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Why is it that it’s only after leaving an abusive relationship that you breakdown?

(23 Posts)
Fightingback16 Sun 31-May-20 10:55:31

Just that really, why is it that the most spectacular of breaking down happens only after leaving an abusive relationship?

I for one hovered on the edge for about 15 months. Left him because in my mind it was the only thing I could do to calm my symptoms. Totally unaware he was abusive at this time. Then several months later had an absolute meltdown half way through the freedom programme. Didn’t recognise my own face, my own child, who I was in the world etc etc. My anxiety went through the roof. I believe I avoided total breakdown by the skin of my teeth.

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amusedtodeath1 Sun 31-May-20 11:03:44

I think it's because, it's the first time in a long time you're been allowed to be yourself. You bottle stuff up out of fear of consequences, or for an easy life, eventually all that emotion has to come out. You can only do that when you feel safe.

I've been through it too, it's common in cases of abuse I believe.

TimelyManor Sun 31-May-20 11:05:10

I think because your body and mind can relax enough to start to see things clearly. You are doing what you have to do to protect yourself whilst with the abuser and that can be keeping 'realisation' at bay.

I knew my ex was abusive but wasn't aware that so much more of his behaviour was abusive until my Women's Aid support worker pointed it out to me.

I'm 18 months down the line and although my anxiety is improving the slightest thing can bring it right back up again. It takes time. Sadly I think I'm stuck with the physical damage.

amusedtodeath1 Sun 31-May-20 11:12:10

It gets better with time, you spend a lot of time being told you are wrong to even just feel something, when you start to really know you weren't over reacting you then have to deal with the full trauma all at once.

Although it seems like a step back it's actually, progress.

TheStuffedPenguin Sun 31-May-20 11:14:41

You have been running on adrenaline and now you don't have to but your body is in full production mode . I wasn't in an abusive relationship but this is how my doc explained the aftermath of a divorce to me .

Whatisthisfuckery Sun 31-May-20 11:21:03

I had this. During the abusive relationship I really didn’t realize how abusive it was. Then I left, and for the next several years I was an utter wreck.

I think, like many of us have noted, while you’re in the abusive situation you don’t really realize the full extent of it. Your mind is so set into survival mode that a, you have no more energy for falling apart; b, subconsciously you’re trying to protect yourself so you cannot fall apart; and c, you’re like a boiled frog, so the abuse is normal, and there’s a degree of comfort in normality, even if that normality is horribly damaging.

When you leave you have time and space to pull things apart in your own mind, and with that comes a whole world of emotions you couldn’t feel while in the situation, whether that’s because you were subconsciously in self preservation mode, or because your normal was so severely fucked up that you didn’t really understand how far from normal it was. All the anger, guilt and grief etc you didn’t even realize you had comes bubbling up to the surface, and I know for me I didn’t even understand why for a long time. It was only when I could start to understand where all those emotions came from I could start to heal, and even that was only the end of the beginning iykwym.

amusedtodeath1 Sun 31-May-20 11:21:13

My body still does weird things when I get upset sometime though, hiccoughs, shaking, general weirdnesses. It's unnerving to not be in control of that sometimes.

I had delayed onset trauma from childhood so when it hit, it was like a tidal wave. Denial is a form of protection I think.

I'm never going to be what's called normal, but I'm okay with that. I get by quite happily most of the time.

Whatisthisfuckery Sun 31-May-20 11:41:29

Yes, denial is a big part. When you’re in a traumatic situation your brain will inevitably find ways of masking the trauma. You almost become robotic, because to do anything else would result in a mental collapse, and collapse isn’t an option. When you’re no longer in the traumatic situation all that energy the brain spent trying to mask its distress is no longer needed, and all the pent up emotions start to bubble up. Unfortunately our subconscious is something that is largely unknown to ourselves, and unless we make some kind of attempt to drill down into why we’re experiencing the distressing emotions they become more and more destructive. Unfortunately again, because the subconscious is largely hidden from us, we might not even realize that it’s trauma we’re dealing with. For ages I thought I had a mental illness, I was even diagnosed, but the real problem was unresolved trauma, and when I finally understood that I could start to work on fixing myself.

I think it’s a reasonably widely understood fact in the psych community that a lot of what psychiatrists and psychologist encounter is trauma related, rather than true mental illness, although one can lead to or trigger the other. Despite this the NHS does not really have a framework that supports the addressing and recovery from trauma so many people suffering from trauma related MH problems are simply given a label of personality disorder, or bipolar in my case, handed a prescription, and sent on their way. That however is a different, yet closely related conversation.

Fightingback16 Sun 31-May-20 12:31:17

I know I’ve experience trauma and where my symptoms come from. Eg I have very little empathy at the moment and that’s because he manipulate mine, but I don’t like being like it. I’m also very easily frustrated and stressed, I know why but again I don’t like it.

Is that something positive that I can link these feelings to something? Do some people have no empathy but don’t know why then?

