Hax: Long-distance abuse is still abuse

The Washington PostFebruary 5, 2014 

Carolyn: I was in a relationship that ended (mostly mutually) almost a year ago. I have made peace with its ending because it was bad for both of us. She took me for granted and I became a version of myself that I really hated. We both acted in unhealthy ways.

I moved away not long after the breakup and we have not seen each other but are still in contact. I still care about her very much, but have no interest in dramatic history repeating itself.

Problem is, she is troubled — childhood trauma, personality disorder(s) — and leans on me every time something bad happens. She lashes out when my support isn’t “enough,” and every so often she lashes out at me for not visiting her, which would require a significant trip and at least one-night stay. She becomes belligerent and confrontational, and I feel her expectations of me are unfair.

Most of the time she is a good, caring friend whom I love dearly. But I am growing very tired of the guilt trips and confrontation. I don’t know how to deal with this at all.

D.S.

So, you’re standing by an unlocked exit, saying, “It stinks in here, but I don’t want to leave.”

She’s still taking you for granted. If that’s what you want, then who am I to talk you out of it — but you don’t owe it to anybody to take such abuse.

If your history with and fondness for her obligate you in any way, in fact, you owe it to her not to take her abuse. Having a loving doormat handy is one way emotionally unhealthy people can postpone doing the hard work they need. Meanwhile, people who need good, professional mental health care often are the last to recognize or admit this to themselves. You cushion her from her truth.

This enabling stunts you both over time, so it must stop.

It’s easier than you might think, especially since you moved. That means your “still in contact” is all happening via one communications technology or another, which means you can simply choose not to respond.

If you find you’re not able to set boundaries, then consider therapy of your own.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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