Reply to Anonymous Ms L

Thank you for your letter. Please realize that my comments are not meant as advice. I cannot advise someone in good conscience without seeing the person a few times and listening carefully to verbal and non-verbal communication.

Complex PTSD is not only caused by childhood problems. It can happen in a relationship where there is subtle – or not so subtle – persistent verbal abuse. It can happen when a person feels they don’t fit in – either at school or in a community. If you feel ignored or unloved, it causes pain. Living with pain is very stressful and can lead to many sorts of problems, including complex PTSD.

We reach for people in relationships for many reasons. Sometimes we imagine they will fill a void we have. If the person we gift love to abuses us, it can make us feel powerless. It can make us feel as if we aren’t worth much. It can reinforce feelings we had growing up.

The longer you hear abuse thrown in your direction, the longer you live in a situation like that, the harder it is to find a sense of power and healing. Accepting abuse makes us feel powerless. It is not our fault. We often choose a path of least conflict. Fighting back can cause more problems in a relationship. No wonder we learn to avoid conflict.

The issues you mention are unfortunately common in many relationships. You are not alone. Before burning bridges, it is important to look for support. We need other people. It is part of our in-born struggle for survival. And increasing your social circle can enrich your life and help you win back power. It is important to search out ways to find supports through family or friends. Your doctor may be able to help you with finding ways to do that. Look on-line for women’s resource centres or help-lines that can direct you to supports.

How do you learn to live with a person who belittles you? Here I am giving global advice – not necessarily meant to any individual. I believe that before you can improve a relationship with someone – you need to improve your relationship with yourself. That is very difficult if you have low self-esteem.

I believe we need to find compassion for ourselves. But we need to be firm – when someone says negative things to us, what they say SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THEM not you. When your partner belittles you – if you feel strong enough – tell him each time that you don’t agree and offer him a positive version of yourself. You appear from your letter to be loyal, smart (certainly your letter shows great intellect). You have curiosity and the courage to seek answers to difficult questions.

Many people lash out and hurt other people because of hurt they themselves have endured. This does not make it right. I would suggest you try to find a counselor, someone who can help you on a road to healing – to help you see your own strengths. Once you feel better, you could then approach your partner and explain that you feel his pain, but you don’t accept the abuse. Perhaps together you could help each other.

Please don’t make any hasty decisions and the decisions have to be your own – not your family’s or your partner’s decision. Good Luck. Breathe. Stretch. and continue searching. You are worth it.

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