The very first thing I felt after the psychopath discarded me was absolute and utter relief.
I remember the long, deep breath I took, and the feeling of my entire body relaxing. This feeling of relief was quickly overpowered by other emotions, but I will never forget that moment.
I was free again.
That means that I hadn’t been free… and I didn’t even realize it.
That’s why Freedom will be the litmus test of all my future relationships.
I will ask myself:
Am I free from fear? Free from shame? Free from uncertainty? Free from feelings of inadequacy that I didn’t have before? Am I free to express my emotions? Am I free to share my thoughts and opinions? Am I free to be myself?
Perhaps the loss of freedom is the biggest sign of involvement with a psychopath, or with any kind of abuser.
We couldn’t see our loss of freedom at the time, but we can see it now and we will be able to see it in the future.
When the relationship began, we felt very free. We were loved and appreciated for who we were (or so we thought), so we were free to be ourselves. We took the risk to be vulnerable — one we were invited to take — but as we let ourselves be seen, something terrible began to happen. Instead of being accepted for who we were, inevitable flaws and all, we were Squashed. Crushed. Pummeled. Shamed. Silenced.
We began to hide ourselves out of fear of being rejected by our beloved. We hid our emotions, our intuitions and our doubts. Our joy at finding love turned into the fear of losing it (known as the ‘manipulative shift’), and from that moment on we were imprisoned, slowly but surely, as our lover turned into our captor. We didn’t see our prison cell being stealthily built, one bar at a time, as we lost our freedom bit by bit.
It’s awful to go through the day motivated by the avoidance of rejection, hurt, and humiliation. It’s like living in a pressure-cooker with the lid on tight. There is no freedom in living like that.
When it was over, we were safe and free to be ourselves — how wonderful! Except for one thing…
Our captivity didn’t end when the relationship (victimization) ended.
We got stuck in a Betrayal Bond — an intense bond with the perpetrator — which happens when an egregious betrayal of trust takes place. We were still not free. And we were still at risk of reuniting with the abuser if he or she wanted to continue the abuse.
Shame and blame are large parts of a betrayal bond. Instead of clearly seeing what transpired, we blame ourselves and feel shame for what happened.
To become free, we must take the antidotes to the poison: No Contact. Learn the truth about psychopaths. Learn about betrayal bonds. Accept that we have been betrayed (and this is not easy — betrayal, especially by the one we loved most, is shocking and devastating). Develop boundaries. Create healthy bonds with trustworthy friends, family members, a therapist, and a support group. Breaking a trauma bond is much different from “getting over someone.” It takes understanding, work, determination, and self-compassion.
“In many ways,
betrayal and exploitation are like being in the fun house. It makes the abnormal and the grotesque appear normal. Trauma distorts our perceptions just as sure as the mirrors in the fun house. Your task is to leave the fun house and face the reality without the distortion. This risk is the price of admission to recovery. You simply have to be willing to do it…”
“Saying good-bye is wrenching for survivors, who already grieve their many losses. Here the survivor must confront the deep desire for the seduction story to be true. There is more than exploitation or abuse at stake here. There is the loss of some dream or core hope that made the seduction story so irresistible. Usually that dream or hope has roots in some original wound for which the survivor has not yet fully grieved. So when it is time for good-bye, the grief will be overwhelming. The only choice you have to survive is to embrace the pain and experience the loss. In many ways the betrayal bond protected you against that pain…”
“You may not have to say good-bye, but you must be willing to do so. In fact, life as you know it may require a complete transformation for you to survive these relationships. Work, values, homes, friends, and even family relationships may have to substantively change for a successful recovery. What lengths are you willing to go to in order to be free? When you answer that question, you may have to face another risk; to be alone and be okay.”
From ‘The Betrayal Bond,’ by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D
We forget that freedom is our right and our natural state, but when we get it back we remember. It feels good, and we will never give it up again.
♥ The journey back to freedom is a rocky one, but well worth making.
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