Sanctuary for the Abused

Monday, October 30, 2017

Abusive Relationships & Toxic Guilt

by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W

I believe that most of us, especially those of us who have mental health disorders, feel guilt in situations where we have no business whatsoever feeling guilt.

It is easy to just look at our behavior, the situation and ourselves and say "I'm guilty! I am ashamed." Now let's back up a bit here.

When I say look at ourselves, it might benefit most of us to look a little deeper. We are complex, complicated creatures and our motivation for doing or not doing something is not just based on our personality, our will, etc.

What do I mean? Let me give you an example of something that may help you see this picture more clearly.

I have been seeing a man who is extremely emotionally and verbally abusive. Now of course I was not aware of his abuse issues at first but I will admit that I saw red flags right from the start.

Mind you, I have trained staff in domestic violence, etc.

The situation I recently faced was a history of ten months seeing this guy, addicted to him, and no matter how much I complained to him about his behavior, I kept going back. I would continue to go back into a little denial that really he is not abusive and that one day we will have a wonderful relationship. I had a very difficult time facing reality because like any addiction, I would occasionally get what I call "adrenalin shots." These "shots" kept me hooked in a situation that I could not get out of. I could not get out of this relationship.

I did notice as I worked harder to get out, he trumped up his abuse. Finally the emotional abuse became so bad that I just could no longer take the abuse he threw at me.

Again I wrote him an email kindly asking him to end this thing between us as it was killing me and that I was having a difficult time getting out. Now imagine an abuser and their personality and their agenda. Would he kindly assist me in this? Of course not.

Of course I knew it was my responsibility to get out I noticed that every time I tried to get out I felt sick. I prayed and prayed to God and asked Him to assist me, started journaling, which did help by the way, but I couldn't get out and if I got close to getting out he knew just how to suck me back in. Wonderful words he would say - tell me just what I needed to hear.

Abuse of any kind decreases your self-esteem and for me I felt like my mind was literally being twisted. His behavior did NOT make sense and the more he did strange stuff, the more twisted I felt.

During this time I felt TREMENDOUS guilt that I could not leave the relationship. It was humiliating to keep enduring his abuse. Every one told me he was playing head games with me, playing with me, etc. This knowledge was very difficult to assimilate and I so needed to believe that he truly loved and cared about me and that I was special to him. I felt I couldn't face any other reality, as it was too painful.

One day I was eating lunch and watching a movie on television in the midst of all the craziness. In the movie the husband was verbally, emotionally and physically abusing his wife. Two times in the movie he said to her, "I own you." The first time it went over my head but the second time he said that to her my jaw dropped and I probably looked shocked, like I had seen a ghost.

My father repeatedly told me he owned me when I was growing up. I never understood that. Once in high school I remember him telling me how he wanted my hair cut. I kindly said I wanted it cut differently and he in no uncertain terms told me I belonged to him, I was his property and he will do with me what he likes.

I had many times questioned whether my dad was verbally and emotionally abusive to me for many years but I never got to the point where I completely came out of denial until now.

I think we are more inclined to unconsciously look for the environment we were raised in, even if it was abusive. We are familiar with that environment and a non-abusive environment is strange.

People that have been abused don't see a lot of the red flags that others see because that way of life for them I normal. Many of us feel that love is pain.

It is vital to remember when you look back on your life or you are currently facing a situation where you are unhappy with your behavior, that you are struggling so much due to your history of abuse. You may appear "weak" and unable to get out of that situation without outside help. It says nothing about your character but everything about your past.

So it is that in my opinion we go to therapy and learn what "normal" is so that we can behave more and more that way and be attracted to healthy people.

Experiencing guilt is not looking at the entire picture and is inappropriate in many cases.

There is "good" guilt that motivates us to do the right thing but in these situations we are experiencing toxic shame. Many of us feel we are bad all the way to the core.

Should we crucify our parents for our issues now? No. They may have done the best they can. Take a look at their family of origin.

We are always responsible for our behavior however and we are responsible to get help if we feel like we are drowning.

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shared by Barbara at 12:08 AM



i am currently experiencing what you are talking about! YOur article has helped me see, that i am not at fault, and with help can get out of my situation. Thank you so very much for your site.

7:27 PM  

The problem is WHAT HELP?

Some of us have no help. Some are disabled and we have watched all the women become homeless down at the local domestic abuse shelter. They can handle it, they have normal health, I do not.

I have been pressured by family to stay, churches same thing. I need actual pragamatic help to leave and even in finding place to live or deciding on that one for that matter. I pray that he will leave me. His abuse has lessened since being in counseling but I no longer love him.

The social workers do not care. The DV shelters send you out after 4 weeks. Even if one is dealing with severe physical and mental problems, the social worker gatekeepers keep all their programs closed and some they have no sympathy for.

One thing about the therapy, social worker, complex, they can tell women all the want to be empowered and to get help, but with no money, and no real pragmatic action, it is just WORDS and nothing more.

