08.25.12 Love

The Logic of Abuse: Why Women Choose To Stay

BY Amanda de Cadenet

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.” This disease is just as serious as any 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. Verbally Abusive Relationship – Patricia Evans

Suggested Resources view all

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, ...

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The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

In this fully expanded and updated third edition of the bestselling classic, you learn why verbal abuse is more widespread than ever, and how you can deal with it. You’ll get more of the answers you need ...

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Women, Sex And Addiction by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D

In our society, sex can easily become the price many women pay for love and the illusion of security. A woman who seeks a sense of personal power and an escape from pain may use sex and romance as a way to feel...

Amanda is a wife, mother, friend, photographer and the creator and host of The Conversation. @AmandadeCadenet

Comments

  • terri cole

    Amanda-
    Thank you for sharing your story here. You have helped so many already just by having the courage to honor your truth. Yes to progress not perfection…we are all ever evolving and change is possible in every moment.
    <3

  • Christine Gutierrez

    Amanda,thank you for sharing this.I too have gone through this as well+still do. As you said progress not perfection.This kind of vulnerable writing and sharing is what helps us feel heard and seen.Thank you for your honesty.

    xoxo
    Christine

  • Carmela

    I truly believe that almost every woman was abused in her life. We often talk about the abuse, physical or mental or both, in a relationship, but the abuse is much frequently happens at the workplace. We do spent most of our days at work. And often we try to overlook the “abuse”. Power, sexism, chauvinism and even stupid jokes about blonds or mother in law…. We laugh and try to be fun and to be one of the guys. And still we let them because we don’t want to be a “bitch” or something else. It’s rarely physical, but most certain mental. At that’s why we honor women that are powerful, assertive, do without fear. They overcome it.

    Sorry for rumbling…

    P.s. Also I would like to thank you Amanda for the Conversation

  • Susan Peabody

    A list of most common reasons women stay in an abusive relationship. This list comes from a self-analysis of all the reasons I stayed in an abusive relationship. Only some of this may apply to victims.

    Many love addicts find themselves drawn into abusive relationships and do not understand why. The following is a list of the most common conscious and unconscious reasons love addicts fall into this trap:

    Love is blind: Most love addicts fall in love or get married before they find out their partner is abusive. The abusive partner keeps this hidden until the trap is sprung. After the abuse starts, these love addicts continue to love their abuser. They tell themselves that they are just taking the good with the bad.

    Dependency on the relationship: Other love addicts don’t love their abuser, but they are dependent on the relationship, and they would rather suffer physical pain than endure the emotional pain of breaking up. They cannot tolerate separation anxiety.

    Low self-esteem: Some love addicts have such low self-esteem that they don’t think they deserve any better. So they just stick with it. They think this is better than nothing.

    Abusive parents: Some love addicts had an abusive parent so this abuse is not out of the ordinary for them. It is seen as the norm. It may even be equated with love. An abusive parent can also be loving, so battered children grow up confusing love withabuse. This confusion becomes a distorted value which influences them as adults.

    Neighborhood norm: To some love addicts abuse may seem ordinary because all of their friends are being abused as well. In some neighborhoods domestic violence is the norm. It may seem futile to try and change the status quo.

    It’s my fault: Some love addicts blame themselves rather than their partner. They are sure it is their own fault„Ÿthat they did something to provoke their partner. Sometimes they even think they deserve the abuse. They keep trying to change themselves so it won’t happen anymore.

    Gullibility: Some love addicts are gullible and don’t learn from the past. They believe their partner when he or she says the abuse will never happen again. Like children, they cling to the fantasy that this person will change.

    Sympathy: Many love addicts feel sorry for their partner when he or she asks forforgiveness. They know their partner is sick so they decide to take care of him or her rather than end the relationship. Caretakers are used to putting the needs of others before their own. This is misguided compassion.

    Loyalty: When some love addicts make a commitment they feel they must be loyal no matter what„Ÿthat they have no right to change their mind. They feel guilty if they reject someone, even if that someone is abusing them. This is misguided loyalty.

    Projecting one’s fear of abandonment: Some love addicts project their fear of abandonment onto their partners. They are so afraid of being rejected themselves that they become overly empathetic. They feel their partner will suffer from the rejection and they cannot bear to see someone else suffer, even someone who hurts them.

    Fear of revenge: Many love addicts are terrified of leaving an abusive partner because they fear revenge or because they are financially dependent on this person.

    Martyr’s complex: Some love addicts have a martyr’s complex. They feel superior when they suffer in the name of love. They wear abuse like a badge of courage. In a twisted sort of way this actually elevates their self-esteem. Christians especially fall into this trap. They think that because Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind that they should die on the cross for the sins of their partner. They should not. They are not Christ. Some Christians read in the Bible that “love bears all things” and they think that this includes abuse. I don’t think it does. Non-Christians fall into this trap also. They listen to the song “Stand by your man,” and they think it is romantic to stick with a relationship no matter what.

    Self-pity: Some love addicts let people abuse them because they like feeling sorry for themselves. They like licking their own wounds. Their self-esteem is so low that they substitute self-pity for self-love. Then they become dependent on the self-pity and allow, or even promote, abuse to get a fix. (My personal experience.)

    Making up: Some love addicts don’t like being abused, but they like making up. For instance, when their partner is begging for forgiveness they feel superior and in control. They like the attention. They like the flowers and apologies, so they talk themselves into believing that these gestures of remorse actually make up for the abuse. (I am talking about myself here.)

    Negative attention: Many love addicts are so starved for attention that even negative attention will do. They might tell themselves that if he didn’t love me so much he wouldn’t be so angry. This is twisted thinking and can lead to trouble.

    Sexual stimulation: Some love addicts find some aspects of abuse sexually stimulating, so they endure the pain to get the pleasure that follows.(Rare)

  • The Young Fool

    Problem easily solved: Do not put the victim in a shelter. Put all abusers in a shelter instead. Educate them. Rehabilitate them. And put the blame where it should always be: on the perpatrator. He should be the one to move. And instead of asking the victim: why do you stay. Ask the abuser: why do YOU stay? Why do YOU abuse your woman. Problem solved.

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