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October 2, 2022

Finding Our Leaving Feet offers encouragement, as we deal with freeing ourselves from abusive dynamics.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

“Why do you stay?”

“Why can’t you just leave?”

These questions can be aimed at anyone who’s in an abusive and toxic relationship or situation. There’s a kind of blame attached in asking these things of a person, somehow, making the target of the abuse to blame and responsible for the harmful treatment of them.

Those questions can make someone who already feels trapped in their circumstances feel even more hopeless and debilitated.

Here’s another question, perhaps, to offer, asked from a trauma therapist:

“How old are you when you can’t leave?”

Wow. Hmmm. Makes you think about things in a new way, maybe?

The question confronts how a child’s perspective may be influencing that “stay or go” issue. And how many of us would think to blame a helpless child?


Why do we stay?

A possible explanation…

We don’t know what we don’t know.

If we have grown up in abuse and dysfunction, this is “normal.” This is all we know. Healthy love, boundaries, and respect are not anything we’ve been taught. We don’t know we are supposed to have those things in our lives.

We don’t know that there are other ways to live, apart from abuse.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Finding Our Leaving Feet…

How do we leave if we don’t know we can?

Education, no matter how accidentally it occurs, can open our limited, toxic world, even if only by a crack. The point we can arrive at, however, whenever, or wherever we are in life, is to take the education, informing us that “there is another way,” and to take baby steps from there. Shaming and blaming ourselves will not serve us.

We must give ourselves the grace and the thought that we are doing the best we can.

“When we know better, we do better,” to quote Dr. Maya Angelou here.

That is the place to start from and build from there.

And we are building. No one is static. We can know something different than toxicity. There IS hope.

Why don’t we leave? Another explanation…

We are scared.


Paralyzing, overwhelming, sometimes, life-threatening, fear.

It’s legitimate, not to be underestimated or dismissed.

We have often learned fear as part of our “normal,” groomed and entrenched in abuse and dysfunction. Many of us have been battered. Bruises, broken bones, as well as verbal and emotional intimidation have often been far too common tactics used against us by toxic and abusive individuals. With such high stakes, and such extreme realities, fear has often kept us alive, although it doesn’t appear to be a life anyone would want to live.

We do what we can to simply stay alive: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Finding Our Leaving Feet…

We first need to admit- and honor-our fear.

That fear, for so long kept us alive. We learned to hide, run, navigate, and deal with abuse by, yes, many maladaptive ways of coping.

But those ways of coping often kept us alive. We are still here.

We need to honor that, even if those coping strategies, then, have caused complications now.

Still, we got out.

Sometimes, that “getting out” can be defined as not succumbing to the sick system mentally and emotionally. Physically, we might still be there, even to this day.

If that’s the case, beating ourselves for that reality will do us no good. There is no shame for this painful and difficult reality. We do the best we can. Survival mode is enough; it is good enough, if escape and thriving seem still so far from reach.

Next, when it comes to our “Leaving Feet,” we recognize that there is power, merit, and improvement, even if we take a tiny step still very much in the grips of fear.

That tiny step? A domestic violence shelter, a trusted person’s couch, searching the internet for information on safety plans.

Life can still change, even while we’re afraid. Too many of us have believed our fear is a hopeless death sentence to a better life. It is not. Fear can be fuel.

Let’s remember to use that fuel, feeling the fear or not.

“Why do you stay?”

“Why can’t you just leave?”

A potential answer to why we stay, to why we don’t leave?

We love an unhealthy person.

We love them.

They are family, parents, children, spouses, friends. We love them as those significant people in our lives. And these significant people, unfortunately for us, are unhealthy.

Everyone has faults, quirks, and habitual ways of behaving. But being involved with, and loving, toxic and harmful people is different than that.

It is a chronic dance of dysfunction that can negatively impact our daily lives.

Stress, depression, feeling overextended, as well as enduring detrimental consequences for these individuals’ behaviors, like having to bail someone out of jar, always giving them money, and staying silent or covering up for their abusive behaviors, all take their toll on us. We are depleted spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. Some of us can develop health issues like cancers or heart conditions due to the constant survival mode we are forced to endure.

And we endure because we love them.

Loving someone who is unhealthy is an excruciating situation.

It’s no simple solution to just “shut off” that love. We can love them, even if that means it will cost us our lives.

Tragic, but all too true.

Finding Our Leaving Feet…

It’s a painful, scary, and lonely walk away from the people we love. Deep bonds and connections, over time, have created an environment for toxic guilt and shame to play with our emotions.

We are overrun by “should’s.”

“I should stay.”

“I should be loyal.”

“I should stay with them forever.”

(All are variations on the explanation, “because I love them”).

However, we don’t quite see some of the “should not’s” that directly apply to us to and to our welfare. Things like…

“I should not be abused.”

“I should not be exploited.”

“I should not be harmed.”

(“because I love them”).

“Finding our leaving feet” can begin when we make that shift from “should” to “should not,” with the emphasis on our health and welfare.

And sometimes, it can come down to asking a seemingly, simple question…

“Is this safe and healthy for me?”

Is it?

The conditions that we endure in a relationship are the stark realities.

What are they?

Getting hit or screamed at?

Being controlled financially?

Soaking our money and energy into their messes and needs?

Are those things “safe and healthy” for us, regardless of how those things affect and benefit the toxic person?

Yes… or no?

“Finding our leaving feet” can begin when we face and honestly answer those questions.

“Finding Our Leaving Feet” doesn’t happen overnight.

“Why do you stay?”

“Why can’t you just leave?”

One step at a time.

Before we eyeroll too much at that statement, let’s get a reality check here.

The dysfunctional situation we have been immersed in, be it family of origin, romantic relationship, or any other dynamic that placed us in harm’s way, typically, took time to develop. We were “groomed,” “conditioned,” “trained,” and “stripped” of our authentic selves and our personal power.

It was not a “one and done.” It was daily, repetitious, and relentless. It was confusing, filled with hypocrisy and mixed messages.

So, that “undoing” will take some deprogramming.

Being patient and compassionate with ourselves concerning this process is necessary here and now. We have, for too long, been at the mercy of accusatory, shaming, and abusive questions and tactics.

“Finding our leaving feet,” gradually, consistently, at our own unrushed pace, can be the decidedly self-empowering, loving, and healthy tactic when we seek to improve our lives.

We may not be the sprinting gazelle; we may be the crawling turtle, instead.

It’s okay. We are moving.

Don’t let these questions shame and stop you…

“Why do you stay?”

“Why can’t you just leave?”

Embrace your movement, whatever little movement it appears to be.

You’ll find your feet moving in a better direction.

Copyright © 2022 by Sheryle Cruse


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