Dr. Pam Thompson

Dr. Pam Thompson

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Do I Have Desperation Disorder?

Desperation Disorder is not, by the way, a real psychiatric diagnosis. I use it to explain the puzzling behavior of attractive, smart, capable, friendly and likeable women who enter into and maintain relationship with men who dishonor, demean, discourage, drain, deplete, or destroy them. These men may include the unemployed, the addicted, the abusive, the mean-spirited, the adulterer, or the disinterested in anything beyond himself. He adds NOTHING to her life; in fact, he TAKES away from it. YET she stays. WHHHHHY?

If you’re like most women, you’ve probably had a season in your life when you failed to speak up for yourself, and you routinely surrendered to others’ misbehavior, impositions, ideas, and opinions that significantly and negatively impacted YOUR life. As the song goes, everybody plays the fool sometimes. Take a number and get in line. 

However, when you chronically find yourself in a place of submission to others’ demands, and their thoughts or needs usually replace your own, there’s a problem. It is likely that after yet another powerless encounter with your boyfriend or husband (who just won’t do right), for instance, you later felt anger that oddly was not directed so much at him but at someone much closer—Yourself! You become the target of your own anger when you realize you have succumbed once again to choices that do not align with your heart’s desire or may be outright destructive in terms of prolonging poor quality relationships, derailing a dream, or draining your finances. After a while, the bad choices themselves become addictive, and they snowball in terms of their disastrous outcome as you unwittingly begin to volunteer for the job of “doormat” without a second thought. Even worse, you may attempt to take the edge off of your frustrations with habits of excessive eating, shopping, partying, mindless sex, or drinking among many other indulgences that bring only temporary relief but create a host of additional problems. Self-betrayal always comes at a price, and part of that price is becoming noticeably desperate to attach to any warm body, no matter how unhealthy. “Predator-types” (referred to by my girlfriend as snakes in grass clothing) can “smell” desperation a mile away. They enter your experience on cue to make sure your addiction to bad relationships thrives and that your position as doormat is secure.

Though it may seem hopeless, you actually can say good-bye to passive behavior and reclaim your rightful voice. For starters, minimize the factors in your life that tempt passivity, poor choices, and the resulting loneliness that leads to desperation. One of those factors is limited choices concerning the overall quality of your life—in employment opportunities, compatible companions, financial options, and hobbies that make you laugh and stimulate your mind and passions. The more options you have to exercise, the less trapped you feel in a certain set of circumstances or in certain relationships and the less vulnerable you are to desperation disorder. Creating or increasing options begins with a self-assessment of your talents and skills, strengths, and weaknesses with brutal honesty. Ask trusted friends or co-workers to help you identify your strengths and begin listening carefully to those aspects about yourself that people seem to notice or compliment. Once identifying your most positive qualities, maximize them through educational advancement, training, mentors, and hobbies that encourage routine and purposeful connection to others and a sense of mastery. The more interesting your life appears to others, the more valuable your input will be considered, which in turn enhances confidence in your thoughts and opinions and attracts healthy others. Here’s a helpful tip: Anyone in your circle not willing to participate in respecting, supporting, or celebrating your desire to expand your horizons (including family unfortunately for some) is not a healthy match for you. As former Essence Magazine editor Susan Taylor stated in her book In the Spirit, “Everyone does not deserve to have a front row seat in your life.”

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