The Freedom To Stay: Rethinking Pathological Relationships.
All over my social media feeds, I see the warnings: There is a sociopath next door and possibly in your bedroom. If your partner has emotionally abusive tendencies, do not look back. Leave now.
I understand how this is good advice.
I also understand how the directive to leave at all costs kinda sucks. It speaks to a black or white world, in which a person is either being consciously manipulative or is totally open to working collaboratively together.
It also assumes that a person who remains in a negative-seeming relationship is somehow trapped — either against their will or as a result of giving their will away.
I feel most people know by now that reality is more nuanced than that.
Clinically speaking, emotionally abusive personalities can be psychopathic, sociopathic, borderline, bipolar, dissociative, codependent, addictive, or a combination of these. Interacting with each pathological personality has a distinctly individual set of recommended guidelines and probable outcomes.
However, personal manifestos which call for immediate severance fail to acknowledge the differences. I liken this phenomenon to my experience with the failing war on drugs.
Like people with pathological personalities, all drugs are equally demonized for their potential to do harm, and children are taught to Just say No. Of course, stunningly few people actually do this, and the legal justice system set in place to address this destroys more lives than it saves.
Meanwhile, certain drugs — such as mushrooms and marijuana — have documented potential to do more good than bad, and could be a beneficial form of medicine if used wisely.
The same could be true for additional harder-hitting psychedelics, such as Ayahuasca and MDMA; however, the guidelines for safe use of these would differ significantly from those regarding their more gentle counterparts.
In April 2016, the United Nations is holding a special legislative session in New York City for the purpose of rethinking the global war on drugs. I’m excited to participate in several events related to this conference. Doing so reminds me of how, in college, my resident assistant taught me to replace the directive Just say No with Just say Know.
I believe that it’s time to infuse the muddy territory of pathological relationships with a similar level of knowledge. Specifically, we should each know:
- how to recognize signs of emotional abuse.
- how to determine our response to this abuse.
- when it’s healthiest to go, and when there is a legitimate reason to stay.
- that it’s up to us to determine our own fate.
While my only teacher in this matter is life experience, I’ve had it in droves, and use these lists to help me navigate.
Signs it’s time to leave now:
- There’s no evidence that your partner will commit to improving his/her/their mental health and treatment of the family.
- Your partner places any member of the family in danger of irrevocable physical or psychological harm.
- Taken as a whole, the relationship takes more than it gives.
- Your freedom to leave is threatened. That’s a sign of abusive control and potentially impending violence. Call authorities for assistance if needed.
Signs it’s okay to stay:
- There is clear, quantifiable evidence that your partner wants and is willing to alter his/her/their behavior.
- You and your children are not in danger of irrevocable physical or psychological harm.
- Your decision comes from within you — not an outside form of social, familial or religious pressure.
- Taken as a whole, the relationship gives more than it takes.
- You are capable of keeping your own counsel about your life without being manipulated by those with whom you share it.
- You have the freedom to go at any time.
Important things to always remember:
- It is up to You — not your partner, parents or pals — to determine what best serves you.
- It is important to maintain your sense of self within a relationship by claiming your freedom to do things which fulfill you.
- When it comes to your behavior within a relationship, what you do is often equally as important as how and when you do it.
- You are ultimately responsible for how you respond to others. Remain calm, confident and objective when communicating with difficult personalities.
- You are also human and have a right to feel your emotions. Seek out people and places outside your relationship which allow you to safely express your hurt, anger and frustration when you need to.
- Professional counseling can help, and is often necessary. It does not work to be a partner’s salvation. However, it can work, and be justifiably rewarding, to go through a guided healing experience together.
In my direct personal experience, abuse of any sort is cyclical. Via forces of both nature and nurture (or the lack thereof), it gets passed from one generation to the next. Abruptly turning one’s back upon it can be a necessary self-protective measure.
However, the systematic adoption of this stance can become its own form of trauma, robbing families of authentic opportunities for healing wounds generations deep.
Embracing this perspective requires a good dose of chutzpah. Within it, a successful relationship no longer has to be a one-person-fits-a-lifetime doorway to your personal happily ever after.
Instead, successful relationships become open-ended and uncharted doorways to powerful personal transformation which exists on its own terms.
Kelli Lynn is the co-founder of TerraTonz LLC and an advocate for human rights and plant medicine. A lifelong writer and occasional artist published in Adbusters, The Humanist and elsewhere, she lives with her children and other loved ones in Northwest Georgia, USA. You could contact her via her blog.