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Author Topic: abusive or abused?
she_who_questions
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Have you ever heard of a relationship where one party isn't sure whether they've been emotionally abused or if they're the one who perpetrated the abuse? I know that relationships between people are complicated and that there's usually joint fault for problems. But I still wonder.

Every time I talk to my ex, I leave the conversation feeling super depressed, like I'm some cold-hearted, manipulative person. We seem not to get along anymore. He says things like, "I won't be goaded into thinking that our conversations go south just because I'm being mean." He makes it sound like I never take responsibility for things, that I'm not self-aware, that I don't understand him. He says that I misinterpret his snarky words, or take them too seriously. He says that my "perceptions fuel the narrative." He says that he always "ends up apologizing" which is a trademark of abuse or unequal power dynamics (even though it seems like I'm the one who apologizes more often in earnest).

While some part of me feels that his assessments are unfair, part of me wonders whether he's right. Sometimes I'm convinced that he's gaslighting me. But, when we were together, I did play a rescuer-type role...and I know that that can represent a subtle form of aggression in some relationships.

I think we did have unequal and unhealthy dynamics happening...that's part of why I backed out. I will confess that he did end up admitting I was "right" and apologizing a lot during that time (obviously it bothers him looking back). I just can't tell whether it was because the situation warranted it or whether it was because I was being an abusive girlfriend.

I have this undercurrent of self-doubt about the whole thing. My understanding of it is really ambivalent. I want to be a good person and learn to conduct myself in healthy ways. I've consciously tried to do that over the last couple of years especially. That's why I'm preoccupied. If I've done something really messed up, I want to know about it and try to fix it. But if I've been abused, I want to come to terms with that.

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September
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Is this the same person that you are talking about in this thread: http://www.scarleteen.com/forum/ultimatebb.php?/ubb/get_topic/f/3/t/011765/p/1.html#000000

If so, and taking that together with what you've said here, I don't seen it as a situation in which one person is being abused and the other is abusive, but more like a situation in which two people have an unhealthy dynamic and simply don't work well together.

I also get the sense, from these two post and others, that you are someone who pays very close attention to their actions and their potential impact on others, and who is inclined to take responsibility for things very quickly. Being self-aware and accountable is great and very important, but it seems to me that you can sometimes be quick to seek the fault within yourself.

And I think that this is also what is happening here. Does it sound like that relationship wasn't such a great fit for either of you? Oh yeah. Does it sound like you alone are responsible for the unhealthy dynamics? Not really.

May I ask in what capacity you two are still spending time together? Are you trying to cultivate a friendship? If so, that is perhaps something that is simply not a good idea here. As much as it sucks to lose someone you care about, sometimes the right step after the end of a relationship is simply to stop contact, temporarily or for good.

I am also wondering whether you have had the chance to work through and process this relationship and its end with someone? I think an outside perspective might be helpful for you here.

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Johanna
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she_who_questions
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Yes, it's the same person that I was talking about in the other thread. I don't talk to my friends or parents very much about relationship issues, generally. That's become sort of a habit. I tend to lose my own sense of direction when people present their opinions too strongly.

I did speak with them a couple of times about the end of the relationship (in a broad way). Their response was similar to yours: that I was being a bit hard on myself and that no-contact was probably a good idea in this case.

I'm just having trouble accepting how much has changed in four months.

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Heather
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You know, most of the time things are going to be different when we are just getting to know someone or just getting involved with someone than they are a few months -- sometimes even just a few weeks -- later.

That's just not at all unusual, even in healthy, happy relationships. How things are, and how people are, when we're new to each other just isn't usually how things will tend to be once people start to settle into something and get to know each other better. And some of this is because we just don't know each other right at the start, so what we see in someone is often more about us than it is about them: we're usually projecting what we want to see and feel a whole lot.

