You have the instinct that the partner relationship, family situation, or the job is unhealthy for you. Your friends and family members have told you to ‘leave’…but you just feel like you ‘can’t’, at least not yet. Why?
1. You Don’t Realize it’s Abusive
People can hide their abusive nature by also having positive traits. Some might be successful or upstanding citizens in the community (like a leader, priest, or teacher). Sometimes they are generous, helpful, or vulnerable, which endeared you to them and makes you want to be close to or take care of them. This behavior pattern – being ‘nice sometimes’ and ‘controlling, mean, or inappropriate’ at other times – is called ‘Crazy-Making’. Why? you keep flip flopping whether you think they are ‘nice’ or ‘controlling’ and it makes you feel like you can’t figure them out. It’s also called ‘Crazy-Making’ because the abusive person highlights all the ways they are ‘good to you’ and denies the ways they control you. Even though you know inside something doesn’t feel right, you ‘feel bad’ saying negative things about them and there is no external validation to ‘know what you know.’
2.You Think it’s your Fault– You might explain the situation as your fault even it’s not. Abusive people usually explain situations by blaming you or external conditions, or suggesting that you are ‘not enough’. They never point to the effect of their own behavior. And if you have a history of people blaming you for their limitations, it might seem familiar to ‘buy into’ this view. It’s possible that you have done things you regret in an effort to try to get that person to change, so you might have things you feel bad about yourself for. Thinking its ‘your fault’ keeps you involved to ‘try to make it better.
3.You Have Hope it will Change– After their behavior is particularly inappropriate or hurtful, you might start seeing their behavior as abusive – then feel empowered to create distance or not continue to give them the attention they seek. The abusive person will sense this distance, and apologize or otherwise indicate they will not continue their behavior. Seeming genuine, you might be tempted to believe them, giving you hope that the situation will change. However, someone who is capable of being abusive is someone who is split between their ‘good side’ and ‘bad side’ – by definition they are not well self managed. Its can be hard for you to remember that they are not capable of reliably keeping their promises.
4. You Need the Money – You might need the money you get from that job or that person to support yourself – but only for the short term. YOU are the one who is capable of being the source of your income, it doesn’t have to come from any particular job or person. Today can be the first day you plan out how to make money for your talents in another situation. Then you won’t be dependent on them.
5. Feeling like a Victim is Familiar – You may have grown up with role models who were also controlled by someone, and/or with an important person who controlled you. With this history, the picture you develop is that relationships always involve someone who is controlling and someone who is controlled. That feels familiar to recreate. And there might be people in your current life who give you sympathy for being in such a hard situation – then it might seem like a way of getting positive attention you’re not getting in your adult life. You deserve attention for being someone who is talented and loving, that’s the kind of attention you deserve and want to seek out.
6. You’re still developing Confidence and Courage – As a child and young person, it’s normal and adaptive to look to parents, teachers, peers, and bosses to grow self esteem and evaluate our abilities. This is how we get our ‘emotional oxygen’ (e.g., love, praise, attention) growing up. As we develop, we shift to get that self-regard from within. You might still be involving others to get a feeling you are worthy, it might look like: seeking other’s approval, preventing their criticism and rejection, or pressuring yourself to be perfect – these behaviors make you focus on how others are treating you and keep your attention away from taking a stand for YOUR life. In this scenario, you care too much what they think of you, or keep trying harder to get them to treat you with respect. As you can source confidence from within you’ll have the courage to say “I don’t need you in order to feel powerful in myself, in fact being around you is keeping me from living MY life purpose”. And it will be easier to leave.
7. You are Afraid of Being Alone – There might be reasons it’s hard to leave: You may have a sense of loss to give up the fun times or the way the person has been helpful. Or the opposite, you might be concerned you will face violence (that might be a real and valid concern, if so, you should seek legal help and get an order of protection) or the person might pester you emotionally as you start to remove yourself from their life. Finally, if things are calm and you don’t have to constantly react or resent the other person all the time, it might even feel boring or lonely. Yet when you firmly make a decision and have faith you can have all good things you want once you are on your own, it will help you stay strong in your boundaries.
If you recognize that you are staying in an abusive situation because of any of these reasons, know that you can decide to leave. You got this!