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You can bounce back after abuse

Relationships
Dear Bel,

Ten years ago I moved when the man I’d been seeing for a year asked me to move up from the south. Very much in love, I believed he felt the same.

After relocating, I soon discovered he’d been having casual sex with others while I was preparing to uproot. He made excuses - and having found a job and paid six months’ rent, I accepted his sweet talk and stayed.

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He was sometimes moody, sometimes angry and difficult to deal with. Every time I was teetering on breaking up, he pulled it back and I fell for it. While here, I’ve lost both parents - and discovered (while going backwards and forwards to see them) that he used the time to have an affair with a colleague’s wife.

All the time professing undying love for me, he wrote cards, phoned me three times a day - then told me (when confronted) it was all “smoke and mirrors” and confessed to countless online emotional and sexual affairs with both sexes.

After months of this, he had a devastating rage and told me our relationship wasn’t real. How can I carry on now, alone and abandoned, kilometres from home?

He is such a manipulator that his family and friends have been made to believe it’s my fault! As a result, I’ve had counselling, health problems and taken antidepressants. I despair at the lost time, my gullibility, the knowledge that someone could be so cruel they could do this for such a long time.

Because of this monster, I failed to care properly for people dear to me. He’s gone back to his mother’s house as though nothing’s happened, while I don’t know what to do.

Recently, the main letter here was from “Lynda” - torn between the man she’d loved for 18 months, who wanted her to move with him away from her family, including her aged mum with dementia.

In my reply, I doubted the wisdom of burning your boats for “love” - and your story, Tessa, reinforces my innate caution.

You moved away from everything you knew to be with a guy you’d been seeing (presumably intermittently) for just a year - and, of course, you were not to know what the man was like. But once you did know, you stayed with him, subjecting yourself to more and more exploitation, manipulation and pain. It’s an old story, as I’m sure you know.

Now there was something so odd about your e-mail, it led me to consult with people trained in these matters, to see if my instinct was correct. You see, all the way through your well-written e-mail (longer than I have printed here) you referred to your ex-partner as “He” and “Him” - capitalising the words the way believers refer to God or Jesus.

To me it implied a power over you. Indeed, it seems this is common when the “victim” is fixated on a person in control and (usually) abusive. When you moved to be near him, this man succeeded in isolating you from your old support networks, and turned you into his “creature”.

In such circumstances, the weaker person becomes so damaged she (or he) is mentally in awe and fear of the abusive partner, like a rabbit stuck in the headlights. This was you.

But you had the courage to write - and now you have to find the strength and determination to mend your life. Which is not “over”. Perhaps you need to start by telling yourself there is no shame in being a hopeful person blinded by love.

There’s pain aplenty, but no disgrace. Yes, I can see why you mourn the 10 wasted years and feel ashamed you allowed yourself to be deluded by a man who treated you so badly. Your self-esteem is at rock-bottom, which is why I think you would benefit from some sessions with a therapist to talk this through.

You have to realise the nightmare is over and you must do everything you can to move back to where your old friends (and perhaps other family members) live.

No matter if at first you have to move to a small bedsit, the important thing is to remove yourself. As long as you remain, you will be reminded of the abusive situation.

I’m a great believer in stepping towards change. So many of us feel locked into situations we hate, feeling terrified of the prison door. But when we are brave enough to push, so it can swing open, revealing a road to freedom. I would like you to take some deep breaths as you close your eyes tightly, and summon up the mental power to visualise that heavy door opening, while beloved, lost voices encourage you to walk forward.

“You can do it,” they whisper, reassuring you that you are so much better than the man who nearly ruined your life. Be strong. 

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