But in that previous post, you talked a lot about wanting to do the right thing by this person and yourself, so I'd strongly suggest leaving this behind rather than continuing to contact this person. I'd be willing to bet what you're trying to do is make yourself feel better by contacting him, when really, you likely need to resolve these feelings for yourself and by yourself. I'd say his responses to these conversations sound very much to me like someone really asking for space it sounds like you aren't giving them.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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Yea, I plan to back off. He has reached out to me quite a bit though too. For a while I was the one who was asking for space. But that was sort of ignored.
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Heather
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So, again, sounds like you're both interacting with each other in ways that aren't considerate.

How about taking the next step here and having one last talk where you truly part ways, and mutually agree to do that, at this point?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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That will be hard; I'm not sure I'm able to yet. I only started reaching out after it started to seem like contact from him was inevitable. I just wish he'd said that he wanted space. I even asked him up front whether he was okay with me continuing to contact him. Since he seemed ambivalent, I said I'd leave him alone since. But that made him angry...he said he wasn't asking for that. It's so weird too because we only get into fights in writing, never over skype
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Heather
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Well, here's the thing: it's cliche, but nothing changes if nothing changes, you know?

In other words, if you won't let go of a dysfunctional relationships, then you're not going to be rid of one. If you aren't able to hold and set healthy boundaries -- like saying no when he contacted you after you asked for space, rather than engaging -- then you're not going to be able to have healthy boundaries. Get what I mean?

What do you think you need to be ready to take some of these steps?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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Holding boundaries and letting go are the main things. It's all guilt, nostalgia, shame, and a sense of responsibility to "be there" for the other person. In order to take those big steps, I guess I need to get to a better place in my own mind, to see more opportunity in the future than I see currently. I know that's not a concrete answer. I wish I had a better one.
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Heather
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What do you think the value of "being there" for someone is when the way we interact is unhealthy, acrimonious, and leaves us both feeling crummy?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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There isn't much value in it, other than a sense of persistent loyalty. On a rational level, I understand that. But there's this emotional pull that I find really overwhelming in those situations.

My parents always engaged with each other in incredibly unhealthy ways so I've been witness to all that. They tear at each other and have been stuck in a marital "rut" since I was 15. I'm 24 now. My mom used to criticize me excessively and take her problems out on me. When I would try to remove myself from an argument, she'd follow me into my room and essentially back me into a corner. She's never apologized or acknowledged any of that. So I've not gotten used to having my boundaries respected. I have a sense of how to go through the motions, and how relationships should kind of be, but it's hard to build good ones from the ground up and keep them healthy.

I guess I will just have to go through the healthy motions in a more concentrated way until my psyche follows suit. I don't want to blame my past, but I don't really know how to overcome it.

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Heather
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But how are we being loyal to someone by enabling an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship with them?

I hear you saying that you feel like, understandably, some of all of this is because of how you grew up, which you don't know how to get past. have you ever looked into any counseling to help you with that?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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Yeah, I just can't afford to go to a counselor for an extended time. I've gone to several in the past and it was somewhat helpful, although not hugely. I would like to go back again. Not sure if there are any less expensive options :/

What I was talking about before is definitely a warped kind of loyalty, but that's what it feels like.

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Heather
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Well, there are often low-cost or no-cost counseling services in many communities. If you want to find out if there are any in yours, your best bet is to call or go into your local public health clinic.

Personally, I really just wouldn't call that loyalty: I'd call that codependence.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Molias
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I just want to throw a thought in here - I hear you say you feel like you want to keep up contact through your ex because of feelings of loyalty, and wanting to be there for him.

But honestly, I've found that in a relationship where there's any sort of unhealthy dynamic that's been going on, often the best way to support yourself and the other person is to withdraw completely. Even if you still care for that other person. Even if you think they'll feel hurt by it. In the long run I think there's a huge benefit to giving that other person a chance to sort things out on their own (or with their support system) and giving yourself that same space. A clean break can sometimes be the best way to be supportive.

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