What happens when someone we love has a mental disorder that causes them to behave in an abusive manner? This can be one of the trickiest situations to be in as the abuser may try their best not to act badly but be genuinely unable to stop themselves from doing it. Much of the abuse that people with mental disorders inflict is non-physical and often non-aggressive. Examples include, neglect, passive-aggressive behavior, push-pull indecisiveness, and saying one thing then doing another. Depending on the situation, these actions can be very harmful. People with certain mental disorders will behave in these ways over and over, breaking the other person down little by little.
How does a mental disorder effect the relationship?
It can be extremely difficult to know how to cope with a relationship where one of the partners has mental issues that are difficult to treat. Therapy and possibly even medication can help some things but even then it is often trial and error, and many times the disorders will wreak havoc on both parties’ mental and emotional states. For instance, people with Borderline Personality Disorder do not want to hurt anyone. They want to be close but they have such a deep-rooted fear of abandonment and unusually high sensitivity, that despite how much they want to be with their partner their condition will manifest into them alternating between adoring their partner and insisting that the partner is an unfeeling monster. They are one moment closer than anyone ever was, no walls or barriers between, and the next pushing their partner away emotionally or leaving the relationship altogether, stating that they are not happy with the person or that the person is awful in this way or that. And the next day or week or minute, they come right back insisting that the person is the love of their life! This kind of treatment can completely cripple a person. On both sides. The person creating the drama is just as hurt by the shifts as the person receiving it.
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People who are involved with someone who has a mental disorder like this, are between a rock and a hard place. It is obvious that the person they love does not WANT to treat them badly and they might try very hard to remedy the symptoms but find themselves helpless against it as it happens again and again. Depression is another issue that can really harm those in the same environment. Depression can cause people to shut others out and behave coldly towards them. Severe neglect can manifest toward everyone in this person’s life, from spouse to children and everyone in between. It isn’t their fault and they wish it would stop just as much as those around them do, but alas it can take years to fully treat depression. Sometimes it simply is not possible to fully treat depression.
Little by little the environment and constant abuse wears the victim down, but they cannot abandon the person they love as they can see they are trying to better themselves and that they do in fact care for the victim genuinely. But this does not mean that the person with the disorder is not being abusive. Their behavior is still abusive and has an impact. Often times the abuse shown towards the friends, family, or partners of those suffering from mental disorders is brushed under the rug. Yes, the intentions to abuse are not there, but the behavior is still abusive. It is wrong to ignore the pain that the other person is feeling simply because the abuser does not INTEND to harm them. Despite their intention, they are still harming them. Leaving a person who wants to cause harm can be a lot easier than leaving someone who genuinely means well and harms on accident. But harming someone without intending to, over and over and over again, does not erase the action. It still happens. And it still hurts.
What is there for you to do?
So what do you do? If you are in a situation where the other person has a mental disorder and is unable to stop from being abusive in one manner or another? You can’t leave, you can’t stay, so what do you do? The most difficult thing to face is that it is possible that you may need to distance yourself from the other person at least on some level until they can be treated and be able to stop the behavior. Yes, they don’t mean to do it and yes they genuinely care and want to get help, but the behavior IS still happening and does have an effect, and that cannot be ignored. It may feel wrong and like you are abandoning them (in fact they may say this directly to you), but you can only do as much as you can do before you will lose yourself in the process. You will be no help to them then, in fact you may make it worse for them if you lose yourself in their darkness. Do your best, but keep in mind that there may be a limit and once you feel yourself breaking, you need to stop and take a break. Find them the help they need to get better and then get help for yourself so that you can cope with what has happened. Do not shove it down and convince yourself that you are fine because they “can’t help themselves”. Acknowledge that they have hurt you severely and that it is not okay. Let the person know you care for them but that you have to take a step back so that you do not fall apart with them.
When overcoming an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. You may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.
Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!
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Anna Czarska is a writer and actor who has 15+ years of experience dealing with various situations of abuse. She has pursued business ventures and creative pursuits as well as spending time to study psychology in both formal and personal education. For more information visit her LinkedIn profile.