Sometimes we spend a little too much time wondering why someone who we gave so much of ourselves to, would return to somebody who mistreated them and gave so little in comparison and we forget to empathise, in spite of the fact that if we did, it would actually provide the true answers about why they left. We remember their hurt, we remember the stories, we recall all that we did to show them another way and really, if it comes down to making a straight choice between which side their bread is buttered on, there’s no way in hell that they should leave us for pain, so of course when it appears that they’ve left us to go to pain, we wonder what the hell was wrong with us.
The thing is, when we get into the whole comparison thing in general, it’s a confidence depressor anyway where we judge ourselves as inadequate against our own imagination, assumptions and generalisations, and maybe what we believe is the information that we know. When we compare ourselves to our ex’s toxic ex when we have been The Great Girlfriend / Boyfriend, we’re so busy viewing things through the What’s Wrong With Me? / After Everything I Did Filters that we actually fail to see that person and reality.
Think about abusive relationships and how many people leave and yet despite knowing that that person and the relationship is toxic, they go back or cave when they hear from that person. They’ll even go against their own restraining order. They’re still hoping that this time things will be different and that they can change the person. They might latch onto an occasion such as a birthday, Valentine’s, or Christmas, convincing themselves the ‘magic’ of these will slot everything into place, only to wind up disappointed.
The abuser may seem all powerful because during their involvement, when they were ‘on’, it was amazing and when they were ‘off’, it felt like hell. The dynamic likely activated an urge to fill a void and right the wrongs of past experiences that may stretch back to childhood. It may seem as if the abuser is their source of value and salvation, even if in actuality, it’s more akin to them being their tormentor. They may get tired of ignoring calls and feel guilty when they hear their abuser’s pleas to hear them out and how bad they feel. The blame may get switched around and they convince themselves that they provoked it. And so these people go back.
It might be hope, it might be just not having the strength to fight and not seeing any other options. They may have what they feel is unfinished business in the form of seeking closure or trying to get that person to see their point of view and to gain their validation. It may simply feel more familiar and comfortable because outside of the toxic involvement, it’s like having to learn a new language and habits in a foreign country and it may feel far too uncomfortable. They may believe that it’s all that they deserve and that they truly are nothing without this person or that they can’t meet our expectations. They may still hear the chopping criticisms on repeat. They may have hoped that being with a new partner would jolt them to their senses.
They go back and then soon enough, the abuse cycle starts again.
Of course it’s terrible that they’ve gone back because of the potential for harm but when we feel wounded by their return and personalise it, we forget to empathise and recognise the trauma that this person may have gone through because we’re focusing on our perspective and position. There’s nothing wrong with this to a point – it’s bloody painful and in acknowledging our own feelings and opinions, as well as our true needs, expectations, and wants, we have an opportunity to be honest and recognise that our own mission may not have been as authentic as we’d like to believe, or that on some level we knew that we were a safety net and buffer. That and if they’re in a zone where they’re largely affected by their ex, they’re not available. We knew that they weren’t all in and that a part of them was still very much tied up with this toxic ex, but we hoped that with enough TLC, the ex would be forgotten and we would ‘step in’ and maybe even live happily ever after.
We have to be honest about why we’re hurting because it’s not really all about this person going back to their ex; it’s about what truly motivated us to want to love them in the first place, which may very well have tied into unhealthy patterns. It’s also about the unhealthy comparisons.
If we love ’em, we’ve gotta empathise otherwise, all we’re doing is making it about us but calling it ‘we’. Often when we look at our own reasons for going back to our dodgy relationships, those reasons don’t hold up in the logical, cold light of day but we made those choices anyway because it was something that we had to go through and we often acted on how we felt even if that took us towards pain instead of away from it. We could have learned from the insights within a healthier relationship but we may have had to cut our own teeth on some of our painful lessons. In spite of this, we may struggle to truly empathise if we can’t understand why they’re going back when we have managed to stay away from our own toxic ex. We can try to ‘replace’ their ex but we’re crossing theirs and our own boundaries – we’re not armchair psychologists, rehab nurses or even substitute parents.
It hurts, not just because we don’t want to see them hurt but also because we’ve experienced our own loss but we will lose a great deal more if we don’t rein it in and recognise what’s really going on. Sure, we could take it that their return to a toxic relationship must mean terrible things about us (it doesn’t) and that we’re not loveable or good enough, but we could just as easily opt to recognise the situation for what it is and see that the person we tried to love may not love themselves very much and is under the influence of a toxic relationship. That information is about them and their situation, not you.