Still in love (?) with abuser (?) 10+ years later
August 5, 2021 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I am an AFAB nonbinary person in my late 30s. In my very early 20s I was involved in an intense and damaging relationship with an older man in a position of power. This was not romantic, but a 'friendship' with a sexual element and a D/s element. I am still fucked up over it but the worst part is that I miss it. Help me feel less insane?

This relationship involved a certain amount of pain and service, most of it consensual or even highly desired, and a whole lot of 'corrective' behaviour which was less so, i.e. telling me what he did not like about how I looked/thought/smelled/dressed/acted/talked to him and what he thought could be fixed. To be clear I was also profoundly attracted to him, in fact I pursued him, and we clicked extremely well on every normal level (intellectual, humour, etc). I do think in many ways it was an abusive or manipulative relationship but his behaviour was idiosyncratic enough that I'm not always able to relate to those frameworks. For instance, conventional wisdom is that abusers try to undermine you because they don't want you to leave, or they want to keep you to themselves. He did clearly want me to be compliant and got angry if I challenged him but he also consistently denied me space and attention -- kicked me out after sex no matter how late I had to walk home, had very specific and narrow sexual interests that were not related to what I might want, scolded me for wanting too much time with him or wanting him to treat me more kindly, didn't touch me or acknowledge our relationship in public or with friends. It had the effect of essentially turning me into a stalker/abuser as I tried to get the care I thought I needed, which makes me feel equally at fault. I truly was exhaustingly needy and I did push his very strict (though not always consistent) boundaries. And he did want to control me, but not out of a desire for ownership -- more that he wanted to keep me available for use. So a lot of the things that are written about psychological abuse just make me feel more alienated. Like, isn't being fucked up over someone who didn't want you more like...sour grapes?

At the same time, I have so many long-term effects from this relatively short relationship, including being ashamed of sexual and emotional desire. It has affected every relationship since, romantic or otherwise. And absolutely none of the effects is worse than the fact that every year or two I fall into a deep pit of missing him terribly and being unable to cope with the idea that I'll never see or talk to him again. (He now lives far away, so I can't as well as shouldn't. I don't know what would have happened if we still lived in the same city.) I only have a few pictures of him, but during these periods I'll look at them multiple times a day and think about him dozens of times a day, sometimes to the point of distracting me from other pursuits. I miss the D/s parts of the relationship, which I have not been able to safely engage in since (I mean emotional safety), but it's not only that, I miss him specifically and just talking to him. I am happily partnered and also I hope he dies, but at the same time I am still in love with him and have been for over a decade. Which of course I hate myself for!

We still have a few mutual friends, though they pulled away from him somewhat after I opened up to them about our history. Through them, I know that the ill will (such as it is) is all on my end, and he thinks of me as a friend he lost touch with, even though it ended because he abruptly stopped talking to me. But of course by telling them what happened I made it impossible to reestablish contact (if he finds out what I said he'll be furious, if they found out I reached out they'd be disappointed) and even though that extra layer of impossibility is a good thing, at these times it sends me into a 'what have I done' panic. Like I doomed myself by calling this abuse and now I can never have it back. Even though in my rational mind I don't want it back!

What I'm looking for here is stories from people who have learned to live with something like this. I don't know that I want to 'get over it' exactly. I think if I wanted to do that, I would have done it. I know I could get rid of the photos, for instance, or not google him, but I don't want to do that. I think maybe I'm hanging on because otherwise it feels like all the pain was meaningless. But I would like to keep it to a dull roar, and, maybe, like...figure out why this keeps happening. Also if there are any books about, like, healing from emotional abuse that maybe wasn't emotional abuse and maybe was at least partly your fault. Ones that won't make me feel like shit because they keep saying that abuse comes from wanting you so much. Just like...books about being overly traumatised by a relationship that didn't give you what you needed, due to I don't know, being mentally weak!

I am in therapy but open to the possibility that the answer is 'better therapy'. I don't really talk to my therapist about this -- I have talked to other therapists but it's hard for me to talk about it in a way that both acknowledges that I am affected by it out of all proportion and recognises the parts that were my fault or that may not have happened as I remember them.

Please don't be too hard on me, it's hard to talk about this!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Narcissism is difficult, to understand, if it exists in the person you chose to love, and actively loved. This is because understanding how narcissism works, causes you to see that you were device he used for pleasure, and somewhere in there is a part of you that may have wanted something that simple. However even in the friendship, it was like two mirrors reflecting each other, but not essentially real.

