If you are thinking of dating after an abusive relationship you probably want to find somebody who cares for you, helps you feel good about yourself, treats you like an equal and makes you feel safe.
But, at the same time, you don't know how to trust others and you may even worry about how you can trust yourself to pick another partner. If you got it so wrong the last time, how can you be sure you won't make the same mistake again?
If you have been in an abusive relationship, then your situation is quite complicated, as you know.
In order to help you make sense of things, I am going to give a quick overview of what happens in abusive relationships so that you have an awareness of what stage in the process you are at.
This will give you an idea as to whether there any pieces missing from your recovery and what else you may need to put in place before starting your dating after an abusive recovery.
An abuser hides their true nature initially by love bombing their victims. This is basically a process where they shower their victims with care, love, attention, compliments and gifts. They make the victim feel as if they have met their soulmate, somebody who really gets them.
It makes sense for the victim to move forward in such a relationship, because they feel they have met their perfect partner.
The abuser at this stage is actively manipulating the impressions of the victim. The victim believes they have met somebody who is kind and wonderful. This all happens very quickly.
Very soon into the relationship the abuser's bad behaviour kicks in. The victim initially justifies it away because the relationship is so good. The victim wants the nice times to continue and begins to modify their behaviour and thinking in order to keep the abuser happy.
The abuser begins to criticise the victim at the level of their identity. You are bad, you are pathetic, as opposed to what you are doing is bad or that belief is pathetic. The abuser begins to erode the personality of the victim, forces the victim to change, and then freezes these changes in place with rewards and punishments.
The pseudo-personality is programmed to believe the manipulator, to trust the manipulator, to put the wants and needs of the manipulator first and also to be dependent on the manipulator.
The abuser basically imposes a new personality on the victim. This is why the victims often say that they don't know who they are any longer, and the families and friends say they don't recognise who the victim has become. The victim loses their spark, their energy, they spend less time with friends and family and often defend the abuser to the point of arguing and even falling out with family and friends.
The victim is made to feel personally responsible for everything that goes wrong and is not allowed to take credit for their successes. The abuser claims responsibility for those things that go well. This means that the victim's self-esteem is constantly in their boots.
The victim's perception of the world changes, their thinking and decision-making is altered and their beliefs and behaviour are monitored and controlled by the abuser. They end up living in a reality that has been created by the manipulator. This reality may have nothing to do with the real world. For example, the manipulator will make the victim believe that the manipulator is more intelligent, superior, always right and so on.
The victim becomes very much a follower, afraid to make their own decisions and always checking with the manipulator whether they are doing things correctly or not. Even when the manipulator is not present, the victim will often ask themselves, "if I do this will he or she be upset?" If the answer is yes, the victim does not go ahead. In this way, the victim believes they are still making their own decisions. The fact is the abuser has trained them how to make such decisions so that the life of the abuser is easier and more comfortable, typically at the expense of the victim.
The victim typically has fears of leaving the relationship that operate at the level of phobias, irrational fears. They often cannot even imagine a future without their abuser.
The victims have many internal conflicts, for example, the real personality hates the behaviour and wants to leave but the pseudo-personality is so dependent on the abuser that the thought of leaving is terrifying. As long as the pseudo-personality is dominant the person has tremendous difficulty actually leaving.
The real personality can hate the partner for the treatment but the pseudo-personality feels in love with the abuser. For many people this is actually crazy making. The person has this unresolvable, inner conflict where at one and the same time they are drawn to the abuser who can make them feel safe but want to run away because the abuser is the source of their terror. The victim often believes that they themselves are the problem, that there is something wrong with them, which of course is amplified by the abuser.
Many victims also know that there's something wrong with the partner but they can't put their finger on it. This just adds to the confusion.
An important thing to keep in mind is that this pseudo-personality does not disappear just because somebody leaves an abusive situation. The pseudo-personality, the combination of beliefs, decision-making strategies, perceptions, behaviours and emotional responses, are put in place with very strong influence techniques applied daily for months or years. The victim is often not aware of the psychological pressure being applied to them which means they cannot mentally resist. The victim doesn't know specifically how the manipulator got them to do, think and say all those different things and the typical victim does not realize how much they've actually changed under the direction of the abuser.
Therefore all these thinking and behaviour patterns persist, often for decades, even after the person leave the abusive situation, unless the victim actively does something about them. Remember, too that the pseudopersonality was put in place for the benefit of the abuser, to the detriment of the victim.
This is a very brief overview of the dynamics in a psychologically abusive relationship.
Let's have a look at some of the common advice given to people who are thinking of dating after an abusive relationship and how these ideas fit into the above dynamics.
