Why Do I Keep Hurting People the Way I Do?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 53-year-old man looking for some insight into my personality. After some soul searching, I have decided to write to you before I seek professional help. I don’t know for sure that I’ll seek the help. Maybe I won’t. I”m always questioning whether my behavior is justifiable, but I know it has been extreme.

About a year ago, my girlfriend broke up with me. She has moved on and is seeing someone else. She has asked me not to contact her anymore but I cannot stop. I have tried to get back together with her but she has refused. In my anger, I have sent letters to her new boyfriend accusing her of sleeping with me behind his back. I have also claimed that she has personality disorders (histrionic and narcissistic), which she does not. I have tried to influence her 12-year-old daughter to stick up for me and help bring us back together. I show up at her house and tell her that I love her, and when she refuses to let me in I curse and berate her. I have followed her around and even spent the night sitting outside her new boyfriend’s house just watching. I can’t stop.

A few days ago, when I realized the things I was doing weren’t working, and wanting to make her feel pain like I’ve been feeling, I opened a website in her name and posted pictures and stories about her to make her look bad. They’re purposefully hurtful but untrue. I sent the link to her friend so I’d be sure she saw the site. I even included a picture of her daughter and some of the texts she sent me. Thoughts of her consume me. I spend all day thinking of ways to emotionally hurt her and cause her pain — but I want her back. Every time I talk to her I’m either telling her I love her or telling her what a horrible person she is and accusing her of having all sorts of mental problems.

It also angers me that she has a relationship with my daughter and I do not. My ex-wife filed a protection from abuse order against me, and I am not allowed to see my children. Even though my children are now adults they still will not see me. My son is mad because I opened a credit card in his name and ruined his credit. I still abuse them mentally. I was just cited last year when I tried to talk to my daughter. I am an alcoholic. I can’t hold down a job. I’m in tremendous debt that I can’t pay off. I feel like I can’t move on until I get some closure for the events of my past, and I blame the people in my past for the way things are and the hurt they’ve caused.

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What’s wrong with me?

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: Lack of impulse control, undisciplined aggressive behavior (not necessarily violence) and attitudes of ownership and entitlement are hallmark features of a disturbance of character. And you’re not alone in having such problems. They’re actually on the increase.

It’s also not uncommon for individuals with character disturbance to have ambivalence about seeking help. To compound matters, treating such disturbances is a relatively new art, requiring techniques very different from traditional approaches.

Even before you consult an expert in the area of personality/character disturbance, you can begin putting into practice some of the things that I outline in my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the erroneous ways of thinking common to disturbed characters and how you need to change your thoughts. You can also find many articles online, including articles posted on this site about character disturbance and various thinking errors. Remember, how we think largely determines the attitudes we form and the actions we take. And we always have the power to change our thoughts. You might start with the notion that you “can’t” (which I noticed that you said repeatedly in your question and which really means you’re not sure you really want to) and change that notion to something like “I really need to put more effort into changing this thinking and behavior.”

The most important error in thinking to change is that you’re doing the things you’re doing out of love. You probably know this is not really true. Desire is not love. And the willingness to stop at nothing to get something you want and to avoid the thing you hate most (i.e., “losing”) is unhealthy aggression, pure and simple. And a life without “brakes” is sure to lead to multiple train wrecks. My best suggestion: get in touch with a real expert in the area of character disturbance and start working on those destructive patterns of thinking and behaving.

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