5 Stages of Letting Go of a Relationship with an Emotionally Abusive Woman
Many of my readers have expressed how difficult it is for them to let go of their relationships with emotionally abusive, Borderline and/or Narcissistic Personality Disorder wives and girlfriends. Several men who were involved with these women refer to them as “monsters.” One man in particular (Run4TheHills) writes that he prays to get cancer everyday because his marriage is so bad. It goes to show how terrifying these women can be when the prospect of a terminal illness is more appealing than another 15 years of marriage or a cutthroat divorce process.
There seems to be two categories men with BPD/NPD exes fall into:
- Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free at last! These men are able to recognize that their relationship wasn’t based on love, but upon control tactics (fear, shame, guilt), unmet emotional needs, dysfunctional dependency and projection. Once they work through any lingering trust issues and why they were attracted to this kind of woman, they’ll move on and be just fine.
- Just can’t get enough of your “love,” babe. These men appear to have bought into the lies their exes told them, such as: “No one will ever love you as much as me.” “You’ll never find anyone as wonderful as me.” “You’re crazy if you think anyone else would want you.” “You don’t know how lucky you are that I put up with you.” “You owe me after I sacrificed everything for you.” They swallow these lies hook, line and sinker and pair them with a handful of good memories. The result is a powerful, distorted belief, which keeps them from moving on and makes it difficult to have a happy, healthy relationship with someone new.
Despite the relentless abuse, rage episodes, mind games, projection, gaslighting and demoralization, these men believe they’re still in love with these women “on some level” and/or “will always love” them. They continuously remind themselves how bad the relationship was so they don’t fall into an illusory, sentimental nostalgia for their ex and get back together. This attitude is evidence of how emotionally abusive women brainwash or program their targets.
It takes time to grieve the loss of a significant relationship. No matter how awful your ex is, you still need to mourn the loss. This may be confusing because ending a relationship with an abuser should ultimately feel like an act of liberation, but for many, it’s also experienced as a loss. Not the loss of the “monster” she is in reality, but the loss of the ideal, fantasy image you constructed in your head and the relationship you wished you could’ve had with her. This fantasy image of the great sex and fleeting moments of sanity is not her true self; the abusive bully is her true self. The woman and the relationship you love and miss exist solely in the Land of If Only.
In other words, “if only she weren’t so crazy…” “If only she weren’t so cruel…” “If only she wasn’t such a liar…” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the five stages of grief (On Death and Dying, 1969) to explain how people “deal with grief and tragedy, especially when diagnosed with a terminal illness or catastrophic loss.” You have to go through this process in order to get through it, let go and move on. The five stages include:
1. Denial. You were in denial when you were with her and whenever you consider getting back together with her. When you catch yourself thinking, “She’s not that bad. She really does love me. I’m not perfect either…” you’re diving headlong into an ocean of denial. She is that bad. She doesn’t love you. She’s not capable of loving you or anyone else because deep down she loathes herself. She views you as an object to control and to bolster her false image. To BPD/NPD women, people are props to use in their distorted, twisted fantasy world in which they’re special, entitled, above reproach and not subject to the rules of civility and decency most of us abide by.
If you think you can help the NPD/BPD woman to see the truth about herself, the way she treats you and the relationship in order to get her to change; you’re also in denial. Even when this woman is hurling the most abusive bile at you, in her mind, she believes she’s being magnanimous for pointing out the error of your ways, so you can improve yourself and be the kind of man she “deserves.” You should be grateful she takes time from her “busy” schedule to criticize, abuse and condescend to you.
2. Anger. This is a good stage. Hold onto it for awhile. It’s what keeps you from going back. Try not to get stuck here, however. Feel the anger and then let it go. This is when you’re aware of how badly she’s treated you. You’re angry with her for treating you the way she did and angry with yourself for putting up with it. It’s natural to feel anger when someone is deliberately cruel, dishonest or treats you unfairly. You had to stuff your anger when you were with her because expressing it would’ve led to more conflict and nastiness. You have a right to feel angry. Just express it in a productive manner (i.e., don’t hurt yourself or others), create boundaries for yourself and channel the energy into something healthy like sports, exercise or a project.
3. Bargaining. This stage has a little bit of denial mixed in with it. You deny the reality of the situation (or the severity of it) and make deals with yourself. For example, “She said she’s really sorry and that it’ll be different if we get back together. I’ll give her one more chance and if she starts acting crazy again, I’m out of there.” “Maybe if I’m a little more patient and am very careful and avoid pushing her buttons, it can work.” Or this old chestnut, “I’m just going to have sex with her, but not get emotionally involved.”
You can’t bargain with someone to treat you well. Being treated with kindness, common decency, consideration, respect and acceptance should be a prerequisite for an intimate relationship; not something you’re rewarded with for meeting one of her unreasonable demands or if she’s trying to manipulate you into doing or buying something for her. Either she’s capable of a reciprocal relationship or she’s not. It doesn’t matter what you do or how nice, patient and understanding you are with her. She is what she is; a controlling, cruel, abusive, emotional predator and bully. You can’t appease a bully or persuade them to be nice to you. If you do, she’ll see you as weak and bulldoze you all the more.
4. Depression. This is when it sinks in there’s no going back to this woman and that the woman you loved never existed. You mourn the loss of time and the abuse you tolerated. You direct the anger at yourself and feel stupid for being with her and fear getting into another relationship, lest you become involved with another woman just like her.
Like the Anger stage, you don’t want to get stuck here either. Feeling sadness over this relationship is natural, but don’t let your experience with this woman distort how you view all relationships. Not all women are like her and, if you can feel the painful and difficult feelings that ending this relationship brings up, you’ll get through it.
5. Acceptance. While you’re not ok with what happened, you accept the reality of who this woman is and chalk it up to a learning experience. You’ve let go of the anger and sadness and are ready to move on in your life. You may always feel a little pang when you think of this woman, like when a combat veteran remembers some wartime atrocity, but it won’t control you anymore. Eventually, that little pang will turn into a “What was I thinking?” attitude when you remember this woman, followed quickly by murmuring to yourself, “nutjob.”
These five stages aren’t always a lock-step, linear process. You may bounce back between a few of the stages and cycle through them a few times before you reach acceptance. You can expedite grieving for and healing form this relationship if you:
- Maintain a strict NO CONTACT policy.
- Disabuse yourself of the notion that you can “be friends” with your ex (“being friends” translates to “not ready to let go”).
- Understand why you were attracted to this woman and resolve these issues.
- Focus on taking care of yourself, reconnecting with who you are and rediscovering what makes you happy.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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