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I don't think Dylan wrote a breakup song for this.
March 6, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

BreakupFilter, sort of: My former SO has left me doubting my worldview, my judgement and my sanity. That's a lot to carry on top of heartbreak, to say the least. I'm used to being a fairly confident and self-assured person; how do I get back there?

To pre-empt the cries of 'Therapy!' - I'm doing that, and it is helping somewhat. Still, this is a mindfuck the like of which I have never experienced, and I'd really like to hear any advice and suggestions from people who've been through anything similar.

My former SO was, I thought, an ideal partner, and as crazy about me as I was about them. The relationship was positive, happy and drama-free, and had even got to a point where we'd talked about marriage a few times. Then, over a few short weeks, things slid and crashed and burned. Suddenly my kind, loving SO was a withdrawn sulky brat, hitting on other people and putting up profiles on dating websites, threatening breakups then begging me not to leave, sending strange email apologies that contradicted themselves from sentence to sentence, and generally stamping all over my emotions and giving me close to nothing in return, in many and various ways. It was such a drastic personality change that after hearing about what was going on, one of my friends seriously asked whether my SO was past the typical age of schizophrenia onset. (The answer's yes, although regardless I don't think it was that.)

Experiencing all this was awful, and made even more so by the flashes and flickers of my SO's former self that still came from time to time, in which they seemed genuinely surprised and horrified by their own behaviour. Finally they left, then sort-of came back, then sort-of left again, apologised then took back the apology, completely denied conversations that had happened a week before, and on, and on… After a few months of all of this, I made the decision to cut this person out of my life absolutely and permanently, and don't regret that.

My former SO grew up in an abusive household (something I didn't know about until after all this started), and has only recently started getting therapy to deal with various stuff arising from that. I don't think mental health issues excuse bad behaviour, but objectively I can appreciate that there were mental health issues going on there that weren't my fault. That's some small comfort.

So, I'm definitely better of out of it. But now that I am out of it, I find myself questioning everything - not just about that relationship, but about my own beliefs re: relationships in a wider sense. I had no idea my partner was the kind of person who could do anything like that; does this mean that there's something wrong with my perception, since I don't even see any red flags in retrospect, or does it mean that people who are capable of such things can hide it so convincingly I'll never know how to spot it? I didn't think people acted like this, with the total personality flip; what else might I be wrong about? Was the person I thought I was involved with real, or a convincing fiction, or what? Former SO's behaviour seems, to me and to everyone I've spoken to about it (therapist included), to be downright bizarre - but since former SO clearly doesn't think so, how do I know I'm not the one going crazy? And how am I going to trust anyone, myself included, in the future?

Objectively, I can understand that this person's behaviour was unacceptable and unusual. Objectively, I know it's not me. On a gut level, though, that's not totally getting through - and I really, really want to get back to a place where I have some confidence in my own judgement and my own perception of the world. People out there who've managed to achieve that post-massive-mindfuck: how did you do it?

Throwaway email: confusedandbedraggled@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a tough one.

Former SO's behaviour seems, to me and to everyone I've spoken to about it (therapist included), to be downright bizarre - but since former SO clearly doesn't think so, how do I know I'm not the one going crazy?

Well, for starters, because everyone else, including a mental health professional, agrees it's him and not you.

Was the person I thought I was involved with real, or a convincing fiction, or what?
Ultimately this is a philosophical question. My personal view is that we are the sum of all our actions throughout our lives. So both the good and the bad stuff are "really" him. You made a very wise decision that the bad was outweighing the good, and got out of there. You did the right thing.

Yes, some people can hide their "bad" sides extremely well. It sounds like maybe he himself didn't even know he was capable of such behavior until he found himself doing it. I don't really know what advice to give, but it sounds like you are doing the right things: you broke off the toxic relationship, and you are getting therapy. I can tell you "don't beat yourself up, you did exactly the right thing, trust yourself, etc etc" but the truth is you had a horrible experience, and I think it will just take time and therapy. But you will get past it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:21 PM on March 6, 2010


I've seen several people with clinically diagnosed and more-or-less unmanaged mental problems (bipolar disorder, among others) do the sort of things your former SO did. These people all had abuse issues of some sort or another or at least an extremely disordered childhood. I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind, or a statistician, or a social worker, or anything, but my point is this: Unfortunately, the sort of shit your former SO pulled is within the range of human behavior, moral or otherwise.

You're not a bad person, you didn't fuck up, you didn't and don't deserve this stuff. You happened to wind up committed to a person whose own behavior and reasoning capacity degenerated over time. It sucks a lot, but it does occasionally happen. It isn't a reflection on you. You are going to be fine. After whatever period of a break from dating and time in therapy and whatever else you need, you will be back where you were before but older and wiser.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:39 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed it will take time and therapy. You sound a little shell-shocked, the carpet's been ripped from under you, your world has been turned upside-down, etc. All I can say is, it happens. That's life. Things happen in this world that we cannot control, no matter how much we may think we know something. So how do we trust ourselves going forward and prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future? We just have to trust ourselves that we will be able to handle whatever life throws at us. We can't live in fear that something like this or something more horrible will happen further down the line. We just can't. I know this is a small comfort to you right now. But your job for now is to heal, and you are doing exactly that, which is great. You are learning coping skills and other survival skills that everyone needs (and sadly, some people never get).

