©Justina Kochansky / Flickr
If dating seems like an ordeal, you are not alone. I’ve heard many versions of “I’m not dating because it sucks” from all sorts of people; gay, straight, men and women of all ages. I’ve expressed that sentiment myself more than a few times, but I also know that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Each of the archetypal guides in this series can help illuminate why dating can be difficult and how we can experience the process in a more grounded, wholehearted way.
This next archetypal guide is a biggie – it’s probably the main reason dating can be painful, confusing and un-fun. Just stay with me here because our guide to less vexing and more wholehearted dating in this edition is the archetypeA universal pattern of motivation and behavior. of the Victim.
What did you say woman? Victim?!
(Like I said – hang in there.)
The BIG THING to remember is that the Victim has two sides to it and is all about safety, strength and boundaries. It remains neutral until we feed one side or the other with thoughts, ideas and actions.
Unempowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Pain, Fear, Blame This is the part of us that is consciously or unconsciously hurt, defensive, pissed off, fearful, vengeful or sad. It’s a tender part that needs care and compassion but it also needs to know it’s not the only game in town. To identify with only the unempowered Victim is how we can end up in dating suckland. Being in the mindset of fear skews our vision and makes for hasty decisions (fight or flight dating anyone?). This is where being present and paying attention to what’s going on in our minds and hearts without judgement can keep us grounded.
Empowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Strength, Resilience, Courage I like to call this the Victorious part of us but it’s still a part of the Victim – we can’t really have one without the other. This is the archetype of working with the fear, letting stuff go, setting healthy boundaries and getting on with life more informed and stronger than we were before. The empowered Victim is also a wellspring of compassion – for self and others. It opens the door to maintaining vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. If that sounds like an oxymoron, think of it this way, our ability to truly connect (be vulnerable) allows us to be who we really are beyond the fear we might feel (strength).
Dating means putting yourself out there in a way that could bring old wounds and insecurities to the surface – something most of us instinctively avoid. Hence the Victim archetype rearing it’s head in the middle of our single life saying it’s not safe out there. Here’s the thing though, if we let our fears wall all that stuff up in order to feel safe, we are also walling out what we most deeply want – love and connection.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need in all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~Brené Brown from The Gifts of Imperfection
Love, if it is real, will never be completely safe because it requires vulnerability, which is to say that the soft gooey center of us could get squeezed and maybe not pleasantly so. In order to truly love, our shields have to come down for a connection to be made. This is true of platonic relationships as well but dating can feel like the stakes are much higher.
“No human being has ever lived without knowing heartbreak, and to accept that truth is to give a merciful gift to ourselves.” ~David Whyte
Actively working with our internal Victim can help us cultivate the strength, resilience and spaciousness to experience dating in a whole new way. How we relate to our internal Victim resonates out to how we treat other people, including our potential love partners and sets the tone for our future relationships.
Here are some ways the Victim can be a guide to dating where we feel stronger, more present and grounded:
Know Your Ropes
You know that exercise where someone walks up to you one small step at a time and you tell them to stop when you begin to feel uncomfortable? That’s how we can determine our personal physical boundaries. For some people it’s 5 feet and for others 5 inches. The Victim here is a guide to emotional boundaries, which is all about how we handle our own vulnerability. If we have overly porous dating boundaries we’ll be prone to spilling our emotional guts on the first date, getting hurt unnecessarily or taking on other people’s emotional burdens. Diamond hard boundaries mean we are never going to be able to let anyone in and be a part of an intimate relationship. Understanding how this might work for ourselves emotionally can save a lot of confusion and bruised feelings.
Understanding and developing emotional boundaries is huge topic and there are many resources to support more learning so I’ve provided a few below.
Boundaries vs. Barriers by Pema Chödrön
How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 3 Crucial First Steps
Ten Ways to Build and Preserve Boundaries
Self-victimization can slide in when we aren’t looking; maybe an un-returned call, text message or presumed mistake on a date sends you into a bout of self-flagellation. Whatever the cause, it’s a ripe time to take a moment to remember that:
1) things are not always as they seem
2) you are human and do all sorts of things that might not be intended
3) berating yourself does not help anything (in fact neuro psychology research shows it can make things worse).
Self-vicitmization is a call for self-compassion. Once you’ve stopped beating yourself up you will know what to do next with much clearer vision. You will also have more compassion for those you are dating.
Don't Go It Alone
The Victim can also let us know when we are heading for a situation that we should avoid and to take precautions to be safe out there in dating land. Hopefully we’ve all learned to meet someone new in a public place and continue to do gut check’s about whether we can trust the other person. This can also go overboard. My brother told me about a woman who brought along her BFF to their first date as a sort of guard. Granted, they met on a dating website but her reaction and obvious Victim mentality really turned him off on what could have been an otherwise pleasant date over coffee.
