Why can’t I get over this?
Why do I get sucked in every time?
Why do I feel so powerless?
These are the million dollar questions when we’re dealing with abusive relationships. When well-meaning friends or loved ones ask us, “Why don’t you just leave?” Or, “Why can’t you just move on?” We’re kind of stumped ourselves, because we don’t really have an answer that would sound even remotely plausible. We might even reply, “Because I’m a glutton for punishment.” And you wouldn’t be that far off.
Why do we continue to do things that cause us pain? What’s motivating our behavior? Why do we feel unable to control or stop ourselves? These are important questions that need answers. So I gathered a few of the most prominent ones.
Why We Stay In Abusive Relationships
Trauma Bonds: A Trauma Bond is the connection that forms when two people share an extremely painful experience. These relationships tend to defy reason, according to Patrick Canes, author of Betrayal Bonds. They can happen at any time and to anyone. They can happen very quickly and are extremely hard to sever. In order for a Trauma Bond to occur, Canes says, these three criteria must be present:
- A power differential (One person behaves in an oppressive, controlling and dominant manner).
- Intermittent rewards (Random moments of kindness and tenderness, mixed in with painful and hurtful treatment).
- Periods of high arousal (defined as intense feelings of fear, anxiety, excitement, or any emotion that puts your nervous system on high alert) followed by periods of intense bonding.
Mistaking Intensity for Intimacy: When we get involved in high risk relationships that have high peaks and deep valleys we become addicted to the feelings those peaks evoke. The peaks are those moments when our emotions are soaring and we feel ecstatic, relieved and euphoric. The valleys are those moments when we are in the depths of despair, depression and heartache. The pattern of a peak and valley relationship consists of regular bouts of breaking up and getting back together again. The partner, who falls victim to the peak and valley relationship, will put up with an abysmal amount of humiliating and poor treatment just as long as they know there will eventually be another peak coming.
Addiction: An addiction can easily be identified as something we cannot stop. Trauma Bonds and Peak and Valley relationships all have the flavor of an addiction. If we think about a heroin addiction we know they can happen to anyone, at any time, they are very hard to break and we know that those addicted will tolerate appalling conditions just as long as they can get their next fix. The best way to make someone dependent upon a substance, or dare we say, a person, is to give them their fill of it (create the dependence) and then threaten to take it away. And this is exactly what emotional manipulators do, with love bombing and laser like intensity in the beginning, followed by periods of gross indifference and long stretches of the eventual disappearing act.
Programming: When we grow up with the core belief that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t worthy of love, we seek out people and circumstances that mirror those beliefs and they also seek us out. We seek them out because they feel normal and like home to us. If a healthy partner thought we were special and wanted to have a relationship with us, that would feel so abhorrent to us and we wouldn’t be able to run away fast enough. By finding someone who brings out our feelings of worthlessness we are able to recreate our childhood dynamic and it allows us to keep replaying the same tapes over and over again.
As you can see the answer to, ‘Why can’t you just leave?’ is a complex one and the next time someone asks you, you can shove these reasons in their face. While it’s important to know why and what is behind our motivations it doesn’t entirely get rid of the problem. To overcome these types of relationships we have to treat them similarly like we would an addiction to a substance.
Savannah’s 13 Step Program
No contact – This means no communication what-so-ever. Yes there are going to be withdrawal symptoms, cravings and a lot of unpleasant feelings. If you have children it will be difficult, but not impossible. You just have to be committed to the task. Like I always say, “You can’t kick heroin by continuing to abuse heroin. Just stop the madness and know that every day the pain, the cravings, the sorrow will become less and less and hold on to that.
Educate yourself – Read, read, read and watch videos on beating addiction and codependency. Learn how to control those codependent thoughts that always try to keep you from growing and getting healthy.
Find Your Inner Warrior – Make no mistake this is going to be a battle and you will be tested to the very limits of your ability. You must search deep, deep down and find your reasons and be ready to do battle.
Change your focus – Spend some serious time sitting and thinking about what you want and where you want to go. Create a map from where you are to where you want to be. Write out all the little steps you have to take to get there. Get in the habit of focusing on you. Every time you find your mind going back to things that it shouldn’t have your map nearby and focus your attention on it.
Take Away Its Power –When you understand why you are thinking or behaving a certain way it lessens its potency. If my mind keeps going back to my abuser, I need to take a step back, ask myself, ‘Why am I feeling this way?‘ Label the thought process – this is my disease (codependency) and dismiss it. When we know what we’re battling, when we know what to expect and how to overcome the challenges, we become empowered and the process becomes easier.
