NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Relationships: Are You Giving Away Your Personal Power to Someone Who Doesn't Treat You Well?

In prior articles I've discussed issues relating to people who are ambivalent about leaving an emotionally abusive relationship (see my articles:  Why Emotional Abuse Might Feel "Normal" to You, Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship? and Are You Afraid to Leave an Unhappy Relationship?). 

Are You Giving Up Your Personal Power?

In this article I'm focusing on another aspect of emotionally abusive relationships, which is how people who are being emotionally abused by their significant other often give away their personal power.

People often begin psychotherapy because they're confused about their ambivalent behavior in a relationship where they are being emotionally abused.  Even when they realize they're not being treated well by their significant other, they often say they feel compelled to remain in the relationship, and they're confused about their feelings.

Looking on the surface at these relationships from a strictly logical point of view, it can be confusing as to why someone would remain with a partner who is emotionally abusive.

But in order to begin to understand these dynamics, it's important to look beyond the surface because there are usually conscious issues involved.

One common issue is that the person who remains in an emotionally abusive relationship is usually giving away his or her personal power to the significant other without realizing it.

How Do People Give Away Their Power in Emotionally Abusive Relationships?
There are so many different ways that people give away their personal power in emotionally abusive relationships that I'll list what I've seen as the most common ones:
  • Endowing a Significant Other With Powerful Attributes That Aren't True:  Rather than recognizing their own personal power, people who give away their power to their significant other endow their partners with characteristics that either aren't there or that are greatly exaggerated in their mind.  They don't see their partner for who s/he really is.  They need their partner to seem powerful, charming, tantalizing and irresistible so they can bask in their partner's light and feel that some of those attributes will rub off on them.  It's as if they have put themselves under a magic spell, but they believe that their partner is the one who is somehow keeping them spellbound.  Other people, who know the situation, might be scratching their heads because they don't see these attributes in the partner, but the person who has given up his or her personal power is caught up in this fantasy (see my articles: Are You In Love With Him or Your Fantasy of Him? and The Connection Between Obsessive Love as an Adult and Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs).
  • Denying or Diminishing Their Own Positive Characteristics:  Along with idealizing a partner and endowing him or her with fantasized attributes, they also diminish or disregard their own positive characteristics.  They make themselves small in order to make their significant other seem big.  This is usually a longstanding, ingrained problem and makes the significant other more compelling ("I'm weak, but he's so strong that he'll protect me").
  • Becoming the "Victim" in the Relationship: Along with idealizing the significant other and diminishing themselves, people who give away their power identify as the victim in the relationship.  They might spend a lot of time complaining to their friends and loved ones about not being treated well by their significant other, but they believe themselves to be powerless in the situation.  Rather than taking a step back and reflecting on why they remain with someone who mistreats them even when they're complaining bitterly about it, they will give many "reasons" why they just can't bring themselves to leave the relationship.  Even when they agree with their friends and their loved ones that it would be better for them to leave the relationship, they will often say, "I don't know why, but I just can't leave" until their friends get tired of hearing the constant complaints without any action being taken (see my article:  Understanding the Difference Between "I Can't" vs "I Won't").  Often, these people had early experiences of being victimized as children, and they're unable to see that they are now adults and no longer powerless.  The feeling of powerlessness never leaves them, and this is a sign that they need to work out the earlier issues in psychotherapy (see my article: Overcoming the Effects of Past Childhood Trauma).  There might also be cultural factors involved.
  • Engaging in People Pleasing:  People who give up their power and remain in emotionally abusive relationships are often people pleasers.  They need to be liked, even when it makes them feel "weak," powerless, fearful, self loathing and lost.  For the partner who is emotionally abusive and who has narcissistic traits, this is an ideal situation because s/he gets to manipulate the people pleaser and control the relationship.  

In my next article, I'll discuss how to take back your personal power (see my article: Relationships: Taking Back Your Personal Power).

Getting Help in Therapy
Aside from the unconscious issues involved in remaining in an emotionally abusive relationship, there is usually a lot of shame, especially if friends and family are criticizing you for not leaving.

Most people, who are in this type of situation and who are unable to resolve it on their own, find it helpful to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

While no one can do it for you, if you're willing to get help in therapy, a skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand the unconscious issues and to begin to take back your personal power.

Regaining your personal power and your self esteem can be a life changing experience.  Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experienced psychotherapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.