How to be happy: 'I keep falling in love with the emotionally-damaged'

Sunday 28 October 2007 00:00 BST

I lose my heart to men who are emotionally damaged. I think I can help them open up and start loving, but it never seems to work out. What am I doing wrong? Harriet.

Step 1 Ask yourself whether you are a rescuer. Rescuers are good people who have an overwhelming need to help others, often at their own expense. Starting a relationship hoping to change someone for the better happens surprisingly often. Rescuers feel that if they invest exponentially, sublimating more and more of their needs into loving someone else, they will, in return, be loved back. The reality is that with the best will in the world, you cannot really change others, however hard you might try. Occasionally change does happen, usually because the object of your efforts is serendipitously emotionally available and willing to try something different. Mostly it doesn't, though, because the change crucially has to be in you, not in them. People are emotionally damaged for a reason and it is for them to find resolution when they are ready.

Step 2 Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to be transformative in someone else's life because we do not think we are worth being transformative in our own. Maybe it is time for you to give up the premise that you have to help someone be worthy of a relationship. Instead, perhaps you could invest in yourself? After all, are you not worth loving unconditionally? Take a compassionate look at yourself right now. How do you love, nurture and cherish yourself? Is it all give and no take? Ask yourself why you don't take and what it would be like if you were to value what you need in a relationship for it to work for you.

Step 3 Next time you are attracted to someone, ask yourself whether you are attracted because they need your help or because they don't. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by how attractive someone who doesn't need "rescuing" can be. Confidence, joyfulness, a lightness of heart, not taking yourself too seriously and, most importantly, emotional honesty, are all signs of a healthy ego that is not in need of resuscitation. Now tell yourself that you are worth relating to someone who relates to you with integrity.

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