What Hurts the Most

I don’t usually relate to the trending topics on Twitter — often about celebrities I don’t know and TV shows I’ve never watched — but earlier this week I noticed that #WhatHurtstheMost was a popular hashtag for the day. Out of curiousity, I searched the term on Twitter and read through a hundred or so tweets to see what it was that people found especially hurtful. There was a variety of answers, but the most popular one involved romantic rejection or unrequited love. Here’s a sample of the variations on that subject:


having a crush on someone who you know you’ll never have a chance with

when someone breaks up with you on Valentine’s Day or your birthday

was being so close, having so much to say, then watching you walk away

the person who used to mean so much to me is now someone who’s making me cry again

is finding out you never loved me

being led on and feeling like an idiot at the end

when someone makes you feel special, then suddenly leaves you hanging and you have to act like you don’t care at all

is liking someone that likes someone else

is that one person you care about doesn’t care about you

is loving someone who does not feel the same way

is wanting someone you can’t have

when your boyfriend/girlfried just leaves you out of nowhere … no explanation, no reason, just a goodbye.

There are many more tweets in the same vein. At first, I was surprised, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been. If someone had asked me to describe the deepest human pain, I also would have talked about unrequited love, only I would have placed it in the context of the mother-infant relationship. To come into this world wired for emotional connection and to be met with indifference or rejection — that’s a devastating experience, one from which we never fully recover. When rejection by a lover in later life is especially devastating, it’s because it taps into this earlier experience and revives the trauma of unrequited love all over again. What hurts the most, if you ask me, is to feel that you have been rejected because you’re unlovable.

I’ll bet that if you were to ask the people who sent out those tweets how that experience makes them feel — that is, to specify more clearly the exact nature of the hurt — I’m sure most would have used the word humiliated or maybe embarrassed. Some of them might have said “ashamed.” Anyone with a literary bent might have used the word “mortified” (it’s a word I don’t often hear used these days, which is unfortunate).

For those of you familiar with Sylvan Tomkins’ affect theory, you’ll recognize that all of these feelings belong to the shame-humiliation affect family; they arise when something gets in the way of or interrupts other positive affects such as interest-excitement or enjoyment-joy, major components of what we call love. When we find that the fulfillment of our love is interrupted — that is, met with indifference or rejection — it may feel so painful that we want to die in order to put an end to it.

Maybe I’m growing sentimental as I age, but reading through those tweets made me sad — so many people texting into the void about the pain of unrequited love! That list of tweets felt like a companion piece to the New York Times article about the end of courtship that I recently discussed. No wonder people don’t want to express too much interest, who prefer to hook-up casually, almost by chance, rather than to express genuine interest and risk rejection, to care and not feel cared for in return. That would #HurtSoMuch.

On the other hand, as some readers have suggested, maybe this new hookup culture allows people to get together in a way that manages shame and allows them to progress slowly and safely into more direct expressions of interest, eventually into “real” dating and monogamy. I really don’t want to become one of those older people always carping about how the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m trying to keep an open mind.

In any event, I invite you to tell us what experience you believe hurts the most. Maybe you have a story to tell, one that involves unrequited love and how you felt at the time. Here’s mine:

When I was in 6th grade, I had a crush on a girl in the neighborhood; her name was Dee Dee. During Spring vacation, I bought her a little ring, one step up from a Cracker Jack prize, and brought it with me the next time she invited me to come over. We were friends but I wanted it to be something more. I don’t remember how the conversation got started (she must have instigated it), but we began talking about who it was that we liked, boyfriend/girlfriend-wise. I said that I didn’t want to say the name (I felt terribly afraid that I would be rejected) and she suggested we write the initials on a plastic ball. I urged her to go first. With a pen, she inscribed the initials onto the ball and passed them both to me. My heart leapt when I read “JB” there in the plastic. I wrote her initials and passed the ball back. Then I told her how I felt and gave her the ring.

The next day, she told me on the telephone that she didn’t really like me that way but only wanted to find out if I liked her. She knew the only way to get me to confess the truth was if she wrote down my initials first. I was devastated. I couldn’t bear to face her for a long while afterward. That was more than 40 years ago. As an adult, I haven’t thought of that hurtful experience more than once or twice, but remembering it today, I still felt a twinge of shame.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. “What hurts the most, if you ask me, is to feel that you have been rejected because you’re unlovable.”

    Yes. I would add “isolation” “cut out of this world” “insignificance” to the bag of feelings.

  2. The most painful thing for me has been going through a separation from my husband, wanting to work things out, hearing from him how much he loves me, I am his love and best fried and doesn’t want a divorce, then finding out in a nano-second that he changed his mind. And with that, verbal abuse in texts, e-mail, the worst kind ever that shocks you from your soul that it could ever come out that vile, that everything awful experienced in his life he projects on you, that everything that went wrong in the relationship was my fault. It goes on. My therapist tells me it sounds like borderline disorder, which I agree given the patterns and history. I know I can’t change a thing, say a word, or defend to convince him to get help. All I can do is cry for the loss of this once wonderful partnership and call my lawyer. The pain is so deep. I think she called it complicated grief.

  3. I was dating a guy in college, with things steadily ramping up when suddenly — for no reason I could ascertain — he stopped calling. Desperate to know why, I invited him to my sorority house to see if he would tell me — he showed up, but never said a word about it. Weeks later I found him out on a date with another sorority sister. I was mortified, and humiliated. Floods of tears for weeks. Many years later I learned it was because that I did not share him religious beliefs. I never had a clue ….all that grief over something that never would have worked out anyway. All that misery over a nice guy who never realised the hurt he had inflicted.

  4. I’m onto my third marriage. Nothing associated with either divorce has come close to the devastation I experienced when my mother, aged 66, told me she didn’t “like me anymore” and cut off contact altogether.
    My shame arises, even as I type this, because I know some readers will think I must be or have done something horrendous to have deserved that. Maybe, but I still don’t understand what it was.

    1. That’s awful. Perhaps some undiagnosed illness at work? I agree with you, divorce is a cakewalk compared with (e.g) telling your parent you are going through a divorce and getting neither sympathy nor empathy but rather insults and judgement. The pain of the ended relationship is over now, 5 years later, but the treatment from my parents still hurts.

    2. I somehow felt the hurt behind that comment. Wow! I can’t imagine my mother waiting those words to me. Please do what you can or seek help to move on from this. Don’t let that moment define the rest of your life.

    3. Jane, your comment really struck a chord with me. My mother did the same thing to me almost 20 years ago, and it has taken me until now to fully understand and forgive her. . Unfortunately, my mother died 16 years ago, so I never got the chance to ask her. In the end I came to the conclusion that the pain she experienced when I got married and “left” her was so great that it was preferable for her to cut me off completely than to see me and be reminded of what she had “lost”. Once I realised that my mother rejected me out of her own unbearable pain and not because she did not like me, I could forgive her and the pain went away. It is just a shot in the dark, but I wanted to share my experience, just in case it might be relevant to you. I know how painful it is to be rejected by your own mother.

    4. Jane I feel so bad that you are suffering. Myself and four siblings were removed from our home because of child abuse. I cried and cried for my mother and refused to calm down. I wanted her so bad that I climbed over the fence and walked six miles home to get to her. My mother was outside gardening and saw me coming. Without a single word she got up and ran inside the house and called the police to come and get me. The pain was so great that I still have tears as I write this. This happened fifty years ago. I’m so sorry your mother felt it necessary to say cruel words to you. I suspect it is her failings and not anything at all to do with you. I wish I could hug you or have some words to end your pain. I will give my daughter more hugs than usual when I see her and I will be thinking of you.

