Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Staying Strong After You've Left - Part 1

Survivors often ask me, “How do I stay strong and deal with my ex after I leave? He (or she) is still trying to control me and is pushing my buttons.” This is a good question to address with your therapist or in therapy group. They’ll have many helpful suggestions. I have a few thought on the issue, things that worked for me. I’ll deal with one of them here and others over the next few posts.
One of the reasons abusers can so callously attack their partners is that they have de-humanized them. Controlling partners believe that their victims are property. When a victim decides to walk away, the controller is stunned and cannot believe it is happening. As he sees it, the victim has no rights. The abuser cannot accept that the partner is actually going to leave. So, he will open the bag of tricks that have always drawn the victim back into compliance. If we can identify those "tricks" they lose their power over us. 

When these "tricks" don't work, controlling partners often ratchet up their bad behavior. Be cautious and use all available safety measures to protect yourself and children. We know that leaving is the most dangerous time. Even abusers who have not been physically abusive, may become physically violent during this time.
It’s important that survivors be positive in their hearts and minds that the relationship is over. This is not always an easy place to get to. Therapy is the best tool to help. Often we still feel love or compassion for our partner. The hope that he “may” change has been with us so long it’s hard to let it go. As we struggle with this, can we come to an agreement within ourselves that our partner’s behavior must end? Can we:
  • Accept that we cannot change our partner,
  • Accept that if we stay nothing will change,
  • Let go of the vision of our partner changing in the near or distant future so the relationship can be rekindled, and
  • Focus on this moment, right now, and what needs to be done to end the abuse?
One of the things that I found most helpful was to:
Make a List of What You Do and Don’t Love About Him 
Know that your partner will, most likely, put on the “Mr. Wonderful” facade he wore to reel you into, and hold you in, the relationship. Recognize that this is not who your partner is. To help you clarify this in your mind, divide a sheet of paper down the center. At the top of one column write “What I Love About Him” and on the other, “What I Don’t Love About Him.” Spend time listing what has been good and what has been painful about your life together. Chances are, when you’re finished, you will see how the bad far outweighs the good. You may even see that the traits listed on the love side are not really who your partner is at all, but who he’d pretended to be when you first met. (Who he’s pretending to be again to win you back.) Carry the list with you. When the ol’ heart strings start tugging on you, take out this list and remember why it’s not a good idea to stay involved with him. (I wouldn't whip out this sheet in front of your ex. We don’t want to aggravate the situation.) When he’s present, rest your hand on the folded sheet in your purse or pocket, as a reminder that you know he’s trying to con you and you’re not buying into his lies.
Having a list of what he did to you, in graphic detail, can keep you from minimizing or denying how bad the situation was. These can be painful to write. Take care of yourself. If you choose to compile this list. Don’t push yourself to do it all in one sitting. Consider having a supportive friend with you as you write.
In the next post we’ll look at some of the games abusers play to thwart your attempt to leave and stay gone.
Comments are always welcome. Click on the comment icon below and let us know how you keep your sanity as you deal with your ex.