Big Wild Love: Let Go For It℠: Moving Past an Emotionally Abusive and Toxic Love Relationship
My advice column Big Wild Love: Let Go For It℠ is about what it takes to find and keep the Big Wild Love we all want by answering your questions. In today’s column, I help “Not Sure Where to Go From Here” move past an emotionally abusive and toxic love relationship. Check it out and send me your questions using the form below the article!
I am a 28-year-old student and I just got out of an emotionally-abusive and toxic relationship. We were together for about a year and I forego finishing my graduate studies to help him with start his business. I wanted to be a perfect partner for him, so I did everything to make him happy but it wasn’t enough and then there comes his being over-friendly with other women. I prioritized him and his business more than my family, my studies and myself.
I knew the relationship is a dead-end one but at that time I was so blinded and was so in love with him and I don’t want to leave him because I love him even when he hurts me, invalidates my feelings, prohibits me from seeing my family etc. I tried to be the perfect woman for him and prove that relationships are not a hindrance if you don’t make them hindrances. The thing is, I lost myself this whole time. I started resenting him (I should have had my degree by now) and what hurts the most is he refuses to accept the fact that he hurt me and he refuses to apologize. He watched me crash and burn and he watched me dig my own grave when he could have done something. He tells me he loves me but his actions say otherwise. I ached so much for that validation from him, recognition, acknowledgement.
Long story short, I left and went back home. Now I am working on my thesis proposal, went back to work and earning for myself, back to exercising and all those stuff that I neglected doing because my world revolved around him. I would like to believe that I am one strong independent woman. I left him 3 months ago and the ache is still there. I want to let go, I want to move on but I can’t seem to cut communication with him (I still do some stuff for his business but we don’t see each other). I want closure and I want to let go. I want him to apologize but he already told me he won’t hear any apology from him. I don’t know. I am stuck. He promised he will get me back but I am scared because I know he wouldn’t change.
I know what to do. I know. I am a smart woman. I am just so scared. I am challenged in a way too, that maybe with a little more patience and understanding from me, he will turn around. But I cannot prioritize him anymore. Help. I have been seeing a psychiatrist after we broke up since I know I was emotionally abused BUT WHY DO I STILL WANT HIM. It pays to have friends who are non-judgmental and all and who actually knows the state of my mind right now.
How do I start. Where do I begin. My life revolved around him for a whole year and it was my first serious relationship. I know he is bad for me but I cannot let go. Maybe because I am still clamoring for that apology I know I will never have?
Not Sure Where to Go From Here
Dearest Not Sure:
Thank you so much for your note. There is sooooo much I want to say to you—places where I can see that you are struggling and places that encourage me on your behalf.
Before I go there, let me tell you about a relationship I had when I was a little younger than you because it reminds me of what you’re going through.
It was with a boyfriend I’d met in college and dated for five years. Like your guy, mine was emotionally abusive. He would put me down in front of other people, hang up on me for no good reason, and not return my calls for days. He would make sure I felt lucky to have his attention and affections, by reminding me of all I wasn’t fairly regularly. He controlled where I went and with who. Turned me against my family. Cut me off from my friends (unless they were his friends first) and other people I loved.
And still, not only did I let him, but I ran in circles to please him.
My reward? Living in shame, needs consistently and unapologetically unmet. I was convinced nobody could see my shame behind my big, happy, Golden Retriever-like personality—even though they could clearly see how badly he treated me. I know this because some would ask, “Why do you take it?” To which I would smile, shrug my shoulders, and make excuses for his bad behavior: “Oh he’s not so bad, he really doesn’t mean it, he loves me…”
But inside, I was dying. Wilting like a weeping fig tree. I felt trapped and alone, since being with him required me to alienate many of the people I was once close to, before I met him. And the few I didn’t alienate—who I trusted—eventually stopped listening. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t just leave him.
And yet, you and I know, it wasn’t that simple.
I stayed because I was not only too ashamed to leave, I didn’t believe I was worth any more than he was offering. I didn’t believe I would ever find anybody else to love me. That he was my one and only shot at it. Convinced myself that I truly loved him. And when he ultimately proposed, instead of running for the hills, I let out a deep sigh of relief. Whew! Someone would marry me after all! I wouldn’t be the outlier of all my friends who’d surely marry and have beautiful families; I wouldn’t be the aged spinster, the old aunt who never found someone to love her, poor thing. I’d be able to hold my head up high under the pressure of school reunions.
