Leave my abuser?  How could I when I still loved him?

I’ll be honest. I knew my ex was a screwed-up guy. My head told me that not long after we met. The alarm bells were screeching. Could I hear them? Of course! Did I listen to them? No. My heart told my head to sod off and I agreed.

Here was a charismatic, gorgeous man focusing all his attention on me. I was the only one in his universe. Fireworks that would rival Sydney’s New Year’s Eve were going off. The sexual chemistry was intense. He was the best drug ever.

The high of being with him was intoxicating. Nervous butterflies were on a rampage in my stomach, which did a bit of a flip every time I saw him. And that’s how I knew he was the one. Yeah, right.

Like most Narcissists, it took a while for his darker side to kick in. But when it did I was already way too hooked on him; I needed more. So, I ignored all the warning signs. The ones that were there in front of my face, with bells on.

When Mr. or Mrs. Charisma has hooked you in, they have you. Then their dark side starts to come out. They start to become a bit moody. To pick a fight, usually over something “you’ve done.” So, you start to change your behavior in anticipation.

If his anger was over something you wore, you change your wardrobe to clothes less “slutty.” If she doesn’t like your friends, you stop seeing them. But no matter what you try, nothing works. The goal posts just get moved. They find another reason to blame you for their anger.

Abusive people have all the answers as to why they treat you poorly. Past girlfriends or boyfriends have betrayed them. They’ve had a difficult childhood; bad luck has let them down. So, you believe them and keep ignoring the warning signs.

To you, this is still that gorgeous person who swept you off your feet. You can still see the good beneath the dark side. You think: all they need is someone like you to take care of them, to bring that charming side back to the fore. And that makes you feel needed, secure.

But then the abuse gets worse. When they go into a rage now, they may storm out and disappear for days. They may even show the first signs of physical abuse. A push or a shove. Something that shocks you, as it comes out of the blue. (Something they’ll later dismiss as not being violence).

But the thought of breaking up and never seeing them again terrifies you even more than how they’re treating you. Hooked in as you were by the drug of when they basked you in their sunshine, you can’t or don’t want to see the real person they are. You ignored the early warning signs, now you deny the reality. It’s true what they say. Love can be blind.

When their rage has calmed down and they reappear, you’re relieved to see them again. It helps that the remorse they now show is equal to the severity of their latest abuse. They say how sorry they are. They sob in your arms. They’re “ashamed” of what they’ve done. They’ll “never do it again.” Blah, blah, blah.

They admit that they need you more than ever to help them change. And of course, this is music to your ears. But this honeymoon period never lasts. The verbal and / or physical abuse, followed by remorse, repeats itself. Over and over, in a cycle.

This cycle of violence (emotional and/or physical) is a toxic turning of unpredictable highs and lows. With each spin, it breaks you down. Any shred of self-esteem you have starts to erode.

You feel worthless and almost deserving of their anger. You start to believe it when they say you’re to blame for it. But you somehow rationalize it all by thinking that all they need is you to fix them to make the abuse go away. All you need to do is to love them more.

You don’t realize it, but loving them has become an addiction for you. You’re addicted to an unavailable person—someone who is not there for you and who doesn’t care for you. They may even be more focused on their own addiction, to alcohol and/or drugs.

Your head might be screaming at you to leave. But you just can’t. In your heart, you feel you love you them. “They need me,” you rationalize. You might even feel guilty if you abandon them.

You are just like an addict. If you admit that your life has become out of control and walk away, you’ll lose the very thing you are addicted to. That high you get from their charismatic, remorseful, attentive side. What you need to make you feel good again. After each dreadful low, you are desperate for a ‘fix,’ that high, again.

But at some point, you will reach rock bottom—the abuse will become extreme. If they’re physically abusive, they may have even tried to kill you. My ex did, by strangling me. He wrapped his hands around my throat when I was seven months pregnant and with a demonic look in his eyes he screamed, “Die, you c***! Die.”