My former SO grew up in an abusive household (something I didn't know about until after all this started), and has only recently started getting therapy to deal with various stuff arising from that. I don't think mental health issues excuse bad behaviour, but objectively I can appreciate that there were mental health issues going on there that weren't my fault. That's some small comfort.
Abuse in itself is a pretty big mindfuck. It sounds like the ex-SO was doing really well in this relationship with you, and when he/she realized that "hey this is real, this could be life-long," he/she may have freaked, hence the complete turnaround. This is what abuse can do to someone, and in turn, you are affected by the abuse that he/she suffered. I am really sorry for that. I'm really glad he/she is getting therapy and while I don't want to minimize your pain at all, most likely what they went through growing up was far worse.
posted by foxjacket at 5:45 PM on March 6, 2010


I had no idea my partner was the kind of person who could do anything like that; does this mean that there's something wrong with my perception, since I don't even see any red flags in retrospect, or does it mean that people who are capable of such things can hide it so convincingly I'll never know how to spot it?

Both. You're human. Your perception is imperfect. There are things you simply won't be able to see until hindsight brings around its perfect lens. So it goes.

I didn't think people acted like this, with the total personality flip; what else might I be wrong about?

All kinds of things. So it goes.

Was the person I thought I was involved with real, or a convincing fiction, or what?

Real. I highly doubt your SO was faking everything for so long. There were just some things you didn't know. So it goes.

Former SO's behaviour seems, to me and to everyone I've spoken to about it (therapist included), to be downright bizarre - but since former SO clearly doesn't think so, how do I know I'm not the one going crazy?

Listen to everyone else. "Crazy" is all about norms. If most people say something is crazy, it is. If most people say you're not crazy, you aren't. If you're not sure of yourself, listen to them until you are more solid.

And how am I going to trust anyone, myself included, in the future?

The lesson from this should not be that you can't trust anyone; rather, you should trust people just as you did before, but with the added understanding that you might be wrong. Accept that.

And that's not a contradiction. "Trust" no longer means, "I know this person will [always / never] do [x]." That's unreasonable and unrealistic. "Trust" should mean, "as far as I know, this person will [always / never] do [x], so my best option, given what I know, is to act as though that were inviolable. If it turns out I'm wrong, I'll deal with it then."

I know what it's like. Everyone has some piece of his or her worldview shattered at some point, or at least everyone should if s/he is paying any attention. Honestly, I could even say that I'm more confident now because I know more about my own limitations. The person who thinks he absolutely knows something is dangerous. An important aspect of wisdom is recognizing how much you don't know.

To answer your overarching question: Regain your confidence by accepting your fallibility.
posted by whatnotever at 6:41 PM on March 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


whatnotever's answer is perfect.
posted by fritley at 7:22 PM on March 6, 2010


I don't think Dylan wrote a breakup song for this

"I Threw It All Away"

I once held her in my arms
She said she would always stay
But I was cruel
I treated her like a fool
I threw it all away.

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
And rivers that ran through ev'ry day
I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away.

Love is all there is, it makes the world go around
Love and only love it can't be denied
No matter what you think about it
You just won't be able to do without it
Take a tip from one who's tried.
So if you find someone that gives you all of her love
Take it to your heart, don't let it stray
For one thing that's certain
You will surely be a-hurtin'If you throw it all away

Listen to Bob and don't take someone else's meltdown as telling you anything about yourself. And yes, people who seem normal can basically flip out. But you kid yourself if you think that there weren't signs. You just didn't see them for what they were because you didn't realize that people could be like this. Now that you do know, you'll be a lot less trusting and will have your eyes peeled for this kind of behavior. You'll ask a lot more questions about the past and be wary of people who do not have good coping systems. All of these are good things.

And you'll never doubt Bob Dylan again.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:41 PM on March 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I had no idea my partner was the kind of person who could do anything like that; does this mean that there's something wrong with my perception, since I don't even see any red flags in retrospect, or does it mean that people who are capable of such things can hide it so convincingly I'll never know how to spot it?

I wouldn't beat yourself up over that. If you haven't spent lots of time around crazy people why would you notice the onset of an episode? Similarly if you hadn't spent time around drug addicts or alcoholics you might not notice the warning signs of impending relapse. It just means that you typically make GOOD choices since crazy is not something you're familiar with in interpersonal relationships. (That or he is doing drugs or drinking heavily and you didn't notice).

Except now you are so older and wiser and all that. Next time you'll probably be more alert to someone with a disordered personality.
posted by fshgrl at 8:00 PM on March 6, 2010


First I will start by saying being single is OK. Where you're at now, without the SO, is fine. Think of what you are feeling as your brain just processing what has happened to you. It might feel sucky, but its still OK.

