People tend to have difficulty understanding why it’s difficult to leave an abusive relationship, whether it’s a family member, a lover, or a friend, so I wanted to try and break it down.

What people don’t understand is how we as humans process information. We really only have two ways. Back before we had writing, our communication was mostly behavioral, even writing back then was pictures of behavior. With script and language, we then developed a second option, which is words. But here’s an interesting twist: we tend to choose either words or behavior to focus on within a relationship. Think about your workplace. Have you ever noticed that some people get promotions despite the fact that they really don’t do their job? Why is that? Because they are SAYING the right things to the right people. The opposite is also true. If someone is doing their job well, but they rarely speak to anyone, supervisors may choose to focus on their behavior, not their words.

We do the same thing within romance, friendship, and with family. If someone says “F*ck you!” during a fight, but in general they are kind, we may overlook that offense. If someone tells us they aren’t looking for a relationship, but they spend all of their time with us, we might begin to believe there’s hope for a relationship. We tend to pick whichever mode of communication we like best and focus on that. This sets us up for abusive relationships.

Abusers are pros at being everything we want in the beginning, then slowly over time, they start to let their true colors show. However, at this point, we already have a structure for how we view this person, and it’s all flowers and roses, so we overlook the red flags. We think that we KNOW who the person is and we have already fallen in love with the potential of what we think the relationship can be. Now our automatic way of viewing this person is hopeful, because we have a buy-in! If the person is truly who I think he/she is, it’s worth dealing with x, y, z. And here’s the extra crappy part, even after the unveiling of the abusers true colors, it is hard for us to let go of who we thought the person was. Even when the abuse gets severe, most abusers have cycles they go through, so at times everything’s fine. During that latent period, we begin to think things have changed, and we begin to hope for that potential that we’ve always believed was there. That hope is the enemy to our self-esteem.

So what do we do? Well here are a few steps:

  1. Make a list of all of wrong that has occurred within the relationship. Visit the list often. This is one of the only times in life that we have to force ourselves to think about negatives but it’s a must to retrain our brains that this person is NOT what we want.
  2. Focus on what you need to do for you. Most of the time abusive relationships shift our focus from bettering ourselves to improving the relationship. Force that shift in attention back to you. What is it you need to be doing? Focus on school, work, the gym, your health, etc. Do you!
  3. Get support. Abusers have a way of making it seem like you are better with them than you are alone. That is a lie, and many people have found ways to escape and/or set boundaries. Talk to people. Get vulnerable.
  4. Educate yourself regarding abusers. There is so much information out there. Many abusers are narcissistic or anti-social. Look it up on social media, google it, buy books; anything to help you realize that the abuser is the problem, and you are safest when you have firm boundaries with that person.
  5. Set boundaries. Sometimes people can’t just leave right away. Sometimes you have kids with the person, or they are related to you so cutting them off seems impossible. With distance and time, we can detach from the relationship and develop a new normal, but limiting contact with abusers is the first step.

Even once you know what you’re dealing with and you understand the whys of the matter, it is still difficult to do what’s best for you within an abusive relationship. Know that you are not alone, that your feelings are normal within these circumstances, and that you are capable of MUCH more than you think. There may not be much hope for the abuser, but there is hope for the survivor. If you make the choice to heal, you can begin to have all the things you’ve ever wanted.