Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Saving A Loved One from A Destructive Relationship

I just reconnected with an old friend, after years of minimal contact.

Before I moved in with OCPD ex-b-f, I'd discussed the relationship with her, and since I was determined to launch into it, anyway, despite the red flags, she'd hoped for the best.  She visited us once, after I'd moved in with him, and then... pulled back, declining future invitations and ignoring broad hints from me for an invitation to her place.  She confessed to me that after seeing OCPD ex-b-f's blatantly rude and disrespectful behavior to me, she didn't know what else she could do to help me, and she wasn't willing to take a front row seat for more of the same show.

I truly appreciate her honesty and feedback, then and now, and getting her back in my life on a more frequent basis is yet another gift from life to me, or from me to me, now that I am out of there.

But, it got me to thinking about how my different friends and family members supported - or didn't, quite, support me, and to try to pinpoint for others - if you have a loved one in a relationship with someone who is emotionally abusing them - What should YOU do? 

Because what you want to do is figuratively throw the abused person over your shoulder and carry them out of the burning house.  Only they will run right back in.
Photo from DVS on Flickr
The friends & family that I'd had, pre-OCPD friends, split into four main groups, once they got a glimmer of what was going on.

1 - I'm Okay, You're Okay, Everyone has Problems, Let's Look on the Bright Side.  The people in this group turned a blind eye to the seriousness of the abuse, encouraged me to be more patient and understanding and to "work with" OCPD b-f.  Basically, Enabling 101, with a side course of Blaming Oneself - only I'd already studied those courses way too much. 

At first, though, when I was deeply in the fog, and would get feedback from such a person,  I'd think, "Maybe they're right.  Maybe it is me.  Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough."

2 - Get the Hell Out of There Now, What's Wrong with You?  The people in this group pushed me, hard, to split with OCPD b-f.  But the more they tried to convince me that he had Serious Problems, and that I was being hurt, the more I clung to my Martyr role, because No One Else Could Possibly Understand (and fix) Him, and Only I See What A Wounded, Sensitive Person He Is Underneath All (his abuse.)  I would give myself smug internal pats on the back, Aren't I this Generous, Loving, Kind, Sacrificing Person to Put Up With All This? 

I'm thinking there's a lot of karma in this, because I have acted like this kind of pushy rescuer friend in the past.

3 - Keeping Their Distance.  Like my friend above, these people didn't cut off the relationship with me entirely, but minimized contact, because a front row seat was too intense for them (and who could blame them?  I don't know if I could handle it, myself.)  This was hurtful in some ways, helpful in others.  Sometimes I resented their "rejection" of me and my relationship with OCPD b-f, and other times, it was reassuring to believe that when my relationship with him ended, at least I had a chance of reviving the one I had with them.  That it was dormant, not dead.

And some of my friends were distanced not because they backed away, but because I was overwhelmed.  I was already dealing with major jealous tantrums every time I got my hair cut at the salon in the town where I used to live (because obviously, that was a pretext to hook up with an old boyfriend.)  I felt like I was only "allowed" to have so much extra-curricular social activity, and like most people in an abusive relationship, I felt emotionally drained and physically exhausted most of the time, and not willing to fight major battles over (what I perceived to be) minor issues.

4 - In The Trenches - a very few friends (and my counselor) were willing and able to listen, unflinching, and nonjudgmental, without pushing me to leave, or encouraging me to stay/be more understanding.  Sometimes, when asked, they would offer suggestions.  They would reinforce my self-esteem whenever possible, tell me I was good/worthy/attractive/smart and that any man, OCPD b-f included, was lucky to have me in his life.  Some offered me a couch to crash on, anytime, no questions asked, after I confessed escaping to a motel or book store or anywhere to get OUT, after some of our blow-ups.

DOD Public Domain Stock Photo
Later, I found more "in the trenches" friends on support boards.  For many, many people being verbally abused, we feel ashamed to talk about it to people who know us.  We don't want people to know how really bad it is.  We're afraid they will think less of us for staying - and perhaps we don't feel ready to leave.  Which makes online support boards or groups like Ala-non which offer anonymity such an invaluable resource.

But we still need the family and friends who love us.

If you love somebody who's being verbally and possible physically abused - don't think for a moment that they don't need or value you.  They do need you very, very much.  You can offer support to them in a way that will be helpful and nonjudgmental to them - or in a way that lets you vent your feelings of frustration, and pushes them deeper into the arms of the abuser.  Your choice.