8:30 AM  

Just by reading from another person what they have endured, survived, learned, overcome or are still dealing with - we always have something new to learn - a way to grow. We ARE the ones that can make the changes. No, it isn't easy. It is painful, it is frightening but it is possible - when our inner voice says I am no longer willing to live this way one moment more. Jennifer

2:46 PM  

Good for you. It is good that you got out and that you realized the relationship for what it was. Congratulations.

10:18 PM  

After reading so many great articles on this website, I am very sickened by this one. The first paragraph "especially those of us who have mental health disorders". Over and over on this website we see lists of ways psychopaths abuse us. They will use any words or actions that they can think of as there is no truth in them, and they just want to harm us. For this woman to re-rape us with our own hearts, hearts that have been broken and destroyed, MADE to feel guilty by those who CAN FEEL NO GUILT and to tell us to basically pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, does nothing but destroy us. Very few of us are even believed let alone able to get help, and then to try and "fix ourselves" is ridiculous!

As far as learning to be "normal" goes, if we just allowed ourselves to say some people are evil and give ourselves and our children permission to stay away or run away from them, we wouldn't have so many people who had to get back to "normal".

There is an article on-line somewhere that says something like if we are going by who looks the most "normal" this will many times be psychopaths as they live their lives learning to look "normal" while the rest of us try to be understanding etc etc.

Martha Stout in her book "The Sociopath Next Door" tells a story of her daugher on a bus ride with her class. One boy (around 10 years old) was teasing another little boy who had some sort of special need, and another girl this age stood up and told him that he was a mean boy, and the boy shut up. Martha pointed out that by the time this girl was a young adult, this strength would probably be raped away from her and she would conform and shut-up. (I've paraphrased this story which is on pages 98-99.) Perhaps if we stopped making our children shut-up about "mean people" we could save ourselves and the next generation tons of stress and time and money spent on getting back to "normal".

8:39 AM  

This is so true. When you are in the situation you tend to have tunnel vision. These are very good points.

9:00 AM  

We don't realize we are in abusive relationships because we think that every couple has issues. We see what other couples go through and we watch t.v. where couples are always in conflicts.
The abuser is the most loving and caring person at times. They idolize you and make you feel like you are the most wonderful person in the world. At other times they are hard to live with. They can be equally harsh as they are charming. We make excuses for them like they are going through stress.
These people suck the life out of you without you realizing it. They break your spirit. The abuser works very hard to hide the side of them they don't want you to see. Depending on who they talk to and what they think the other person will believe the story of your relationship differs. They are trying to save the relationship and seeking advice from some people. To others they say you are crazy and treat the abuser bad.
It is very hard to recover from this kind of abuse. Knowing that it had nothing to do with anything you did helps. I believe the person I was involved with has borderline personality disorder. Learning about the disorder helped me a lot. I learn that the verbal abuse he imposed on me is actually the way he feels about himself. These people vary rarely change because it is very hard to treat them.

1:16 AM  

I for one was quick to forgive my abuser, but still have not fogiven myself. The guilt and shame overwhelm me at times. I know it will be a process but I will get there. I will with the help of my very exhausted Guardian Angels, prayer and belief in myself!
Strength and courage to all survivors out there!

6:31 AM  

I felt your pain as I read your post. I too am in a relationship that has verbal abuse a lot of times.

2:02 PM  

How do i go about to seek help in moving to new place, work, where we won't be found be him plz help

4:49 PM  

I Am 6 months pregnant and the abuse didn't start until i got pregnant. He has choked me, slapped me, pushed me down, and even spit in my face. So he just got arrested in the past hour. I stayed on the police to go get him because i dont feel safe around him. I plan to move out of town for mine and my childrens safety, so why do i feel so guilty?

11:07 PM  

I went through this same ordeal, and it was a mind fuck just like you said. It has only been recently that I discovered what a Narcissist is after having dealt with one for two years. Last year, the Narcissistic behavior really amplified. It took a lot of strength for me to get up and leave for good. This is my story that I've been trying to share with the world. I hope someone out there reads it and recognizes their own experiences in it.

5:46 AM  

The only thing keeping me going is that whatever I say or do...his reaction is down to him and him alone. I lived alone for 3 years before this relationship. I was married for 13 years before that. My time living on my own were the happiest of my life. My tiny studio flat was my safe haven. Unfortunately, circumstances changed and I moved in too quickly with my now partner. Its his home so I am constantly reminded of this. He flipped yesterday took my bag, my keys and phone and threatened to drag me out by my hair and dump all my belongings in the street. But i drove him to react that way of course. I have no means to rent my own place now..nor do i want to inflict myself on my family. I bitterly regret not being able to support myself financially..I do have a respectable job but not enough money to start again. Oh, he never hits me..its always verbal and emotional abuse. And its always someone elses fault. He is weak and i have no respect for him now. He has made a fool of us in front of our neighbours. The shame. But he believes he was pushed into it. His leather jacket pocket ripped when i tried to take my phone back. So now he will tell others to look at what i did to his jacket. Look at what he has had to deal with? I pity him but i must stay strong. I certainly do not want to fix him. I want a quiet life but now im trapped.

9:33 AM  

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