When I was living with Captain Crazy, he controlled the narrative. No matter how intelligent or accomplished or self-assured a target of abuse is, you still become thoroughly brainwashed. The unfortunate part is that you have no idea it’s happening. In fact, you likely don’t even realize until after you have escaped your abuser that this is not love, but rather addiction.
I never thought of myself as an addict, but I was. I was addicted to trying to get him to love me enough to change. I was addicted to trying to please him to keep the peace. I was addicted to putting on a false front for everyone else. I was addicted to my shame. I was addicted to looking for the tiny slivers of being human that he occasionally showed. Addicted to trying to be a “normal, happy family.” These were addictions that took me over stealthily and shaped my entire thinking without me having the chance to question them. When I got out, the first thing I had to do was akin to a 12-step program.
The worst part of getting out was not the actual getting out; it was the “withdrawal.” Anyone who has been through this process understands exactly what I am describing. You know that it was abuse. You know that you were miserable and in pain. You know that you are better off breaking away. Yet, God help you, you miss that person. Day and night you pine away for what was really only a mirage. The worst part is, you know it and you question your own sanity. Believe it or not, there are some very legitimate reasons for why you feel the way you do.
If you haven’t heard about this, you can read up on it in this article on Stockholm Syndrome and Emotional Abuse. From a practical perspective, it explains why you seemingly chose to stay with an abuser. This becomes a crazy, emotional tug-of-war between the opportunity cost of leaving, and the twisted attachment one develops with an abuser. The entire dynamic is rooted in a crazy form of empathy in which you are taught to feel sorry for your abuser. Think of all those times you rationalized the behavior with statements like, “He had such a horrible childhood” or “She was raped in college.” By giving you just a little taste of something that seems genuine, during what’s called the “honeymoon phase” of the abuse cycle, this empathy is fed just enough to keep you hooked.
All the behaviors you develop to cover up the abuse are rooted in shame. I learned this from studying the work of Dr. Brene Brown. Because the abuser teaches us that “everything” is our fault, we learn to operate in a permanent state of shame. We are ashamed that we can’t “make” the relationship better. We are ashamed that we are such a “failure” at relationships. We are ashamed that we know this is wrong, bad for us, destructive, and sad. We are ashamed that we work so hard to hide the truth about our lives from those who care about us most. Most of all, we are ashamed that we have “gotten ourselves into” such a bad situation, as though we really had much of a choice.
What Might Have Been
Certainly we saw at least one thing we perceived as being good about our abuser which caused us to believe we fell in love with them. What actually happens is we look for the partner we dreamed of and, because we have a core belief that we are not necessarily worthy of the dream, we create a fantasy. Those occasional openings where the abuser tries to look loving or molds him/herself into looking like exactly what we want creates an illusion that is hard to escape. It’s hard because it’s what we want and we are generally willing to do anything to have it. In my experience, the most horrific part of abuse recovery has been the regret and longing for decades of my life and love wasted. If only I had done this, or chosen that, or not gone there, I could have had “the dream.” Then, before we realize it, we are rationalizing the past abuse as being not that bad. We don’t want to live with the consequences of wasted time.
Believe me when I say all of these feelings are normal, and all can be overcome. The thinking that makes you miss the abuser is the same thinking you were force-fed in order to keep you in the abusive relationship. By continuing to take a good hard look at behaviors, and by surrounding yourself with those who have walked the road before you, and some great truth-tellers, you will get past it. I promise, it is a phase, just part of the overall grief process.
You will get better, and you will reach a day when you realize you don’t miss anything about the person who made your life so painful under the pretense of love.