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: My question is on intention. I feel that as a massage therapist and a hospice volunteer, I have a loving, caring intention. I work with cancer/HIV patients to ease their pain through bodywork. However, in doing this work I realize that I need emotional balance. I can't work with sickness and pain without also experiencing happiness and joy in my life.

I am a single parent with grown children and am seeking a mate with whom I can travel the journey of life, someone to share experiences and blessings with. However, I keep meeting men who are emotionally unavailable and narcissistic. I wonder what that says about my intention and about who I am and what I am conveying. How can I learn to heal my soul so that I attract more loving, giving men into my life?

A: First of all, let me just say thanks for the work that you do and the spirit with which you do it. Your clients are lucky. And yes, of course, we all need love, joy, and balance in our lives--with or without difficult, demanding work with sick or dying patients. I hope you don't think you need to do heartbreaking work in order to justify your desire for love and support!

Lots of people ask some variation of your question, so I'm very glad you asked it. It's an opportunity for me to rant a little (always a treat) and to take a crack at correcting what I find to be a common distortion of "new consciousness" thinking. And although I'm using the masculine pronoun here, because you're talking about men--this is not about "men." It applies to any relationship, straight or gay, men or women.

Just because you've had your share of emotionally unavailable narcissists in your love life doesn't make a de facto case for your having an unhealed soul or a perverse intention to have screwed-up relationships.

It means you've had a lot of jerks in your life, and the pattern is worth looking at, for insight and a little course correction on your compass. Outcomes do not necessarily infer intention, although a pattern of the same outcome, over and over again, does act as a very worthwhile heads-up.

Sometimes, this is an expression of a behavioral habit, or low expectations, or a naiveté in the discrimination department--or all the above. Maybe your father was a jerk. Maybe your mother told you this is all you can expect from guys. Maybe your mother was a narcissist, and you loved her and wanted to make her happy. Maybe there's a trait buried in all that narcissism, like apparent confidence or leadership, drama or excitement, that turns you on and fools you about the rest of the character that configures around it.

But this doesn't mean that a jerk is what you are after. That is a dangerous simplification of a very complex set of spiritual teachings. It's the "you-brought-that-cancer-on-yourself" school of thought, to which I say, Oh, puh-leeeze!

It might be possible that because of your family history, you don't know what a good guy looks or acts like. Narcissists can be real foolers, because they'll start out with overblown praise and promises; they can't help it, it's what narcissists do. Everything is either bigger than life or yukky/worthless. It's how they feel about themselves. So if you get a guy who's instantly falling all over you in one of those over-the-top, worshipful ways, step off that pedestal and back away, girl! Chances are, in a shockingly short amount of time, Prince Charming is going to seriously disappoint, but you'll have been so snookered by his lavish opener that you'll hang in there looking for more of those delicious hors d'oeuvres he initially served up, long after you should have realized that dinner wasn't coming.

It's also possible that because of your generous nature or some strong neediness, or both, your reaction to meeting someone is to lavish him with love, care, gifts, praise, support, and super-thoughtfulness. A regular guy would get uncomfortable with this because it leads to an out-of-balance, one-way relationship, and good people get squirmy with that. The ones that soak it up (all the while getting stingier and stingier on their end) will be--big surprise!--the self-absorbed, needy, entitled, dependent, internally hollow, emotionally starving narcissists.

And then, of course, there is the phenomenon of what the social scientists call "cognitive dissonance," which means that our brains are ingenious at justifying, rationalizing, and making right what isn't because the emotional cost of it being wrong is just too expensive. So you may have a gift for explaining away the bad behavior of your narcissist honey simply because you want so much for him to be somebody else.

Rather than proclaim your soul unhealed, Diana, how about looking at some of these admittedly more mundane possibilities? Why not examine your expectations, your behavior, your perceptions, and your rationalizations with the next cutie-pie that appears on the horizon. And do lean on your friends--talk to them about this, ask for feedback, and listen to what they have to say. Or, if your friends are blinded by the same stuff that you are, talk it over with a counselor.

But promise me--no more of this talk about your unhealed soul!

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