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by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

 

This post is about the GPYB program‘s insistence that to become healthy you must change your standards and develop boundaries. The program teaches that in any given situation there are only 3 choices: Accept it, Change it or Leave. This is a GPYB truism and one discussed in-depth in the workbook and in Getting Back Out There  

It’s about walking away from abuse, making decisions about infidelity, and turning your life around after a difficult relationship of destructive dysfunction.

Backstory to this post:  I first wrote this in 2007 and there have been many edits since. Some major and some minor.  It’s been recently re-edited again.

Yesterday I was speaking to a client about “core affirmations.” These are the 10-12 affirmations you keep in your daily set without changing.  Some of the core affirmations stay with you for a very long time. I was telling her that the affirmation, “I am a woman of grace and dignity.” was part of my core affirmations for years. It was a very long time before I moved that out of my daily affirmations. I only did so when “I am a woman of grace and dignity” was felt TO MY DNA and I behaved in accordance with that belief – never ever ever accepting abuse, name-calling, cheating etc. A woman of grace and dignity simply doesn’t accept any of that.  I have edited this to reflect how that works here. 

I’ve posted this a few times recently.  Prior to these two reasons to resurrect and edit this post, it seemed that people remember me saying something here or there and someone had emailed the Mean Lady Talking podcast to say they heard me say “Take the V off your forehead” on a podcast. 

I didn’t remember saying that recently, but it IS a saying of mine. It was said to me when I started this journey.  I emailed them back and said I would post something from LONG ago to answer it.  I have several Remove the Victim posts and this is one from way way back. 

Many of my posts talk about stopping your own victimization. Stop identifying as a victim, take the “V” off your forehead, learn that you have power to control what happens to you (to a certain extent) and that you get what you put up with. And I have also talked about “abuser’s remorse” which is when the abuser apologizes and promises everything will change from here on in. 

And that only lasts until you do something wrong and then it’s GASLIGHT CITY come to town!  The abuser was GOING to be GOOD, but YOU went and ruined it!!!  But part of getting healthy is OWNING OUR OWN STUFF.  That is very very important.  This is NOT about BLAMING THE VICTIM.  I just did a podcast railing against that, but this is TAKING RESPONSIBILTY for YOUR PART in your OWN VICTIMIZATION.  It is something I had to do to get well and it is something I would not have been able to forego.  Healing DOES NOT HAPPEN without self-responsibility.   


REMOVING THE VICTIM –

original post date 8/11/07

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

It’s a terrible thing to be victimized by someone else. It’s a terrible thing to be abused. It’s a terrible thing to be pushed around, gaslighted, told that your best was not good enough. It’s awful to be abused and it’s terrible to be cheated on. It’s even worse when you think all of this may just be your fault. Your partner’s terrible behavior is really your fault after all. If only you would be better, think better, stand straighter, talk (more, less, differently), things would not be so bad. It’s all your fault, you know. 

Been there, done that. I not only have the tee shirt, I made the tee shirt, by hand, from scraps I found along the way and built it into the most wonderful, authentic, incredible piece of clothing you’ve ever seen – and yet, the abusers of the world said, “Nope. Not good enough. Are you TRYING to upset me? Are you?  See how you are!” And my perplexed self went back to the drawing board to try to please, to get the approval that wouldn’t have been gotten in a million years. 

It was never about being fair or right or just. Never. It was never about someone expressing love to me IF I behaved in a right-minded manner (according to their constantly shifting ideas of what that was). It was never about any of that. It was about “Give me your all so I can throw it in your face and tell you that it sucks and I hate you and it’s all your fault that I do.  I WANTED to love you, but you make it so damn impossible.” That is when I was told by my therapist that I would never win the approval of these people. I would never be told, “good job” or anything even close to that. So I had to leave.  Approval, love, caring, support was never coming my way. I had to get real about that and get the hell out. 

But what about being horrifically wronged and deciding to stay and play? You may be parading around as a victim, a wronged lover or spouse, but you are using your position to torture the person who wronged you instead of trying to either figure out if you want to stay out of love and start again or leave because there is no true forgiveness.

After the abuser has hurt us one too many times and we decide, for the umpteenth time that we want out, they engage in what is called “abuser’s remorse.”  They start moaning and making overtures that they are sorry – they didn’t mean it – if you’d only come back they will prove it to you.  Here, let me make it up to you.

