Have you ever wished you knew how to protect yourself from bad relationships? It’s bad enough to experience being ill-treated by one man but if that, at least, protected you from making bad choices in the future, that would be something.
For most women, the reality plays out slightly differently. We realize that a certain kind of man treated us badly, in a certain kind of way. So we resolve never to make that mistake again. That is about as far as it goes.
Different kinds of bad relationships
Sadly, we don’t think that we could be vulnerable to different, but equally calamitous, mistakes. That is precisely why we repeat them.
Last week I was talking about bad relationships with a dear friend, someone I’ve known for 13+ years. When I first knew her, she was in a relationship with a self-important womanizer, who believed that the world revolved around him. He took it as his due that someone as nice as my friend should put her life on hold to service him.
He also took it as his right to treat her like the proverbial doormat.
Eventually, my friend broke free. In time she found another partner who, unlike his predecessor, talked about his feelings. She fell head over heels in love from the get go, He promptly whisked her off to his castle in a foreign land, far away.
There the fairy tale took a sharp nose dive.
Not that it had been perfect from Day 1. But it had been romantic. And the pluses had seemed to outweigh the minuses. Still, there had been red flags fluttering along the path right from her very first encounter with Prince Charming-to-the-Point-of-Nausea. But my friend had not paid sufficient attention to them.
Why had she overlooked those red flags which she had registered?
Because she was focused on a different kind of bad. She was looking out for the kind of bad she already knew. The kind of bad she had already experienced. She was not aware that there are different kids of bad relationships.
When I first met my friend, we were both training in an alternative therapy. On most alternative therapy trainings in the UK, at least, most of the students are women. But, on this one, there was a man in his twenties who affected cynicism and world-weariness (Underneath that façade, he was a very sweet, and vulnerable, guy.)
Guy (not his real name) had a favourite saying that he used to describe life’s little – or not so little -reverses. Shrugging his shoulders, he would say,
“Same old sh*t, different wrapper!”
Smart guy, Guy!
How many of us have got sucked into another bad relationship because we focused on the wrapper, rather than on what it enfolds?
Judging by the number of abused women I have spoken to, who have settled, next time around, for a different kind of bad, far too many of us have done just that. The concept that there are different kinds of bad relationships can be a hard one to take on board.
My red flag blindness
When I look back on my own relationship choices, my first semi-serious relationship was with someone I instinctively sensed had the capacity to grow into an accomplished abuser, given the right opportunity.
I danced away before that opportunity presented itself.
I spent the next couple of years going on a load of dates, without becoming remotely serious about anyone.
Unfortunately, during that time, I didn’t learn much about myself, relationships, or how to choose a good partner.
What I needed to know
You see, I didn’t even know that there were things that a girl needs to learn in order to safeguard herself. I certainly did not know that there are different kinds of bad relationships.
So, I found out the hard way. When the inevitable duly happened.
Someone came along who boasted several good points. Admittedly, he also had several notable red flags. But he brandished them with such pride that I was impressed. (There were two reasons for that – first, I was easily impressed and, second, I totally lacked that kind of pride about myself.)
Besides, he wooed me quickly. That overwhelmed me and made me feel lovable. In my world, “love-bombing” was good. How was I to know that it heralded a bad relationship?
I did apply awareness to this new man. Unfortunately, I applied all my wariness to his wrapper.
That wrapper was quite different.
In terms of physical appearance, nationality, profession and upbringing, this man was quite different from his predecessor. (Therefore, I concluded – on the strength of no particular evidence – he was bound to be a far nicer man.)
Unfortunately, wish fulfilment is not a great life strategy.
Even though the “wrapper” was different, as you have probably guessed, the “flavor” was still the same. Abusive man.
The high cost of falling for “speed-wooing”
Sadly, this time, thanks to his speed-wooing, I danced right into his clutches. There I stayed for a thoroughly miserable 20 years. (That had to be a good return – for him – on his 3-months-of-relative-niceness investment.) While in his clutches, I learned a great deal of what I now teach about the way that abusive men behave.
So, how do you ensure that you, too, don’t fall for the same old sh*t, different wrapper, ever again?
You learn how to recognise the abusive man beneath the wrapper. Plus, you develop enough trust in yourself, to react appropriately, before he propels your life, at top speed, up a blind alley. You can do this on your own, if you are prepared to risk learning at the School of Hard Knocks. Or else, you seek out the targeted help you need to protect you from future nasty surprises.
As I found out to my cost, the Trial and Error method is an expensive way to learn vital life lessons.
Same old sh*t, different wrapper is an important life lesson to grasp. Different kinds of bad relationships exists – but they will all tear you apart.
And here is another, equally valid life lesson – everything you have been through can become a source of strength and pride in your own resilience. You are strong enough, brave enough and wise enough to learn all the lessons you need to learn to safeguard your heart and and guarantee your happiness. You just need to develop X-ray wrapper vision to spot the bad relationships before they happen to you.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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