Why Stay?

Elisa Escalante/ LCSW/ 10-16-2021

“Telling an abused, abandoned, neglected and traumatized child to “self love” is like telling a fish to breathe oxygen.” -EaE

Naturally, as life and traumas unfold, I will have more experience and therefore, more to talk about. The subjects and topics add up with age and, hopefully, added wisdom. I found myself earlier in the year, getting away from an abusive relationship (engagement). I didn’t even know it at the time, but as the talks added up and the truths came out, it became more evident and clear. I was in serious denial as the relationship was toxic and headed to perhaps, a dangerous future.

As a life crisis situation happens, people have questions, opinions, blanketed statements and unsolicited advice. I was able to see clearly how much the support system can either harm or help us when we are trying to recover from an abusive relationship. For all the clients I had in the past that hurt from abuse and were attempting to heal from it, I finally felt their pain. For this blog I’m going to share my insight into common questions/ statements people have toward those who are struggling in or post toxic and abusive relationships.

“If it’s that bad, just break up.”

Ever notice the irony of how someone can give you this advice while also dealing with their own dysfunctional relationship? However, they’re blind to their own issues but able to objectively see that your relationship is toxic and you should leave? And it should be so simple. Interpersonal skills is our ability to get to know others, while intra-personal skills is our ability to know ourselves. Often times the reason gaining interpersonal skills is easier may be because we can look at others through a neutral lens, but we will often remain oblivious to our own issues. That, or we are in a brain fog due to our fight/ flight/ freeze response while in danger with toxic partner(s) and cannot confront the issue. Our emotional brain may then cloud our logical thinking processes, making something that seems simple and obvious, one of the hardest decisions to make.

“Why couldn’t you see the red flags?”

This question came up a lot for me, and I found it was a question and/ or judgment imposed by people that had healthier upbringings or an example of what a somewhat functional household looks like. For example, a child with abusive or absent parents vs a child with nurturing parents with a healthy relationship are going to have very different views on what a “red flag” looks like. If abuse is our norm, how can we know any different? If we witness our caregivers abusing each other 90 percent of the time, then in the future find ourselves only getting abused 40 percent of the time; this may feel or seem healthy. Our views on red flags are not universal and not everyone has role models when it comes to what “healthy dynamics” should look like in a relationship or in a home.

“It’s your fault for staying.”

Though staying may be a choice, there are many reasons people stay that should be taken into consideration before passing judgement. Staying could be from a heightened sense of obligation learned in childhood, a savior complex, fawning defense mechanisms or low self esteem. People may stay due to financial, verbal and/ or physical abuse that has left them stuck or terrified. There could be cultural or religious values that tug at our feelings of guilt. In addition, typically the longer the relationship the harder it may be due to more memories, more promises that were made and not wanting to “start over” or have the sense that we “wasted all our time” and it was “all for nothing”. Also, regardless of a break up being the right choice for someone, it’s never easy to do and could take months to years of contemplation.

“You’ll find the one don’t worry.” Or “when you find the ‘one’ you will know”.

Maybe it’s just me, but I absolutely hated these lines. One, having an imaginary hypothetical “one” doesn’t help us with the pain and grief we are feeling during a hard break up. Secondly, after an abusive relationship, we may not even like the idea of dating again. Relationships don’t feel like rainbows and butterfly’s after the ugly storm of enduring abuse. Another point is we may not even trust our judgement anymore when it comes to picking “the one”, as we picked the wrong “one(s)” already. We may not trust others anymore. Don’t force feed a post break up grieving person a relationship fantasy. Especially after abuse, people are extra vulnerable and more likely to fall into another trap/ cycle of abuse. They need time to heal, not to hunt down “The one”.

“You dodged a bullet, so just move on and get over it.”

Just because the break up was for the best, does not mean a person gets to magically skip the grieving process. How long it takes to move on has many factors: 1- was the break up amicable or did someone abuse/ lie/ cheat and/ or steal? These things take longer to heal from as it isn’t just about processing loss and the sadness that comes with it. It’s also about dealing with anger/ rage after betrayal and abuse. 2- Does said person have abandonment trauma from childhood that gets triggered during break ups? Unfortunately abandonment trauma makes a break up much harder and a lot more likely to get prolonged way past the expiration date. 3- Did the relationship have healthy boundaries or did the individuals become codependent and enmeshed to a point they were unable to function independently? “Moving on” inevitably involves grief, it’s a roller coaster of emotions and cannot be rushed.

“You deserve better”

Im countering this line not because anyone deserves to be abused. No one does. I counter the statement of “you deserve better”, because in most cases, we get our consequences due to our choices, emotional reactions, and behaviors. When it comes to cyclical and thematic choices and behaviors that are left unaddressed, we get exactly what we deserve. And, we get what we believe we deserve. This is an important way to view it, because if we are left feeling like we are doomed to victim hood, we are likely to fall into it again. As helpless as we may feel, we often have more control than we think. But we must also hold ourselves accountable too. This is where our power can be discovered. The reason it’s so hard to see it this way is because we’re often already feeling defeated. If we are chronically getting physically or verbally beaten, it gets harder to fight back. We do deserve better. But we only get the better when we treat ourselves as we deserve. When we do for ourselves as we deserve. Deserving better comes with action, it won’t fall into our laps without the work.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

3 thoughts on “Why Stay?

  1. Well written. As you stated abuse come in all forms, and like you I have heard all the above statements and comments.
    As for the “one”. Is there such a person? Maybe but I myself don’t care to look anymore. The one person I’m counting on is myself.
    If I were to give someone advice today it would be believe in yourself, your values and live each day doing what feels right to you not what others tell you is right for you. The only way to break free is thru yourself. No one can truly understand what a person has been thru. If you need me to listen and give you a shoulder I will be there, day or night. Thank you for sharing such a hard topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. Probably single forever here and ok with that. So many common points and some eased by a veteran friend maybe more than he knows.

    Liked by 1 person

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