  5. What hurts the most is to have been rejected/abandoned by every person in my life starting with my malignant narcissistic mother. To have never bonded, been nurtured or loved by your first “love”…the mother who gave you life…hurts the most. It has also set me up to fail continually at this thing called life. I have failed to form any lasting friendships, my family rejected me completely when I demanded to be treated as an equal (instead of the family scapegoat), I’ve had worthless job after worthless job and two abusive husbands.

    And yet I keep going, keep searching and keep dreaming that with enough therapy I will conquer my upbringing, have a good life and someone will love me. Someday.

  6. Unrequited love is the most soul destroying, gut wrenching heartbreak I’ve known especially when you are so certain you are defective but fulfilment of that unrequited love would make you whole. I’ve struggled with this in my therapy and its awful. It’s a huge loss to mourn particularly if it occurred with your parents which it did in my case. At the moment I’m also struggling with the fact that I can’t live in my therapists office and our relationship is so limited. Unfortunately when we love we risk hurt and humiliation, but the alternative is even worse

  7. My first love lasted 3 years. When it finished I was 20 and experiencing my first episode of depression, although I didn’t know it. So it affected the relationship in a few ways – but I can’t clearly remember all of it. What I do remember is that the last thing he said to me while I was getting in my car to leave was “You’ll have a hard time finding anyone else”. Combine this comment with the things my mother had said to me while growing up and you have a perfect storm of feeling rejected and completely unloveable. To rub salt in the fresh wound he showed me the engagement ring that he had bought me. Oh, ya and I discovered that he had been cheating on me.
    It affected so many of my decisions regarding relationships and not one for the better.

  8. I’ve recently separated from my husband and was totally blindsided when he up and left because he wants to be a free agent again . I thought that was the worst I could ever hurt.
    Having my 5yr and 3yr old sons cry and look at me ask why daddy doesn’t love them anymore ? That’s what hurts the most , brings me to my knees and knocks the air out of me . A mother watching her children’s grief and hurt is an unbearable pain . My kids have taken me to hell and back but there’s nothing they will ever be able to do to stop me from loving them .

  9. To me, romantic rejection is nothing compared to the pain of being insulted/rejected by your own parent. Just, you know, randomly in the middle of a conversation because she saw an opening to mention how selfish or egotistical you are (and who then, if you object, starts screaming and crying “how can you do this to me?!” sigh….)

    you have often referenced basic shame and the mother-infant relationship, and every time I read it, panic grips me, followed by intense sadness, that I am doing or have done the same to my little son. just through thoughtlessness or exhaustion, not always meeting his gaze or smiling back. I think that must be the most painful thing any of us experience. Just we don’t remember it concretely enough to tweet it.

    1. No mother needs to be perfect, and it’s the consistent emotional abandonment over time that does the damage. I’m sure your son’s experience has been nothing like your own.

  10. I recall having a crush on a girl at school and not doing much about the the crush. After 35 years or so we linked up on a social website and a few weeks in conversation with a mutual friend from the same school I told her that she could always wind me round her little finger. She replied “I never guessed,” with a smiley indicating that she knew all the time. I have to confess I laughed like a drain.

  11. Ouch. The poignant slammed up against banality. When expectation has a head on collision with reality. When you are middle aged and hear that that is where dreams go to die.
    I was diagnosed with depression age 15. Many psych hospital admissions. Finally relented, agreed to take antidepressant medication at age 27, and hoped that through regular visits to psychiatrist coupled with diet, exercise, self help books, cbt, acupuncture, herbs, vitamins, crystals (excuse me as I cringe with shame at my failures), positive mantras etc, etc, I would be able to decrease and finally be medication free, depression free. Alas age 40 something that dream has gone to die. Stigma alive and thriving.

    Age 46 I have been with the same psychiatrist for circa 7 years. 5 years for medication management, the last 2 years once a week psychotherapy sessions. I have found this process excrutiating, the feelings of anger, dependency, shame, disgust, humiliation. There were many times I doubted the process. Strong suicidal feelings were elicited as I disclosed adolescent trauma and disclosed ever more of my inner world, feeling ever more vulnerable. Has the help helped? yes, but it don’t come easy. I often in therapy have to remind myself that I do not have the luxury of pride/dignity if I want to be symptom free and be alive to raise my small children. There is no substitute for honesty in therapy, on returning to my car after psych session there were times I vomited up my breakfast through stress of feeling so vulnerable. When I feel I am endanger of discontinuing with therapy and beligerant to go deeper I enter the consulting suite via the psych ward on the chance I would see some poor soul heavily medicated and drooling in a chair like I had been rendered on some of my admissions. I recently asked my psychiatrist whether people with my diagnosis ever get better … he said, ‘yes when your older… we’ll have to leave it there today.. we’ll catch up next week’. That hurts the most. Judging by how hurt and despairing I feel with this prognosis I must still not be’old enough’. I am trying to muster the maturity to gear up for another year of therapy but I feel I may be expecting too much of the psychiatry/psychotherapy and too cowardly too dig ever deeper.
    Aunty Leroy

  12. W hat hurts the most for me was when, after a lengthy process of soul-searching and work with my therapist, I decided to seek out my birth mother (I was adopted at five days old) and attempt contact.Unfortunately, after jumping through all the obligatory and financial hoops necessary, and through using an intermediary, she refused contact because then she should have to tell poeple about me and acknowledge me. Second rejection from the one who is supposed to love you most is not just mortifying, but excruciating. It took so much to get to the point to even try, so the response just cut to the bone. I have not been the same since, and in fact have spiraled down.

  13. What really hurts is when your sister makes the abusive husband you escaped from God child of her first born. That’s right since he did not break any bones or hit me in the face I must have been lying for 10 yrs about the abuse.

  14. I was anticipating with great joy the return of my husband from a month long work-related journey. Upon his return, we made love throughout the night and several times in the following 48 hours (as well as spending “quality time” together during our days). I was so happy to have him home!
    Then, on the morning of the fourth day, upon waking, he dressed and while towering over me as I languished in bed, he said, “I want a divorce.” I, of course, was in shock and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. To my knowledge, we had had a very good marriage. He explained, “I love you, but I don’t like you. While I was gone, I thought long and hard about leaving, and I decided to go.” Again, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
    For the next two days we talked, and since we kept making love (it was so comforting to me), I thought he had just gone temporarily insane and that all would be well. Then, he came home after work, walked directly to the bedroom, packed a bag and left. He told me that the “happy relationship facade” he chose to maintain throughout our marriage was done because it was easier to just, “go along to get along.”
    Though this happened nearly 5 years ago, and we are now divorced, I am still in therapy and still struggling. This abandonment on top of having grown up with an alcoholic father and extremely codependent mother has been almost too much to bear.

    1. How truly awful! Especially when you were feeling so open, loving and vulnerable. I have a hard time understanding how he could love you but not like you, and never have tried to talk to you about what was bothering him.

      1. Thank you, Dr. Burgo. During the marriage, we had attempted to talk (in retrospect, it is clear that I felt him distancing), but he would throw his discontent off to work stressors. We were to be retired soon, and I felt that once we could move on with our new life, all would be well so, unfortunately and regretfully, I stopped addressing issues as well.
        I appreciate your empathy; this situation has been truly awful. I have and continue to admire your talents at writing this blog, and I especially admire your ability and energetic efforts at “seeing” each of us who comment. It seems you’re a pretty awesome guy!

