I started to work with Ashley, a successful 36-year-old entrepreneur, soon after her husband asked her for a divorce and moved out. Ashley was shattered by the end of her marriage. She had tried everything she knew to please Steven, and nothing had worked.
It quickly became apparent that Ashley had completely abandoned herself in the marriage.
Having come from a broken family, where she received little love and attention from her mother and even less from her father, Ashley wanted more than anything to be loved by a man. She believed she could control the receiving of love by living to please her partner.
The problem was that Ashley was treating herself the way her parents had treated her—ignoring her feelings and needs and disrespecting herself the way she had been ignored and disrespected. Since people often treat us the way we treat ourselves, Steven had also learned to ignore and disrespect her.
Ashley was deeply hurt when Steven left her. She felt alone and abandoned, and she didn’t realize that much of the hurt and aloneness came from her own self-abandonment. Rather than taking loving care of herself within the marriage, Ashley had handed her feelings and needs—her inner child—over to Steven. When he left, it felt like he dropped her little inner child—her feeling self—on the ground and walked away. With no loving inner adult to take care of her; of course she felt shattered, alone, and abandoned.
But it wasn’t Steven who had abandoned her. The definition of abandonment is leaving someone we are responsible for, like a child or an old or sick person we’ve agreed to take care of. An adult can leave another functioning adult, but that’s not abandonment. Since, as adults, we are responsible for ourselves, we are the only ones who can truly abandon ourselves. This is what Ashley had done and what led to her feeling so shattered and alone.
As Ashley gradually learned to take loving care of herself and treat herself the way she wanted others to treat her rather than continuing to make others responsible for her feelings and needs, she became open to dating.
However, she seemed to find something wrong with every man she went out with.
"What are you so afraid of?" I asked her.
"I don’t think I can go through being rejected again. It was just too painful, and there is a part of me that is so scared of this happening again. I think I’m so terrified of getting hurt again that I keep pushing the men away."
"Ashley, it sounds like your inner child doesn’t trust that you are not going to abandon her again in a relationship. Ask your inner child if she is more afraid of getting rejected by a man or more afraid of being rejected again by you."
Ashley thought for a long time and then responded with confidence: "She doesn’t trust me yet to continue to take loving care of her. But I do believe I am trustworthy now. I don’t think I will ever give myself up the way I did with Steven, and I don't want this fear of getting hurt to stop me. In fact, even if I do get hurt, I now know I can handle it."
Amazingly, as soon as Ashley decided to take the chance of getting hurt again, she met a wonderful man. Now, they are engaged to be married. Because Ashley is now taking loving care of herself, she met a man who also takes loving care of himself, and she is finally able to share love rather than always trying to get love.
We attract people at our common level of woundedness or health. When Ashley was abandoning herself, she attracted men who were doing the same. Now that she is loving herself, she has been able to attract a man who is loving himself. And, truly, that's the kind of relationship we should all be striving to achieve.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your love horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.