One of my Houston clients brought in this picture of a naked women embracing a skeleton. She told me it had moved her deeply and spoke to her in a way that words could not. For this client, it was a visual depiction of a relationship she was holding onto with a man who could never really give her what she needed. When he would call her, she experienced a rush of happiness. But when he ignored her for days or weeks, she was forlorn and hopeless. She questioned herself and wondered why she was not more attractive to him. She was sure that if she were prettier, or smarter, or better in some way, he would be more interested. And she hated herself for not being able to just move on despite knowing the relationship was broken and lifeless.
Seeing all of this depicted in this image communicated directly to her heart what was really going on. She was holding onto a man who was emotionally dead, unable to give back or love, or share in any satisfying way. She felt disgusted at the thought. The image gave her the courage to ask the hard question: how can I unwrap myself and move on from the relationship?
First, we examined why she had a pattern of wanting to be with men who were emotionally unavailable. It was important for my client to understand that her behavior made sense on some level and even served a purpose for her. She made a list of the advantages of staying in the relationship. When I first asked her to make the list, she said there were none, but with some help she was able to dig deeper and see real advantages. For example, being with him allowed her to feel a sense of purpose because she could help him, and a sense of importance because she was able to get an unattainable man. Her father had also been a distant, unattainable man, and somehow capturing the heart of this man helped erase some of those wounds she felt from never feeling important to her own father.
The list of advantages of being with this skeleton of a man grew as we talked and examined it. I think it was eye opening to see that her behavior was not really crazy but served a purpose. She could then compare the list of advantages and disadvantages of staying in the relationship and decide if it was ultimately worth it for her.
You may also be struggling with relationships in your life that no longer seem to work - with a significant other, a friend, a parent. If this image resonates for you as it did for my client, it might be a good time to take stock of how the relationships are affecting you. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of staying involved. Be brutally honest. Then if you need help moving on, or setting boundaries in those relationships, it might be time to talk to a therapist.