Need support for emotional aftermath of leaving an abusive relationship
July 10, 2013 10:54 PM   Subscribe

About a month ago, I left a partner who had rapidly escalated into severe verbal abuse with me. We were together for a couple years but only lived together for three months. He has mental health issues and is treatment-resistant and talks about suicide, and I am worried about him. We are no contact at present, but he's on my mind almost 24-7. I'm wavering that I did the right thing by leaving, even though I felt endangered. I need to be bombarded with support from all sides to counteract his brainwashing and help me know I did the right thing and I really will be happier one day. I know Metafilter is especially good at this so I am turning to you for help.

Our relationship was one of intense ups and downs for a couple of years. I was very much in love with him and my thoughts and feelings are all over the place. There's guilt, fear, anger, sorrow, and sometimes a ray of hope or a glimpse of empowerment. And yes, I am in therapy. I meet with a domestic violence counselor once a week and I start PTSD therapy (EMDR) tomorrow. I'm aware of CoDA and Al-Anon but I've gone to some of their meetings and found their angle to be more victim-blaming than I'm comfortable with. I can blame myself fine without help.

I need to know how to handle the riot of thoughts and emotions I'm going through, especially my worries about him killing himself. How can I not feel like a murderer if he carries out his threats?

I'm also second-guessing whether I did the right thing by leaving instead of staying and trying to make him get treatment for his mental health issues. He grudgingly intended to go and see a psychiatrist, but he said he wasn't going to promise to take meds or follow a long-term treatment plan because he didn't value his life that much. He has never intended to live a long life. I knew that from the beginning but I kept hoping he would change his mind, or that I would discover that he didn't always feel that way. Unfortunately it seemed like a pretty ingrained idea.

His behavior became frightening to me. He talked about hating people and wanting to kill them. He pushed me up against a wall in public when he was drunk (he's an alcoholic in addition to the mental stuff). He tried to control my life, wanting me to give up my phone, my car, my job, my apartment, and most of my belongings and he would support me. It turned out that when I moved in with him, he doled out money grudgingly for my bills, berated me for having debt, and told me I was an ingrate whenever I complained about the verbal abuse.

He called me names, said I was a "walking disaster" because of my debt (which was mainly for education, medical bills, and my car, so it's not like I was frivolous with money). I also have ADD and anxiety, so I do struggle with being overwhelmed and having trouble organizing my finances, but I am trying and he knew it. I try very hard to stay on top of things, although I do sometimes mess up. Even so, he continued to call me names for my money issues, like "loser," "failure," and "fuckup." My financial life is manageable, though difficult, and I do have an excellent credit rating. I never asked him to be responsible for my debts, but he offered...and then he got angry about it. He said he felt like he had to take responsibility for me because I obviously couldn't. Yes, I was struggling, due to a number of factors that I am well aware of, but I had payment plans worked out with all my creditors at low interest rates.

He scrutinized me whenever I did anything, whether it was cooking, cleaning, using the computer, whatever. He constantly pointed out how I was doing things "wrong." He told me that I could never be his equal partner, only his student, because he was so much more intelligent than I was. And there's a lot more, except it would fill volumes so I'll stop here. I'm sure you all get the gist.

And yet, he said he loved me. He said he had never expected to fall in love and have another girlfriend again and that made me feel special. I know it sounds like a line of BS, but I think he meant it. He had a vulnerable side. Also, despite his constant bragging about his IQ, I enjoyed his intelligence and the things I learned from him. However, I hated the fact that he kept saying he couldn't learn anything from me.

I finally left him after he lost his temper at me for Skyping with my family and told me I should distance myself from them. This was the same week he yelled at me that I should just shut up and accept the fact that he was the one in control of our relationship due to his high intelligence. I couldn't take it anymore. My self-esteem, already shaky, was decimated by then.

I left the day before he was to see a psychiatrist and I feel guilty about that. However, as I mentioned, he was treatment-resistant and just going through the motions to satisfy me. He had no plan to take meds or do long-term treatment. A friend of mine explained that abusiveness is not from mental illness or drinking and gave me Lundy Bancroft's book Why Does He DO That? which explains that in more detail. At the time I left it totally felt the right thing to do. But now I'm dealing with the ups and downs of PTSD and thinking that if only I had done things differently maybe he could have gotten better.

I feel like I betrayed and abandoned him and that if he kills himself it will be my fault; that I should have been stronger because he's obviously in such a bad way and needed help. What are some thoughts I can use to counteract those self-recriminations? How do I stay strong?
posted by Rainflower to Human Relations (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't betray or abandon him. What you chose to do was put yourself first. That isn't selfish, it's NECESSARY. You were in a very dangerous situation, and I'm so proud of you for getting out.

You are not in control if he chooses to harm himself. Blaming yourself for his actions won't help you, and it won't change him.

The most important thing you can do is just please be kind to yourself. You're going through an extremely stressful and life changing period. Take some time for self care. Discover what makes you happy. Good luck, and you are going to do just fine. You are strong.
posted by fireandthud at 11:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

You did the right thing. This guy sounds incredibly self-centered, insecure and manipulative, and you deserve to be with someone who is none of those things.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:07 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

All I can really say is that your primary responsibility at the moment is to yourself, to look after yourself. You can't save anyone else, you can't change anyone else or make their lives better even though it feels like you ought to be able to when you love them so much. The only person you can really save is yourself, and you do that every day by choosing not to get sucked back into the relationship with him, by putting your needs first, by recognising that he is responsible for himself. You are not responsible for him.