If you want to understand why victims bond with and become protective of their abusers - as so many men and women do, as I did, please read Dr. Joe Carver's full and excellent article on Stockholm Syndrome.  For this post, I am just going to exerpt some of the advice for family and friends of someone being abused: 

While each situation is different, some general guidelines to consider are:

- Your loved one, the "victim" of the Loser/Abuser, has probably been given a choice - the relationship or the family. This choice is made more difficult by the control and intimidation often present in abusive/controlling relationships. Knowing that choosing the family will result in severe personal and social consequences, the family always comes in second. Keep in mind that the victim knows in their heart the family will always love them and accept their return – whenever the return happens.
- Remember, the more you pressure the "victim" of the Loser/Abuser, the more you prove the their point. Your loved one is being told the family is trying to ruin their wonderful relationship. Pressure in the form of contacts, comments, and communications will be used as evidence against you. An invitation to a Tupperware party is met with “You see! They just want to get you by yourself so they can tell you bad things about me!” Increasing your contacts is viewed as “putting pressure” on their relationship – not being lovingly concerned. 
- Your contacts with your loved one, no matter how routine and loving, may be met with anger and resentment. This is because each contact may prompt the Loser/Abuser to attack them verbally or emotionally. Imagine getting a four-hour lecture every time your Aunt Gladys calls. In a short time, you become angry each time she calls, knowing what the contact will produce in your home. The longer Aunt Gladys talks – the longer your lecture becomes! Thus, when Aunt Gladys calls, you want to get her off the phone as quickly as possible.  
(I would usually combine my haircut trips with a brunch with a local friend, who, with the best of intentions, used the Get the Hell Out Now technique on me.  Almost every time.  While I knew she loved me dearly, it also pushed me into Martyr mode, and because I knew I would be facing a horrible jealous scene every time I got home, it brought me within a hair of breaking off that friendship.  I just wanted to get out of the house, have a break from the pressure and enjoy a normal conversation, not get a stern lecture in the morning following by tantrums in the afternoon.)

- The 1980’s song, ”Hold on Loosely”, maybe the key to a good family and friend approach. Holding on too tight produces more pressure. When the victim is out of the home, it’s often best to establish predictable, scheduled contacts. Calling every Wednesday evening, just for a status report or to go over current events, is less threatening than random calls during the week. Random calls are always viewed as “checking up on us” calls. While you may encounter an answering machine, leave a polite and loving message. Importantly, don’t discuss the relationship (the controller may be listening!) unless the victim brings it up. The goal of these scheduled calls is to maintain contact, remind your loved one that you are always there to help, and to quietly remind the controller that family and loved ones are nearby and haven’t disappeared.  
- Remember that there are many channels of communication. It’s important that we keep a channel open if at all possible. Communication channels might include phone calls, letters, cards, and e-mail. Scheduled monthly shopping trips or outings are helpful if possible. The goal is to maintain contact while your loved one is involved in the controlling/abusive relationship. Remember, the goal is contact, not pressure
- Don't feel the victim's behavior is against the family or friends. It may be a form of survival or a way of lowering stress. Victims may be very resistive, angry, and even hostile due to the complexity of their relationship with the controller/abuser. They may even curse, threaten, and accuse loved ones and friends. This hostile defensiveness is actually self-protection in the relationship – an attempt to avoid “trouble”.  

- The victim needs to know and feel they are not rejected because of their behavior. Keep in mind, they are painfully aware of their situation. They know they are being treated badly and/or controlled by their partner. Frequent reminders of this will only make them want less contact. We naturally avoid people who remind us of things or situations that are emotionally painful. 
- Victims may slightly open the door and provide information about their relationship or hint they may be considering leaving. When the door opens, don't jump through with the Marines behind you! Listen and simply offer support such as "You know your family is behind any decision you need to make and at any time you make it." They may be exploring what support is available but may not be ready to call in the troops just yet. Many victims use an “exit plan” that may take months or even years to complete. They may be gathering information at this point, not yet ready for an exit. 
- We can get messages to people in two ways - the pipeline and the grapevine. The pipeline is face-to-face, telling the person directly. This seldom happens in Loser situations as controllers and abusers monitor and control contacts with others. However, the grapevine is still open. When we use the grapevine, we send a message to our loved one through another person. Victims of controlling and abusive individuals are often allowed to maintain a relationship with a few people, perhaps a sibling or best friend. We can send our loved one a message through that contact person, a message that voices our understanding and support. We don't send insults ("Bill is such a jerk!) or put-downs ("If he doesn't get out of this relationship he'll end up crazy!) - we send messages of love and support. We send "I hope she/he (victim) knows the family is concerned and that we love and support them."

- Each situation is different. The family may need to seek counseling support in the community. A family consultation with a mental health professional or attorney may be helpful if the situation becomes legally complex or there is a significant danger of harm. 
When the victim decides to end the unhappy relationship, it’s important that they view loved ones as supportive, loving, and understanding – not a source of pressure, guilt, or aggression.
And, if you need a refresher on "Hold on Loosely," here 'tis.

Remember that lyric - hold on loosely, but don't let go.

Your loved one will have to save him or herself, in his or her own time, but you CAN make it easier.

Or harder. 
Comments?  Learn anything new? 
Or,  just enjoy Southern rockers with long hair?