In abusive relationships it is not uncommon for the victim to feel that the abuser loves because they say they do.
Abused children believe their parents love them because they say they do. And children will believe this even when the parent has a long history of beating the child or profoundly neglecting the child.
This is why it's important to watch what people do, rather than what they say. The predators and abusers of the world often display "empathy gaps", gaps in their ability to feel compassion or empathy for others. Their words are very charming and full of "love", yet their actions tells a different story.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
I once saw a documentary about several men who were wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. They had each been imprisoned for years, until the court system found they were innocent and released them. Some of the men were consumed by the injustice committed by the legal system and spent their lives protesting and exposing it. Others were morose and jaded and cynical. Eaten alive by the resentment they refused to go on with their lives and sat, stewing, unwilling to trust, to be happy, to rejoin life, to be happy again.
But the last one caught my attention. He had met a woman while in prison and fallen in love. Upon his release, they were married. He found a job, bought a house and went on with his life. Not without scars. Not without trauma, hurt, betrayal and pain. He embraced all of those. He talked openly about how negatively the experience had affected him and what it had cost him. But he made a conscious decision not to let it steal another day of his life. He had forgiven the criminal justice system for the wrong they had done to him - and moved on.
I think this can also be said of people leaving unhealthy relationships and survivors of childhood traumas. At some point you make a choice about the wrong that was done to you. Do you hang on to it or let it go? Do you forgive?
"If I forgive them, I have to forget what they did and I never want to forget what they did to me."
Many people think that forgiving is about forgetting. It's not. If you were hurt by an abuser, or a partner who was violent, or a relationship with someone who was toxic, you want to forgive, but not forget. You remember what was done to you to keep yourself safe. You need to remember what they did so you don't open yourself up to let them hurt you that way again. You learn from it to prevent it from happening again. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it's about letting it go. I have seen people who were wronged hold onto to the anger, hurt and betrayal long after the deed is done. The person who hurt them has moved on with their life. But the victim is consumed with rage, fear, hurt, betrayal. They walk around seething and fuming. Their lives are consumed with it.
I am not advocating that you not feel the pain. Of course you feel the pain. Embrace it, immerse yourself in it, feel it completely and totally and experience all the emotions is brings. But then, let it go. To hang on to it is to allow the person who wronged you to continue to have control over you, your feelings, your life. You give them power over your life, over your emotions, over you.
"If I forgive them, they get away with it."
Forgiveness is not about letting them get away with it It's about letting you get on with your life. For a moment, or even for years, they were able to affect your emotions, your thoughts, your life. But forgiving is about letting go and taking back your emotions, your thoughts, your life. It's about being free from toxic influence or abuse. It's about deciding how you want to feel, what you want to think and how you want to live instead of allowing your emotions, your thoughts and your life to be hijacked by another person's abuse or drama.
For those who would; revel in your failure, try to hurt you, seek to oppress you, cause you to suffer, think you are less, care nothing about you, seek to destroy you...
Have you been manipulated, lied to, controlled by a toxic person? The person may be a psychopath (antisocial), a narcissist or a borderline. They've betrayed, exploited and misled you. They've seduced you with their charm and beguiled you with their lies. They've stolen your money, your life, your heart. And you're left wondering, "How could I have been so stupid?"
I am reminded of an old Spanish saying that I absolutely love,
"The lion believes that all are like him."
An honest person expects people to treat them honestly. Someone who is not a thief may not lock up their belongings, because it does not occur to them that other people would steal from her.
Naturally, you need to check yourself for a susceptibility to flowery speech and manipulation. If you have a low self esteem you may be especially susceptible to someone showering you with compliments while they simultaneously mistreat, dismiss or disregard you.
But aside from that, one of the struggles of people who are dealing with psychopaths, narcissists or other manipulative people is the nagging question, "How could I not have seen this?", "How could I have been so stupid as to pick out this person?", "Why am I so gullible?" If you are really kicking yourself thinking you were inordinately naive or dumb for having been duped so completely you might find the following explanation helpful.
I found this description of psychopathic manipulation in an article on manipulation and controlling behaviors:
Psychopaths know well and have nothing but disdain for the characteristics of good-natured people and use those very qualities — including most people’s willingness to trust and afford others the benefit of the doubt and the conscientiousness most people have and discomfort they typically have when they think they might be the cause of anyone else’s pain — against them. Possessing a narcissism so malignant (“Narcissism: Pathological Self-Love”) that they consider truly decent folks as inherently weak and inferior, they feel “entitled” to prey on such folks, and deliberately play on their sensitivities and sensibilities to con, exploit, and otherwise victimize them. Worst of all, they do these things for the pure pleasure of it. It’s not fear, insecurity or emotional pain that drives them, just an incapacity to care and a craving to dominate.
Your gullibility and naivete is normal - because you are an honest person. One other thought you might want to consider. The alternative to being gullible and naive may be worse - to become cynical, jaded and suspicious of everyone.
