“People, like all forms of life, only change when something so disturbs them that they are forced to let go of their present beliefs. Nothing changes until we interpret things differently. Change occurs only when we let go of our certainty.” ~Dee Hock
Rigorous honesty is the first rule of recovery. Nothing happens until the truth is laid on the table. Well, that ends a lot of recoveries right there—the inability, or even refusal, to be honest, especially with yourself.
Telling yourself the truth means several difficult things:
1. It means you stop covering for him—stop making excuses for his behavior, quietly and secretly looking for loopholes he just might fit into (“he doesn’t met ALL the criteria for pathology, only 10 out of 12. Psychology could be wrong in his case”).
Instead of looking with the eyes of safety and seeing how many ways he DOES fit in, you scour every square inch of your memory and his behavior looking for ONE redeeming trait that is supposed to wipe out the 25 absolutely pathological things he does. You aren’t telling yourself the truth about him and his pathology or your own loophole hunt and what your real motives are—to find a reason to stay.
2. It means telling yourself the truth about how you need to take responsibility for your choices and your recovery.
Telling yourself the truth about your own choices means you are willing to really dig in and look at where your choices in relationships have their origins. You can’t change what you don’t see. While you are not responsible for the abuse you incurred, you are responsible for your own recovery and the safety of you (and your children). This can only occur when you begin telling yourself the truth about the level of danger you are in and the level of damage you (and your children) have already sustained. Taking responsibility for your recovery means that you both acknowledge the victimization AND seek to thrive beyond the mere title of ‘victim.’ We see so many women do part one: acknowledge the victimhood, but then don’t do part two. They camp out in the victimhood and, 10 years later, they are still in the same spot as they were before.
Recovery means movement and progress. We have to tell ourselves the truth
about our own recovery—we have to kick our own butts if we stagnate or stop growing. Some women find their identities in their victimization because of the severe abuse and loss of self-esteem. Years later, some women have never done anything for their own recovery. They read one book, saw themselves in it, recognized their victimhood, closed the book, squatted—and stayed there. You already lived THAT—real life is out there on the other side of recovery (even IN recovery). Tell yourself the truth about how invested you are in your recovery or what you need to really do in order to recover. If you’re afraid of success—acknowledge that.
3. It means taking responsibility for relapses.
Sometimes women secretly want to relapse. Have you had that feeling? They just want to go back to what feels normal—which is often dysfunction. It is human nature to want what is comfortable even when it’s painful. That makes recovery all the more difficult because when you are tired, lonely, and sick of the pain you are in, it would be great to believe the fantasy again—wouldn’t it? Just ONE night where he pretends it’s gonna be good again (and even though you know it’s not true, and for that night you don’t really even care if he’s lying), and both of you know how to fake it to ward off the pain and loneliness. So there’s that night of passion that has been fueled by fear and abandonment, but the next day when everyone is past the fantasy, it all starts again. Then you think: since you gave in, and you really don’t have what it takes to end this and leave anyway—you sigh and resign yourself to just living in hell.
Telling yourself the truth is pointing to the ways you sabotage yourself. When you are tired, lonely and sick of pain and you feel the old feelings of relapse sneaking in and your head is wanting the fantasy back—you don’t pick up the phone and call someone who can remind you what reality is. You don’t plan something for that evening that will help you get through that night without sabotaging yourself. The video is replaying all the fragments that only show the ‘good parts’ of the relationship. It’s warm and cozy. You pick up the phone and call him, or you answer when he calls. Telling yourself the truth is about how long you had planned to self-sabotage.
Those are 3 REALLY HARD THINGS to hear. But they are at the crux of recovery. Trauma, fear, and abandonment actually INCREASE people’s feeling of attachment. The more you have been hurt by him, the more intensely attached you will be. Those trauma bonds are hard to break and even harder to live with. Women say they want MOST to be out of pain, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts about the relationship (good and bad) but they sabotage themselves—by not protecting themselves with a No Contact strategy, by not managing their anxiety, by not developing a support system, by not planning ahead for sabotaging thoughts, etc.
Recovery is a life change. It’s not a quick fix to get out of pain like Ativan or Xanax. Women who take a whopping 6 weeks or a few months off from dating and jump right back in are shocked to find themselves back in the same thing again—but it’s usually with someone even WORSE than the last one. The most common factor is each man is more dangerous than the one before. That’s because women think time heals wounds and if it’s been a few months, SURELY it’s time to date again. Recovery heals wounds. Sitting out for 5 years and doing nothing about gathering insight about your weaknesses, relationship patterns, and problems will not magically make you ready for a relationship because you waited 5 years.
Time is time. It just passes. You have to change your life in order to change your choices. Recovery, or changing your life, is a new way of seeing yourself, your previous relationships, your past, your choices, your coping skills and—most importantly—a future filled with different choices and healthier relationships.
I KNOW you ladies are up to the challenge. In the 25+ years that I have been doing this and kicking butts (referred to as Sandra’s Bootcamp!), I am always AMAZED at the quiet strength that grows in women as they take the chance to detach, be alone, and heal. It’s your strength that has kept me doing this for so many years in the face of great odds (and often danger) to myself. But ALL of you are worth it!
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and for The Institute, Pathology Awareness Month!), so I am starting the kickoff with this article on “Telling Yourself The Truth.” If we can help you dig down into the truth for you and help you start your recovery, just let us know! We make it easy—phone sessions in the privacy of your own home and in the comfort of your fuzzy slippers! Or gather over coffee in one of our support group and meet other ladies going through it too. Or jump on a plane or get in your car and go to the beautiful Carolinas, and begin your healing journey directly with Sandra. Whatever you do… tell yourself the truth so your recovery can start!
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)