Change Your Perspective – Stop the victim mentality. Were you victimized? Yes. Do you have every reason to feel like a victim? Yes. But guess what? That mentality isn’t going to help you. Every time I get a comment that starts with, “You’re blaming the victim.” I stop reading it and away it goes into the trash bin. I’m solution oriented, not problem oriented. I don’t want to focus on my Narcissist and why he/she did what they did. Sure it’s important to have an understanding. It also helps inspire us to act, but the healthy way is to own your role in the situation. Sure they did X,Y,Z, but I stayed – I allowed it to happen. You can’t change them, but you can change yourself. Own your own shit and be empowered.
Learn How to Protect Yourself – You were probably never taught how to communicate properly or even what a boundary was. These behaviors are things you will have to research, implement and enforce. I always say once you find one Narcissist in your life you’ll probably find many others. You will have to start the process of eliminating toxic people from your life and teaching people how you expect to be treated and backing convictions with consistent action.
Get Angry – Anger is one of those words that has such a negative connotation that everyone is afraid to talk about its plus side. I’m going to tell you a secret. My life would never have changed if I didn’t get angry. If my attitude doesn’t change from poor me, to you son of a bitch, I’m still rocking back and forth and feeling so hard done by, like a victim. Anger is that secret ingredient that pushes you to achieve what you think you can’t. It’s the fuel in the, I’ll show you, attitude. Embrace it while it lasts and let it push you to greatness.
Become Uncomfortable with Where You Are – Do you know why most people don’t change their lives? It’s because they’re comfortable with where they are. It doesn’t mean they like it. They might be overweight, in a bad relationship, in poor health, living paycheck to paycheck, addicted to something…. But the idea of doing something to change their circumstances is more painful and more difficult than doing nothing and staying where they are. There’s no fear of the unknown in what you already know. There’s no work in doing nothing. Find your reasons. For most parents, your children are a pretty good reason. We often hear, “I left for my children. I didn’t want them to go through that.” And it’s a good reason. Anger and fear wear off pretty quickly, so you better figure out what your reasons are. Generally I find the more salacious the reason, the more powerful the force behind it. Revenge, I’ll show you, Fame, Money, Purpose, Need to Help Others… these are the answers we usually get when we ask someone what their reasons are to change. Figure out what yours are and find a way to let them fuel you.
Get a Mentor – Chances are, if you want to be X, there is already someone that is X. The easiest way to become X is to do what someone, who is already X, is doing. Find someone who is the pinnacle of what you want to be and do what they’re doing.
Own Your Own Worth – Stop looking to others to tell you who you are. They don’t know. They don’t have a clue and worse yet, they don’t care if they’re giving you validation or self-esteem – not really. You can’t get something from someone that they don’t have. Your worth is in you, no one else. It’s a set point and it doesn’t change based on someone’s ability to see it. It is your birthright. You just have to reach out and take it.
Learn How to Meditate and Regulate Your Emotions – When I meditate I can manufacture a feeling. I can make myself feel joy, love, abundance…any feeling I want. What you want to do is get in the habit of taking time every day to raise your emotional vibration. You want to feel good as much as possible throughout your day. It raises your emotional vibration. Make time for it – make it a habit in your daily routine just like brushing your teeth.
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I have just recently come to the realization that I have been married to an Narc and I have been codependent for 20 years. It feels like a fog has been lifted. The final straw was been he belittled me while I was trying to disciple my daughter. He started screaming at me to stop screaming at her and she looked at him and said “Mommy didn’t even raise her voice” .That was when I said no more. When my children have to come to my defense and watch me constantly cry, I didn’t want to continue setting this awful example of a weak woman that allows herself to be constantly be put down. I know I am a good person and I deserve better.
Unfortunately he won’t leave. He is staying in the basement at least. No contact is very difficult but I am trying. He still things he can win me over but I am trying to be strong. I am filing for divorce as soon as I can so I can totally get him out of my life.
I want so much to be healthy in my mind and my spirit. I will take all the wonderful advice you can dish out. Thank you for all the hope you inspire in me that get on that track. I will also be seeking professional help to fill in all the cracks in my pysche. Every else in my life I have healthy relationships but this one. The one that should give me the most joy if it were healthy. I know I have a long road ahead of me and I can’t succumb to his empty promises that he’ll change. I know he can’t. I will also not get into any romantic relationship for a long time. I need to learn to love myself again. I haven’t in a very long time, that it feels alien.
