Why Do I Still Love My Abuser?
I speak to many abuse victims. They contact me to understand whether they really are being abused. They contact me to seek help in leaving their abusers. Some even contact me to ask me why they still love their abusers. This is my topic for today.
How is it possible to love someone who:
- Calls them every name possible
- Gives them the silent treatment for days/week/months
- Controls their every action
- Constricts their spending to below the poverty level
- Frightens them and their children with threats and physical abuse?
I have never found a good explanation for this phenomenon, but I have heard about it often enough that I know it’s real. Recently, I read a blog by Leslie Vernick* that does an excellent job of explaining WHY!?
Leslie describes the stages of being with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Before I go on, I will say that some abusers have NPD, and many don’t. However, this is a great description of how abusers treat their partners.
Stage 1: Desire – he** wants you. You are everything to him. You are the best thing that ever happened to him. No one can meet his needs like you do. You are intoxicated by the adoration that comes your way and you are captured by its allure. “Gee, am I that wonderful?” “Wow, no one has ever treated me this way before.” “I love being with him, he makes me feel so alive, so loved, so important, so valuable.”
Stage 2: Demands – now that you are captured, your role is to always meet his needs, always put him first, always pay attention to him and subjugate your own needs/wants/desires/feelings to his. If you refuse or fail, you will have a price to pay. You keep hoping and trying and pleading to get back to stage one, but it will never happen. It’s downhill from here.
Stage 3: Devalue – If you try to have a real relationship with mutuality and reciprocity, you will be criticized and devalued or demeaned. You are not to ask for your own needs to be met – you are to have no needs or desires other than to be in his presence, build him up, serve him, love him, make him happy, adore him no matter what he does. When you want him to treat you like he did in stage 1 he will mock you and make you feel like you are worthless and a huge disappointment to him. You keep defending yourself, trying to get him to see you as he did in stage one but it’s fruitless. You have fallen off the pedestal he put you on as the “perfect one” who will meet all of his needs all of the time and you will never be able to get back on because it’s an impossible role to fulfill.
Stage 4: Dismiss – he’s done with you. He’s moved on. He has someone else in mind who is now “the perfect one” or as some call it “narcissistic supply” who he desires to capture for his needs. You have no purpose in his life anymore. You don’t exist.
For the woman who has fallen from stage 1 to 4 she is in shock. What happened? How did this happen? You keep remembering how wonderful stage 1 was and keep trying harder and harder to return to that magic where you were wonderful and he was so happy with you. But it’s not possible. Why not? Because you are a real human being with your own sins and weaknesses. You are not his fantasy spouse, who will or can meet his every need. You also have needs and feelings of your own that you would like to have valued and cared about.
Does this describe you and your current or former relationship? If so, my condolences. I’ve been there, and it was horrible.
It can (and does) happen to the best of us.
So, now what? You are either still with your abusive partner, being treated horribly, or one of you has left. Either way, you are stuck with feelings that won’t go away. It seems like love, but is it really? I would propose that it might feel like love, but it is not a healthy, mature love. It is more of a fearful love – you NEED him to love you, or you LOVE him so much you don’t think you can live without him. This isn’t a mature love; it is more like dependency.
You might have what is called trauma bonding. This is where we bond with someone emotionally even though they don’t care about us. Sometimes this happens because we did not have a strong bond with our primary caregiver as a child. We become aloof or clingy in our adult relationships. You feel you can’t live without his love, but you already ARE. You want the “love” he showed to you at the beginning of your relationship, but, as Leslie says, he didn’t really love you. He was more like a predator looking for dinner. Ouch!
Now, it is time to ask the question, did you really love him, or did you only love your idea of him?
No matter what the answer is to that question, the important thing to do now is to work on becoming healthy so you can detach from this person who is not worthy of you, and build a new life. Work to move away from the past, and being stuck in how you thought your life should look, and begin to live in the reality that is happening now. (See my blog on acceptance). Once you accept the painful reality that this person doesn’t love you, (and never did), you can begin to look toward the future, instead of focusing on the past. As Leslie so aptly puts it:
When you keep looking backward, grieving, clinging, and hoping for someone to love you again, you are wasting precious energy on a fantasy that isn’t going to happen.
So, HOW do you stop having these feelings toward this person? Substitute the time and energy you used to give him with time and energy spent with something else. No, I absolutely DO NOT recommend you go out and find a new love interest! That is probably the worst thing you could possibly do. If you do that, the chance of ending up with someone even worse is very high. No, now is the time to expand your life, and meet friends, not new lovers. Here are some ideas:
- Join a domestic violence support group
- Join a bible study
- Begin an exercise regimen with others
- Enter into counseling
- Find a mentor
- Start going to church
- Volunteer for an organization you believe in.
Now is the time to heal your life. I invite you to check out my book, A Journey to Healing After Emotional Abuse. In that book, I take readers through the many steps needed to fully heal – emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically from an abusive relationship.
Remember, you may feel let down and/or abandoned by the one you thought you loved, but God is faithful. Hebrews 13:5 says:
God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
This is a promise you can hold onto.
Question: Have you ever experienced loving feelings for someone you has abused or abandoned you? What did you do/are you doing to move past those feelings?
Lord, I pray anyone who is currently in this situation will cling to you, and will feel the infinite love you have for your children. Lead them to the people and things that will help them heal. Give them patience to do the hard things needed for healing, and not run to the next love interest. Thank you Lord, Amen
* Note: I have lost the link of Leslie’s specific blog this was taken from. I would be happy to link to it, if you know where it came from.
** Abusers and their partners can be male or female. In this blog, I use “he” for the abuser and “she” for his partner.