I think the grown up in you knows about some of this, and it is possible to go and find someone else to have something with that you want. I don't know if D/s as you put it, ends up with intimate friendship, but I met a couple, who practiced some of that because they had some magic big black cushions and chains, and so forth, they took on vacation with them, when no one else was going to be around. These are very sweet people, and now 15 years later, parents of 4 cute little kids, and the people are very smart, and very sweet, with some river they wade in for reasons of pleasure. It is possible to have a little of everything, but identifying that parts you really want, and the parts you can do with out, is important.

It is also important you realize you deserve good company, close friendship, joy, love and what ever pleasure you desire. Find another best friend.
posted by Oyéah at 1:15 PM on August 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Could you print this post out and show it to your therapist? (Or another therapist, if the idea of doing that with your current therapist gives you the horrors?)
posted by penguin pie at 1:26 PM on August 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

I think it might be helpful for you to read about intermittent reinforcement. It's an incredibly powerful manipulative tool. It's how you train animals, and people. Basically, he sometimes, unpredictably, gave you what you wanted, but often he didn't. This is truly the best way to keep someone chasing after the reward. Behavior around this can become compulsive and addictive, because you're chasing that reward that sometimes comes in no discernible pattern.

I don't think you're in love. I think you're still hungering for that reward because it was so elusive, which made it more attractive. Of course he kicked you out after sex. Of course he held you at arm's length. He was proving you wanted him by denying you, which made you want him more.

Also, why do you keep blaming yourself for this, or saying it's because you're weak? It sounds like you've read a few things that didn't match your experience, but I think you just haven't found the right content! Please do a few searches for the phrase "intermittent reinforcement" and add in break-ups, relationships, etc. I think you're going to recognize all of it, and why you are feeling so stuck.

And yes, it sounds like you know the answer. I think you need to cut off all information about this person. I think all those little bits of information are dinging your reward-seeking behaviors and making you salivate for him. If you truly want to move on, it's time to reframe this as an addiction based on his manipulation of you, and cut him out of your life. Don't ask your friends about him, and tell them not to tell you about him. Don't go searching for information about him. Block any source of information you have about him. You said you don't want to do this, but you probably know that it would help. But also reading about how powerful of force this is will likely help a lot, too. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:40 PM on August 5, 2021 [35 favorites]

Ok, first of all, you are not mentally weak, or insane, or whatever other unkind labels might be floating around in your head. Be nice to yourself, please. This is normal. It's not healthy, but this is definitely not uncommon. It is a deep and abiding subconcious fantasy for many of us (i.e. including myself) to find a person who denies us what we need and want, and then to somehow get them to give it to us. So we find these dismissive, avoidant, emotionally unavailable people who often manipulate or abuse us. And we go....Aha! That's familiar, and therefore 'safe'! Hooray! (Lol, I do not thank my subconscious for that little party trick).

I've been reading Getting the Love You Want and Attached, and this situation and desire is explored and explained thoroughly. I highly, highly recommend them both. A bit painful to read, but really helpful.

According to those authors, it often comes from deep childhood wound of not getting the love and/or care and attention we needed from our primary caregivers. We pursue this dynamic of engaging with people who mimic those traits, but with the hope that this time, the outcome will be different and our needs will be fulfilled.

Narcissists in particular are drawn to this dynamic because it gives them exactly what they want: someone who craves their approval and attention who will stay around through all kinds of neglect and abuse in exchange for occasional, irregular moments of affirmation and affection (that's that intermittent reinforcement). And guess what! Even securely attached people, if they fall into the hands of a narcissist like this, will start to develop the same kinds of feelings and anxieties you talk about. This behavior is calculated to elicit that response from literally anyone who is subjected to it, and it works pretty much all the time. It is 100% absolutely abuse.

Since you mention D/s, I will say that healthy relationships of that type can be very healing, as it provides the familiar 'disapproval' but with your *input and consent*, including boundary setting and agreed-upon after care. I agree that it can be challenging to find informed and responsible people with whom to engage in this way. I encourage you to seek out your local link community and maybe take a few steps to beginning to build some friendships and community that could help you find this aspect of what you miss about your ex.

Best of luck. It is a hard road to healing but I promise you it is both possible and worth it.
posted by ananci at 2:05 PM on August 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

Sounds like a very selfish Dom who wants to dom you in real life as well as play.

There is nothing wrong with being a sub or having an... itch to be scratched. We all have our kinks.

