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By November 6, 2008 Read More →

The getting in is easy, why’s the getting out so hard?

If it’s easy getting into a relationship with an exploiter, getting out isn’t always so simple. What makes the getting out so difficult?

In retrospect (if we’re lucky enough to say “in retrospect”) it seems like it should have been a no-brainer. In truth there are many reasons it can be hard to leave a destructive relationship and destructive person. I’ve addressed several of them in previous posts, and the LoveFraud community in general has addressed this theme comprehensively.

But here I’d like to consider a less-appreciated factor.

I regard it as the factor of habituation. Optimally the best time to end a relationship with an exploiter is the very first signal you get that something is amiss. The next best time to leave the relationship would the second signal that something is amiss.

When we don’t act on these early signals, increasingly we are less likely to act on subsequent ones. One of many reasons for this is the process of habituation.

Habituation is basically how, through repeated exposure to something initially uncomfortable, even highly disturbing, we adjust to it. We are built, it seems, to habituate to unsettling situations and experiences.

And the key to successful habituation is exposure. Sustained exposure to almost anything increases our tolerance of, and comfort with, it.

Consider what happens when we’re willing to endure the initial shock of cold water in a lake, or pool. Our sustained exposure (non-flight) gradually results in our bodies’ adjusting, or habituating, to the cold water, which begins to feel less cold, maybe even warm.

This is great news for someone with a social phobia. We just have to be willing to intentionally expose ourselves, repeatedly and sustainedly, to disturbing social situations, and quite likely we’ll experience a gradual reduction of anxiety.

Unfortunately the same thing can be said of abusive, exploitative relationships. The longer you expose yourself to, and repeatedly tolerate, the abuse, the more habituated you become to it.

Alarming behaviors that initially signaled our self-protective response (like flight) gradually lose their activating properties as we habituate to them. The avoidance-flight signal particularly—in the face of repeated, sustained exposure—dulls and/or we become less responsive to it.

Heeding the avoidant-flight response, in other words, can be critical to our safety and self-interest. It is great to confront and conquer avoidance when the avoidance hinders our personal growth; but it is dangerous to do so in the face of real, violating circumstances.

When I work with partners of sociopaths and other abusers, I find that habituation to the exploiter’s abuse often has occurred over time and contributes to the inertia that keeps the exploited partner in the relationship.

Of course there are often many other (and sometimes more compelling) reasons that one stays in a relationship with an exploitative partner.

But habituation to the abuse, I believe, is not only real, but sometimes helps explain why an otherwise dignified individual would tolerate behaviors that, from the outside—that is, from the unhabituated’s perspective—should be (or should have been) no-brainer deal-breakers.

When relevant I encourage clients to examine this factor in their analysis of the indignities they’ve sustained sometimes for years in relationships with disturbed, violating partners.

Paradoxically (and precisely to my point) their suffering was often highest early in the relationship before, through habituation, they grew slowly more numb and inured to—more tolerant of—the abuse, and thereby less motivated to do what was advisable at the outset—flee.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)

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700 Comments on "The getting in is easy, why’s the getting out so hard?"

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  1. Wini says:

    Rune: I know our government is up to their ying yangs on the bailout. When those politicians were all over the TV a few months back saying hurry, hurry, hurry … give them the bailout … was exactly how they played me. The urgency … hurry, hurry, hurry.

    It was too much like my scenario … how they did me in.

    I definitely know what I’m talking about on this issue.

    Peace.

  2. Wini says:

    Rune: In the Bible it specially tells us that FOOL run our courts.

    As for the anti-socials of the world … they have always been in society … just there are more people, so percentage wise, their are more anti-socials in the world.

    My spiritual adviser told me … that when horrific things happens in man’s life … it is a test from God. Do you get bitter about the human experience or do you stay calm and at peace and keep love in your heart? Free will again. The Bible tells us to put our faith in God … no matter what happens … keep our hearts opened to God… because what is down here is the human experience …, no matter what that experience is … it’s superficial … just keep your heart and love towards our Creator … for he will never forsake us (fail us). Other humans will/can fail us, but God’s love and his knowing ALL … will never lead us astray.

    I know this sounds difficult because after all, we are living in human form and it was our lives that got screwed over big time … but, when you look at it from the spiritual aspect of it … the words of God are incredible. You just have to change your mindset from the human perspective to your spiritual perspective … knowing instinctively, that God loves us.

    For example. We can all turn into jerks just like our EXs if we wanted to. Obviously, no one is stopping our EXs … so what do we have to loose (except our souls) if we started to be just as ruthless and obnoxious as our EXs? Because, all of us … without realizing it … knows instinctively, not only what we were taught when we were children about God … but, we feel it instinctively in our hearts and souls NOT TO DO WRONG AGAINST OUR FELLOW MAN. That’s why we don’t just go out and do wrong. We take it on the chin, sort to speak … learn to get through the pain and anguish so that we can become loving and compassionate again. The Bible says all of us were told this before we came down in human form … it’s written on our hearts and souls and we have a conscious to prove it. That’s why I don’t buy into they have a missing gene. They are just turning off their conscious telling them not to do something … aka relying on their EGO as an excuse. They know what they do is wrong … they just buy into the “so what” theory … go for the gusto.

    I hope this makes sense to you.

  3. Matt says:

    Wini and Rune:

    Well, I was on a roll responding to your last couple of posts. And then the cyber-gods intervened and I lost the whole post.

    And so I start again.

    Wini, I was just talking to a friend who has had a case filed with my state’s bar disciplinary committee for over 5 years against a lawyer who took her for a small fortune, and then walked off the case.

    The Committee didn’t depose either of them. She essentially got the form letter you did. I have to admit I am outraged on her behalf. The so-called “self regulation” that our politicos have let become the norm has gotten us into this sorry state.

