Following on from yesterday where I talked about This One Time in Band Camp stories and how we can often connect with someone over their hurt, or feel invested because of their pain, I wanted to expand on the whole ‘Florence Nightingale’ role that many women play and how we don’t realise how we’re removing power by being sympathetic instead of empathetic.

I was talking recently with a reader who came up with a great analogy about empathy and sympathy as we had been discussing the issue of being a Florence Nightingale, a woman who focuses her energy on fixing/healing/helping people who have been almost specifically chosen for their potential workload. I explained how empathy (having the ability to share in someone’s feelings) is necessary in relationships instead of taking a sympathetic view point, which not only removes power, but causes you to make misguided assumptions about people, which you will then use to legitimise what you feel are your opportunities to fix/heal/help.

In an inspired moment, she said something like “So it would be like seeing somebody sinking in quicksand. Empathy would be to run into the quicksand to help them and sympathy would have you throwing something in to help drag them out”. I was like yes but the other way round and she didn’t understand why I thought this, and we went back and forth, and we continued the discussion on email.

I saw her analogy about empathy and sympathy in an entirely different way, and if you have ever been a sucker for a sob story or you’ve been inclined to let your instinct to nurture and control go into overdrive, by trying to fix/heal/help men, this is what I saw:

Jumping into the quicksand with them wasn’t going to help them, but if the person had empathised and understood their position, they’d have realised they needed to be dragged out, not a companion to drown with. To stretch my interpretation further, I often speak to women who take on the other persons problems, to the point where they end up with alcohol/drug issues, for instance, or some other symptomatic issue – that’s getting too ‘with’ it and enabling the other persons problem while adding to your own. What would make a huge difference to women in these situations is hearing the persons problem/story, empathising and even being a little sympathetic, and recognising that these are not problems that they can fix or are equipped to fix, not least because in thinking that they can, they assume that the solution to the other persons problems lies in them, when in actual fact, it lies in the other person. The longer they stick around, the perception that this person holds the key becomes like a lead weight and may even be smothering, especially because many women take up this role before there is any real relationship or the other person has worked out how and what they feel. It feels too much and the average person doesn’t want someone to be the solution to their problems – if they want to be loved, they want to be loved, not fixed, healed, and helped.

Sympathy removes power whereas empathy empowers is what I always say.

I think we can feel with someone without actually taking on their problems and internalising them.

If you’ve been receptive to tales of woe or felt connected by the pain of someone’s past, or believed that whatever information you knew about someone’s experiences gave you a legitimate reason to ‘love and stay’, you do it because:

It gives you a purpose. You like to be needed and in these relationships, you can imagine that with you at their side, they can overcome their problems. If the fantasy extends further, you may even believe you’ll bask in the glow of the praise and admiration that you think people will express when they see the positive difference that you’ve made on someone’s life.

It gives you a reason to stay. It’s very easy to get ‘lost’ in someone else’s drama and decide that if you can ‘support’ them, it will eradicate the other issues that exist. It’s a bit like assuming that the problem is their problems as opposed to other reasons that may also exist. You may also look for return on investment and then not recognise when to ‘fold’.


You believe that you and your ‘love’ can be the ‘solution’ to someone’s ‘problem’. Tying into the need to be needed role, is the idea of being a buffer, fluffer, gap filler, human airbag, or nurse. You think the ‘love’ and the fixing/healing/helping ways of a good woman will conquer all turning your frog into a prince.

You believe that they’ll be more receptive to what you have to offer because they are wounded. Yes, it’s basically like dating someone with problems because you’re afraid to truly put yourself out there. Naturally, knowing that you could do better, you’ll expect them to be ‘grateful’ and express their gratitude by sorting themselves out.

You try to heal your own wounds by attempting to heal theirs. You want to right the wrongs of your past. It could be that your parents (or someone else of importance) were similar or that you’ve had a really painful experience where someone else’s pain clouds out yours and acts as a distraction. You also hope that they’ll understand your pain and then be caught off guard when they don’t.

It lets you feel in control. For Florence Nightingales, relationships that don’t involve The Walking Wounded or guys with what they perceive as fixer upper potential, don’t feel attractive because they’ll cause you to feel out of control. Secretly, you’re worried about whether these ‘other’ people would reject you – at least you know what to expect with your usual guys.

There are so many issues that arise from being in these types of relationships, not least because your ‘partners’ are likely to rebel or even overcome their issues and then associate you with their ‘old self’, but also because you’ll suffer with I Can Change Him syndrome, control and co-dependency issues, and will feel bewildered by the lack of gratitude and the absence of the relationship you thought you’d get.

However, aside from these host of issues, playing Florence Nightingale, whether you’re a bit of an extreme makeover type that chooses guys and then demands change, or a ‘nurturing’ type that takes on people with dangerous problems that you’re ill-equipped to solve with your presence and brand of ‘love’, it’s the fact that you assume that you are the only solution to their problem, that they need you and your love, or that you can make someone’s life better because you know that you’re ‘better’ that proves to be dangerous and disrespectful.The dangerous part is almost obvious because you may place yourself in dangerous situations, or with dangerous people, or end up seriously damaging your own emotional health. But the disrespectful part is the thing that most find difficult to swallow.