Once, there was a frog trying to cross a flooded river. As he prepared to cross to the other side on a lily pad a scorpion asked to ride with him. The frog responded, "If I let you go you still sting me." The scorpion answered, "If I sting you we will both die. Why would I do that?" So the frog acquiesced and they boarded the lily pad. Halfway across the scorpion stung the frog. As the frog lay dying he pleaded, "Why on Earth did you sting me? Now we will both die!" The scorpion answered, "Because I'm a scorpion. It's my nature."
We cannot change other people. This is especially true if you are dealing with a narcissist. Even knowing this, it's hard to grasp just how far they will go to hurt you when enraged. Their behavior sometimes defies reason and reality.
I recently watched a narcissist who became so enraged at the "frog" in her life that she she stung herself to death trying to get at the frog. Having destroyed herself, the frog and the entire lily pad she now sits in the wreckage which was her life, still trying to take shots at the frog. Fortunately, in real life, the frog is usually able to get to shore and carry on with their lives. But not without the narcissist's stings having taken their toll. This is especially true if there are children involved.
What enraged this narcissist? The fact that her partner saw through her facade. He saw what she really was and therefore had to be destroyed. Family members and friends tried to understand what he had done to her to make her so angry. They interpreted her rage as hurt. They were certain he had done something truly heinous. But he hadn't. He had merely seen reality. He had seen the vacuum of her psyche, the absence of all the things which make us human; the lack of empathy for others, the absence of remorse when she hurt people, the lack of regard for any other person. He saw what she really was, what she fought to cover up with a carefully contrived facade. And for that the narcissist was determined to destroy him. And and destroying him became more important than her own well being. She utterly destroyed every good thing in her life, including herself, trying to get back at him.
People who find themselves in an unhealthy, even abusive relationship often ask themselves, "why do I stay?", "what is it that keeps sucking me back in?" Many times it can be the "courting behavior" that follows the abuse. In domestic violence, this is illustrated in the Circle of Abuse. The abuser becomes violent and lashes out at the victim. Afterward, he or she engages in the courting behavior they originally used when dating the victim. They are charming, caring, attentive. They lavish the victim with compliments and gifts. A victim who has low self esteem may tolerate the abuse to get the courting behavior. The pain of being hurt is overridden by the kindness and attention that are lavished on them after it is over.
In less abusive relationships a more subtle form of this behavior may exist. If someone is in a relationship with a narcissist or a sociopath, they may experience a constant stream of unloving treatment. Their partner may be uncaring, callous, accusatory, jealous, cold, distant, hostile, selfish, critical, demanding, demeaning, etc. They may heap insults on them or demean them with a constant stream of disparaging remarks. They may constantly accuse them of cheating. Or they may be dismissive and condescending. The relationship may be totally devoid of empathic, nurturing, caring, loving behavior. So why do they stay?
It may be that they are totally taken for granted, until they attempt to leave or start to pull away. When the emotional manipulator reailizes they've gone too far, they may engage in courting behavior to reel the partner back into the relationship. If their partner's self esteem is low enough this may go on for years and years. If their self esteem is somewhat higher, they may eventually realize that, "One compliment negates a thousand slights."
First, for the benefit of the fanatics and the flamers, I said "bad" relationship, not abusive. If you are being hurt or are unsafe, of course you need to get out. But this article is not about domestic violence. It is about unhealthy relationships.
With that said you may ask, "Why should I stay in a bad relationship?" I used to say the same thing. Cut the ties and get out. Go on to the next one. After years of doing that I now realize that the "next one" looks just like the last one. Because I didn't stick around and learn what was going wrong. I just bailed and moved on.
So why should you stay in a bad relationship? If you typically get into relationships that are healthy and happy, and your current one is some freak mistake, this article isn't for you. If you have a history of bad relationships, chances are your "picker" is broken and you need to keep reading.
If you are currently in a bad relationship, why should you stay there? To learn to avoid it. To see what drew you to it. Why did you pick this person instead of someone else? What was it about them that felt good? What felt familiar? We tend to date what we know. Even our friendships are typically fashioned after something familiar. Personally, I date my father and have best friends who are just like my mother.
(For more on this, see also on this blog : Who are You in a Relationship With?)
If you decide to stay in your current relationships and figure out what's going on, what are some of the questions you can ask yourself?
What attracted me to this person?
Since I was raised by narcissists, I'm attracted to narcissists. They have no empathy and are completely self-involved. So, in my case, what feels familiar is someone who contributes absolutely nothing to the relationship and sucks up all the oxygen in the room, including mine. Since this was the definition of "love" that I grew up (everything revolves around the narcissist) this is what still feels like love - unless I make myself aware of it and challenge myself to break out of my comfort zone.
What characteristics attracted you to your partner? They are forceful and in control? They are dependent and need to be cared for? They are charming and seductive? They are exciting? They are boring and safe?
When you find out what you are drawn to you can consciously choose to make different choices. That, then, becomes the next challenge.
What happens when I meet someone who is the opposite of this person?
How uncomfortable am I? Like I said, I'm drawn to narcissists - people who have no empathy and are completely self-absorbed. Therefore, when I'm with someone who is loving and nurturing, who is tuned into how I feel and cares about what I'm saying they feel "intrusive" by comparison. It feels "too close", even smothering. I almost panic at the realization that they are listening to what I say and remembering it! But if I want to break out of my old patterns I need to learn to tolerate this "intrusion", because this is actually how someone who really cares about me should act. It just feels strange because I'm not used to it, and that is what should feel strange.
