Let’s say you have a best friend and she is dating this guy. He is charming, funny, wants to spend a lot of time with her. You are very happy for your friend and you share all the things that women share when dating a cute guy :D. But after a while, you notice that she is canceling appointments with you. It’s getting harder to make an appointment with her because she is busy. She starts making sentences like: “my boyfriend doesn’t like it if…” “my boyfriend thinks I should” “my boyfriend doesn’t want me to…” She starts worrying if she is good enough for him. She tells you about his complaints about her, tells you about his long nights away. Perhaps even tells you about his anger issues. But as time progresses she shares less and less because you wouldn’t understand anyway, and on top of that you don’t understand their relationship well enough. At some point, she comes to you and the truth comes out. He has hit her several times and she is afraid.
Question: Would you recommend for her to run back to her boyfriend?
No, of course you wouldn’t.
But if the situation were reversed, would you have returned to him? If so, why would you return to such a guy? Maybe because you feel you love him. Maybe because deep down you are afraid of being alone. You find leaving scarier than staying.
So we stay and try to justify our boyfriend’s behavior. And like a skill, we become experts at convincing ourselves why we should stay, why we HAVE to stay. Something I personally used as an excuse was: “he needs me, otherwise he’ll hurt himself.” I also told myself that if I just could be better, if I just would change this or that we would be fine. This was something he had told me all along and I just adopted it. I told myself that it wasn’t that bad, that all relationships go through rough patches, etc., etc., etc., etc.
But I should have been honest with myself and if you ever find yourself in such a situation, I believe you should be honest with yourself too. Because all the things I told myself about why I should stay ultimately came down to this: I was afraid to leave because of my low self-esteem. Before the trauma bonding, before anything else it came down to low self-esteem and not loving myself enough. I could not believe that what I felt was really happening – because I didn’t trust myself enough, due to my low self-esteem. When I entered the relationship, I didn’t have a high self-esteem in the first place. Ten years of sexual abuse, the beginning of puberty and typical adolescent uncertainty does that to someone. The fear kicks in after the first hit, but the foundation of emotional dependence was already there.
But if I truly loved and trusted myself the way I should have, I would have left and I think that is something that most of us will recognize. Loving the other more and valuing ourselves less is the first cause to make us to stay. A few things that can happen while this is happening.
Leaving is scary (and can be dangerous). The future is uncertain. Starting over again is scary. You are left vulnerable. So you just ignore that gut feeling that tells you that you should leave. By staying you and I didn’t asked to be hurt, but by staying we did create the possibility for him to do so and thus allowed him to go on.
The crazy making cycle
In an abusive relationship, you can’t communicate your needs without being punished for it and if you could, your needs probably wouldn’t been met. This is because you are in a toxic relationship.
Suddenly you realize the dangerous situation you are in and you are afraid to leave. This time it is not because of being hurt but because the situation is now so dire. He is now so out of control, you are afraid of losing you and possibly your loved ones lives.
And then ultimately you leave. You probably feel a lot of self-blame after a while. Maybe you feel stupid for being in that relationship for far too long, for losing friends and family, for hurting or not listening to them. Because of this, your self-worth probably continues to go down. Maybe you feel alone, scared. You start a mental loop full of thoughts. Maybe he wasn’t that bad. Maybe it was you; maybe you can do better. Maybe you even deserved to be treated that way. All these things start playing in your heard on repetitive cycles.
Until you either end up in a relationship equal to this one with even less self-worth and self-esteem or run back to your ex.
But how do we break this cycle?
Build you self-worth
- We start by paying more attention to our self-worth and how we view ourselves. You can find good information about how to build your self-worth, here: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-Self-Worth . You can find more information about confidence, here: http://www.aliannelooijenga.com/19-ways-to-become-a-confident-woman/http://lifesurfer.net/19-golden-rules-to-make-you-a-confident-woman/
- We must understand our anxiety and how to deal with it when we feel it coming. What do you do to calm yourself? Do you call a friend, does ASMR help you (like one of the videos perhaps? https://www.youtube.com/user/StevePickles94/videos ) or do you have other healthy techniques that helped you in the past to calm down? Whatever you choose, remember to do breathing techniques to calm yourself. You can’t make healthy choices if your mind is running around, so calm your mind first. Breath slowly in and out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJ04nsiz_M0
Pay attention and learn to trust your gut
- Pay attention to your instincts in your relationship. When you feel that something is off fundamentally, it probably is. But sometimes we don’t trust ourselves enough to trust our instincts. For example, because you fell in love with an abuser before. Well, let me help you out: the problem wasn’t so much in the first place that you fell in love with an abuser. The problem was that you didn’t act upon your instincts when you felt and knew something wasn’t right. It isn’t enough to have those gut feelings. Everybody has them but if when the signs aren’t clear because of our low self-esteem or past experiences we don’t trust our instincts, we ignore it, and we do not act on what it is telling us and continue to act against it. We confuse ourselves and ultimately can’t feel the signs anymore. But luckily we can prevent, reverse, and strengthen this “skill” by paying attention to our gut. Let it be an comforting thought: you have the power to choose who you spend your time with. And if someone isn’t treating you right, you have the power to walk way.
What is your source?
- Now we are paying attention to our gut, it is time to understand what our intuition is telling us. Sometimes we are so consumed by fear, anxiety, and doubt that it is difficult to know what is what. So first of all we must define our feelings. What is the source of these feelings? Is it truly your intuition or is it fear? I think this is a great article to help you start with that: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosalie-puiman/your-gut-feeling-fear-or-_b_6667194.html
Set standards and be clear
- Now we learn the difference between actual fear vs. our instincts acting up. It is time to listen and act upon our instincts. If someone is crossing our boundaries, then it is time to communicate that with them. If that doesn’t help and somebody crosses them over and over again, then you have to decide if this situation is healthy and what you want to do with that situation. Remember, as we grow, our perspective, our attitudes, and our needs change anyway (crossing boundaries or not).
Dare to let people and thoughts go
- Other people who are going through their own growth process don’t necessary grow with us; it can happen with people who are close to you. It doesn’t always mean that you’ll have to say goodbye (this is only possible for non-abusive relationships of course), but if something has a negative impact on your life, it is best to let it go and find positivity and closure to learn from that situation.
Find help and support
- If you feel that you are stuck and need some guidance, it is best to find help. Maybe you have a mentor nearby, a trusted friend, family member, etc. Maybe you feel the need for a psychologist or a coach. Get the help that you know you need.
Move your body
- Do a crazy dance. Seriously. If you find that your mind is spinning, spinning, and spinning and you want to snap yourself out of that loophole, do a crazy dance. What not to do: hanging out on the couch listening to sad music that will allow your mind to go through that loophole again. If you feel that your mind starts again and you want to step out of that loophole do some kind of activity like running, dancing etc.
- Level up. New things in life are scary. Uncertainty is scary. Life is scary because nothing is certain. But you have one person you can learn to trust your detour and that is yourself. The amazing Yourself is someone who will always be with you and the best thing is that you can control how she reacts to circumstances. You are in the powerseat of your life and you and only you are responsible for the choices you make.
Other must reads: http://tinybuddha.com/quotes/tiny-wisdom-when-its-time-to-move-on/ by Lori Deschene