Trying to fix/heal/help someone as a mode of relationship removes their power. You assume that you are the solution to their problem(s) and that because you have decided that you love them and that you want to be with them, that they should be receptive to whatever you have to offer.

You’re trying to solve someone else’s problems. You’re assuming that you have that great a power that they should be able to transform and change under the glow of your love and your presence.


You’re trying to be bigger than the problem – choose me instead of drink/sex/drugs/being a narcissist or whatever their issue is. It’s the ultimate validation – not only having someone make you the exception to their rule of behaviour, but ‘overcoming’ a serious issue because they met you and you became the solution.

And I should emphasise, that many women take up the Florence Nightingale role without their being your typical major issue like an addiction to something or actual personal and mental health problems. Plenty of women will assume Florence Nightingale when they hear information about their partner such as experiences with an ex, bereavements, financial issues, family woes, or just a sad story. The problem is that on hearing these stories, often with them being genuine and it not necessarily having to be a This One Time in Band Camp tale of woe, they take pity and then determine things about the guy and imagine the type of relationship that they could have with this guy based on their assumptions, and then decide that they’re attracted and/or in love.

When you become aware of the issues that these guys have and decide to fix/heal/help, you’re jumping into the quicksand with them. When you get healthier ideas about reasons to actually be in a relationship (values for instance), you’ll realise that you don’t need to take on other people’s problems or assume that they need you to be better. In fact, you’re unlikely to be attracted to them.
Your thoughts? Have you been a Florence Nightingale? Have you tried to love someone into changing? Have you been mixing up your empathy and sympathy? I’ll be following this post up with some more posts on Florence NightingaleMy ebook The No Contact Rule is now available to buy and provides a dedicated guide to getting over someone by cutting contact and injecting some boundaries into your life so that you can move on to a happier you. For a no holds barred guide to emotionally unavailable men, including separated guys that flip flap in indecision, and the women that love them, you can also get Mr Unavailable & The Fallback Girl. For personal advice or analysis of your relationship/situation, check out my consultation service.

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36 Responses to Florence Nightingale: Women That Fix/Heal/Help and Empathy vs Sympathy

  1. esther says:

    I love the way you explain things. Thank you so much, it really help me a lot.

  2. Holly says:

    Thanks Natalie, I’ve been a classic Florence Nightingale, which has ultimately stretched into my career choice. The bit about ‘someone else’s pain clouds out yours and acts as a distraction’ really hit home for me. I realised that with my last boyfriend, I always felt uncomfortable with him being so closed and seemingly never needing my emotional support. Only when he mentioned family problems was I able to feel needed and useful.

    Ever since finishing with him and reading your book, I’ve been making changes to myself which are having a knock on effect to my career. I’m now investigating other areas and trying to stop ‘rescuing’ everyone I meet.

    Incidentally, do you have any more articles on Miss Independent/Self Sufficient? Or are you planning to do so? That section of your book really resonated with me, even more so than Florence Nightingale. I’d love to learn more about overcoming this mindset.

    Thanks again :)

  3. kungpowkitty says:

    NML!! Damn woman how much insight can I get from one person?
    After reading the one time at band camp posts I was thinking “yep that was the good ‘ol Ass Clown telling me his BS to get me to stay and excuse his shitty behaviour.” I was also patting myself on the back because when the new guy I’m seeing told me his camp story I immediately thought ” well, gee thats too bad honey, now I’ll chalk you up to damaged goods and non relationship material” I had NO thought in my mind that I was going to help him or “be there” for him in any way, and I have known this person for years. I was still thinking that this was all HIS EU ( he’s not AC) issue.
    Well, after reading this I realize that it is me trying to get the ultimate validation from these broken people. I have done it so many times. I have thought in the back of my mind “Oh they are going to love what I have to offer them and be grateful to me and love me, I can totally show them HOW things are SUPPOSED to be.” The thing is that I didn’t realize it ( eventhough I swear you said what I was thinking getting into these relationships verbatim) until now. See until this AC and one other one in my past. I have been able to “fix” them. To have them be “grateful” to me and love me back. It is the ultimate validation for sure. Almost intoxicating and absolutely becomes about me getting that validation and not about them and if we even are compatible relationship material. The thing is that once I got that and they love me and there is nothing left to fix, then I don’t want them anymore. These poor men, did I ever feel real feelings for them? or was it acutally all about me? I was so hung up on this last AC because he was a true AC and I was never going to get what I wanted. He already knows that if he were to ever be “fixed” I would have left him, a well seasoned AC that one was for sure. The others though were just EU. Hurt by love or family ( I fortunately have no patience for drug or alcohol issues LOL) I was the person they needed yes because I decided I loved them. I’m trying to get at I realize how messed up I actually am. Why the hell do I need that kind of validation? Do I even know what real feelings are then? I feel like an onion thats being peeled. Each of those questions leads to more questions.

