What’s really going on?

by Annie Kaszina on August 23, 2012

Emotionally abused women must be the most loving, generous-hearted, forgiving people on the planet…  Or else, there’s something else going on, as well. 

For the record, I do believe emotionally abused women are both loving and generous-hearted.  I don’t believe we are fundamentally an exceptionally forgiving bunch.  We will overlook offences, when we’re trying to hold the relationship together.  We may minimize – or deny – an  emotionally abusive partner’s bad behavior.  But we don’t – or can’t – forget the wrongs that are done to us.  

Now I’m not suggesting you should forget about them.  But I do know how difficult it is to be at peace with yourself – let alone an emotionally abusive partner – when you have a reservoir of toxic feelings, like anger and resentment inside you. 

So, as far as I’m concerned, there must be something else going on as well.  

But what? 

This week, I had the pleasure of spending time with my dear friend Shoshana Garfield.  We got round to talking about the difference between love and attachment. 

Now, I’m guessing you have an idea of what love is, and how a loving person can be expected to behave.  I have yet to speak to an emotionally abused woman who doesn’t tell me how her abusive partner should behave.   He should know X, and take Y into consideration.  (Of course, he rarely – if ever – does.) 

As far as the theory goes, these women are not wrong.  

(You were probably expecting that “but”, weren’t you?) 

We form our opinion of what Love is, and what Love should be, on the basis of our experience.  

If you’ve grown up in an emotionally skewed environment, that environment will, inevitably, shape your understanding of what Love is.  

What do I mean by an emotionally skewed environment? 

I mean an environment in which you were taught that you had to work to earn love and approval.  That environment, when you stop to think about it, has to be emotionally skewed because it is based on the belief that the other person has the power to confer, or withhold  love, and lovableness, at will.  

They set the obstacle course for you – and you have to scramble your way to the finishing line to earn the love you want…  Except that the finishing line always turns out to be out of reach,  a mirage…  While the obstacle course goes on, and on…

It can be an incredibly powerful tie. Both you and the person who created it are highly motivated.  Keeping you scrambling over endless obstacles serves a profound need of theirs, while you believe – wrongly – that everything you could ever hope for lies at the end of that obstacle race.  

That really isn’t how Love operates – although that’s exactly how an emotionally abusive relationship operates.  (Love encourages and supports at every step along the way.  It is totally committed to your best outcome, and helping you to reach it as constructively as possible.) 

So, if it’s not about love, what’s really going on?   

Attachment. 

Attachment is a very different animal, altogether. 

You need to know that Attachment exerts a pull that is at least as powerful as love.  It may use the language of love.  It may be very vocal indeed.  If you were hungry for someone to love you, Attachment can be very, very seductive.  

There’s usually something a bit “icky” about the way Attachment recites the role of  Love.  (So many women I’ve spoken with acknowledge there was something a tad creepy about their abusive partner’s early expressions of love and involvement.)  

And there’s another key difference, of course.  Attachment is incredibly self-serving.  In a nut-shell, attachment wants its chosen target for its own reasons.  Those reasons can be incredibly powerful, but that doesn’t make them love.  

The bottom line is that few women like their emotionally abusive partner’s behaviour, or values – at least where the relationship is concerned.  Yet, they’re desperate to make it work with a sanitized version of that partner. 

No matter that the sanitized version does not exist. 

No matter that they don’t actually like their partner – although when you’re in it for the long haul, liking and respecting your partner as a human being are essential. 

Attachment will drag you – shaking your head in horror and disbelief – to places you never wanted to go.  It will drag you down into parts of yourself you really don’t want to know about. 

Love won’t do that.  Love will take you by the hand and walk beside you as you blossom, and transcend, all that you thought you were capable of being. 

Attachment is powerful and toxic.  

By now you may be wondering: 

“How do I know the difference?” 

The short answer is: “if you even have to ask yourself, because intuition tells you something is not quite right, then it’s Attachment.  Stay with it only if you are a fan of never ending obstacle courses.”

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