I think the problem here is you miss the dom as a dom, but not as a person. The experience was the closest you got to (at least in your mind) your ideal state, so you want the experience again, but not the "relationship" around it. I wasn't there, so I can't tell if you were "topping from the bottom" but that's not the problem, at least, not directly. A good dom would recognize your need (not read your mind, but close) and fulfill it in a way that is satisfying to both. A bad dom, on the other hand, just takes enough to satisfy him/herself and neglects the sub's needs. He doesn't sound like a totally bad dom, as you did get something out of it, but seems the exchange is not... equitable. And I guess that you, hoping to get the "rest", turned into a needy-brat trying to top from the bottom, and he pushed back, by being a harsher dom.

Sounds like neither of you are experienced in the matter.

Maybe you need to talk about this in a D/s forum, using just a handle, and figure out what you REALLY wanted out of D/s relationship, and what did you REALLY miss about your former dom. Maybe you need to dip your toe into the pool again, by engaging in short play. Clearly you don't need a long-term dom, at least not until you figure things out for yourself.
posted by kschang at 2:27 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is INTENSELY familiar to me—I basically could have written parts of it about my own experience, including the intermittent counterintuitive desire to talk to them again. (Although mine actually came looking for ME a few years ago which really changed the game! Do not recommend!) If what's worrying you is that you feel alienated by the typical emotional abuse story, maybe it will be comforting to know that someone else's abuser had an uncannily similar M.O. I wish I knew any self-help books that deal with this version of the story, but I've written about it in my book, so if you want to PM me I can point you there. It's not the same as having a workbook but at least you'll know you're not alone.

Actually, there are at least three of us, because I think the best advice I can give is what I said recently to a friend who was struggling to stay out of contact with her... I was going to say ex, but this woman also got off on rejecting my friend and keeping her unfulfilled but pining, so they actually never dated or even slept together. What I said to her was “you don’t want to text her, you want to text the person you wanted her to be for you, so the question is, what do you need that person for right now?” That person, to be clear, is imaginary, or anyway they're not this person—if you actually contacted him, the person you needed him to be would NOT show up. But that person represents something you feel you need right now, so is there a healthier way to meet that need?
posted by babelfish at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2021 [12 favorites]

Seconding the book Attached. Speaking as someone who can relate to this from a previous relationship I had, I suspect you will find many of the details around narcissistic and avoidant attachment types helpful to understand your former lover, especially in regards to why he was not invested in keeping you accessible once you were pushing his boundaries. That is actually quite common. In addition, you may recognize yourself in the descriptions of anxious attachment. The book does a great job of breaking down the relationship dynamic between the two types and it definitely sounds like there were elements of that at play between you.

Now to your question about moving on from it from experience. For me, an important piece was accepting that it is ok to miss this person sometimes even if they treated me terribly, and that it didn't mean I was hopelessly broken or still in love. Realistically, very few people are all good or all shit, and even the most terrible people likely have at least a few good qualities. In fact, that's the whole reason it's hard to detach from people who are bad for us - there's usually something good that is keeping us attached, and we know we will lose that thing if we leave. However, ultimately we figure out that the problems outweigh the positives and it's in our best interest to exit...which is exactly what you did.

For the instances where you become obsessive in the missing, I would suggest digging deeper into what the trigger is that starts those episodes. Is it something that happens in your relationship or your life? What's happening for you when you go there? I suspect it's not actually missing him, but missing something you felt during that time. Once you pinpoint that, it will likely be easier to avoid going there.
posted by amycup at 2:50 PM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Well, as an AFAB nonbinary person in my late thirties as well, I can say this resonates. I've certainly had experiences this brings to mind, and yeah, there are certainly people I've been involved with who I still think about and look up from time to time because of exactly this kind of dynamic, even though I know nothing good will come of reopening that wound or trying to get back in touch, so I don't try to do that. I very much get it.

I feel like I feel more compelled to do that kind of online search when I'm feeling less-than for other reasons, or experiencing even a small piece of that dynamic with one of the people who are currently in my life.

For instance, conventional wisdom is that abusers try to undermine you because they don't want you to leave, or they want to keep you to themselves ... [He] had very specific and narrow sexual interests that were not related to what I might want, scolded me for wanting too much time with him or wanting him to treat me more kindly, didn't touch me or acknowledge our relationship in public or with friends. It had the effect of essentially turning me into a stalker/abuser as I tried to get the care I thought I needed, which makes me feel equally at fault. I truly was exhaustingly needy and I did push his very strict (though not always consistent) boundaries. And he did want to control me, but not out of a desire for ownership -- more that he wanted to keep me available for use. So a lot of the things that are written about psychological abuse just make me feel more alienated. Like, isn't being fucked up over someone who didn't want you more like...sour grapes?