    • Columbia says:

      I think you DO know what real feelings are….it’s just that they were coming from an unhealthy perspective, deep down.

  4. trinity says:

    Hi NML,
    This is quite a timely post as i had my own realision about one month ago. That was that all my bad relastionships had one thing in common, the guy had so many issues, problems or baggage that it actually stopped them or couldnt allow them to see what was in front of them or just simply love me. This would always cause them to start to withdraw, or any other number of painful/hurtful things and id be thrown into panic and try desperatly to get them to see ME.
    I was re-inacting my childhood abdonment over and over again, of course i didnt mean to and i had no idea this was what i was doing.
    A few things came out of this for me. One a heavy selft hatred, im unlovable burden was lifted from me. I am lovable and im very deserving of a lovely healthy relationship. My parents did love me but they were clouded by their own issues and unable to give me what i needed. I forgive them. Knowing my pattern now has been a real awakening and im almost excited by what all this could mean for me and my happiness. I still have some work to do and im in no hurry to jump into another relationship, ive never been a serial dater and quite like my own company. My last relastionship as painful as it was needed to happen for me to see what i was doing. Every other realstionship there was always something i did wrong and there for could easily blame myself, its me, im bad, im unlovable and people leave….abadonment.
    My last relationship i acted very differently due to some councelling i done previously and i no i was a great partner for many different reasons and i overcame many different issues BUT the same thing happend and i didnt see the red flags, this person had so many emotional issues, very similiar to mine, he was kind and sweet and i thought i was safe at the time i thought he just lacks some self confidence . He went to get councelling, so i really thought, this is fine, look he is even getting help. It worked for awhile but his hot and cold , inconsistancy, withdrawing emotion highs then lows and constant worry over everything and nothing affected me in a bad way because it started to tap into me feeling abadond and before you know it i was.
    The last 8 months since our split have been some of the most painful and some of the most rewarding times for me. I have learnt so much about myself, things that i need to work on as im not perfect. But i am not unlovable and i do not need to keep trying to right that wrong and put myself in such pain. It will never work, only i have the power to heal me, no one else and thank god, who wants that kind of power in someone elses hands.
    Again NC and this site was very key for me, in helping me, it was tuff but the rewards are amazing, if your ready.
    So reading your last two posts have been perfect timing :)
    Stay special :)

    • JJ2 says:

      @Trinity, were you and I dating the SAME GUY?????? I recently broke off from a guy with lots of “issues.” Only he didn’t really know he had the issues. He kept telling me, “I don’t do anything because of any former girlfriend/wife.” BULL! He had so many issues, and I KNOW they go back to former girlfriends or ex wife.

  5. Cathy J says:

    Ditto to the above. I really enjoy this blog both for Natalie’s gifted insight and to hear the comments of how much impact this blog has.

    I got quite caught up in the quicksand image – not sure about that one – my first thought is just get them out, then out of the quicksand empathise, with a view to looking at solutions in the future.

    Although I have known for some time that we cannot save others. When people over time continually choose not to take up resources to change such as counselling, spiritual guidance, even if they still keep listening to motivational audios, doing self development exercises and even listening to or attending sermons, if they do not put into practice the knowledge – I have struggled to be supportive in an ongoing way and have fallen back into the Florence Nightingale trying to ‘fix’ the problem, whilst knowing it doesn’t work.

    These days if the problem, behaviour is ongoing, I have found to distance yourself and live by example, whilst continuing to be some support and of course praying, then I know one day they will choose life!

    It is so hard to see someone you love so much struggle with addictions. However I firmly believe that if we condone it in our actions, we can fall into co-dependency then we are definitely in the quicksand with them!!
    .-= Cathy J´s last blog ..Cost of Dating: Part 1 Power Positive Thinking =-.

  6. Brad K. says:

    NML,

    I can see the empathy/sympathy flipped on the quicksand example.

    First, I think there is an assumption that only throwing a rope and pulling will actually help someone stuck in quicksand. As I understand it (never having tried it myself), holding still – floating – is a wonderful survival tactic. Apparently you have to be struggling, moving, to sink below the surface.

    So standing away, considering yourself capable and the person embogged as an invalid, in dire need of care and (competent) intervention, that sounds like sympathy. Jumping in, relieving the stuck person that nothing horrible is going to happen soon, letting them realize they aren’t alone, that you actually do understand how they feel and share their situation, and yet also see a way through, that seems to be more involved – empathy.

    I guess the problem I have is that, in their place, both empathy and sympathy might be appropriate.

    I think the quicksand analogy might be weak, because it is a descriptions of actions, and empathy and sympathy are seen as motivators, or causes that might result in an action, or not. There might also be an assumption that one action of the quicksand example – getting a rope and pulling – is seen as success or survival, and an implication that anything else is a loss.

