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When you reach your breaking point with someone, you might make the decision to leave. During that time, you can regain your confidence and feel your power again.

You might even decide to give the relationship a second chance, knowing that if you see any warning signs, you can address them right away. That is until you are once again coerced into staying in a situation that seems destined to go down the exact same path as before.

Now what? Do you endure, or do you finally reach your breaking point making the decision to leave forever?

Reaching a breaking point with someone can be a transformational moment. It’s a time when you reclaim your confidence and feel your power resurface. You might even consider giving the relationship another shot, armed with the knowledge that you’re ready to tackle any red flags head-on. However, there’s a risk of being lured back into a situation that seems fated to repeat the same painful patterns.

This is what I refer to as reaching your “threshold.” It’s the moment you realize you’ve had enough and are teetering on the edge of breaking down. You tell yourself, “This is it. I’m not going to take it anymore.” You may lay down an ultimatum: Change, or I’m leaving. Or perhaps you simply leave or end the relationship in some way.

The concept of a threshold is my way of describing that everyone has a limit. Eventually, we hit that limit and declare, “That’s enough.”

Some people may not reach their threshold for decades. I’ve heard from individuals who’ve endured emotionally abusive relationships for years before they finally hit their breaking point, perhaps prompted by something they read or heard that led to an epiphany: “Now I know I’m not crazy. Now I understand why I feel terrible, guilty, or responsible for things I know I didn’t do. Despite my best efforts, things never improve, and I’m left feeling awful all the time.”

Emotional abuse, to me, is when someone exploits your emotions—your compassion, empathy, sympathy, love, and support—and twists them until it no longer feels right to be yourself.

Your inherently wonderful qualities, like kindness and generosity, are manipulated by those who are determined to get what they want, regardless of your feelings. They may do this blatantly or subtly, but no matter how much you express your pain or distress, it seems inconsequential to them. Their goal is to have their way, no matter the cost to you.

Not every person who is emotionally abusive is inherently bad. Some may simply lack coping skills or empathy. If they never show empathy, there’s a chance they could be a sociopath or psychopath, but that’s not always the case.

If you’ve witnessed moments of compassion from them, then there might be hope for change. The key is whether they can acknowledge the harm they’re causing, admit they have a problem, and express a genuine desire to change. If they can do that, there’s a chance for transformation.

However, the challenge arises when the emotionally abusive individual wants to heal while remaining in the relationship, which can be a complex journey for both parties involved.

Indeed, many individuals who seek to mend their ways express a desire to preserve their relationships while they heal. This is certainly achievable, but it requires significant changes.

Participants in my Healed Being program, which aids emotionally abusive individuals in transforming and healing, have had to confront the truth about themselves. They’ve had to acknowledge that the behaviors they’ve exhibited for much of their lives are harmful. Accepting that their actions are wrong is a critical step for someone who has been emotionally abusive, especially when they may not even realize the hurt they’ve been causing.

For these individuals, their behavior seems normal—it’s just who they are. To anyone who has been on the receiving end of such behavior, this may sound absurd, but it’s true that there are people who engage in harmful actions without recognizing their wrongdoing.

A common question I encounter is, “Why would they do this if they loved me?” The simple (and sad) answer is that they believe they are right, so they have no reason to change.

For years, I, too, was convinced that my approach to relationships was right, oblivious to the pain I caused my partners. I mistook their unhappiness as a consequence of their own actions, not mine.

I used to wonder, “Why don’t they just follow my advice? Then they’ll be happier.”

I was utterly unaware of the impact of my behavior. This isn’t an excuse or an attempt to garner sympathy; it’s a reality that some people are completely unaware that they are the source of pain in their relationships. They truly believe their actions are justified, and when their partner is hurt by something they’ve done or said, they fail to see their own fault, instead believing the other person is self-inflicting their pain.

This might sound ridiculous to many readers, and understandably so. It’s difficult to grasp how someone could be so blind to the distress they cause. Yet, some individuals genuinely believe that their way of communication is correct, even when it’s hurtful.

Then there are those who are fully aware of the harm they cause and simply don’t care. These individuals are intent on controlling, manipulating, deceiving, and lying without any regard for your feelings.

I’ll say it plainly:

You shouldn’t stay with someone who is indifferent to your happiness or pain.

While leaving such a situation may be complex, it’s crucial to determine whether the person you’re with cares about your well-being.

Do they care if you’re happy?
Are they concerned when they hurt you?
Do they care if their words instill fear?

These are essential questions that need answers.

Asking tough questions can unearth truths that, while we may not necessarily want to hear them, are crucial to know.

I recall a woman who confronted her partner, inquiring if he was aware that his actions were causing her pain. His response? He admitted he knew, and when pressed further on why he persisted, he flippantly responded that he found it amusing.

That’s baffling, right? Even for someone like me, who spends a lot of time discussing and teaching about these issues, such an admission is startling. It’s a window into the mindset beneath the surface, and for her, it was a moment of revelation.

You might dread the answers you get, but it’s essential to ask questions like, “Do you realize you’re hurting me?” or “Are you aware that your actions make me feel sad or scared?” The clarity that comes from these answers is invaluable.

Emotional abuse often breeds confusion, leaving one to wonder about the possibility of change, the origin of the problem, and the appropriate course of action.

However, just a few straightforward, albeit difficult, questions can illuminate much. What happens, though, when the responses are not in favor of you or the relationship?

That’s the crossroads, isn’t it? Once you’re armed with that knowledge, you might be faced with a significant decision. But I firmly believe it’s always better to seek out those answers. And, ideally, you’re with someone who will be honest with you. If they have a history of lying, brace yourself for more of the same. That’s the unfortunate reality.