Just a heads up, there are lots of other reasons why an abuser might try to undermine someone. To your question, your feeling fucked up over him really is part of the whole dynamic, isn't it? It sounds like he got off on you wanting him, and wanting more from him than he was ever willing to give, and running hot and cold and teasing and denying you and seeing what you would do to get what you wanted from him, as well as then being able to even "correct" that and play the "victim" of your supposedly overzealous attentions. To me, getting you to behave that way was really, as much as anything, about pushing your boundaries, and seeing how far you would bend your own ethics for him, and punish yourself when he didn't respond the way you wanted (because he was never going to respond the way you wanted, but you didn't necessarily know that, or wouldn't let yourself know that). It's a bit sadistic and it's a whole dynamic, and as you can maybe tell from the responses here, it's unfortunately not nearly as uncommon as you might think.

Writing that out is honestly, well, haha, I feel like I just called myself out, or maybe like I just called out a couple people who have been like him in my own life.

I would not call what you're feeling mere sour grapes; being fucked up over the whole dynamic is in fact a normal outcome of that kind of treatment and behavior on his part. I don't think it makes you "equally at fault." What it does mean is that that dynamic was very bad for you (perhaps for you both, but it sounds to me like you got the worse end of it).

In reframing it that way, though, I hope that might give you some different search terms to look up. It really is a kind of emotional abuse, just not necessarily the same kind you've already read up on. I'm certain there are some articles I must have read over the years about those types of situations that might apply here, so if I find any, I'll come back and pass them along!

But yeah, tl;dr: Don't beat yourself up over this any more, if you can help it. It would be worthwhile to do more reading about this specific type of emotional abuse, as well as (if you wanted) to a therapist about how to work through this repetitive behavior and what triggers it. It resonated with me and felt accurate when someone else in thread so far mentioned that this kind of compulsive behavior (checking to see how the inaccessible person is doing, ruminating on and missing what you once had, even though you know it wasn't good, and as a result yet again blaming yourself for your part in that history) can kind of be a proxy for dealing with feelings about situations that are currently in your life. That's certainly part of when I find myself doing it, often when something in my current life or a relationship isn't going so well (or reminds me of that dynamic).

Be kind to yourself!
posted by limeonaire at 3:32 PM on August 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Also, because this all just made me think about a situation that's left me kind of hating myself and feeling embarrassed in this moment for throwing attention at someone who seems entirely able to take or leave me and my attentions (though in my case, I don't yet know at all whether that's malicious on their part, and I don't want to jump to that conclusion yet just 'cause I'm feeling some kind of way about having had a relationship like the one we're discussing in my history as well), I'll tell you what I just told myself: Don't hate yourself for telling a compelling story.

What do I mean? I refer to the fact that, in all of that bad behavior and mistreatment, you could imagine a world in which the whole thing might have a desirable outcome. I'm not saying it should have been obvious to you that it wouldn't have that outcome or shaming you for thinking that; on the contrary, I'm saying, on some level, that's entirely a testament to your storytelling and narrative ability. And that, in and of itself, is actually a useful skill that's important to maintaining healthy relationships as well! That ability you have to tell yourself a story that explains away and contextualizes the bad and lets you imagine what the heights of the good might be is actually, well, it's a power of sorts. And it can be used for good as well, e.g., to strengthen and bolster your mental narrative of relationships in your life that actually, truly are good. If you read the literature stemming from the relationship research of John and Julie Gottman, well, one of the most important predictors of a relationship's ongoing success is narrative—it just needs to be a shared narrative.

To that end, of course, it is on you to tone down or rein in your personal storytelling and mythmaking abilities when such narrative-building and attention turns out to be inappropriate—but you know that, or you wouldn't have asked this, and recognizing that is also a healthy thing and important to your ability to set healthy boundaries. Learning to recognize relationships or situations in your life that are shaped like this one was is another healthy, important thing. And you're getting there, just by starting to talk it through and recognizing that this isn't how you want to feel or behave.

Part of the work of healing here, I think, may consist of recognizing that some of your behavior was and can be adaptive in the right (or wrong) situations, and forgiving yourself for that part, while recognizing that some of the behavior you carry with you isn't adaptive and needs to be left behind. That may take time and resources to work through and parse out, but the path you're on is a worthwhile one to follow!
posted by limeonaire at 4:00 PM on August 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I had a very similar experience about 10 years ago (also with an older person, which ended in the same way), and one of my therapists told me that withdrawing/detachment/stonewalling can be a form of emotional abuse, especially when it's paired with other types of abuse like the verbal criticism you mention. (My ex would ignore me for a week if I wore the wrong clothes/hair styles).

