"I miss my abusive ex and it's driving me crazy. I know they did awful things to me and a part of me still wants them back. What's wrong with me? Why can't I get over it?"
This issue is much more common than people appreciate. Many suffer in silence because they are too embarrassed to tell others. And when some people do share they are ridiculed and shot down so they never mention it again.
Friends and family tell you that you are out of the relationship now and that you should just carry on with your life. They will even suggest that you date someone else to take your mind off the last one.
But you know it's not that simple. Your ex is on your mind constantly. You think about the nice times and pine for those. You think about what your ex likes and doesn’t like. When you go to buy something new for yourself, you wonder what your ex would think about it. You long for their company again but you know you would not be able to tolerate the bad behavior any more.
Sometimes you may feel so awful, with a sense of loss, fear, grief, dread, that you feel that the only way to stop the hurt is to contact them and try and get back to them. You may even have done that a few times and realized it doesn't help. Your situation seems helpless. It may seem that you will never get over this. You probably won't ever find someone who makes you feel as good as they used to.
So what's going on?
In order to understand this sensation of "I miss my abusive ex" we have to go back and look at the dynamics of the relationship from the start.
The start of an abusive relationship can be fantastic. The new partner is kind, generous, caring, loving, attentive and you feel that you have met Mr Right or Miss Perfect. They present themselves as everything you want, need and desire. At last you have found someone who gets you.
Then at some point, their behavior changes. There are terms and conditions introduced. In order to keep the good times going, you have to do certain things and not do others, you are expected to say some things and not others. But you do it because things have been so good and you want that to continue forever.
Over time, you changed a little thing here and a little thing there. You did it to keep them happy because you were so in love, things were so good and they were providing everything you could have hoped for.
But all these little changes added up as time passed. And you ended up with different beliefs, different perceptions, different behaviors, a different sense of yourself... and a different partner. The person you fell in love with was not the same person you were living with. When they arrived home, you were not sure which one was going to come through the door, but the original one hardly ever showed up any more. Instead you had this irritable, critical, moody tyrant that you spent all your time trying to please. And no matter how hard you tried, or now much attention you gave, no matter how closely you followed their instructions, it was never enough. They found fault with something.
All these changes in you added up to a personality change. Your friends and family may have pointed out that you were not yourself, you had changed since starting the relationship, that you were not the happy, energetic, fun-loving person you once were. You may have felt that you did not even know who you were anymore, that you somehow got lost in the relationship.
This new personality is called a pseudopersonality, or false personality. It was imposed on you by the abusive partner. You can read more details about how it happens here in these articles about narcissistic boyfriends and narcissistic husbands. (The same dynamics apply with narcissistic girlfriends and narcissistic wives, too!)
This pseudopersonality is programmed in particular ways. You are trained to believe what the manipulator says, you are trained to do what they want. You are not allowed to argue, challenge or criticize. If you do, they retaliate hard and you end up backing down.
Your attention has been focused on taking care of them. Their wants and needs become so much more important than yours. In fact, your wants and needs are often forgotten about. Your life becomes all about keeping them happy and satisfied. If you are successful in that, you get to feel comfortable. If you fail, life is miserable.
Any scrap of positive attention or even a compliment from them changes your whole demeanor. Life is good! Things are looking up! You feel things are back on track... Until it all comes crashing down again because they got upset at something, and whatever it was, it was always your fault. You get blamed for so many things you end up accepting the responsibility for things that are not even your fault.
A fundamental part of this pseudopersonality is the dependency on the abuser. This is created in various ways.
They will isolate you from family and friends, often leading you to believe that it is the family and friends that have moved away for you.
The harsh criticisms actually enhance the dependency. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, so let me explain. Most people imagine that if someone was very rude or overtly abusive to them that they would end the relationship there and then. However, when there is a pseudopersonality in place, the pseudopersonality wants the compliments and does what it can to avoid the criticisms. The compliments makes the pseudopersonality feel good and the person then feels good about themselves, about who they are. The criticisms makes the pseudopersonality feel bad, and the person considers themselves to be bad in some way, defective, flawed, worthless, useless and so on. The pseudopersonality knows how good the relationship can be (as it was at the beginning) and wants more of that. When the abuser is cruel and hurtful, the pseudopersonality is motivated to change, adapt or fix things so that there can be more good times again. In other words, the pseudopersonality is actually motivated by the criticism to step up and try harder to please the abuser. You can read more about how this forces the victim into staying in an abusive relationship.
This is, for all intents and purposes, incomprehensible to someone who has never been in an abusive relationship. They do not understand how a person would tolerate bad behavior from another over long periods of time. When you are in an abusive relationship though, this is daily life. This is the reality you are living in. It seems that if only you could change enough, or do things right for your partner, then things would be great again. This stage can go on for years.