It seems extremely unlikely to me that he will do anything. It seems more likely that he will try to use your remaining feelings of worry, concern, love, etc to manipulate you into thinking that he will hurt himself unless you (XYZ). Do not fall into that trap.

You have chosen to leave him. That choice was made once, true, but you need to keep making it over and over again by choosing yourself, not him. The thoughts and worries and aching and longing will come, just accept that you feel these things and let them go. It is tough and horrible and awful for a while, it will get easier and easier, especially as you start feeling more like yourself again and less like the person he tried to control you into being. Rejoice every time you can do something he wouldn't have wanted/let you do. Take pleasure in your own autonomy. You have made it free, do not enslave yourself again.

I'm sorry you've been through such a tough time, but you are doing great and all the right things. Stay strong and feel free to memail me. Have been there, done that (with the obligatory variations).
posted by Athanassiel at 11:11 PM on July 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I feel like I betrayed and abandoned him and that if he kills himself it will be my fault;

This is one of the ways that abusive people abuse their partners. You're a good person for thinking this, but he's a complete asshole for making you feel that way.
posted by empath at 11:14 PM on July 10, 2013 [22 favorites]

You did the right thing, period. Take care of yourself. Find somebody who treats you like you deserve to be treated. You deserve to be respected. You deserve to live with kindness.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:18 PM on July 10, 2013

Here's some perspective. Internalize this.

By allowing him to abuse you, you were not doing him ANY favors. The only thing you were supporting was the continuation of his criminal behavior and mental illness.

You support his greater good by leaving, by going no contact, by demonstrating in a clear way that his way of being hurts others and himself.

Don't help him be a Bad Person by going back to him.

Finally, you can not control others. His choices are his. While both you and I hope this break up will be the catalyst for him to change - it really doesn't matter.

By not being a victim any longer, you ARE changing the world for the better.

You can only help him by staying away and helping yourself. What you are doing really really makes a difference.

Don't go back. Your part in his story is finished. Be at peace.
posted by jbenben at 11:19 PM on July 10, 2013 [36 favorites]

If he doesn't value his own life, why would you think he would value yours? The abuse you described sounds like it would only get worse. You did the right thing by taking responsibility for your own life and keeping yourself safe; you cannot and should not try to take that responsibility for anyone else. Hang in there.
posted by deliciae at 11:20 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

...trying to make him get treatment for his mental health issues.

Yeah, that's not a real thing, "making" someone get treated. Treatment for mental-health issues requires cooperation stemming from some desire to be treated. Otherwise it's not treatment, it's just an appointment.

He has never intended to live a long life. I knew that from the beginning but I kept hoping he would change his mind...

Everybody's entitled to live however they choose, but this would be a dealbreaker for most relationship forms that I can envision. If you're spending your life with someone as a partner, you assume some level of duty to them regarding the length of your life and your well-being. It doesn't mean you need to take daily vitamins and always drive the speed limit, but it kinda does mean you don't get to adopt wildly unsafe habits and shrug them off with, "Ehh, I don't intend to be around much longer anyway."

His behavior became frightening to me.

This would also be a dealbreaker for most people. Talking about hating people and wanting to kill them could go either way: maybe he's dangerous, or maybe that's just how he vents. Maybe he follows it up with a sarcastic laugh that you didn't tell us about. I don't know. But if you felt frightened, well, that's a big red flag and not one to ignore. So, good that you didn't ignore it.

I left the day before he was to see a psychiatrist and I feel guilty about that.

That's an understandable and logical emotion, but you can also spin what happened in the other direction: you left him, presumably creating significant change in his life and an emotional reaction, but you did so in a circumstance where he had the benefit of a psychiatrist's appointment less than twenty-four hours later. That's lucky timing for him. Most of us don't get a shrink's hand on our shoulder the day after we get dumped.

What are some thoughts I can use to counteract those self-recriminations?

If you find it helpful to read books trying to understand him, then so be it. But I'd recommend you focus on you. What's good for you today, what'll be good for you tomorrow. If you are truly one of those people whose habit is to focus externally, to act for others' benefit, and you don't feel up to changing that habit right now, then maybe consider your loved ones: parents, siblings, best friend, future spouse, future kids. In all seriousness, do your future husband a big favor and handle this in a way that will make the inevitable conversation about it easier. Imagine him putting his hand on your shoulder and telling you, "I'm sorry you had that experience, but I'm so proud of how you extricated yourself."

Speaking of which: good job extricating yourself. Keep it up. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 11:22 PM on July 10, 2013 [11 favorites]

Him making you responsible for his life is one more way in which he is ignoring your boundaries (and any reasonable person's boundaries). Close your eyes, and imagine extruding all the inappropriate stuff he's put on you -- all the guilt, all the responsibility, all the various crap -- and watch it come out of you, like a toxic sludge. Now imagine balling it up and handing it back to him -- because it's his, and he was wrong to put it on you.

