Ever since I was a teenager I would dream about meeting my 'Prince Charming'. You know the cute boy next door that was depicted on every stereotypical boy meets girl/Disney movie growing up. The movies would depict this perfect love where everyone lived happily ever after. Now this was never my experience in relationships and when I was in the midst of a really toxic relationship in my mid twenties I just couldn't understand why I wasn't experiencing this type of love. I'd only ever been sold this idea of 'perfect love' that I didn't understand that it wasn't real. Not only that but our society perpetuates this idea that we need to seek love outside of ourselves that it made me feel that I wasn't good enough just as I was. Now I'm not saying there healthy reciprocal love doesn't exist, but what I am saying is that it is never 'perfect'. My mind was clouded with this notion of perfect love that I didn't actually understand what was toxic and dysfunctional love.
Understanding signs of toxic love, codependency and the cycle of emotional abuse is absolutely critical for everyone. It really is a huge topic that should be taught at school. Most of us who have experienced emotional abuse did not know that that was what we were experiencing for so long. For most it takes years to figure out, to question what is happening and to have enough mental clarity to actually leave. There are two main reasons why I believe many people don’t leave much earlier into the relationship. One is that they don’t recognise the signs of emotional abuse and two they don’t know that we actually get chemically (physiologically) hooked to the behaviour of an emotionally abusive person. This is called a 'love addiction' and it is very real. I have experienced it I have had over 40 women who I have coached and mentored through emotional abuse in the past 12 months.
Once we are educated on the cycle of emotional abuse it makes it easier to see the situation from an outsider’s perspective, as it really is occurring. We are also caught in the drama that the narcissist has created to keep us hooked rather than seeing their behaviour for what it really is – highly abusive, and so labelling what is happening as per the cycle of abuse makes it so much easier to put into perspective.
Most of my clients say that they realised that they had to get out of their emotionally abusive relationship when things got physically violent but many of them experienced years and years of emotional abuse. We need to understand that most abuse starts small, is hard to spot and is emotional abuse rather than physical at the beginning. And for many it may never be physical abuse, and so it is important to recognise that neither forms of abuse are acceptable.
I truly believe that once we understand these indicators and the cycle of emotional abuse we are able to understand what is happening to us on an intellectual level, therefore giving us an opportunity to make an informed choice to leave the relationship before we may be ready to leave on an emotional level. When looking at leaving an emotionally abusive relationship we almost have to put our emotions to the side, get out of the toxic situation, create physical and emotional safety and then deal with the aftermath of the abuse.
THE CYCLE OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
The cycle of emotional abuse is a three way cycle of Idolise, Devalue and Discard.
This is the first phase of the cycle and is typically known as the ‘Love bombing’ or ‘honey moon phase’. This is the stage in the cycle where the narcissist is working to gain your trust and get you hooked by telling you what you want to hear by charming you. This is also the inquiry stage when the narcissist will be trying to find out what your strengths, weaknesses and potential reasons or insecurities that will keep you hooked when you realise who they truly are and eventually try to leave the relationship. During this phase the narcissist/abusive person will appear to be really attentive, asking you lots of questioning and appearing to be really interested in everything about you. And this is where we can uncover one of the first red flags. While they appear to be so interested in us they are only doing so to find out ways in which they can later abuse and hold things against us, making it more difficult for us to leave them.
This phase of the cycle:
· Is not sustainable in any shape of form
· Is intoxicating and provides highs that are immense
· Usually involves gifts, trips, special thoughtful acts , intense sex and a lot of talk about the future together with the notion that you have “known each other forever”
This is the tension building phase of the cycle. Cracks in the relationship start to appear and you realise that there are massive issues in the relationship when it comes to the other person’s behaviour. You’re realising their words and actions aren’t matching up and you call them out on their behaviour. The more you criticise/demand respect and try and enforce boundaries (mostly through words not actions) the more painful it is for the narcissist. They will constantly be on the attack and devalue you (call you names, lie, manipulate etc.)
This phase of the cycle:
· The abusive person will have no concern for your emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. You will feel like an inconvenience to the abuser
· They will make themselves unavailable in times of sickness or need
· They will say one thing, yet do another – their actions are not matching their words and the person that you thought they were is now almost unrecognisable
In this last phase of the cycle the abuser will have a tendency to either block you or ignore you. When you pull them up for their behaviour they call you crazy. They tell you that you are imagining things and eventually they will break up with you for a period of time – then they get you hooked in again and then the whole cycle starts again.
This phase of the cycle:
· The narcissist discards you when you are not longer useful to them. Their fascination with you may have run out or you have stood up to them too many times where they feel they are no longer powerful and in control
· Unfortunately there was only one reason why you were in the narcissist’s life and that was to provide love and attention which is what was needed for the narcissist to self regulate they highly fragile false self
Remember love isn’t meant to hurt!
Healthy love with oneself and another is reciprocal, where both individuals take full responsibility for their behaviour and do their part to make the relationship a thriving and happy one.
What Should I Do If I Think I Am Experiencing Emotional Abuse?
If you feel you could be experiencing a toxic or emotionally abusive relationship the first and best thing to do is to keep track of certain situations or problems that are coming up for you in your relationship and then see where they fit in the cycle of emotional abuse. Once you start to track what is happening in your own experience it will be much easier to assess the situation and gain some perspective of your experiences. From there you might like to go along to a support group or counsellor/psychologist in your local area and get further education and support from someone who is trained and knowledgeable in this area.
If you are in Perth then please click here to join the support a group for women. The group is very supportive, encouraging and will help you get the education to help you make informed decisions around your current situation.
If you would like to chat further about your situation or how I may be able to help please reach out via email, I would love to support you!