Yes, this was the talk track in my head! At age 23!
I also fooled myself into believing that he mistreated me because he was scared—of the depth and breadth of his feelings for me. I didn’t realize he wasn’t capable of love…yet. (I hope that has changed for him over the years.) And instead of acknowledging the dependency and vulnerability that comes with loving another person, he went out of his way to defy it by being the tough guy and treating me as if I didn’t matter.
I thought maybe, just maybe, if I did the impossible and made myself perfect—became part Victoria’s Secret model, part master chef, part Super Woman, part damsel in distress, part porn star, part immortal, and the list goes on—if I deferred my own needs and wants, and did whatever it took to be what he wanted even if it wasn’t who I was, THEN he’d love me. Treat me better. Come around. Spring up in bed in the middle of the night, smack himself on the head and say, “Oh my gosh, she is the ONE. Perfect. Beautiful. So thin!!! What was I thinking?” Then, he’d race through the empty streets to find me, get on his knees and beg for my love and forgiveness, apologizing like a parrot on steroids.
He’d lift me up and spin me around (because, after all, I am very light in this fantasy). Then, he’d do it again in front of all the people he tore me down in front of—maybe even on Oprah. People would get on their feet. They’d chant, YES! Applaud. Balloons would drop. The music, “Oh What a Night!” (Google it) would fill the room…
But, as you may suspect, that never happened. Because he wasn’t scared of his deep feelings for me or remorseful of his behavior. To the contrary, I suspect (because he never told me) he was so out of touch with his own feelings, he had to beat me down to distract himself. We are mirrors for other people and, like you, I was smart and pretty (even though I didn’t think I was) and wanted things for my life. And that was difficult for him, because he was insecure. The only way to pump himself up was to tear me down. It was easier for him to bully me than to do the hard work of going inward to understand, accept, and even embrace his own frailties and imperfections. And to figure out who he was. He was wrestling with his own demons—trying to make them mine. And I carried them for a long time.
And yet, here’s what I eventually learned, Not Sure, and I hope you will too: His “why” didn’t matter. Only my “why” did: Why I accepted it. Why I was drawn to it.
Why I stayed.
I always say, when we spend time trying to figure out the actions or motivations of another person, we’re doing their work. It’s like bowling a strike after the game is over: A moot point.
The experience only has meaning if we use it to do OUR work. The people, situations, and things we bring into our lives are just prompts. And that, Not Sure, is what your boyfriend is for you.
He is not a soulmate, a partner, somebody to win over, or somebody who owes you an apology. For your purposes, and that’s all that matters at this point, he is a teachable moment. A catalyst for you to dive deep inside your own self to understand who YOU are and what you believe about yourself, so you can learn from what happened and then, knowledge in hand, move forward.
Rumi says that “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
The good news is it sounds like you’re already doing it and for that, you should be supremely proud of yourself. I know I am! Because not everybody would be handling the situation in the self-loving, self-preserving, self-aware way that you are.
Having a therapist, a support system, the desire to get unstuck and reclaim the self you temporarily gave up, and, most importantly, to ask THE question, “BUT WHY DO I STILL WANT HIM?” in all caps, no less. That’s the work of someone who, in the long run, is destined to have Big Wild
It is the answer to this bold question that is the reason why (your why and not his) this man has crossed your path. It is really a gift that, by design, is there to help you get to what you want. And you will get there, if you work this question like it’s a vat of dough and your job is to bake enough bread to fill a bakery.
So how can you do it? Well, Not Sure, take comfort in the fact that you already are. Asking for help, having an awareness that you need to move forward, and reconnecting with the “you” that you lost when you were deferring your life for another person, that’s all part of it.
I also suggest you consider journaling around the big question. I really like a method called “Morning Pages”, which Julie Cameron outlines in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I love this book, actually, and recommend it highly. You don’t have to be a writer, painter, or performer to benefit, especially when you consider your life is your art.
Simply put, Morning Pages are three pages of longhand writing, done in the morning, strictly stream-of-consciousness. Cameron writes, for example: “Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah….” There’s no wrong way to do them, they’re not supposed to sound smart or be written well or even anything you go back and read.
The point of them is to be tool for creative recovery—to “drain the brain” as Cameron puts it. She recommends using them as a way to silence the censor in our heads that tells us we’re not good enough.
