I came across someone on Twitter who is doing some research on narcissistic abuse and struggling with understanding why victims of narcissistic abuse stay in the abusive relationships. I reached out and recommended that they read the #whyIstayed hashtag where victims in all types of abusive relationships summarize the reasons why they stayed… and I also recommended that they read this blog. The researcher reached out to me still having a lot of confusion on the topic and asked me outright… why did it take 8 years for you to leave?!?
It’s actually a little surprising to me how complex this question is to answer, and I think that reflects the complexity within an abusive relationship. There are so many layers to why I stayed, and that is because there are so many layers to the manipulation and abuse that I withstood at the hands of The Narcissist.
So, in an attempt to summarize and make sense of a very complex thing… here are the high level reasons why I stayed:
- It’s My Fault: I absolutely believed that the problems we were experiencing in our marriage were my fault. Years of The Narcissist’s subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging about how everything wrong somehow came back to me had set in. I internalized those things. I really believed that if I tried harder, gave more, did the things the he asked of me, stopped feeling angry, etc. etc. things would get better. It became a constant and relentless carrot dangled in front of my face were it seemed like every day I woke up a la Groundhog Day and tried a different method to get a different outcome. Even at the very end of my journey with The Narcissist, I showed up at my therapists office looking for her to help “fix me.” I asked for help saving my marriage, I asked for help dealing with my depression, I asked for help fixing my “anger issues.” I did not show up saying “Help me I am in abusive relationship” and I think this speaks volumes to how brainwashed I was.
- I don’t really know what’s wrong here: With narcissistic abuse, defining exactly what is happening to you is such a huge part of the problem. When a partner is physically abusive it is easier to define that something wrong is being done to you. If you say out loud to another person, “My husband is hitting me” they are going to react in some way shape or form with “that is wrong!” However, when the abuse is emotional, spiritual, psychological, financial, sexual… it can be much harder to define and even harder to explain to other people. I did not even have the vocabulary to talk about these things until I started learning about emotional abuse and narcissistic personality disorder. When I did learn about these things I started being able to talk to my therapist about them and that began my journey to leaving.
- I think I’m the crazy one: The Narcissist was gaslighting me hard core. I reached a point of depression that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I had anxiety over completing the most mundane tasks. I was struggling with intense anger and coping with my emotions. I literally thought that I was wrong. I thought that I was confused. I believed The Narcissist when he told me that he loved me, when he told me that I was not seeing things clearly due to my depression, anxiety, etc.
- I’ll never find anyone else like him: The Narcissist really had me believing his narcissistic beliefs that he was special, he was unique, he was chosen by God, he was my soulmate, he was unlike any other man on the planet. When you are brainwashed and condition to believe that you have won the lottery with your man… it is scary to think about losing that… no matter how much crap you are dealing with. You start to justify the crap and rationalize that something this good requires extra work, extra effort. You believe that you don’t deserve him. You are slightly horrified of the idea of even considering another person to fill his shoes.
- I have no one: In order to keep The Narcissist happy over the years I literally cut off ties with pretty much everyone I loved. The few people that I still had relationships with… were distant and strained and blurred with my facade of having a perfect life. It is scary to leave an abusive situation for a number of a reasons, and believing that you have no support system in place makes it even scarier. An abuser isolates victims exactly for this reason – you are less likely to leave if you feel like you have no one to turn to for support. Keeping other people out of your life also keeps different perspectives out of your life. You hear everything filtered through The Narcissist and you have no one else to help you see that maybe, just maybe he is flipping crazy.
- I don’t deserve to be happy: My self esteem was at an all time low throughout my entire marriage to The Narcissist. I believed myself to be fat, ugly, old, and so very imperfect. I could barely hold eye contact with people in conversation. I felt like I was stupid, I didn’t think things through, I couldn’t handle stress and I couldn’t trust myself to make decisions. I literally reached a point were I believed that I deserved the treatment that I was receiving from the Narcissist… I believed that that was as happy as I would ever be.
- I’m ashamed: One of the tweets I have personally shared is: “#whyIstayed I was ashamed that such a smart girl ended up with an abusive man.” When I started to come out of the fog and realize what was really going on in my relationship, I was very ashamed. I was ashamed of my decision making. I was ashamed of the things I did out of love for The Narcissist. I was ashamed of the crazy things I said and did to my loved ones in an effort to prove that The Narcissist was right, that our marriage was okay, that I was okay. I felt like an idiot for not believing the people who concerned about me. I felt stupid for believing that things would change. I felt like I wasted so much time and energy and love and money. It’s not always an easy thing to admit that you’ve been wrong, and this one felt overwhelming.
I hope this is helpful to anyone out there struggling with understanding why someone would stay in abusive relationship. Its complicated, its messy, and unfortunately it is one of those things that unless you have experienced it on some level… it is really difficult to grasp.
For me I finally reached my breaking point at 8 years. I was so depressed I was barely functioning, we just had a miserable holiday were I wasn’t allowed to see my family and for whatever reason I had had enough. I made a decision that I was going to get help and seek a therapist who could help me “fix this marriage once and for all.” I really didn’t think at the time that that path would lead me to a divorce, but that is exactly what happened. The more that I said the things that I was experiencing out loud to my therapist the more I realized what the real problems were, and the easier it became to decide to leave.