Why Nancy Felt Good About Leaving Her Emotionally Abusive Partner

by Annie Kaszina on February 25, 2013

Nancy’s email was short and sweet. She ‘just wanted to let me know she felt good about having left her emotionally abusive husband’. 

Hooray! 

It certainly hadn’t been easy for her – not that it ever is.  She’d had to turn her child’s world upside down  – you can imagine the guilt she felt about that –  as well as dealing with a barrage of legal challenges, and facing up to the difficulties of starting over from zero.  

When I started working 1 on 1 with Nancy, she was so terrified she kept second-guessing her own judgements – which is, actually, a perfectly reasonable response to repeated trauma.   Yes, her partner behaved like an emotionally abusive man, but was he an emotionally abusive man?  Or was it all, somehow, her fault?  Time and time again, he’d told her how much she’d disappointed him.  He told her he expected better from her; he deserved better…    

Being the delightful, selfless, loving woman that she was, she couldn’t help asking herself: “Could I have done more?  Could I have worked even harder?”  Even though, as a bright, emotionally intelligent woman, she knew that his behavior was utterly unreasonable – and unacceptable.  But, still, the tug of war went on in her head, exhausting her, leaving her feeling stupid.  

Working with an emotionally abused woman is always a dance: mostly it’s two steps forward one step back; occasionally it’s one step back, three steps forward, or one step to the side, one forward two back, one forward.  It’s not linear.  But it is movement – and movement is the important thing.  Anything that moves you off the spot is helpful; and this particular dance is guaranteed to move you forward, within months. 

Nancy was much quicker to pick up on her steps back than she was to register her steps forward.  

But, like all emotionally abused women, beneath Nancy’s oh-so-vulnerable exterior, there lies a strong core.  At bottom Nancy is made of stern stuff. 

She didn’t know that, of course.  If you’re an emotionally abused woman one of the most challenging things you have to do is catch up with who you truly are – as opposed to who you think you are.  You tend to imagine you’re that oh-so-vulnerable, slightly squishy outer layer.  You believe that you’re the scrambled, unlovable mess he says you are. 

That’s  NOT true. 

Your caring feminine qualities somehow coalesce into that slightly squishy outer layer.  In part, it’s an overdone strengths thing: you’re so caring, and empathetic, so loyal, and emotionally responsible that you feel your partner’s feelings are your responsibility.  And if he is incontinent of anger, it must be your fault.  (If a 3 or 4 year old poops its pants, is that your fault???)  As for you being an emotional mess, who on earth is Mr Full Diaper to judge???! 

Letting go of that overdone responsibility and starting to factor herself into the equation wasn’t easy for Nancy.  

But she is a bright woman, she could see how it represented the best outcome for her child, and for herself.  And she stuck with it. 

Was it uncomfortable, at times?  Yes, but the alternative – i.e. staying, and making do with crumbs – would have been much, much more uncomfortable and damaging.

Every week, Nancy grew stronger.  She laughed more.  She freed herself of the demons of the past.    She developed more compassion for herself.  And she started to see who she really was.  

That was a bonus.  She hadn’t expected to find a self she could have a good relationship with.  

She’s free now: she has peace of mind. She’s put her emotionally abusive relationship behind her physically.  She’s also put it behind her mentally and emotionally.What will the future bring for Nancy? 

The good things she deserves; she can look forward to happiness, success, peace, and love.  She’s worked through the trauma, and she’s dealt with her demons.  She’s aware of her strengths and qualities – she’s probably still unduly modest but, hey, she’s a work in progress.  She can see her ex for the man he is, and she knows what she is looking for, and how she will ‘do’ future relationships differently. 

Which means she’s free to start over without the hooks from the past biting into her flesh again.  

No wonder Nancy was feeling good.  I felt good, too, when I read her email.  

It’s not enough to leave an emotionally abusive relationship.  You have to get that toxicity out of your system, before you can be free, confident, and safe to build the life you want for yourself. 

You can do it.  You may need help to get into motion, and learn the right dance steps but you can do it.

 

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