abusive adult relationships

If you don’t have you, you have nothing at all

I recently spoke with a client who has a new relationship, with a woman he adores.    His sweetheart (“Gloria”) has some negative patterns, and the client (“Tommy”) recently erupted with anger in public when he discovered that she had not fulfilled an obligation.  And in private, she is not performing her chores around the house, wanting to be waited upon. This makes Tommy furious.

My words to him:

  1. You have to separate out two very different things.  A: Gloria’s behavior. B: your reactions.


2) Ask: what is going on?  What is going on is that Gloria does not keep her word. Goes unconscious.  Why?   There are probably emotional issues (it’s FUN to be a kid and be waited on!) but there seem to be physical issues as well: Gloria has low blood sugar, and when she doesn’t eat, she loses mental efficiency and emotional balance.   

And with Tommy?  He gets angry because he is fearful.  Fearful of what?  That if he puts his foot down, Gloria will leave him.  And that would be devastating. Why?  Because he doesn’t trust himself to provide for his emotional needs.  From the “Ancient Child” perspective, his child does not trust his adult.

3) How do you get leverage?   Tommy can only directly affect himself.   If he cannot control his own emotions, it is a fool’s errand to think he can help Gloria with hers.   The ONLY thing for Tommy to do is take care of Tommy. This means not needing Gloria.  Paradoxically, this increases the chances of his relationship with Gloria working successfully, because the “neediness” is gone.   No fear means no anger.

Now, for “Gloria” the first step is to get clear agreement about what her tasks are.  Start with a ‘talking stick’ perhaps, and then write out a contract.  If low blood sugar is the problem, then Gloria must drink a protein smoothie every morning (for instance) and again at 3pm, to provide smooth blood sugar levels.  And THEN if things keep going wrong, we know it is a different problem (perhaps–check with the doctor, of course).  I’m betting that the problem is emotional.  Without knowing more, I’d bet Gloria does not exercise, and treats her body like a garbage bag. That is a common result of abuse and neglect in childhood.    But removing the “presenting problem” (low blood sugar) removes the excuse so you can dig deeper.

But that’s just off the top of my head about Gloria. Tommy, as I said, needs to deal with Tommy.  That’s ALL he can deal with directly.  So here are some thoughts. They have not jelled into a full program as yet, but are pertinent to the idea that is is our twisted values, beliefs and fears that stop us from evolving.

  1. Anger is fear.   In this case, fear of loss of relationship, or fear of being “walked on” or “let down” in some critical arena. Like finances, for instance.  That is SERIOUS, and triggers more divorces than cheating.
  2. You must know that you only need you. You can WANT other people, but since you ultimately die alone, if you “need” others the terror is unceasing, and colors everything in your life. Deal with this, and you are free to enjoy your life, and love fully without fear of loss.
  3. From the “Ancient Child” perspective, what you must do is convince the “child” within you that your “adult” loves him, and can be trusted to protect–or die trying.  PERIOD.   No ifs, ands or buts.  If you hear ANY waffling in your mind when you make this statement, you have performed a diagnostic: those are the demons you must face down.
  4. If you learn the lesson, you can release the negative emotions.  In other words, the only reason the negative emotions persist is that some part of you thinks they are protecting you.    “I need to be angry, fearful, or I won’t protect myself.”  That  is true if you are asleep.  The truth is that you perform an action separate from any emotion ordinarily associated with it.  Sex without love or pleasure?  Sure, people do it every day.   Killing without anger?  Sure.  Professional soldiers must either do this, or damage themselves.  If you are afraid of dogs, and in therapy uncover a forgotten memory of being bitten, the instant you are CONVINCED that you have the adult ability to protect yourself from dogs, you no longer need the fear, and it is far easier (not automatic) to release it.
  5. When we feel a powerful emotion, we associate that emotion with whatever is proximal.   So if we feel love, we can become convinced that the person we are with is responsible for the feeling. This is childhood wiring, and if you never question it, on that level you remain a child.   The sense that we NEED others makes us desperate and fearful and manipulative and controlling. Which kills the very love we seek.  Paradox.
  6. The way out of this is to start by loving yourself enough to fill your own void.  To commit to your own happiness…and then extending that love to others.
  7. Compassion and empathy for others does NOT mean taking shit from them.   Being in a sexual relationship with someone you allow to remain a ‘child’ emotionally is…well, I think you get the point.

Love yourself.   Swear to protect your heart.  Then extend your humanity to others until you can see yourself shining out of their eyes.

When you accept this syntax, you can deal with their issues as information rather than personal attacks. You don’t slide down the “stress tunnel”.  And from there, you are as efficient and effective as you are capable of being.   