Now, circling back to the initial discussion about the cyclical nature of relationships—leaving and returning, the promises of change—it’s a familiar scenario. I once received a message from a woman who, after a period of separation and personal growth, felt confident enough to give her partner another chance, believing she could stand her ground if his old behaviors resurfaced.

Initially, things seemed to improve, but by the six-month mark, the old patterns returned. She confronted the situation and they parted ways again. Yet, the temptation to believe in change lingered, sometimes reinforced by family members who may see the person differently.

Family can have a skewed perspective, not experiencing the same treatment as a romantic partner does. It’s not uncommon for an abuser to behave differently with family, which can lead to misunderstandings about the person’s true nature. But it’s important to remember that the dynamics within a romantic relationship are distinct, and often, family members aren’t privy to the same experiences.

It’s a tough situation, especially when family members encourage you to give someone another chance, not fully grasping the reality of the situation.

It’s not always that others want to offload someone onto you; sometimes, they genuinely wish to see that person happy. They might believe that happiness will spark a transformation, halting the cycle of hurt inflicted on loved ones.

However, in the case of the woman who reached out to me, her struggle was with guilt, compounded by pressure from his mother. His mother was convinced that with just one more chance and divine intervention, he would change. But as the woman pointed out, she had already given him another chance, and that’s how she ended up in this mess.

Dealing with guilt is a common challenge because we often witness the softer side of those who can be abusive. We see their kindness and their caring nature. These aspects emerge when they’re not in the midst of being hurtful and when they’re feeling better within themselves and aren’t acting out of selfish needs.

It’s like my own experience with my stepfather; he was a pleasant, caring man when sober. But when he drank, he became someone else entirely—volatile and abusive. It created a toxic environment where we had to weigh the good against the bad and ask ourselves if the good times were worth enduring the bad.

Is the “good” good enough to overshadow the bad?

From my perspective, if my stepfather had only been drunk once a month, that would have been a significant improvement. But even then, could I have handled it?

Maybe, but I’m not in the same position as someone like my mother was, enduring abuse. For someone in that situation, even one instance of abuse can be one too many.

Speaking from a place of empowerment and control over my life, it’s easy for me to say I could handle it. But that’s not the reality for a victim of abuse. Many feel powerless, unable to make decisions, and trapped under someone else’s control. They often lack the resources and confidence to navigate their way out of the situation and are fearful of the unknown.

My mother, for instance, stayed because of fear. She never specified what she meant by ‘scared,’ but over time, I understood—it was fear of his potential actions, fear of being alone, fear of the unknown life beyond the relationship. She hadn’t been single for four decades, and the prospect of that was daunting.

The person who wrote to me said she felt guilty. In one episode of Love and Abuse called Six Reasons You Might Feel Guilty for Leaving the Abuser, I explore various facets of guilt. However, I want to touch on a particular aspect of guilt that I didn’t cover back then.

A woman once shared with me her feelings of guilt stemming from the possibility of disappointing his mother and the fear that she hadn’t given him enough opportunities to change.

This kind of guilt, the kind that’s tied to letting others down or not offering enough chances, is something many of us grapple with—I know I do. We often link our guilt to the perceived impact of our actions on others. You might feel guilty because you think you’re doing something harmful to someone else.

But let’s shift our perspective on guilt for a moment. Consider guilt as a reflection of your desire to avoid pain.

Ask yourself, should I feel guilty for not wanting to be hurt by that person?

This question helps narrow down the scope of what guilt means to us, especially when it’s related to not giving someone another chance or deciding to leave them.

By associating guilt with the wish to avoid pain from someone else, we start to filter out other interpretations of guilt—those that involve feeling bad for the occasional kindness they show or the disappointment we might cause their family.

By reframing guilt in this context, we simplify it to a single, clear thought: Should I feel guilty for not wanting to be hurt by another person?

This question cuts through the clutter of associated images, people, situations, and emotions that typically arise with guilt. And it brings us to a straightforward answer. You know the answer to whether you should feel guilty for not wanting to be hurt. It’s the same question the abusive person should be asking themselves about their own guilt for hurting you.

The beauty of this approach is that it keeps the issue of guilt within your own realm of control, just as their guilt should stay within theirs.

When you let your guilt depend on the actions of others, it becomes a waiting game for someone else to change before you can find relief. But if that change never comes, your guilt lingers indefinitely. Your healing shouldn’t hinge on their transformation.

Healing from guilt means taking steps that are right for you, actions that affirm self-love. If someone can’t love you in the way you deserve, it’s crucial you take those steps yourself.

This shifts the focus entirely onto you, though it doesn’t necessarily exclude them, as they can also work through their own feelings of guilt. If they regret hurting you, which I hope they do, that’s something they need to address. But that’s their burden, not yours.

When your guilt is about protecting yourself from pain, it starts to transform. You’ll soon realize the absurdity of feeling guilty for wanting to avoid hurt.

If you redefine guilt in this way, it stands a good chance of dissipating naturally. They can handle their own issues and their healing, while you can invest time in reminding yourself of your worthiness and lovability.

If you’re always feeling hurt, sad, or confused and can’t pinpoint why, it’s a sign that something is amiss. Focusing on yourself and reaffirming your worth is the path forward.

Remember, someone who truly loves you wants to see you happy.

That’s the fundamental truth. Stay strong, and may you navigate through whatever challenges you face with grace and ease.

Share this with others who might benefit.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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