From a woman in the U.S.: I left an emotionally abusive relationship a year ago. It has left tremendous damage mentally. My ex may be a narcissist but this is not diagnosed. Through my thirteen years with him I formed into this very submissive, people-pleasing person. I had the tendencies to please people before him but after him it is the most noticeable, in my opinion, trait about me.
I am dating a man who has very deep insecurities and they are triggered by my actions. I try to voice my opinions but his anger always stiffles any will to voice them. I know if I had not been so damaged this could be manageable. The good thing about this man is he really is trying to control these insecurities. He tries to rationalize them before allowing them to materialize. But just like any project, it will take time.
I don’t know what to do. This affects almost every aspect of my life. I have a huge fear to voice any opinion or feeling to anybody. I literally feel myself lock up if a tone is raised, even an excited one, if that makes sense.
I am not sure what I can do to move forward to feeling like a whole person again.
Thank you for writing. I’m sure that recovering from the abusive relationship has been difficult. It doesn’t surprise me that you are having difficulty finding your own voice again. You are not at all alone. It is often the case that women who lived with an abuser learned to never say or do anything that could set him off. Sadly, it becomes an engrained way of being.
I usually suggest to women like you that they not try to be in any relationship until they have done more healing work. People who have been so beaten down are very vulnerable to choosing another controlling person. In your case, though, your new partner is also working on himself. He recognizes that his insecurities are a problem and that his frustration and anger with you are inappropriate and harmful. The two of you might be able to support each other in your healing.
Your relationship is an example of what is called a complementary one. Such relationships can be positive or negative. In a positive complementary relationship, each person’s behaviors “complement” or support the other’s in the best interests of the relationship. In negative complementary relationships, each person’s anxieties and behaviors trigger the other’s and the relatiosnhip is eroded.
I’m guessing that you and your boyfriend are attracted to each other at least partly because you each sympathize with someone who is working on a difficult personal project. But it is those very projects that get the two of you into a negative complementary cycle. It can start with either one of you: Cycles are like that. They are circular. His anger makes you go underground. When you go underground, it sets off his insecurities – which makes him angry and so on and so on.
This is a cycle that can be very hard to break. I doubt you can do it without a therapist’s support. You both probably need new tools to recognize and “catch” it when the cycle starts as well as some techniques for interrupting the cycle. With commitment to the project, it can be done. The support of a therapist who can give you some concrete tools as well as rehearsals for using them is often very helpful.
I wish you well.