    Consider this. Say, a friend, F, lost a daughter to a drunk driver. Now, even years later, F still mourns the daughter. Seeing a movie scene where parents watch their child killed by a car, F is overcome, identifying with the horror and loss that the parents portray. Empathy. F’s friend B, watching the same scene, has sympathy for the parents – B doesn’t identify with the parents’ feelings, only acknowledges the magnitude and kind of feelings they appear to be feeling.

    Sympathy seems to enable one to step back, to disengage with the feelings of the other, to take rational and useful action. Empathy is great for bonding, but risks greater emotional immersion and failure to take responsibility for rational and useful action. I don’t see either, by themselves, being distinctly harmful.

    Sympathy does have a connotation of only applying in sorrow, generally. Empathy would apply to the full range of emotions and feelings.

    As for the unbalanced nature of a “fixer-upper” relationship, this seductive “remedy” to poor self esteem and looking for a short cut to building a respectful and honorable partnership, the only part you left out is how seductive it is, when your self esteem is weak and you are denying your own self-perceived issues.
    .-= Brad K.´s last blog ..br: Finding a new truth =-.

  7. sianna says:

    the current guy i’m seeing is violently abusive at times. he knocked me unconscious twice. the last time was this past friday. the first time was almost 2 years ago. and there has been hitting in between. he knows he has a problem and he wants help…he says. i feel like he is trying to do the right thing by getting help but i am afraid for my safety in the meantime. when we argue, disagree…..i get anxious b/c i don’t want any problems. so i find myself not “being myself” at times just to keep the peace. i want him to get better before we try again. but i feel bad for leaving him when he needs my support and is trying to get help.there is just too many things wrong w/ us. his chronic infidelity, lying about it. …..but he SAYS he wants to change. i am f*cking exhausted. i just don’t know what to do anymore. for some reason, the cheating bothers me more than the violence and i don’t know why. how much is someone supposed to give and wait and hope before they say enough is enough? of course we have amazing times as well. i’ve known him for a long time and he’s my best friend. i’m afraid he will get better and this other person he seems unable to let go of…will win. any advice would be appreciated. -S

    • MaryC says:

      @sianna….Run Run Run as fast as you can away from him. Get help for yourself, he’s NEVER EVER EVER going to change. All you’re going to get is heartache and phyical/emotional abuse. Call your local abuse hotline for help, tell a friend, a family member but PLEASE don’t stay. Your life really does depend on it.

      You are not alone and we on this site care. Keep letting us know what’s happening with you.

    • kungpowkitty says:

      Sianna,

      My adivce is GET OUT NOW!! He has too many issues for you to ever help him and he sure as hell will not be motivated to get help if you are still there as his punching bag. HE KNOCKED YOU UNCONCIOUS??!! the only thing this situation leads to is him finally killing you. How many times has he told you he was sorry and would never do it again? Sorry means you wont do it again. Hes not really sorry. I take it you didnt even press charges any of the times he hit you? The longer you stay the harder it will be to get out. This situation will not get better until you do. You need to tell someone, anyone and everyone close to you that this is going on. Then you need to get a restraining order and tell him to stay the hell away from you. Trust me he is NOT going to turn into a prince with this other person. If you really love him then dont let him spend the rest of his life in jail for accidentally killing you. Call a domestic abuse hotline NOW.

    • NML says:

      Hi Sianna. I’m about to go out of the country until Sunday but I am very concerned about your situation as it’s dangerous as you already know. I will be in touch on my return to see if I can offer some help or answer any questions you may have. The first thing you must do is tell someone in the real world – keeping it to yourself feeds into the illusion and distorts the situations. Telling someone will make it real and will also ensure that someone is looking out for you in real life and can keep an eye out and help you get support. Do not keep this to yourself. Hugs Natalie x

    • Brad K. says:

      Sianna,

      First things first. Your concern about him getting better, and another woman “winning” the healed and wonderful guy he could be – will happen or not. But you won’t have any say in it, because he will have chosen to make a relationship with someone else.

      If you respect him at all, then you have to respect his choices. If he chooses someone else – that is where he best believes his life should go. At that point you would have no choice, but to wish him well and find your own life.

      But the real problem is that you cannot be both involved with him, and involved with his healing. If you are involved with his healing, any relationship you have with him will be trashed. Healing is change, or at least one form of change. In order to heal he would become a different person – one that would not make the choices that he makes today. That includes, he will not want someone with him that enabled him to continue to avoid changing for two years. Just like people that buy smokers their cigarettes, and drunks their booze, by staying with him you enable him to continue with his relationship sickness. Choosing someone with anger management issues, someone that physically abuses you, is a mistake. Staying with someone like that, for any reason at all, is a bigger mistake. He will heal when he needs to, and certainly not while those around him – including you, his partner – enable him to continue as he is.

