I'm in an abusive relationship.
Recognizing this is shocking. For some people it's a creeping realization. For others it's like a physical blow. Either way, it puts your head in a spin. It makes sense of some of the awful things that were done to you. But other situations cause confusion. Memories start coming back to you. Now they mean something different.
Yes, there was nastiness. But you believe your partner loves you and cares for you. So how could they be so cruel? Why didn't I see it before? How could I have allowed this? Why didn't I listen to people who warned me at the start?
Then comes the phase where you want information. What exactly is going on? I think I'm in an abusive relationship but sometimes I am not sure. Maybe it's me over-analyzing things? Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. I want to believe my partner (or the group) is actually good but there are so many bad things I can't ignore them anymore.
So you read about the warning signs of abusive relationships and many of them seem to fit, but you think some don’t apply in your case. The latter give you hope that maybe you are not in an abusive relationship after all. So you read more lists about emotional abuse and so on.
Eventually it sinks in for you. "I'm in an abusive relationship!"
Education is vital. The only way out is to is to learn about abusers, how they do what they do, why they do it, what specifically your abuser did to you and what particular effects did it have on you.
Many people do leave abusive relationships without ever fully understanding what went on, but these people typically have a whole range of problems later on. Getting caught in another abusive relationship is one of them. You want to avoid that!
In order to keep this article from being too long, I am going to introduce some ideas and give you links where you delve into more details about each of these ideas. This article will then be a complete overview for you, the big picture if you like, and then you can add in the details later.
We will begin by looking at how the relationship started, how you were tricked into having a relationship with an abuser. Then we will have a quick look at the nature of abusers and the significance of that. Then we will consider the dynamics in abusive relationships and how specifically it affects you. And lastly some ideas about what you need to do about your situation. Ok, let's go...
Realizing "I'm in an abusive relationship" is one thing. Blaming your self for it is another. I don’t believe you went out looking for an abusive relationship, not even 'subconsciously'. People just don't do that, even if they have been in an abusive relationship before. In fact, if they have had a bad experience they are often on the lookout to make sure it never happens again. But somehow even they get caught again sometimes. So what happens?
The abusers know that people wouldn't touch them with a barge pole if they knew what the abusers were really like. So they disguise themselves. The abusers are typically proficient liars and they can be good actors. They can also read people very well. They assess the target, the potential victim, for their wants, needs, fears, weaknesses and even strengths.
They figure out what specifically you want and/or need. And then they offer that to you. But not just that. They assume a role. They pretend to be the perfect partner for you. They play the role of someone who likes you, has lots of things in common with you and they make you feel comfortable and trusting. They make friends very quickly. Very quickly indeed!
You get swept off your feet, head over heels in love, euphoric. You stop thinking rationally and you are carried along on a wave of good feelings. Even when someone tries to warn you about this perfect being, you have no sense of danger. You are led through various levels of increasing commitment. There is more information here about what happens with controlling girlfriends and it applies equally to boyfriends...
At some point this wonderful person does something that is just not good. Initially you forgive it because you want the relationship with them to work. But over time more and more badness creeps in.
When you look back, you realize that this is when the signs of mental abuse started to show up, but of course you were totally unable to see it for what it was because you were so in love with this ideal partner.
I say partner but it could just as well be a group or a church or a bunch of friends. The same things happen in intimate relationships as in a personal development cult or a religious cult. So 'I'm in an abusive relationship' could mean a relationship with a martial arts group, a yoga group, a church, a choir or a book club. The only difference between a group of 3 people and a group of 300 or 3,000 people is that in the group of 3, the abuser spends more time with each person (abusing them!) than if there are 300 people.
The criticism, humiliation, belittling, shouting, name calling, broken promises and so on all start to show up more frequently. Now, instead of making you feel great, the abuser starts to make you feel really horrible. You are made to feel guilty for all sorts of reasons. Fear is used to get you to do, or not do, certain things.
Your thinking is altered by criticizing and ridiculing your opinions. Your decisions are used against you. Your beliefs are derided and mocked until you change them to be more like those of the abuser. Your dignity is stripped away, your self esteem is destroyed and even your sense of who you are is chipped away at.
So who are these con artists who trick people into starting a relationship and then change to become tyrants? They are psychopaths, sociopath and narcissists. I am not saying that every abuser is a psychopath or a narcissist, but a large enough number are that it's important to assess if you are dealing with a psychopath or a narcissist. Why? Because if you are in a relationship with a psychopath, then different rules apply.
A psychopath is someone who does not have a conscience. There is no remorse, guilt, empathy, fear, love, compassion or regret. They also have a big ego where they think they are superior beings who are entitled to everything they want.
A narcissist is similar with the addition that they want praise, adoration and compliments and insist on being the center of attention.
