Amanda de Cadenet on Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

I read a great article on the Huffington Post by Amanda de Cadenet, about why women stay in domestic abuse situations. While it may not be relevant to all of you, for those who are finding it hard to leave abusive therapists, the article might ring a few bells.

Domestic Abuse: Why Women Stay

Amanda de Cadenet
Creator, “The Conversation”

Posted: 08/23/2012 10:57 am

Rihanna’s latest interview with Oprah has brought the issue of abuse and the complex relationship women share with their abusers back into the forefront of conversation. Many women, including myself, understand the conflicting, sad feelings RiRi described. Wanting to be with someone who is clearly unhealthy for you — not wanting to let go — is often classified as “co-dependency” or “love addiction.” It’s like a drug, with potential loss of both mental and physical health, and can sometimes even be life threatening. All of the above have been true for me, so anyone who thinks a little dose of love addiction is some modern day jargon, I am here to tell you it is very real and has kicked my ass since I started having relationships as a teen.

The challenge with recovery from this affliction is that you can’t entirely cut people out like you can with other more tangible addictions like drugs, booze, pills, gambling, shopping, porn, etc. Learning how to have “healthy” attachments sounds easy, but in fact for someone like me who had damaged early relationships, it’s like learning to be fluent in Chinese. One of the harder points is being able to recognize what is healthy and what isn’t. For example, is it okay for your partner to raise their voice at you because you forgot to buy the coffee at the grocery store? No. That is NOT okay. No one should raise their voice or hand at you. Yet I have lived with both verbal and physical abuse in two long-term relationships and rationalized a way to stay.

You might not think I would be the “type” to tolerate abuse; I’m a smart woman with choices, a job and a life — but I lived with violent men and didn’t want to leave either of them. The first was when I was a just a teenager. One time he waited until I was in bed asleep and naked to start a drunken fight with me, which ended with him ripping the railings off the stairs and barricading me in the bedroom. With a swollen eye and a beaten body, my only escape was to go out the first floor window and hide in the trash can until my friend came to rescue me, totally naked in the cold of the English winter. Guess what? I didn’t leave. I went back because he told me he loved me and I believed him, and if that isn’t love addiction, I don’t know what is. That relationship finally ended when he punched me in the face and I defended myself by returning the punch. For a second I felt bad, ashamed even. Who had I become? Not someone I wanted to be, but certainly someone who knew I deserved more. Even though I never went back to that guy, the fact that it took me so long to leave meant I was not the healthy teenager I should be.

Eight years later I fell in love with a man who appeared to be nothing like the angry boyfriend from my teen years (who, for the record, has only dated men since me). Be warned, a wolf in sheep’s clothing can be very desirable, especially one who is famous, who meditates, who is ridiculously handsome and older than you. But no, a love addict will always pick the one person in the room who is unavailable in some way and is going to trigger all the chaos inside herself.

This one took me three years to leave. There were police visits, bruises being covered and too many nights spent sleeping on couches after fleeing abuse late at night. Why would I stay in such damaging relationships? I stayed because I didn’t think I was lovable. I believed I didn’t deserve better, that no one would love me again. I truly believed I’d be alone my whole life if I let go of this great guy. My friends eventually despaired of me, of course. How many times could they encourage me to care about myself? The truth is, there is no one who can give you that self love. It doesn’t matter how many people adore you, or how skinny, successful, smart, talented, funny, kind, or compassionate you are. None of it matters if YOU don’t see your wonderful self.

I had lived with abuse for many years but the worst abuse has been at my own hands and the appalling situations I have tolerated. It has been no easy road to recovery for me. I believe I was a codependent out of the womb and have been struggling to free myself from its vice-like grip for many, many years. The comforting part is that many of my close friends have had versions of the same challenge. It’s not a sexy issue, so most people don’t exactly go about broadcasting it, but I would say it’s as common as alcoholism and often hides behind other addictions so it can be harder to spot. There are a few books I read that woke me up at the right time — books that described in detail the symptoms I had. I was greatly relieved to know my absurd thinking and behavior had a name, but I was equally terrified because now I would have to confront it.

I am mother to three kids — two of which are daughters — and I knew I was role modeling a broken and dysfunctional way to love. I knew even if I could not heal for me, I had to heal for them. The first step to change is to acknowledge the problem. I was addicted to my partners, the same way an addict is to their drug of choice. I began to understand the “why” by reading every book I could find on love addicts. I found a therapist who challenged me, and I went to anonymous meetings daily. For the first time in my life, the focus began to be lifted from the abusers and onto the only place I have any control: MY life.

This freedom has allowed me to be a more present mother, friend and wife. It’s given me the time to dream up a successful career, publish a book, create a television show for women and a website for us to talk about these issues. But, most importantly, I spend less time in that awful obsessive place than ever before.

Amanda x

Suggested reading:
1. All Al-Anon literature
2. Facing Love Addiction – Pia Mellody
3. Women, Sex, and Addiction – Charlotte Kasl
4. The Language of Letting Go – Melody Beattie
5. Addiction to Love – Susan Peabody
6. The Verbally Abusive Relationship – Patricia Evans

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

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  1. Thanks for posting this article. It is so true that an abusive relationship is extremely complex.

    However, research coming out of Wellsely frames these relationships differently. For example, “co-dependency” or “love addiction” could be constructs of upper-classed white men used to pathologize the behavior of those less powerful and to legitimize victim blaming.

    It is true, an abused man or woman may stay in an unhealthy relationship because s/he does not realize her or his worth or is conditioned to accept such behavior. But, it could also be because the abused has the capacity to love, to possess the imagination to hope, to see the good in another, to sense potential.

    Sadly, it seems we live in a society that tolerates and perpetuates power-based violence. Men and women stay in unhealthy relationships for a variety of reasons. I know that it was not the author’s intent to blame the victims of such violence, but I wonder when we will focus more attention analyzing the abusers problems, motives and actions than we do the abused.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree, there are many reasons people stay in unhealthy relationships. But I do think that for those of us who have a history of getting into them (and difficulty getting out of them), it’s for reasons that have a lot to do with what we’ve been brought up to expect or believe we deserve. My personal perspective is that the author was speaking from her own experience. I think that one of the ways a victim becomes a survivor is through the ability to reflect on one’s own experience, acknowledge one’s vulnerabilities, take ownership of one’s actions–without self-judgment or condemnation–and then grow. I don’t see that as blaming the victim so much as a survivor’s recognition of the patterns that may have contributed to their vulnerability. In fact, when a victim is unable to do that, they may stay in a disempowered victim mindset indefinitely. I am not talking about self-blame, I am talking about becoming more conscious of one’s patterns so that one can make more conscious choices instead of feeling helpless and reactive. (I sincerely doubt that many perpetrators of relational violence have the ability or willingness to engage in such self-reflection, much less seek professional help; plus, many are narcissistic enough to see themselves as victims of the abused, as if they were entitled to “defend” themselves!)

      That being said, it is possible to take on too much responsibility. We don’t want to make ourselves responsible for others’ poor choices or violent actions. And I agree that society tolerates a lot of misogyny and power-based violence and tends to put victims at fault. I think that we’re so afraid of seeming weak, and want so badly to avoid feeling helpless, that we want to believe that victims somehow brought on their own suffering. If we could figure out what they “did wrong” and then avoid doing that, then maybe we can avoid their fate. We see this attitude toward everyone from rape victims to cancer patients. No one wants to become a victim, so we make them the bad guys. It’s a way to generate a (false) sense of power, security and control–a way of dealing with fear. Sadly, it’s no wonder that victims of all kinds find themselves re-victimized by society. We have a long way to go…

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