If you are in a relationship with someone who had a difficult past, you probably feel compassion for them and all they have had to overcome. Their difficult past may include childhood trauma or abuse, abandonment, a serious illness, infidelity by a former partner, military service and combat, or any other form of trauma. There is no doubt that these types of trials will inevitably shaped a person’s personality and outlook on life. They also often impact how someone interacts with the world, including their significant other.
Many women who are more emotional or empathetic are often drawn to people who are experiencing pain, or who have overcome adversity. Your sensitive nature makes you a natural caregiver, and may draw you to people who you feel may need your compassion. You may try to “rescue” someone who you see as broken and in need, when in fact, your partner may actually be focused only on their well-being. The problem is that men who feel entitled to have control in the relationship, or who are narcissistic, are also drawn to compassionate women. This attraction between an empath and a narcissistic is not only confusing and codependent, it can be very dangerous.
Leslie Morgan Steiner, journalist, said her in viral TED talk that she never saw herself as an abused woman, instead she saw herself as “a very strong woman in love with a very troubled man.” And that is absolutely true. Women who end up in relationships with abusive men are not weak or stupid. They are often very caring and compassionate women who believe they can save or rescue a person who claims to be in extreme pain. The problem is that you cannot rescue a person who is fighting their own inner battle, especially when they refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.
Someone who is trying to confuse, belittle, manipulate, blame, or degrade you will continue to do so, until they are able to bring you down to their level – or until you leave. A narcissist’s weapon of choice is often verbal abuse, slander, lies, and playing the victim. Your partner may constantly act hurt, try to convince you that you are causing all of the problems in the relationship, and make you feel guilty and ashamed. You have likely started to change your behavior, or filter what you say, so as to not upset him.
A narcissist or abusive partner will use gossip, rage, guilt, verbal abuse, and inflicting emotional pain as a constant way to keep you under their control. He will likely lie about who is the true abuser in the relationship and attempt (or threaten) to ruin your reputation among friends and family. He will also likely become upset if you lean on or spend too much time with anyone other than him, claiming that you are disrespecting him or the relationship –when in fact, he is actually threatened by your support system. He may also pick fights to keep you awake or find ways to interfere with your work, studies, hobbies, or other activities. His goal is to make sure your world revolves around him, so that he can have complete control – which he believes he is entitled to.
This systematic dismantling of your relatoinshps, reputation, emotional health, and physical well-being will exhaust you, and will eventually leave you as emotionally depleted as you once believed your partner to be. The trauma your partner has experienced in their past was likely very painful, and probably did impact who they are as a person. But, degrading, insulting, controlling, and abusing someone is always a choice. Many survivors of abuse, combat, and other horrific traumas are loving, compassionate partners and family members. They are struggling through pain also, but choose not to let it out on the people they love, and who love them.
If your partner is manipulating you, degrading you, putting you down, making you feel guilty, making you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, or hurting you in any way, his behavior is not caused by his past – it is a choice. It is abuse. And you absolutely deserve better. Turn some of the compassion you have been giving to him toward yourself. You deserve to receive as much love and compassion as you give. And you deserve to be loved and respected, all the time – especially by someone who claims to love you.
If you are being abused, help is available 24 hours a day at 800-799-SAFE (7233). This is not your fault. And you do not have to face it alone.
Originally published on About.com’s Dysfunctional Relationships Support site on January 31, 2016.