Do you love someone who keeps hurting you? Do you keep going back to someone who abuses you, emotionally and/or physically?
Unless you look hard at why you were addicted to an emotionally unavailable person in the first place, you risk going back to them. Or replacing them with a different drug, in the form of another abusive person.
Ask yourself the same questions I did: Why is it I still love someone who abuses me? Why is it I need to numb myself with someone who is like a drug to me? Someone you know is no good for you, but is the only thing that will make you feel good again. Hopefully, like me, you’ll realise your addiction started way before you ever met this person.
As I’ve said earlier, it’s because we have low self-esteem. If we don’t love ourselves, we’re attracted to those who treat us as though we’re unlovable. I know what you’re thinking! It’s easy to tell someone “love yourself more!” “Work on your self-esteem!” But it’s way easier said than done right? I get it, I know.
First, you need to understand why it is that you feel you are unlovable, or not good enough. How you came to be so low in self-esteem that you let a person abuse you. Why you fear abandonment. Only then can you break the cycle and unhealthy addiction to them and recover. You need to face your inner shame and understand how it came to be there.
It was seeded within you in childhood and comes down to how you were treated as a child. There are different ways you may have been affected. Some of them are these:
Neglect: this can be physical and/or emotional neglect
Abandonment: this can be physical or simply emotional abandonment
Abuse: this can be in the form of physical, sexual and / or emotional abuse
Rejection: where you are rejected and treated as unworthy or unloveable
Emotional suffocation: perhaps by a narcisstic or controlling parent.
Deprivation: where you are deprived of the basic physical and / or emotional needs required to grow into a healthy adult.
Each of these has a profound effect on how you perceive yourself and how you ultimately treat yourself.
It might be, for example, that one of your parents had an addiction say, to work or to alcohol. The other parent was then so focused on rescuing them that neither could meet your emotional needs. You were abandoned in a way, neglected.
It may be as simple as having a parent who was controlling, perhaps even narcissistic. You weren’t allowed an opinion or any feelings of your own. And if you voiced them, they shut you down, so you learned to mistrust your gut instincts over time. They may have treated you as an extension of them, but you could never quite live up to their standards.
Or it might have been that the only way to get attention and approval was to be perfect, neat, helpful, quiet. The one that never caused any fuss.
Our experiences are unique to us, so only you will know. But try to work out in what way your emotional needs may not have been met.
The fear we’re not good enough. We also fear abandonment. As we know how painful that is already.
Our parents may have been there when we were kids, but couldn’t deal with us in a healthy way on an emotional level. So, in a weird and dysfunctional way we choose a partner whose childhood experience is similar to ours. Their emotional needs weren’t met as a child either.
Think about your own partner or ex-partner. How were they treated as a child? Did they suffer from neglect, abandonment or abuse? Did they have a parent with an addiction? Were they raised by a narcissist or someone whose control over them was suffocating? Whatever it was that may have lead them to become as insecure as you are.
We are inadvertently attracted to them as we detect that they are needy in some way. They are someone we can try to rescue, so as to avoid facing our own insecurities and inner shame. Even better if they have problems that we can fix such as an addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Often addictions go hand in hand with abusive relationships. Although I need to stress they are not the cause of abuse or violence. We become so-called co-dependents as we are addicted to someone who is unavailable to us. They may also have their own addiction to alcohol or drugs. Or they may have had a traumatic past. One of extreme violence or sexual abuse.
The principle is the same: if they need us, if they depend on us, then in our subconscious minds, they’re less likely to abandon us. To do what we fear most. Besides, if we can be their rescuer, then we can focus all our attention on them. By doing so we can deny, ignore, we can even numb our own feelings of insecurity and fear inside. It’s them that has the problem, not us! And it’s such an effective drug, we might not even be aware those feelings exist at all. I wasn’t.
The trouble is, this is a dysfunctional formula for a relationship. It feels good to us, like we fit, as you’re recreating scenes from your childhood. Although negative ones, you are comfortable with feelings you’ve grown up to become used to as normal. You do this in a strange way, to try to master them. But two people who are insecure and both fear abandonment are incapable of fulfilling each other’s needs.
To feel secure, both have the pathological need to feel in control. While I was ‘rescuing’ my ex, I felt in control and confident he wouldn’t leave me. But that left him feeling vulnerable, afraid I would see his flaws and walk away. So, he would need to push me away to regain his power.
Now I was the vulnerable one. Terrified he would abandon me, I would forgive him anything to get him back again. If I couldn’t, it would reinforce those painful childhood feelings I had of being unlovable. It would reveal the depth of my insecurity and fears.
And so, I tried to please him, to prove I was worthy of his love and my weakness gave him strength again. The love he then showered onto me was just the drug I needed to numb those fears away and gave me security to start rescuing him again. And so, the cycle begins.
But is this love? I had to ask myself the same. No, it’s an unhealthy addiction. We’re using them as a means to numb our pain.
When I finally left, I had to treat my addiction to this unavailable man the way any addict does. Go cold turkey. Thaw out. I had to feel all those painful feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Those hideous emotions that poured out. But that was the only way to heal.
Often people come into your life to teach you something about yourself. So, use them as a reflection to show you what you’re hiding from inside. Were you shown love as a child, allowed to express your emotions without fear? Were you belittled when you were growing up, afraid to be yourself? Find what it was that laid the negative patterns that are now familiar to you and which you now replicate. Once you identify it, you can change it. Step by tiny step.
For some of you this might be deeply traumatic, particularly if there has been extreme abuse, physical or sexual violence. If this is the case, then please seek professional support and help from a trained psychiatrist, or counsellor. Don’t try to do this without help. I’ve listed Domestic Violence helplines here.
In what way do you think your emotional needs weren’t met as a child? Let me know in the comments below.