Whether for physical or emotional safety I recommend a ‘date buddy’; someone you can trust to talk something out with and check in with to let them know where you are going and with whom on a date. Our parents might not wait up for us anymore but it’s nice to know someone has our back. I’m blessed to have two date buddies (a man and a woman) and it really, really helps. I get the benefit of having access to both the male and female perspectives on things and get to support them on their dating adventures as well.
Being present to what comes up with the Victim in dating also reminds us that we can call on resources and helpers in the form of Mentors, Therapists or Groups where we can share our experience and receive support.
Avoid Reruns & Red Flags
You’ve heard the quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result as the definition of insanity right? It’s true, but most of us do it anyway and dating is no exception. The Victim is our guide to say “hey we’ve done this before and it didn’t end so well”. It’s a call to clear thinking and discernment knowing that dating re-runs and red flags can be avoided if we choose to.
This reminds me of a scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ when Carrie Fisher’s character says “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right – he’s never going to leave her.” about the married man who is always proclaiming he’s going to leave his wife to be with her but never does. The Victim can help us recognize when we get into an unhealthy pattern and need to make some different choices or at least look clearly at a situation.
Although dating can bring uncomfortable things up, an honest and compassionate relationship with the Victim means we can be stronger, more loving people for the difficult lessons and heartbreak we’ve been through. My experience with cultivating the lessons of the Victim in relation to dating has helped me immensely. I never thought the process could actually be empowering and compassionate, but it can be and that is what I hope to share with you. Please comment, share, Tweet and link this article if others that you think might benefit. I love when you do that.
©Justina Kochansky / Flickr
They say to always lead with your strength. I’m going to lead with one of my weaknesses – sometimes I feel like I’m not enough. Not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough etc. Basically, take any positive quality and put ‘not’ in front and ‘enough’ behind it and I can, at some point, feel that this is so. It’s a type of nefarious self-judgement that most people can identify with and it can make dating un-fun and stressful. These self-judgements can take over and have us thinking that inadequacy is the only possible reason why we aren’t meeting that great guy or gal. And here’s the thing – a habit of believing ‘I am not enough’ does influence our dating experience and who we meet. Let me explain by wrapping it in the context of the archetype at play here.
Not-enoughness is the purview of the Prostitute archetype, which also goes by the name of the People Pleaser, among others. The Prostitute is symbolic of how we negotiate our integrity and self worth. The moment we begin to doubt our worth is a sign that the unempowered Prostitute is hanging out on our psyche’s street corner. It also encourages us to pretend we are something we aren’t because lack is crowding everything else out. It also means that everyone else is more important than we are. This only leads to more heartache.
There is a way to enable this archetype to work FOR us instead of selling our happiness out. Begin by noticing when you engage with the pattern of the Prostitute. Any thought that says ‘you are not enough’ is the archetypal voice of the unempowered Prostitute giving out bad information. Period. You ARE enough. The voice of the empowered Prostitute reminds you that you are enough as you are right now – an imperfect and amazing person, both. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you might want to work on, it means that you aren’t starting with a deficit.
Let me illustrate with some common dating scenarios and how the Prostitute archetype can show up in both unempowered and empowered ways:
You've met someone you like.
unempowered / judging
- Worry that they won’t be interested in you because you are inadequate in some way.
- Allow a list of ‘not-enough’s’ to cascade down the screen of your mind like the numbers and letters in the Matrix.
- Get neurotic about whether you should contact them.
- Check every ten minutes to see if they have called, texted or emailed you first.
empowered / innate worthiness
- Realize that the ‘not enoughs’ are not true and it’s a choice to identify with those thoughts or not. Besides all those crappy thoughts give you a headache.
- You are who you are ‘as is’ and you want to be with someone who accepts and cares for all of you.
- Call them within a time that makes sense and is respectful, in the mean time – enjoy yourself!
- Understand that your value is innate and not based on what other people think.
- If he/she isn’t into you, it is in no way a value judgement of who you are.
Dating someone who isn't good for you.
*Not good for you* generally means they don’t treat you well, take you for granted, put you down or in other ways are not positive for your well being.
unempowered / sell-out
- You keep dating them because you figure you can’t get anyone who is good for you because you aren’t ____ enough.
- You decide there are too many things you lack and it’s better to sell out than be without a date.
- You think that because you are inadequate and they are inadequate you somehow belong together.
empowered / worthy
- Respectfully and compassionately let your unhealthy relationship go (aka break up).
- Notice you spend way more time with the ‘not enough’ thoughts than you do with the truth of who you are and start reversing that situation.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy instead of worrying about Saturday night.
- Realize that dating someone does not make you any more or less valuable as a person.
Dating someone you aren't into.
unempowered / settling
- It’s nice to have someone be nice to you.
- They pay for dinner and/or provide company on Saturday night.
- No one else is on the horizon.
empowered / worthy
- Realize it’s not fair to anyone to stay in a relationship because you feel bad about yourself.
- Be the person who is nice to you.
- Realize that dating someone does not make you any more or less valuable as a person.
- Respectfully and compassionately let the relationship go (aka break up).
