: It’s difficult to gauge from what you’re saying whether you’re projecting your self-loathing on to your friends and anticipating this made-up criticism or whether some of your friends are meddling dicks who you tend to feel anxious about because they’re always judging you and treating you like a problem?

  • If it’s the former, then you’re being unfair to your friends.
  • If it’s the latter, you have friends that shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of your list for connecting with when you’re feeling vulnerable.

The friends you always connect with first are the friends who you have genuinely loving and mutual friendships with whether they’re your good friends or best of the besties. Connect with the people who would actually feel embarrassed if one of the first things they asked you was if you’re seeing someone. Go to that person or people first.

As for the others, leave them until you’re in a less judgemental headspace.

If this relationship has finally made you tired of riding the Mr Unavailable carousel and you’re truly willing to own up to your desire for real intimacy, then be thankful for this experience, even if it’s with gritted teeth. 😬 He’s not only shown you what you don’t want but also who you don’t want to be. He wouldn’t know intimacy if it crawled up his backside and then latched onto his nuts.

Keep working your way through the course and use it to work through your loss of this relationship. You might also find The Self-Forgiveness Sessions handy.

How can I feel like I matter in my relationships and that I'm not alone?

In the week 1 exercise of Break the Cycle, I wrote: I desire to “feel wanted and not feel alone” in a relationship; in my circle of trust, I wrote “belonging” and “cared for”. This relates to my personal therapy work where I’ve identified that I have core wounds from my family of feeling like I don’t matter, or only mattering if I achieved X (school/work, etc.) accomplishment my parents desire and if my needs matched their philosophies/religion (I had very conservative parents and anything I wanted as a ‘standard’ teenage/puberty-ridden girl that did not fit their ideal was shut down immediately).

This led me to feel alone emotionally as a child (my therapist tells me I learned to be counter-dependent) even though I come from what one would call a traditionally “good” family. How can I overcome this and feel like I matter in my relationships, or how can I better articulate my needs in relationships (family+romantic) so that I feel like the other person is listening and there for me? I am trying to work on this core wound from my upbringing so that I don’t bring this unconscious fear into my romantic relationship to “solve” all of my wounds.

Nat’s Response 

Feeling like you matter in your relationships is not about trying to get others to change; it’s about changing the way that you interact with people, whether it’s mentally or physically. 
Your parents are and were super conservative. Likely raised in the era where parenting was about obedience and controlling your children, your parents were not aware that there were more loving ways to nurture a child. They relied on their philosophies and religion to control not just you but themselves and their world. They had been parented in whatever way they had, and then they passed some or a lot of that onto you. Like the overwhelming majority of parents, they overcompensated in some areas and blindly repeated patterns, even ones they disliked about their own parents. 
Understandably, as I and billions of children did and do, you took your parents’ ways personally. With that kind of rigidity, you’re bound to feel alone and as if who you are is wrong. So you’ve picked up the message that you are not wanted because your parents’ behaviour was internalised as ’They don’t like X so this means that I’m not wanted. They don’t get Y so this also means that I’m not wanted.’

But your parents’ behaviour wasn’t about whether they wanted you or not, as if to say there was a magic sequence of things you were supposed to be being and doing that would have led to this feeling of wantedness. Your parents’ actions were about them inadequately parenting you. 

If you flip it around, you wanted your parents but you didn’t necessarily want to be exactly like them or do things the way they wanted. You being the unique individual you are with your own needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions didn’t mean that because you differed from your parents that you didn’t want them. It just meant that you were a different person. 
But we have been raised in a society where a lot of families had an attitude of ‘Be like us or you’re disrespecting the family or not loving us enough’. And even if they didn’t necessarily have this attitude but they were rigid, society has also done a good job of conditioning us to believe that having needs and being individual is wrong. Given that our parents are key to our survival until we become adults, it’s understandable that we become fearful of their disapproval and associate it with abandonment. 
But all you were doing was being a normal teenager, and all your parents were doing were being ’normal’ parents relative to the time, culture, etc.
‘No’ doesn’t mean that you are unworthy or rejectionable.
Sure, your parents likely said way no too much, but you’ve mistaken your parents saying no because of how they roll for something being wrong with you. In your mind, because what you wanted was ’normal’ relative to other teenagers and your parents were saying no, you made it about you not having earned it. You decided that you weren’t allowed to have what you want because you were not wanted. 
This thinking reflects your childhood beliefs, not that of an adult. And that’s OK. It took me until I was 28 to finally acknowledge that I was being absurd blaming my parents’ breakup when I was 2.5 and how each of my parents behaved on me being unlovable and not wanted. 
So the way through is to confront these stories and update them to your current age with the perspective gained. Wouldn’t each of your parents have been the parents you needed and wanted if they had different personalities, characteristics, circumstances, resources, level of abundance and backstories? Absolutely. So now you have up to six reasons per parent that explain why they did things the way that they did. Acknowledge those reasons. Explore them. Get honest about your parents without using anything to do with you as an explanation for their behaviour. That doesn’t mean that it makes what they did OK—it doesn’t—but you can stop lying to you about why your parents were the way that they were. The way to change the feeling is to change the stories you’re telling you about your parents or why you’re the way you are or about how relationships work. 
Should I tell new partner about bad past experiences?