And that child inside you will be safe, and loved, no matter what happens externally. And that is all you really need.



The worst position to be in: it is more painful to tell the truth than to continue a lie.

The most painful kind of client to meet is one so invested in their pain that, in order to change, they would actually have to invalidate so much of their lives, so many beliefs, values, and relationships that there is more pain than pleasure associated with the process.

–a woman so invested in a hugely brittle and inflexible religious belief that has poisoned relationships and stolen joy. To change, she would have to acknowlege the massive fear of death she keeps behind those barriers.

–a man who has invested huge amounts of time, energy and treasure in an organization that bleeds him.  If he awakens to it, he has to admit that he’s been (from his position) an utter fool, shattering his self image.

–a racist who justifies her position as “science”.  If she ever grasped the amount of pain her attitudes, and those who hold them, have inflicted upon the world, the amount of guilt would be staggering.

–a woman trapped in an abusive, controlling marriage.  She has given up so much of her power that it is very possible she is no longer capable of being self-supporting. To awaken to the trap she is in might actually be worse than continued delusion.

And on. And on.  People who stuffed their dreams until there is no time to fulfill them.   Who abused their bodies until they broke down, and need to believe it is their body’s fault.  Who worship parents who abused them–to ever acknowledge this, let alone confront them, would destroy whatever slender threads connect them to that image, however false, of parental love.


To deal with one of these, or the thousand variants, is genuinely painful.  There is almost no genuine leverage to “get” on such people, because truth has, absent massive intervention, become more painful than fantasy.  There are steps such people can take (and I’ve been able to help a few of them) but breaking their disempowering patterns can be horrifically difficult.

And from a distance?  Just Skyping, telephoning, or email? I can’t do it. I don’t doubt there are people good enough to handle it, but that’s beyond my current capacity.

All I can do is start with the most central, bedrock advice: learn to love yourself. To connect so deeply that you provide all your own NEEDS emotionally (“Wants” can remain. That’s fine).  To love yourself as you would your own most beloved child.

Give me anyone who has taken that step, and showing them the door “out” of their pain is relatively simple.   Because, even if they are at the end of their lives, they can connect with this love, and be at peace.  And if they have any time and energy left, they can either find a way to make genuine peace with their life as it is, or see a way to make a change that gives more pleasure than pain.

And if they are like about 99% of people, once they learn to break their painful pattern, and connect with love, it is possible to strategize to optimize their efforts and move toward greater pleasure, greater integrity with Self, greater love and joy and personal evolution.  Most of what stops us is fear, especially fear that we are not worth the effort.  “Fix” this, and teach yourself to connect with this love and joy daily, first thing, right out of bed…and it changes the nature of your entire day.  And all you need to have a perfect life is collect a string of perfect days. That’s it.

  1. Find the love inside yourself.  Heartbeat meditation.
  2. Admit you want to feel more joy. Ancient child.
  3. Learn to break your disempowering patterns and re-connect on demand.  Five minute miracle
  4. Take steps in the direction of your goal, knowing that, like all humans, you will fail repeatedly.  Vow to fall down 1000 times, and get up 1001.
  5. Set goals in all four major arenas AT THE LEAST.  More, sure.  Less…I don’t think so. Your real problems will hide in the perversely precise shadows where you are afraid to look.
  6. Keep loving yourself.  Enjoy the journey.



Hero’s Journey Step #3: Accepting the challenge

Recently, I was speaking to a woman, “Marge”,  whose long-time relationship broke up, painfully.   Asking her questions about the relationship, it turned out that the guy warned her that he wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship, and criticized her constantly while also telling her “don’t change.”  And now he’s engaged to another woman, and it’s breaking her heart.

I pointed out to “Marge” that he was sending massive mixed messages: not interested in a relationship, but still having sex with her although he knew she was emotionally involved.  Constantly complaining “but don’t change.”  A “come closer/go away” game if ever I’ve seen one.

And she kept defending him.  He was so wonderful, so honest, so vulnerable (and apparently seriously rang her chimes)…and so on and so on.

I listened to as much of this as I could stand, and then said: “would you want your daughter to be with a guy like this?”  And she was silent.  I could hear the wheels turning.  And the answer, in a small, clear voice: “no.”

Then why did she put up with this?  Why keep going back to someone who does not honor and protect her?Simple.  She doesn’t think she deserves it. Thinks that this is the best she can do.  There is something damaged, deep within her.  And until she heals it, she will never find the external love and success she deserves.   It is very, very hard to perform at a level beyond your ego-identity.  Either center and expand it, or rat-#$%@ yourself again and again until you embitter and give up.