      There is a song I like, a lady singing that “Shoes don’t stretch, and men don’t change.” You chose him to be with, to be your partner, for reasons that you need to look at. In addition to trauma, hurts, and fears that you have acquired during the relationship, you still have something in you that finds him attractive. You see the potential – the wonderful times. You see the dangers and problems, but have no boundaries to protect yourself – when problems arise that a healthy person would say, “No,” instead you hunker down, wait it out, and hope for peaceful times. You wait for him to change.

      Sianna, we each have a responsibility to protect ourselves, and those we claim for friends, family, and associates and neighbors. We do that by choosing the people we hold close in our lives, by how and where we choose to live. When choosing a partner-prospect, we might choose a warrior to battle off foes, to defend us from danger. We should choose someone that respects us and who we are, as we are. We should choose someone that is less danger to us than to others. In fact, we have to choose someone that is less dangerous to us – because no one but us can make that choice.

      I imagine if you saw someone write what you wrote, you would yell, as MaryC and KungPowKitty did, “Get to a battered women’s shelter!” Most important of all is your personal safety. You risk his wrath and your injury – or worse – by staying. Staying tells him as words never will, that you accept his battering, his assault and the injuries you suffer. Staying convinces you that the injuries and abuse are simply what you have to endure to be their – your due, or your penance. Staying sends an unhealthy message to the inner you, as well as to him.

      You also risk his wrath if you leave – but if you lean on people familiar with domestic abuse, you get the benefit of their procedures, and their experience, and their legal defenses, to help protect you.

      He is a bully. Anyone that hits people for any reason, that abuses them, that makes them afraid and threatens them, is a bully. Bullies thrive on silence. Silence doesn’t protect you from a bully, it leaves you isolated from good people that would not allow the hitting and abuse to continue. All silence does is to let the bully continue.

      So you have to tell someone in authority – a counselor, a pastor, a shelter worker, a police officer – that you have been hit, and abused. The only thing you have done wrong is to stay, and to stay silent. Nothing can ever “deserve” being brutalized.

      If he wanted to change, he could do that in a moment. It is a choice. But I bet he needs a healthy model, a healthy person to show him the way to a healthier way to live and relate to others. And he isn’t listening to himself or to anyone he knows – and he won’t be listening to you – remember, he chose you because you put up with him. That means he will never see anything you have to say – short of the act of your leaving (he won’t believe any words or promises or threats) – as being meaningful.

      Don’t fear losing him, don’t fear losing your relationship with him. For now, the important thing is to find safety for you and those you love. That has to come first. Safety with someone familiar with domestic abuse will be able to help, to shelter you, to determine a safe way to give you your life back, a life with less fear and hurt, a life where your needs are met. A life where you don’t worry all the time about being “punished” or hurt.

      Others have found themselves where you are. You have started to ask for help – please, please do the right thing for yourself, and stop letting this guy’s violence rule your life.
      .-= Brad K.´s last blog ..br: Finding a new truth =-.

  8. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Sianna, get out. Get out now.

    I’ve been exactly where you are, and I thought all the same things: we have amazing times, he’s my best friend, blah blah.

    Yeah, right – a best friend that bashed me, humiliated me, cheated on me.

    I wouldn’t tolerate that from any female friend; why should I put up with it from the guy who allegedly loves me? Violence IS NOT LOVE. He doesn’t love you, and believe me, HE WILL NOT CHANGE.

    No wonder you’re exhausted. It will be hard for you to leave, because he will probably threaten you with a LOT of violence and possibly you might need a restraining order and some really good and true friends who will help you leave this man.

    He will alternate this with protestations of true love, promises of therapy, etc, etc. But it will never happen – if you go back, things will just continue the way they are and then get much, much worse. (I went back once, and after the ‘honeymoon’, the bashings got worse, until I really had the courage to leave once and for all.)

    Get away. Protect yourself, save yourself, and try to imagine a better, happier future WITHOUT HIM. There are great guys out there – you deserve so much better than this. Do the No Contact Rule, and don’t go back.

  9. Columbia says:

    I’m not consciously attracted to drinkers or men that are EU in some way or all.
    I don’t feel a ‘spark’ with many men and when i do, inevitably they have serious anger issues, a dependency of some sort (most often alcohol) and are often misogynistic. I don’t believe in changing people , and also think it’s disrespectful to their higher self to assume I know better for them than they do.
    Now that I know the type I have been unconsciously attracted to, I am much more careful in the screening process but what wins me over every time is the fact that I so RARELY feel a spark that it’s almost worth giving it a go..if only for a brief period of companionship. Bummer.
    I suppose the ‘spark’ actually speaks volumes about my inner self; yet I am sober, amaze myself and friends with my patience and ability to let go of anger and choosing not to be angry (instead finding humour, and looking inward.)
    Yes my father was alcoholic and mom emotionally abandoned me also so this must have made quite the imprint!
    I’ve had therapy and still see a councellor, and the general opinion is that i am in good mental / emotional health, generally.
    Yet, I have not changed my habits of attraction, although I have stopped indulging in unhealthy relationships (I think!)
    I’m defin. a Florence Nightengale, of sorts. It’s a bummer, man.