    2. Hi M , sorry to hear about your marriage breakdown , just wondering if we were married to the same man ? Word for word you described my husband ( we’ve been separated for 4 months ) and his grand delivery of ” I love you but don’t like you ” only difference was mine came back after time spent interstate for work and told me during a romantic weekend away in the country ! There must be an ” arsehole ” gene that is inherited by some .

  15. Unrequited love by one’s parents doesn’t hurt in ways that we consciously know of.

    My parents didn’t love me. I don’t remember ever loving them. They’re like the wire mother – you can’t attach to them or get hurt by them.

    I’ve been hurt by unrequited love from romantic interests.

    1. I can’t say I agree with you. Most of my life up until he died 4 years ago I tried continually to win real unconditional acceptance from my narcissistic father to no avail. Of course when I was young I wasn’t aware of why I did certain things but I grew up and became self aware- I just didn’t know what to do about our relationship. My father was emotionally abusive and a few times physically abusive.My life has not been easy, I shut down emotionally, became alcoholic (just like Dad), sobered up for 23 years then drank for a year. Of course this was not all his fault. He was incapable of providing what I required and every child requires. He had the last laugh, for I was disinherited at his death even though he had talked to me over the years what he was going to leave to me. This has resulted in leaving my future financial status very limited, scary. After he died I went to a therapist and a 12 th step program to learn how to live and to learn who I really am. I learned how to forgive my father and myself. I am learning how to reparent myself at age 59!.. I’m better but there is more to be done.
      My story on unrequited love is among these others.

  16. My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 76. I was her only daughter and we were close. A few months before she died, I got a new kitten whom she helped me name “Nigel.” Nigel was a doll. Like a little black panther. Super cute. Less than a month after I lost my mom, I was sweeping our driveway and Nigel wandered into the street unbeknownst to me and got hit by a speeding truck. I heard the sound, saw him flung in the air with eyes bulging. It was devastating to lose him. I was so hurt, I could barely even move. I sort of froze. I was so empty for so long. It felt like everything I loved had been taken away. I only have indoor cats now. Lesson learned.

  17. I’m unsure any of my biggest hurts have hurt more than the others, just differently. Quality vs.quantity; apples and oranges, maybe. And my hurts seem pretty typical, likely shared with many others folks: the unexpected and unexplained for weeks loss of contact from my first college girl friend away for the summer, being caught during a sexual indiscretion in 8th grade, marital break up (though I ended things), mysterious estrangement from one of my teenaged kids for 7 years, facing the consequences of growing up in a dysfunctional family, facing a grad school class & prof unprepared to present my talk, and the sudden, predictable loss of the much younger than I woman I was in love with for 18 months directly after leaving that unhappy marriage. Plenty in common amongst them, also plenty different. bd

  18. I have been a lurker for a while and have enjoyed a lot of the articles I have read… but after this post, I wanted to write some of my thoughts on this. What I have to say may be a little different, but it is related.

    I do agree that the mother-infant relationship is a very strong one, especially in one where there is honestly caring by the mother for the baby. The experience I wanted to share has to do with this relationship and how it affected me and my wondering of how it affected this baby. My husband and I decided to become foster parents (we have 9 children…6 biological and 3 adopted ages 14-28). About a year and a half ago, we received our first placement, a little boy who was not quite 2 months old. He was removed from the care of his mother and put into our care. I loved that little guy and took care of him for almost 11 months. When the state had a plan worked out for him, just after his first birthday, the day came for the social worker to come take him away. Though I knew someday he would have to go, it didn’t keep me from loving this baby and it most certainly didn’t keep him from loving me. It was an extremely difficult experience in my life to have him taken away, probably the most difficult experience and the most difficult loss in my life. (A month later, I began counseling and have been very blessed to have an excellent counselor who has helped me for the last 7 months as I have dealt with this incredible loss.)
    The thing I wonder is how things will go for this sweet little boy. He was with his birth mom for not quite 2 months. Then a couple weeks after his first birthday he was taken from the only mom he remembered, me. He went to live with his grandfather and his great-grandparents. He bonded with his great-grandmother, but after about 6 months, she left to go away to visit other family members for a few months. He is too young to understand that she will be back eventually. He didn’t understand that his birth mom couldn’t take care of him properly and he certainly didn’t understand that I was not the one who abandoned him and that it broke my heart to have him taken away that day. So, this baby has lost three female “mom” figures in the first year and a half of his life. I just can’t believe there won’t be any effects of this later in his life…maybe it will manifest itself in his relationships when he is older, I don’t know, I hope not. He does have a very loving grandfather and extended family and I just hope that they will be able to give him enough to somehow overcome having 3 moms leave.

    1. Hard to imagine that those early experiences of loss won’t have a deep and lasting effect on his entire life. Your story broke my heart.

    2. It is so sad but it might help to think of the time you had with this child as a warm light in his life, or like a little bank account he will always be able to draw on. My mother had a difficult youth, with more loss, betrayal, and neglect than solid protective love. Yet I see how she was able to knit together the scraps of solid love she did get from a grandmother here, an aunt there; they ‘kept me from becoming a real basket case’ she likes to say.

    3. I had a similar start in life. I got a lot out of what you wrote about. Hopefully his family can make up for it and or they can get him into counseling. I’m dealing with this in therapy now. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life. But I keep my eye on the prize. That is if I take one step at a time I can have happy and whole relationships.

      1. That must be so difficult for you. I really hope the therapy you are going to will help you and that you will get some relief through that. I am sure I will never understand fully what it is to be on your end of this type of situation.

        One thing that I am curious about is that after my baby had been gone for 2 months, the state fnally let me see him and it was the best hour and 20 minutes of my summer. Then I got to see him in November, December and then in my home twice this week. I have seen little things as he has been in my home again this week that lead me to believe he does remember me. I was so happy to have him here twice this week, where we can smile and laugh, play be together, and I can scoop him up and tell him I love him. I know seeing him has helped heal me, but with him being so young, it is hard to know what he is thinking. I wonder if even though he doesnt have a MOM right now, this will help heal any of the stresses of loss that were stored in his little mind. I really hope so…I just dont know enough about how or if this continuation of our relationship would help prevent the deep issues of his abandonments.

        1. Wow, how hard this has to be for both of you. I can only hope that with you nuturing the child and then the grandparents that he will emerge ok. I suppose this will also depend on his genetic makeup as well. Have there been fathers involved as well?
          Bless you

  19. I have found myself , on three out of three occasions, to form a relationship with men who cannot commit to me because of others in their life. I was left the first two times because i was asking for too much and it was not right to demand a place in their life which they had given to others. Not realizing fully that i had put myself in that place , i felt like a time-pass and dispensable. The third time i agreed to the compromise because i felt its better to have someone’s fleeting affection than to have none at all. Ofcourse i always remain anxious because of the fear of being let off. There has been scathing pain because of rejection “as a lover” but it also hurts because they have moved on with better options as partners. In the present scenario,it hurts to know that the self object has more options for sharing affection than i do.
    I dont know if this happens to a lot of women in general , but i feel deeply humiliated because i am no longer sexually attractive to those men, or that in the present, i am not the only object of attraction for my partner.
    i have always invested a lot of emotion in sexuality, almost saying that “look i have had sex with you, please understand that i have no other language to tell you that I nothing more to offer.” Sometimes i wish they hadnt said “you can not replace her” or that “i dont deal with abnormal people”

  20. When my 20 yr old son was arrested,and kept getting worse, and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and he kept refusing treatment and kept getting arrested and put into hospital unvoluntarily…pwatching a child with psychosis!,and watching him being rejected over and over again, especially by his father!

