Have you ever been hurt by people you love? Have you been forgiving of hurtful things done to you or words that have been said by someone with whom you have a trusting relationship? When someone you love hurts you, whether it is a friend, a close family member or an intimate partner, do you have the thought that maybe you’re being mistreated? Have you ever wondered if you should say no to this behavior and walk away? At what point does your love and forgiveness become a weakness?
When I think of this subject, I remember the stories of battered women who keep returning to their abusive husbands over and over again. They are beaten senseless, meanwhile the guy apologizes and cries for forgiveness only to turn around and do it again, over and over until, in some cases, he finally kills her.
This may be an extreme example of how love can become a weakness, but the truth is that love may be a weakness much more often than we realize. We don’t have to suffer physical violence to be in a relationship with an abusive person. A person may be abusive in many more ways that are much more subtle and harder to detect and accept. One of the worst things a person who claims to love another can do is to undermine their feelings about themselves and to make them feel like they are the problem. Abusive people can be clever in their own manipulative way, although they aren’t creative as much as they are just skilled at manipulating the people around them.
The word “love” is used to mean many things. The most fundamental meaning of “love” is unconditional love and unconditional acceptance of others as they are or as they want to be. This does not mean accepting abuse from them, which shows a lack of self-love in the form of a lack of protective boundaries. But this fundamental kind of love could mean accepting within yourself the reality that they are being abusive, as a first step towards doing the most loving thing for all parties which could be to put some protective space between yourself and the abuser. Yet many people use the word “love” to mean accepting anything from others, including boundary violations and abuse. When I say “love can be a weakness”, I am referring to this common idea of “love” meaning that you allow the other person whatever they want to you.
If you have relationships in which any of the things listed below are happening, you may be in a toxic situation that is offering you a chance to turn your weakness of loving other people into the strength of wisdom and self-love.
Gaslighting They undermine your perspective and your understanding of reality and maybe even cause you to doubt your sanity. This is done through the use of psychological manipulation. For example, they might say things like: you didn’t see that, that never happened, you don’t know that, I never said that, it didn’t happen the way you remember/the way you are saying.
Smear Campaigns They try to injure or destroy your reputation by subtle, sneaky, secret, underhanded activity, usually in stages so you don’t even know it is happening. For example, they have conversations about you with your friends or family in an attempt to color their opinion of you and hopefully cause them to withdraw their support of you so you end up totally isolated and alone. They may drop hints that imply a negative thing about you and allow the hearer to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. They claim they never said bad things about you and that whatever the other person thinks must be about you, rather than anything they said because they didn’t explicitly say anything bad about you!
Never Agreeing They never accept anything that you say. They never acknowledge your ideas, and they may contradict themselves in order to avoid agreeing with you. Alternatively, they may implement your ideas or a similar version later and claim they thought of it themselves! They literally argue with you about everything and they never agree with you or give you credit for anything without arguing about it no matter what it is
Controlling They try to restrain you, to dominate you, to corral you, to prevent you from being or feeling successful, powerful, confident. They try to control your emotions, behavior and actions. They don’t want you to flourish, they want you to feel fearful, uncertain, incompetent and insecure so that they will always have the upper hand. They will downplay your concerns, your expectations and your experiences so that you will never feel empowered.
Coercion They use subtle force or intimidation to obtain compliance. They may use fear to make you feel bad. One example might be that your husband tells you that you don’t have enough money for things you need, making you feel guilty whenever you need to buy food or clothes for the children. He may give you an insufficient grocery budget then blame your overspending for there not being enough money left over to pay bills or the mortgage.
Withholding they stop expressing love and become very cold in order to control your feelings or behavior. One example might be that they give you the silent treatment. Perhaps you have done (or didn’t do) something they wanted you to do. Instead of saying something to you directly, they become cold and aloof or refuse to cooperate with you. When you ask them if they are ok or if something is wrong, they say they are fine but clearly they are angry about something. This behavior of not saying what they want and trying to manipulate you with silence or withholding is abusive and immature.
Manipulation They skillfully control you and probably everyone in their lives. There are many ways that people can be manipulative. Some “skills” they might use are dropping hints and being indirect. In situations where they don’t feel like they can directly ask for what they want, they might suggest things they actually don’t want so you will counteroffer what they really want. They tell lies, half truths, they use innuendo, drop hints, make disparaging suggestions about people in order to turn you or others against them or to create distrust.
Judging Judgmental people always seem to be criticizing you. They have an opinion about why what other people are doing is bad or wrong, yet they never look at their own behavior. This person might criticize you or others on any little thing. These types of people generally see things in black and white and are always comparing. If someone they approve is judged as good, they become blind to their negativity. If someone is judged as bad, nothing they can do is good. People like this are exhausting to be around.
Justifying They are always right and they always have good reasons for why they are right and why you are wrong!
Opining They always have an opinion or a judgement on everything you say or do and they have no qualms about telling you about it, whether you ask for it or not.
Meddling They interfere in your life without your permission. They have no problem asking about your personal affairs and offering unsolicited advice. It might seem like these people care about you and what’s going on with you, but don’t be surprised if they take all of the information you give them and turn around and tell other people your business along with their judgements about you. These type of people take pleasure in other’s pain.
Questioning they ask you incessant questions (what are you doing, why are you doing something, what do you think, etc.). You may like to hope that they care about you and your life, but they really just want to know your plan or how you think so that they can manipulate you.
Exclusion you don’t feel like you are accepted by this person/these people no matter how hard you try to be. In fact, you are not accepted and you NEVER will be!
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, staying in an abusive relationship is not a sign of strength. In fact, it takes more strength to walk away than it does to continue enduring endless torture! Imagine how hard it is to leave your spouse and adult children and never speak to them again because they are abusive. Imagine walking away from your parents, your friends, your religion, your job, your entire life and everything that you have ever known because one day you wake up and realize that every single aspect of your life is toxic and nothing you do can please these people and staying around is just draining you and will inevitably kill you!?
At this point you might be saying to yourself, I can’t leave, they need me. Guess what, they don’t. I hate to tell you this but it’s a set up. If you feel like abusive people have cornered you into a position where you can’t leave “because they need you”, they have done that on purpose so that they can drain your energy forever. Unlike the physically abusive person, emotional/mental abusers play the long game. You have essentially agreed to be an energizer bunny of endless narcissistic supply. They do not need you. It will break your heart when you leave and they don’t cry and ask you to come home, instead they get angry at you and accuse you of being the abuser!
I promise you, if you leave the abusive situation, you can recover. You can heal. You can eventually find people who will be as loving toward you as you are toward them. But first you must love yourself and get away from the toxic relationships. Those people you used to “love” you so much will replace you and go on with their lives. You must do the same.