  10. Vanna says:

    Man, you already know how I am about that sympathy shit. I absolutely do not tolerate it at all as I have already commented on an earlier post of yours about having an honest conversation with yourself for a better relationship. And I think it is very shameful of these malingering and factitious by proxy people who do and say just about anything so they can feel priviledged to a role or attempt to elicit sympathy from other people including from myself. Since I’m not giving them what they want, they hate my guts which is ok with me. I’m glad I can take care of myself vs. people who have standard vision, but absolutely cannot do anything for themselves let alone have any interest in learning how to do anything for themselves.
    This post and the previous one has given me more ideas on screening women. You’re making me feel like I can spot Florence Nightingales and their fixer/healer tendencies from a mile away. And i think I’m getting the hang of distinguishing a partner who grieves vs. a partner who pities. You already know which partner I choose.

  11. Saskia says:

    I have known for a long time that I only feel comfortable in relationships where I am the Florence Nightingale and am quite aware what the reasons for this are (low self esteem coupled with a weird sort of superiority complex etc.) and having spent almost five years supporting/encouraging my boyfriend the truth is that he IS now in a much much better state and HAS gotten his life back together. With the result that he doesn’t “need” me any more and now doesn’t want to continue our relationship (except staying friends) You can imagine how that makes me feel, it’s not that all my “hard work” was for nothing, it’s that I am now being tossed aside rather than getting my “reward”, the ever lasting love and gratefulness. It sucks.

    Still, however painful this is for me and although I understand that I need to work on myself, the fact remains that I have made a tremendous difference to the life of the man I love. Why is this supposed to be such a bad thing? We are all imperfect/ messed up to a certain degree and why wouldn’t we want to help the people we love become “”better”? I certainly could do with someone help me get over my issues. Don’t feel I can do it alone.

  12. Maria says:

    I feel that the FN thing has something to do with our maternal instincts. The nurturing, the unconditional love (being willing to give love but not necessarily get much in return), and the idea of “fixing” someone as a long term “project” can be compared to raising a child. I also think that men who allow FN to tell them what to do have mommy issues.

    • carmen weeks says:

      In my relationship with an EUM, at one time he recognised that we were both doing a bit of FN behaviour toward each other … unconditional love needs to always be tempered with a tough love concept – to love someone unconditionally means we care enough about reality, truth and each other to not allow our illusions about what we want and how we want the other to be ( in the future – due to the potential that we can see ) to overtake what really is right now – fortunately in my situation we both did want to be real with each other – albeit not both consistently and at the same time – sometimes changing long term patterns of relating is a very bumpy road and we can find ourselves ” doing it again ” … recognising this early and quickly changing our behaviour is possible.

  13. MC says:

    you did it again NML. Every time I start to doubt my decisions about breaking things off with my EUM’s or Assclowns, you post something that is a wake up call for me.

    I am a recovering Florence Nightingale. My last ex (a Married EUM) got me with his, “my mother committed suicide one week before my wedding and I have not gotten over it” and “I think my wife is cheating on me” and it goes on and on and on. The sad thing is, I too, thought I could be the one to be the sunlight in his cloudy day. IDIOT!!!

    I recently dated a guy who was really great on paper, had passion, hell of a kisser and was very attentive. Then he told me he was $90,000 in debt. I told him to take a hike.

    It’s not too late for any of you. Believe me. I’m living proof of it.

  14. prickly says:

    Sianna. GET OUT. NOW! If he is going to ‘change’ he has to do it from a distance; do not be in the same place as him while he does his ‘changing’ and only go back when he has got himself sorted – in about 10 years time if he is quick. Do you REALLY want to waste your life? Do you REALLY think you are so worthless that you deserve all that? Open your eyes, girl. Take it from one who has been in your shoes. Get out as fast and safely as possible. Contact womens aid or similar. But DO IT NOW!!! Good luck. x

  15. JJ2 says:

    I did this 20 years ago. I was “Florence Nightingale” to someone. I realized my stupidity when the “highlight” of my life was an improvement in a health problem he had. LORDY!

  16. Pushing.Thru says:

    @ kungpowkitty –
    I sooo know what you mean… i had “changed” my last 2 bf’s… who weren’t exactly AC’s, but definitely EU… it was empowering, and sooo addictive.
    I learned my lesson with the last one. Being 10 years my senior, he had been around the block a few more times and knew the drill.
    funny thing is – i always knew deep down, as much as I pushed my love on him, i would catch myself being terrified of him breaking down, professing his love and wanting to truly be with me…. i let the thrill of the chase get the best of me, and kept telling myself – i would cross that bridge when i get to it… keep focused, you’re almost there!

    It’s actually pretty sick on my part… we being the fixer-uppers are manipulators ourselves… which is why i would never fully blame him.

    Great post NML… this is me – exactly. I wish you had written a little more in your book in regards to the ones that pursue the “walking dead” this explained so much….
    I’m looking forward to the follow up post!