All of this sludge is stuff that he needs to deal with. You can't do anything with it.
posted by jaguar at 11:23 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

This guy is textbook abusive. Avoid him as you would a horrible disease or an enormous pile of dog excrement, because that's what he is.

Your future without him in your life is going to be 100-times better than it would've been with him in it. Block his number and his drama, and walk away with your head held high.

You have a bright future and scores of people on the sidelines are cheering you on.
posted by blueberry at 11:47 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a dear, dear friend who was married to a woman who constantly talked about how she would kill herself if he left. And she was very unstable in other ways, including massive jealousy about anyone in his life who wasn't her. So he endured the marriage for years, because he was convinced she would die, and it would be his responsibility. He was a good person, so of course he didn't want to be responsible for anyone's suicide, let alone someone he had once loved enough to marry. The marriage finally broke up, probably not a moment too soon because I honestly don't know if he could have taken it much longer. And guess what? She didn't kill herself. In fact, she found someone else.

All of us who knew him knew she was manipulating him with that. Yes, we were worried to some degree, but it was part of her pathology to make him think he was responsible for her illness and living/not living.

This guy sounds horrible, and you absolutely did the right thing. For you, and for him. Stay no contact. Let yourself heal and learn to believe in yourself. He is the worst kind of person, and no one deserves to be jerked around by a jerk like that.
posted by emcat8 at 12:47 AM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're in an extremely disturbing situation and you have all my sympathy. I hope you make it through. I can tell you from experience that some people just can't imagine a better life for themselves. It's the craziest thing, and yet very normal.

I hope you say yes to recovery. I hope you can put down the wrong puzzle and pick up the right puzzle. You do not have to deal with this person. An alcoholic making you responsible for his life is in the latter stages of a devastating, progressive illness that affects the drinker and the people around him, sometimes equally. It can make other people want to commit suicide.

Learning to care for ones self is a massive undertaking. It is far easier to help others, even easier to blame others. And this is why the relationship is not working. Just look at the things he's done to you, and look at the number of times you said "he" in your post. This is not normal. You are not well enough to continue participating in this horrific relationship. Your needs and wants have disappeared. Don't be ashamed to quit. I suspect in your heart of hearts you may feel that you two are not a good fit. Maybe if, you say? Just look at the evidence. Look at it.

I can also tell you Al-Anon is not about victim blaming and I hope you find the strength to go to a few more meetings and maybe work the steps.

There is this story I heard recently about a dilapitated church that everyone prayed at every week. The walls were caked with soot and everything looked dark and murky. One day a member of the church started to clean one of the walls and discovered that underneath the layers of soot were beautiful paintings. But because people were so used to the dirt, an argument ensued regarding whether to keep the church dark and murky, the way everyone was used to having it being, or restore it to its true radiant nature. This is a metaphor for the fork in the road of life for you.

There are some simple things you can do to maintain your sanity. Maintain the no contact. Whenever you get hit with a pang to call him, write down what you are feeling. Call a friend. Hang out with your family and close friends. Treat yourself.

Or, you know, keep calling him until the following is dead clear. Ask yourself this: do you trust that despite your intentions and moments of magical thinking that things have gotten worse. Do you understand that things will only keep getting worse. Are you willing to believe that this is what is actually happening to you.

Yes, I was struggling, due to a number of factors that I am well aware of, but I had payment plans worked out with all my creditors at low interest rates.

You don't have to explain yourself to anyone for this. There are people in far more debt than you that don't have boyfriends that make them feel like shit for it. You've been poorly treated for so long, you don't even recognize it as such. Godspeed.
posted by phaedon at 12:59 AM on July 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is a really, really tough time. Honestly, I think the first few months after I left my abusive ex were in many ways harder than being in the relationship. It's really common to feel the way you do, and it doesn't mean at all that you didn't make the right decision (you did) or that you won't be so, so much happier with your life in the future (you will, I am).

My experience wasn't exactly the same as yours - obviously, no two abusive relationships are exactly alike - and what you need in order to get through this will be different in some ways from what I needed. That's one of the hard parts of this process, figuring out how to absorb what happened and your feelings about it into your own view of the world while moving on to the future, but hard though it is it also ends up being a really empowering part of the process further down the line. So I share my experiences not to instruct you on what you should do, just to let you know what helped me and what didn't. Take whatever parts of it work for you.

My ex threatened suicide while we were together and after I left. Like, explicitly: "If you don't take me back I'll kill myself", "well if you don't want to see me any more, I suppose you don't want an invitation to the funeral", and more like that. (He also started talking about us both dying shortly before I cut off all contact for good.)

What people told me about this was that it was an empty threat and he wouldn't really do it, and that didn't console me at all because I knew him better than they did and knew he believed it himself. What did help me was reaching a point where I recognised that a lifetime in that relationship would absolutely destroy me, so even if that really was the only way to prevent him killing himself, it was not in my power to do it. I wasn't choosing between his life and my temporary happiness, the way it felt at first - I was choosing between his life and mine and I could not save both of us.

