Many of my clients often have difficulty after ending their relationships with an abusive and crazy ex. These men and women torture themselves with self-doubt (Am I doing the right thing?), self-recrimination (Why am I so stupid? Why did I put up with her/his behavior for so long? Why did I have kids with that sadistic lunatic?) and second-guessing (If only I’d done this; What if I’d said that?)
These thoughts and feelings are a natural byproduct of being in an abusive relationship. It’s no secret that abusive personalities groom their targets to — you guessed it — take their abuse. They do this through a variety of methods, however, in order for any of their unconscious and conscious manipulations to work, they first need to envelop you in FOG (fear, obligation, guilt).
I also work with individuals who are distraught over seeing a beloved son, brother, grandson and/or friend willingly remain in an abusive relationship. They just don’t understand why their loved ones tolerate the abuse and stay in the relationship. FOG is the intangible glue that keeps many men and women stuck in abusive relationships.
It is often easier for outsiders to see what’s going on because they’re not caught in the disorienting and invalidating mists of an emotional FOG. To a mom, dad, sister, brother or best friend, it can be as clear as day, but when you have your mouth wrapped around the exhaust pipe of the Crazy Fogger 3000 night and day, it’s no wonder you can’t see the forest for the trees. For anyone who’s ever walked or driven in atmospheric fog, you know that being in a fog can play perceptual tricks on you.
In an atmospheric fog, it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of you. You get turned around and walk in the wrong direction. Objects seem further away than they are. Even sounds can be disorienting. A fog can feel cool and refreshing at first, like when your hiking in the mountains, but then becomes thick and muggy and uncomfortable and suffocating. This can be true of emotional FOG.
After enough time, the FOG may start to feel normal and being out of the FOG may feel strange and unsettling. Once the FOG is the norm, leaving the FOG becomes difficult because of the self-doubt and second guessing an abuser’s FOG induces. If the FOG is combined with a target’s need to be perceived as the Nice Guy/Nice Gal, it’s extremely difficult for the target to break free. Most Nice Guys and Gals have been groomed to believe boundaries are mean and abusive and that taking care of themselves is selfish. See the problem?
For the FOG to be especially effective, many abusers instinctively know to isolate their targets from friends and family members who will help them to reality test and come out of the FOG. Once you get out of the FOG for a length of time, your head will start to clear and you will, hopefully, see things more objectively, which is precisely what a predatory abuser does not want to happen. They want to control you, the narrative, your feelings and your perceptions.
Even if your abuser doesn’t want you back immediately, she will expect you to be there when she comes back around looking for attention, money, triangulation, etc. Many abusers, particularly personality disordered abusers, like to return to prey on their targets over and over again; like animal predators frequent the same hunting grounds until their food sources dry up. They typically do this by employing a series of Hoover tactics.
Ultimately, Hoovers are just another instance of an abusive wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or ex not respecting your feelings, needs and boundaries. It’s just another way they ignore, invalidate and disrespect you and what you’ve decided is healthiest for YOU. How dare you put your own well-being ahead of their wants and needs no matter how unreasonable and abusive? For shame!
Whether it’s a Psycho Hoover, a Deluxe Hoover, a FOG Hoover or a Happy Ending Hoover, it’s just the Crazy’s way of saying, “Hell no” to your “No.” It’s not about her undying “love” for you. Narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and sociopaths aren’t capable of real love because they will never care about anyone else more than they care for themselves — and they don’t even really seem to care for themselves very much.
Their idea of love seems to be about being able to control their so-called loved ones and how much abuse and crap you will tolerate from them. Naturally, if you’re unwilling to tolerate their abuse and crap, then you don’t really love them. Never mind the fact that if they really loved you, they wouldn’t abuse you, treat you like crap and turn your relationship into a never-ending series of Shit Tests and power struggles.
Coming out of the FOG and shutting off the Hoover
In order to successfully come out of the FOG, you must go No Contact or, if you share children, minimize contact to the the greatest degree possible. Many targets of abuse have difficulty not feeling “needed” and/or have difficulty weaning themselves off the drama. You gotta go cold turkey.
Think of your need to feel needed and/or the excitement from the unhealthy drama as if it’s an addiction and set up social and professional supports for yourself accordingly. These people are poison. You can’t just take a “little hit” and be okay. Any contact after the break-up will put you right back to square negative 3.
I know how painful and excruciating it can be at first after the initial relief of ending the relationship subsides and you begin to miss your ex’s “good” qualities. These overwhelming feelings of loss and “I can’t live without her/It wasn’t that bad/I can take it/What if she’s different with the next guy?/What if I try just a little bit harder to make her happy?/etc.,” are temporary. You will not feel this bad forever — unless, of course, you get back together with her!
Before emailing, calling or responding to her texts, examine your feelings of nostalgia and longing and ask yourself:
- Do I really miss her or the drama?
- What void is her drama filling in my life?
- Do I really miss her or does she provide an endless distraction from dealing with my own issues, which is probably what caused me to become involved with her in the first place?
- Do I really miss and “love” him or am I re-creating a troubled and painful relationship from my childhood (e.g., with a parent) and insisting on a different outcome with an equally damaged person who is just as incapable of being in a healthy, reciprocal relationship as the individual(s) who caused me the original damage?
- Do I really miss her or the fantasy woman she portrayed herself to be when we first met?
- Do I have unrealistic fantasies about meeting a perfect woman or man who will meet all of my needs all the time, which is why I fell for her or him during the love bombing stage?
- Is this because I didn’t receive enough unconditional love and positive regard from my parents when I was a child?
- Is this what attracted me to her and, if so, how can I work through these issues and love myself enough so I am no longer vulnerable to emotional predators?
The Good News
If you can go 4 to 8 weeks and maintain strong boundaries and No Contact, it is very likely the FOG will lift, you will get over the hump and real healing can begin. Any contact with your ex after the break-up runs the risk of putting you back in the FOG, rubbing salt in your wounds and delaying your recovery. It also gives her the opportunity to “Oops” you (“accidental” pregnancy), exploit you (financially and/or emotionally) and/or, heaven forbid, make a false allegation of abuse against you. *By the way, false allegations of abuse can happen to female targets, too. I have worked with women to whom this has happened. Persuasive blamers of both sexes seem to follow the same playbook, unfortunately.
More importantly, 30 to 60 days of No Contact will (hopefully) propel your ex to seek a new source of narcissistic supply and will (hopefully) give you enough time to realize you can live without the Crazy and that you’re actually starting to feel better without her.
Not all abusers will move on in 30 to 60 days. I have a client right now who is on month 6 of attempted Hoovers and his ex is escalating. The first 3 weeks were hard for him. He was feeling guilty and worried that he was being “mean” by not replying. I had him agree to a contract to continue NC for 3 more weeks. He did it and he got over the hump.
Now, instead of feeling guilty or like a “bad guy,” he is increasingly dismayed by her lack of boundaries and her unwillingness to accept and respect his No. Enough time and distance out of the FOG and most people have a very different perspective on their ex’s behaviors.
It will take 6 to 8 weeks for the FOG to lift (give or take); maybe longer, depending upon the length of the relationship and the severity of the trauma you suffered. However, the FOG will never lift if you continue to wrap your mouth around the exhaust pipe of the FOG machine.
FOG can be as emotionally as toxic as carbon monoxide is physically toxic. Hoovers aren’t about love; they’re just another boundary violation. Fear, obligation and guilt suck. Hoovers suck, too, so don’t be a sucker. Go No Contact. Odds are you will be very glad you did sooner than you think.
Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.