Are you still obsessing about a crazy, abusive ex-girlfriend or ex-wife? Do you still compare the “chemistry” you had with her to every subsequent woman you’ve encountered and find them lacking? Especially women who appear to be kind, loving and stable?
Do you torture yourself with “what if'” and “if only” thinking? Do you hold on to the few good times and minimize the abusive behaviors to which you were subjected? Are you still making excuses for her? Do you still believe she is the “love of your life?” Are your friends and family tired of listening to you talk about her or him?
If so, you are stuck and you don’t need me to tell you it’s an awful place to be. You’re stuck, but odds are, you’re not stuck on her. I frequently work with men and women who are painfully stuck. They grind through the same ruminations over and over and over again and just can’t seem to let go of Crazy.
The discomfort and pain they exhibit while enumerating their obsessions, wishful thinking, longing, shock and awe is palpable. Oftentimes, men and women who have a history of being attracted to abusive partners come from families in which one or both parents were similarly abusive.
This is not always the case. Nice boys and girls from nice families are also targets for abusive, personality disordered partners. This article is primarily for men and women who were groomed during childhood to accept abuse from the people who “love” them, but can also be applied to nice girls and boys who were raised to always turn the other cheek, to always keep the peace and to only see the good in people.
If you’re stuck on an abusive ex or still in a relationship with an abusive partner, but can’t break free because you “love” her, you need to wake up. The abusive ex or partner is not some irreplaceable, special snowflake. She or he is not the end all be all — I don’t care how good the sex is or how good the sex was. She is not your soul mate. She is not the one. She is not your destiny, unless you believe that you’re fated to spend your life in misery. In reality, you’re probably not hung up on her, but on old childhood wounds and the fantasies you have built around her that have nothing to do with who she is in reality. Most likely, she represents a chance at a new outcome to an old hurt.
Crazy is probably nothing more than the embodiment of your unresolved childhood issues and your blind, childish insistence that things work out differently this time. If the descriptions of high-conflict, Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic and Sociopathic women on Shrink4Men resonate with you, your “love” is more than likely nothing more than an incredibly damaged, self-obsessed, emotionally stunted, psychologically immature, entitled, manipulative, selfish, empathy challenged, blame shifting, unaccountable, abusive child or teen in an adult body who is incapable of love.
You have likely constructed a fantasy around this woman or man. It is time to stop the “what if’s” and “if only’s” deconstruct the fantasy. You need to distinguish what is an act from what is fact (thank you, Mell) when it comes to your Crazy ex or partner. Ignore her or his words and emotional performances and really look at her or his behaviors. That is usually where the truth of this person lies — as opposed to their words.
But what if I just try harder to reason with her? No. Logic, facts and reason only anger a woman like this.
But what if I just try to be more patient and understanding? No. Being more patient and understanding only makes you an easier and more submissive victim.
I’m not perfect. There are things I could have done differently. No one’s perfect and becoming angry and hurt in response to being abused is a natural and healthy response. Smiling through the abuse and pretending like everything is okay is not okay. Staying, tolerating more abuse and calling it “love” is supremely unhealthy and only leads to more abuse.
I did everything she wanted. How could she just throw everything away and treat me like she did? Please reread the paragraphs above, take a breath, get off the hamster wheel and stop spinning.
In some ways, the folks who get stuck on Crazy remind me of little kids who want to make house pets out of wild and dangerous animals. But what if I’m really, really, super special sweet to Rhonda Rattlesnake and extra, extra patient and loving? Surely she’ll see what a good boy I am and love me back. If I feed her mice whole, take her out for a slither 3x a day, play with her and let her sleep in my bed, she’ll love me, too, and won’t ever sink her fangs in my jugular and pump venom into my carotid artery!
This is not how it works. Predators prey. Emotional terrorists terrorize.
If you enforce boundaries, hold them accountable and deliver effective natural consequences for their predations, they will move on to find a new unsuspecting target to feed upon. That’s how it works, no matter how patient, loving and kind you are. It’s the law of the jungle.
Grieving Crazy or grieving your past?