I too wish that there was more information geared towards people who miss our abusers or still feel "in love" with them. It seems like society finds this concept so distasteful that it often goes unacknowledged in the literature and advice.
posted by CancerSucks at 7:39 PM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. It's excruciating! The very very very short version of how I lived with it for six years and then moved on is:

1- Sift the good from the bad. If you took all the qualities you liked in this relationship and found them in an emotionally healthy person with a secure attachment, what would that look like?

2- Get viciously angry at this man. Feel disgust to your bones. Rage at how he treated you, at the innocence you lost, at the time and energy you let yourself siphon to a jackass.

3- I say "let yourself" for a reason. Not to shame you or blame you, but because like all victims, you must walk the fine line of healing a hurt that was inflicted upon you while knowing that your wits, your agency, your lessons learned are all that's standing between you and a repeat horror. Is that enough to save you again? You know it might not be. You're weak because you're human; even the most righteously embodied, skillful person alive can be abused. Within this brutally confusing and contradictory paradigm, you must find hope and power.

4- While you swing between emotional highs and lows, go on adventures. Try to love again. Fail. Fill your brain and your heart with so many new experiences that your jackass is crowded out. Get kinky with someone nice, or five.

5- Learn in therapy that you are worthy and have always been worthy. Start to treat yourself with respect. Expand your boundaries. Say no just because you can. Look back ruefully at the lost years, when you didn't know you who were. Look ahead to the future, where you are most yourself.

6- One day, wake up and reject this absolute prick with every fiber of your being. He didn't break up with you; you broke up with him. He's a waste, a disgrace, a vile cartoonish asshat. How dare he treat you like that! Release your shame, your guilt. Never again. YOU say NO to him.
posted by lloquat at 8:45 PM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Bonus exercise: write down all the mean things he did to you. Just keep a notebook open for a while, add them as they come up. Nothing about your actions, only his. At the end of the week, read them out loud to yourself. Use a mirror. Do you still miss him now?
posted by lloquat at 8:54 PM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I read some, but not all of the replies and didn't see this. Just came to say that abuse is about power and control, not about wanting someone so much you can't help but treat them badly. I'm not sure what you are reading that suggests it is about desire but it isn't. (Exception possibly for cases where someone is attached but counterphobic about it so they want you but push you away because they don't want to want you.)

Beverly Engel writes good books on emotional abuse. Might want to give her stuff a read.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:35 PM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

For instance, conventional wisdom is that abusers try to undermine you because they don't want you to leave, or they want to keep you to themselves.

this is nothing I have ever heard, so it can't be as conventional as all that. My understanding of the conventional wisdom says abusers treat you like shit because they want you to feel like shit, and they feel good when you do. working out of a particular methodological handbook is not required for this.

now, there are a lot of psychological explanations and speculations as to why an abuser might want that and feel that, and those explanations are not going to explain every abusive person equally well because no two people are identical. but abuse is what he does, not how he feels.

I take it he was not an idiot. As a reasonably observant person, he might very well have observed that displaying possessiveness would have made you feel wanted and valued on some level (if so, you would hardly be the only one.) this is one of the VERY few things about the d/s context that is at all relevant; for the most part, it really isn't relevant. advice that pushes you to feel either more different and alienated or more special beyond the ordinary run of abuse victims is not good advice. Like most abusers, he paid attention to what you wanted and he withheld it; he paid attention to what you didn't like and he did it. The particulars of what you liked and didn't like are the least important things about this, and I think it is possible you might get more out of mainstream thought on the topic if you came to find that plausible. it is certainly also possible that you might be more comfortable seeking support within a subculture that shares a common vocabulary and framework for a certain style of interpersonal relating, but if the cost of such support is letting people rhetorically downgrade a clear-cut abuser into a "selfish Dom", maybe it's not worth it.

anyway, I don't know if this last bit will make it better or worse. but considering that you feel guilty over the memory of "neediness," remember that this is not someone who "didn't want you." he did, as your story clearly bears out: he wanted you subservient, obsessed and unhappy.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:58 PM on August 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

What I'm looking for here is stories from people who have learned to live with something like this.

