The Problem with Still Loving an Abusive Ex

30 Jul 2019

Wouldn’t it be nice if, early on in an abusive relationship, you woke up and, Poof! just like that stopped loving your abusive partner?  How many years and how much angst could you have saved yourself? If only people worked like that. Sadly, most people do not work like that. You have had to learn that you do not work like that.  In this article we need to both honor what makes you the way you are and, at the same time, look at why you belonged to the “But I Still Love them” brigade in the first place.

“But I still love him”

I’ve written about the “But I still love them”  problem before .  But just this morning a comment that I received in my Instagram feed from someone who “can’t help herself inasmuch as she still loves”a Narcissist who managed to subject her to massive hurt and humiliation in a very short time. 

Now, this person is, to the best of my knowledge, one of those people who hang out on Instagram and acquire a lot of knowledge about Narcissists and abuse in small, convenient bites. And yet she still “loves” her toxic, devious, cheating, ghastly ex. Against all odds.

What is that really about?

The lure of the last word

It suddenly struck me that there was a strong component of “Whoa! I am not done with you.” yet to it.

Now, it is very human to want to have the last word once in a while.  Especially if you have been shouted down for a fair bit of your life.

Even more so if you have had to hold onto a notion of Love – as it should be – when what you actually grew up with was, correctly speaking, a perversion of love.

The desperate need to believe in love

I believe that we save our own lives by believing in love.

When I think about my clients and myself, we grew up in homes where, one way and another, Love was the Holy Grail.  It was always there somewhere. Out of  reach.  But, hey, you can’t have everything.  Just knowing that Love existed was enough. We were willing to gallop after it for as long as it took. Sometimes, all that we had to sustain us was the dream of Love Someday.

That kind of desperate belief can keep a young person alive through some very lean times. On the other hand,  unfortunately, it positions them nicely for some very bad experiences.  Your beautiful, idealistic, undefended heart is easy pickings for a toxic person.

And, maybe I am in “that kind of mood today” but I cannot help but wonder,

What kind of parent does not try to teach a child how to safeguard his or her precious heart?” 

 The answer is, of course, “A very damaged – and damaging – one. A parent who, in some way, feels justified in repeating the toxicity of their own past.

We took the other road

You and I are here because we were damaged but we committed to the other road, the road of not damaging (whether it is more or less travelled, I cannot say for sure.)

For those of us carrying our own burden of hurt and pain that other road is our lifesaver.  But still, it is not an easy road.

Given our limited preparedness, we are vulnerable to exactly the kind of people we most need to escape.

“Surely, you can do it, too.”

That takes me right back to that comment in my Instagram feed this morning. The person in question loved generously in her honorable attempt to find love, healing and wholeness.  She loved an unworthy person.  But somewhere at the back of her mind, she had this thought playing on a never-ending loop, “If I can do it, if I can love generously and constructively, surely, you can, too.”

In an ideal world, of course, they would be right.  But that thought is wrong on two counts.  First, it grossly underestimates the courage and the heart of the person who loves despite their own bitter experience.  Second, it fails to evaluate the reality effectively.

Toxic people are different

Toxic people are not, at bottom, the same as you.  I neither know nor care how much is nature and how much nurture. You have to deal with the end product.  That end product is very, very different from you.  It is, if you like, the difference between dog and wolf. The differences are too great – and too damaging – for your love to bridge.

In the end, we all must accept that we need to walk away from the toxic relationships in our lives.  Because we have already had a bellyful of toxicity for one lifetime.

When we do walk away, we need to accept that the relationship has failed  – because of the hopeless mismatch.  You have done your best to domesticate a wolf.  The wolf, ultimately, reverted to type.

When you can’t have the last word

 You can never have the last word with a wolf. Nor can you love a wolf your way and hope to turn it into a cuddly, loving, lapdog.  Loving it means freeing it to live out its life in its own wolfish way.  That is what it is going to do anyway.

What you need to do is to start showing some of the same strength and persistence in loving yourself that you have lavished on loving them.  Sure, you “are not done yet.” You “are not done yet” with finding joy and fulfilment in your life.  That  precious  life will improve  exponentially when you finally accept that you are done – with them.


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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