    • kungpowkitty says:

      @ Pushing.Thru
      Yes! Even when he would dangle the “real relationship” carrot and start in with how much he really liked me I would get nervous. Its like I dont really know how to handle those feelings at all. Most definitely daddy issues. My dad never told me he loved me EVER or gave me a lot of attention. So I guess its wierd to hear it from a man. I guess I just dont know what to do with it. I dont know how to change it. I’m even dating this guy right now because I KNOW that he is EU. Now that I know what EU is, thanks to NML, I dont have the urge to try to change him. But I guess i have been feeling a bit of relief knowing that I wont have to deal with the uncomfortableness of him ever loving me. FUCK Im the one who has been EU all along.

  17. Cathy J says:

    What a day for comments.

    For some reason I am thinking first aid – D R A B C – firstly ‘D- Danger’ – Sianna, get out now…. all of us at times have felt so unworthy of love. If it helps, think of the example you are to other younger women around you (it worked for me – although at the time I didn’t feels strong enough to get out – I chose partly to be an example to my niece who I love dearly – I did not want her to see me treated so badly – there already were bad habits repeating in her life mirroring mine, from wrong thinking).

    Then ‘R- Response’ – “are you okay, can you hear me?” This is the healing time wrapped safe in a cocoon, could be with family or girlfriends.

    Once you have done the first 2 – got out of the Danger Zone and are safely around people who can protect you while you begin to heal, then you can move onto ABC – checking for life or bringing back to life.

    There are so many people to help and resources available, especially once you are already on the road to recovery.

    May God bless you and keep you safe and strength to get out of the danger first.
    .-= Cathy J´s last blog ..Cost of Dating: Part 1 Power Positive Thinking =-.

  18. Keresth says:

    What is the difference between people who say, “I couldn’t get through this tough time without help from my loving friends and family” and people who are using others as crutches?

    As Saskia said, why is trying to help someone you care about a bad thing? Or is it specifically, to your own detriment. In which case, what is the appropriate way to help someone with baggage? And what becomes of these people who come with baggage? Looking out for yourself and your own interests is good but does that mean all damaged people are liabilities? If someone you already care about becomes damaged, do you throw them away?

    Consider, do you come with baggage or have had problems? How did you deal with them? Was there someone there to help you out? Suppose they abandoned you when they found out your problem?

    • Maria says:

      There is no problem in helping and supporting someone you love. Problems happen when:
      – it’s a one-way street. They won’t help you when you need them.
      – when they don’t want to change or be helped, and it’s us who think they need to change some aspects of their lives or character.
      – you start a relationship with a messed up person, thinking “I’ll help him out, then he’ll love me for it”.

  19. Res Judicata says:

    This post has caused me to think alot about my last BF. He was very emotionally damaged and, as a result, unavailable. Separation, divorce, post-divorce first girlfriend, lost son in infancy, missed three girls, huge alimony/support issues, difficult mom to whom he was attached, and with whom he lived, short sale, laid off — you name it, he endured it either right before or during the time he spent with me. I don’t remember trying to fix him, or heal him, other than providing the necessary paperwork to get the alimony/support reduced (which sat in his car, unread). All I hoped for was for him to get through his stuff, realize how much he missed me, and come back. What I did and could not realize was that once he got through his stuff, he decided to jettison me and return to his home state, like I never existed. Maybe I made up all of the things he said that he missed, and enjoyed about me. My fertile imagination obviously made up all of the times he called me “brilliant”, “gorgeous”, “amazing”, and “incredible”. What kind of person does this? And, finally, if he was this warped with me, will it continue forward with him and future girlfriends?
    .-= Res Judicata´s last blog ..Florence Nightingale: Women That Fix/Heal/Help and Empathy vs Sympathy =-.

  20. Alice says:

    Hi Sianna,
    if you are living in the UK please have a look at those pages and make contact. Those people are amazing and will give you all the help and support you will need.
    http://www.womensaid.org.uk/
    http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/
    Take care

  21. ann says:

    Well, I have been in the same boat like you guys. For about a year and a half, I have played the role of Florence Nightingale to the hilt. I was his shoulder to cry on, his therapist, his rescuer. Early on he has been telling me of the rejection he has been getting from a girl he is crazily in love with. I saw the red flag, but I disregarded it. I thought, well maybe if I listened, I could help him. He was miserable and I pitied him which turned out to be a very wrong decision. I should have put my boundaries first. I knew I could not fix him but I thought maybe if I gave him a little push, he’d try to help himself and move on. He refused to budge, despite professing that he wants to change for the better. His actions were never incongruence with his words. He was one big walking excuse. I never thought a man his age, 40 at that, can still behave like an irresponsible teenager. And by the way, the man still lives with his mom. For that period, he has been regailing me of the misery this woman has put him through. He led me on and told me that perhaps if we had met in different circumstances we might be together. He’d tell me that may be it would be wonderful being married to me, how cute our children would be etc. A pathologic liar! He often calls, waking me up in the middle of the night to unload his woes. I became emotionally involved which should never have happened had I heeded the red flags or had a healthy self esteem. This guy was the proverbial Mr. EU. He often makes plans and would cancel at the last minute. He planned of seeing me which hardly pushed through. I was his fallback girl, someone he’d run to in case he got another mistreatment from his lady love. I got tired of running around in circles with him, the roller coaster ride of the “relationship”, him blowing hot and cold. I just told him one to stop badgering me. And he did. Good riddance. Come to think of it, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with a weakling, a wimp, a man of 40 who could not stand on his own 2 feet, who dodges responsibility by living at home, who carries a lot of excess baggage that could flood the airport, who could not make heads and tails of who he really is. It was painful but I know I had to end it or else I’d end up in a mess just like him. And I love myself too much for me to allow him to do that. I had to walk away. And guess what, about the woman he was head over heels in love with, the woman who made him miserable the one he was complaining to me about? They are now together. What an assclown!!!

