Ask Dr Gilda-Overcoming an abusive past

One woman struggles to overcome her abusive past and be open to new love. Here, some wise advice.

By Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D.

ear Dr. Gilda,
It has been almost a year since I fled my marriage, which was very abusive and ended in divorce. For most of this year, I have been floundering, but I have started to pick up the pieces and put myself back together. I have a lot of goals I want to accomplish to improve myself, and I have started taking baby steps toward them.

There is a guy who works in the same building I do, and I have had a crush on him for a while. I am too
I am terrified to let anyone back into my life.
shy to approach him, and I don’t even know whether he has a girlfriend. I am also afraid that if we do start dating, I won’t accomplish the things I want to. I don’t even know if I’m ready to date again.

I still have very low self-esteem and the scars are evident, both physically and emotionally. I am terrified to let anyone back into my life. I have been trying to resolve these issues on my own, because I don’t have health insurance for counseling. How do you know when you are ready to date after an abusive marriage? I don’t want to attract the same type of man again.
– Picking Up the Pieces

Dear Picking Up the Pieces,
It’s great that you are now able to think of a man in a romantic way after your abusive marriage. Even if it’s pure fantasy, thinking about a new man is a sign your healthy soul wants to return to love.

It’s also a credit to you that you’re anxious to re-start your future with reachable goals. That’s another sign you are on your way to a brighter future.

Of course, since you’re new to dating, the ghosts of the past still frighten you—and they probably will until you get used to being pursued by healthy partners. Here are some things to consider now:
  1. List the reasons you originally paired up with your ex. Determine if the same traits exist in men you find attractive now.
  2. Assess how you grew as a result of having been with him. As my Gilda-Gram says, “Each relationship we have teaches us something—even if the lessons come in unrecognizable wrappers.”
  3. Low self-esteem will derail any potential relationship. Someone who loves herself would tell an abuser, “Later!” and LEAVE. Up your self-confidence quotient by interacting only in positive experiences.
  4. Take an assertiveness training course in a local high school or continuing education program. Also, explore books on assertiveness.
  5. Everyone exiting a difficult relationship wonders whether he or she will ever be ready for love again. The better your self-worth, the more likely you’ll be to attract a wonderful partner. You may not be ready yet. It’s okay, take your time.
  6. Stop reiterating your “low self-esteem” and shyness both internally and externally. Substitute some positivity!
  7. Recognize that having love in your life does not negate the possibility of fulfilling your goals. Loving someone and achieving a goal do not cancel each other out. Someone with high self-esteem attracts a mate who wants her to succeed and helps her reach her goals.
Oh, and about that cute guy? Since you work in the same building, ask him questions—about parking, security, and good local restaurants. Casual chatting can lead to more.

Once you step outside your self-described limitations, you’ll love what you find.

Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D., gives Instant Advice throughout the world via Skype, email and phone. She is the 30-Second Therapist for Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince!, 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity and How to Win When Your Mate Cheats. Please visit her website at (
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