When you get to the point of realizing 'I'm in an abusive relationship', your reading usually leads to the idea that you may be dealing with someone who has a personality disorder. You can read more here about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
What you need to know right now is that these people, because they do not have socializing emotions, they can do anything and not feel bad about it. That is very hard for people to wrap their heads around when they first hear it. It takes some time to sink in. These people can abuse, torment and do the cruelest of things to others and they do not get upset about it. They have no empathy, they do not feel the pain or suffering of their victims.
Often times people think that their partner has difficulty expressing emotions or may be emotionally immature. They don’t actually know that there are people who literally don't have emotions, or who have such shallow emotions that they have nothing to do with the profound emotional states of normal people.
For this reason, if you are dealing with psychopaths and narcissists, you need to understand the implications of that.
Some important points to keep in mind:
These are very important implications and I hope it's obvious why you need to understand psychopaths if your partner is one. Most cult leaders are psychopaths, so if your abusive relationship is with a group that may be a cult, you definitely need to check out how the characteristics of sociopaths show up in this group.
The motivation of psychopaths and narcissists is control and domination so they will have been building their own power in their relationship with you, too. This means that your relationship is definitely not a relationship of equals. They are running the show and you are the follower.
As we have touched on above, such abusers change people's beliefs, their thinking processes, their emotions and their behaviors. They also change people's ideas about themselves (I am worthless, stupid, useless, inferior etc.).
All these changes add up to a change in personality. The psychopaths literally impose a new personality on their victims. When friends say that you have changed, or you are not the person you once were, or you even notice these things yourself, this is the new, false personality becoming obvious. The abuser molds the victim to be the kind of subservient, obedient and loyal person they want them to be.
This new personality is called a pseudopersonality because it typically has nothing to do with the person's real personality. In fact, it dominates and represses the real personality and it is a really nice description of what happens in a mind control environment.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to take care of the abuser, to hang on the abuser's every word and to be dependent on the abuser. It is not allowed to think for itself but rather has to check with the leader for most things.
However, it never really destroys the real personality and the two co-exist. This explains the contradictory feelings and thoughts that a victim often has. Victims often describe feeling that they are at war with themselves. One part of them wants something but another part wants the opposite. For example, the real personality may want out of the relationship but the pseudopersonality is programmed to stay. While the pseudopersonality is dominant the person ends up staying in the abusive relationship.
Sometimes the victim may feel very resentful or even hate the abuser for the way they are treated (real personality) but the person also feels love for the abuser (pseudopersonality). These conflicting ideas can be very disconcerting for the individual and there is no way to reconcile them while the pseudopersonality is in place.
The dependency of the pseudopersonality on the abuser is usually very strong. There are many things that the abuser does to build this dependency. When a victim leaves a mind control situation, the dependency may be so strong that the individual feels that they cannot manage without the abuser. The victim may feel so bad that they are driven to return to the abuser as the only way to alleviate the awful sensations. Why do women stay in abusive relationships? This dependency goes a long way to explain why, as well as why battered wives return to their abusers.
The programming and dependency of the pseudopersonality are put in place with strong influence techniques over months and years and they do not simply disappear when the person leaves the abusive relationship. It takes work and study to undo it.
There are some ideas here about how the beliefs of the pseudopersonality hamper recovery, some special considerations when the abuser is a mother and particular ideas about sibling abuse.
You need to remove yourself from the situation, rest and recover.
I know, the thought of leaving is terrifying.
Or, if you have left, you are probably still struggling with a whole host of things. But you are still better off out.
While you are in such a relationship you will be abused. The manipulator has a chance to reinforce your pseudopersonality and continue the control and manipulation. Putting a stop to the abuse as soon as possible is the ideal thing to do. However, it's not always straight forward, not just because of the finances, or the shared assets, etc but because the dependency of the pseudopersonality is a major force that the victim has to manage.
Some people need to just leave straight away for their physical safety and just pick up the pieces later. Others need to reduce the dependency in order to be able to make the move. Others need to learn more about psychopaths first in order to understand the seriousness of their situation. You can read more here about how to leave an abusive relationship.
Mind control situations or situations of psychological abuse are high stress environments. You are probably exhausted. You have been worn down and worn out by the abuser, keeping you on an emotional roller coaster and generally unbalanced. You need to rest. Sleep is vital. Don't underestimate it's importance. If you need to nap during the day, just do it!
Recovery is a big job. You have to undo all the programming, taking apart the destructive beliefs and behavior patterns that were imposed on you. You have to come to terms with the fact that this person does not love you, that they were abusing you the whole time and that they have stolen years of your life away from you. And you have to connect with your real personality again and find a way to integrate this self into society and often re-establish relationships with family and friends.
This is often best done with an expert in the field. A specialist in mind control and psychological abuse will speed up your recovery considerably, helping you to avoid common mistakes and supporting you in being the kind of person you want to be.
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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