Why Do We Get Stuck in Abusive Relationships? The Power of “Splitting”


Have you discovered that you’ve become stuck in an abusive relationship? Have you started to notice that you seem drawn to partners who mistreat you even though you keep telling yourself that it will “never happen again?” Is there something that makes you choose these relationships? Let’s take a closer look...

We hold on to abusive relationships to stay attached with our past…

Sometimes, we attach ourselves to an abusive relationship as a way of trauma bonding (loyalty to a person who is destructive). When we’ve endured abusive treatment in our childhood, it can be the only way we know how to receive love. So, there can be some comfort in staying attached to the abusive loved object. Later in life, abusive treatment keeps you stuck in feeling loved, because that might be the only familiar way you received love. So, you repeat the pattern of accepting abuse in exchange for getting love. As distorted as it sounds, holding on to an abusive relationship can feel like you’re being loved and can feel comforting.

On a different level, this can be a way of acting out an unconscious yearning to reunite with the abusive or a rejecting parent. A way of repeating or opening up your past wounds through mistreatment and abandonment. There are certain ways of coping/surviving an abusive home as a child and one is called “splitting.” In order to preserve the image of “the good parent,” the child “splits” off any bad feelings towards them, by internalising the bad as existing within them instead of in the parent. Instead of seeing the parent as mistreating them, they end up feeling bad about themselves (feeling worthless, unwanted, and unlovable). With the hope of feeling loved, the child maintains a fantasy of the positive image of the parent, by shutting out the bad memories towards the parent (splitting). These bad feelings stay repressed and end up forming the distorted way in which we see ourselves and our loved ones. Secondly, a person can attempt to “hold on” to the parent who mistreated them, by seeking abusive or unavailable partners, in order to remain attached to the parent. This pattern of searching for unmet love can be destructive to an person and can be difficult to recognize as happening without a trained professional to assist in growing a person’s awareness and insight. Let’s face it, at face value, this process can seem somewhat far-fetched, but it is a very real pattern of behavior. It’s just another fascinating way in which our mind protects us from very horrible experiences. The renewed splitting in our adult relationships occurs when we are triggered or reminded of our past feelings and physical sensations as they reoccur in our present relationships.

Those that have grown up in abusive homes and use splitting as a coping mechanism have a distorted perception of their relationship (either idealised or devalued). In a very “all or nothing” manner, they feel either “all good” or “all bad” about themselves and their partners. They struggle to see the good and bad aspects of a person at the same time. This leads to a very familiar rollercoaster of emotions by swinging from despair to euphoria based on the behavior of their partners.

Why you cannot let go of bad relationships…

Splitting is another reason why individuals stay stuck in bad relationships. In splitting, when people feel bad about themselves, they’ re ignoring all the good qualities about themselves; leading to a belief that they are not “good enough” in relationships. When an individual sees all the good traits in a partner, they are denying the unhealthy traits in the person. This can protect them from feelings of abandonment by only seeing the good aspects in a partner, ignoring the abusive aspects. A healthy relationship means you can see both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of a person.

Splitting can cause a person to hold on to a toxic relationship, because they acknowledge the positive image of the abuser (good), denying any mistreatment (bad), so they can satisfy their unmet needs to feel loved. As a therapist, my role is to help the person see the other part of the split, so they can make a clearer decision and see the whole picture moving from denial to action by bringing the ‘split’ back into one whole image. Often, splitting occurs in adult relationships, because the person is hoping a partner will get rid of the feelings of self-loathing or feelings of abandonment from past loved ones. Instead, they repeat the wound and re-live the pain, re-enacting the past, until these patterns are worked through in therapy.

You can see that our early attachment experiences in life have a great impact on the relationships we share as adults. Often, we don’t realize the patterns that exist in our current relationships, because they feel normal when they are similar to early abusive or dysfunctional periods in their lives.

If you think that you (or somebody you know) may benefit from learning more about the ways their abusive childhood keeps them stuck in abusive relationships as an adult, a trained professional can help. If you are in the Lancaster, Pa area, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Toxic Relationships: How to Identify Them and What to Do


Many of the clients who I have seen (both individually and as couples) are in relationships that are full of arguing, drama, and constant stress. All relationships have their struggles, and all long-term relationships require consistent hard work and adaptation to grow and prosper. However, there is a certain group of relationships that continues on with this level of stress without relief. Oddly, many of the people in these relationships insist on continuing on in this way. I think this is largely in part to that fact that they do not realize that they are in this type of relationship, and that there is another way of living. It becomes normal with repetitive cycles that reinforce the negativity. I am writing this in hopes of helping people better identify if they are in a toxic relationship along with some suggestions to overcome this lifestyle.

Toxic relationships include:

  •  Poor Communication

  •  Mind-Reading (assumptions)

  •  Using Sex as Manipulation

  •  Repeated Derogatory, Dismissive, Spiteful, and Sarcastic Remarks

  •  Nagging

  •  Passive-Aggressiveness Behavior

  •  Lack of Trust

  •  Intimidation

  •  Using Money as Power

If you experience these on a daily basis, you are likely in a relationship that would be considered to be toxic. Detoxifying your relationship could require some of the following:

  •   Opening up Communication through Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy

  •   Setting Clear Expectations (limits and boundaries)

  •   Being Assertive vs. Aggressive, Passive, or Passive Aggressive

  •   Accepting Differences and Understanding the Motives of the Other

  •   Sexual Relations Built on Respect

  •   Stop Assuming and Use Active Listening Skills.

Sometimes, there is no avenue for detoxifying some relationships and the best course of action includes leaving the relationship completely. This can be very scary, intimidating, and complicated due to each person’s attachment styles, financial concerns, shared children, and even fear of increased aggressive behavior on the part of the partner.