Like many women, even after that, I still loved him! My heart kept screaming at me not to leave him. Yes, even after he almost killed me.

If you’re lucky your head will start to outweigh your heart. You’ll stop denying that this person is no good for you. Finally, you’ll dig deep and find the courage to walk away. I did. But not before going back to him many, many times. The drug-like pull back toward him was so great. The high, after we first reunited again, was better than the pain I felt when I was without him, alone.

When you leave an abusive person, the withdrawal feels as agonizing as, I imagine it might be, weaning off heroin. It did for me, at least. You’ve been numb for so long that a gamut of emotions pour out at once. Shame, anger, loneliness, guilt—you name it, you feel it. It hurts.

I have never sobbed like that before in my life. I was so overwhelmed by the rawness of them. But you need to feel these emotions, as painful as they are. You need to thaw out. To go cold turkey in order to recover.

Unless you look hard at why you were addicted to an 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. Either way, like any addict, you risk losing your life.

You need to 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 realize your addiction started way before you ever met this person.

I’m sure you know already that it has something to do with low self-esteem. If we don’t love ourselves, we’re attracted to those who treat us as though we are unlovable. But it’s not enough to just tell someone they need to “love themselves more.” “You need to work on your self-esteem!” That’s easier said than done. Believe me, 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. Only then can you break the cycle of addiction to them and recover.

You may be like me, having grown up in a comfortable, happy home. Never having experienced verbal or physical abuse before in your life. Or you may have suffered it in your family and be repeating the negative patterns of your past. Either way, the root of low self-esteem is if, in some way, your emotional needs were not met as a child.

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.

It may be as simple as having a parent who was controlling. 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. Or it might have been they were such perfectionists, the only way to gain approval was to be perfect in every way.

Our experiences are unique to us, so only you will know. But try to work it out.

If our emotional needs aren’t met as a child, we grow up to have that 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 on an emotional level. So, we choose a partner whose baggage matches ours. Someone whose needs weren’t met as a child either and who is as insecure as we are. Even better if they have problems that we can rescue them from—an addiction or a traumatic past. For 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 onto them. By doing so we can deny, ignore, we can even numb our own feelings of insecurity and fears 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 dance. The steps feel familiar, of course, as you’re recreating scenes from childhood to master them. But two people who are insecure 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. He was a man who treated me as worthless, I knew that. Yet I couldn’t leave him. I still “loved him.” Or so I thought. Until I understood that this is not love, but an addiction. An addiction to someone who could never love me, who could never meet my emotional needs.

He said he loved me all the time. But he never showed me I was lovable. I told myself, too, that I loved him. But in fact, I just wanted to rescue him, to turn him into something I had projected him to be, not who he was. A pity project, perhaps, that could distract me from how f***ed up I was.

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.

I had to go back to the root cause of my lack of self-esteem, where it was seeded in my childhood. Not to judge my parents. Like me, they were doing the best they could at the time. But to understand how I’d come to be this way.

As painful and as hard as this is, once you get it and face those fears down, your insecurity will start to melt away. And little by little you begin to love yourself. I started by doing one nice thing for myself each day. Eventually, I found that self-esteem that everyone had been going on about.

You only attract someone equal to what you think you are worth. Abusive people, who previously saw a chink in your armor, will now see you and run a mile. They’ll see that you get they’re not good enough for you.

Those people who are self-confident and don’t need you to rescue them, will no longer terrify you. And among them will be the one, like I have since found. The person who treats you with kindness and respect. The person who meets your emotional needs and brings out the best in you. The person who allows you to be vulnerable, but safe. They’ll never use that vulnerability as a weapon against you.

Sure, they could walk away any day. But you’ll no longer fear that. For if they do, you’ll just figure it’s not meant to be. You’ll still be there. And you’ll be enough to meet all your own emotional needs, with or without a partner.

Does this resonate with you?  Let me know in the comments below.

This post was republished with permission from TinyBuddha.com.  You can find the original post here.

