I was chatting with someone yesterday who spoke about being in a 4 year abusive relationship and she can’t leave. The usual story – everyone says ‘just leave for goodness sake!’, the signs are obvious, she knows she should – and we eventually drilled it down to the fact that some of the things he does and says are plain wrong and she just wants him to see that. She just wants the wrong out on the table, clear to see – for the abusive person to see and admit that they are wrong. Then she will know she is right and then she will be at peace and can move on.
Isn’t that just how it goes?!
I was recently in the same position. The abuse I suffered as a child cannot be thought of an anything other than wrong and yet my family don’t want to discuss it at all. I am simply expected to have suffered it and that’s that, and if I engage in contact with them, I am to expect more and to say nothing.
It’s almost wilful on the part of abusers – to behave shockingly, unfairly, obviously so – and to simply expect that to stand with no comment. To shut down comment.
It has seemed to me that lots of unhealthy dynamics come into play when this sort of abuse is going on. It can set up the vibe between people, the imbalance. It can become like a dance they do, we do with them. They are on the top and we are on the bottom. A game.
No-one I have ever known has ever won at this game. The abusers have never stopped and said, ‘You know what, you’re RIGHT! I AM being unreasonable!’ This has never happened. The only thing I have ever seen happen, and what happened for me, is that the survivor eventually painfully extricates themselves, usually shattered and broken down, and the only variable is how long they gave it and how much damage was done in the meantime. Think about that if you are in a relationship like this – if you know you won’t ever win, you won’t ever get them to see the error of their ways, then how long might you want to give it? How broken are you prepared to get in the process of never winning?
If it is a game, and they get to choose how they play, and they are getting off on having you run around and go mad for them, do you think they will choose to stop one day and let you be right? If they like it, if they get something out of it, will they stop? Can you ever have a proper conversation with them about it even?
Unlikely. But does this mean you lose? You maybe lose at changing them, but you already know you can’t change people. You may lose at healing them, but you also know that you can’t heal people.
I think what we lose is the possibility of a decent relationship with them. That’s what we lose, and what we wanted. Most people just want to be happy, to get along, to have nice normal times. If we like someone or they are a family member, we want that with them. It is sad to face up to the fact that we can’t have it with them – because of them, when they could just as easily choose to be nice!
It is them, and we have to remember that. The lady I was chatting to told stories about blatantly wrong things said and done by this chap. It wasn’t her ruining the relationship. Factor in the idea that he might be getting something out of behaving towards her like that and remember she can’t change him or heal him – she can’t make this right.
She is of course from an abusive childhood and like so many of us, acting from that wound. This is what I would recommend for people going through such a thing, myself included –
• Minimise contact with no explanation given – there really is no point and there will be no understanding
• Find someone to talk to about why you caught up, an express the disbelief at the things they did and said – get it off your chest and away from you.
• Positive affirmations stuck up everywhere saying things like ‘I deserve to be treated well’ ‘I am a good person’ ‘ I deserve happy relationships’ – let these constantly remind you of your worth.
• Take a leaf out of non-abused people’s books. I have a friend who has a mother who occasionally drinks and kicks off. My friend’s wife comes from a functional family and it took her one instance of this behaviour to minimise contact. She therefore never tells any stories about people who treat her abusively – she is able to recognise abusive behaviour and simply extricate herself from the person.
• Think about healthy people like that – can we do what they do?
• Create your idea of what a healthy relationship looks like. Daydream. Imagine the feeling of safety, trust, intimacy, happiness. Bring it into your mind and live with it.
• Really try and keep that distance – the one thing I saw everyone in safe houses do is leave their abusive partner and within weeks, they were a lot happier. The simple absence of abuse alone will do wonders even if you do no other work.
• Don’t bother analysing them and their problems and why they might be the way they are. Draw that boundary – you work on YOUR issues and respectfully leave them to handle theirs. Abuse is a rabbit hole that we don’t necessarily have to go down, whereas healing is all about soaring and feeling better – direct your attention that way and watch it come true.
In conclusion, we are set to lose the game with anyone who wilfully abuses us – who knows what they are doing, knows it is wrong and yet chooses to do it anyway. Their reasoning is not like ours and we aren’t going to be able to change them. The simplest and best thing to do really is to minimise that contact, cut it off if needs be, and to use skills to extricate ourselves from conversations and interactions with them and people like them. We don’t have to waste time analysing them or worrying about them. THAT is how we make it right – we see something, we call it for what it is and we quietly move along. Baggage that comes from our histories needs to be addressed so that we don’t go round and round the same cycle not learning the lesson, and it really truly is OK to conclude that there is nothing wrong with us. My mother abused me as a child because of HER reasons, nothing to do with me, and I know this to be true because it started when I was too young to have done anything that bad. I don’t need to secretly fear that I deserved it and that this new person is abusing me too because I deserve it – I don’t need to get someone to admit they are wrong – if they do it in the first place they’re not a very good person right? And that is their problem, not mine.
We make things right by seeing what is before us, trusting it, and moving along where necessary. Here’s to my friend and her safe exit x
In my book Purple Dragon Mother, one of the biggest chapters is on families and how to manage them if they are abusive – it covers contact options, telling them, how to manage going no contact and also re-engaging years down the line. Grab a copy if you think it may be useful to your journey – the download is the cheapest version and it is the culmination of my 14 year career helping adults flee abuse.