The True Cost of Staying in an Abusive Relationship: When You Believe You Can’t Do Any Better
A lot of people stay in unhealthy relationships because they have developed a belief that they can’t get another mate. They believe that being with someone is better than being alone, even if that someone mistreats them and adds nothing of value to their lives.
Back in the days of our great grandparents, couples generally tended to stay together. The morals, customs and religious beliefs of their era kept marriages intact. Many women feared having children out of wedlock, causing a scandal, or of being an old maid. Most were uneducated and unemployed, remaining at home to take care of the family. They did not have their own financial resources and quite literally didn’t have any other option. From a cultural and religious perspective when you made your choice of mate, you were stuck with it, whether or not it was a good one.
The opportunities of today’s woman would baffle our ancestors. The sky is the limit when it comes to our choices on education, career, spouse, finances and when to have children or not. The flipside is that now we tend to live in a disposable society, where rather than attempt to fix a relationship that isn’t working, we discard it and move on to the next.
With choice comes a sense of freedom. Options give us the ability to make alternate decisions and take different courses of action, when something isn’t working.
Even with all these options available to us today, many still believe that they have to stay in their abusive relationships. Their reasons vary, but I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve receive from readers saying, “Sav I’m 50 years old, no one else will want me,” or “I don’t have any money, or anywhere else to go.” Everyone has reasons and insecurities; we’re either too old, too fat, too ugly, or too broke to do anything about our situation. There are always going to be reasons for us to justify doing what we know isn’t right for us, rather than cultivate options for change.
I am in no way endorsing running away from all relationships if you hit a snag, but chances are if you’ve found this site, you’re probably involved with someone that abuses you psychologically or possibly even physically, detracts from your life rather than adds value to it and doesn’t treat you with the love and respect that you deserve.
Narcissists have a unique talent of convincing you that they are superior, not only to you, but to every other mate on the planet, while at the same time eroding your self-confidence and your self-esteem, so that you are left fully convinced that you’ve got yourself a prize and that you’re lucky to have him. You’re left believing that he’s in high demand and will have no trouble replacing you, if you step out of line.
This psychological warfare they play is meant to keep you subdued and under their control, so that you become fully dependent upon them and doubtful that you could ever survive on your own.
According to the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the common elements of Psychological Trauma are feelings of fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation. If we look at this closely we can draw parallels to the abuses of a Narcissistic relationship. Many live in constant fear of offending their Narcissist, because their rages are unpredictable. You’re constantly on edge and full of anxiety. They suck away your power, leaving you feeling completely helpless and dependent on them for affection, attention , money, or your very survival. They are control freaks, so being with them means that you have had to surrender control of everything, even yourself, thus you become just a shell of who you once were. While there may be no fences blocking your escape, the psychological abuse is paralyzing and you actually start to believe that you can’t do any better and you are deserving of poor treatment.
Narcissists perpetuate the warfare by attempting to render their victims completely helpless and invisible. In Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, she describes just how abusers exact their control;
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are their first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments from the most blatant denial, to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality and the more completely his arguments prevail.”
If you’re lucky you’re at the stage where you see through all the smoke and mirrors and you’re looking for a way out, but many continue to tell themselves that they can’t afford to leave and believe that they are stuck, but the true cost of staying in a Psychologically abusive relationship is much, much higher.
The price of remaining in an abusive relationship is not only your self-esteem but your health. Researchers have found the following symptoms in patients of abuse and trauma: acute anxiety, depression, avoidance, memory loss, numbing, loss of interest in normal activities, feelings of detachment, sleep disturbances, irritability, loss of concentration, feeling jumpy or easily startled, feelings of guilt and shame, feelings of mistrust, feelings of hopelessness, and feeling alienated and alone.
The aftermath of an abusive relationship can be akin to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It’s affects remain with us long after the torment is over and will follow us into future relationships if we don’t get the help we need.
The Role of Self-Esteem
Feelings of low-self-esteem and a lack of self-worth have an early onset and are usually pervasive throughout our livetime. I define self-esteem in my blog, Self-Esteem it really is a choice, as:
A subjective image that we hold inside of us, that represent our beliefs about who we are, our abilities and our worth. It is our own view of ourselves, it may not be accurate, or how others view us, but it affects every aspect of our lives. Whether or not our self-esteem is positive or negative will have great repercussions on how we think, how we communicate, our relationships, our careers and our goals for the future.
The key aspect I’d like to point out is that, your self-esteem is subjective and it may not be accurate. Low self-esteem usually results from one negative experience that caused us a great deal of pain early in our lives. We internalized the hurt and we weren’t able to stop thinking about it. We continued to hold on to those feelings and kept looking for clues to prove that theory correct, while discounting all others to the contrary. As we gathered more and more evidence, the theory that we were lacking, began to cement in our subconscious and became a core belief, that now follows us everywhere.
When I was back in University I witnessed a friend of mine, named Nicky, who had a very healthy self-esteem, break up with her boyfriend. After she had told him that she wanted to end the relationship, he said to her, “You really aren’t as great as you think you are, you know.” She replied, “Well it’s a good thing you don’t decide my worth.” If only we all had that fierceness embedded in us back when our self-esteem was developing. As adults we are able to see that he was just trying to hurt her with his comment, but when things like that happen to us as children, we are more likely to internalize the insult and continue watering it until, before we know it, we’ve grown an orchard.
If you hold that core belief that you just can’t do any better and that you are deserving of poor treatment, stop and think about when this belief first began in your life. What was the event? What was said and what feelings did the event evoke in you? Look back at all the preceding events that you used as proof of this theory.
Now go back and look at the situation from a rational adult perspective. Replay the scene in your mind with adult you standing behind younger you. As you visualize the event happening in your mind, have adult you take on the attitude of my friend Nicky and say, “No you don’t get to treat me that way. You don’t decide my worth. I do.” And continue replaying all of the preceding scenes in your mind that caused you to form this false conclusion about yourself and do the same thing. When you’re done visualize younger you melting into big you, feeling strong and powerful.
Understand that this negative belief that you’ve been carrying around about yourself isn’t true. It was never true. When this belief was created your emotional development was at a very early, immature stage, when you weren’t able to discern the dysfunction in others. So often we are the recipients of other people’s baggage. What we fail to realize is that their behavior says everything about them and nothing about us. People will say and do things to purposely hurt us and cause us harm and it has nothing to do with us. What we have to always remember, is that we are the guardians of our self-esteem. Only we decide our worth.
So if you still believe that you can’t do any better and deserve to be treated like gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, you better rethink your position, because the price of staying in an abusive relationship is a lot higher than rent.
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