    There is no such thing as self-regulation. Self regulation = self interest (protection of).

    I so agree with you regarding the bailout and the “hurry, hurry, hurry” aspect to it. My S was the master of the urgent plea for help. As a taxpayer and someone with morals I am outraged at Ex-President (doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?) Bush’s handling of this — his handing out the money and then, after the fact saying “Duh, oh yeah, it’d be nice if you lent some of it to the people.”

    Hello?! We all learned the hard way in Sociopath 101 that you never lend money first and then impose questions later. And if a person didn’t learn it in Sociopath 101 then common sense says you shouldn’t.

    Oh, yeah. Common sense. Remember that one?

    The lack of common sense manifested by our business and political leaders is truly mind-boggling. I look at the carnage on Wall Street and our financial markets and I am revolted at the staggering sense of entitlement these morons, who have tanked the system have.

    I still remember when Richard Fuld, the now ex-Chairman of Lehman Brothers, got up before Congress and said “I’ve taken my hits, too. My net worth went from $1 billion to $100 million.”

    Appallingly egocentric. Appallingly entitled. I cheered when I heard the next day that a Lehman employee who had been wiped out, walked up to Fuld in the gym and clocked him and knocked him cold.

    But it doesn’t end. I read last week that John Thain, the Chairman of Merrill Lynch, went to his Board of Directors and told them he was entitled to a $10 million bonus — BECAUSE HE ENGINEERED THE TAKEOVER WITH BANK IF AMERICA.

    Did I miss something? Wasn’t that a shot-gun (in this case Howitzer) marriage because Bank of America HAD to takeover Merill because it was tanking? And now Bank of America is on the ropes — oh yes, because Merrill just announced a $15 billion loss for the last quarter.

    Amazing how Thain didn’t bother share that little tidbit with his Board, until after he made his bonus pitch, isn’t it?

    Today I was talking to some people in the gym. And our reaction was unanimous — we are totally disgusted with the Narcissistic behavior that has become the norm in our society.

    And we all have high hopes that President Obama is going to start bringing about a change in our society. Put another way, I think the days of Club Fed are over. Financial crime is every bit as harmful as other crime. He recognizes that. It gives me hope.

    Rune, I’m grappling with the same issue you are. I keep grappling with the fact that if God is merciful, why would he ever put me through what he did with S? I’m starting to feel like I take a lickin’ but don’t keep tickin’. I’m finding it awfully hard to “keep the faith” these days.

  4. Rune says:

    Matt: I watched someone go through the brutal experience of an eviction this past week: years of living in a house, and half the stuff in the driveway. Health issues, business reversal, bad relationship, foreclosure, . . . you get the picture. This might be someone like you, or like one of the guys at the gym: a high-powered professional looking at his life in ruins.

    He’s going through the process of realizing experientially what it means to lose everything. It didn’t really hit until he moved from the house into a motel room. Now what? Well, with the new reality of the increased fragility of life, I see him being more empathetic, more understanding of situations that he just couldn’t “get” before. I don’t know if he is even aware, but he was a nice guy before this, and he may turn into an outstanding soul if he learns and grows along the way in this new reality.

    I guess this is to hand you some back-handed encouragement. You may have always been a fine person. I think of the Japanese sword — beaten and folded into hundreds of layers of fine, flexible, razor-sharp weaponry. Are we being beaten and tested by fire so we are ready for something we can’t foresee?

    Courage.

  5. OxDrover says:

    Several of you have asked if God is so merciful, why would he allow “bad things” to happen to people?

    Well, let me give you my take on it for what it is worth. Remember when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son on the altar. Now God KNEW IN ADVANCE that Abraham would do it if he asked it, but ABRAHAM DIDN’T KNOW until he got there. I can only imagine how ABraham suffered emotionally on the way, but he trusted that this event would work out, because he trusted that God would make things right.

    Remember when David had to hide from King saul who was hunting him down and trying to kill him? Well, God could have stopped Saul from trying to kill DAvid and wouldn’t it have been “easier” for everyone? Well, maybe and maybe not. DAVID learned some valuable lessons while he was hiding out.

    I very much identify with david in his hiding out, I read and reread that story in I and II Samuel of him hiding from Saul, just as I hid from the Trojan Horse Psychopath who was out to kill me, but I LEARNED SOME VALUABLE LESSONS in doing so. I learned that my farm is not a sacred place, it is a piece of realestate that just happens to have been in my family since 1833. It isn’t sacred ground. I don’t need this piece of dirt or any other particular piece of dirt to be happy.

    I learned that “Stuff” isn’t important and that I can live and be happy with much less than I have.

    Having learned the lessons, which included that I can’t “fix” anyone who doesn’t want to be fixed and that right does not always come out on top (at least in this world). I’ve learned a lot of lessons that have brought me closer to God, closer to my two good sons, distanced me from my P son, and I am starting to be happier than I have been I think in my life. To appreciate the REALLY important things in life, and they are not about money, position, status, fame or any of the things that the media hypes to us that will “make you happy.”

    The finest China has been through the hottest fire. The Bible says that pure silver is put through the fire to burn out the impurities within it.

    I have a couple of knives made by a master knifemaker named George Roth (now deceased) that are made by the process Rune described, it is called Damascus steel, and each knife has a “finger print” uniquely its own. They can BEND 90 degrees without breaking, where other knives would break. That’s what makes them so special and so expensive.

    WE too, I think, have been through the FIRE and are going to come out MORE FLEXIBLE and stronger than when we went in.

  6. stormee says:

    OXY
    That post was so inspiring …Wonderful analogy…Thanks
    God Bless…

  7. Comments are closed on this thread only because it is so long. Don’t want any technical problems.

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