My problem is different because…”
“My problem is different because…” is something emotionally abused women tell me, all the time.
One woman explained, recently, that her problem was different – and quite possibly not emotional abuse…because her partner “loved her so much”. He didn’t say the hurtful things that most emotionally abusive men say. However, he did make her feel worthless.
Then there was the lady whose situation was different because her husband of decades needed a caregiver. She had been his caregiver for a long time. Throughout that time, he had been consistently vile to her. But, he couldn’t manage without her…
The fact is, every situation is different. There are always reasons why it is hard to,
a) walk away and
b) overlook the fact that it’s excruciatingly painful to stay.
What’s common to all emotionally abusive relationships
But don’t let that difference blind you to the fundamental commonality of all emotionally abusive relationships. That commonality lies in the agony that you experience, over and over again, in the relationship.
That agony is what tells you that what you are experiencing is abuse.
You cannot hope to recover from the trauma you have been through, for as long as you tell yourself the Different-For-Me story. The Different-For-Me story implies that your experience cannot be emotional abuse because your experience is not, as you see it, identical to other people’s experiences.
The problem of focusing on what is different
Unfortunately, when you focus on what’s different, you do two unhelpful things,
1) You deny the importance of your pain and
2) You distance yourself from your sisters in suffering.
Instead, you say: “it is not for me as it is for them… Therefore, it likely isn’t emotional abuse. Therefore, I don’t belong on that difficult journey to freedom and happiness. There are good reasons for me to stay right where I am. My specific circumstances are such as to prevent me from taking that difficult step that I dread taking.”
Clearly, we can’t explore every scenario in one post. So, let’s focus on the first woman mentioned above – let’s call her Lena The Loved.
The curious case of Lena The Loved
Lena The Loved was absolutely insistent that her experience did not qualify as plain, old abuse because she was loved. That, she felt, meant that she could not be a victim of emotional abuse. Even though Mr Loving constantly reduced her to a seething mass of feelings of worthlessness.
As I see it, Love gets a bum rap.
Seemingly, Love exists on a continuum from healthy and life-affirming to toxic and suffocating.
As Lena The Loved saw it, her partner could love her in a toxic and suffocating was but, hey, Love was Love. That meant that Lena The Loved – who was gradually being stifled to death by that “Love” – was honor bound to
a) stick with him and,
b) love him back as selflessly as she could.
What makes healthy love different
Healthy love wants your best for you. Lena The Loved’s partner wanted something quite different. He wanted what was best for him – at her expense. Plus, he had no problem in bleeding her dry emotionally in order to get it.
Lena the Loved’s husband demanded that she be in his life, his way, with no concessions to her hopes, dreams, or happiness. That was crushing the life out of her… But he was okay with that.
Her hopes, dreams, and happiness didn’t matter to him: all that mattered was that he loved her/needed her around. She was his favorite toy/pet pony/surrogate mother – whatever you care to call it. That was all that mattered to him.
A ‘Love’ like that is definitely toxic.
A healthy love is one where a loving partner constantly does their best to walk beside you, support you and help you to further your hopes and dreams, and enjoy happiness in your life.”
(Not something that you will ever catch an abusive partner doing. Not even if he is smart – and manipulative enough – to make the right noises, from time to time.)
A healthy love is one in which both parties have all the space they need.
Lena The Loved’s husband did not believe in “space” – or enjoyment, or consideration. His Love reeked of co-dependency.
Lena was in no rush to join the ranks of those of us have had to admit we struggled on in a relationship of codependency – which we naively confused with love.
The knotty problem of lovableness
Of course, there was more as well. – the knotty problem of lovableness. Lena’s insistence on being loved served to prove that she was lovable. Not that she felt lovable… But his ‘love’ served to prove that she must be. That was good enough for her.
Lena The Lovable was not the only person ever to fall into an emotionally abusive relationship – and stay in that relationship –because she didn’t feel unconditionally lovable.
She had a load of icky feelings where her self-love should have been. Those icky feelings made her very vulnerable.
When an emotionally abusive partner appears on his mangy white nag, he appears to offer the solution to the problem of those uncomfortable feelings we have about ourselves. His love will spare you the challenge of having to confront your own bad feelings about yourself.
Sadly, emotional abusers never deliver on the good things that they promise.
Love should mean love and it should focus on your best interests. The best you can ever hope for from an emotionally abusive partner is a load of empty words. Plus, the occasional big gesture to stop you leaving, inconveniently.
Nevertheless, your lovableness was never your abusive partner’s problem to resolve. It is yours. It always has been, and always will be.
When I challenged Lena the Loved on that point, she was brave enough to acknowledge the truth of my accusation.
Learning to love yourself
“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I’d never realized. How do I learn to love myself? I never thought it was allowed.”
Loving yourself is definitely NOT allowed in the Abusive Kingdom. (Although often equated with extreme self-centredness, loving yourself – as well as you love others – is nothing of the sort.)
Learning to love yourself is a crucial part of your life’s journey.
When you don’t love yourself, you spend your life running on empty. You are constantly looking for someone to refill your love tank. That is why an emotionally abusive partner can get away with his absurd claim about being the one and only wonderful love gas pump in the entire country. If not the world!
The dynamic of all your relationships changes for the better when you learn how to love yourself.
When you don’t know how to love yourself, you mistake fakery for the real thing.
No two abusive partners are exactly the same. Still, the damage that they do is always remarkably similar. The key problem that all emotionally abused women face is always, how do they learn to love themselves?
Whatever your emotionally abusive partner has told you is “your problem”, the solution hinges on you learning to love yourself. Instead of breaking your heart over a man who failed to love you as you deserve to be loved, you can create that climate of loving acceptance for yourself.
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.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse. Starting with the basics.