“A power differential (One person behaves in an oppressive, controlling and dominant manner).” – My ex, a narcissist in denial, was all the time deflecting his oppressive, controlling and dominant behavior, projecting it onto ME! What was the result? I ducked down, more and more, until becoming totally submissive, UNTIL I switched into anger. My Spirit came in, and reacted from then on strongly… against all the manipulation. – Nowadays, I am applying most of your recommendations, and am in therapy to be FREE.
I’ve recently left my Narc. She was verbally physically and mentally abusive. I just couldn’t take it anyway more. My soul was drying I got courage to leave this 2 years of hell. I have gone no contact 07/26/16 on my end at first I was crushed. I felt as though someone was stabbing me in my stomach. Each morning I would cry. Today on 09/01/16. I have so much peace I can breathe again. I Thank God he’s with me the whole entire time, even though my ex Narc has my belongings. Material things are just that my soul is everything. So happy that Im gone from that toxic relationship.
Thank you so much, Savannah, for your posts and your guidance. As a recovering codependent, I am trying to move forward each day. I know that the majority of your readers are female, but I ended a nine yr. run as the boyfriend of a sociopathological narcissist, a woman of untold brutality. I came home to our apartment one evening to find a 6’4″, 270 lb., 39 yr old career criminal “with” my girlfriend. He’d done 8 yrs for shooting someone, then 6.5 for narcotics distribution. Anyway, a friend of mine counseled me that adhereing to No Contact is all the more important in this instance, since, he pointed out, the two of them might get off on physically tormenting me, as some kind of sadistic little game . . . I’ve reread your posts, and I’ve acknowledged my value and worth to myself, thanks to you.
Hi, I just decided to get separated from my husband of 12 years. I thought it would be very awful feeling, but it’s not… Actually I feel a relief and complete confidence… My husband is vry narcisstic, thinking always about himself only.. I wanted us to part with calm and collected attitude, but he provoked a tantrum yesterday, so I had to tell him to leave… I guess he wanted me to blamed for everything..
Do you have any tips or links to meditation that would be helpful?
Check out my YouTube channel. I have a few meditation videos up.
Excellent list Savannah. I finally got angry, not just angry but pissed off. And every time I think of the narcissist I allowed in my world for four dreadful years, in my thoughts I call him what he is … a rat-a bastard! Done, done and staying done. I blocked him on my phone and don’t even look his way. It’s been awhile and I feel good. Not manufactured good but really good! Thank you again for another great post!
Thank you Savannah & Hurtin Cowboy for your authenticity. Have just said goodbye to a 2 month dating relationship as he did not appreciate how great I am. First guy after healing from the Narcissist. Yay to me for ending it even though I am sad & disappointed. Esteemology brings me great comfort & support xxx
What an awesome article! I’m now a week of no contact, and it took me to get angry to initiate that move! Not only that, but I stop trying to understand him and how narcs work. It drive me crazy because I started to try and beat him at his game. But once I got angry I stop caring and cared more about me!
“If a healthy partner thought we were special and wanted to have a relationship with us, that would feel so abhorrent to us and we wouldn’t be able to run away fast enough.”
So how are we ever to discern, given that our programming is so messed up, where the problem lies in relationships ie is it just me being dysfunctional?? I’ve been on/off with a partner for many years now and it doesn’t feel ‘right’ but he keeps coming back claiming he loves me…I feel that he doesn’t. I have a history of codependency/narc relationships. I don’t trust my own instincts
Savanna is the absolute best. Everything about every post helps me in so many ways. It is so creepy how you hit the nail on the head each and every time. Whenever I feel the urge to reach out to my ex I think of what you told me and reread many of your posts and it helps. It helps to know that I am not alone and have the support not only from you but from all your readers. Thank you for all that you do!
Another great post Savannah!! Nailed it, when I read and studied about trauma bonds bells went off. Anger was great fuel for exercise and taking care of my kids. They are older so thankfully they made great decisions for themselves were my ex and their other parent are concerned. I found for myself it was ok to learn I had been victimized by such a toxic person, not ok to stay there. I learned everything I could, about leaving, staying gone and building healthy boundaries, when that work started and proceeded, joy and peace were restored for me. After almost 3 years I still sometimes stop, ask myself the hard questions, do red flag checks, and go ok doing good. Love your posts, they are great milestones for me and I’m sure for others. I still have areas to strengthen but I know I’m on the right track. Thank you!!!!!
I just finished writing up a report on bullying that happened last week in my office. I have been NC for nearly three years on my ex NARC, and I have read, read, read up on narcissism, including this post. It is amazing to me how the mummy bandages of change keeping unwinding and unbinding as I learn. I do Al-Anon at times and I journal alot but by far my best learning is coming from doing.
