Why is Moving on From an Abusive Relationship so Hard?
If you have been in an abusive relationship you know moving on from this relationship takes much longer than leaving a normal relationship. Even when you establish no contact, the obsession with the relationship and how it all took place remains. It is so hard for us to understand the mind of a pathological person because we do not live in the same reality as they do.
Abusive people do not view the world through a healthy lens. They see people as opportunities for a means to an end. In their reality, they need to get you before you can get them. For a healthy individual, it makes sense to try and work out differences to salvage a relationship we have so much invested in. We even move over in the grocery isle to coexist and be polite to strangers. The abuser does not see the world through the same lens. This is called projection. Projection is a defense mechanism at an unconscious level that applies an individual’s own thoughts and feelings on someone else. Let us examine this fable for more clarity on projection:
“A snake was hit by a car. A woman picks him up and feeds him and gets him to his full state of health. But then he bites her injecting her with his deadly venom. On her death bed, she asked “after all I did, why me? “The snake says you knew I was a snake and you picked me up.” Author Unknown
The woman in the story, after all she did for the snake, he still harmed her. She expected appreciation and gratitude because these are qualities, she possesses so she projected them on to the snake. It was hard for her to comprehend how he could let her down, but he is a snake.
We do the same in our relationship with other people. We project all our good qualities. We see our empathetic, compassionate, honest, and loyal self in them because that is who we are.
The end of an abusive relationship is so hard to comprehend because we cannot accept that after all we have invested and sacrificed means absolutely nothing to the abuser.
Abusive relationships usually go through a 3-stage cycle that involves love bombing, devaluing and discard. This cycle makes it hard to move on because we are conditioned through reward and punishment by the abuser to rely on this person for our inner peace and happiness. This is called trauma bonding.
Trauma bonding is created through conditioning that is reinforced by excitement before the trauma causing a chemical reaction in the brain much like addiction. For example, the abuser will convince you that they love you, they will adore you tell you that you are soulmates (love bombing), then suddenly you are quickly devalued and discarded in the most devastating way possible. Utter betrayal and confusion set in. “Yesterday he wanted to marry me and today he is gone or in love with another.” How does a healthy person make sense of this? Therefore, it is so hard to move on. Our minds are left in a state of cognitive dissonance.
The word cognitive means thinking, and dissonance is hold conflicting beliefs. Therefore cognitive dissonance is having conflicting ideas simultaneously. Because we are so traumatized, we do not want to believe the person we loved and adored could become so vicious without reason and so suddenly so we go into denial. Until we can work through the trauma, shock, and betrayal we cannot resolve the cognitive dissonance. We must accept the persons true self before we can move on.
“For those who have the ability to bond deeply, our brain does not let go of relationships very easily. Besides, endogenous opioids are driving feelings of pain and loss causing a desperate desire for relief. It is a battle going on in there! At times, these reactions within the brain can ignite us to pursue the person we lost”
According to Freeman (2017), the best approach to ease the pain is to do the “no contact” approach so that the attachment chemical in the brain are not activated by the abuser (especially to their good behavior). She also asserts that maintaining healthy social connections that are loving and supportive will allow the brains chemistry to return to normal.
Freeman, R. (2017, January 18). The Brain Can Work Against Abuse Victims. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neurosagacity/201701/the-brain-can-work-against-abuse-victims