I’m asked many times how a person can get through the process of picking up the pieces and overcome the scars of an abusive or manipulative relationship once they’ve finally found the courage to end it. In fact, I’ve been asked several times to consider writing another book, on that topic alone. It seems that dysfunctional relationship survivors often experience some unique kinds of emotional and mental turmoil. And although I’ve written about the fundamental ways these individuals can empower themselves (see: Moving On After a Toxic Relationship) and start over, I haven’t written very much on the kinds of things they typically experience as they’re trying to heal their wounds and put their lives back together.
Many folks have told me about how hard it was for them to stop blaming themselves and engaging in a lot of self-doubt and reproach. “How could I have been so blind…. or so stupid?,” they ask themselves. It’s difficult for them to reconcile the way they saw things in the days before their toxic relationship and the way they have come to view things since their painful experience. They sometimes question their rationality as well as their sanity. But the truth of the matter is that while they might indeed have had some personality characteristics of their own that made them particularly naive and vulnerable (most of us do), the fact is that covert-aggressors are generally quite skilled at what they do, and the more seriously character disturbed social predators among us (i.e. the psychopaths/sociopaths) are extremely astute and talented when it comes to the “art of the con.” And in their very nature, manipulation tactics are often hard to see until after the fact. Besides, it’s relatively pointless to play the self-blame game. Lovingly reckoning with your vulnerabilities and vowing to become a stronger, better person in the aftermath of a troubled relationship is one thing, but doing an emotional hatchet-job on yourself just because you happened to fall prey to a good con artist is quite another. And after years of being manipulated it’s easy to get into the habit of doubting yourself. This can be an even bigger problem if you tried couples’ counseling at some point and the disturbed character in your relationship managed to con the therapist as well. Still, as hard as it might be, the one of the most important tasks for any “recovering” person has before them is to end the destructive cycle of self-doubt and blame.
Some folks have a lot of anger to deal with after their abusive relationship is finally over. They can harbor resentment that their former abuser seemed to “get away with” being such a cad while they (and perhaps their children as well) had to pay all the prices involved. To make matters worse, some possessive controllers do their best to make the ordeal of separation or divorce a living hell on those who have finally had enough and found the courage to walk away. And the collateral damage that can be done to otherwise healthy relationships with others who might possibly have been sources of support can also make a survivor angry, bitter, and resentful.
For the reasons mentioned above as well as some very important others, especially for purposes of healthy information-sharing, I’d like to invite the readers who can identify with these issues to comment on the various things they might have gone through when ending a relationship with a manipulator or other character-disturbed person and trying to start a new life. And I’ll be having some more to say on this topic in the coming weeks.