Home Abuse Why can’t I let go of love for my abuser?

Why can’t I let go of love for my abuser?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a teen in Australia: This story is incredibly long but I’m going to do my best to cut it down and only include the most important bits. When I was 14 and in a very low place, I met a teacher at my school. She was around 30. I didn’t think much of it at first, but eventually I kept talking to her more and more and seeing her around. We grew close quickly and for some reason I just felt connected to her. One day I received a text message from her as she had gotten my number off another student.

In the beginning we talked about school, but eventually we got more and more personal. I felt like I could talk to her about anything, as she was always open and there for me when I needed her. We started messaging every day, seeing each other before and after school and calling through the nights. Eventually the relationship became romantic. I truly loved  and admired her and was so thankful to have someone that cared for me. But it was also so complex. I felt like I was walking on egg shells, as I didn’t want to say anything that would disappoint her or make her upset. I stopped talking to boys my age because I didn’t want to make her feel bad. I often kept my true feelings to myself to avoid saying things that would begin a fight. We still managed to have lots of fights anyways, and she made me feel like I was always the cause of them, however we always got through them in the end.

One of the biggest fights we had was about another student I noticed was very close with her. I questioned her if anything was going on and she said I was the only one, and nothing was happening and that I was always insecure over nothing. Deep down I knew something was there, but I didn’t want to believe it because the thought of her with anyone else absolutely shattered me, and made me feel used. This relationship went on for 3 years.

Eventually she told me something that happened with that student. I felt so broken, and hurt. It was a difficult feeling to describe, almost like no matter how much I showered there was this used feeling I couldn’t get rid of. By this time I had become so dependent on having her in my life that I felt like I couldn’t live without her. I talked to her all hours of the day, and had pushed my friends and family away. She was the only one I wanted. She apologized and promised it would never happen again and I chose to forgive her but I don’t think I ever did.

During the 4th year of the relationship, another student (the one mentioned earlier) came forward to the police about said teacher. I asked the student if we could talk and after talking I realized that their relationship was exactly like ours. She bought the same things for both of us, and did the same activities, and used the same lines. I was so hurt and angry and betrayed that I told the police too, but I regretted it instantly because I loved her and didn’t want to lose her.

She ended up being sentenced to prison for all this, which made me feel like the most horrible person to have taken her life from her. I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for what I have done.

The problem now is, I still love her and am still waiting for her in the hopes that she will forgive me when she is out of prison. Is that crazy of me? Am I just being blind? I truly feel like she is a good person who made mistakes. As much as there was bad in the relationship, she also helped me in many ways. She stopped me from self harming (a habit I picked up before I met her), made sure I ate when I was suffering from an eating disorder and talked to me for hours when I was crying about family issues. She was selfless and genuinely caring of me.

I don’t think she purposely tried to manipulate me or anything like that. I think she genuinely felt feelings for me, but that it just wasn’t right. I am also suffering from lots of issues because of this all. I feel so hopeless and guilty all the time. Sometimes I don’t eat all week or go out and have any fun because I think of her and how she is stuck in a horrible place because of me, so I don’t deserve to enjoy myself. Every time I see or hear anything that reminds me of her or of a memory we have, it is stuck in my mind for hours and I can’t focus on anything else. When I see the same car as hers, I analyze it for ages. I get so panicky when I see someone that looks remotely like her and then realize it can’t possibly be her. I can never fall asleep until the early hours of the morning, I don’t want to see any of my friends or family. I just want to be alone, with her. I also constantly compare myself to the other student. She picked her over me, by choosing to have a relationship with her too and that breaks me and makes me feel like I wasn’t good enough.

I have a bad relationship with food, I know I do, and that is the easiest way to make myself better than the other girl, by being smaller than her. So I always make sure that I am losing weight so that there is less of me than there is of her. People say it’s “abuse” (by people I mean family, police etc) because I was young and she was much older and in a position of power. But everything felt so genuine, and I really felt like she loved me. I still have so much love for her. I also didn’t say no and everything was consensual.

I guess my question is.. what happened to me? And what are all these problems I’m having now? I stopped seeing a psychologist after she was sentenced. It’s been a year of her in prison, I’m 19 now and it feels like nothing has changed. I never tell anybody about my problems because I hate asking for help and burdening people, but I really want to talk to somebody. I don’t know how to find a psychologist near me who will be able to help me with this particular kind of situation and one that won’t judge me. This situation is so complex and I understand that it would be hard for another person to understand. Do you have any advice for me? I’m sorry this is so long.

Thank you,

Thank you for writing. You did nothing wrong! You did not put this woman in prison. She did it to herself. She befriended, manipulated and abused a vulnerable 14-year-old (actually, two young teens). She is a sexual offender who was grooming you, not loving you. She belongs in jail.

This was never an equal or appropriate relationship. As a teacher, she used her position of authority and the fact you were needy and looked up to her as means to draw you in. She was so good at gaslighting you that you believed and still believe that her abuse was love. She did all the classic moves of an abuser: She gained control of you by making you think you were special. She isolated you, making you more and more dependent on her. She created a relationship where you were always on eggshells, trying not to say or do anything that would cause a fight. She created fights anyway and then made you feel like you were at fault. Apologies and presents followed — which only confused you more. Any time that you questioned her or the relationship, she blamed and shamed you. While demanding total loyalty to her, she was disloyal to you.

Don’t blame yourself! You are thinking and feeling and acting like many survivors of abuse. You are still confused. You are still taking blame on yourself. Your abuser may be in prison, but she is still in your head.

I don’t know why you stopped seeing a psychologist. You do need help to sort this out. An experienced therapist will not judge you. Your feelings are recognizable for what they are — a reaction to prolonged abuse. Sadly, your experience is not unique or as complex as you believe it is. We therapists often, too often, see something like it.

Please. Make an appointment with a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in trauma. You have recovery work to do. You deserve to free yourself of the blame and shame so that you can find real love in a real relationship.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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