Not taking care of myself out of spite?
July 10, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I realize I am not taking care of myself properly and I think I may be getting fatter and slacker to spite my partner. What is this type of behavior called and what specific techniques can I use to overcome and thwart it?

When I am single and living alone, I take pleasure in exercise, eating right and moderating my intake of indulgences. I do these things for me. But once I enter into a relationship, I think I transmute these healthy self-respecting attitudes into bargaining chips on the relationship table. "I will stay attractive if you fulfil X." This bargain, is of course, never said outright to my partner.

'Cutting off my nose to spite my face' has long been in my nature. In hindsight it has cost me. Now it is going to cost me a long healthy life and personal appeal if I don't break this twisted unconscious habit.

Please help me articulate this problem and find ways to control it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
In 12-step programs there is a lot of talk about drinking/using "at" someone like a partner or a family member. But people also talk about drinking/using "at" the program itself. It's sort of, "I'll show you; I'm going to keep doing whatever I want" even if the other party doesn't really care. As it's been explained to me, addiction will do pretty much anything to get you to keep feeding it, and this is one of the tricks it will play on you.

Weight issues aren't the same as addiction, in my mind, because it's not about something you can just stop. I have found myself eating "at" a diet though.
posted by BibiRose at 3:25 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Self-destructive and self-defeating behavior.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:29 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by jgirl at 3:35 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Actually to ping off of BibiRose's comment, Overeaters Anonymous is a 12-step program around compulsive overeating/overexercise/anorexia/bulimia (i.e. anything that involves dealing with emotions by abusing food) and there is a lot of talk about "eating at" someone or something - I'm assuming borrowed literally from the AA and other 12-step programs. If there is an OA meeting near you it might not hurt to check out a meeting and see if anyone else's experiences mirrored your own. However like all 12-step programs there is a ton of dogma/God stuff/outdated literature so YMMV.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:42 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

It it is primarily designed to control your partner's behavior this sounds very manipulative, passive-aggressive and certainly unhealthy. Not very flattering, I know but perhaps this might ring some bells?
posted by Middlemarch at 3:45 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

This behavior sounds like a symptom of a very unhealthy approach to relationships. Using bargaining chips and trying to manipulate your partner into doing certain things isn't going to lead to a lot of relationship success. And, you are also dealing with the added fact that one of your manipulations is highly self-destructive.

Did you grow up exposed to unhealthy relationships? Do you find that you develop contempt for your partners? Are you always looking for ways to get an upper hand or advantage over your partners? Maybe exploring some of these issues can lead you to a healthier overall approach.
posted by quince at 4:00 PM on July 10, 2014

Low self-worth, victim mentality, and fear of intimacy is my armchair analysis. You may also be subconsciously "testing" your partner's love. Will he or she still love me if I'm fat?

I've wasted a lot of years self-sabatoging and sabatoging my marriage because I didn't know any better. I suffered from low self- esteem, immaturity and a controlling nature. I could have had a much better relationship a long time ago. I always wanted an intimate, loving relationship and couldn't understand why my husband wasn't as attentive or loving as I wanted him to be. I am female, aged 41, married 16 years. There have been a lot of great times but there are times where I have let myself go. I gained weight and I was moody and unhappy. I was critical. I was loud and would yell and I was a big mess at times. There were times where I didn't care a whole lot about how I looked. I would only fix myself up when I was going out to see friends. I would start worrying about losing weight before bathing suit season or the New Year. I noticed my husband was pursuing me less for sex. It's a biological fact that men are visual and whether it's "fair" or not, most people want an attractive partner. I'll stereotype and say that most men very much want an attractive partner -- it's very, very important to them. I started to change my ways and my relationship is so much better.

Being in a good relationship is a wonderful thing. It's exciting and lovely and the level of intimacy can be extremely deep if we stop playing games, value ourselves, and respect our partners. When we stop trying to control our partners (with our moods, tit for tat behavior, our weight, our criticisms, our negativity, guilt, manipulation, etc.) relationships flourish. It may take some growing up and therapy to investigate your reasons as to why you're letting yourself go as a bargaining chip. I am not a Christian but I have found the blog very helpful. The articles on respect (and femininity if you're a female) may interest you. If you aren't a hetero female, it may not interest you at all.

Speaking of OA, I have listened to a lot of OA podcasts on iTunes. They have helped me a great deal and I don't eat compulsively. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 4:12 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you need to start describing outright what you want and need from your partners. Figure out what that is, and then have a talk and express it. Figure out together where you're willing to compromise, where something is a deal-breaker.

Make these deals explicit, and something that you work on as a team. Don't be afraid to move on if things really aren't working.

And, yes, therapy.

But stay the hell away from that peacefulwife blog. Terrifying!
posted by jeoc at 4:26 PM on July 10, 2014 [12 favorites]

At age 17, on Easter Sunday, I attempted suicide. I am not particularly prone to guilt or regrets. I am generally inclined to feel that I made the best choice I knew how at the time and to try to learn from my experiences and try to improve for the future. This event was one of the few things that really haunted me and made me feel like a bad person, someone who had really screwed up.

