As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety and trauma, I'll share some of what I've learned in the hope that it might help an abuse victim.
1. The longer you put up with abuse, the harder it will be to walk away.
When I work with abused women, my job is to convince them that the abuser won't change and all she can do is get out. It's not an easy thing to accept. Her self-esteem is at rock bottom. Deep down, she may not believe she deserves better than this. She may be afraid that no one else will ever love her. She may be afraid of what her partner might do if she should leave. She often wants to believe that their love is so 'special' that it will somehow get them through this.
2. No abuser starts abusing on your first date. First, he must win you over. Then, he must wear down your self-esteem. No one with a healthy sense of self-esteem allows abuse. The most effective (and least detectable) way to lower your self-esteem is to poke fun of some weakness or mistake of yours. He does it in the spirit of 'only kidding' or teasing but it becomes a running joke that subtly affects you... makes you feel less than others. Abusers usually have control issues so the abuser now begins 'correcting', in the guise of helping or teaching you something. Correcting soon becomes criticizing and adds to the further deterioration of your self-esteem.
People with controlling personalities love the feeling that they get from correcting and criticizing others but they often pretend to be teaching or teasing to minimize the chance of negative consequences.
3. The mental health field has an abysmal record of 'fixing' abusers. That's because controlling another person is a deeply-seated need for controllers. It's like trying to 'fix' rapists and child molesters. The act itself becomes a primary source of the perpetrator's self-esteem. The courts often force them into mental health counseling, but the perpetrator simply learns to say whatever will satisfy the therapist. It's important to understand that the abuser feels guilty of no wrongdoing.
Another factor that prevents change is that losing one's temper becomes a habit. It's like a drug. It is a great feeling of release ...a rush... for the person who is losing his temper. Once you have given yourself permission to express rage against another human being and have gotten away with it, no one can take it away.
4. Blaming is a common aspect of abuse. To believe that the solution is to change yourself is to buy into the abuser's excuse. How many women have told me that their spouse "warned" them that, if they said "one more word", he wouldn't be responsible for the outcome? Then, of course, the abused spouse says something and the abuser does his worse... Then she tells me how it was, ultimately, her fault because he warned her.
Bullshit! There is NOTHING my wife could say to me... NOTHING my wife could do to me that would make me hit her or be emotionally abusive to her. She could get me to walk away... that's all.
Other common aspects of abuse are manipulation and guilt. Abuse victims eventually reach the point where they want and need the approval and love of their abusers. Abusers are motivated solely by their own self-interests. If you should ever want to know why an abuser said or did anything, ask yourself how it benefited him. Abusers are incapable of loving another person in any meaningful way. But they are experts at using their victim's need for their attention and affection to manipulate them.
5. 'Controllers' always need to be right, seldom apologize, and always place blame elsewhere. They know exactly what we should all be doing and spend tons of time 'teaching' it to us and correcting and criticizing us... and yet they're some of the least happy people on the planet!
There is an unspoken agreement in every successful, healthy relationship: "I'm not perfect and you're not perfect. I'll live with your imperfections if you'll agree to live with mine. I prefer to go through this life with you."
In an unhealthy relationship with control issues, the unspoken attitude is, "Here is PERFECT (hand held high) and here is YOU (hand held low). I'm going to devote my time and energy to pointing out the difference."
6. Abusers often grew up with an abusive parent. If Dad hit or attacked emotionally when he was angry, then a child learns that it's a normal expression of anger.. Emotionally-healthy men learned the opposite lesson.
If you are in an abusive relationship and you have kids, you're unintentionally teaching them two lessons: 1.) It's normal to be abusive and 2.) It's normal to tolerate abuse. Think about it.
7. Abusers often isolate their victims. He doesn't like your friends and/or family and does his best to sever or weaken your ties with them. He has worked very hard to get you under his emotional control. An objective friend or relative who actually cares about you might see through his game and could ruin things for him.
If you believe you might be the victim of an abusive relationship, confide in as many friends as you can!
Why are abusers so hard to detach from?
The feeling is familiar among abuse victims. It’s essential to understand the politics of abuse to understand why…
Abusers wear down your self-esteem while withholding their promise of “love” like a carrot in front of your nose. The unspoken deal is, “If you would just be the person I need you to be, my love would be infinite!”
The truth is they’ll never love anyone. They aren’t capable of loving another person. They are in it for themselves. The abuse is their twisted way of building up their own self-esteem.
But it puts the victim in an emotionally awkward situation. For ten months, you tried to be who they needed you to be. You tried to change. You bore the brunt of their insults and criticism… all to win the imaginary prize of their “love.”
That affects a person. I’m glad that you walked away from the relationship. There was nothing healthy or loving for you there. But a part of you is so accustomed to trying to please that person it’s causing you to obsess over what they think of you.
Do you want them to apologize? Every abuser believes in their heart that they did nothing wrong. If they pushed you into traffic and you became paralyzed, they would say that it was YOUR fault for pissing them off. And they would believe that with all their heart. Abusers only apologize when they think it might manipulate you. They apologize when there is a chance that you will stay, and they won’t have to charm and train a new victim.
When an abuser apologizes, ask yourself what’s in it for them.
Love is how you treat someone. Find someone who treats you lovingly. In the meantime, when you think about your abuser, understand that you have been conditioned to.
How do I forgive myself for having been in an abusive relationship?
When we learned to walk, we took a step and fell on our bum. We got up and took a few more steps… and fell on our bum again. (It’s why toddlers are built so low to the ground.) Eventually, we fell enough times that we managed to learn to walk. None of us feel bad about the falling. We don’t feel stupid or clumsy or guilty. We accept that it was part of the learning process.
We learn relationships the same way. We learn to create, maintain, and appreciate healthy relationships by experiencing unhealthy relationships.
We fall on our bum.
The sooner you accept the fact that you had a bad experience and learned from it, the sooner you’ll get over it. If this was the 10th narcissist in a row that you dated, I’d be giving you different advice. After two months in a bad relationship, you’ll spot narcissists sooner now. You’ve built some “red flags” you didn’t have before. There are women who have wasted DECADES on guys like that, still hoping that he will someday return their love.
You walked away. You have every reason to feel good about that. If you had a daughter who came to you with that question, what would you tell her?
Be gentle with yourself. You fell on your bum. It’s part of learning to walk.
Thank you for your interest in my work!
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