Do you have trouble sleeping? A perpetual knot in your stomach? Do you experience chronic indigestion or gastrointestinal pain? Do you get stress headaches? Are you afraid to let your guard down with your significant other? Do you censor yourself because you’re afraid to speak the truth to your girlfriend or wife?
If so, you may have developed a trauma response from being involved in an abusive relationship. Stated more simply, you’re suffering post-traumatic stress from being involved with an abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, sociopathic or non-pathological insecure and controlling woman.
Trauma, whether it’s physical or emotional, develops in two ways. It can be caused by a single, isolated event like being mugged, a horrific car accident or a natural disaster. Trauma can also develop from ongoing, chronic, relentless stress such as being in a war, being bullied at work or being in an abusive relationship.
Can you really compare being involved with an abusive woman to water-boarding, jail, hurricanes, and war?
Absolutely. Being emotionally and/or physically abused by these women can have the same effects as being in a war or a cataclysmic event. Combat, torture, imprisonment, tsunamis, and life with a controlling abusive woman share the following characteristics:
- It’s unpredictable.
- It has the element of the unexpected.
- You feel powerless to control your environment.
- The psychological or physical abuse is repetitive.
- It’s intentionally cruel.
- The abuse occurs in a setting or is inflicted by someone whom you once trusted and with whom you felt safe.
Being emotionally abused by the woman you love, who supposedly loves you, is experienced as betrayal and a fundamental violation of trust. Betrayal trauma is caused by emotionally abusive behaviors like gaslighting, mood swings, verbal attacks, rages, alienating your child(ren) from their normal affection toward you (Parental Alienation), being nice to you only to lure you in closer for another emotional sucker punch and/or physical abuse.
Being attracted to crazy, abusive women and being predisposed to trauma share many of the same risk factors. An abusive relationship causes psychological trauma and the same reasons you became involved in an abusive relationship also prime you for developing trauma. Because you experienced emotional trauma as a child, you’re attracted to adult relationships that recreate these conditions. It’s a vicious circle.
Some of the these factors include:
- Having emotionally or physically abusive parents (e.g., they were overly critical, intrusive, neglectful and/or violent).
- Being a parentified child (having to take care of your parent(s)’ emotional and/or physical needs instead of your parent(s) taking care of you).
- Having unresolved childhood or adolescent abandonment issues.
- Having a painfully traumatic first love experience in adolescence or early adulthood with an abusive woman.
- Being the target of childhood bullying.
- Being chronically ill in childhood, which may have led you to develop a dependent personality.
What’s the difference between PTSD and Betrayal Trauma?
The primary difference between PTSD and betrayal trauma is fear vs. anger. Historically, PTSD is considered to be caused by extreme fear; betrayal trauma is thought to be caused by anger. Both evoke a fight or flight response.
However, prolonged repetitive emotional abuse can create a third response. If you can’t fight (i.e., because your abusive wife/girlfriend twists reality, blames you for everything and puts you in no-win situations) or can’t or won’t take flight (i.e., dump her warped ass) you default to the third response. You numb out, shut down and experience a pervasive sense of profound learned helplessness.
When most people are hurt or betrayed by someone, they get angry, possibly end the relationship and steer clear of him or her in the future. However, if you’re predisposed to relationships with abusive women and trauma, it’s not in your nature to respond to hurtful behaviors the way most people do.
At first, you mayÃ‚Â experience denial and disbelief that the woman you love could treat you so callously and cruelly. Then you essentially ignore her abusive behaviors. You minimize and excuse her indefensible behavior, almost seeming to forget the most vitriolic verbal attacks and rages. In fact, you really may not remember the worst of it.
Men who have developed a trauma response actually dissociate during the most bitter attacks. Dissociation is a defense mechanism in which your conscious mind shuts down, like when she’s screaming at you and you go someplace else in your head. After her rage has subsided, you actually can’t remember what happened. Your mind took you away to protect you from the abuse.
In order to protect yourself, you block out and forget the abuses (a form of psychogenic amnesia) in order to maintain the relationship. It’s a sort of “functional forgetting” or selective memory to protect you from the cognitive dissonance of being with this woman. However, there are psychological and physical consequences to ignoring the painfully obvious.
If you didn’t make excuses for, minimize, forget or deny the pain you experience because of her crazy, hurtful behaviors, then you would have to end the relationship. These are more defense mechanisms you probably developed as a child to protect yourself from the people who loved you. They helped you survive as a child, but as an adult, they’re enabling you to stay in an abusive relationship in which you’re emotionally and psychologically traumatized.
Next week, I’ll post the second part of this post. I’ll explain the three categories of symptoms you may experience as a result of staying in an abusive relationship: physical, psychological, and interpersonal.
Meanwhile, if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, please consider the harm you’re doing to yourself by not ending it. You’re an adult now. You don’t need to depend on this crazy woman like you had to depend on your parents for survival. You can break the psychological dependence and walk or run away.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Originally published on April 1, 2009 at A Shrink for Men
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