Another related thing that helped me was realising that abusers can be, and indeed often are, coming from a place of real psychological pain and turmoil and genuinely suffering. A lot of the advice I read and heard after the end of my relationship was geared towards the idea that this is not true, that there are abusers putting it on as an act and then there are people in real pain. There certainly are abusers who are play-acting - maybe later on you'll decide your ex was one of these, maybe not - but others are really suffering and really in need of help. And it is still abuse, and you as the abused party still can't be the one to help them. If you see a tiger with its foot caught in a trap, it doesnt really matter if the tiger is faking or not - either way you can't go and free its foot yourself, because you'll end up torn to shreds and won't help the tiger. Realising this helped me feel some compassion for my ex, who had a genuinely terrible childhood and some real mental health problems, without making me translate that compassion into rushing in to rescue him.

I also got no benefit at all, and a lot of self-recrimination and resentment instead, from the kind of advice that suggests victims of abusive relationships have some particular prone-to-abuse character traits that put them in that position. Abusers prey on things like your compassion, your generosity, your determination to help those in pain, and the fact that these positive traits get twisted into caricatures of themselves in that relationship is a result of the abuse, not the victim. Past abuse can be more likely to mess up your instincts, and let you read 'controlling behaviour' as 'loving behaviour' and so on, and this is certainly something to address if it applies to you - but abuse can happen to anyone. What helped me, rather, was giving myself credit - for deciding the abusive behaviour was unacceptable, for wanting to help someone in pain, for leaving even though leaving was really really hard.

Also, what jbenben says above - "You support his greater good by leaving, by going no contact, by demonstrating in a clear way that his way of being hurts others and himself" - is also a way of thinking that really, really helped me. In my case I had the benefit of seeing my ex's parents' relationship as a great model for what mine would have been like if I'd stayed - his father drunk and furious and controlling the family through yelling, hitting, contempt and temper tantrums, his mother's life a misery, and his father's life not really any happier. (At one point, my ex actually told me "If you really loved me you'd stay even though I messed up, because my mother's put up with much worse and she never left!") If I had stayed, I would have been reinforcing in my ex the idea that this worked, that he could get what he wanted by abuse and anger and threats of suicide. I am very confident that he would never have ended up getting the mental health care he eventually did seek out if his usual ways of feeling better - screaming, hitting, lying, threatening - had not stopped working for him.

It also helped me to 100% cut off contact with him. Ignore his phone calls, block his emails, refuse to answer the door to him, avoid all mutual spaces where he'd lurk around trying to find me, and not just "for now" but "for ever". It took me a few months post-breakup to get to this point, and it was really hard to do, but it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

I have a really clear memory of one of the last times I ever saw my ex, after the breakup. He was screaming after me down a corridor, threatening suicide, calling me hateful and uncaring, telling me that I was the only person who could save him, running after me and then collapsing on the floor to scream and howl, and I just kept on walking away. I couldn't even see a happy future for myself at that point - I just knew that I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't turn around.

My ex did not kill himself and has since sought proper mental health care, and is, from what I know of his life, in a much better place. And my life is amazing and brilliant and so deeply vibrantly happy, in ways I could never have even imagined in those hard times after leaving. I am so, so glad I gave myself the gift of this bright future, even though I couldn't see anything but grey bleakness from where I was standing at the time.
posted by Catseye at 1:27 AM on July 11, 2013 [43 favorites]

What you have done is good, and brave, and beautiful. No one can be another person's higher power. He has his, and you have yours.

CoDA has helped me immensely. Here's what we strive for -- to be as G_d intended us to be -- precious, and free.

You are already whole. Bless you.
posted by macinchik at 2:18 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please go no-contact with this guy: by continuing to have ANY contact with him, phone/text/email/whatever, he is doing his best to keep manipulating you.
posted by easily confused at 2:52 AM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

For me, leaving was like quitting heroin. Every moment of every day reminding myself why I was doing this. And asking other people to remind me why like you have done today. See, you have good instincts - you asked for help. You can get him and his words out of your head and just listen to your inner voice. By being with my abuser I learned to not listen to my inner voice, to not trust my decisions, to see the world his way. That is a lot of habit to undo and it does take time. It gets better! I could not at the time imagine how much serenity and happiness I would have, I feel like myself again. You will feel like yourself again.

Please 're- read a million times what catseye said. He is an injured tiger. He may very well die. It will not be your fault. You cannot make someone kill themself. You are not the source of their pain. They were injured long before they met you. My abuser did attempt suicide. Then he met someone new and moved in with her. it's hard to realize that even trying everything, everything we can, a person will still kill themselves. Or not. please don't continue to kill yourself by staying involved with him.
Remember this, love is a relationship not a cure. No matter how much I love some I cannot cure them. For now, perhaps you can focus on having a loving relationship with yourself. Does that sound selfish, when he is in so much pain? He is an injured tiger and he will kill you if you persist in helping him. We need you in the world, your ideas, your voice and experience.

Please write again if you need to. Also most places have hotlines you can call and just talk. Hearing yourself talk, saying it all to someone can really help get his voice out of your head.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:15 AM on July 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I've been in your shoes. And I can tell you, hand on my heart, that leaving was the best decision of your life. You are a warrior and now that it's over, it is going to take you some serious time to regather and connect with yourself and process all the things you'll be feeling.