If you need further help or counselling, please refer to the following (or the equivalent in your country):

1800Respect: 0800 737 732  https://www.1800respect.org.au
Lifeline: 13 11 14  https://www.lifeline.org.au

National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk
Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service 020 3866 4107  http://paladinservice.co.uk

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233  http://www.thehotline.org

Follow me and why not try my FREE QUIZ to find out if your relationship is good enough; if you need to focus more on you, not them; and are ready to take your FIRST STEPS TO FREEDOM?

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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9 thoughts on “I can’t leave my abuser. I still love them!

  1. Thank you for sharing you experiences . You have captured the reality of these situations so accurately. It’s like reading what is currently going on in my brain. I am struggling to leave an abusive relationship. At the moment Dr Jekyll is who I am dealing with- he is really really nice. Mr Hyde is a muted right now but I know he is in there and I am terrified of when he flits into that way of behaving. I am battling with myself- all I need to say is “this relationship is over” but I can’t seem to make the break- the words won’t come out of my mouth. I think it’s a survival thing. I fantasise about dumping him but in reality i just can’t make it happen. I am trying to take steps each day to build my confidence back- I think I am getting there but it will take time. My boyfriend and I don’t live together at the moment so that has made it easier as it has given me some space to breathe and feel safe. He is being really nice to me right now which makes me question my judgement and wonder if perhaps things may change. It is so confusing. This is my second abusive relationship. My first abuser left me for another woman after 8.5 years. I was so upset but looking back it was a blessing. But then I met number 2 after 18 months of being on my own. We have been together for almost 4 years. At first it was like something out of a romantic novel and he felt like my knight in shining armour but it has descended into abuse. I cannot believe it. It has been a different type of control- he has different techniques but it’s more scarey as he doesn’t seem to have problems putting his hands on me when he is angry, he has a criminal record for extreme violence and he is paranoid and jealous- even though I haven’t done anything wrong. I just feel that if he loses it properly I won’t stand a chance. My gut instinct tells me I am in danger around him as he has already pinned me to a wall by my head but this was when I tried to end it before which I think stops me from ending it as I am worried about what he will do to me. You also get quite good at numbing out during abusive behaviour and also I forget the details which is how I cope. I have been to see my GP and am trying to arrange some counselling with someone who specialises in DV. I am desperate to get out but the part of me that thinks I love and need him is stopping me. You are helping so many people with your words- thank you again. X

    1. Hi Alice, thank you for sharing your story and I am so sorry to hear about the abuse that you have been suffering. If your gut instincts are telling you that you are in danger then I urge you to get out. According to experts in this area I have been reading and listening to, the woman involved’s gut instincts of danger are one of the most accurate indicators that she is at risk of losing her life. I know how hard it is to leave though. I’ve written about this drug-like pull in more detail in the Daily Mail article I wrote http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4294790/Why-believe-women-addicted-abusive-men.html#readerCommentsCommand-message-field and in this post http://www.beingunbeatable.com/love-addiction/

      I couldn’t have done it without support, so encourage you to continue to seek help from DV experts and counsellors to help you break the addiction cycle that makes you keep going back. Also to help you with any self-esteem issues and to build it into a stronger, healthier sense of self-worth. This is crucial to setting strong boundaries and finding a healthier relationship. I wrote a little on that here: http://www.beingunbeatable.com/self-esteem-matters/

      Stay strong and keep moving forward towards recovery. I wish you all the best and thanks again.

