Being in an abusive or controlling relationship is difficult for anyone. Struggling with an anxiety disorder complicates things, making the situation even more difficult to handle. Statistics show that 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men, will be involved in an abusive relationship at one point in their lives.
This is a problem in the general population. My experience in the anxiety disorders community leads be to believe that it is even more prevalent among people suffering from anxiety problems. Today I was joined by Colleen Merlo and Wendy Linsalata of Long Island Against Domestic Violence. Colleen and Wendy were kind enough to give their time to discuss the problem and answer questions posed in my Facebook group.
Abusive relationships are not confined to physically abuse. Mental and emotional abuse come alongside the physical abuse, or even on their own without any physical component. An abusive relationship is generally defined as one in which one participant uses power to control the other. This may be physical, emotional, mental or even financial power. If your partner is using your anxiety issues against you to isolate you, belittle you, control you, or convince you that you will never get better, you are likely in an abusive relationship.
Abusers are strategic. Relationships never start off as obviously abusive. Your partner may go to great lengths to play the role you require of them as safe person and supporter. They will go the extra mile to let you become dependent upon them, only to turn on you in the future. What was once supportive becomes manipulative, controlling, and abusive. This is not your fault. It happens to health, intelligent people every day.
Often people suffering with an anxiety disorder lose the ability to trust their own judgement, emotions and thoughts. Understand that you may be confuse the actual impact and danger of real abuse with your anxiety. An abusive or controlling relationship is real danger. That may be physical or emotional, but it is danger nonetheless. At no point do you need to find a way to “be OK” with abuse, manipulation, or control. We learn to “be OK” with anxiety itself so that we learn that it is not dangerous. An abusive partner represents real danger. You not not required to learn how to be OK with that. Ever. Do your best to accurately identify what you are experiencing and feeling. If the actions of your partner make you feel unsafe, threatened, or insecure, this may lead to panic and anxiety, which you are also afraid of. Be aware of the first response to the actual stressor in this situation. When unsure, safely seek the counsel of third parties to help you assess the situation.
If you are leaving an abusive relationship, or have already left the relationship, you are not required to “expose yourself” to your ex-partner. This was asked several times. The best bet is to make the arrangements you need to make to not have contact with that person. Naturally, children, custody, and visitation issues may make this challenging, but your goal should be to cut that person out of your life. There is no need to learn how to be around your abuser going forward.
Leaving an abusive relationship requires a plan. If you are planning to leave, your plan should be made quietly. Do not tell your partner that you are reaching out for help or talking to friends and family about the situation. Get help. There is local help available including experts trained to help you explore every option you have. Knowing your options and making informed decisions designed to ensure your safety is important. Remember that ending ANY relationship will hurt. You will grieve the loss of the relationship, regardless of the abuse. This is normal and to be expected.
The aftermath of an abusive or controlling relationship is difficult. Dealing with the trauma, hurt, trust issues, or even self-blame issues that arise once you have left an abusive relationship is work that must be done. Seeking professional help, and the help of trusted loved ones, is important. You must allow yourself time to heal, and to learn that a positive future is possible for you. Your anxiety issues may complicate this, but you have heard me say many times that we need to work on our anxiety, AND on our trauma or emotional issues. All the work must be done. Sometimes this happens all at the same time. You are capable of working through the pain of your abusive relationship, and solving your anxiety problems.
Thank you so much to Colleen and Wendy for spending time to address this important topic today.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (United States): 1-800-799-7233
- National Domestic Violence Hotline web site: https://thehotline.org
- Long Island Against Domestic Violence: 631-666-8833
- Long Island Against Domestic Violence web site: https://liadv.org
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