  22. Red says:

    I read this and reached an epiphany. I have been dating a guy for a few months and prior to this, he was involved in a situation. He and a few of his friends had a party and this one particular girl that we all know, had sex with multiple guys at the party. She consented to sex with 2 of them at different intervals and then next thing you know it turns into a gang-banging, type of thing with spectators. He claims all he did was spectate but now his story seems vague to me, especially since recently the girl pressed rape charges against all of them. I cant be associated with all of that, so I’m afraid I have to bail.

  23. Pushing.Thru says:

    @kungpowkitt

    Right?! I kept thinking… “but i changed the others and they eventually needed me… how come this is not working? I need to try harder.” I’ve been so foolish

    It’s all about our dads, i recently opened up to my parents about how i felt being the middle daughter and feeling unloved… my dad and i never got along, starting from a young age, he was emotionally distant, a good husband and provider, but not affectionate and never really expressed love towards me. I’ve never been good w/ the “love stuff” but chasing AC”s and EUM’s, i kept thinking – see i DO want love, the ones i want just wont give into me!

    With Steve (the last one) i got burned so bad and let him mind fu** me (pardon my language) for 3 long years. I decided to get help
    Something i’d like to share with you, that my therapist told me about my AC –
    “He was an illusion, but let me tell you something… so is your father”
    it gave me goosebumps. I was chasing a similar feeling, and now Im trying to come to terms with it. My AC was treating me like my father did/does. Uncomfortable but familiar.

    My friends don’t understand me AT ALL… its nice to hear i’m not alone… I’d like to be attracted to a good guy that actually likes me someday. :(

  24. Pushing.Thru says:

    PS – Kungpow!
    I sooo know that nervous feeling… like “uh-oh, he’s being super affectionate, and sweet is he folding??… God this is almost turning me off… ”
    And then sure enough he’d go right back to disappearing for weeks so that’s why i never had to worry TOO much about it… i had to keep working at it, …. and continued to blame myself for him avoiding me.

    It’s so so so ridiculous…

  25. sianna says:

    Thank you to everyone that responded to my post. Your advice and comments are extremely helpful and it makes me feel like i can one day be okay again. That I can come out of this okay. Thanks again.

  26. Katie says:

    I was a Florence Nightingale to a “man-child” with a whole host of issues, which I decided I could fix.

    Problems with alcohol, drugs, unemployment, “mommy issues” and anger problems. When we first started dating (while he was still employed) I saw him as dangerous and exciting, and I decided we could take the world on together, with me being the driving force that pushed him forward. In my mind, I was the President’s wife: Behind the scenes, but integral to his success.

    A month ago, it all came crashing down when he decided to deface and destroy my property.

    One week of NC, and we started talking again. A quick drink or dinner, which quickly turned into sex. This continued for 3 weeks, and my self-esteem continued to erode as I lied more and more to my friends, family and myself.

    A couple of days ago I realized his tales of woe were no longer appealing. It seems strange, but in our one week of NC I felt stronger, more confident and more beautiful. As I watched this new-found self-love slipping away, I ended it once and for all. Now I’m back to Day 1 of NC, but this time I’m not afraid.

    I stayed with this man-child for a year and a half. The moments of potential and believing I WAS saving him became less and less frequent.

    Not only did I want to save him, he wanted everyone else to save him too. His parents signed him up for NA, AA and Anger Management, and he didn’t go to any. He found a good-paying job but rejected it because it was “too much work”.

    I see now that he didn’t WANT to improve his life, he just wanted sympathy and a free hand-out from anyone who was willing to give it.

    Ladies of the world, please be aware that these “damaged” men can be some of the most charming, manipulative creatures on the planet. Please don’t waste years of your life trying to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.

    Katie

My Book - Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl

Stop believing that you did something to make them unavailable or that their inadequacies are down to your inadequacies - it is not about you; they are unavailable!

My Book - Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl

Stop believing that you did something to make them unavailable or that their inadequacies are down to your inadequacies - it is not about you; they are unavailable!
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