Anyone who has ever come out of an abusive relationship has faced the unnecessarily cruel question, “Well, why did you stay so long?” The answer to that is, of course, a complicated tangle of reasons, many of which we cannot even formulate – including this one: “Because I honestly couldn’t be sure that the relationship was bad enough to leave. Because if even half of what I was accused of was my fault, then the problem lies not with the relationship but with me.”
The abuser’s methodology
The methodology of an abusive relationship has a certain similarity with that of cooking a lobster.
- Disarm the defence mechanism – in the case of the human victim through lovebombing, in the case of the lobster by tying its claws.
- Immerse in a constraining environment – for the human victim that constraining environment is marriage, having a child, or living together, for the lobster a pan of water.
- Secure the victim – in the case of the human victim through devaluation and isolation – in the case of the lobster, a lid will do the trick.
- Raise the temperature, either fast or slowly, until the victim succumbs.
The poor lobster never stands a chance. The human victim is, clearly, better placed to find an escape route.
There are routes out of an abusive relationship – in many parts of the world. However, escaping from an abusive relationship is never easy.
But before a person ever makes the decision to leave the relationship, they need to believe – for sure – in their own mind that the relationship is bad enough to leave.
How do you know when a relationship is bad enough to leave?
Feeling certain that the relationship really is bad enough to leave tends to be problematic.
On the one hand, you have all the more or less subtle ill-treatment that a toxic partner puts you through and on the other, you have all the gaslighting that they have done to undermine your sense of reality.
An abusive relationship is one in which the abusive partner has consistently raised the temperature of lies, uncertainty, crazy-making, projection and blame. As a result, you don’t know what is true. So how on earth can you hope to work out what is bad enough to be unacceptable?
Plus, at the same time, they have persisted in telling just how wonderful they are and how without them you would not survive for very long at all.
Now, to any onlooker who has not been privy to the constant gaslighting that you have undergone, the degree of respect that the person shows for you, together with the absurd inflation of their own dubious merits, would be proof enough of a toxic relationship.
However, from where you stand – and I stood – you can’t be too sure.
I get that.
Why labels matter
That is when you start casting about for a label that will reassure you that the person in question really is bad enough to leave.
If you can be 100% sure that they are a Narcissist, then you will have the certainty you need. Except that you may not feel that they fit all the criteria – or else you could argue that they only behaved that way because you “triggered” them. Or…
The bottom line is that you have become so used to accepting the bad behaviour – that you allegedly triggered – that you find it very hard to know when they have actually crossed a line.
Why you need to take ownership of the situation
But this is your life that we are talking about. It will be remain as bad as it currently is, or become even worse, for as long as you remain with this person. So, you have to take ownership of the situation and place a boundary on what is consistently causing you misery.
In a nutshell, if the nature of your relationship is consistently causing you to feel miserable, hopeless and worthless, then the relationship is bad enough to leave. You are doing yourself no favors. Plus, if you have children you are doing them no favors, either.
You are not obliged to complete the – mythical – Absolutely Disastrous Relationship Survey and tick every last box before you are justified in leaving.
Instead, here is a list of criteria that making leaving more than justifiable.
Bad enough to leave
1) You constantly expect to meet with attack or disapproval. This could tell you that you are living in a domestic war zone. That war zone is not going to be replaced to peace and rapprochement any time at all. The healthy relationship you hoped for with this person will never happen.
2) Your partner treats you with hostility or even contempt. Some people thrive in dishing out contempt to loved ones. I have yet to come across a loved one who thrives on that treatment. The contemptuous one has no regard for your happiness or wellbeing.
3) Your voice doesn’t matter. You never get – and never will get – the acknowledgement and validation you need. That means you are, slowly but surely, emotionally starving to death.
4) You don’t feel safe in the relationship. Safety is a fundamental human need. If a loved one can’t offer you that, they offer you NOTHING.
5) You feel unloved. If you feel unloved, there is a reason for that. You don’t need everyone to love you. But you do need the person who has the biggest place in your life to love – and like – you.
6) They make you feel like you are going crazy. Nobody makes you feel like you are going crazy without putting in the work. It is deplorable that anyone should actively attempt to undermine your sanity and yet that is exactly what abusers set out to do. Brainwashing, remember, is a weapon of psychological warfare.
7) You don’t feel that you can trust them. You’re a trusting person. That means that you had to learn the hard way that you cannot trust this person that you love. Love without trust is a constant, pointless torment for you. Their lack of trustworthiness shows that they are unworthy of your love.
8) They constantly lie to you. This is the point at which it is perfectly reasonable to say, “You know what? They have consistently invalidated the contract that I entered into with them. Therefore I declare the contract null and void.”
9) They show no sign of liking or valuing you. That being the case, they have absolutely no reason for being with you – unless, of course, they get some kind of perverse thrill of staying around someone that they neither like nor value. You cannot afford to be a part of such a twisted dynamic.
10) They only see the worst in you. They are constantly subjecting you to some sort of crazy exam whereby if you get the syllabus, say, 85% right, then they would still focus on the 15% wrong and fail you. And then there is the question of whether you had even been given the right syllabus to focus on for that particular exam… Never being allowed to get anything right enough does terrible things to what little sense of self you still have.
11) The best that you can hope for is that it will work out one day. As someone who stayed in an abusive marriage for over 20 years, I speak from experience when I say that that “one day” keeps receding ever further into the future. In an abusive relationship that “one day” never comes. There never will be that time when all of the bad stuff will drain out of the relationship, leaving only good feelings and happiness.
Today is practice for tomorrow
Your unhappiness today is practice for an unhappy tomorrow.
The unhappy months and years you have been through are practice for more unhappy days and years ahead.
Someone asked me, “How many of these things have to be true for the relationship to be bad enough to leave?”
Of course, the question was actually the voicing of a hope. “If only a few of these things are true,” the person was really asking, “we can still make the relationship work, right?”
It is highly unlikely that a person will experience just one of these issues. The person who, say, makes you feel unloved is not a really nice person who just happens to be unloving towards you, yet is content to continue a relationship that can only be detrimental to both of you.
If these pointers are features of your relationship, then it is definitely bad enough to leave. You are not to blame for leaving a relationship with a loveless partner. Never forget that.
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
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