Now, I’ve done these Morning Pages many times over the course of my life and they’re powerful. They’ve helped me recover a sense of my own identity, by simply allowing me to clear the sinuses of my pre-frontal cortex, allowing me to access what’s happening at the deeper, subconscious level—especially at a time when I was young and lacked introspection. After a while, I was just a hand moving the pen. I had no idea, for example, that I was so utterly terrified of winding up alone, without a partner, judged for being not good enough, until I did my Morning Pages for months at a stretch.
The trick is that once you know certain things about yourself, there’s no turning back. You have to acknowledge and address them or they’ll eat you up inside. And that’s when the healing begins. Morning Pages helped me make a lot of important changes. And I think they can do the same for you.
With that said, let’s talk about what you’re not doing… yet: Accepting the fact that leaving a relationship—toxic or not—hurts. Bad. The good news is it won’t hurt forever, and three months is just a spit in the wind. The bad news there’s no easy way around it. In fact, the only way to the other side of pain is by going directly through it. So, accept it. Even embrace it. Know that, like your ex, it’s teaching you something valuable about yourself: That you are strong enough to get into a staring match with heartbreak and win.
Lean your way in—to the sharp shooting pain in your belly. The pounding headache. The crushing sense of disappointment. Do whatever you need to do to make it palatable. Cry, kick, scream, eat ice cream, sleep in between your parents for comfort, buy a moped. Don’t shower. Get all snotty and red faced and greasy haired. Watch old depressing movies. Listen to Tori Amos. Whatever it takes for you. And then, when you’re ready—because eventually you will be, I promise—you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back out there in search of the Big Wild Love you not only want, but you most definitely, without a doubt, deserve. It will happen, in time.
Now, the brass tacks: How. How do you let go of this pain, this experience, this whatever so you can move forward? I have developed what I believe is a very intuitive six-step process for letting go that I’ll detail in my upcoming book. For now, I’d say you’re already well into it, which is fantastic! Based on your note, here’s what’s left for you to do:
- Get clear on what it is you really need to let go of – because if you don’t know what those things are, you can’t do it. And the way to do it is, first, in the knowing. Once you know what you need to let go of, be aware of when you’re holding on and then, remind yourself of all the ways holding on is no longer serving you.
- Make a plan. Something documented to keep you heading the direction of True North. That way, when you’re tempted to slide back into old beliefs and behaviors (and you will be, trust me), you’ll won’t. Instead, you’ll take your lessons learned and keep moving according to plan, eyes and heart open.
So, what should you let go of? Here are my recommendations, but I also encourage you to spend time fleshing out more thoughts in your Morning Pages.
- Let go of the boyfriend.He has served his purpose. Ditch him completely (even your attachment to his business, get a job at Starbucks) and forgive him. He is on his own path. You no longer need him on yours.
- Let go of regrets. There’s no such thing as wasted time. Toss those words, along with “should have” out of your vocabulary. The universe has plans for us and we’re not always aware of what they are. I had no idea, when my ex Hector was rejecting marriage, that he would die young. Had we ultimately gone there and had a family, I’d be a widow raising children by myself. And I would have never met my beautiful husband and enjoyed the perfectly imperfect marriage we now have (not that I even for one MOMENT wish that Hector wasn’t still here, alive and well). Trust yourself and the fact that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. We all are.
- Let go of closure. When it comes to romance, I believe this is just a shill for keeping us stuck. We can’t get answers, validation, or our happiness from other people. It’s an inside job, Not Sure. And it will come from you staying in the good spaces: With your support system, asking the right questions, staying true to yourself.
- Let go of the past.Maya Angelou says: “If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present… Gratefully.”
- Let go of the need to be perfect or something you’re not. (Do these “Let Go’s” sound familiar? If you’ve watched my TEDx talk, they should) Know that you do NOT have to be perfect to be loved. You do not have to tolerate the intolerable to be loved. You do not have to convince another person you’re worthy to be loved. You do not have to be what you’re not to be loved. You do not have to forego your dreams to be loved.
If you do all of this, Not Sure, you will be wiser and better for the experience—and that much closer to the Big Wild Love that’s waiting for you. I know it.
I leave you with Kevin Hall, author of Aspire. He says: “When my heart is heavy and I feel unsure, I close my eyes and let the sun warm my soul. I feel the breeze brush aside my worry and hear nature coaxing me to not give up, to not give in. There within each of us lives unlimited love and unlimited potential. I am capable. I am worthy. I am deserving. I am grateful. I trust myself and I forgive myself and others. I breathe out and know I am blessed.”
Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies creativity, relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.