Some unhealthy relationships are easier to leave than most. I recently had to step away from someone who I called my best friend for six years, and honestly haven’t thought twice about it. Because I don’t miss the anxiety of having her criticism and gaslighting in my life. But some unhealthy relationships don’t have such a clean-cut ending in terms of how we feel about them. Many people in abusive situations don’t simply say, “Well, he hurt me, therefore I’m leaving, and I don’t love him anymore.” It’s far more nuanced than that, and I know from personal experience.
The volatile nature of toxic and abusive relationships make for deeply unstable thinking patterns that go something along the lines of, “Why did I yell at him like that for hurting me? I shouldn’t have said those things and left. He’s been through so much, and I’ve just added to his trauma by not being patient enough. But I’m not coping with being hit anymore. I can’t handle being yelled at. I can’t even be in my own body because of what he’s done to it. But I love him so much. I don’t know if I can handle living without him. But I clearly can’t handle living with him. What do I do? Is it me? We can fix this. I’m sure we can fix this.”
This chaotic thinking—fuelled by the desire to feel safe, loved, and as though we belong—exists while we’re still in the relationship. But it often also lingers once we’ve left it. We’re human beings with emotions, after all. And if we’re decent ones, we feel compassion for those who suffer: a violent spouse who is clearly a tortured soul, but is unwilling to change; a sibling who was also abused by your parents consistently humiliates you, and then accuses you of being oversensitive; a parent who molested or raped you, but they’re still you’re mother or father. And the plethora of other relationship dynamics that come with their own kind of pain.
This is hard stuff, babe. And I just want to say to you now that you don’t have to minimize it. These conflicting thoughts and feelings are confusing. And they cause so much fear because leaving an abusive person is scary—not just because we don’t necessarily know what the future holds, but also because we know on some level that once we leave them, we’re probably going to miss them and wish we’d stayed. But we have to learn to detangle our emotions from the decisions we need to make for our own safety and well-being. So I want to share with you what I’ve learned from my own experience with these painful, lingering emotions of love and wishing I could still have a relationship with some of the people who’ve hurt and abused me.
#1. – There’s A Word For Loving And Missing These People
It’s “grief”. Our bodies, minds, and hearts go into shock when we’re torn (even by choice) from something that matters to us. There’s a few ways this might play out:
- When you think about this person, the fond memories of the past (and the hopes you had for the future) cause you heartache
- Longing for the nearness of someone you once had in your life—and knowing they will never be a part of it again; you can’t hear their voice, hug them, or enjoy daily life with them
- Your heart breaks for the pain that the person who hurt you carries in their soul; knowing all the traumas they’ve experienced, and why they’ve become the way they are. You often doubt that you made the right decision to leave—and even beat yourself up for doing so because if you hadn’t, you’d still have this person you love in your life.
Which leads me to point 2.
#2. – You Have To Recognize Your False Sense Of Responsibility
The toxic or abusive person may have been damaged by their own trauma. But in the case of relationships where there is an abuser and target, or a toxic person and enabler, it’s more often than not the target and enabler that feel responsibility for the relationship. Psychotherapist Terri Cole says that the majority of people who come to her for counseling about toxic relationships are the enablers in the relationship. Because the reality is that the toxic person has no desire to change, and doesn’t invest in the wellness of the relationship to anywhere near the same degree as the enabler.
The dynamics of abusive and toxic relationships are founded upon the dangerous or hurtful person’s implied or explicit demand to experience the relationship on their terms—even though there are two people in it. So when you begin to miss the person you left to look after yourself, bring yourself back to the fact that they didn’t have the willingness or ability to love you the way you consistently loved them. And that if you were to go back to them, things wouldn’t change because the person in question has proven time and time again that they won’t change. And the cycle will continue repeating with you being the one whose heart is thrown back in their face over and over again.
#3. – You Have To Choose Your Hard
I’m sure you’ve seen the fitspo meme that says: “Being overweight is hard. Working out is hard. Choose your hard.” Well, the same goes for when we’re missing the abusive or toxic person: “Being with the abuser is hard. Being without the abuser is hard. Choose your hard.” And eventually, the more you heal, the easier it becomes to be without them. You may not believe me now, but it’s true. I know from personal experience.
I know this sounds like a shameless plug, but I’m being 100% honest with you when I say that even as a SwanWaters staff member, I utilize The Healing Academy workshop to find support for dealing with these emotions around my toxic family members. So if you need the same kind of support, click on the banner below to sign-up for a membership, and we’ll have your back.