Emotional abuse can creep up on you, and there’s nothing you could do that warrants abusive behavior.
Although it’s sometimes hard to believe, not everyone we meet, love, and bond with is meant to be in our lives forever. It can be challenging, however, to accept that when you still have love in your heart.
Sometimes, you love someone who keeps coming back in to your life, or a tumultuous relationship, and you know the connection isn’t stable, isn’t secure, and that this person isn’t emotionally “safe,” but the love in your heart is so great you keep trying, you keep forgiving the same mistakes, and keep believing them when they say it will be different.
I know you want to believe it will be different. I’ve wanted that too, many times, as have many others.
The thing you have to realize, though, is that when someone tells you it’s going to be different, they’re telling you, not showing you. Does this person keep their word? Do they live their life with integrity? Do they keep promises and dates? Do they keep their word generally? Is their behavior consistent? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, take their fresh promise that things will be different with a hefty grain of salt. Maybe with the Costco sized salt, actually.
Things may change for a little while, and sure, maybe people do sometimes change for the better, but if you love someone and it’s not working, and something needs to change, and you’ve changed your part of the dance, I beg of you:
Believe patterns and actions, not words.
I’m going to tell you a story. I met a man I was set up with by one of my dearest friends. We hit it off, flirtation ensued, as did a long distance fling since we lived 1500 miles away.
We initially had a lovely long distance fling. I caught feelings. We became exclusive, and decided to try. He flaked. Came back, professing his feelings, then ghosted. I realized I still loved him and mourned the loss. He came back again, professed heavier feelings, we tried again. Continued to blow me off and come back, over and over and over again. This goes on for a year and a half.
I would have cut off any other guy at this point for bad behavior, but the connection with this one in particular was so strong, I struggled to let him go. Finally we meet up again, and he’s saying he thinks we were compatible and that things would work, how much he regrets how he treated me. For a while it was great, better than I knew it could be- deep connection, real intimacy, talking into the wee hours, staring into each others eyes telling each other how great the other was.
It was “maybe this could really work” great, but then, like a switch getting flipped, he completely withdraws and withholds his affection, culminating in a 45 minute emotionally abusive outburst that left me alone in a hotel in North Nashville, with my best friend driving 7 hours to spend the night with me. It was a low point, and a wake up call. Stay tuned for the full story. Get close, freak out. Come back. Get close, freak out, come back. Broken record style.
For months, I kept rationalizing his behavior. His mom is sick. He’s going through a major life change. It’s a pandemic. He got scared. The connection, and the good parts, were so strong it was like I was a drug addict, willing to sacrifice money, time, my health, and well being, just to get high again.
Unfortunately, I needed things to get as bad as they did before I could wake up and let him go. And in retrospect, looking back at what happened between us made me realize most of my past relationships were unhealthy (with the exception of two in my late teens and very early twenties. I’m about to be 30.) I realized I’d been accepting crumbs, and toxic, emotionally abusive behavior for years. And sure, I wasn’t perfect either, I had my outbursts, I’ve name called, but man, I’d been accepting crumbs.
I’m looking for a decadent birthday cake. I deserve a fuckin’ birthday cake, and you do, too. Stop accepting crumbs.
That’s the thing with emotionally abusive and toxic relationships. You often still love the other side, the good side of that person, and it’s really confusing when someone treats you with warmth and love some of the time, and then flips. It’s hard to understand. You see the good in people, and that’s a great quality to have, but don’t forget that you deserve someone who treats you with respect, consistency, and love. You deserve to feel safe in all your relationships, romantic or otherwise.
I kept looking at myself, what I did wrong. Was it something I said? Was I cold, not quick enough to warm up? Did I not make it clear enough that I was open to moving? Do I not text enough? Did I scare him off in the beginning? Was I not enough? Do I have some fatal flaw I can’t see? Is it my scar?
You might find yourself asking the same questions. And while it’s always wise to look at your part in relationships, nothing you did ever warrants abuse- mental, physical, or emotional. Nothing you did or could do would make you deserve that.
You may get the urge to over-analyze the other person, and what went wrong. You may wonder if there were others, or what happened in their childhood that made them the way they are. You can research and talk to your friends until both of your ears bleed, but eventually, you’ll have to accept that you’ll probably never know why. It’s not our job to figure out why, though. It’s our job to show ourselves and the other person compassion, walk away, take care of ourselves, and move on with our lives.
Don’t take responsibility for getting burned, or make up a story about how you’re not good enough.
If you’re going to love yourself, you don’t have room in your life for someone who is cruel to you. Letting go and walking away is acting lovingly to you and them.
When we believe words over actions and patterns, and let the same person hurt us in the same way, even after we’ve communicated our needs, we’re not acting lovingly towards ourselves.
At a certain point, you have to walk away.
You can forgive, but not accept certain behaviors. You can forgive, and not let someone back in your life.
If you haven’t heard of attachment styles, I highly, highly recommend learning more about this. You can find your attachment style here.
Basically, those of us who find ourselves entangled with unavailable people, struggling to let go, and being hurt in the same way over and over again are re-living our insecurely attached childhoods, which are more common than you might think. Just because you didn’t get beaten, always had enough to eat and love your parents doesn’t mean there weren’t some early childhood experiences that may negatively affect your romantic life.
Our relationships with our primary caregivers set the stage for all intimate relationships to come, and the aforementioned attachment style. It’s worth looking into.
However, you won’t learn your lesson hearing it from me or anyone else for that matter, unfortunately. You’ll likely learn it from experiencing it. But if you hear it first, you’ll better be able to apply it, and to notice what’s happening. It might take a few tries. Be kind to yourself. You’re learning. It’s not your fault. You deserve good things. You are lovable and ok exactly as you are.