You are told you need to focus on healing. But what does that mean? If you talk to many people they will say that healing means dealing with unresolved personal issues, examining your role in the relationship, and changing aspects of yourself that got you into trouble, among others. Putting the blame on the victim is devastating for victims of psychological abuse. The responsibility lies with the abuser. Until a victim fully understands this, they cannot hope for a full recovery. And as regards 'changing yourself', any attempt at this is simply trying to adapt the pseudopersonality to something that works for you. It is doomed to failure. The pseudopersonality was not for built for your benefit. It was put in place to take advantage of you. Trying to fix it is probably worse than moving deck chairs around on the titanic. You have to get rid of it or forget recovering.
You are told that you need to learn self-care, doing things that you like, activities that give you pleasure. The difficulty here is that you have been programmed to put other people first. For somebody who's been in a whole series of abusive relationships, or even born into an abusive family, the problem is that you don't actually know what you want or what you like. Some people don't know what their favourite colour is, what their favourite movies are, what their favoured food is.
There is lots of advice about trusting your instincts. This is a major problem. Your instincts and your decision-making have been completely distorted by the abuser. This is why you were in the abusive relationship for so long! You may have seen some red flags but you were programmed to override the danger signals. You can't just trust your instincts now as they are.
'Build up your self esteem' is a common refrain. Again, this is a huge hurdle because a pseudo-personality is programmed not to have any self-esteem. Trying to do things to build your self-esteem means actively trying to battle the deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and behaviour of the pseudo-personality, many of which you may not even be aware. It's just not going to work.
Learn to trust again, you hear. But how? How do you learn to trust people? Just have a go, try it out... these are not useful strategies.
Decide what kind of relationship you want is another common piece of advice. But how do you measure these things? You are so used to being treated badly that your reference points for relationships are very distorted. You no longer know what is right or wrong, what is good or bad.
You may hear people say that if yourself respect had been better that you would not have been caught in such a relationship. This idea is nonsense because the reality is that the abusers deliberately destroy your self respect as part of your personality destruction. An abuser can take an independent, self-reliant person with the best of self-respect and turn them into a submissive, dependent emotional wreck. Simply trying to rebuild self-respect is never enough. (Remember those deeply ingrained patterns of the pseudopersonality that was imposed on you without your knowledge or consent?)
So what can you do?
A good recovery includes the following:
Once all these things are in place then you have a good starting point for finding new, healthy relationships.
As you can recognize, it's a big job. You should seriously consider working with a professional in this area. For somebody coming out of a mind control environment this is actually very tricky because you have been programmed to believe that you should be able to sort out your own problems. If you have been in a cult, then you may have been led to believe that psychologists and psychiatrists don't know what they're talking about and couldn't possibly help you. This, of course, is a ruse on the part of the cults to stop you from actually getting help. Pushing past these ideas and actually reaching out for help is something that is worth doing.
You will read about people who have been on their healing journey for five, ten or even twenty odd years. It shouldn't take this long. An expert will save you time, money and heartache.
Some final ideas...
Take your time. If you have followed all the steps I've laid out here, this will come naturally to you. You won't want to be caught again. You'll carefully analyze new partners as you go along making sure there are no red flags that you need to pay attention to. It may feel that you are over analyzing or even paranoid, but rest assured, this wariness will protect you. It's actually good to be sensitive to, and critical of, new people until you build your skills in this area. In fact, it's better to have a false positive, and think somebody is a manipulator and be wary of them, then to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and get caught again. If you understand mind control at all you will realise how important this is.
You are under no obligation to tell everybody about your abusive past. The pseudo-personality is programmed to reveal everything about itself. You need to break this pattern. Be very careful about what you reveal about yourself and to whom you are revealing it. Remember, information is fundamental for manipulators and the more they have the easier it is for them to manipulate. Don't reveal personal information to new people until you know you can trust them. "Sharing" can cause problems, especially if the person you're sharing with is another manipulator!
Apart from that you are entitled to privacy and intimacy. Many people who fully recover do not want other people to think of them as victims (because they no longer are victims). They may not want people to feel sorry for them or think of them as having an abusive past. When somebody makes a good recovery their sense of themselves is very different from their time in the cult or abusive relationship. They may decide that they want new people in their lives to treat them as they are today and not who they were in the past. The best way to do that is to say nothing about the past.
You are not obliged to tell people everything about yourself. If you want new people in your life to treat you as you are today, then that's perfectly acceptable.
If you do not get rid of the pseudopersonality and undo the patterns installed, the next time you meet a manipulator they will instantly recognize that you have been traumatized and they will take advantage of it. They will target you. This is why people end up in abusive relationship after abuse relationship.
And lastly, trust your family! If your family and friends are telling you that they don't like your new partner, pay attention!! Your family and friends have your best interests at heart. Don't ignore them because of a new blow-in who has just arrived into your life. If more people paid attention to this rule, the abusers would be less successful in catching victims.
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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