This entire experience is making you a stronger and better person every minute you're away from this person. Honor that. Honor the new you who can face anything. You won the war. Now let's work on your scars.

Please see a competent therapist right away. You have a lot to process and nothing to feel guilty about. As you note, abusers do have nice sides. Of course they do. That's the whole horrible part about it...if they were abusive monsters 24/7, then the decision to leave would be easy, right?

But it's never that simple, as you (and I, and countless others) have learned. Very often, our abusers are caring, lovely, and everything we want in a Hallmark card and a relationship.

It's all those other teeny little things...those things that add up and eventually morph into much bigger things that make everything so damned hard.

I can only say this: I had the same complicated, "But he's so great sometimes and says how much he loves me!" feelings you describe.

And it took me seventeen years to realize that my kids and I couldn't get him to change all the times he wasn't such a nice guy. We couldn't do it.

Abusers escalate their abuse. Mine did. Yours would have.

Stay away from him. Go no contact. Please talk to someone. Do not feel any sense of betrayal.

You could not fix him.

You did the hard thing. The right thing. Stay strong. You will feel better. Congratulations on surviving the abuse and please, trust when I tell you that your life will now open up to wonderful possibilities.
posted by kinetic at 3:21 AM on July 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm really impressed that you got yourself out of that situation so quickly. Bravo.

Your ex may indeed actually kill himself, or attempt it, but that is not anything you have the least bit of control over or responsibility for. Your ex could just as easily attempt suicide with you there as with you not there. Notice that if he really wanted to die, he could easily accomplish it. But he's not wanting to be dead; he's wanting to be alive and in control of others -- especially you -- and he's using threats of suicide to accomplish it.

You are a character in his drama, but you aren't the conflict that's driving it. Sticking with him or allowing further contact would only allow the drama to advance; it wouldn't change the script. There's not a damn thing you can say or do change his incredibly destructive (to you as well as himself), utterly unloving behavior.
posted by jon1270 at 4:45 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, you couldn't have saved him, you can't save him, you won't save him.

Here's an affirmation for you, repeat as necessary, " I am responsible for MY life. I have no responsibility for anyone else's life. What other people choose to do is for them to decide." Keep saying it. Say it when you don't believe it, say it like a prayer, say it over and over and over until you KNOW it's true.

I really suggest that you head to Al-Anon, so early and go often. You'll find a meeting you like and fellowship. Also, call 888-743-5754‎, the Domestic Violence hotline. They'll be able to refer you to local agencies for help. You need this help. You deserve this help.

I will say this, one of the things that's making you cray-cray in all of this is the deafening silence of peace and safety. If you grew up in a violent household, it doesn't feel right to you. You're missing the drama. Intellectually you know that it's terrible for you and that it's wrong, but emotionally, it may be what you equate with love and caring. You need to disabuse yourself of that notion.

Start journaling. Every day, write down some positive things about the day. Concentrate on the aspects of your day that made you feel save and protected. Refocusing on the mundane in your life, embracing it, will help you adjust to your new normal.

Isn't it nice to watch TV until you're sleepy rather than argue, or hide the bourbon or whatever it was you used to have to do when you were in an unhealthy relationship.

My dad was a family counselor who dealt with folks who had addictions. He would talk to a client who would say, "He gambled the rent money away, he sold my clothes for smack and he hits me." Dad would say, "What keeps you in this relationship where you're treated so poorly?" And inevitably the client would sob, "I LOVE him!" He's be supportive but he'd come home and grouse, "Jesus, so WHAT? So you love him, clearly this isn't working out for you very well, is it?"

Loving someone to death isn't good for you, or for him. It doesn't matter that you love him, it's pointless really. It's not good for either of you. So put that emotion away for now.

One way is with EFT, Emotional Freedom Therapy. It works really well with survivors of trauma. When you find that you are obsessing about something, you can start the therapy and it will interrupt those intrusive thoughts.

Your road to a new normal won't be easy, you know that. But you can get lots and lots of local support.

Use this time in your life to learn NEW patterns and new behaviors that will lead you to a life of quiet enjoyment.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:55 AM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes to everything said above and also not only would you be unable to fix or heal him but also, because of his boundary and identification issues, he was setting out to make you value your own life as little as he values his own (and yours). By leaving, you didn't merely take steps toward wholeness. You saved your life. Brava.
posted by janey47 at 6:00 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of people who are being abused in relationships are co-dependent.
2 books that will help you deal with this in a supportive (not victim blaming) manner are The Language of Letting Go and Codependent No More, both by Melody Beattie. (When reading the latter, mentally replace 'abuser' for 'alcoholic')

One thing I did that really helped was to sit down and type out in great detail every single horrible thing my abuser had ever done. Just off the top of my head, I filled 6 pages of tiny 8pt font. It was insane. Every time I felt myself reminiscing the good times or questioning why I left, I made myself sit down and read those 6 pages until I felt sick to my stomach again.

