The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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How to overcome my shyness and escape an abusive relationship.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Sara, you’re trying to find romance after kind of a messy divorce, an abusive divorce?


Sara:                Yes, my name is Sara, I’m 42 years old and I’m still married, but I want to divorce and find a better partner and I have two questions. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family with two very irrational and cold parents who weren’t self-valuing and who didn’t value me, and then my husband is the same kind of person. He’s an abusive and the type of man who [inaudible 00:00:34] and men who hate women, and then I bought your book and I’ve read it for the third time and absolutely understood what was going on. How much I was in, the principles now, how I attracted a narcissist and I would like to leave the past behind me and get over the shame of having lived with an abusive man for many years, and be open to love. Because before I married this man, a very kind man asked me out and I couldn’t expect it. I was kind of self-sabotaging.


I’ve met a man that I like and he seems to be very attracted to me. He is a doctor in a hospital but we go there a few times a year because my daughter has a hip problem and when I see him, we always, he holds my hand and we flirt and I am very shy and insecure. I don’t know how to start, how to date, what I can say.


Dr. Kenner:      Is he single?


Sara:                I don’t know very much about him.


Dr. Kenner:      Okay, because I don’t want you to fall into the same trap again, because sometimes the chemistry can feel like it’s there, and I know you said you read the book three times which is amazing, very impressed. Let me go back to your first, two points that I want to make, in hearing what you’re going through. You want to give yourself credit. You are doing something heroic, which is willing to look at your core ideas, your background, and rescue yourself. You are in the process, the early stages of rescuing yourself. And so be very good to yourself. Don’t set expectations that you can’t make another error. You can’t mess up again. Because yours, getting into that relationship, which you can see now, was an error of knowledge. You did not know what hit you. You were feeling not good coming out of your family of origin. Your parents were not good, a very rocky – and I don’t know the details, you have the graphics to fill in – but if you grow up with what you’re saying are two very irrational parents and it’s very common that people try to find a partner that reiterates that feeling. For one, they feel at home there. It’s a horrible home, but they feel at home. It’s familiar and the devil you know is better than the devil that you don’t know, but maybe there are angels out there. I don’t mean that religiously obviously, but maybe there are good people out there. And of course there are much better people out there. So number one, give yourself credit.


The second is, you said you felt shame and that’s the point of an error of knowledge. I feel ashamed if I deliberately did something wrong to hurt somebody. So shame is guilt in the face of other people. You can privately feel guilty, but when you feel shame, it brings other people looking on at you and you’re wrong doing so. I don’t drink, but let’s say I was an alcoholic and I’m messing up my family and I feel shame when I’m around the family. I should feel shame. I’ve earned that. But for you to feel shame when you’re the victim, that’s like damning the victim and I don’t think that’s fair. So you want to, if you’re rescuing yourself, Sara, you want to figure out how to be your own best friend. That’s the skill in cognitive therapy. How to be very supportive of yourself, to not say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a very dear friend who went through the same history as you and is trying to rediscover themselves and then rediscover love, or discover love for the first time. Those are some points there.


The next point is, credit yourself, because change is a process. Meaning if I want to change myself, if I want to learn Italian, just that desire to learn it and cracking open an Italian book, workbook, am I going to know it right away? This is rhetorical. No, it’s a process. I’m not going to wake up the next morning speaking Italian, even if I listen to tapes all night long. I wouldn’t have picked up anything because I would have been asleep. Your first stage of change is raising your awareness of the problem. The pattern in your life. You’re doing that. The next stage is figuring out a specific plan, how do you learn to value yourself? How do you evaluate another person? Just because someone is flirting with you, it’s lovely, it feels delicious, but you want to have your eyes opened. What knowledge do you have about this person? You don’t want to jump out of the fire and into the frying pan – I hope I got that one right. You want to enjoy the flirtatiousness because you’re getting some visibility. You know what I mean by visibility? Feeling cared for, cherish feeling a little special. But we don’t know if you are the person that this doctor just kind of admires and loves or if he does this with every patient. That sounds creepy to me, but maybe you are very special to him. I don’t know. But you want to rescue yourself first.


The fact that you’ve read the book three times, I want to bump that up. I don’t think you’re in the first stages of change. I think you’re moving along, because you have an action plan, you have a goal. You know what feeling cherished feels like from having read our book – The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason. I wrote it with Dr. Ed Locke – and you want to change from being shy and insecure and that happens over time too, by gaining more courage. I will tell you, I was a very shy kid. I’ve mentioned seventh grade earlier in this segment. I was a very shy kid. I’m not anymore. Changing yourself can be delicious, it can be fun, it can be scary at times, and it can feel heroic at times. You want to put yourself in the driver’s seat and see, “Do I like this man?” Not “Does he like me?” because that would be the old pattern, wouldn’t it?


Sara:                Yes, I like him.


Dr. Kenner:      What is it I like about him? Name the specifics, get more information and keep your eyes open. Maybe other people.


Sara:                I don’t know how to get more information. It’s always a short moment.


Dr. Kenner:      What about googling? What about doing a background check on him? Nowadays, someone wanted to rent some property that we own a while back and I just googled their name and found out quite a bit about them. You can do the same. You could ask questions. But I wouldn’t keep your mind just focused on him, because you want to spread your net a little wider. Listen, the best to you in romance and thank you so much for your call.


Sara:                Thanks for your help Ellen.


Movie clip

Male 1:             It’s just that it’s bugging me, this cool thing. I mean, what is it? How do you get it? Who doesn’t have it, and who decides who doesn’t have it? What is the essence of cool?

Male 2:             Not sure.

Male 1:             But you need a thing. One thing nobody else has. What do I have?

Male 2:             An exciting new obsession.

Male 1:             I know I'm right about this. I’m on the track. Just need to find my thing.


Dr. Kenner:      And that’s from Buffy, the show Buffy. Can you remember back, anytime in your childhood or your for me it would be seventh grade or so, when you just felt gawky and awkward and you just felt like you didn’t fit in? I know I look back at my seventh grade picture and everybody else looks normal – of course this is me looking at myself very critically – and I’ve got this dress that was pleated, so when I sat down to have a photo taken, it went down to my ankles, so I look like a nun sitting there with this long dress and all the other kids in the class have regular knee-length dresses or whatnot. I just felt like I didn’t fit in. I even remember thinking of myself as a wallflower. How do you turn that around?


One of the ways to turn that around is not to try to be cool. But to try to value your own life, to discover your own values, to find that one thing. Not to become popular or to please other people, but to find that one thing that really drives you, motivates you, and in a way that is healthy. So it’s your chosen value. Whether it’s a career that you’re passionate about, and you’ll have things in different areas, careers and hobbies and a romantic relationship, good friendships, how do you make those flourish in your life? How do you choose the right friends? That’s some of the many topics that we talk about on my show, The Rational Basis of Happiness. I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner, a clinical psychologist.