  21. Biological mother left me at age five, stepmother rejected me, “kind of like, don’t call me, I’ll call you, but never did” that was ten years ago or so. My father kicked me out of the house at sixteen.
    my stepmother completely stopped being my mother [has absolutely no interest in my children etc.] and then my first husband told me via phone that he was involved with another women and that he was leaving. I think due to my lack of self-esteem [because of the rejection and hurt I experienced from my “mothers”] set me up to marry a man that would do the kind of thing my husband did. [Not that I was a great wife]
    I am starting to accept that the rejection experiences that have damaged me so much are due to my parent’s flaws and have nothing to do with me as a person. If I had been blessed with loving, psychologically healthy parents, I would not have been rejected.

    Which one hurt the most? I think the hurts from my parents have the most lasting effect and have damaged me the most, but my husband’s rejection seemed to hurt the most at the time…but, now I never think about him, and I am glad he left etc., where my parent’s rejection is a constant hurt.

  22. It seems that you’re trying to shove just about anything into that “shame” category these days. I do not think that most of the authors of the tweets you cited would end up describing the experience as humiliating/embarrassing/ashaming/mortifying if you gave them a fair chance to dig around the roots of their pain. Many of them experienced loss. Some were betrayed or abandoned. Some are just frustrated. And there is certainly some bias in twitter self-reporting: romantic issues are still quite fashionable in most circles. Existential issues, not so much, these ones are for the real #nolife losers.

    I think that a part of the problem with your use of “shame” is to think that shame and guilt can be neatly separated into two different, mostly independent emotional processes.

    What’s interesting is that in your own post about the difference between guilt and shame, you acknowledged that feeling guilty (about something you did) would also make you feel ashamed (about you). I think it also goes the other way: experiencing shame implies feeling guilty somewhere (but not necessarily knowing about what). It could even be, for example, the guilt of making a wrong estimate of your own chances with a romantic partner. That one hurts especially when you have a strong aversion to risk. Either you think you have good chances of success (that is, you feel like you WILL win), play, lose, then feel stupid (ashamed) about what you think was your error (that is, you bash yourself for having thought that you had any chance of success), or you think your chances are too low, you don’t act, but then can’t help wondering for a while whether your chances are really that low or can’t be improved and feel guilty (and anxious) about that.

    Where there is no guilt, there is no shame, only sadness, or eventually indignation.

    My own most hurting experiences, overall, almost all involve loss. Not just lost of people or things but often loss of trust, in others, in myself, in society, in the future. My most hurting experiences involving shame, so far, were: showing up in exams that I know I will completely fail because I did not study or practice properly; being told that my behavior is about to get me fired from a job; as a kid, being one of these lame boys no one wanted in his team. To this day watching kids form teams can still trigger strong feelings of inadequacy.

  23. I’v just started reading your blog and many of the posts describe the probable roots and manifestation of my ‘symptoms’. I realised a few years ago that my mother is a narcissist, and though not as outwardly abusive as many of the mothers I have read about she was entirely absent emotionally. There were abusive things that she said when I was young and did not understand them to be abusive – and – there was a lot of cutting non-verbal communication, looks, subtleties, nuances, etc.
    I was not a happy child and had a suicidal ideation by the time I was 12. I also have had a long series of infatuations, from about 4 years old to now – I am 34.
    My preoccupations took on a religious/philosophical hue when I was about 18, and I projected a lot of pain-love feelings onto both god, religious leaders, and professors. I didn’t need the men to ‘love’ me, but I began, unconsciously living off slight moments of approval from a particular lecturer. By 4th year there were only about 5 students in the philosophy class, and perhaps scared off by a sense of my neediness this man began pointedly ignoring me, or leaving me until last in every lesson. He would give turns on certain tasks, and simply leave me out altogether. What I felt then, and still believe was that he lavished attention on those who were self-confident, charismatic and good-looking like him.
    Half way through the year I lapsed into a psychotic depression. I carried on attending as usual, but secretly I thought he wanted me to kill myself. It turned, in my head, into some great metaphysical war between good and evil. It was of the utmost importance that I did well so my marks remained high. The cognitive strain was just too much and by the end of the year I could not read or write: I sat for hours and hours in front of the computer shifting punctuation marks. Then, to try extricate myself from the ruminations I began self-harming. I eventually had to put my degree in abeyance.
    For a long while the doctors thought I was schizo-affective, and I was on multiple neuroleptics, mood-stabilizers and anti-depressants. The drugs shut down my mind entirely and 5 years later (though I changed subject) I was still unable to read or concentrate. I attempted suicide several times – the last time was seven years after that traumatic year. I went to a different doctor who began weaning me off some of the drugs. Now I am on only two anti-depressants. I am also seeing a therapist who is very skilled and whom I trust. As expected, and as I warned, I am now infatuated with him. He is not at all phased by this, and is well able to handle all my painful and humiliating emotions. I have been seeing him for 5 years and am functioning a lot better but am still not financially independent and thus having to continue living at home. We are working to make me independent, also independent of him!
    (sorry about this being such a long post)

    1. I was growing alarmed as I read your comment and felt so relieved when it turned out you had found a good therapist to help you. I’m so glad. I think you shouldn’t worry too much about gaining your independence from him. Given the severity of your suffering, you might just need to continue seeing him for a long time to come.

      1. Reading other comments as well as some things you wrote about your own parents I do feel like my ‘complaints’ are quite negligible! Most people’s mostly-bad mother seem worse than my own. I never realised quite what was wrong until I fell in love with a boerbull puppy in a rescue centre and adopted it. I started comparing my treatment of and attitude to it to my mother’s attitude to me. I would never in ten billion eternities use the tone of voice to my dog that she habitually uses in speaking to me. Such behaviour is incompatible with love.
        I also wanted to say that the feeling of inexplicable shame is central to my worst depressions. Other people describe dark tunnels, for instance, but for me, at its worst, I felt like I was swimming naked through a drained swimming pool that had been filled with shards of glass.
        For me the hypothesis that the baby knows (intuitively) its brain is being damaged because he/she is not being given the right experiences does not ring true as the source of shame. I think that the natural exuberance of a baby, when met with flat affect, changes into humiliation because it is not reciprocated – the self is not ‘good enough’ to elicit joy.

        1. I didn’t say that the baby knows “its brain is being damaged.” It’s more of a felt awareness that things have gone awry. As time goes on, it becomes a feeling of being defective or damaged.

          1. It comes quite close to saying that the feeling is appropriate or warranted, doesn’t it? I try to hang onto the idea that however incontrovertible this sense of shame feels, it may not be veridical. After all, the baby in this scenario is a victim, of sorts…

      2. I finally found the comment that I left here 3 years ago. The therapist I was seeing died at the end of April. He emailed to say he way going in for an urgent operation and would be practising again in June. He also said I was welcome to correspond by email in 2 weeks. After two weeks I started emailing to find out if he was ok. Every day the email came back saying his postbox was full. After a week I tried his pager who said he had passed away… It turns out I HAD received an SMS notifying me of his death and the memorial, but for some reason I had not opened it and read it (the previous 3 SMSs were promotional junk and so were the succeeding ones and I just didn’t notice this one…)

        The day I heard it from the pager I had my partner take me to his house and I confirmed with his wife. It was raining and I was a complete wreck and was sobbing and she started too 🙁 It turned out from the inquiries I made that a massive number came to his memorial service. He had helped many many people (the Rabbi said).