Leaving and staying out is likely the hardest thing you will ever do.
But you are strong, you can do it and you deserve to do it.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 6:29 AM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are so many red flags in this guys behavior that the only possible answer I could give is: Hes abusive, manipulative, not healthy or safe, and the only two things you can do here are: Get out and save your life, or deal with him forever and ever in utter misery. He is (99.9999%) not likely to change. You CAN NOT make him change. You can not- again, can't- make him get help or change. Any actions he does are ALL on him. As my preacher says (yes, really) "He is a grown ass adult." You did your best while you were there; now it is entirely in his court. No contact is your best bet here. Dealing with the bad escalating into constant 'normal' is not what you want for yourself. You deserve better.

Now, since you did leave, I am very, very proud of you! Going back will not help him, it will not help you. In fact, going back will just hurt both of you. No matter what he says or does, this relationship is over. Grieve a little, wish things were different, but keep moving on. You are worth healing and having a good relationship. Promise.
posted by Jacen at 6:33 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so impressed with you for leaving when you did. What you describe sounds terrible and beyond draining, and yet obviously there were some things you loved about your ex or else you wouldn't have been with him in the first place. Good for you for keeping your eyes open to the fact that the bad far, far outweighed the good. Good for you for taking care of yourself, because you deserve that.

It's understandable that you want to help your ex, or that you feel guilty for not somehow doing something for him now. The thing is, as others have already said, you truly cannot help someone in the ways you're envisioning. Think of him as a force of nature, because that's not far from the truth - picture, say, a river. Sure, you could step into the river and slightly change the flow of water at that one point for some brief moment, but that river is going to stay its course no matter what you do - it cannot do otherwise - and if you stand in it for too long you'll eventually be knocked down and dragged under. Same with him: any change you could possibly effect will be temporary at best, and will inevitably do far more harm to you than good for him.

As others above have suggested, the best thing for both of you would be to go completely no-contact. It's okay to run outside and rail at the universe about this if you need to, because IT SUCKS that wanting to help someone and wishing they could be different will never make it so ... but it's in your own best interest to recognize that this is the case. Good luck, you're doing GREAT so far.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:06 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your ex- needs competent mental health care, and you cannot provide him with that. You should report his threats of harm to himself and others to the police, because he may be ill enough to act on them in a way that could cause harm to himself or others. Threatening suicide may be manipulative, but it's also one of the signs of potential suicide.

His feelings are real, he's probably miserable, but his behavior towards you is abusive. You sound like a terrific person, and you absolutely did the right thing to leave. You can't make him get the help he needs. The relationship became very damaging, and it can't be fixed at this point. You have to take care of yourself, rebuild your shattered sense of self, and be healthy. I'm so sorry you're going through this, but you sound like you have more strength and intelligence than you get credit for.
posted by theora55 at 7:19 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You absolutely, 100%, did the right thing by leaving.

One technique that helps me deal with negative, self-recriminating thoughts is to imagine what I would say to a loved friend or family member in my situation. Do you have a sister / niece / friend / etc who you care about? If so, imagine she was in a relationship with a man who abused her. How would you feel if she left the relationship? Would you want to support her, or would you worry about the man?

Another technique I learned in therapy was to make "coping cards" to look through when I was having a tough time. Basically, take some index cards and write down things you want to remember. You can work with your therapist on this, but they can be anything at all - coping techniques, a reminder of how great you are doing, a suggestion of an activity to do to get your mind off things, a reminder of what not to do . . . Then, when you're having a tough time, you physically look through them to remind yourself of [whatever is on the cards].
posted by insectosaurus at 7:22 AM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing. We are in the process of helping my SIL slowly recover from 10+ years with a man like you described, only he was my brother and we weren't aware of all the manipulating going on until the last few years.

Emmotional abuse is abuse, after all there years together my SIL is basically a shell of the formerly strong woman she was. At the end he had her jumping at shadows, having anxiety attacks if he walked into the room, and considering suicide herself and all the time he blamed her.

If only she was "better" he wouldn't have to act like that. If only she worked harder (she worked 80 hours a week in his 2 business while he was off having an affair on the side and working barely 20 and lying to her) he wouldn't have to have an affair/be so sad he'd kill himself/insult her/take drugs. If she cooked/raised the kids/cleaned the house/drove/looked better he wouldn't have to tell her what to do all the time. If only she wasn't so dumb/ugly/stupid/illiterate/untalented/unlovable If only she'd have a three way he wouldn't kill himself/leave her. If only she'd sign over her rights to the business partnership and house he would let her see their kids. If only ...

Don't believe his BS he is using it to control you. You did the right thing by leaving. Oh so the right thing. My heart breaks just hearing what you are saying because I've seen the empty broken shell of a person he left my SIL and I just want to grab you and shake you and show you her and say this is what you missed out on count yourself lucky an don't look back. The fact we didn't see what he was doing to her sooner and drag her out of there kicking and screaming will be a guilt I have for the rest of my life. Go see a therapist, my SIL has found an amazing one that is helping her rebuild herself and to deal with all the emotions she is feeling. I highly recommend finding one that specializes in women leaving abusive partners.
posted by wwax at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Everyone else has said it better, but I just wanted to add that there's no shame in doing what you have to do. Whether he was fully in control or not, his behavior was abusive and intolerable.

For what it's worth, you have not only my support but also my admiration for taking control of your situation in a difficult time. I wish you all the best.
posted by Gelatin at 8:21 AM on July 11, 2013

He told me that I could never be his equal partner, only his student

OMFG. What a jerk. Anything positive you can say or think about this man is totally wiped out by this.