- Notice when you spend more time with the ‘not enough’ thoughts than you do with the truth of who you are and start reversing that situation.
Playing Hide and Seek
unempowered / unauthentic
- Wanting to share a part of yourself with your date/boyfriend/girlfriend but not doing it because they might judge you as not being ____ enough.
- Pretending to have traits that you don’t so they will like/love/accept you? (“Oh I love rock climbing” you say to your date when internally you are shuddering at the idea.)
- Saying yes to or asking for another date when you don’t want to.
- Saying you will call when you don’t intend to.
empowered / worthy
- Notice that you want to be known for who you really are and hiding a desire to share something about you is already a rejection.
- Your worth and love-ability are based on who you are and not whether you have the same interests as your date. You can show a genuine curiosity about their interests without having to fake enthusiasm.
- Acting on what you really want and being honest bestows respect and care on both you and your date.
Did you notice that the empowered sides of these scenarios were more loving, respectful, honest and authentic? That’s exactly who we are without the low worth rhetoric and those qualities are SO very attractive! The habit of thinking ‘not enough’ leads to more of the same; it’s focused on settling for whatever we can get which moves us farther and father away from what we actually want. Understanding that you are enough makes space to focus on what you really want in a relationship and changes the dynamic of choices in who you attract and engage with.
There are many books that have principles and stories that can help re-orient the Prostitute archetype from it’s low energy state to one where you hold your head high and stop trading away your innate fabulousness for anxious worries and low self worth. The wildly popular book from a few years ago, He’s Just Not That Into You highlights this perfectly and delivers it with a with a sizable dose of sharp candor. It applies to anyone working with the Prostitute archetype, which is pretty much everyone except for maybe the Dalai Lama.
“Being lonely … being alone … for many people … sucks. I get it, I get it, I get it. But still I have to say that yes, my belief is that being with somebody who makes you feel crappy or doesn’t honor the person you are is worse.” From He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo
The empowered Prostitute holds him or herself with compassion and value, not higher or lower than anyone else but on the firm ground where we can meet others in the same way. It’s the same fertile ground where great relationships can grow. Learning how these internal archetypal patterns play out, can bring us back to center with compassion that begins with ourselves and inevitably out to those around us. And really what could be more attractive than that?
Part 1 of Dating Survival Guides sets up the process of engaging with these patterns with mindfulness and self-compassion. This recent article is a brilliant essay on the power of this archetype and how we compromise for love.
Dating can feel like a trip to the amusement park, filled with excitement, ups, downs and the occasional sense of inertia. Certain archetypes can help serve as guides for keeping grounded while amidst the thrills and spills of dating life. So far I’ve written about archetypal attraction based on shared patterns, paired needs and romantic chemistry. Now it’s time to dig into some of the archetypal characters that will likely show up for everyone dating. They also can play into why some people don’t even dip their toe into the dating pool. I call these our Survival Archetypes. They are roles we take on when we feel vulnerable as well as ones that can guide us to authentically being ourselves.
We all work with the survival archetypes. Some people are so in the thrall of the unempowered aspects of them that they have a hard time seeing beyond their negative effects. It’s my hope to turn this around a bit. Each archetype should be used as a guide – not a way to judge yourself poorly. In fact they are an excellent way of spotting how you might judge yourself and how to make a more empowering choice.
The four dating Survival Guides are: The Victim, The Prostitute, The Child and The Saboteur.
The names of these archetypes might seem to some harsh or intimidating, but that’s because we tend to know them only by their pathology. They also contain a wonderful possibility that often gets overlooked.
I launched this series on dating by recommending attention as a key for getting clear on who you are and who you want to form a relationship with. Paying attention to your thoughts and behaviors by seeing them as patterns helps you get clear on your options. That clarity can get lost however if we use the pattern to judge ourselves poorly or condemn ourselves.
The technology of using archetypes is best served with a practice akin to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) coupled with self-compassion. The basis of MBSR is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. Awareness and self compassion are powerful practices in life and especially in the necessarily vulnerable experience of dating. Developing awareness and self compassion practices can make all the difference in being able to be authentic (you know, the real you) and attract the right people into your life. This isn’t just me talking, there are increasingly more scientific studies showing how awareness and self compassion are amazing for us in every aspect of our lives, from reducing stress, relieving pain and bringing greater resilience and happiness to practitioners. Two other pioneers in this field are Kelly McGonigal, Phd and Kristen Neff, Phd. Neff’s book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is an excellent starting place.
This series will focus on each of the four survival archetypes as they might show up for a single person looking to meet a significant other. They are of course useful to those already in relationship or those thinking about ‘getting back out there’. I’ll share ideas on ways to bring awareness to your actions and choices in a way that helps you enjoy yourself more in the process of creating new relationships. If we are enjoying ourselves from the beginning, we’ll be less prone to heap expectations on the person we are dating and vice versa. Sound good? Look for updates soon and links will be added to the list above so you can jump to the next exciting article.