March 25, 2008


In a prior message about the Three Stages of Healing, I humorously outlined three measurable steps for healthy self-reclamation. After accomplishing step one Get-A-Plant about a year ago and training an ivy topiary for my kitchen, step two Get-A-Pet has resulted in two kitties nibbling at my toes while I type messages about healing.

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” ~Scott Peck

When we’re overwhelmed with emotional pain, we’re susceptible to escaping unpleasant emotions with a new relationship. This too-soon-relationship undermines a natural grieving process that frequently triggers unresolved losses in our lives. Rather than assume our legitimate suffering is an exercise in futility, we can reframe grief as an opportunity to enhance our self-awareness. The grief process is a chance to heal prior losses we may not have been capable of resolving in the past. (That last sentence is the optimist’s way of finding meaning in the gosh-awful suffering.)

If we aren't cautious, our emptiness will be masked by the temporary illusion of infatuation. We might be so relieved to feel love again that we're unable to protect ourselves from abusers who are drawn to our grief like flies to a dish of honey. Abusers have little to no hesitation taking advantage of another person’s vulnerability. Please take care of yourself and recognize that everyone is susceptible to unconscious defenses when our desire to escape emotional pain overrules reasoning.

Being lied to sucks; but lying to ourselves is even suckier.
This isn't the baseless opinion of a woman who has chosen to remain single post-divorce. It's something I've witnessed after corresponding with hundreds of people who have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. We leave one bad relationship behind and unfortunately, we find another. All too frequently, the new love-of-our-life is an opportunist. We end up in a narcissistic relationship even if our prior relationship was generically defined as 'bad enough to end’ but not bad enough to define as abusive.

Accepting that we're susceptible to ego defenses protects us from Knights-in-Shining-Armor and Damsels in Distress who make us feel good, real good---in the short run. So please don't kid yourselves my friends, everyone uses defenses to protect him or herself from heartache. Be Safe. Learn what your favorite defenses may be. Listen to the wise advice of fellow survivors. Get-a-Plant, then Get-A-Pet, and only after a year or two of active self-reclamation: Get-A-Partner.

Confronting, working through, and subsequently increasing resiliency to anxiety and distress, awakens us from reactionary behavior alleviating fears we assume to be unbearable. We might not believe we can endure what Scott Peck calls legitimate suffering; but we are far more capable than we feel.

I recently spoke with a relative-who-shall-remain-nameless who has been in three abusive relationships. Yes, count 'em: three. Each one has been progressively worse than the first. With tears streaming down her face she said, "CZ, what on earth was I thinking??!!"

"The problem wasn’t what you were thinking.” I answered. “The problem had more to do with what you were feeling."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"How were you feeling when you met Dude #2?"

She stumbled for a minute and then revealed how empty she felt after her first divorce. How unloved, invalidated, rejected & hollow she felt. She didn't believe she'd ever be happy again. When she fortuitously met Dude-Two, "He made me feel happy again and loved. I felt better about myself when we were together."

"Were there any warning signs that he was not the man you hoped he would be?"

"Ummmm...yes. He had a few problems with other women, but I wasn’t like them at all. Maybe I was a little obsessive because the only thing that mattered was being with him. I felt like he was the Love of my life. My divorce faded into unimportance. Our relationship put the past behind me so I could believe in love again."

What most of us don’t know about ourselves is that we are not only the unwitting recipients of other people’s nasty projections, we unconsciously project our good qualities onto others; i.e.:
 idealization. This might be especially true when we hope someone is the elixir to our pain. When we meet someone who makes us feel better, we will see him or her as being better than they actually are.

Why? Because if we see their warts and all, our unconscious needs are not magically fulfilled. 
Take good care of yourself by utilizing effective coping skills rather than being tempted to bypass grief by rescuing or being rescued by an idealized partner. Most recovery counselors remind us that "Grief clouds our ability to make sound decisions." Don't be diverted by a rebound relationship that could result in long-term consequences complicating the restoration of your self-respect, esteem and self worth.

P.S. I will admit in all honesty, however: those two runts of the litter I rescued from Dad’s farm are the most intelligent, uber-gorgeous and frisky critters a girl could ever hope to have nibbling on her toes.

Stage Three: Get-A-Partner

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