I’ve been in several long-term relationships in my 40 something years, and I was always the one who made the decision to leave. It wasn’t always abuse that caused me to leave but normally it had to do with my asking the question “Why am I here?”
Relationships, to me, should be something that enhances our lives and adds to it, much as icing adds to a cake. We shouldn’t expect a relationship to be the whole cake and fulfill our every need, but there are some needs we naturally look to a relationship to fill; a need for intimacy, sexual expression, caring, nurturing and companionship.
I learned long ago it isn’t healthy to rely on one person too heavily, but in an interdependent relationship we develop a healthy dependency on each other.
When I asked myself the question “Why am I here” I normally concluded that I was in that relationship more out of a sense of duty or obligation than out of choice.
Tina Turner has a song called “What’s Love Got To Do With It!” We may think we are staying in a relationship for love, but often love has very little do to with why we stay. In fact sometimes we show the greatest love, for ourselves and others by making the decision to leave a relationship that is no longer working.
We are well into the new millennium where our society supports divorce and short-term relationships, so we don’t need to stay in a bad marriage because we took the oath of “till death do you part.” I have come to understand this vow to mean “till the death of the union rather than the death of one of the parties.” What would be the benefit of waiting around for someone to die, especially if the union is already dead? If the positive qualities that brought us together are no longer present, it would seem either both parties commit to changing things or dissolve the relationship.
My answer to the question “why am I here” was normally because I was a coward and afraid to leave. There were financial reasons, a child, obligation or the most important “fear of flying on my own.” The reasons really had nothing to do with that relationship contributing to my life in a positive way. On the contrary, by this time it was usually depleting my life by the sheer energy expenditure it required to stay in the illusion of a relationship.
In my relationships with narcissistic partners I considered leaving many times before I actually did. There were times I separated for a short time and found myself absorbed back into the relationship by some unseen force. There was always a bond I interpreted as love that seemed to stick me like glue to the relationship on some deep soul level. Leaving was hardly an option because it would have required a crow bar to pry the bond lose. It felt like we were Siamese twins not knowing what part belonged to me and what part belonged to him.
Since narcissistic lovers have no real boundaries our relationship with these charismatic charmers are more like a complete fusion of souls. When he was not in my life it felt like a piece of my soul was missing so to leave him was like leaving a piece of my soul behind. My tendency was to romanticize this all powerful bond and develop a belief that we somehow belonged together. Yet, intuitively I always knew I was better off without him. He never took any of the emotional responsibility in the relationship. He was always right and I was always the one to blame, for everything. I served an important purpose in his life because without me who would he project all of his deep seated inadequacies upon? It only made sense that my feelings of inadequacy only deepened in the relationship. My former self-image as a strong, capable, loving and caring woman slowly eroded to where I was now only a shadow of my former self. Meanwhile his confidence seemed to be increasing. His life was improving! He was realizing his dreams while mine were falling apart. What was wrong with this picture? Was I really that flawed?
The conclusion was that there was a severe lack of balance in this union and I was being negatively affected by it. It was usually too confusing to sort it all out within the relationship so the only choice was to leave. In both my narcissistic relationships I told myself that if the love was real it would endure, even through a separation. After all true love prevails, right?
Yet both times I left the relationship the truth that I had been hiding from rose to the surface of my awareness like a tsunami. As long as I was towing the line in the relationship and being a good little girl, agreeable and nice, all was relatively calm. But when I dared to question the integrity of the relationship and take back my power all hell broke lose. How dare I! How dare I be strong and capable and take back my power! He was thriving on my power! The part I was giving to him! He was feeling all powerful and I was feeling powerless! So to take back my power would mean upsetting his fragile balance. He would have to punish me by showing me just how expendable I was; how unnecessary I was and how downright useless I was.
The shock for me came in realizing just how little love was really ever there. If this man really ever loved me, why would he treat me like this? Why would he go out of his way to show me how little I mattered to him? Why would he wait until this moment, the moment I decide to take myself back, to show me how he really feels about me? And the big question is “Why did I doubt myself all those years, somehow believing he really cared?” How many years have I wasted? What would have happened if I just left, way back when I started having those intuitive inklings?
