“Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
Why do we keep going around and around on the same relationship merry-go-round, when we already know what’s coming and we have every reason to get off? Many people are stuck in relationships they know they shouldn’t be in, relationships with dysfunctional, emotional manipulators, that drain them of their energy, tap their resources and leave them feeling used and abused.
The most common reaction by well-meaning friends and family is, “Why don’t you just leave?” It’s a valid, though simplistic question. Many of my clients struggle with letting go and getting out. They’ve invested so much, their identity has become so enmeshed in the relationship, that they don’t know who they would be outside of it. They fear that their abusers are right – that it is all their fault, but mostly they struggle with the idea that their abusers will find someone else and live happily ever after, while they remain devastated.
The reasons people stay are diverse. Some can’t see a way out and others feel helpless to resist their Inner most desires – even though they know the relationship is killing them. The bottom line remains, that in order to reclaim your life and to heal yourself, you must get out and stay out. Here are the most common reasons people stay in toxic relationships and some assessments on how to combat those issues.
Why Codependents Can’t Let Go
Codependents Are Very Adaptable: At a very young age a codependent learned that they could not escape their circumstances, so they got very good at adapting to toxic environments and finding ways to survive. Where a healthy person recognizes an unhealthy relationship, can acknowledge they aren’t happy, that it isn’t adding value to their life and they leave. The idea of leaving, or even that they can leave, doesn’t dawn on a Codependent, because they’ve been conditioned to adapt to toxic environments.
*Know that you have options. You don’t have to stay – you can walk out the door at any time. Create and enforce boundaries and when your line has been crossed – act. Don’t shrug it off, don’t minimize it or deny it. Know that you don’t have to put up with poor treatment. Keep repeating the mantra, “I deserve better than this.” Get in the habit of making sure that there are consequences for bad behavior.
They Mistake Intensity for Intimacy: So many people get caught in the belief that these high anxiety feelings are love. These feelings happen after a discard, when the target is in emotional turmoil. The emotional abuser comes back. The target is so relieved that they are wanted again, they experience high-intensity feelings, butterflies and elation, equivalent to a drug high. These feelings are so extreme that they are mistaken for a type of fairy tale love. These emotions are so intense that the one experiencing them is left thinking that they can never love anyone else like this. Trying to get a Codependent to walk away from these types of relationships is equivalent to asking a heroin addict to just walk away from their drug.
*You have to go no contact with these types of relationships, just like an alcoholic must refrain from using alcohol. You’ve got to go cold turkey and educate yourself on what real love looks like. Know that true intimacy has the components of trust, compassion, reciprocity, love, kindness, respect. If these don’t exist in your relationship or you get mixed signals, sometimes yes, sometimes no – it’s dysfunction and you need to end it. Raise the bar on how you expect to be treated – have standards that are non-negotiable. While real love doesn’t give off the same chemical reactions in the brain, it has more important elements such as dependability, the forming of a real bond, intimacy and safety.
Codependents Need to Fix and Caretake: Codependents maintain what little control they think they have through what they can do or give to their partners. They want to become so invaluable that their partners dare not get rid of them. They seek out partners with issues because they are accustomed to this type of relationship dynamic.
As well, they have been conditioned to put the needs of others ahead of their own so they need to have someone else to focus on. They feel uncomfortable in the spotlight (because it’s not their normal) and are much more comfortable figuring out everyone else’s problems. They derive their self-esteem through what they can give or do and try to control their partners and relationships through caretaking.
Codependents are so other-person focused that the very idea of leaving a toxic relationship would leave them extremely anxious. They hate the concept of having to look inwards and that’s what being alone means to them. I have had many, many clients break down in tears because they were so terrified at the prospect of having to ‘fix’ themselves. They had no idea who they were, what their interests were and what brought them joy. Having to focus on their issues was extremely anxiety provoking. Having anyone else to focus on, even an abuser, was less taxing to their nervous system.