        I was desperate to connect with someone he was connected to so the first month after his death I brought his wife a bonsai which I had arranged with a glass angel and a spirit quartz and from which I suspended 3 orange swarovski beads for life and colour. My hands were shaking really hard when I gave it to her and she asked if I was ok. It felt really good for my grief to be recognised by someone close to him.

        A week after I got the news I managed to see another therapist. He seems very empathetic and skilled, and I feel better after seeing him – however – I love the person that died so much that I feel like my heart has been put through a shredder. It’s like the locus of my existence has just vanished.

    2. What I really wish is that I could die and that ‘his spirit’ could overtake my body and live the rest of my life for me. No distressing anyone because to all appearances I continue; only instead of me there is a person that is capable, competent, independent and strong… What a glorious metamorphosis.

    1. Betrayal encompasses a lot of different possible experiences. Were you thinking of something in particular.

  24. I remember the birthday party I celebrated when I was 5. I spilled some soda onto a girl’s dress and she got a little pissed at me. I was mortified (great word BTW). It was the last proper birthday party I celebrated, since then they have been small parties.

    Another one was when I was 6 and went on holidays with my parents and brother. We went for two weeks, however my father could only stay for one week due to work. He went in the middle of the night and I didn’t know he was going to go. I hurt to wake up to realize he had gone. It’s actually one of the worst memories I have.

    I think it hurts the most when you are happy and then something bad happens.

    1. Tomkins talks about shame as the result of interrupted positive affective experiences. He and his followers work very hard to group all such experiences together as “shame” but I’m still struggling with it.

  25. I often feel devastating painful shame over the fact that my conscious experience exists at all. I feel very unworthy of this gift. And it hurts that I do.

  26. A great read on relationships and why they often don’t work is John Bradshaw’s ‘Creating Love’. The lesson in life is to get to know yourself, to become as self aware as you can, so that you can understand yourself. You will then develop an understanding of others and if things go wrong, learn that blame is not the answer, just differences that are too challenging and cannot be reconciled. These differences were developed long ago in childhood and hiring a good therapist is a great way of learning how to understand yourself. It sets you free!!

  27. Being in love is always painful. I have been with my now husband for 7 years. We just got married 6 months ago and now i regret it. I have not been feeling the same for a while now but just never admitted it to myself. Being that i started dating him as soon as i was out of high school and was my only boyfriend, i started to think about all the different experiences in life i will never have. I started thinking about how i have been always doing what makes others happy rather than stop to think about if that action will make me happy. Now i have fallen out of love with him after 7 years and recently getting married and out relationship has become distant. He has been there for me as a lover and best friend for so long that it hurts me to think that me leaving him for my own happiness will destroy him emotially. I have seeked professional help of a psych so that i can learn how to deal with my decisions better. Love is always very complicated and painful.

  28. Being dumped by your therapist for showing your painful feelings after months of talking about how your parents abused you, after months of having her tell you that you need to open up and FEEL, not just think… having never opened up to anyone in decades, then letting the therapist actually glimpse the poison inside you, and then having this professional counsellor suddenly tell you that this session is the end, she won’t see you again, you are too mentally ill for her to deal with you. This is worse than romantic rejection, because you feel judged by the human race, and you don’t belong.

  29. I recently made contact with an old unrequited love from nearly twenty years ago. We had had no contact for about twelve years. What shocked me was all the old feelings that came back – deep, rich, loving feelings, wonderful feelings. These feelings were powerful enough that I’ve been having dreams in which I feel that love, yearning, “crush,” and warmth, fairly frequently over the past two months. Those dreams are great! What hurts so much now is realising that I hadn’t felt that way about anyone since. It hurts knowing that I had somehow shut my loving side down. But that too is part of a broader story directly linked to feeling ashamed about myself and my life choices (basically, a belief that I’ve really only made “bad choices”). In a therapy session this week, much of this came to a head. What hurts the most is becoming aware of the cost of my own relentless self-hatred. I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced in real life, what I’ve felt while dreaming…

  30. Maybe this “shouldn’t” hurt so much, but my therapist recently mentioned in passing that I had been “difficult to like” when he treated me over a decade ago. Unrequited love, indeed! I moved away, but returned to the area and am now in intensive psychodynamic therapy with that same therapist. I am exquisitely sensitive to rejection, and the sting of knowing that my high regard for him was not reciprocated is difficult to take. This despite the fact that he made the above comment as he was telling me how much I have changed, that I’ve made surprising leaps in my ability to see what I’m doing and be aware of my feelings, and that now I don’t push him away as I did then.

  31. I’m a gay male who fell in love with a straight man in high school. I am ashamed, embarrassed and sad when I look back and remember all the details. At the time I somehow manipulated myself into his circle of friends dropping the friends I already had. He was kind, open and he was the first person I told that I loved him and I was gay. I knew he was straight, yet a part of me hoped certainly beyond reason that maybe he was bisexual. Anyway when I told him how I felt he said he could not reciprocate. Those weren’t his words but that was the gist. At the time I was anxious and very nervous, expecting complete rejection for being gay as well. He never rejected me for my sexuality indeed we continued to remain close friends as ever, our relationship didn’t change yet I continued to be hopelessly in love with him. After high school I decided to go to a college far away from home to stop these feelings, however for many many years they didn’t let up. I had romantic relationships but they never equaled the fireworks and feelings I had for this straight man. I believe it a hindrance in forming what could have been really committed relationships and that it held me back from extending myself to others. I am rather an isolator. This was over 35 years ago. I still have a yearning for him, a glowing ember and it still hurts. When I go back “home”, about 1 or 2 times a year, I make it a point to get together and catch up. He is married with 2 children and I am happy for him. It is bittersweet; I always wanted his happiness above all else and of course it wasn’t a possibility. I have told my therapist about him but he did not have much response.

    1. I noticed a typo in the next to last line which I want to correct. I always wanted his happiness above anything else, a wish that became clearer in the years which followed and I came to accept my dream was not a possibility. I don’t regret the emotional ups and downs that happened almost daily because the intensity was so profound and I felt authentic, something I lost after time and I am coming to know slowly.

    2. That’s a poignant story. Sometimes an ideal love like that can be used as a defense against forming authentic relationships that involve real vulnerability and dependence.

      1. Yes that’s exactly what occurred. I have avoidant personality disorder and in working with my Dr. I learned and realized I do not allow others to get to really know me to ward off possible criticism or rejection. When my
        my feelings toward my straight changed to what I thought was ideal love, I was creating a scenario in which I wouldn’t allow anyone to get close
        I wouldn’t allow myself to become vulnerable with anybody.

    1. Big question. Shame is at the root of narcissistic behavior. I’m not sure I can link them to Asperger’s, though.

      1. When one consistently feels locked out of the apparent natural social norms others have, the autistic does feel shame in being defective and isolated. Even though you might suggest that the autistic positions precedes shame development, uh uh, there is shame there regardless.

  32. What hurts the most is being misdiagnosed…

    Your site has been of incredible value to me because I have been desperately trying to resolve this incredibly deep sense of shame that is getting worst as I get older.

    I’ve read everything you have written in this post, and although I do relate to many explanations about the sense of shame and feeling of shame, nothing else here has clicked, just like nothing about PDS or Bipolar have ever clicked nor worked.

    Last week I finally took an empathy test and just couldn’t understand why I, nor anyone else who has heard me for years say I have a trouble with empathy and understanding what that is, never thought of testing for it.