Many times “abuser’s remorse” works because we want it to. We want this person who hurt us deeply, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, to “pay” and it seems as if he or she is. They are hurting (really seems like it!) and paying emotionally and begging and promising. We have the upper hand. That is what we want. We want the upper hand more than we want to sit back and think, “Does an apology here really cut it? Is it believable? Should I just get the hell out now?” 

It’s just easier when you set this standard in your life:

ABUSE OF ANY KIND (physical, mental, emotional, verbal)

=  ONE AND DONE

Because the dance of dysfunction and abuse has to end. And it has to end the minute, NO, the SECOND, that abuse rears its head. It is NOT going to get easier.  Once abuse and gaslighting and causing you to question yourself and your actions and motives comes into play, it’s time to get out and not stay and do the dysfunctional dance of abuse.

Couples in abusive and/or deeply dysfunctional relationships do this dance with a certain regularity. One person is holding the cards at all times. Typically, the abuser holds the cards the majority of the time. But right after a MAJOR abuse incident, the victim gets to believe that he or she has some power. The abuser is sorry and remorseful…they promise to change. They seem small and weak and pathetic.

So the victim now has the upper hand and is holding the cards in that hand. They can still leave or they can stay and play because he or she thinks she or he has the other on the ropes. They can become punishing and withdrawn, thinking (erroneously) that they have the upper hand and this jackhole is now going to “pay” for his or her sins.

If you have survived abusive relationships, it MUST NOW BE ONE AND DONE.   It cannot be anything else.  There are things that are simply unforgivable and MUST BE.  Through your affirmations and Standards and Compatibility Inventory, you must decide what that it and what it will be. 

For ALL relationships – family, friendships, intimate, professional have this standard: Do not forgive what should not be forgiven. I have told my clients, boot campers, listeners and readers – after I left my first marriage no one EVER called me a name – not once, not ever.

That was the result of two things that happened after I left my first husband and got into recovery. First, I let people know it was a standard of mine, bolstered by my affirmations, I believed it to my core and didn’t attract people, any longer, who would abuse me. I make this promise to all who work with me and work the program. If you do your affirmations and you commit to yourself that this will NEVER happen again, then it won’t ever happen again and the people who would do this to you will disappear from your life. I know it has to do with the subconscious and I’ve studied this phenomenom for years. I can’t tell you, without hours of academic discussion, how it works, but I know that it does.  That is WHY you must stay true to your affirmations and do them DAILY. 

When I was dating, I told men in the beginning – don’t ever call me a name.  One and you’re done. And I meant it. When you believe in something to your core, to the depth of your DNA, people who would try to do something to you that you know you won’t allow simply don’t come near you.  If I was out on a date with someone and I told them this and never heard from them again, I assumed that name calling was part of their repetoire and they had to move on to unhealthier options. This woman was not going for it.  NEXT!

I have talked – in GBOT materials – that many times others “reject” us because they know they would not get away with what they typically get away with. I have had clients walk away from a fabulous date with a great person deciding to never speak to that person again. Why? They seem too healthy. They would never put up with the typical bs they try to pull in relatonships. At that point the client stops dating for a while and we work on what they have framed as “my typical bs.” 

I have clients on both sides of that equation. I have many other clients who happen to be the one who walks away from a fabulous date with a great person who never hears from that person again.  They feel rejected and dejected and wonder what it is they did “WRONG” without thinking that it might be what they are doing “right.” Many times people pick up on the fact that we are too healthy for them or we won’t play reindeer games. It’s true. I knew a guy for a LONG time who was sort of a friend of mine (he hung out in my peer group but barely ever spoke two words to me). 

Years later I heard he had had a massive crush on me for most of the time we were “friends.” I said to the person who told me this, “Why didn’t he ever ask me out?” I was expecting to hear he was too shy or something since he barely spoke to me. Instead I was told, he said you were too healthy for him and you wouldn’t put up with his nonsense.  He was a nice guy who had a severe gambling problem that he engaged in at the dog track. I was against the running of dogs as well as the gambling, so he was right.  But imagine we were on a first date together and he said, “I have some friends who go down to the dog track a lot…”  and I chimed in with, “Oh I don’t believe in racing dogs.  That’s cruel and horrible.”  Chances are I would never have heard from him again.  And many people in the same place would wonder what they did wrong when the answer is NOTHING. 

