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Why Loneliness Makes You Date Jerks and How to Stop The Cycle

04/07/2015 06:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015
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Most of us have at least one relationship from our past that we look back upon incredulously and wonder, "What was I thinking?"

In my late twenties, I dated a man for eight months who was narcissistic, verbally and physically abusive.

The first time he physically hurt me, we were on a road trip with my best friend. Two hours in, I said something he didn't agree with so he grabbed a handful of my hair and yanked it hard enough that the muscles in my neck spasmed. It shocked me, but more so, I was embarrassed that my best friend had to witness it. So I made excuses for him and tried to diffuse the situation.

Needless to say, it was a trip from hell and it only got worse after that.

I don't have a history of physically abusive relationships and it wasn't a pattern with me. This was my first (and last), and I knew better. Yet, I continued dating him even after the trip. We only lasted a couple months after that, but it was a couple months, plus six, too long.

When I look back, I realize now that I was desperately lonely. He gave me attention (even negative attention is still attention) and filled the aching hole in me. It was an unconscious trade off. Those moments of abuse were the price to pay for not being lonely anymore. But the truth is I was still lonely. He merely distracted me from feeling it. Deep down, I had traded my self for a sense of fulfillment, not true fulfillment, and certainly not love or anything close to love, even though I thought it was love at the time.

I was like a starving dog, mouth gaping, begging for table scraps mercifully thrown my way, when all the while, my soul was yearning for the entire meal. Reminds me of a beautiful quote from the movie, Braveheart: "You're so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank's table that you've missed your God given right to something better."

I didn't know I was worthy of something better. I didn't know I deserved the entire meal.

If you find yourself in a similar situation or simply dating people that aren't good for you, abusive or not, here are three tips to help you deal with loneliness so you can make better, more empowered decisions.

1) Recognize your worth. You ARE worthy of true fulfillment, of someone who loves, adores and treats you with honor and respect. If you have a hard time believing this, then start with the willingness to believe it. Be open to the possibility that you are worthy of a healthy, loving and vibrant relationship. Once you're open to it, the Universe will show you ways in which it's true so that you can discover your worth for yourself. As you go about your day, look for clues. Remember those scavenger hunts when you were a kid? Go on a scavenger hunt for your own worth and value. Parents love you? That's one, collect it. Make a friend smile today? That's two, collect it. When thoughts of negative self-worth or doubts come into your mind, dismiss them. Say, "Sorry, you're not on my list. Thanks but next." If you were on a scavenger hunt for a purple pen and someone gave you a green baseball cap, you'd simply pass and move on to finding your purple pen. Treat your negative thoughts the same way. You don't need to fight them, just let them pass, unattached, and continue your hunt for only things on your list, things that are positive about you. Here's a fact to consider: If you exist, you're worthy.

2) Embrace your loneliness. Most bad choices are made out of fear and avoidance. Dating abusive jerkwad was my bad choice in an effort to avoid the gnawing emptiness of loneliness. When you can sit in full acceptance with your loneliness, you no longer need to avoid it and no longer make choices that aren't good for you. You prove to yourself that you can not only survive being lonely (You're stong. That's three, collect it), you can actually thrive in it. Loneliness has a powerful lesson for us if we dare sit still in it long enough to listen. The next time you feel lonely, instead of reaching for scraps to fill it, take some time to explore yourself. Sit in a quiet, private space and ask, "Hi loneliness. What are you here to tell me?" Talk to it as if it were a friend and listen as if that friend held a key to unlock profound growth in you. Take deep breaths, quiet your mind and listen. My loneliness was telling me that I needed to reconnect with God, with my inner being and my spirituality. I had gotten whisked up in the complacency of mundane day to day survival that I had lost touch with my deeper, divine self. Once I reconnected, the loneliness transformed to a deep sense of belonging and overflowing love. What is your loneliness trying to tell you?

3) Forgive yourself. If you've made bad choices in the past, let them go. If you still succumb to loneliness avoidance and make bad choices every once in a while, forgive yourself. Bad choices are really good choices in retrospect. Had I not dated someone so extreme as to physically abuse me, I may not have had the motivation to search deep within myself for reasons why I was doing what I was doing. If he was just a normal, not-abusive-but-generally-not-the-best-for-me kind of guy, I may not have been so compelled to dig deep. It was a moment of rock bottom desperation after an intensely disturbing and exhausting argument with him that I finally surrendered to the ether of the Universe and screamed, "What do you want from me?" It was only then that I listened long enough to hear the answer and was able to powerfully shift my trajectory in life. It not only positively affected my future relationships but also my life as a whole. That bad choice was worth it, and was really just a good choice in disguise. While those choices come with a lot of pain, forgiveness is easy when you truly acknowledge that you made the best choice you could at the time, given the lessons you needed to learn and the growth you needed to experience. Forgive the other person too, as that's a form of forgiving yourself.

My best friend and I now look back at that relationship and laugh. We lovingly refer to that time as "the Donny days" (not his real name) and it reminds us to be kinder, more loving to ourselves, and live in present moment awareness. For me, it reminds me to look for the gifts in the not-so-pleasant feelings, like loneliness, sadness and fear. It is in sitting fully in those feelings that they are recognized as powerful tools to lift you beyond your highest visions of yourself and transform your life beyond your wildest dreams.

Tree Franklyn is a writer, doodler and creator of TreeDoodles. Her books and e-courses inspire women to live life fully by living their truth and finding their inner divine happiness. Download her free e-book, The #1 Reason You're Not {Bouncing-off-the-walls, Swinging-from-the-stars, Hopping-in-the-clouds} Happy at www.FindYourInnerHappy.com.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.