If there are similarities between your abusive partner or ex and one or both of your parents, please understand that you are no more likely to get the love, acceptance and approval you desperately want from this woman or man than you were from your mom or dad. You are trying to obtain an emotionally corrective experience from someone who is no more capable of loving you than your parent(s) who did the original damage.
If you’re torturing yourself with questions like, “What if I try explaining things differently?” or “What if I try harder?” or any other “What-if’s,” please stop and ask yourself if you had similar feelings and thoughts when you were a child? Did you have your parents’ love and approval or were you consistently told “not good enough?” Did you feel you had to work hard to earn your parents’ love while they continually moved the goal post? Did your parent(s) put you in no-win situations? Did your parent(s) parentify you (i.e., make you, the child, responsible for taking care of them emotionally and/or physically?) Did your parents’ blame you for their bad and abusive behavior?
Abusive and/or personality disordered parents make their children feel responsible for their rages, cruelty, and withholding of affection and approval. Abusive, personality disordered women and men do the same thing to their partners, exes and children.
In reality, it is the parent who is damaged, but causes the child to believe he or she is flawed or bad and that if only he or she was smarter, faster, more attractive, more quiet, more responsible, more something, then mom or dad would love them and be nicer to him or her. It’s a real mindf—-.
Many of the men and women I work with have similar beliefs and feelings about their abusive partners and exes. They’ve got it backwards. Even if they intellectually understand they’ve got it backwards, the old beliefs, feelings and fears from childhood persist. They also make similar excuses for the abusive partner or ex that they did for their parents. “She had a rough childhood. She was abused. Her father was an alcoholic. She’s really emotional. It’s my fault for doing . . .”
Again, these types of abusive personalities are nothing special. They are uncannily similar right down to their speech and tone of voice. You have probably constructed a fantasy around this woman that has nothing to do with who she is in reality. The fantasy is just that — a fantasy — and it is part of what is keeping you stuck.
There are bad people in the world. Bad things can happen to good people no matter how nice they are. Smart good people understand this and distance themselves from bad people who will do bad things to them if given the opportunity.
If you had shitty parents, it was not your fault. You were not responsible for the way they treated you. They were the adults and their behavior is on them and only them. The same goes for your abusive partner or ex. The difference is that you now have agency and resources that you didn’t have as a child. You can walk. Yes, even if you share children, you can walk.
Typically, the biggest glitches seem to be fear and confusing giving up on and letting go of the abusive partner/ex with giving up on receiving the love and approval you always wanted from the abusive parent. Giving up and letting go of being able to win over your abusive parent/partner/ex then becomes confused with personal failure and blaming yourself for being “unlovable.”
REALITY CHECK: You can’t get someone to love you who is incapable of love and you can’t “fail” at something that’s impossible to “win” — like turning Rhonda/Ricky Rattlesnake into Betty/Bobby Beagle. Not going to happen no matter how wonderful you are.
You can’t love an abusive personality into treating you well because you are not the reason they abuse others and anyone else who gets close enough to them. Just like Crazy isn’t special, you’re not special either. Crazy does the same dance over and over and over again. The only thing that changes is Crazy’s target du jour. Your love is not going to “save” or “fix” Crazy. And again, is this really about “the love of your life” or not being loved the way you needed to be loved by an equally effed up parent?
Mourning and letting go of the Crazy ex will take discipline and effort. It may seem callous, but you basically need to snap out of it, redirect your thoughts when you start ruminating and reliving your relationship with Crazy, get the hell on with it and start sifting through and grieving the original damage from childhood. In many cases, I believe that those who get stuck on Crazy as an adult, are suffering the effects of reopening narcissistic injuries suffered in childhood.
In a nutshell (pun intended), Crazy rips off the old scabs and grinds salt in your wounds. In this respect, your Crazy ex or partner does serve a useful purpose. If you can connect the dots back to the original damage, stare it down, feel the feelings that arise, and release yourself from the fear of looking at and feeling these things, you (hopefully) won’t have to do this phantom dance with Crazy anymore.
First things first, the next time you catch yourself missing Crazy and wistfully ruminating, “but I love her/him,” I want you to stop, give yourself a mental shake and say, “I don’t love her. I am missing the love I never received as a child” and take it from there . . .
Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.