    The results put me perfectly as a person with Aperger’s. When I retook it and retook it, same results. I have been reading about this, and I keep thinking “how did we all miss this for so long when the clues were right in our faces?”

    These lines below from the National Institute of Neurological Disorder & Stoke clearly and simplistically describe the core issue in my behavior that has over decades generated the deep sense of shame I now feel in addition to the unshakable, painful and ingrained sense that something is broken in me and something is terribly wrong about me and that I can’t grasp an understanding of a “self” of myself in relationship to other selves and the existence of the other person’ self (phrases barely come near to describing how paralyzing such sensation has and continues being) and the realization over the last few years that my empathetic wiring doesn’t quite work:

    “They often lack the ability to modulate the volume of their voice to match their surroundings….They may approach other people, but make normal conversation difficult by eccentric behaviors or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest. ”
    You can read the rest here: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm#218013080

    What hurts the most is being misdiagnosed because being told or suggested that Bipolar or PDS or depression or narcissism never helped at all and nobody took me seriously, even when I would say outloud I had trouble understanding what empathy was. It has been thanks to the empathy test I took that I have been able to finally find closer descriptions and real explanations that I can say, yes, I can exactly tell you actual information about my life that fit this.

    What hurt the most is being misdiagnosed because it’s taken 46 for me to be even able to answer a very basic question, “Would you tell me about your-self?”

    “I’m a smart and educated 46 years old Latina who has unsuccessfully tried to build a career in IT and who has just discovered that she probably suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and as a result everything that has been wrong finally makes sense. My-broken-self is really broken after all. And I’m exhausted and deeply sad about what it feels like having led a wasted life. I wish no other woman has to wait this long and try this hard before the frames of her film fall into a cohesive movie. We shouldn’t let any human being whose self is broken live thru a lost lifetime if we are capable of feeling empathy…”

    The bitter-sweet news, though, is that my “self” is really broken after all. I fit/display/experience everything, but three aspects in this list http://www.help4aspergers.com/pb/wp_a58d4f6a/images/img244154ad237783e339.JPG

    Every visitor of this site might benefit from honestly taking an empathy test…

  33. I was rejected by both my parents from birth. They abused me in every way possible. Cut to therapy 40 years later. My therapist, from the very first session, exuded so much empathy and compassion that the little girl in my brain, still waiting for parental love, thought it had come. It was like flowers blooming, sunshine blasting and fireworks exploding. And then I found out he didn’t love me. He felt empathy and compassion, but he didn’t personally love me-I know, I asked. Once a woman told me that her little boy, who hadn’t seen his father since he was a baby, got all dressed-up and sat on the couch because his father called and said he was going to come for a visit. He never came. I have a little girl in my head who sits on a couch waiting for love, and no one came, and no one is going to come. Friendship love and romantic love are different; as an adult I can have those. The love that a child needs from parents is a love I didn’t get and will never get. I can live with that. I feel the pain acutely sometimes; that’s life-my life and a lot of other peoples.

    1. Reading what you wrote really hurts. The image of that little boy waiting for his father to come is agonizing, too.

  34. I have recently been feeling a deep emotional pain over my therapist. I’m a guy of almost 30 and I was seeing a female therapist in her late 50s (I think). Despite the age difference, I intially found her very attractive and I think that on some level, I liked the idea of being able to pay an attractive older woman to care about me. I was seeing her for a number of issues: depression, low self-esteem, sexual and relationship issues and addiction. She’s very successful, married and had never been an addict. I was envious of her and I felt very inadequate by comparison. I immediately put her on a pedestal and therapy became a constant fight against feelings of inaequacy.

    I had therapy with her (individual and group) for over a year. I fell in love with her very quickly (transference, rather than true love, I suppose). At times I found her very annoying. Sometimes my feelings of envy and inadequacy felt over-whelming. Sometimes I believed that she had given me advice about my treatment for business reasons rather than with my best interests in mind and I felt furious at her. Having to pay her and leave at the end of the sessions felt humiliating and heart-breaking.

    I started resisting her suggestions more and more strongly. I could never admit that she was right about anything. I started doing the opposite of what she advised me. I couldn’t admit that this woman who I loved and who would never love me back had been able to help me in any way. I couldn’t believe that someone as “perfect” as her could understand someone who felt as hopeless as me. I couldn’t handle being challenged by her. When she tried to point out my distorted thinking, I felt that she was calling my stupid and I got defensive and my narcissistic traits started to come into play.

    I ended therapy feeling quite angry inside but I tried to be constructive and I thanked her for her help. After ending therapy my feelings towards her spiraled out of control. I felt used by her and resentful. I was grateful for the progress that I had made but giving her any credit for it hurt like crazy. I relapsed into addiction and made some horrible choices, throwing away a lot of the good progress. I e-mailed her implying that she had hurt me and that I had found therapy to be a terrible and counter-productive experience and she was kind enough to respond and help me to make sense of things.

    In my head, she had become another “unobtainable goddess”. I have spent my life seeking out women to put into that role. I have learned to enjoy the pain of unrequited love because it makes me feel close to women that I can never feel close to in reality. Maybe I’m trying to resolve the childhood shame of feeling worthless and unloveable.

    I found this site last year while searching for “restentment towards therapist” or something similar. It has done a lot to help me to understand why I was finding therapy so tough and also how my defence mechanisms cause me problems in all areas of my life.

  35. Transference towards my therapist felt like unrequited love. I thought that I loved her and to have to pay her and leave at the end of the sessions felt humiliating and heart-breaking. I finished therapy abruptly after over a year and my resentment towards her over that humiliation led to me relapsing into my addiction and my life starting to spiral out of control again. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself though. I’m determined to work through this.

    1. ps. I actually found this website by searching for “resentment towards therapist” or something similar. The articles on this website have helped me to understand how my narcissistic traits came into play during therapy. I couldn’t handle being challenged by her at all. When she pointed out my distorted thinking, I felt like she was calling me stupid and I became defensive and stubborn. I couldn’t admit that she was right about anything. I made a lot of progress while I was seeing her but to give her any credit for helping me to make that progress hurt like crazy. I stopped being grateful for that progress and nothing else seemed to matter to me other than that I had felt humiliated in therapy. And that’s when I relapsed into my adddiction and started to make terrible choices. And then remorse – having to face my envious resentful side and having to accept that I still feel like I love her and miss her. I’ve e-mailed her a few times since we finished therapy and she has been kind enough to reply and help me start to work through these feelings. It still hurts to know that I will need to pay her to see her again though.

      In my head she has become another one of my “unobtainable goddesses”. I’ve been looking for women to put in that role my whole life. I’ve come to enjoy the pain of unrequited love because it makes me feel close to women that I feel I will never feel close to in reality. Maybe I’m trying to resolve the childhood shame of feeling worthless and unloveable.

      1. You and I have a lot in common, lost again. I felt all those feelings that you have towards your therapist towards mine. It’s so painful. At least your therapist seems like she can handle your feelings. Mine couldn’t handle my hatred, rage, resentment, envy, etc., even though I never yell or act out. I just sat there quietly hating him while wishing he loved me. He kicked me out several months ago. Anyway, some progress I have made since then on my own is this…I’m okay, I’m actually more than okay, with ALL my feelings. I’m perfectly fine with my envy, hate, rage, whatever, I’ll take it all. I have this sneaking suspicion that all you other people have these same feelings, you’re just good at denying them. I do not hurt people with these feelings, but I own them, I earned them and I’m not trying to get rid of them. They’ve got a home in me.
        After that long, painful haul of trying to get my therapist (unsuccessfully) to love me, I am done. I’m not trying to get anyone to love me. I feel like I went on an exhausting quest around the world for a prize I couldn’t get, and I’m really glad to be home. I wasn’t lovable to some people important to me…oh well. I’ll love my own ugly face.

