Feeling shame in one relationship can begin a cycle of shame that's debilitating to mental health. An ex-boyfriend once told me I was a liability. My mental health was a risk against his future, and he didn't want his professional friends to know that he dated me. I know I am not the only one here with an experience like this, and I'm sure that you, like me, have plenty of similar stories to tell. In my fragile early twenties, I shamed myself like it was my job. I am not good enough. I am a burden on others. I am not a risk worth taking. These core beliefs grabbed hold of every insult like a magnet, providing a script for my negative self-talk and feeding my shame the evidence it needed to thrive. Of course, healthy relationship patterns are not born out of shame and low self-esteem.
My therapist tells me that my experiences with sexual trauma have changed my taste in men. I've been complaining that my boyfriend doesn't give me what I need; he doesn't crave intimate conversation as I do, likes to mostly be on his own, and doesn't think much about sex. In short, he hardly considers most of the aspects that I believe comprise a relationship.
When I first started having sex, I didn't know I was engaging in sexual spectation -- I didn't realize I was analyzing and directing my own behavior in the bedroom as though it was a performance. But at some point, I realized that my one and only focus in the bedroom was to make myself attractive to the man who played my counterpart.
Having a relationship with a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) tends to be thought of as a tumultuous endeavor. In my opinion, there continues to be an immense stigma and misunderstanding around mental illnesses in our society. However, when it comes to personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, this stigma can be much more intense. Sadly, I have seen how the chronicity of personality disorders has led to a resistance to treat, even among mental health professionals. Yet, those diagnosed with personality disorders have the capacity to create a life worth living and are worthy of all available and effective treatment. I currently work with individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and have found therapeutic interventions to be very rewarding, especially when it comes to interpersonal effectiveness and relationships.
The relationships that I form with my personal training and online coaching clients are important, but they're also complicated. As a fitness professional, I fancy myself a peddler of good health. But in truth, the fitness industry is fraught with side effects and unintended consequences. Many of us use social media as a way to advertise our services. But as we label the photos we post of our abs as "fitness inspiration," many of us are willfully ignoring the fact that photos like these often make women feel worse, not better, and are perhaps contributing to body dissatisfaction and diminished self-esteem. Furthermore, in our efforts to help clients reach their fitness goals, we often find ourselves giving nutrition advice, which is outside of our scope of practice. Our clients trust us, and we want to form strong relationships with our clients. At the same time, it's important for us to keep in mind the complicated dynamics that go along with food -- and it's imperative that we don't matriculate our clients and followers into obsessive behaviors and disordered eating.
Years ago, I was the queen of passivity, but the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) FAST skill helped me overcome it. It used to be that I avoided conflict and difficult conversations at all costs and refused to put my needs and desires first. I would come up with scripts in my head of what to say; however, as soon as an intense conversation would begin, I felt my self-respect fade away ("Show Yourself Respect: How to Communicate with Confidence"). I wished that I could trade in my copious amounts of passivity for self-respect, but something always got in the way. Fortunately, in the past year, I have learned how to maintain self-respect during a conflict by following a few simple steps set out by the DBT FAST skill.
Being in a relationship with a partner who is experiencing suicidal ideations can be emotionally taxing and daunting. There is this complicated pattern in my dating life in that the partners I loved most threatened suicide at least once. I am still trying to figure out exactly why I am drawn to individuals who experience such turmoil. Perhaps it is because I had ideations when I was in high school, and I feel like these partners understand me. Maybe I cannot compartmentalize the social worker in me when it comes to dating, and I want to try and "save" everyone I meet. Regardless, here are the things I wish I had known when I dated someone who threatened suicide. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Do you know how to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship? When our society discusses relationship abuse, there is often a focus on the more overt forms such as sexual abuse and physical abuse. It is not uncommon for emotional abuse, which can often take on a more subtler form, to slip by unnoticed. In my experience, there is also a hesitancy to acknowledge this form of abuse and validate its existence. However, being with an emotionally controlling and manipulative partner can have lasting detrimental effects on our psyche. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship's signs, even the ever so subtle ones, that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.
The symptoms of my sexual assault affect my relationships by cropping up in unexpected ways, years after the traumatic event. As I slowly came to terms with what happened to me, these symptoms began to interfere with my romantic relationships in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt. I tried to navigate these symptoms of sexual assault and the further I strived to avoid them, the further they popped up unexpectedly and uninvited. Over the years, I have discovered that there are several things that my partner and I can do to help ease my mind and work towards understanding the aftermath of my assault.
You probably should expect less from people because people are going to disappoint you. Let me repeat that. People are going to disappoint you. This is a widely understood truth in the world and applies to everyone. For those of us with mental illness, the dynamic changes a little bit. Here is why we should expect less from people and why we shouldn't.