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Joy69 Sun 31-May-20 17:04:41

I remember just after I left my exh writing angrily in a notebook everything that had been said/done. I started counselling a year later & reread the notes. I remember thinking 'That poor girl, what an aweful time she'd had'. It was almost like I was looking in on it as an outsider, not as myself. As another poster mentioned, I think we lock our real selves in a mental box to get through it. When we're free & the box begins to open we crumble. The good news is with counselling & a good support network life can be happy again smile

everythingbackbutyou Sun 31-May-20 19:09:52

I hear you. 6 months out from a 20 year abusive relationship and I feel like I'm starting to confront my feelings properly. Like confronting the abusive nature of the relationship whilst in it, I think I will come to terms with stuff when I am able.

Fightingback16 Sun 31-May-20 19:45:15

I have been having feelings these last few days of something a bit like grief I guess. I feel like I’ve lost something, I walked away from something that I know was bad now but back then I though it was a family unit which had a goal and a future. Now I feel I’ve lost my goal, even tho the only goal was feeding my husbands dream and needs. It’s weird!

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ThePathToHealing Sun 31-May-20 19:45:27

For me, I had to keep myself together as best I could because he would use any weakness against me and in the process of leaving I lied to him and tried to make it out that I was doing him a favour because I was so absolutely terrified. Thankfully/regretfully he had someone else in his sights so he let me leave. When there was no-one there to scream at me for crying, I broke down and ended up in hospital for a long time. I remember not knowing what year it was and whether I was still with him but still didn't think it was abuse.

I have periods of dissociation and cut off all emotions. I find it hard to love or feel for my current lovely partner and it's usually a sign that I'm blocking something painful. It can be a real effort to be around people when that happens. I think it's a self preservation thing. I had lots of empathy for my abusive ex having to put up with me and all my faults but to leave I had to shut that part down and prioritise myself.

I really feel for you and what you've been through. So often I'm told, you're out, move on with your life but it's never that easy.

Nelly57 Sun 31-May-20 19:58:00

Probably the absence of the absolute denial you need to keep yourself in to keep going.

Fightingback16 Sun 31-May-20 20:45:11

@ThePathToHealing I’m not going to lie when I left my husband I was slightly psychotic. I broke down and printed off the divorce petition and whilst in a heap on the floor begged him to set himself free of me and fill it out. I said he could lie, say I had an affair, anything he wanted. He told me he’d never let me go. I was so confused because it felt like he hated me, he most probably did!
I shut everything down, I do not recall my emotions but I know they were bad. I stayed 6 months in the house after telling him it was over. Worst period of the whole marriage, he threatened to cut my fingers off, kill me, hurt me, then switched to crying and begging. I think that intense period of mind assault really nailed it for me. I eventually felt so threatened I left for the sake of dd who was 2. He started really bringing her into his game.

I believe I came very close having a break down those 6 months after. My IDVA I know now was keeping a watchful eye over me as I was slowly descending. I at one point told her I felt like two worlds colliding and I didn’t feel safe in either of them.

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Fightingback16 Sun 31-May-20 20:51:04

I find it hard at the moment to love anyone but I know I should. I’m not entirely sure what love feels like. I had so much empathy for my husband also, I literally almost killed myself for him ( I mean physically and mentally) That period of time after leaving I felt awful for breaking up his family and walking out with his child. So much so I said he could stay in the family home and I wouldn’t touch the savings (which he very quickly spent on a load of designer closes and holidays etc). Now I can’t get him out. I believe the worlds colliding was because I felt guilty but what I was learning in the freedom programme was the complete opposite. I had who very uncomfortable opposing views tearing my brain apart.

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TimelyManor Mon 01-Jun-20 10:12:02

It is a complete headfuck. I was in shock for weeks when I was told my ex had been controlling me. I knew about all the other aspects of the abuse but I just did not see how controlling he had been. He made sure it was all SO subtle, so easily deniable. Even the stuff that wasn't deniable he tried to turn it round on me by saying he thought I was trying to gaslight him when I dared to bring it up.

All these feelings of empathy for them - they've groomed you to feel that.

My therapist said I would never have ended the marriage as I would have felt too guilty. I didn't agree, it just never occurred to me that I could have. I couldn't see a way out of what I was going through apart from the ex dying. I think that was because I knew if I had tried to end it (before HE was ready hmm) he would have talked me round in one way or another. Or worse.

Fightingback16 Mon 01-Jun-20 10:17:18

I believe there is only 3 ways to leave a narcissist, death, you are sucked dry, discarded and they move on for new blood, you breakdown. I was the breakdown!

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Fightingback16 Mon 01-Jun-20 10:23:35

Leaving a narcissist before they are ready to let you go comes at a great cost. Mine was not finished with me so I caused him a narcissist injury. I know you not supposed to dwell on them but I’m happy that I caused him a narcissistic injury but I know I’ll end up paying somehow!

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TimelyManor Mon 01-Jun-20 10:32:47

You already are sad but he'll not see that.

Fightingback16 Mon 01-Jun-20 10:36:17

Yes I am, I know sad but I won’t let him see it.

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TimelyManor Mon 01-Jun-20 10:41:54


Fightingback16 Mon 01-Jun-20 10:42:44

I like to think of this period I’m in as temporary. It’s a temporary protective stare whilst my brain re-calibrates. I read a quote the other day that said something along the lines of can cut down all the flowers but you can’t stop spring from coming..... so they may be different flowers that re-grown but they still beautiful flowers. Hopefully I don’t re-grow into a patch of nettles!!

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