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August 14, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

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4. How to leave safely.

Ironically, breaking up with this person could actually put you at risk. Do not do it unless you mean it.

"Scared" also wrote:

"...My fears about leaving add up to not just being scared of being alone and missing him as usual in relationships, but also being scared of what might happen to me if I do...So I tell him I want out but then my life gets threatened and afterwards I'm told it's just because he 'can't live without me' -- words that pass my head and go straight to my heart...Please don't tell me to go to a hotline or anything. I've done that, and what I don't know is why I won't do what I know I should. Or when I do go, why I go straight back to him. I do see why I should go and how stupid it is to stay, but I don't know how to leave." -- Scared

Our own Belleruth responds:

"Here's the thing. When you say you're leaving, it's not a declaration of independence; it's an invitation to get hurt. It does not help you get out the door. On the contrary, in fact. Could be that you're just not quite ready -- though you're getting there, or you wouldn't have written.

So for now, consider this: You're in shock. Or what you could call a chronic 'trauma trance' from post-traumatic stress disorder. So you're gonna be showing denial ('he didn't mean it;' 'he's really a lost boy,' 'but he needs me,' etc) and a kind of stuporousness and slow, illogical response system that isn't really the insightful, wise you. It's because of chronic terror that you're now so habituated, even 'concerned' about him; even though you think you 'know better,' you're sometimes numbed into downplaying this all and thinking it's just 'life.'

And when someone's self-worth has been eroded (though, thank goodness, you do have some left), it's not necessarily enough for someone else to say, 'Do it for yourself,' because deep down you may not believe that 'yourself' deserves or will find better. Maybe that's why that tack's not working. So how about leaving "for"...your mom?"

Okay, but how? Well, the only way to actually leave -- safely -- is to actually leave. Why "can't" you? Well, even beyond those deeper creepier attachment issues, fear that he will kill you is a pretty convincing "reason" to stay or return. And frankly, you should take him at his word. So -- when you are ready -- instead of worrying about the "why," Belleruth says:

"You need to mean it and plan it. In order to really, really leave, you need to make not threats -- which will only rile him and make things more dangerous -- but actual, serious PLANS (with which a shelter/hotline really can be helpful). Your plan must include: (a) when (i.e. when he's not there), (b) where exactly you (and your mother?) will go, and (c) what you will take with you so that you need not go back. The critical thing here is your safety.

The good news: you do have some insight into why you stay; you have clung to quite a few feelings of worth and to a glimpse of a him-free future. Once you're away from him, you will get a hindsight view and will be able to step out of the reality he created. This really happens. When you're truly ready -- and prepared -- you are on your way."

Here's more on safety planning, both in and on your way out of a relationship:

Teens: When Love Hurts and Safety Planning for Teens

Adults: Separation Safety Plan

Moving On -and- Why Boys are Not the "Bad Guys"


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