How much attention do you give to the patterns and themes that show up in your own life over the short and long term?
In my work especially, I am always looking for patterns and themes. Patterns and themes enable you to see beyond the single instance to the wounds and beliefs that underlie it. This week, the theme that keeps jumping out at me is waste.
I have spoken with several women who have reached the end of toxic, abusive relationships. The themes that commonly come up are their feelings of brokenness, hopelessness, despair and waste. Today, I want to look at those feelings of waste.
Those feelings of waste
There can be no getting away from the fact that, in an abusive relationship, you plough vast amounts of time and energy into a relationship that could never work.
Is that a waste?
From an objective, dispassionate point of view – i.e. the point of view of the judgmental, smarter-than-thou onlooker – it could well be seen as a waste.
Although, when you think about it, the judgmental, smarter-than-thou onlooker tends not to think terribly deeply, preferring to focus, instead, on the simple satisfactions of Point-Scoring 101. This point-scoring takes two key forms:
1) Alluding to your shortcomings in their eyes by inquiring what you might have done to contribute to the situation and
2) Asking why you didn’t leave sooner.
Sadly, the thing that you share with the judgmental, smarter-than-thou onlooker is the tendency to take a very harsh view of the situation in which you find yourself. You conclude that you have wasted your life with an abusive partner.
Doubtless, the abusive partner has told you – more than once – that they wasted their time with you. That, in reality, is an out and out lie for two reasons:
First, they waste their entire life by focusing on doing harm in the world rather than good.
Second, they stayed because you suited their purpose.
Narcissist and abusers twist reality
Narcissists and abusers twist reality out of all recognition. Nevertheless, you may have absorbed the “truth” of wasting your life from them.
“But isn’t that exactly what happened, Annie?” you might be asking, by now, more than a little peevishly.
My answer – typically – would be along the lines that you could argue it that way and use the bald facts to corroborate your claim.
However, that is not how I see it. Nor, I believe is it in your best interest to see it that way.
You can’t be judgmental and compassionate
First off, you need to understand that you cannot heal the hurt of what you have been through while taking a judgmental view of yourself. You cannot be judgmental and compassionate at the same time. Nobody can.
You need to step out of that judgmental approach to yourself and show yourself some compassion. The judgmental approach is like repeatedly rubbing salt in your wounds. It is pointlessly painful. It does far more harm than good.
Second, it is an unfair judgement because it overlooks the context.
Remember the context
As I have said before, pattern and context are hugely important.
The context in this case has to be your beliefs about a relationship. What you grew up believing, essentially, was that you had to pour all your love, worth and effort into a relationship in order to make it work and earn love and fulfilment.
You acted in accordance with a toxic belief that you didn’t even know was toxic.
If, as you hoped and believed, the relationship had worked, you would have been richly rewarded with the love that you sought and your life would have had the meaning that you longed for.
To the best of your belief system, you were pursuing the path that led to meaning, validation and happiness.
A flawed Cinderella model of relationships
Especially if your family of origin was abusive, you were running your own version of the Cinderella story. You were heavily invested in making the relationship with your partner work. You were prepared to Cinderella away at the pit-face of your relationship – when the best thing your “prince” ever did was create a couple of great memories and return a piece of your property that he couldn’t use, anyway.
You were heavily invested in the relationship on the basis of a couple of nice – if slightly cheesy – memories.
Nobody had ever made it clear enough to you that one person can’t make a relationship work when the other person is hell-bent on sabotaging it.
You acted in good faith
You acted in good faith. However, you poured your heart, time and effort into the wrong relationship on the basis of faulty beliefs and imperfect knowledge.
You only knew as much as you knew at the time.
It seems to me that most of us on this earth are here to learn deep lessons and do better for ourselves and others. Unfortunately, Narcissists and abusers are not. They are here to suck the life blood out of everyone they can for the satisfaction of doing so.
Your relationship with a toxic partner was predestined to fail. Nothing you could have done could ever make it work.
What of the love that you poured into that relationship?
My lesson from an annoying professor
My Ph.D. supervisor was an extremely annoying man. To his credit, he was open-minded. He was not as tetchy as some. He was also splendidly uninterested in me and my thesis. Only one thing that he ever said still remains with me and that was,
“Work is never wasted.”
At the time, that didn’t land too well with me.
However, my professor did have a point.
The effort that you put into something is, I believe, never wasted.
Love is never wasted
The love that you put into an abuser is wasted on them.
But the act of deeply, sincerely loving another person is not a waste in terms of who you are. From that point of view, your love is never wasted.
You loved a wrong person because you did not have the knowledge to recognise that the person was wrong. But you loved them with all the generosity of your heart because that is how you needed to love. You were, in a sense, true to your heart.
The person you gave that love to was wrong, but your way of loving was not.
You lived by your core value of love.
That is what counts.
The relationship was unfortunate
Your relationship with an abuser was unfortunate.
But you were as true to yourself as you possibly could be, at the time.
That is a huge achievement.
You have cause to be hugely disappointed. But not with yourself.
You have a precious capacity to love deeply.
That capacity was wasted on your abuser because your abuser is, essentially an emotional sink-hole. That is not your fault.
You managed to love an abuser because you are a deeply loving person. That is to be valued. And, one of your key learnings needs to be that you have to start including yourself in your own circle of love.
The key lesson worth taking from your abusive relationship
That is one key lesson worth taking away from the sadness of your relationship.
If you could love an abuser who was, in reality, extraordinarily dislikeable and hard to love, you can surely start to love yourself. Love yourself for being the loving person that you are. Love yourself for doing the best that you could with the wounds that you had. And start focusing on the wisdom you can derive from the themes and pattern in your life. If that seems too hard to do alone, right now, get in touch and let’s work on it together.
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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