      2. I don’t know if this will help but I understand. I too “fell in love” with my therapist.

        I have been out of therapy for a year or two now but it is comforting reading these posts and discovering I wasn’t as weird as I thought!

        You sound honest with yourself, now. Maybe time will bring you to the place of finding someone else that can help.

    2. I think you raise an important point, about how the transference can feel like unrequited love and give rise to unbearable shame. It helps to distinguish idealization — the kind of “love” clients often feel for their therapists early on — from a more realistic type of love that takes years to develop.

      1. Realised that I posted almost the same thing twice – didn’t realise that it went through the first time.

        I don’t feel like I have idealised my therapist – she’s very succesful (as a therapist, business woman, writer, broadcaster, trainer of other therapists). She’s considered an expert in certain areas and appears in the media quite a lot.

        Given how successful she is, I’m surprised at how low her fees were. I feel grateful that I could afford to see her. Money is a subject that triggers my issues big time.

        She seems so confident and in control and showed no sign of having ever experienced anything near the level of dysfunction that I was seeing her about.

        She seemed to bring a bit of her own ego into therapy – as in she seemed to enjoy being the expert, and broadcasting her success. She seemed to enjoy being put on a pedestal by her clients, but maybe that’s me getting confused.

        I don’t think I idealised her, but I envied her and resented her and I felt small and inadequate by comparison. I did what I always do and tried to enjoy those feelings in a masochistic way.

        I want to see her again to tell her all this. I don’t know if I just want to enjoy feeling humiliated in front of her one more time. perhaps telling her that I am envious and I feel small will teach me that I can handle those feelings and that the ground won’t swallow me up if I acknowledge them in front of her.

        I feel like I love her so much. I listen to recordings of her radio appearances to soothe myself. Other times I still get into debates in my head to try and prove that she’s wrong about certain things and isn’t as good as everyone thinks. Given the hell I put myself through with my recent relapse, such debates seem so insignificant.

        The fact that I kept doing that to the point that I drove myself to relapse opened my eyes to what a narcissist I am. Letting a woman see my emotional issues, my failures and inadequacies and having her challenge me to improve myself left me feeling absolutely crushed. It sent my defence mechanisms into overdrive and when my defenses failed, I knew that I could always enjoy feeling crushed and pretend that it was love.

        I’ve realised that I have to change. I want to change. I don’t ever want to allow my narcissistic side to rule me like that ever again.

        1. Ps. So in reply to what hurts the most I’m going to say that it’s losing my narcissistic defences. Having to relate to my therapist without them and then having to live with myself without them drove me back into addiction. So much remorse and sadness now.

          It took me a few long posts to get to that :-).

      2. I love my therapist very much but, I do ‘feel’ that in my 2 sessions a week, I have his ‘love’. I know my longing for him to be my dad is transference, but I no longer fight it. I enjoy that feeling & accept it for what it is. It’s enabled me to share so much with him & has allowed me to grow & change. I embrace it, I’m not ashamed in the least. I love my therapist & I don’t care who knows!

  36. pps. Can you recommend any material on learning to live without narcissistic defences? Is it covered in one of your posts? If not, could I suggest a post on it.

    I’ve got your book so I’ll have another look through that later.

    I’ve also been meaning to look at “unconditional self-acceptance”.

    1. Relinquishing narcissistic defenses means learning to bear shame. It’s the subject of many of the post I’ve written here (look under the Shame/Narcissism heading over to the right); there’s also a chapter about it in my current book.

  37. Oh wow! I was just talking about this subject with my sister (who coincidentally happens to be named DeeDee — ooops, now don’t start crying. I’m sure it’s not your DeeDee).
    That was a sad and humiliating experience for one so young. I had a few like it. — But the truth is, I can’t point towards one *hurt* because like you say they are all connected. Like an echo effect of that first *unrequited love*. The mother connection. — But at least I understand it all a lot better now. My shame and fear of rejection. And now, years later, my mother and I have a nice relationship. Time can temper our worst hurts, and we can move on from them.
    Thank you so much for this amazing and insightful blog.

  38. “If it hurts it isn’t love”.
    It is something else entirely, call it obsession, infatuation, unhealthily seeking the unattainable….

    In the samples Joseph sets out at the start of his article certain words jump out at me: “crush”, Valentine’s Day (what IS it with Valentine’s Day anyhow?), “making me cry — again” (again?); “never loved me”, “led on” ( no one can lead you where you don’t wish to go); the best of all the samples is “wanting something you can’t have”.

    Is wanting something you can’t have (I am assuming in this context “wanting someone you can’t have”) healthy? One can only set oneself up, voluntarily, for discontent and indeed suffering by going after the evidently unattainable.

    Yes, Joseph, this indeed must be the most terrible thing imaginable.

    “……..the deepest human pain, I also would have talked about unrequited love, only I would have placed it in the context of the mother-infant relationship.”

    I ask myself, frequently, why on earth do some people have children at all.

  39. i was certain someone i love loves me back, and asked him how he feels. the fantasy was somewhat ridiculous and impossible due to social and other barriers. he was not mean-spirited, but asked jokingly if i really thought it was practical and logical. the hint of laughter felt like it killed me… i had an out of body dissociation experience in the moment. i still feel love for him and to this day become ambushed by tears when the shame of that moment crosses my mind.

  40. Hi Dr. Joe…I have listened to your talks on youtube and find them very helpful, thank you!
    I have just come out of a 21 year marriage, with a man who said I was not not a ‘ten’ anymore, and therefore we are now incompatible. He also told me he thought I had bpd, since my adoptive mother was mentally ill, and I had other abuse in my childhood pointing to this diagnosis. I have been in analysis for 3 years, and my my Dr. insists, even with my abandonment and other abuses, that I do not have bpd….but that I am neurotic, have anxiety issues. What is confusing for me is that I felt I was loosing it in my marriage because I found my husband’s words so confusing….he would tell me he loved me all the time, and then claimed to all our family and friends that he never loved me and our marriage was a mistake. I still wonder if I have bpd, or if I should simply (ha,ha…if only it were simple) trust my analyst and not live in to my ex husband’s version of the truth. I know my situation is more complex than what I can convey, I guess I am looking for an answer as to whether or not I should take my analyst word at face value, or is he possibly using a technique to have me see I have bpd.

    1. Anyone who would say that you’re not compatible because you are “no longer a 10” sounds like an incredible narcissist, the kind of many who makes his wife carry all the problems and all the shame he can’t bear to feel. Definitely trust your analyst!

  41. that is EXACTLY what I think happened. My Analyst is a wonderful human being….it has been hard to trust. I was betrayed so profoundly by someone I thought I knew for over 20 years. It has had a way of distorting my sense of reality. Somehow, though, I still have hope and faith in myself, and in life, and in some people. Thanks for responding, you seem like a nice person.

  42. I always felt my mother didn’t love me. Always below the surface though. Until one day, she called me crying and said “I could never make you understand that I loved you”. Now at first I felt like happy that she did love me but then I realized she was confirming what I always worried was true. I was in my 30’s when she called. Waiting all those years and who was it for, for me? She felt bad about it and she wanted to feel better for herself. She came to me for absolution. I gave it to her but now I ask, why couldn’t an adult woman help a two year old know she was loved? No more denial, she didn’t.