Now I work with so many women who tell me “but I love him! We have such a powerful bond. I can’t leave! I can’t get away! I can’t stop thinking about him!” I remember those feelings all too well! What is it about this man that makes me want to stay, even knowing how it’s killing me on the deepest levels?
It is like a death to leave! And it’s also a rebirth! I feel in these kinds of situations that we so unconsciously merge with this narcissistic being that we lose ourselves in the union that was created. We forget ourselves in it! We surrender ourselves completely to this entity and yet there is this little voice inside of us that tells us if we don’t get out we will die here. And this is the truth. We do die there! It may not be a physical death, at least not right away, but it is a slow cancerous erosion of ourselves that results in the complete loss of the being we once were. We sacrifice ourselves little by little to this man who feeds on our energy, who power trips on his superiority and reminds us of our inferiority even if subtly. We give our power to keep the peace and mostly to keep the illusion that we are in a loving relationship.
When we are just a fragile little shell, how much power can we muster to start our lives over without him? We have built our lives and our dreams around him. He had become our reason for living. We would have died for him! Oh…we are dying for him.
Does he have us right where he wants us? Powerless! Insecure! Fragile! Afraid! Financially dependent! Oh yes!
When we are without our power he has control which equals security in his life. When we leave he goes through an initial period of hostility or rejection of us, and maybe an attempt or two to reel us back in and put us back where we belong. But once we leave it is really hard to go back to that place. We have tasted freedom and it is bittersweet. We crave what we have always craved; his love and his positive affirmation of us. But we know we can never get it! Not really! He may affirm us temporarily to get us back into our place, but that is all. Or he may not want to waste any more energy on us at all and simply find a suitable or “better” replacement. We see him parade his beautiful new love before us reminding us just how little we ever mattered to him and how easily we can be replaced and we feel our own worthlessness.
Oh to be her, the new woman. We are reminded of how it was in the beginning when we could do no wrong. We remember how he rushed into our lives and fulfilled our every dream restoring our faith in love. Before the fall! And this is what we see when we look at her. She is us, before the fall! She is still in the glory days and we are in the dark night of the soul. It doesn’t quite seem fair.
No matter how hard we try we could never recapture those moments when the love was fresh and new. Too much has happened! The trust is gone! We are gone and we have to face the truth that it was never real! It was false love built on an illusion. Sure he may have believed in the illusion at the beginning too. He may not have been pretending. It might have seemed real to him way back when. But when the illusion cracks it exposes the truth and those who don’t want to face the truth go running.
In any healthy relationship there comes a time when the initial romance of a new love gives way to true love, which is built on honest, open communication and caring. It is built on honor and respect of the other and a commitment to working on oneself as well as the relationship. Those who believe a relationship is going to come riding into their lives like a knight on a white horse and sweep them off their feet are in for a fall. True love isn’t something we fall into. It is something that grows with mutual trust and commitment. If we are with immature partners there is no hope for real love unless they have a personal commitment to growing up.
The problem with narcissistic individuals is they just don’t see themselves as they really are. They don’t believe they need to grow up. They believe you are the one who is immature and you are the one who has the problems. So there is really no hope for change. Our leaving doesn’t give the message that they should maybe do some self-reflection. On the contrary! Our leaving only confirms that we have a problem and they need to find someone better so they don’t have to be victims of our abuse any longer.
I believe the key to leaving an abusive relationship is to simply make your mind up to leave and give the details to God. Whenever I decided to leave things just happened to get me out of there. It wasn’t pretty, or easy, but it did accomplish the task. So if you are waiting for an easy way, you may be waiting a long time. Breaking these seductive negative emotional bonds is often the hardest thing you will ever do, yet it is the most important thing you can do for yourself.
So I tell my clients to gather all their strength from all four corners of the earth, make a decision to leave and do it! Just do it! Get yourself out of there. If you doubt yourself than tell yourself the same thing I did. If the love is true it will endure this separation. It usually ends up being a lie we tell ourselves but whatever works.
Surround yourself with friends and support groups to help you to make this transition. You don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of people out there going through this same thing.