One of the steps to recovery after leaving an abusive relationship involves self-forgiveness. In fact, it’s one that took the longest for me to complete in my own journey of healing after narcissistic abuse.
There are significant reasons for this, two of them being hindsight and self-loathing.
Hindsight came gradually after my exit, allowing me to see the devastating effects of having stayed in that torturous relationship…both on myself and my children.
Once I began to uncover the crushing consequences of having stayed, that’s when the self-loathing set in. Self-loathing that was so strong, it often took days or weeks for me to recover from the heartbreaking realizations that my choices led to.
Some of those tragic discoveries came slowly, like witnessing the developing scene of a disturbing crossword puzzle as each piece is apprehensively put in place.
Other insights came with instantaneous blows, like a willful suicide bomber who realizes their grave mistake the split-second before the bomb detonates.
It took me almost two years to forgive myself for staying with my Ex as long as I did.
Everyone goes through these phases sooner or later. That’s why I always feel a deep, knowing sadness when I hear people say, “It hasn’t gotten bad enough for me to leave” or “I’m not there yet”.
Which leads me to the question, how bad is bad enough? In this article, I share three of the biggest self-reflective questions and lessons I’ve learned, lessons that have set the course for the rest of my life and the lives of others who’ve made it out of their own abusive relationships. Lessons that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
#1 – What particular level of misery must your relationship reach before leaving?
I work with victims of narcissistic abuse on a regular basis. I hear their stories, some that are similar to mine, and others which are far, far worse. Women and men who tolerate infidelity, verbal abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, smear campaigns, parental alienation, and much more.
No judgement here, I tolerated some of those things, too.
But, what would it take for you to finally reach the conclusion that your relationship is “bad enough”?
- A loved one dying before you can see them again, all because your toxic partner insisted on isolating you from everyone you love?
- Losing your job because you didn’t block them from your phone, and they called you incessantly during staff meetings, destroying any shred of professionalism you still had going for you?
- Being banned from ever working in your field again because you made bad choices that ruined a client’s or patient’s life – or you did something illegal at the request of your partner?
- Your cognitive abilities being impaired from long-term emotional abuse?
- Your children witnessing your toxic partner threatening suicide while holding a gun to their head?
- Your toxic partner murdering a beloved pet?
- Your child committing suicide?
These examples are only a glimpse of the horrors I hear from clients. Yet, when people read my articles or similar ones on other sites, they often think, “Oh, that would never happen to me. My partner isn’t that bad.”
Until they are.
So, ask yourself, how bad is bad enough and are you willing to stick it out until the unspeakable happens?
#2 – Long-term emotional abuse causes injuries to the brain
I’ve written about how narcissistic abuse affects the brain of adults. You can read about it here:
But did you know that if you have children and you live with an abuser, your children are at risk of developing brain abnormalities which can cause aggression, depression, ADD symptoms, and other forms of psychiatric illnesses?
Recent studies using brain scans have shown that chronic stress, negative thinking (brought on by emotional abuse), and spending time with unhealthy people actually hurts the brain!
It shrinks the hippocampus and prevents new neurons from forming. Simply put, chronic emotional abuse and living in a high-stress environment not only kills existing neurons, it prevents new ones from forming, leading to cognitive impairment or memory problems. 
So, if your child can’t seem to improve in school, you can chalk it up to living in a toxic environment.
But worse than that, it leads to PTSD, which is one of the most difficult injuries to treat as it is stored throughout the brain.  One of my readers recently wrote in to tell me that all of her children had been diagnosed with PTSD, sharing how remorseful she felt that she’d stayed in an abusive environment.
The takeaway here is that toxic stress derails healthy development in children and can affect brain development, leading to potential long term consequences on learning, behavior, and health. 
You can see, then, how the old adage of “staying together for the sake of the children” is not only harmful on many levels, it’s the root of generational dysfunction which has led to the epidemic of clinical depression, anxiety, and wounded adults in our society today.
#3 – What if you found out you only had three months to live?
It’s funny how being in a constant state of stress and fight-or-flight mode clouds our perception so completely, we cannot see the forest for the trees. This is especially true when you reflect upon what your life (or your children’s lives) could be like if you left your toxic partner.
To drive my point, what if you found out you only had three months left to live? How would that knowledge influence your daily choices? Would you still care about getting the approval of a person who has treated you with contempt and indignity?
Or would you focus on other areas of your life and try to make up for lost time?
My clients and followers share the details of their lives with me, and many of them have received diagnoses of cancer or other terminal illnesses and disease. Some of these conditions might be exacerbated by life-style choices, but one thing is clear, long-term stress and trauma sets us up for all kinds of physical maladies.
Besides heart disease, PTSD, and depression, chronic stress has been linked to ailments from intestinal problems, gum disease, erectile dysfunction, growth problems and even cancer. One study found that people who experience high amounts of stress are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Chronic rises in stress hormones have been shown to accelerate the growth of precancerous cells and tumors; they also lower the body’s resistance to HIV and cancer-causing viruses like human papilloma virus (the precursor to cervical cancer in women).
Aside from the scientific data which illustrates the effects of long-term emotional abuse, it’s important to remember that no one is immune from the fact that tomorrow is not promised.
One of your parents could pass today, your child could commit suicide, your beloved pet could disappear and you may never know what happened, you could have a stroke or heart attack…
The disturbing reality of these possibilities is that no one ever sees them coming. They assume they still have time to leave when ____ happens, to have a better relationship with those they love, that they can make up for lost time…and then they loathe themselves when they later realize how mistaken they were. (I know I sure did!)
Are you willing to acknowledge you are living in an environment that is not only causing harm to your brain, but is changing the course of your destiny? This might not be a pleasant reality to face and accept. However, since many people won’t change until they’re awakened by something traumatic, perhaps realizing that your relationship will never improve might give you the wake-up call you need (assuming you believe you’re with a narcissist or similarly abusive individual).
The fact is, every minute you spend with a narcissist is a minute wasted. It’s a minute your children spend wondering if life will always be miserable. It’s a minute you could spend with a loved one who might not be here next week. It’s a minute you might spend in an ambulance after succumbing to the effects of hypertension.
The good news is, every passing minute is also a chance to turn it all around.
Copyright – Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach 2017
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 Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Retrieved December 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181836/
 Your Brain on Trauma. (n.d.). Retrieved January 01, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201211/your-brain-trauma
 Why Stress Is Deadly. (n.d.). Retrieved January 03, 2017, from http://www.livescience.com/2220-stress-deadly.html