  43. I started a complicated relationship with a married man (34 years my senior) when I was 19. I am 28 today still trying to find my way in (or rather out of) this “relationship”. His wife and two kids live in another country and he would visit them every three weeks or so, and lived almost what one can describe as a “bachelor life” at this house here. I never truly grasped that he was married due to the fact that these people were so far away and we spent literally everyday together. But as years went on and I grew up, it became more of a burden to digest it all. Last spring during a visit his daughter made to him, after a night of terrors, I went to his house and confronted his 22 year old daughter and him. I did call him before I went there and said “the lie that concerns 5 people but is on only 2 will be out, I cannot carry it anymore”. He was shocked that I was suddenly in the same picture with his child, and that the reality (his reality) had shifted all of a sudden. I then realised how he managed to separate between these two worlds as if he had some kind of a switch he used, on and off. After all the drama, he got really upset with me and punished me occasionally (emotion-wise) because his children suddenly turned against their “loving and caring father” whom they saw as some sort of an altruistic figure, I guess, but who turned out to be a cheater and a liar. I have been to an analyst for a short time (4 months or so) but found the experience somewhat awkward (I am what you would call an ‘introvert’ sort of person). I have a PhD, and am also very much into theoretical writings. I was wondering if you could recommend me a book I could use in self-“healing”. I have read a few of Freud’s books (I am into the original texts though not so much fond of secondary literature or articles) but maybe I am not in the right track. Thank you for your time and answer!

  44. Two days ago, I decided to cut ties with a person who I was growing to like. I don’t even want to mention his name but..it all started when I gave him an index card with my contact information on it. I didn’t know how to approach him because I’ve had a crush on him for awhile. We talked using our e-mail accounts. And it wasn’t like I was expected to go out on a date with him. Because I planned to get to know him and see if I truly liked him. Turned out that he found me attractive. Well he that was what he said. And he was open to tell me a secret of his. He made it seem like he was truly interested in me. He even said that he found me interesting and pretty since the day he first saw me. I felt more comfortable. I made it perfectly clear that I liked him but then..after leading me on, he told me that he wasn’t interested and on top of that, he told me that he had a person he was engaged with. He said that he was sorry but I told him how hurt I felt. I told him not to call me “cute” or talk to me again because of how hurt I was. He ended up saying, “Okay? You act like that effects (a typo he made) me? You’re just another female..” and other hurtful things. I never even called him out of his name or called his mother out of his name. And that hurt me the most. I have had these type of problems before. And this is just…unbearable. I can’t stop crying right now.

  45. In two years of utmost workplace bullying in which I was continuously branded someone I am not, then blamed for being responsible for the bullying myself as I am basically “wrong”, I came to feel I was being rejected because I am defective and thus unlovable. I used to think this is the experience that hurt most. Until a few days ago I disappointed a very precious, most empathic and trustworthy friend of mine, someone who has always made me feel understood, cared for and loved to a high degree despite my flaws. It was nothing done on purpose and it was somehow unavoidable unless I dismissed my own needs, jeopardizing my own balance and our friendship on the long term. My friend has shown deep understanding, but this doesn’t prevent her from feeling disappointed and most probably rejected, which is much worse, as this is a big issue of hers and she had allowed herself to believe in someone so strongly for the first time in years.
    Now I can say that feeling her sorrow and at the same time the weight of being a “wrong emotional investment”, a hope that hasn’t gone the way it should have, this definitely is what hurts most.

  46. What hurts the most?

    One year back on my life I would say, the unresolved issues we carry with us.

    But in the past year I learned of pain far greater then that. Watching the person you love so dearly (romantic or other) not being able to resolve their issues.

    I have learned at a young age (14) that people have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to grow, and sometimes the best you can do is let them, and catch them if they fall.

    But the sheer helplessness I feel watching a loved person being stuck and staying stuck is what hurts me the most. Especially as that person is aware of being stuck and is radiating the pain.

    My only comforting thought is that everything happens for a reason. Maybe they are just not ready to move on, or maybe … There could be a million maybes. Maybe I just want them to move on for my own benefit so it doesn’t hurt as much anymore.

  47. When I was 22 (I am now 52) I was going to marry my fiancé. We were all set up to move to Long Island NYS from the UK. Two weeks before our big day, he died in a RTA. The pain of this loss was totally excruciating. I felt like my whole world had fallen down onto me. Nothing could console me. I began to SI again as that was one of my coping mechanisms I’d acquired after years of abuse as a child. I felt totally abandoned & alone. I was abandoned by my mother when I was a child & my Grandfather whom I loved so, so very much just suddenly died so also had abandoned me & then Garry had died & abandoned me too. All the close people in my life, had abandoned me in one way or another.
    After about 8 years I decided to move location & leave my past behind me, never to be reminded of it again. Relationships after that were never good. I was unable to trust anyone, commit or want any one to get close to me. I kept absolutely everyone at arms length & never invested in any relationships. So I went from one disastrous relationship to another. I didn’t realise at that time that it was my fear of abandonment that was at the root of one of my many issues. In fact, I didn’t think I had any issues at all, after all, I’d ‘managed’ a childhood in care, not having anyone like me, let alone love me. It wasn’t me with the problem, it was everyone else!! (I wonder how many times you’ve heard that before?) Of course at that time, I thought I’d just pick myself up by my bootstraps & get over it, move on with my life, which I thought I had done quite well. Hmm……(yeah, right!!)
    Four years ago I had an altercation with a fellow Leadership colleague at work. I’d witnessed a person who had ‘allowed’ a child to be bullied & sat back & did nothing & said she didn’t get involved because she felt ‘uncomfortable’ By the time I was alerted to this incident, the bullying had taken place & by the time I’d got there, I came face to face with a child in a crumpled heap on the floor in the corner covered in blood. This triggered me, BIG TIME, but I didn’t realise that at that time. (Pre therapy) In that split second, I’d become that child & a trusted adult had allowed this to happen (again) . I very quickly spiralled & I wanted to physically hurt this woman. I was unable to function whilst this colleague was around & I eventually went off sick. I was referred to counselling by work & went along half heartedly to my first session.
    Its not been an easy ride & I’m on an incredible journey & my counsellor is a very, very special man . I feel so privaledged that our paths crossed. He has become my inner child’s dad & me, his daughter. Of course the adult me knows this is not logical, doesn’t make sense & couldnt even be possible. However, the little inner child has different ideas.
    I am now a week away from my counsellor going on holiday for 3 weeks & guess what? Yep, I’m feeling abandoned again!!! It’s bringing up all those feelings of abandonment. Will he die whilst he’s away & will I ever see him again; will he have a terrible accident & not be safe; will he forget me while he’s away & what if he decides when he’s away that he doesn’t really want to work with me anymore; am I too much for him; and he’s probably finally taken his rose coloured spectacles off & finally seen the horrible person I really am? He’s just going to disappear from my life & I will just die inside again! Catastrophising I hear you shout! Yep again! Those are all the feelings I’ve harboured all my life & are triggered the minute a holiday is mentioned. It hurts, but that word is nowhere near as descriptive as the pain that word should hold. It feels like he’s reached into my chest & ripped my heart out with a blunt spoon & chucked it on the floor before me. However, we’ve talked a lot about it & I have strategies in place & I know I’ll be fine. I’m always fine, after all I am a ‘survivor’. That’s what we do, survive!
    I hope you are not too bored, the only thing left for me to say is………..& I lived happily ever after!! (I hope)

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