Relationship Advice Tips by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

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Self-flagellation kicks in when disappointment robs you of disappointment

You work hard to please the people you love. You long to see a smile on their face. You hope that you have brought them joy. You want them to come alive because of your thoughts and actions. You imagine the scene over and over and it makes you fill up with desire and motivation to do that one extra thing, to go that one extra mile.

But you get a mild if ‘blah’ response.

Disappoint deflates you.

All that motivation to work hard to make your loved ones happy dissipates.

You are left empty, tired and unrewarded.

Disappointment knocked out Levi’s natural motivation

That’s the cycle that Levi found himself stuck in. He loved his wife and wanted to be the one who could make her eyes light up. He wanted to be the one who made her gasp with pleasure and excitement. He wanted to be the one that brought her to life.

He bought her gifts for all the important events like birthdays and anniversaries. He took her away on wine tasting and sailing weekends. Levi took Francesca out for dinner and ordered the latest books and audios from her favorite authors.

But all he got was a slight nod and a mumble of thanks. So different to Francesca’s response to anything her son gave her. He understood that she was making a fuss over her son’s gifts because it was her child, but it still hurt and made him feel dejected, and robbed of motivation to try again.

Lack of response dried up Levi’s well of motivation

He wasn’t expecting lavish praise or obsequious gratitude. That wouldn’t have felt genuine. Levi just wanted to make his wife feel full of life and energy through his efforts. Touching her in some meaningful way was the essence of his endeavors. If he saw some emotion in her face, some loving acknowledgment that his thoughtfulness and acts were significant to her well-being, that was prize enough.

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Levi was left with negative, harsh self-flagellation as a motivator

When his efforts failed on a regular basis, Levi labeled himself ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated.’ He beat himself up in order to find that energy and drive again. Without any success to fill his reservoir of motivation, he had to flog himself into action. His wife’s mediocre response became the whip with which he beat the energy back into his psyche.


Books and classes on motivation failed to stimulate Levi’s juices

He read books and took classes on motivation. It all sounded good until he came to put the words of wisdom into practice. He knew what to do but couldn’t find the desire or will power to try again. Nothing in the books or classes helped him get over the heaviness that came with anticipating more wasted effort, time and energy on a predictably fruitless and unsatisfying outcome.

Why should he have to go through this to feel like a failure again? Why should he put himself through the ringer when years of trying to be the joy in his wife’s world turned into a disintegrated mess of heartbreak and disappointment?

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Using the label of laziness and a self-critical whip drove Levi back into action

It was so much easier to put the lack of response from his wife down to his personal laziness than to feel at her mercy again. Viewing himself as just lazy meant he could goad himself, push himself and blame himself. Francesca was out the picture. She no longer had any power to lift him up or pull him down. It was all up to him. He had control.

Self-blame and self-punishment is temporary and ineffective motivators

Negative motivation doesn’t last long. It’s painful, tiring and not exactly self-rewarding.

The good news is: it does provide some sense of control and hope that things can change if only you can get off your backside and walk the walk.

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The bad news is: All the layers of disappointment build into resentment.

The tiers of resentment become a weapon with the trigger notched to angry outbursts against the person who caused the disappointment and resentment.

The loaded gun that was once turned on yourself now gets turned on the one you love and tried your best to please.

Result – relationship stress and break-up.

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How to turn the self-flagellating source of motivation into a natural positive one

  •      Acknowledge your disappointment at the time you experience it.
  •     Own it, put it into words and express it to your loved one
  •     Share what you were hoping for in terms of the connection you wanted with your loved one by trying to please them.

Your bravery in sharing your experience creates empathy and an opening for your loved one to do the same rather than give a muted response to your thoughtful efforts. Each of you gains from the mutual feedback that provides the incentive to continue to try and make your loved one happy because you want to, not because you flog yourself into action.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have while reading this article or implementing any of the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.