And no, this isn’t just a female thing.  Men also routinely put up with life situations they would never want for their own children.   Step beyond the duality.

The third step of the Hero’s Journey is “Accepting the challenge”.    Before she could heal her heart, the first thing she had to do was recognize, intellectually at least, that she had lost NOTHING.  That rather than the love of her life, he was a childish, selfish user.  Rather than a solution to her loneliness, he was actually evidence of a dysfunctional pattern that has plagued her life for many years.  And once she saw that…and visualized the damage she was causing to her Child self to salve her adult loneliness…she took a deep breath, and began to change.

We had broken her pattern–at least for the moment.

That tiny moment of clarity becomes your leverage to change.  Once you interrupt the pattern, you can define the game so that it is winnable (“I will be happy.   My happiness must come from within, because I am the only part of the equation I have a prayer of affecting directly.”)  And begin to gather the resources necessary to evolve.

Once you realize that the broken heart comes from YOUR bad choices, from YOUR misconception that joy and love come from someone else, you have a chance to take control.

(“But…but…I want a relationship!”  Really, or do you want a healthy relationship?   Because you’ll never have a healthy relationship with another person until you have one with yourself.  Start there–it is the unraveled string of the Gordian Knot that you can actually affect.)

Marge had recognized that there is a problem (Step one.  Misery)

Dealt with her fear (Step Two: terror of being alone.  Fear that she is unworthy of love)

And taken responsibility for making herself happy. (Step Two:  She must love and nurture herself as she would her most beloved child.)


Now look–there are countless ways to reach happiness.  Just understand that everything you’re doing in your life boils down to an effort to avoid pain and increase pleasure.   And if you aren’t doing what you need to do?   You are associating more pain than pleasure to the steps necessary to reach your goal–otherwise you’d be out there trying, even if you need better strategies and resources.  You’d take PLEASURE in swinging at that ball, even if you strike out a thousand times.

You have to see the problem, accept your fear, and break the pattern of failure.  The “Ancient Child” is a method that works beautifully, but there are others.  FIND ONE.

Because the next step, the “road of trials”, is dependent upon your commitment to change, to grow, to heal, to make a better life for yourself.  Ultimately, only you can give yourself that gift.





She ’bout knocked me through the wall…

We were in the middle of one of Dawn Callan’s AWAKEN THE WARRIOR WITHIN workshops, where in two days this little human dynamo would teach women more about self defense than most teachers could convey in two years. But this one woman, “Molly”, was a tough nut to crack. She was so filled with fear, timidity, had been so beaten down that we couldn’t get her to hit the pads. She couldn’t kick the shield. Molly would break down into tears at the very idea that she should or could fight back. “I can’t!”

None of the other instructors had been able to help her, so in desperation they brought her to me. I was holding the pad, as tears and snot ran down her face, a woman utterly convinced of her helplessness and unworthiness to defend herself.

This was, I decided, a defining moment in her life. This wasn’t about “doing karate.” This was about an adult human being deciding that she had a right to exist, to defend her space, to choose the rules by which others could enter her world. This wasn’t just about her body, it was about her dreams, and words, and values. About the ability to look at the world and say: “I love you, but you will not define me.”

I saw in her tentative movements, her face frozen in terror, her stuttering speech a lifetime of making excuses, of perceived failure, of attracting predators into her space, of a false self-image that was dragging down her life and extinguishing her dreams.

And decide that it was going to end TODAY. When dealing with a client, the only intent must be to help them. Period. To put their hands on the controls of their life, by any means necessary.

So…I cheated. I looked at her and said: “do you have any kids?” (more…)

Deservement: The Art of Self-Love

In the last 24 hours, I’ve dealt with four different students or clients where the core issue is one of self-love. Deservement. The following things were triggers:

1) Childhood abuse, both sexual and psychological. Being touched inappropriately, told they are worthless, used as “things” rather than people before the full development of ego walls.

2) Perceived betrayal of childhood ambitions. Either giving them up, or doing things to achieve them that were in violation of core values.

3) Abusive adult relationships. “Crazymakers” who bond to you powerfully economically, emotionally, or sexually. And then…gaslight you. If you don’t know the term, see the movie. Basically these are people who are either emotionally imbalanced or have some drive to unbalance you, keep you from leveraging your intelligence and emotions, with an end to domination. To do this, they either criticize or terrorize you, until you have twisted yourself into a knot to please them, and no longer know where “north” is on your personal compass. At that point, you are infantalized, willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy so that you can escape the pain. Brutal. (more…)