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But I have such a Great Catch! Treating Abusive Controlling Relationships

Section 23
Perception Lags Behind Reality:
Seeking Love After the Controlling Relationship


Question 23 |
Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Printable Page

After thinking they have found the "great catch" only to realize the catch was not what they expected, your patients may feel that protecting themselves from feeling rejected becomes a primary mission in their lives, because they will not risk experiencing that kind of hurt again. They avoid asking for what they want or need; sharing warm, loving feelings; becoming involved romantically with someone. They will expend great amounts of energy protecting themselves from the possibility of pain. In order to do this they muster every coping skill they can, often building armor or erecting walls around themselves and their feelings to help them survive emotionally when the environment around them does not feel safe.

Your patients may say:
“Not only do we protect ourselves by presuming relationship rejection is out there waiting to happen, but sometimes by magnifying the drama of it as well. Perhaps if we worry about it we won’t be caught off guard. Maybe if we expect the worst again, whatever happens won’t seem so bad. It’s as if we were rehearsing what to do in a difficult predicament.”

Psychology books call this catastrophizing, but I like the term one of my clients uses - awfulizing. By looking at all the awful things that can happen again in a realtionship and being prepared to avoid them, they try to make themselves feel safer. This behavior can become automatic, without conscious awareness. But you can see how much energy it takes to be always on the lookout for the worst, always prepared, not to mention the worry and anxiety that goes along with it.

Expecting emotional pain to accompany love is a common experience for many patients. One woman summed it up, “We were taught our husbands were supposed to love us and take care of us. But mine didn’t. In fact, he was nasty and unpredictable, so when he told me ‘No one will ever love you like I do,’ I got so confused. What can I expect from anyone else?”

People who have been through a controlling relationship may believe, “Those who love me also hurt me.” This contradictory message caused immense confusion during the controlling relationship and leads to greater anxiety in relationships for them now. So, since the controlling relationship, they’ve been wary, on guard, just waiting for it to happen again. One man told me “I can’t give up the hurt. The hurt substitutes for love - it fills up the space. There always seems to be room for more hurt, but I don’t seem to be able to let love in.”

Misperceptions happen all the time, especially when people have some sort of preconception. If people who have been in controlling relationships expect new partners to be hurtful, they might miss a loving, caring message. Recently I scooped up my cat, Rufus, into my arms while I was talking to a friend. I commented on how he’s so standoffish, and tends to push me away when I hold him and that he’s been that way for fourteen years. My friend said, “Just look at your cat. He’s absolutely melted into your arms. He doesn’t look at all standoffish to me.” And sure enough, Rufus was relaxed and content and purring. I looked down at the cat in my arms and realized I was holding on to history. How long have I been assuming he’s unfriendly? When had he changed? How had I missed that? My perception was truly lagging behind reality.

Sometimes when patients expect that other people will disappoint them, others are all too willing to oblige. It’s as if patients were equipped with radar that seeks out people who will let them down, and these people are not hard to find.

After the relationship, survivors of controlling relationships tend to overlook positive input from possible new romantic interests, because it does not conform to their expectations of rejection. They want acceptance and nurturing, but it is so frightening to risk the unknown that they often will find ways to avoid this risk - especially if they believe the pain of their past relationship might be lurking out there again somewhere.

Adapted from: Don’t Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection, Elayne Savage, Ph.D., iUniverse BackInPrint.com. For more information go to http://QueenofRejection.com
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #9
The preceding section contained information about Seeking Love After the Controlling Relationship. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.

QUESTION 23:
Why do many clients seek to avoid reaching out and building new relationships? To select and enter your answer go to
Answer Booklet.


Answer Booklet for this course
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The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
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