      1. My gut instinct is screaming at me. I went out for a day trip with my sister in May last year to a horse trials event. I had temporarily ended the relationship and he was stalking me but I felt safe for the day as I was not at home but walking round this lovely country estate in the sunshine watching horses doing cross country but as we were leaving there was a sign saying the dates for the event in May 2018. I glanced at the sign and from nowhere I had an awful premonition that i would not be alive in May 2018. I have never thought about anything like this before and it scared me so much. I guess it could have just been a thought as I was receiving lots of unsolicited text messages from him. He then went to jail for a violent offence against someone else and he was released yesterday. I am going to keep myself safe- I want to live a long and happy life. I have 2 children. I need to win this battle that I am having with myself. I hear you on the heroin thing. Thank you for this blog and for your reply to my original post. X

        1. That must have been terrifying! I hope he is no longer stalking you. If so, I would urge you to report it and try to take photo evidence of it. A friend of mine managed to get a restraining order against her ex for stalking her. Stay safe, put yourself first at all times and look after your precious children. Thanks again for your comments x

    2. Sorry, I realise I never responded to this. I hope you’re doing okay. I promise I’m not trying to do a sales job on you but I really do think my online video course will help you make sense of this all. My second course Start with Me: Survivor to Staying strong – is about why we find it hard to leave someone who hurts us and we know is no good for us. Why we still love them and feel so pulled back to them. Why the only person who can make us feel good about ourselves is the person who hurts us. I will be launching this very soon. The first one Start with Me: Victim to Survivor is here: http://www.beingunbeatable.com/start-victim-survivor/ which may also benefit you. If you’d like to join the waiting list then you will be alerted as to when the new one is launching and be able to find out more and if it’s right for you or not. Stay strong x

  2. Wow. This describes exactly how I feel. My abusive ex is going to jail for 6 months starting Monday for abusing me. I am proud of myself for finally standing up to him but a little bit of me still misses him. I know he never loved me so I have no idea why I miss him. =(

    1. Hi Mary Beth. You should be very proud of yourself. I know how much courage and strength that takes. I also know exactly why you miss him. It might be worth reading this post (which has a video in it as well) – http://www.beingunbeatable.com/feel-sorry-for-our-abuser/. I promise I’m not trying to do a sales pitch on you.. but

      I also think it would be worth you considering taking my new online video course, which will be launching soon. I worry that, if you feel this way about your abusive ex, then you risk going into another abusive relationship. You need to break the cycle, which we tend to repeat with our next relationship. If you join the waiting list for my first course here: http://www.beingunbeatable.com/start-victim-survivor/, then you will be alerted as to when the next one is coming out and can find out more about it. It’s called Survivor to Staying strong. It is designed especially for women like you who have recently left an abusive relationship. If not, then keep reading my posts and watching my videos as I think they will help you too. Stay strong x

  3. This is exactly me . I was with him 12 years , and the craziest part of all of those 12 years , I sat waiting on him to come to America from Australia . We had a whirlwind affair online for 12 years , and it was by far the worst abuse I could have put myself through . He lied about every single detail of his life , even his real name , if I had not seen him on cam each day/night I would have really believed he was not real at all . He love bombed for months , and after about a year , everything came to surface . I had been struggling already from almost 30 years of spousal about , and a childhood filled with abuse , in every way possible . I told myself at least there was no hitting me , or raping me , but the words , his heart hurt me worse than anyone ever hitting me . I have recently found out I am a victim of trauma bonding , most all my life and it is near impossible for me to let go of any relationship , whether personal or business that is not abusive in some form . I am in recovery programs to help with all my emotional issues , but I can’t stop my heart from loving the man I met in the beginning .

    1. So sorry to hear what you have been through. A childhood filled with abuse does lead one to replicate it, as a way to try to conquer it, in later life. Although negative it is what has become our normal. So when we meet another abusive person it feels familiar to us. It is not love, but control. The love you feel for the person you first met is the fantasy person they created to hook you in. It is not the real them. But it is such a powerful manipulation that it is what keeps us waiting and hoping they will change. The most important thing you can do is to take your focus off them and put it where it belongs – onto you. I am glad you are in a recovery programme and getting professional support. It is crucial to help break this bond and to start to help you to put your needs and wellbeing first. When you can find self love, then you will start to see that This is. It a healthy form of love. You deserve better. Keep going with that support and little by little you will get through this painful recovery and heal. It hurts, I know, but you have take. The hardest step, admitting you need that support. Stay strong. You will get there.

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