I agree with a few of the folks on here that you can't devalue yourself because of what someone else has said or done.

And yes, your perception of life and things will have changed as a result of this. At the moment it might seem like those perceptions have changed A LOT. But give it time and eventually the lesson you have learned from this will meld with your previous perceptions and you'll end up somewhere in the middle. A wiser place.
posted by thorny at 12:45 AM on March 7, 2010


So, I've spent time visiting people in mental institutions and I often come out with a kind of minor version of this - as if the crazy is "catching" in a way, and I start doubting my own reality.

There are various things that help to "ground" me again:

- physical exercise
- getting outside
- familiar daily routine: if you've just moved, maybe your routine is screwed up, and trying to get some parts of it back may help.
- keeping busy, not spending too much time bored.
- taking some time to look after myself and do nice things for myself
- spending time around other people who are very solid and sensible
- playing some specific songs I like that calm me down.
- if there are unwelcome thoughts going round in my head, for example if my brain is showing replays of some unpleasant event, I listen to music REALLY LOUD and it drowns out the thoughts, helping me to snap out of it. I think when something nasty happens you pretty much have to put up with your brain replaying the event(s) until it's decided how to file them properly - but you can at least trick your brain into giving you a break sometimes!

Oh, and understand that your reaction is pretty normal, considering. If he had broken your leg, you'd expect some pain and upset, and you'd have to make allowances for yourself for a while, and look after yourself until it's healed. It's no different for your brain!
posted by emilyw at 2:23 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've unfortunately been through something similar somewhat recently.

Really, everything that the posters above say about giving it time is true. The next little while is going to suck, but you will eventually put yourself back together. So, hunker down for the storm and focus on taking care of yourself. When I went through it I thought of it as being in survival mode: I made sleeping enough, eating properly (or at all), and exercise my priorities. I made check-in dates with my friends to guarantee I got out of the house. And as cheesy as it sounds, I think getting those fundamentals down was a way of laying a foundation on which to rebuild what was broken.

The next phase for me was just sort of being conscious of my thought processes and choosing how to react: every time I got that anxiety, asking myself, "is this warranted, or is this baggage?" and forcing myself, if necessary, to do what was rational in the circumstances. Basically, trying to project the healed, whole person I wanted to be until I actually resembled her.

It gets better. I know it seems hard to fathom right now, but have faith in time and the thousands of heartbroken before you who have made it through. This comment from scody in another thread was something I kept coming back to: whether it's from the loss or from having your reality utterly shattered, it's excellent advice: you will hurt, a lot, but you will heal.

And if you need a breakup anthem? Try Superhero by Ani DiFranco. That song was stuck in my head a lot.

Feel free to email/memail me if you want. I'm truly sorry you have to go through this.
posted by AV at 4:53 AM on March 7, 2010


Sounds like borderline personality disorder to me. It's very common among people who grew up in abusive households.
posted by driftingfocus at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2010


A couple suggestions of how to move forward:

Time might not heal all wounds, but it does give you perspective. Surround yourself with thoughts and media that gets you to back to a place that feels uniquely "you." Preferably put your self into situations where you are required to be judgmental to people and opinions in a constructive way.

Rely on friends more to vet relationships going forward. This means talking more to friends about potential dates, and eventually having your dates hang out with your friends. Don't try to entangle your friends in drama, but treat them as advisors, which is what you need now. But beware! Some of your "good" friends might be terrible at relationship advice. Trust experienced friends who share your values.
posted by thefinderkeeper at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2010


It sounds like you'e reacting normally to being through something that caused you pain and confusion. Maybe you're doubting things (your worldview, yourself) because your trust in the way you expected a person to behave was shaken by your SO's erratic behavior?

Whatever her problem was, friend's (in particular ones unqualified to diagnose other people) pondering whether it's "onset of schizophrenia", or even you wondering if it's due to her abusive background - isn't going to help you right now. She isn't your problem anymore.

No one ever knows with any certainty how people will behave. It's trust in your own healthy peception of things that leads you to believe that a person won't suddenly go off the deep end. All you can do is give yourself some time to recover and continue taking chances with people. And, as you did, protect yourself when necessary.
posted by marimeko at 12:22 PM on March 7, 2010


i've dealt with two boyfriends that did the jekyll and hyde with me and it came completely out of nowhere. my last ex has turned into a complete monster...vandalizing things he had given me as a gift, making snide comments, passing off untrue rumors, and doing everything he can to make my life a living hell. my favorite quote that has helped me get through both breakups is: "i loved the person i thought you were." having said that, it has helped make it easier to differentiate the a**hole from the guy that i loved for years. some people handle breakups well, some don't. i find it mind boggling that those who initiate the breakup are sometimes the ones that go nuts. in my case, i think it is because he was not expecting me to move on as quickly (as in be ok and establish a social life) and be ok without him.

just continue to remind yourself that the person they are now is not the person you would have ever loved or dated....and they are no longer the person you were with. as tough as it is, they are not the same person.
posted by penguingrl at 2:48 AM on March 12, 2010


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