In my late thirties, I had an internet friend. I talked with her about my suicide attempt and other bad things from my life. I did so in order to help her with her problems. But it helped me finally make my peace with it.

My conversations with this friend made me realize that my suicide attempt was not so much a desire to die as a message to people around me that "Ultimately, you cannot control me. So if you do not want me dead, I suggest you back the fuck off." In my case, this worked. The people whose behavior had driven me to attempt suicide were not monsters. They were just fallible human beings who were getting some things very wrong. They did back off and I was, thereafter, given breathing room for trying to find my own path forward.

My guess is that you grew up in a family that was very controlling and butt-in-sky with poor boundaries. My guess is that you have a long history of having relationships with people who very much feel entitled to try to not only tell you how to live your life but manipulate you, take credit for your accomplishments and blame you for any failures. My guess is that you are still fighting that battle for autonomy and self-direction with mental models and personal demons from your past that you have not yet figured out how to put to rest.

My guess is that your tendency to "cut your nose off to spite your face" is rooted in trying to wrestle control of your life and body away from other people in the only way you have ever found works: By saying, by god, if nothing else, I can at least deny you your sick, twisted effed up goal. I can at least destroy what you want to do, even if it means destroying myself in the process. My guess is that in smaller ways, you are trying to do what I actually managed to do with my suicide attempt: Set boundaries in the face of a history of unhealthy paradigms.

I think you need to work on figuring out how to have a relationship with healthier boundaries, one where it is possible to pursue a win/win agenda where being together is a value-added experience for both parties and not a case of "can't live with them, can't live without them" or that sort of thing. Therapy, a journal and other kinds of self work are generally a good place to start sorting out what those ugly paradigms are and how to get free of them.
posted by Michele in California at 5:20 PM on July 10, 2014 [22 favorites]

what specific techniques can I use to overcome and thwart it?

Perhaps realizing that this doesn't work? I know of few people who will drastically change their behavior to make you happy before considering leaving a person if they knew this type of manipulation was going on.

So in the end, you are making yourself fatter thinking that it's a bargaining chip, when it probably isn't. Perhaps go back to being in shape for you, knowing that people probably would think less of you for deliberately letting yourself go, before they would think that they can do something magical to make you skinny.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:21 PM on July 10, 2014

I can't favorite Michele in California's comment enough. It could definitely be about exerting control, about saying "I am in control of me and I will do what I want and if you do what I want then I will use my control over myself to give you what I think you want."

It could also be out of a fear of doing well, a fear of having what you want, a fear of being happy.

Or it could be about being unhappy in those relationships and looking for a way out, a way to say, well, my partner was a jerk - I got fatter and then they dumped me and they showed me how shallow they really are. I didn't want them anyway, because they were shallow.

It could be about testing their love for you. If they love you, they'll stay, even if you're fat or sloppy or at your worst. Because if you are with someone for long enough something will happen that is not in your control - like a parent's death or a job loss or a car accident or something tragic - and you want to know, for sure, that they'll be there for you when things get rough.

My point is it could be any number of things and we don't know. You don't know and you live in your head. You have the best chance of sorting this out alongside a therapist, I think, despite the fact that this is a very trite, typical AskMe answer, to say "therapy."

Best of luck to you. The fact that you have recognized this is amazing - it is the first step towards becoming a person who no longer does this. Imagine if you had never seen this pattern? I am now 31 and I am just starting to notice patterns of behavior of my own that are not things I want to perpetuate and it's astonishing to see these things about ourselves. It is wonderful and great and amazing that you have asked this here. Your next step is to keep asking it so that you can understand it better.

Oh, and the book How to be an Adult in Relationships may be very illuminating for you, if you can ignore the snotty-sounding title - this might help you to see how you might have picked up some of these behaviors and how you can work on stopping or mitigating them.
posted by sockermom at 6:06 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe you are afraid of being controlled. It is the inverse of the subjugation schema... you feel deep inside that you HAVE to please your partner or else they won't love you; instead of being a doormat you overcompensate by showing them you DON'T have to do that thing that you think they want of you.

google schema therapy "subjugation"

Does your partner love you? Do they love you unconditionally? Do you feel it? You could be afraid of losing their love, so you take control back in your own hands "I'll give you a reason not to love me! Whee! I controlled it all along!!"

in this case google about abandonment trauma and abandonment schema.

finally it could be "withholding"... your looks may have attracted your partner and now you are witholding that attractive quality of yourself (again as a way of exerting control)

this book on schema therapy is super helpful

It is awesome that you're talking about this and godspeed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:10 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

As an alternative - are these relationships where you feel like you are trading your physical self and sex for affection? Like, some part of you feels that the other is only interested in you for sex and as an object of physical beauty, not for the whole of you, but they are pretending to be and so you are taking a sort of revenge on them for the lying and reducing of you to a sex object (whether they are is irrelevant - it's how you are perceiving them). Sort of "He only pretends he loves me because he wants to screw my gorgeous body, so hah, goodbye gorgeous body" where you're testing them, setting things up for failure because some tiny part of you hopes that one of them will prove they're really in love with you, not your body?
posted by viggorlijah at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2014

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