Why Did I Stay?
Why did I stay despite everything? Many of us get into unhealthy situations because our partners held up a facade. I felt I had met my soul mate — that one special person in the universe just for me. It’s no surprise that I fell in love with someone like that! Scott once seemed perfect, but once I was married the relationship changed slowly over time due to children being born, job changes, and other major life changes. Eventually I began to see a completely different side of him. It was clear that I had married Dr. Jekyll and was living with Mr. Hyde, or the Supreme Being. The person who once seemed perfect became an angry, demeaning, demanding, and harshly critical narcissistic psychopath. Sure there were warning signs from the very beginning, but I was in love and felt an obligation to stay. Plus the sex was off the charts.
For most people in abusive relationships, we carry around with us internal obligations that tend to make us want to stay in the relationship. One being the feeling of love for our partner. These feelings can persist and be very strong even when our partner doesn’t give or show us love in return. We stay because of the few crumbs fed to us along the way with words of affirmation and/or actions along the way. Like a carrot dangling at the end of a rope. The second is a feeling of responsibility and obligation to our partner, our family, and even others beyond that. Our disordered partners often work hard to build up this feeling of obligation, hoping it will keep us locked in despite the way they mistreat us.
I also stayed because of the way Scott’s manipulative behavior effected how I viewed myself. He made me the victim, and my acceptance of that role allowed Scott to keep his control over me. Scott projected his issues onto me, leaving a husk of the person I used to be, to feed his ego. I didn’t see through Scott’s ruses. I didn’t call them out fearful of his repercussions. I allowed Scott’s behavior to go unchecked by not actively taking a stand against it — and for good reason. When I did stand up to Scott, he punished me, abusing me both verbally and physically. I failed from the beginning to set proper boundaries.
Scott started the negative comments and hammered them home until I believed it entirely. When you start to feel so low and worthless, you genuinely believe that they are your best option. You believe that no one else will ever love or accept you because that’s what they’ve conditioned you to think – even friends won’t accept you. Because of that, you fear the thought of being alone (one of my greatest fears). You think no one else will fill the gap in your heart that has been pried wide open with manipulation and malicious criticism. You fear that all the insults and criticisms were true. I let harsh words and his poisoned opinions rule my thinking.
Alienation was also a major factor why I didn’t leave. While living abroad for ten years having three small children including one with special needs, I just couldn’t pack up and leave. We moved so frequently it was easy for Scott to alienate me from friends and family that supported me. I was also alienated financially, having given up my career to support him in all our moves. We relied solely on Scott’s income. My career was long gone. I was terrified at the thought of getting a job having been out of the workforce for so long with my skillset being significantly outdated, or so he made me believe.
The rest was fear, plain and simple. Fear of the unknown and Scott’s continuous threats I’d heard so often: if I ever left, he would leave me with nothing and ruin my relationship with the children. Scott did exactly that. But I did survive, and I hope that our children will one day come to understand his illness and forgive me for staying as long as I did in a toxic relationship that ultimately dragged them into the middle.
We often stay in abusive relationships for reasons that are healthy, even though the situation isn’t. Scott projected his insecurities as a detached parent onto me making me question my sanity and parenting abilities, the very thing that mattered to me the most. Then there was my internal conflict to keep the family unit intact for the children. But soon I realized while my vows were pulling me in one direction, the need to care for myself and my children in the other direction had to be my priority. I had to save myself and my spirit if I was going to take care of our children, stopping this dysfunctional modeling, hoping they would learn what a healthy relationship is eventually.
When we think about making major changes in our lives, our thoughts naturally go to the world around us. We not only want to do what is right in principle; we also want to do what others will approve of. I guess one of the things that surprised me most in my educational journey was how strong this feeling was for me. I was always a people pleaser, needing validation and social acceptance. I hated being alone. I was really carrying around a strong feeling that an awful lot of people would judge what I did, especially living in such a small community. Even writing my book/blog, I worried what others may think knowing what happened behind the closed doors of our seemingly perfect Facebook life.
I felt shame and embarrassment; I never thought I would get divorced, no matter what Scott did to me. I had to work hard to get a handle on this. In reality, people didn’t really care. The negative judgment from others really isn’t there. The thought that I am a good mother because I kept my family unit intact needed to be set aside, replaced with thoughts that are centered in more basic ideas. “I am a good mother” because I care about my children. Now I have the courage and ability to hopefully be a role model to my children. I want them to also be free from their father’s manipulation to truthfully assess the goodness of their lives. I am a “good person” because I love and care for myself, my children, and for others.
It’s time to believe.
Believe . . .
To accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth.
Hold (something) as an opinion; think or suppose.
Believe in yourself, your intuition, your courage, your strength, your future.