INFIDELITY  =  ???

Many times people are not sure if they should end a relationship over one transgression or if that needs to be a standard for the future.  For the second one, absolutely.  If you’re no longer in a relationship, you must must must make cheating to be a “one and done” proposition.  No thinking about it, no finding justifications to stay.

When you’re IN the relationship, it’s another version of the dance of dysfunction. The victim is devastated, horrified, hurt beyond belief. How could you???  The cheater says, “I made a mistake, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” Abusers/cheaters remorse.  Is it real?  Sometmes yes or sometimes no.  Sometimes they don’t “fess up” and apologize.  Sometimes they deny anything happened and then quickly and quietly end that cheating relationship they were in. The victim often knows it was done and the accusation is true, but without proof, an admission, an apology, it’s hard to continue the fight. You try to put it away and let it go and hope that the denial is true (though you know it’s most likely not). 

There are people who try to get over infidelity or the feeling/suspicion/knowledge that infidelity took place. They minimize it.  They rationalize it. They blame themselves.  They try to take a wait and see attitude. Maybe I can get past this. Maybe he or she has realized the grass is not greener. Maybe we can go to counseling. Maybe. We’ll see. Maybe I can find my way to forgiveness and we can move on. Or maybe this person is a true cheating jerk who will never be faithful and I have to get out while the getting is good. But right now I don’t know which it is and I have to postpone my decision to see how I feel. Maybe if I leave now, the other person will enter a public relationship with him or her and I’ll have to face that as they tra la la into the sunset, hand-in-hand, and I sit here a miserable wreck. No, I can’t have that.  Surely I must find a way to stay and make it work and get over this. 

They will either elect to go or elect to stay and forgive and move on.  They won’t stay in indecision forever. They will, eventually, figure it out. My suggestion is to leave and move on even if they stay with their cheating partner and, upon a breakup with you, come out in the open about their relationship.  Yes, it hurts when that happens (and I know that only too well), but staying with the cheater hurts more in the end.  Time to end victimhood and move on…no matter what the cheater and his or her cheatee decide to do. 

AND THEN WE HAVE THE PERENNIAL VICTIM  

And then we have the person who listens to the abuser’s remorse or the cheater’s remorse- has some words of their own and say they forgive.  But they will never forget. 

They say they are willing to forgive and stay, but spend the next (days, months, years) torturing the person with the infidelity (or sometimes a sin much less). It is something the other did that comes up all the time. This past sin is forgiven but NEVER forgotten. It is too awesome. Because it is used to manipulate, to hold power over, to keep the other person squirming. They insist on passwords, snoop around in drawers and pants pockets, wallets and phones. They never truly let it go. It’s the sword of Damocles hanging over someone’s head.

And by goodness, they like it.

A GPYB “truism” is that you only have three choices in any situation: accept it, change it, or leave. That’s it.  Staying and torturing is not on the list.

Bitter, angry people who are too stupid or too stubborn or too hellbent on revenge stay and torture.  Even if the “whatever” isn’t as terrible as abuse or infidelity, they use it over and over again. Their spouse NEVER gets a get out of jail free card. They keep the spouse “making up for it” forever and ever. 

Many times people who do this convince themselves that they are being a “good partner” because “all relationships have problems” or “true love forgives” or they’re staying “for the children.”  But their resentment and inability to let go creates a corrosive atmosphere where love and forgiveness cannot and will not exist any more than if the abuse and/or cheating had continued.  Even if they talk a good game and put on a good show that it’s all okay. It’s not okay and never will be okay because they truly have not let go. Therefore, it can’t ever be okay. 

One of the reasons I left my marriage was because I was becoming bitter over things I could not change and could not forgive. There were lots of infidelities and abuse and it swung between abuse and abuser’s remorse and cheating and pretending as if it never happend when I knew that it had.

When he was doing “abuser’s remorse,” I actually got to tell him how much he sucked and he had to listen.  And, whether or not I admitted it, there personal satisfaction in that.  Even if I knew this apology was bullshit and he wasn’t really listening and this was all temporary, I still managed to feel smug and superior. But having the upper hand wasn’t real and wasn’t going to last. 

