Hard to Stay, Hard to Go
I want to take this opportunity to address those living in narcissistic relationships who struggle to decide whether or not to stay or to leave. “It is hard to stay, and it is hard to go” when you love someone with narcissism. I say this all the time to my clients. I lived with the difficulty of the choice to stay or to leave for a long, long time. It is hard to stay and hard to go for a variety of reasons, some of which I will share here. You may have more reasons I won’t list here. Know those reasons are valid.
Dealing with narcissistic abuse, without threat to your physical safety, is difficult. Should I stay and give more time and chances, or should I leave? When there is an imminent threat to your physical safety you have to get help to get out immediately. This is confusing not only for the people living in the relationship. It is confusing for friends and family to question “why don’t you just leave him/her?”
Nothing is Simple
First and foremost, for those living this life we know with our heart and soul that it is not simple to leave. We know there is no effective co-parenting of children. We know our partner will not wish us well and allow us to move on. We know that our children are in emotional danger of being manipulated, triangulated, and turned against us. We know custody, financial support, asset division, and EVERYTHING involved with that person will be a battle. We know that things will get significantly worse when we leave because our partner has lost control. The hell we know when we are there is different from the hell we cannot imagine after leaving.
Divorces are often a battle, yes this is true. Getting a divorce or leaving a relationship with someone with narcissism is a battle like no other. I refer to it as “burn the house down mode.” The tactics used by the person with narcissism are meant to hurt, destroy, inflict pain and distress with maximum damage. The act of leaving is unforgivable. By leaving the victim regains control. The loss of control for the person with narcissism is infuriating. As a result, they will make sure their partner suffers maximum damage emotionally, mentally, financially, physically, and socially.
You Must be Ready
Deciding whether or not to stay or go is influenced by how ready the non-narcissistic person is to see their partner for who they are. For me, until I believed there was no changing his behavior or improving the marriage, I couldn’t leave. I had to see that if I stayed my life would continue as it was. As it was, I was abused mentally, emotionally, and verbally.
For me the shift came on a Tuesday in November of 2019 when his text messages started blowing up my phone at work. The topic he ranted about was no different. The tone hadn’t changed. The threats hadn’t changed. It was all exactly the same. In that moment I knew in my gut if I didn’t do something to get out that this would be my life. I told him that day that “I’m done”. Three weeks later I had a place to live and moved out. I have never looked back.
Children are a huge consideration in whether to stay or to leave a narcissistic relationship. There are no easy choices with children involved. Let me say that again. There are no easy or simple choices when it comes to children. I chose to stay because I feared if I left, he would get joint custody. Then he would target all of his anger and abuse at the kids without me there to try and protect them. If I was there, I was usually the target. Were the kids affected by everything anyway? My God yes! There was no right answer. If I stayed or if I left, they were affected. I made the best decision I could and so will you.
Belief in Our Partner
Our belief in the good in our partner or our belief in their ability to change matters when deciding what to do. Most of us try and try to help, convince, reason with our partner in the hopes they will change. Do some people change? I know that it is possible. Change depends on multiple factors and that is for another post. (Maybe that will be my next blog post.) You have to feel that you have exhausted all possibility of hope for change before you are ready to say, “I’ve had enough.”
The real or perceived loss of support systems is another factor to consider. I was told “when your parents find out every awful thing you’ve ever done, they will leave you too.” Did I believe my family would turn their back on me? No but maybe… No, because I knew them and their love for me. Maybe, because I feared others would believe him and take his side. That’s what he always said would happen.
The reality though is that some friends and family do take sides and you cannot always know whose side someone will take. I lost half of the family that I knew since I was seventeen years old. I lost my only daughter when I left. I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt, but in the long run it hurts less than continuing the cycle of abuse. Those people that know you will stay. If they don’t stay and they take the side of your abuser, do you really need or want those people in your life anyway. This is not an easy thing to make peace with, believe me.
What Will People Think
Sometimes it is as simple as “I wonder what other people will think if I leave?” Listen to me. Other people do not know what you have lived. Even if they don’t believe you, you know your truth. Trust what you know to be true!!! If you have to ask, was it really that bad? Yes, it is! Those that have not lived a relationship like this cannot imagine the manipulation, gaslighting, abuse of all types, isolation, pain, etc. that you’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you! Those opinions are none of your business. You do what you must do to survive.
If you need to stay until you figure out a plan for what is next, do it! If you need to open a savings account at a different bank to save for your escape, do it! If you need to take the risk and tell someone what you have been living, do it! If you need to stay to protect your children, do it! If you need to leave to protect your children, do it! If you need to contact the police or a domestic violence agency, do it! Staying silent only protects your abuser. Trust your gut.
Know your beauty and your worth. Find a mantra that is positive and empowering. You will know it’s the correct empowering statement when you feel it in your body. Feeling it in your body means you have a connection to the words. You may not believe what you are saying, but you will. Look yourself in the eyes in a mirror and tell yourself out loud that statement of strength. I’m strong. I will survive. I am not alone. I’m fierce. I’m a warrior. Whatever speaks to you!
Then reach out to your support system. Tell people what is happening to you. Keep telling people until someone believes you. Just because someone doesn’t believe you doesn’t mean you are wrong. Strengthening yourself and your resolve helps you figure out what to do. Remember I believe you.