If you're in an unhealthy relationship, notice what happens when you meet someone who is the opposite of your partner.
Are you a caretaker? What happens when you meet someone who doesn't "need" you, someone who won't be dependent on you? Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel ill at ease, not knowing what to bring to the relatioship if they don't require your caretaking? Does it make you nervous that you can't care for them? Do you feel like they couldn't possibly want just you? Do you feel you need to be able to do something for them?
Do you end up with abusers? What happens when you meet someone who doesn't dominate the relationship? Do you feel unsafe, "unprotected"? Do you feel they aren't a "real man"? When I work with people who have grown up in violent homes they often have this passive-aggressive dichotomy that defines "violent" as "strong" and "non-violent" as "weak". If this is you, you might have to challenge yourself to date someone who is less aggressive to challenge that belief that this means they are "weak". You might find it takes more strength to hold your temper than to take it out on everyone around you.
Once you see the dysfunction, how do they suck you back into the relationship?
Do they use guilt to keep you there? (After all I've done for you...) Do they use compliments to lure you back? Do they use rage so that you stay there to avoid the violent confrontation? Do they resort to retaliation or revenge? Do they use the kids? Do they "gaslight" you? (Trying to make you think you are crazy, trying to convince you it's all in your head.) Do they say, "You're just making it up" or "It's just your 'perception?"
What games are being played that you're falling for? If you can figure out what buttons are being pushed or what games you're used to you will be less susceptible to them next time. This one is really hard. Your feet start dancing before you even realize the music is playing. It is so automatic. But practice, practice, practice and you'll get better at seeing what is happening - to the point that you will one day be able to side step it.
What's comfortable about it that shouldn't be?
In the case of a relationship with a narcissist - being with someone who has never heard a word I've said and has no idea who I am is comfortable - and it shouldn't be. Some people get comfortable with violence, or substance abuse, or insane jealousy, or perpetual helplessness, or perpetual martyrdom - and they shouldn't.
If you can identify what you're comfortable with - that you shouldn't be - you have a lot of great fodder for your therapist. This is where you need to work your own program to make you less accepting of bad behaviors and unacceptable treatment.
What did you see in the very beginning that you should have paid more attention to, but ignored?
This is paramount. The little red flags at the beginning of the relationship that warned you what was to come - but you ignored them. If you can figure out what they were, or might be, you will be better able to avoid this same pattern next time. Even if you do fall for it again, you will be less likely to get so far down the path before you realize you've been had again.
What would be the signals that you're in the same kind of relationship again? The "social" drinking or drugging? The defensiveness? Someone who is never wrong? The selfishness? The inability to empathize? The inability to care for themselves? The martyrdom? The domination? The blaming? The denial? The rages?
Staying in It
If you aren't in danger and your mental health is not totally compromised you might find that staying in your current unhealthy relationship will teach you a lot about what to avoid in the next one. Learning what drew you to this person, what feels normal that shouldn't, what games are being played to keep you there and what should be red flags for the next relationship can be helpful information for making better, more informed choices in the future.
When people come to me, upset by an interaction with another, I often ask them, "Whose problem is it?" Many people assume that if someone is mistreating them,they must be doing something to deserve it. "If the boss yells at me, I must have screwed up." "If my partner rejects me I must have done something wrong." "If someone cuts me off in traffic I must have been driving too slowly."
There are three things wrong with that thinking.
First, no one deserves to be mistreated. Even if you have made an innocent mistake, you don't deserve to be mistreated. And what if you did provoke it? You may be acting like a jerk, but retaliating against you doesn't make the other person right. It just means you are both behaving badly.
Second, some people are ugly to you for reasons that have nothing to do with you. I once worked with a colleague who would blow up at clients constantly. Her wrath originated at home, but she took it out on the clients. After being lamblasted by her, a client would come to me completely crushed or ready to fight. But when I asked them to step back and observe her behavior, they found that she blew up at people all the time - innocent people. Once they saw that it happened to other people, it was clear where the problem was.
Third, people sometimes behave badly because of what you are doing, but what you are doing is healthy and appropriate. For example, you try to set a boundary with a narcissist and they rage back at you, then project their anger onto you and accuse you of being the angry one. This can be a really wild ride if you have trouble hanging onto your sense of self. But that is their unhealthiness, not yours. (It's probably why you needed to set a boundary, too!)
The next time you have an altercation with someone, take a step back and ask yourself, "Whose problem is this?" If it's yours, take responsibility and make it right. If it's theirs, take a deep breath and walk away leaving the problem where it belongs - with them.
I've been wondering how you create a Drama Queen. You know, the people who blow things completely out of proportion to the point of absolute hysteria? Everything is a big deal and they reach out and suck other people into their drama. But why?
She started talking to me about how stellar her performance was at a recent social event, obviously fishing for compliments, and I refused to bask in admiration and feed her ego. The results were dramatic. She went for the jugular. Narcissistic rage in action.