He had a vulnerable side.

So did Ted Bundy.

Escaping Control & Abuse was written especially for you. It's a free ebook, and it's good. Download via Amazon, Google, iTunes or Kobo.

This is not a normal breakup. You will need a lot of support, and people who know the issues specific to abusive relationships.

It's also important to consider your safety, as it is well known that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves. Threatening self-harm is something abusers often do to manipulate.

I really wish you all the best. You sound plenty smart to me, and you most certainly deserve a much, much better life.
posted by inkypinky at 8:28 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Where did you learn that love equals abuse? I don't say that in an abrasive way, I wonder if your parents had the same kind of dynamic? I seems like from what you wrote that you think it's acceptable to let someone who "loves" you totally disregard your boundaries, and treat you like you don't have any value. That is in NO way love, unless possibly you learned that's what "love" is supposed to look like.

It sounds like he projected all of his seemingly "masked" insecurities and low self esteem onto you. How could he have low self esteem, when he talk so often about how intelligent he is?? That's a good cover up, at least that's what he thinks. Seriously, to ask you to give up your income and totally depend on him (which is crazy and unbelievably controlling), then berate you for not being able to take care of yourself after it happens, is beyond ridiculous. All the name calling of "loser" that followed, yeah, that's what he felt about himself. You were his punching bag. Putting you down made him feel better about himself. People with healthy self esteem don't do that to other people. I would pattern a guess that his parents probably put him down regularly, and made him feel he was never good enough. That's not your fault though. Or your responsibility.

You absolutely did the right thing in leaving. It's easy to give advice, but being the one who actually is making the change in their life is extremely hard. You are very brave for making it happen, and breaking this pattern. You will only get stronger the more you keep in this direction, and hold people to respect your boundaries. Your life will only get better because of the simple fact that you won't keep people around who don't treat you with the most basic common decency, which this guy didn't (that is such a blatant understatement). You DESERVE better. You ARE better.

He didn't love you. I know you think he did, but I wouldn't believe that. The way he treated you is blatant abuse. You are not responsible for what happens to him. There's nothing you could have "done" to make him better, or help himself. Trying to make him go to therapy was about all you could have done, and he actively doesn't want the help and doesn't want to change. He's happy in his misery and things would only have gotten worse for you.

YOU ABSOLUTELY DID THE RIGHT THING. You are in no way responsible for what happens to him. You are responsible for what happens to you in your life, which looks so much brighter since you got away from him. Listen and know you deserve so much better. This is about you, not him. It's great that you're in therapy, you need to have a practice of someone being understanding and on your side in your life. The more models of that you have in your life, the more unacceptable it will seem when someone treats you less than a human being.

I'm so glad you left. You so strong.

All the best to you, deeply.
posted by readygo at 9:15 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

And please, for goodness sake, if you get a phone call or message from him that some crisis or other has happened. ie that his mother died, or a mutual friend died, or something equally horrendous has happened and he could really do with some support and any normal nice person would offer it - PLEASE IGNORE IT WITH EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR BEING. And call in help to keep you strong on that one, like you're doing with this post.

I've never been in an abusive relationship but I have been very close to two women who were, and I have seen all sorts of tactics to get the victim back. Things you wouldn't believe. Please think of this if anything odd happens that seems to indicate you should get in touch with him. You shouldn't. SHOULDN'T.
posted by glasseyes at 9:29 AM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another thing: I know that in your position, I would have found myself silently picking apart many of the answers here as not being accurate about me and my inner thoughts/motivations/whatever, or about my ex and his. And the persistent little "hey, maybe you should go back..." voice would be seizing on that too, so I warn you in case yours is doing the same.

Honestly, the most valuable lesson I've learned about life after an abusive relationship is that you have to tell your own truth, whatever that is. The hard part is working out what it is when you're still recovering from the total mindfuck of abuse.

So: maybe your truth will be that he didn't love you. Maybe it'll be that he did, but he loved you in a warped twisted harmful way that was all he was capable of. Maybe it'll be that love is irrelevant to this. Maybe your truth will be that you stayed because of past experiences in your own life priming you for this treatment; maybe it'll be that you stayed because it's hellish hard to leave an abusive relationship; maybe it'll be that the staying part is irrelevant, the important part is that you left. Like I said, take what helps you; you know better than any of us what that'll be.
posted by Catseye at 9:34 AM on July 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am so sorry that you are going through this. You are a kind and loving person and you are dealing with someone who is very messed up and it is going to take you a while to heal from this -- but you WILL heal.

I haven't had the time to read all of the responses and I am nearly certain someone has said this up-thread. I normally wouldn't post without seeing what others have to say first but I feel like I NEED to take the time to tell you something. This suicidal, I have no reason to live thing? It is another control mechanism. It keeps you feeling like you have to be there. It pushes your fear-of-abandonment buttons. And it makes you feel like you have some hook in the outcome of his life. It's not a cry for help, because you can't help him by staying - he needs help far beyond what you can give him. It's a manipulation and while it is INCREDIBLY difficult to see it as such because you care for him, you should do whatever you can to keep that fact in your mind.

