I am a 49 year old female in a relationship with a very jealous and controlling man. I tend to give in to his demands even when they are unreasonable, like having to know where I am all the time. The strange thing is that over time I have started to be a lot more jealous and possessive, even though I was never like that in any of my past relationships. I was never the type to snoop or obscess about the relationship. I always just trusted people and gave them their space. He can also be very hot tempered and I find myself being argumentive and angry as well, even though I used to be almost ridiculously conflict avoidant. Why am I starting to mimic the traits in him that I dont even like? I dont feel like I am doing it consciously and am always surprised when I notice it.
A: Thank you for writing. What you are describing is not unusual in someone who has been regularly abused in a relationship, whether in the family of origin or in a relationship. You don’t want to be a victim. You want to be someone who can’t be victimized. The most obvious alternative is to become like the victimizer who seems to have all the power, control, and choices in the relationship. The hitch is that when a person who is usually in the victim role tries on the opposite, they are often horrified. They don’t want to behave like the person they disrespect or hate. Lacking another option, they go back to once again being a victim. It feels more familiar. It’s better than being an abuser.
What a person in this situation doesn’t realize is that another alternative is to become a fully self-respecting and equal adult in a relationship. That means taking care of yourself. It means refusing to be disrespected but also to treat other people respectfully. It means establishing clear boundaries of what is acceptable to you. It means standing up for yourself calmly and clearly. There is no need to fight, argue or be abusive if you are strong and clear about what you will and won’t accept. It means finding the courage and the self-respect to leave or terminate any relationship that is painful.
When a person has been in an abusive relationship, it’s often difficult to find and hold onto that other alternative. If you find that is true, it would probably be helpful for you to seek out some counseling or therapy. A local women’s center probably has a support group or counselors who can provide you with both practical advice and the support you need to reclaim your self-respect – often at low or no cost.
The first step to making change is to recognize that something is wrong. You’ve done that. Good for you. Now, please, take the next step and get whatever support you need to move forward.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jan 2012
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Taking on Boyfriend’s Worst Traits. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/20/taking-on-boyfriends-worst-traits/