One more important thing about the pseudopersonality is that it is put in place with very strong psychological pressure techniques over months, or more typically, years. This means that the beliefs, ideas and behavior patterns of the pseudopersonality are typically more profound, more deeply ingrained, than normal, healthy ones. As a consequence, they do not disappear on their own when the person leaves the abusive relationship. They persist. This is a major problem because you were coerced into thinking and acting this way for the benefit of the abuser, not for your own well being.
The pseudopersonality continues to function and there is often a huge sense of loss, fear and even dread. Not only did you need the abuser to know what to do, you needed the abuser to know who you were. Some people feel they are nothing without the abuser, others do not know who they are and others feel they don't know if they can survive without the abuser.
These feelings can be so bad at times that the only way to relieve them is to go back to the abuser. Many people do this, including battered wives, women who have been obviously physically abused by their husbands. The victim gets back together with the abuser until things get so bad they end up leaving again. Then they feel bad and go back. This cycle can go on for some time, until the abuser realizes that things are not going to change and the bad feeling from leaving is not as bad as the bad feeling from being in the relationship.
Many people, of course, don't go back. They leave and they manage to stay away. This is often not any easier than going back. The pseudopersonality is programmed to put attention on the good aspects of the abuser and to ignore the bad stuff. When the victim thinks of the bad things, thoughts pop up such as "Yes, but he loved me" or "Yes, but she did such nice things for me" or "Yes, but he could make me feel so good!"
This causes huge internal conflict for the victim. The real personality (which is never totally destroyed by the pseudopersonality) knows that the abuser was bad. The pseudopersonality believes that the manipulator loved them. The real personality knows that it is better to be out of the relationship, the pseudopersonality misses the nice times. Mentally you know that leaving was necessary, staying away is the right thing to do and you hated the abuse. But you feel bad not being around them, you feel you will never find anyone to make you feel the way they did, you are afraid that you may be missing out on something special, a wonderful opportunity, if you stay away.
"I miss my abusive ex" and other conflicting thoughts, or conflicting thoughts and emotions, are very disconcerting. You feel that you are going crazy. You feel that there is something wrong with you. You think that the abuser might have been right about you all along when they said nasty things about you. You are actually having difficulty settling down and making sense of things. And those around you don't get it, so that makes the sense of loneliness and isolation worse.
No, you are not crazy. All these contradictory thoughts and emotions are normal for someone who has left an abusive relationship. Unresolved though, they can last for years. And you are not the first person to experience this and you won't be the last.
The pseudopersonality idea is a wonderful model for making sense of the situation. The two personalities idea helps to explain the contradictions. Remember the pseudopersonality represses and dominates the real personality but does not destroy it. Both are present and active at the same time and pulling in opposite directions. The real personality trying to look after you, the pseudopersonality looking out for the abuser.
The pseudopersonality is not the same as dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder as it used to be known. The false personality is something that is created by the abuser as they take control of your thoughts, feelings and behavior.
(The abusers don't typically think in terms of pseudopersonalities. This model was developed in the 1950s by Edgar Schein after studying the Korean prisoners of war who came home and continued to advocate communism over capitalism.)
The perceptions, beliefs and actions of the pseudopersonality are learned as a way to basically survive in the reality that the manipulator creates for you. The fact that they are learned means that you can learn other ways to think, feel and behave. In other words, you can get rid of the pseudopersonality. This takes time and effort.
Immediately, the best thing that can be done is to stay away from the abuser and have no contact whatsoever. The pseudopersonality is programmed to be with the manipulator; there is a sense of relief and comfort in being close. However, not allowing the programming of the pseudopersonality to run is important. So not giving in to the drive to be with the abuser and actually staying away from the abuser is a good course of action, despite how difficult it may be initially. And it is difficult. For some people it is actually impossible and no matter how much they know they should not do it, they can't help themselves, they have to contact the abuser. But as described earlier, this only gives temporary relief and the victim soon wants to move away again.
As hard as it may be to stay away altogether, it is the quickest route to making things easier. Having help and support here is invaluable. It is useful to have family or friends that you can talk to about what's going on and who know to talk you out of contacting the abuser.
Whenever you feel the need to be with or contact your ex, it's often useful to refer to a list of all the bad things they did to you and run through the times when they made you feel awful. In this way you are reminding yourself of the true nature of your tormentor rather than the image the pseudopersonality was implanted with.
Understanding how the dependency was created and recognizing the specific tactics that were used against you is fundamental to getting rid of the dependency altogether. You do not have a dependent personality nor are you codependent. This dependency was put in place by the abuser and it disappears when the pseudopersonality is removed.
Getting over this phase of 'I miss my abusive ex' is only one part of recovering from the abusive relationship. It's important to undo the negative beliefs and self destructive behaviors programmed into the pseudopersonality and to establish a different perspective on the situation. It's a bigger task than most people consider and it's best done with the help of an expert in the field.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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