*Autonomy, autonomy, autonomy. The biggest part of recovery comes from learning how to take care of your own needs, allowing others to take care of theirs and knowing the difference between the two. It’s about retaining your own individuality in relationships and not losing yourself in the issues of others. Spend time getting to know you. Get comfortable practicing self-care and allowing others to experience the consequences of their own actions. When you’re ok being alone – you make better relationship choices. Reconnect to your emotions. Learn that if someone is broken, that it’s not your job to fix them, in fact if you meet someone who has issues, understand that this is not where you should be investing your emotional currency. You’re not a contractor – you’re not looking for a fixer-upper. You want a move-in ready mate.
They Believe That Leaving Will Be Harder Than Staying: People usually only change their circumstances when staying where they are has become more painful than leaving. If you have the perception that exercising and eating healthy is more painful than being overweight, you are not going to change your habits. Likewise, if you have the perception that being single, paying your own bills, taking care of yourself, is more painful than staying in a toxic relationship – you’re going to stay.
*Give yourself a kick in your complacency. Anything is hard, until it’s not. If finances are a problem – make a plan and start working towards it. If fear is what’s holding you back – move closer to your fear and get comfortable with it – get used to the idea of change. Visualize being free of it and the life you want. Embrace the challenge and start looking forward to a better life.
They Don’t Live In Reality: Some people are serious daydreamers. I mean that they live inside of their heads. Pretending that things are different in your mind is a coping mechanism used by many Codependents who grew up in homes where they needed some type of escape and the only place they could go was inside their mind. As children we’re helpless, we often don’t have a choice, but this type of coping mechanism isn’t appropriate in adulthood. Some Codependents create a fantasy world where their abuser is their prince or princess charming. They elevate them and put them on a pedestal, denying reality and only seeing what they wish to see.
*One of the reasons abusers like to isolate their victims is because they don’t want anyone from their support system to talk any sense to them and force them to see the truth. Abusers like you confused and doubting your senses. If you find yourself living in a fog, talk to people you trust, talk to a therapist and hear what they have to say.
Trauma Bonds: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “But we have such a deep connection…” When you experience trauma with another person, that trauma deepens the connection. Even if the person you’re forging the connection with is the cause of the trauma.
*Understand that this bond was forged through suffering – your suffering. It isn’t a healthy authentic connection. It’s based on control, pain and abuse. It’s crucial that you understand that your abuser is not feeling the same type of bond that you are and you can’t have a deep, meaningful connection with someone, when you are the only one connecting – regardless of what they may say. This is a situation that you will have to battle your way through.
Trauma bonds are real and they are difficult to sever. You have got to cognitively come to terms with the fact that you cannot have a healthy relationship with someone that keeps harming you. Keep challenging your thoughts and feelings. Know that this is harmful to your well-being and that it cannot continue. With this type of relationship, once you recognize you’re in a trauma bond, you must go no contact immediately. You can control your behavior and going no contact is the only way. If you stay involved, the trauma bond is still at play and still controlling your behavior. Get yourself away from the situation and start working on you.
They Believe No One Else Will Want Them: This is a very real fear for a lot of Codependents. Because they believe they are so flawed, so unlovable and so…not perfect, their confidence and self-esteem are so low that it’s ingrained in them that they aren’t good enough and aren’t worthy of love. They derive some self-esteem through the fact that someone wants them, even if that someone is emotionally abusive. They fear being alone, while still being able to acknowledge the fact that they actually are alone in their relationship.
*Being alone is a million times better than being in an abusive relationship. Spend the time alone that you need to get healthy and focus on yourself. Start practicing self-care, make you the best you possible and start treating yourself with the love, compassion and respect you want others to treat you with. Learn to like being by yourself and how to like your own company and how nice the feelings of stability, calmness and safety feel. Get used to those feelings and stop yourself from ever entering into anything that doesn’t make you feel good. Feeling unworthy of love is a deep seeded belief and you will have to challenge the way you perceive you.
All of these reasons make ending an abusive relationship very difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You have to decide that staying where you are is more uncomfortable than making the change. You have to find your reasons and make them your top priority. Get help, because this is going to be the battle of your life. Know that life is so much better on the other side of an abusive relationship and know that you are worth it. You deserve happiness and to be treated as a person of value, but it all starts with you. When you see you differently – your world will change. I promise.
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