I’m with a new partner and it’s going really well. However, I’m agonising over whether to tell him about a previous experience that I’m not proud of that happened in recent years. I was involved with a guy who was in a relationship. I’m worried that my new partner will not be able to see that I am not that person anymore and that it makes me sick. I am afraid I will lose him. Is it worth saying something? Please help.

Nat’s Response 

I think what’s unclear here is why you 1) have a burning urge to tell him right now this minute or 2) why you think that this is material to your current relationship?

Clearly, you are not the same person you were because you’re no longer in that relationship nor are you currently involved with someone who is in a relationship.

What I can tell you is that you are under the misguided impression that your new partner is perfect. It’s possible, also, that you are looking for something to prove to yourself that you are not worthy of the happiness you have with him or maybe you’re also trying to have a sort of ‘gotcha’ moment where you get to prove that he’s not so amazing or that you didn’t deserve him anyway.

Let’s be clear: What you refer to—the being involved with someone who was in a relationship— is not a “bad past experience”; it’s an experience that you have labelled not just as being “bad” but as a marker that you are a “bad” person.

In reality, like me and many millions of people, for a time, you were involved with someone who was in a relationship. You’re not proud of it, but who the hell would be, bar your garden-variety sociopath or narcissist? You made an error in judgement because you’re human but also because of where you were at the time.

Years ago, I spent eighteen months in an affair with my co-worker. At the time, I also became very ill. Part of my recovery was getting the hell out of that relationship and growing my self-esteem. I cut contact with him as best as I could given that we worked together, and eight months later when the prognosis of my health became even worse, I focused on starting to love and take care of myself. About a month after that, I started Baggage Reclaim to share what I was learning, and about 7 or so months after that, I met my now-husband. When I chose to tell him about it, it wasn’t because I was confessing to something. He was my boyfriend, not judge, juror, keeper or arbiter of my self-worth. Yes, I felt nervous about telling him. It came up one day when we were talking about past relationships, plus given that I still worked at the place, I knew I wanted to mention our involvement.

Because my now-husband is both human and decent, he didn’t judge me. I acknowledged that it was a bad decision that had caused me a great deal of pain and that reflected where I was at that point.

Here’s the thing: What your current attitude reflects is something beyond nervousness and embarrassment about what happened. It is shame, and it’s a sign that you need to deal with the residue of your past relationship so that you can be present to this relationship.

Disclosing Your Past and Insecurities

Be honest with yourself: if you are happy in this relationship (and I’m not doubting that), what is it that’s driving you to create this specific problem right now?

Is it that you’re so happy and things are going well that it’s now made you nervous that you will lose him?

Or, have you noticed something about him that has registered as him being judgemental?

Be honest with yourself. Are you self-sabotaging, or do you have reason to believe that he’s this terribly judgmental person with an unblemished past and a desire to control you?

Are you sabotaging yourself by not allowing you to be happy?

Is it that you don’t trust him enough yet to feel that you can trust him with your personal life? If so, that’s OK. Be honest with you about that. It’s possible to be enjoying a new relationship and also not know them well enough yet. That takes time.

When my friend’s mother died from bowel cancer about six weeks after my father did, and the following year, she had a miscarriage, she wondered if all of the bad stuff that had happened was because of an affair she had with her boss several years before. We worked together when I was with the guy with a girlfriend, so I asked her if what I’d been through was my punishment? Of course, her answer was no. Her husband also doesn’t give two figs about her having slept with her boss.

Maybe what you need to work on is forgiving your younger self for being human. Make your peace with it. It’s not something that should or needs to be lingering over you years later. So make your peace with it so that you can talk about it if and when you want to.

Also, try the self-forgiveness sessions

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