Because of the difficulties people have with identifying that they are in a toxic relationship and the complexity of many of the issues associated with these problems, I highly recommend you seek out a counselor or therapist to help you and your partner improve on these skills.

For couples, marriage, and relationship counseling in Lancaster, PA, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and take the opportunity to improve your relationship!!

Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 2

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In the last entry we looked at the ways in which we exert control on others, ourselves, and our environment. Today, we look closer at what leads us to crave control and then, later, how seeking counseling can help in moving away from control and being at peace with the randomness of our lives.

What leads us to want so much control?

When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and very uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the growing awareness of our inability to control. From an evolutionary perspective, if we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival (if we could find a cave and secure the opening, we wouldn’t be attacked and eaten by a wild animal while we sleep). Our deep subconscious mind, therefore, gives us strong biochemical responses (fight/flight/freeze reactions) when we face some kind of danger, or in modern times, a perceived danger.

Other needs that lead to an urge for control include:

  • The need for a sense of certainty about the future.

  • The need for completion of unfinished things, so we don't have to worry about them..

  • The need to understand how things work and to avoid confusion.

  • The need for people (including ourselves) and things to be consistent and predictable.

Control issues may be related to:

  • Traumatic or abusive life experiences

  • A lack of trust

  • Anxiety

  • Fears of abandonment

  • Low or damaged self-esteem

  • A person's beliefs, values, and faith

  • Perfectionism and the fear of failure

  • Emotional sensitivity and the fear of experiencing painful emotions

Someone who struggles with a need for control may experience shame, anxiety, stress, depression, and a host of other mental health concerns.

Now that we have a greater understanding of how the urge for control is built in us, Let’s look at how psychotherapy can help relieve us from this heavy emotional energy drain.

How can Psychotherapy Help?

Addressing control issues in therapy involves unraveling and revealing the source of the need for control (which can be very different for each of us). In therapy we work together to address the underlying fear, emotions, or anxiety, and develop coping strategies. This process of increasing self-awareness can help a person begin letting go of the need for control.

Therapy can help a person identify the self-protective nature of the need for control (and realize that it comes naturally and is very normal, just not beneficial).

For example, maybe a person’s parents were absent or emotionally unavailable in childhood, or maybe their childhood home wasn’t a stable place. Emotional or physical instability and a lack of choices or independence can lead a person to seek control over other aspects of life. Recognizing and addressing this source of distress in therapy will help the person build the ability for self-compassion and embrace that part of themselves that needs protection and feels vulnerable.

How do you begin the process to heal?

It begins with finding out the “why’ behind the control issue.

Start with taking notice when your control stuff comes up so you can identify the self-protective nature it serves (what are you trying to avoid by seizing control? What is your fear?).

These are some questions to ask yourself in this process (remember to be compassionate and honest with yourself):

  • Why am I triggered or why did I get triggered? (not in a blaming or shaming way, but solely from a place of     curiosity)

  • When was the first time that I noticed this feeling present itself to me from my earliest memories and how did I cope with it at that time?

  • What about this situation feels similar to when I was a child?

Once you are able to identify when/where in your life this was created ½ the battle of control is over. Then you bring yourself into the present moment and go deeper:

  • Am I looking at the whole picture?

  • Am I reacting from expecting the worst from a situation?

  • What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control?

  • Am I really ready to let go of control?

  • Would letting go feel better than this?

  • What will I gain if I let go?

The answers to these questions can lead you to work toward addressing the fear which gives the urge for control its energy (control is just the symptom of fear) and also open yourself up to the possibility of a better way to move through life.

Consider talking to someone that can provide you a safe space to address the fears leading to the unhealthy urge for control.

For help moving toward a more peaceful life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and take the opportunity to make letting go of control a lot more comfortable!!

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Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 1

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The ceaseless and never ending need for control can become overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and your overall quality of life.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

Sometimes, letting go of your tight grip of how you think things should be or how quickly they should come together, and simply letting things run their own course can be a very difficult task, but worth working your way towards. By releasing control and letting the flow carry you along, paradoxically, you gain more control of both your attitude and your response to what’s happening to you at the moment. When control runs your life, it can be exhausting on an emotional level and tends to lead to “control battles” with others in your life that demand their own level of control.

Examples of ways we exert control over others:

  • Micromanagement -the micromanager feels the need to have their hands into everything and doesn’t really trust that their spouse/co-workers/staff/children/friends will pull their weight or accomplish tasks. Therefore, the micromanager feels the need to constantly remind them (or look over their shoulder) to make sure the task gets done. They scrutinize every move and, after a while, the recipient starts to feel incompetent, anxious, frustrated, and angry.

  • Controlling intimate partners may keep a person from seeing or talking to loved ones or friends

  • Gaslighting - manipulating someone through psychological means into questioning their own truth and sanity.

  • Dishonesty

  • Over-protective or helicopter parenting

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, bullying, or taunting

  • Love withdrawal - removing affection or attention when someone does something of which you don’t approve (“the cold shoulder”). This is done to gain control through emotions such as guilt, shame, or fear of abandonment.

Examples of ways we try to control ourselves or our environment:

  • Disordered eating

  • Compulsive exercising

  • Self-harm

  • Substance abuse

  • Compulsive arranging, tidying, or cleaning

Do any of these sound familiar? Do you delve into controlling others or yourself? Do you feel controlled by others?

Working through the process of both letting go of control in your life, and setting boundaries with others that try to control you, can be both frightening and difficult, but it can be rewarding and it is absolutely possible. Consider talking to someone that can help you move through the process.

For help moving toward a more peaceful life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and take the opportunity to make letting go of control a lot more comfortable!!

In Part 2, we’ll look more closely at what leads us to crave control so much and look more in depth on how psychotherapy can help with control issues in your life.

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