Today the boss of the two people who bully me (I have been reading BullyFreeatWork to help me recognize and validate the behavior) glared at me and snubbed me. Again. They are a trio, these three, and I realized I better protect myself because they have gotten two people fired and tried to get rid of two more. So, I went into my personnel director and asked her advice and made a verbal report.
My journey right now is that I have decided to get a better paying job so I want a good leaving experience for the future reference. This greatly empowered me to do: writing the incident down and I will keep on with it. The idiots should not be picking on a former investigative reporter! LOL
I guess I most related to “getting angry” because it took me a long long time to let myself do that. I have a phrase for it: Now when they kick me I say ouch.” I used to say, “Oh, I’m sorry you hurt your foot when you kicked me.” That is how I was trained to be and how low of a person I was for a long long time. Greatest article. Thank you, Savannah and all you who share. We are all becoming warriors together.
Rock solid guidance as always. I am well past the painful early days post – N, but I can easily fall into the victim trap. And I love the idea of a map, a plan of action for getting where I am today (point A) to where I want to be (point B). This works in relationships but also in cater goals, self improvement goals, finances, etc.
In thinking about your step 6, I was reminded of the steps I went through in changing my focus. In my case, I had a lot of grief over the end of the N relationship. The early, ultra intense falling in love stage — called “overvaluation,” and followed always with Ns by devaluation and then discard — hit me at such a deep level it took me some time to shift my focus.
In my case I found I had to write about the grief — to use my creativity to express my deep pain. Only by getting down to the emotional bedrock was I able to surrender the pain and start to focus on myself and what I needed to change to avoid a repeat of the N disaster. In my case poetry helped; for others it might be visual art or singing or dance or whatever. In fact Savannah included a poem I wrote in one of her posts, which naturally made me feel great.
I know there is a line between “processing to get rid of something” and “wallowing in being a victim.” But I trusted myself to know where that line was, and I read Esteemology faithfully so I was able to move forward after the grief was mostly out of me. (It still comes out sometimes — my N did not choose to be the way she is and the profound neglect she suffered when a vulnerable little girl is just a sad fact of the world.)
Over time the support from this website and the community surrounding it has been absolutely crucial to my healing. I’m grateful to you all, I truly am.
Lest we forget…it WAS an abusive relationship.
It’s over two years since I went ‘no contact’ with my abuser. It hasn’t been easy but I’m SO glad I did it. I had a mentor who was quite strict with me and I bless you both. For those thinking about it, listen to Savannah and leave. Thanks Savannah and everyone who writes about their experiences. It’s been so helpful.
My son is abusive. Now, so is his girlfriend to me. I raised him alone and gave no other family. I’m elderly with health issues. I’m trying hard to let go,but boy very hard.
That’s a brilliant list, Savannah. I love the mentor one. When I was starting to work on myself I had a bit of an epiphany when someone else did something to put boundary oversteppers in their place. She was the manager of a nearby convenience shop that I use regularly, and someone I really like. She was friendly and approachable but if anyone overstepped the mark you could hear her voice ring out from the other side of the shop saying (in her lovely English Brummy accent) “What the bloody hell’s it got to do with you?”. She became my hero, and although it was quite a while before I could stand up for myself like that, I have every great joy in being able to do so now, lol. 🙂
PS, if anyone’s interested, and don’t know the accent, check it out on YouTube. You’ll laugh!
This was such a great reminder of why I left an extremely unhealthy relationship. It has been over a year and some days are harder than others but I keep pushing they because I know the best decision for my future. It definitely was not easy but, it gets easier over time. You experience the highs and lows of breaking up as you did in the relationship. I truly was addicted to this awful behavior and never realized until looking back. I still sometimes miss this nasty relationship because it was an addiction to me. “Become uncomfortable with where you are in life” really struck a nerve because it would always be in that moment of uncomfortably i would literally go running back to something that no longer served me. it took awhile but I’m finally free and just working on me !
Synchronicity is a word my friend and I have been throwing around a lot. It is uncanny how your posts also regularly hit on the subject matter that needs to be solved in my life (my friend is not codependent) when I need the answers to ‘what exactly is going on here’.
Thank you for this Savanna again. I am honey to narcissists and I also am at a loss of how to explain to my friend why people bypass her and zero in on me. To the narcissist it is as if she does not exist in their world because they are polite but do not become hatefully personal with her. Yet the implied commonalities and later abuse, which comes from a low level of consciousness (ugly verbal abuse), from people I am not any friendlier toward than my friend is (actually she is the social butterfly – I have social anxiety) is frustrating. This article came at the right time for understanding the differences.