Relationships are complicated, love is complex, and people are unstable. This is no news for anyone who has ever had a go at getting romantically involved with someone.
I’d always heard stories about toxic relationships. So many tales of passionate, insatiable, intense, heartbreaking affairs, and infallibly, the first thought that came to my used to be “why does this person keep holding on to this (clearly) damaging situation?” I must confess a part of me judged. How someone could withstand so much heartache and pain and still be willing to keep trying with the same person over and over again?
The past year I came to learn that everything I thought I knew, everything I judged, everything I condoned was completely misguided by the external perspective of what it is to be in a situation like that.
I´ll be brief with my story, because I really want to dig deeper into the misunderstood dimension, the aftermath and the confusing healing process of these experiences.
I fell in love with a narcissist whom I worked with. We had known each other for about a year and he took some special interest in me, so I went along with it and fell deeply into his game. It was perfect, until it wasn’t. It was all real, until he made me question it. It was all passion and love, until he broke my heart time and time again.
We used to fight all the time for things he used to do, but they were always my fault. I would pull away, he would reel me back in. Every time I confronted him, he would make me doubt myself. He was never responsible, he was never at fault. I was crazy. I was insecure. I was needy. I was unfair. I was problematic. I was unstable. I was imagining things.
And we broke up, and we got back together. And then we broke up again. And then he started seeing other people. But he wanted to be friends. But he got jealous if I dated. And we were still working together. And then he began dating another coworker. But he would still come over. He would still write me. And call me.
And he would still continue to haunt me.
Needless to say, this is the very abridged version of a very long story. A story full of loops, of ups and downs, of love and confusion and jealousy and yelling and everything else typical of the relationships previously brought to subject.
Needless to say, I never thought this would be the very abridged version of a story I was telling.
Honestly, it’s so hard to understand what people in these relationships go through. It’s easy to judge and to give advice, but it wasn’t until I went through what I went through — waking up every morning with a heavy soul, drinking every day, failing all my classes, underperforming at work, losing sixteen pounds and giving up my ability to trust my own decisions — that I really understood it.
These relationships take everything you have with them, and it is because nothing else matters to you. You take any crumbs you can get from their mediocre love, their mediocre support. Even if you are miserable, even if you know things are messed up, you can not for the life of god give up on them. You want their validation, you want them to understand you so bad that you stay because a part of you thinks if they see you, but really see you, they will revert to the person they pretended to be at the beginning. There’s so little of you left by that point that you’ve lost your ability to tell right from wrong. It feels like you are stumbling through life with only one thing on your mind: them. Their next move. Their next play.
On the outside it looks like the person chasing the abusive individual is just stubborn or terrified of being alone. They are not. These people tear your self-esteem and confidence apart. They choke you with twisted realities and make you doubt yourself. They are so unpredictable that you feel (as many psychological abuse books and forums say) like you’re “walking on eggshells.” The fact is, people stay in these relationships because all the things that appear (and are) wrong to the outsider don’t feel this way to the insider. The insider believes they are at fault for everything going on in the relationship and that the abuser is completely justified for their actions.
If you have a friend who is going through this, know that no advice will get through to them. They will listen, they will know you are right, but because they now doubt everything they feel or think, they will not be able to give up on their toxic significant other. Be there for them and offer support — they will eventually hit rock bottom like me and many, many others before us.
If you are going through this, I know some of these things will make sense to you, but you will immediately doubt what you’re thinking. I know you feel broken and don’t understand why. It’s okay, because eventually you will. One day, something they do will be painful enough or violent enough that you will decide to step out of the dynamic. It will be one of the hardest things you do, but it will give you so much strength.
My breaking point wasn’t a violent situation, it was just an unbearable one.
After my ex started dating our co-worker, he was still insistent about having a friendship with me. He still called me and went to my house, treated me the same way as when we were dating. Of course, when I confronted him he said I misinterpreted the signs. That he loved me but that he knew we would never work out. That he had to move on but he really wanted me in his life. I took this as such an insult.
Eventually, it became way too painful to see him in another relationship because he was still playing with me. I reached my breaking point after I had to spend an entire weekend locked up in a hotel with the happy couple. That was it for me — I understood I had to let him go. Once I decided to step out, I realized the absolute mess my life was. The past eight months I had dedicated myself to our toxic dynamic, I didn’t eat, I had failed all my classes at college, I had friends who backed down because they couldn’t stand to see me clinging so hard to him, I was sleeping around irresponsibly, my reputation was destroyed, my work performance was exceedingly low and I had isolated myself from my family. I believe that was the real breaking point — the realization of how I had neglected all aspects of my life and my health.
The hardest part was to rebuild myself and my life after our relationship wreaked havoc on it. I don’t blame him for all of it, of course. I’m aware of my mistakes and of how much I allowed him and myself to destroy my life. When you reach this moment, you will need to be very strong and firm with yourself. If you want yourself back, you will be required to do a great deal of emotional work.
Six months have passed since the moment I decided to piece my life back together, and even though I’m still healing, I can finally see the light at the end of this very dark and frankly labyrinth-like tunnel.
Healing is a lonely process, because very few people will understand what you’ve been through, but it is also a pretty exciting one. This is the chance to have a clean slate with yourself, to hold onto something that depends entirely on you. My focus now is on nurturing the positive aspects of my life, being smart with my dating choices and friendships and working on my attributes that might attract someone like my ex again.
Many times, I found myself resenting him, myself and that period of my life. Many times, I felt despair because I didn’t see myself trusting anyone again.
My best advice to you is to be patient with yourself. Turn your pain into a challenge. Turn your recovery into a self-improvement project.
Heal, but never forget what you went through. This experience should serve as a reminder of what you never want to become again, of what you never want to allow yourself to do.
If you are still there, I hope you awaken soon enough so you can begin healing.
And remember, you are stronger than you think you are.