How do you stop living in Abuse World when an emotionally abusive partner has spent months and years programming you to feel terrified, and powerless? How do you stop living in Abuse World, when you have been so brainwashed that you end up thinking that Abuse World is an accurate reflection of The World? That is a huge problem that every victim of an emotionally abusive partner has to confront once she has finally walked away from the relationship.
Anyone who has ever been emotionally abused sooner or later discovers that the problem is not just outside them, in the outside world. However, the problem is also inside them. Emotional abuse changes your entire world. It robs you of your trust in love, your own worth, and even basic human decency.
“How do I stop living in Abuse World?”
Catherine describes the challenge that every emotionally abused woman faces as a direct consequence of her toxic relationship. She says:
”I’m a hairdresser, and 3 years ago a gentleman sat in my chair and I slowly and cautiously fell in complete love with him! It’s been a year now that we have been in a relationship. He consistently broke my walls down with such patience and understanding.He has stepped in as a great figure in my daughter’s life.
I truly could not ask for a better man and I am going to sabotage it. We are soul mates. Best friends. Then I freak out and start pushing him away. I battle terrible thoughts. I don’t trust him, I don’t trust us.
I have every reason to marry him and I so badly want to…but I can’t. I can’t mentally handle someone getting that close. I am haunted by terrible thoughts that are not only sabotaging my amazing relationship but the peace of mind that I tried so hard to obtain. I do not want to live without him but I don’t know how to live with him.
Please help me. Please point me in a direction where I can beat the cycle of abuse that still runs in my head. How do I stop going back to that place and detach myself from those desperate feelings? How do I stop living in Abuse World?”
Catherine is truly blessed. She has found a good man, who is loving and accepting of her. Unfortunately, she cannot fully embrace her luck – and the love that is available to her. Time has passed, her life has moved on, but she has yet to complete her healing journey.
Old demons don’t just fade away.
Instead, the old demons still hold sway in her head. She is still asking herself,
- What do I have to do to earn this happiness?
- When will he see me for what I am and fall out of love with me?
- When will it all go horribly wrong?
- Can I really trust him?
Catherine has one foot in her new reality, and one leg in the old abused mindset. That doesn’t bode too well for her new relationship. Fortunately, she is wise enough to know that, unless she can undo the old, destructive thinking, she may well sabotage her own happiness.
How tragic would that be?
Did her emotionally abusive ex consciously plan to destroy any possible future happiness for her? Nothing would surprise me less.
Emotional abuse is the curse that keeps on working.
One thing I know for certain, emotional abuse is the curse that keeps on working… Until you finally do the work to break it.
Time alone will not heal the ravages of emotional abuse.
Months, and years, after you leave an abusive relationship your own mind can still be your prison cell.
An emotional prison cell is one that has walls of fear, and self-doubt. Plus, it has a window of shame, a tiny, opaque pane of glass through which you can just make out the outside world. You sleep on a bed of blame and pain. You wake most days to the alarm bell of catastrophizing.
Maybe the time of year is leading me to a flowery turn of phrase. But here’s the thing, if you fall into catastrophizing anxiety, if you tell yourself some story about not being good enough, or if you experience blame or shame, it means just one thing. It means that you are not free. You have yet to stop living in Abuse World. However much you feel you have moved on, Abuse World still lives on inside you. Your abusive (ex)partner is still visiting his nastiness on you.
If you find it difficult to hold on to good feelings for any length of time then you are still not over “your” abusive relationship. That finally ends – not when the proverbial fat lady sings, but when you feel free to live fully, love safely, and laugh wholeheartedly.
The reverse fairy story.
Sure, I know you’ve been telling yourself a story about your unworthiness. But that’s what it is: a story. It’s a sort of fairy story in reverse. A story that goes something like this:
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, named Clare de Nil who lived in a kingdom, not a million miles from here. Her parents taught her to be responsible and work her cotton socks off to earn love, from the time she could first totter.
Clare grew up feeling responsible for all the cares of the kingdom and everyone in it. The years passed, and the princess hungered for love. (Well, she would, wouldn’t she? She was only human. Besides, she had never known unconditional love.) Clare also felt her biological clock was ticking away furiously.
“One day, as she walked sadly by a stream in the castle grounds, a frog called out to her.
“Princess”, it called. “Over here. Look at me. I’m not really a frog. I’m a Wonderful Man in disguise. I’ve had a few addictions in my time, but you can make it your mission to fix me. See, I’ve had such a bad time. I met this wicked witch who didn’t understand or appreciate me. She turned me into a frog. Only kiss me, and I’ll turn back into a handsome prince.
“You’ll be lucky to have such a wonderful man as me. You can have my babies. You can take care of the day-to-day running of the kingdom, to my high standards. I’ll take charge of the money, and perform all the public duties, so you can stay in the background, and be my shadow.
“I‘ll be loving and supportive, provided you’re absolutely perfect and don’t let me down the way other women have done. I do have a bit of a foul temper, and my own issues. But that’s okay. Provided you don’t trigger them, we’ll be cool. And if you do trigger them, what happens will be all your fault.”
What do you think lovely, trusting Princess Clare de Nil did?
That’s right. She married him.
And what should she have done?
- Taken him to a nice lily pond far, far away, and deposited him there with the other pond life, perhaps?
- Prepared a nice little sauté of frog’s legs a la Parisienne?
- Something else to make sure she would never again be stuck in his claws .
What we forgot.
You and I have both been that princess. We married that frog. We served our time, in exile, in a dark pool of stagnant water… And we forgot who we were. We forgot that we even were princesses. Clare de Nil forgot her beautiful name and became Cinderella. (By the way, you might like to know that ‘Cinderella is almost an anagram of ‘clear denial’.)
Like Clare, we forgot our beautiful nature and became drudges. We forgot that we deserved better. We settled for the odd insect – or whatever it is that frogs eat.
When we left the relationship, we carried on just the same. Maybe we opted for a different pool of stagnant water, perhaps, but the same lousy diet, and the same lousy soundtrack inside our heads. We did not automatically stop living in Abuse World.
Sadly, the effects of emotional abuse don’t just fade away of their own accord. Things only change when we change, when we step out of our emotional prison. I changed and left that prison behind me. Now I help other women to stop living in Abuse World. Because they are worth so much more.
This week, a new client of mine said, “You now, I had the strangest experience this week. I just started to feel really happy – for no particular reason.” It was not as if the difficulties had suddenly disappeared from her life. (They had not.) Rather, she is starting to experience what life is like when you stop living in Abuse World. If that is something you, too, would like to do, but it has not yet happened for you, then we need to talk.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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