(Update: All the posts of this series have been collected into one piece, Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them.)
In Women in Abusive Relationships: The Good Daughter Syndrome, we nailed down two ideas: that spiritual health without psychological health is like a gym without exercise equipment, and that one’s psychological health has a great deal if not everything to do with how and by whom one was raised.
The great difficulty with psychological healing is that it’s like trying to look at your own eyeballs. You’re too close; you have exactly the wrong perspective for the task. This is the great value of psychological counseling: It involves an objective person listening to you, someone with virtually no vested interest in your story beyond helping you explore and understand it. Perfect! When else in your life do you get to talk to someone who is utterly objective about you—who has no role or history whatsoever in your personal life—and who never, ever turns the conversation into something about them?
Verily, is seeing a psychologist is the greatest thing in the history of totally lopsided conversations. (Not that you can get your insurance to pay for such counseling anymore, since trying means landing before someone who’ll be handing you a prescription for an antidepressant “medication” before you can say, “But I’m trying to actually get better, you shameless hack.” So now, or certainly increasingly, only the rich can afford competent psychological counseling. Which kind of works out, since being rich tends to make people crazy.)
If you’re a woman in an abusive relationship, you’ve got to take seriously the truth that something about the way you were raised has left you trapped in the terrible cycle in which you are now spending out your life. If you don’t face the fact that your past is largely determining your present, you’ll never be able to create for yourself a better future. You’ll be forever stuck reacting to the past, rather than being, as a healthy person is, proactive about the future. You will continue to be a victim of your own life, because you will continue to lack the objective perspective critical for realizing the sort of radical change of which you are now in such tremendous need.
None of which is to say that every woman in an abusive relationships grew up in an abusive household. Human psychology is hardly that cause-and-effecty. Some women in abusive relationships grew up watching their father beat their mother; some didn’t. It’s a complex world; we all have very complex emotions and psychological responses to it.
But you can bet on one thing: If you’re in an abusive relationship, you are living out your loyalty to whatever it was your parents taught you about themselves, reality, and you. Tolstoy was right when he said that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But at the bottom of it all, every unhappy person is unhappy for the same reason: They are fervently devoted to their parents. For better or worse, we all love our parents like we don’t (and can’t) love anything else in this world. We love them in ways we can’t even begin to understand.
Well. We can begin to understand that. If we try—if we really put in the effort it takes to understand what about our loyalty to our parents is presently good for us, and what about it is bad—then we can, finally, fully embrace the former, and kiss the latter good-bye. And for the sake of own mental clarity and health, that’s exactly what we must do.