You're not responsible for him, only for yourself. You are more than capable of taking wonderful care of yourself and you are proving that every minute that you stay away from this very sick man.

Keep on this path and don't be swayed -- I know how hard it is. I can only imagine. But you're doing it and doing it well. Whenever you feel like you're doing the wrong thing by not supporting him, here are some things you can say to yourself that may help you.

"Nearly everything my ex said to me was likely in an attempt to control me."
"If someone needs to control me in order to feel like they have a reason to live, they need to get help from someone that is not me."
"Giving my life over to a mentally ill person is not helping them get better, it hurts them."
"There is a lot of help for him if he really needs it. I can't make him reach for it."
"What is best for me is best for those around me."

I hear you on the al-anon and coda thing. It can either be very victim-blamy or very self-indulgent. But there is a lot of good there if you let yourself pick through it. You don't have to do it! But you also don't need to write it off whole-sale. You can go to meetings if/when you're feeling very low just for something to do and not go back until you feel like you need to again - or never go back!

Very many hugs and light and good luck to you. What you are going through is so terribly difficult. It's clear that you're a loving and compassionate person with so very much to give. You don't need to be perfect You will make it through this and you will find someone worthy of the deep well of love and care you have to offer.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:30 AM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Being in an abusive relationship is a terribly isolating experience. It's easy to feel like you're the only one who really understands the situation, why you stayed and put up with the abuse and unreasonably bizarre behavior as long as you did, even though you are an intelligent and capable human being.

I think the worst part about being alone after ending an abusive relationship is that there remains a little part of your brain that wonders if you'll ever find anyone again, and if that person will ever make you as happy as your ex did when things were good. Whether or not you can ever love anyone else the way you loved him during the good times, and whether or not anyone else will ever love you. Being alone after that is not easy at all. It's so lonely. It's hard to leave the devil you know.

I should have been stronger because he's obviously in such a bad way and needed help.

Yeah, I went through this too. Different details, same emotional result. You were as strong as you could've possibly been after he repeatedy tore you down. Being as ill as he was did not give him the right to treat you the way he did. He did not deserve you as a girlfriend.

Even though it hurts like hell now and you don't know yet whether or not you did the right thing, I can tell you with 100% certainty that you made the right choice. You went from being guaranteed (yes, guaranteed) a shitty future with him to now having infinite opportunities open up in front of you, opportunities to think better of yourself and maybe even find someone who thinks of you as a partner and treats you with respect. It will take you a long time to get over this, but as you distance yourself from this situation you will look back and be so grateful that you got out when you did and didn't wait a second longer.

It took strength for you to be able to get this far. To have stayed with him longer would not have been a sign of strength; it would have been a sign of disrespect for yourself, resignation, submission. Learn what you are capable of and what you can attain in life, and what it means to be treated properly in a relationship, and this will become very clear to you.
posted by wondermouse at 12:28 PM on July 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wanted to stop back in and thank everyone for all the great answers. Every single one helped reinforce the part of me that got me out of the relationship.

I know my recovery is far from over and I'm so grateful to have Metafilter on my side. I will be leaning on you guys. I printed out these answers and am pasting them into the journal I'm keeping as part of my recovery, highlighting things I really need to hear.

After getting these answers, I actually experienced a brief respite from my PTSD symptoms, about 24 hours, so thank you for helping me gain that peace of mind.
posted by Rainflower at 8:27 AM on July 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

Hi :)
Mental Health Professional here and survivor.. a complicated picture... check out Sandra Browns mag/info online the best source of info about what are known as cluster B personality disorders (or low empathy disorders).. these are quite different from more 'traditional' mental illness and are largely untreatable. You probably feel like hell for many reasons.. one of which will be him projecting all his shit into you (a lot of this happens unconsciously and as targets we replay the old script of our family role in trying to be good enough/the diplomat/love someone enough in the deep hope of getting a healthy love back blah blah). If you can bring all this into awareness - a very long/painful but at times freeing process you can eventually begin to make healthier selections. Or avoid it all together like me :-s hmm... I'm pretty sure I'm not cooked yet.

I actually wound up on your post because I wanted to check out other peoples views of CODA.. as I find it a little cult like/discouraging around questioning the 'CODA' script. That said I do check in from time to time and take what I can from it because I find people can talk a lot of sense about boundaries (lessons they themselves are struggling to learn) and it's always amazing to me to see so many people playing out incredibly similar relationship dysfunction to me (whilst wanting better).. this really reassures me personally that I've been taught 'the wrong language' from childhood and must teach myself a new one.. and that it's not about me per se.. if you know what I mean??? (Not sure how much sense I'm making to anyone else!) I think it was also useful for me to see men being at the receiving end of this crap so they weren't getting overgeneralised as the perpetrators in my mind. CODA, for me does have it's limits though.. I found whenever I tried to see anyone in it outside it absolutely didn't work for me. It's the kind of place than can lend itself to overstating connection as so much is shared. Mental hugs to you, it's not easy.
posted by tanktop at 2:26 PM on October 31, 2013

« Older Party Animal Boyfriend - When is it too much?   |   who do I hire to replace damaged roof support... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.