Nothing was going to change. For the majority of our relationship there were recriminations and lots of loud and dramatic testimony as to why I sucked and he didn’t.  But when he was doing “abuser’s remorse,” I had the opportunity to turn the tables and make him LISTEN.  Only he really wasn’t.  And one of these days I will talk about all the passive-aggressive things I did to him when I felt powerless over his cheating.  Things he never caught on to that happened to him because I caused it, but he was perplexed over these things.

I thought that I was like a marionnette pulling the strings and having a gloat-y satisfaction, but he never knew it.  Just watching it drive him crazy was enough for me, but it was strange and dysfucntional behavior on my part AND I had no right to do that.  I only had the right to accept it, change it or leave, not stay and pull passive-aggressive bullshit. Yes I was hurt and yes I was angry…but it was coming out sideways because I was too afraid to leave. 

STAYING TO TORTURE IS NOT HEALTHY

It’s no way to live. If someone has been unfaithful or acted in a terrible manner there ARE only 3 choices: accept it, change it, or leave. You cannot accept it or change it (via counseling) without a true measure of trying to forgive it and move on. You can’t be a bonehead about it and rush to forgive someone who is just going to ride roughshod all over you the minute you do. You have to get all the information, find out what is and has gone on and why, and see if you really have the wherewithal to see it through and let it go. Being stupid about it is not the answer, but soul searching to come up with what you are a capable of and is this person worth it is the key.  And no one is worth your dignity and self-preservation. NO ONE.

This is why I rail against breaking NC to tell someone off or to “take the opportunity” to say one more thing or one last thing or whatever.  Because they didn’t listen then and they are not listening now and you’re wasting your breath and fooling yourself.  Becoming healthy is not about those things.  It’s about not wasting your breath and NOT fooling yourself.  And when you think you are satisfied because you “had the last word,” that is fooling yourself. 

If you’re staying with someone you know you will never truly forgive and you find yourself torturing that person to “make them pay,” that becomes victim as sadist and it’s not okay.  If you don’t have the guts to leave, you don’t get to stay and act out about it. 

It’s actually worse than being a bananahead.  It’s not okay.  Your responsibilty is to YOU.  Your responsibility is to REMOVE THE VICTIM.

Changing a bad relationship involves work for both parties Can this be saved? Who has to do what? And how much of your partner’s bananaheadedness can be cured? And what are my issues and what do I need to do about it?  If someone has been abusive or unfaithful, that is a HUGE hill to climb. Very few make it. I have counseled couples for decades and very rarely can a couple get past that unless the bad behavior was connected to alcoholism or drug addiction and the person is now in a program and/or therapy and dedicated to changing his or her ways and the “victim” is also in a program and/or therapy. Those are the ONLY exceptions to the rule. 

REMOVING THE VICTIM IN OR OUT OF RELATIONSHIPS IS THE ONLY WAY

Nothing less will do. You cannot cannot cannot be healthy without removing yourself as the victim of others.  How? 

Learn the healthy way of doing things. Learn how to have real boundaries and to enforce them on the regular. 

Resolve to change the things you’ve done in the past to survive dysfunctional relationships. 

Leave that behind and make sure – from here on in – you are going to keep your side of the street clean.   Write your affirmations. When I wrote “I am a woman of grace and dignity” it meant I would never again accept abuse or cheating, but more importantly, I would never again play silly games and be passive-aggressive to someone because I thought it was okay. I learned it was not okay and if I was doing that, I was being a coward about leaving and needed to own that.  Well, that seemed like too high a hill to climb EVER AGAIN so I decided that being a torturer was not what a woman of grace and dignity did. So I never again did it. If a relationship was at the troubling stage where I wanted to do it, I got out. As hard as it might be, I got out.  That is what a woman of grace and dignity does. My affirmations worked to bring about change in my life and this one was a big one. 

GPYB is about healthy living and being a torturer – even a passive aggressive one who is the true victim in the relationship – is not okay.  And you must own up to what you have done in bad relationships in an effort to fool yourself into staying. 

You have to bring every single relationship in your life down to “Accept it, change it or leave.”  You have to develop affirmations that are true barriers to bad behavior. You must learn to live a life of healthy fulfilment and, silly as it sounds, peace and love.

Turn those aspirations into affirmations and watch your life change.  You have removed the victim. You have taken personal responsibility and you will never again be a victim or a torturer. You have arrived. 

There are no other options. 

Get healthy and be true to you.  TODAY.

YOU CAN DO THIS!


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