Will it ever stop following me?
Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy. It’s even worse when you still love the person.
When you’ve shared time, shared vows, shared a home, shared children, shared dreams for the future, making the decision to walk away because you know the relationship isn’t healthy and they will eventually kill you, is heartbreaking.
When you have children, you can’t implement ‘no contact’ against the narcissist. They remain in your life with every handover, every parenting issue that needs to be discussed, every parents evening and sports day. The very person you’re trying to get away from sinks their claws back into you with every contact that you have.
They know their smile can still light up your heart, so they smile at you a lot. They remind you of the good times. They make you feel like they’re the only one who understands you; the only one who can make it all better again. They’re an oasis in the desert; the only thing that makes sense in a topsy-turvy world.
And then they pull the rug from under your feet. They turn on a dime, and suddenly they’re nasty again, they’re manipulating you again, they’re thrashing about in a rage because you’re not doing as you’re told. They remind you of the bad times, and you feel like a fool for getting sucked back in; a mug for being able to love someone who treats you so badly.
A week of cold shoulders and ghosting, and then they’re nice again. Smiles; laughter; compliments, as though the nastiness didn’t even happen. You think, did I exaggerate things? Was it really not that bad? Are they gaslighting me? I can’t even tell anymore.
And that’s the problem with running away from your abusive ex. You think you’re putting distance between you; you think you’re imposing boundaries; but they still have access to your heart and they still have control over your reactions. When they’re happy, you’re happy; when they’re angry, you’re scared; when they’re aggressive, you’re defensive. You are still locked into pattern where they are the most important person in your life.
Running away isn’t the healthiest or happiest of strategies. You spend your life looking over your shoulder, glancing behind you at what once was, the person you used to be and the relationship you used to have. Running away means that you’re being chased: it makes you a refugee in your own life, a slave to your suffering, and always at risk of being pulled back in.
There is another way. It’s not turning round to confront the person pursuing you, because that isn’t going to work: it’s running towards something even as you’re running away from something else.
Set your own goals. Dream new dreams. Learn a new skill. Join a new club. Make a new friend. Start a new career. Find something to run towards so you can focus on what’s in front of you, and not what’s behind. If the best revenge is living your best life, then go and live your best life. You can’t look to the future when you’re still trapped in the past.
But a word of warning: be sure that what you’re running towards is worth it. I understand when people say that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone; that a new relationship is the best way to put an old relationship in the past. I get it: it feels so good. The excitement over the new person, the butterflies, the first date, first kiss, the handholding, the sex – it’s a heady mix that helps you feel in control of your life and forget the person you’re running from.
But make sure you’re not bringing the problems of the past relationship into the new one. Make sure the new relationship is something you’re running towards, and it isn’t just a means of running away from the old. Take things slow, be cautious, don’t commit yourself too deep, and most importantly, don’t ignore the red flags and warning signs that you overlooked in your previous relationship, simply because running towards something seems so much better than running away.
Otherwise, you might just exchange one abusive relationship for another.