No contact + passage of time + video games* that were so immersive that I forgot to think about him + new relationship that is healthy

*Stardew Valley and Oxygen Not Included, specifically
posted by Jacqueline at 10:36 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

You’re not weak, insane or any other negative adjective so please don’t beat yourself up about this. Wanting a connection with someone is normal, it’s what being human is about.

Having been through something similar both in my twenties and thirties (getting involved with men who were like cats with a mouse) I can only give this advice: please try to move on. The passage of time can heal, but it can also make you forget about how truly awful the ‘relationship’ was.

I sought out someone I’d had a short, but intense, relationship with years and years before and he hadn’t changed. In fact, he was even more screwed up than he had ever been. It’s a shame I hadn’t learned first time around; it would have saved me a ton of hassle. And there were others, in a similar vein.

I know it’s been tough, these last 18 months; most of us have shared a lot of time with our thoughts. But it’s always better to keep moving forward. Don’t look back. Life is too short. Best of luck!
posted by veebs at 4:37 AM on August 6, 2021

I agree with the others that suggest that you do not miss him, but you miss a feeling that the dynamic gave you, which can be found somewhere else, through a healthier outlet.

I suspect that just cutting contact (with all such people that trigger these feelings in you) probably isn't gonna cut it––this is triggering something in you that is pointing to a recurring problem you have with yourself. Why are you afraid to talk to your therapist about this? You can easily write so much about the dynamic, but the most important part of your question to me is your last paragraph, because it looks to me like you're practicing avoiding doing something difficult yet crucial: telling the truth to someone who might have to see you clearly.
posted by saturday sun at 6:29 AM on August 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

is there any chance you could create an email account to receive replies to this post, and share it with us here? If I'm remembering right, you fill out this form with a link to your original post and a mod can post it. I think there are probably many who would be willing to share their experiences, but perhaps for some not so publicly as in a comment.
posted by elgee at 6:57 AM on August 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think you would find resources about leaving a religion or leaving a cult helpful. In particular, people often talk about it being hard to leave because entire aspects of their personality or lives are intertwined with the cult, and that feels real and valuable even though there is also abuse. I don't know of a particular resource, but just try googling something like "leaving and recovering from cults" and see if anything resonates.

The idea of trauma bonding seems important here. You're not just asking how to leave an abusive relationship (you've already left! congratulations!), you're asking how to break the trauma bond. This is hard but definitely possible. This page has some strategies (and Natasha Adamo's writing in general is great). Key parts include finding a support group with others who have been through something similar, recognizing the trauma response within your own body, and becoming attuned to yourself the way you used to be attuned to your abuser.

And: consider low-dose psychedelics. There is a growing body of research pointing to their incredible ability to create neuroplasticity in the brain, so that your neural pathways become less stuck on this guy and are able to move on to other topics. If you're 10 years out from this relationship and still feeling like you describe, I think it's worth looking into. Ketamine clinics are legal and available now (they have therapists who specialize in what is called ketamine-assisted psychotherapy). Magic mushrooms and acid are also reasonable choices, and psilocybin (the active compound in magic mushrooms) is being investigated as a breakthrough treatment by the FDA but has not yet gotten approval, but both of these are not legal currently unless you live in Oregon. Just one more tool in the toolbox to consider.
posted by danceswithlight at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Another thought having read through these new replies, specifically about what this type of abuser is getting out of a relationship like this. While domestic abusers are more about the power of perceived full control and ownership of a person and are therefore reluctant to let them leave, this dynamic is more about the emotional high of being pursued and desired without any of the fear and personal risk that happens in an attached relationship. In my case, my ex was also older, and even though he relentlessly pursued me at first, once he had me hooked it was no longer about a relationship of equals. What he wanted was for me to dote on him and worship him unconditionally with no needs of my own, and whenever I didn't do that, he would remove his affections and seek them out from other women until I broke down and begged for them back. He was always strangely at ease and confident when I was literally weak and despondent from his neglect, at which point he seemed to view me as some sort of little broken pathetic bird that he could pity for loving him so much.

It's like a celebrity with a fan or a popular kid with a crush they are aware of but could give two shits about. They are basking in the attention and validation, and the second that becomes cumbersome to get or they sense any disapproval on the part of their mark, they will find another source.
posted by amycup at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Two more to read that might help you feel less alone.

This threw me back into therapy; you may also find yourself in it, but you may find it too much to take: My Dark Vanessa
In response, my therapist suggested I read this: The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships (I will warn you you will have to look past anti-BDSM prejudice in it.)
posted by jocelmeow at 1:49 PM on August 6, 2021

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