Self-imposed Abusive and Unhealthy Relationships


This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD. 


After a night of partying with friends, Jane woke up the following day feeling miserable. She found solace in the kitchen as she ate half a box of cereal, polished off the leftover pizza, then finished two cans of diet soda and three scrambled eggs. Minutes later she found herself in the bathroom, kneeling over the toilet bowl. Soon after she found herself back in the kitchen, this time she went for…

And so the story goes…

We often hear about how difficult it is for someone in an abusive relationship to leave the relationship. This is the case for several different reasons and varies with each individual. What happens when the abuse is brought on by yourself? What if what feels separate and out of control is actually completely a part of you? Something that is integrated within you but seems out of control. How do you leave then?


shutterstock_109235927This is the challenge many individuals struggling with behaviors such as an eating disorder, addiction, obsessions or compulsions, to name a few, experience. Often I encourage clients to personify negative behaviors, such as an eating disorder, sex addiction, gambling addiction, etc. A very common technique used by therapists, personification helps the individual separate themselves from the behavior as they work towards healing. In doing so, we can then begin to separate the individual, our authentic self, from the behavior and talk about it as though it is a relationship.

A sample dialogue using the above scenario would go something like.…

Jane: “I am feeling good today. I think I will go for a walk.”

Ed: “You are right. You sould go for a walk.”

Jane: “I feel awesome.”

Ed: “Yeah right, you definitely need a walk, you are like a whale today, and maybe instead you should RUN down to McDonalds. Those fries sound good to me and how about a nice cheeseburger?”

Jane: “No, I feel good, there is no reason for that.”

Ed: “You know only I can tell you what is good for you. You don’t know anything. You never make the right decision for yourself. Only I can tell you what will make you feel better. Don’t you want to feel better than good? Just listen to me and do it.”

Jane: “I am fine, I do not want it.”

Ed: “Ummm…those fries, I can just taste them warm, crisp. Besides you already wasted the day. You are so fat, what’s a few more fries and cheeseburgers? On the way maybe we can get some tacos. You can’t do anything right, you always cave. I know you will this time as well. You are so worthless. You are pathetic and fat. So save yourself the trouble and just go to McDonalds.”

Ed is emotionally abusive towards Jane by putting her down and calling her names. Ed is physically abusive towards Jane by pushing her to engage in behaviors that are harmful for her. With negative behaviors such as addiction or eating disorders, it is important to move towards recognizing the abuser inside oneself. Why do we do and say things that hurt us? What is the motivation? Does it make us feel better? How long will that good feeling last?

Similar to an intimate relationship that is emotionally or physically abusive, there is always that belief that things will change. That it will be different the next time and it will be better. Sadly, each and every time, things only get more hurtful until it is too late or one is able to recognize the pattern of abuse and work towards moving on. If you like many individuals struggle with this fight against yourself, start with admitting and recognizing that the fight exists. Then tell yourself that as much as it may feel out of your control, you have a choice. The decision is yours, and you have options to get better. Recognizing that you have a choice is the first step towards ending the relationship. Then seek out help from a professional. You do not need to fight this internal war alone.



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