Dealing with Conflict in an abusive relationship. The Good News and the Bad.
Here is the good news. Anybody can be trapped in an abusive relationship. It’s not about being stupid, naïve or inexperienced. More importantly, you can choose to leave it, no matter how improbable that seems to you right now.
The likelihood is, you’re being or have been abused by somebody when you were going through a difficult time of life. We are all vulnerable to different degrees at different times of our lives. That vulnerability made you particularly attractive to the abuser. Narcissists love vulnerable people because they represent potential victims to be controlled and manipulated.
We all want love and emotional connection, especially when we feel low or our self-esteem has taken a blow. The bad news is that narcissistic and abusive partners know how to exploit emotions and to pretend to be the partner you’ve always dreamed of at least until you fall under their spell. It’s after that point when conflict can become overwhelming, confusing and you may not know which way to turn.
Let’s not forget that abuse can also occur between friends, colleagues or business partners and is not exclusive to one gender or age group. The point of abuse is that it tramples over boundaries and crosses lines in ways that do not demonstrate respect, love, kindness or trust. These values are extremely important in allowing human relationships to flourish.
What is an abusive relationship?
We’re not always aware when a relationship is abusive as physical violence is not always a feature. Here are some of the common signs that you’re in an abusive relationship:
- Being “love-bombed”. Your partner couldn’t leave you alone at the start of your relationship. In the early days, they’d send you affectionate texts, send you gifts and generally put you on a pedestal. It used to make you feel special because you hadn’t really felt like that in a long while, or ever. To have somebody tell you how different you were to all the others and to understand your needs and desires so perfectly, made you feel that you had found “the one”. It was intense and beautiful and your relationship became serious very quickly. At this stage, you thought it was sweet and adorable and exactly what you needed.
- Your partner started to become controlling. Once the relationship became more established, you started to feel smothered. Your partner wanted to know why you didn’t answer when they called, probably calling you non-stop to find out where you were or who you were with. They started to tell you what to do or try and influence your decisions, especially in relation to areas of importance; your children from another marriage for example, or your immediate family. They may have started to gaslight you by telling lies, denying that they had said or done something offensive . This can make you feel like you are going insane and imagining the abuse.
- Conflict became destructive and continuous. Your partner insults you, blames you and criticizes you when you don’t do what they want. When you show signs of independence or objection to this treatment, the response might be a tirade of offensive comments, public humiliation, physical or emotional withdrawal in the form of the silent treatment. Your partner might cry and scream or act in a physically intimidating way, they may undermine your hobbies, interests and opinions or speak offensively about people or things that are important to you. They can zone into areas of weakness with the sole intention of hurting you and this is very much reflected in their words and behaviours. At this point, you are emotionally exhausted, your self-confidence is low and you are confused.
- Following conflict, your partner might convince you that you’re at fault because you made them angry or you failed in some other way. They could promise never to act in the way they had done if they think you might leave. For a short while, you might be convinced of it until the roller coaster starts all over again.
There are so many forms of abuse but any relationship that makes you feel worthless, threatened, intimated, exhausted and anxious not to upset your partner, is likely to be abusive .
Dealing With Conflict In An Abusive Relationship
It’s easy for me to sit here and write a list of dos and don’ts about dealing with this context of conflict. I can imagine how disempowering it is when you feel intimidated or powerless. Feeling vulnerable and insecure can make you feel paralyzed. I caveat what I write below. Your safety is your prime concern. If you feel trapped and need help to leave your environment, follow this link for more information.
There is only one way to deal with this kind of conflict. Leave. End the relationship. Cast yourself free from them. I know this is not easy for many people but it is possible. Know that you are not at fault and a relationship with an abusive partner will only lead to more misery and feelings of worthlessness. In that place, you can’t love anyone properly, much less yourself.
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