QUIT: My Abusive Relationship

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I call these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

I’ve been in an abusive relationship for… well, more years than I’ve really been counting, especially since it took a while to see it for what it really was. Abusive relationships are like that. You find lots of ways to justify them, explain them away, make excuses for why they make sense and why you deserve precisely what you’ve been getting.

It’s sick and twisted, and deep down somewhere, you know that, but it’s hard to muster up the full-on realization it takes to walk away.

I’ve known this girl for a long, long time, and our friendship seemed awesome, at first. She inspired me to do some amazing things and had my back during some ridiculous escapades. She was the first person to laugh with me when I found something funny and the first to hand me a tissue when something broke my heart. She knew me better than anyone else, hands down, and she still does.

But she’s also a stone cold bitch to me an awful lot of the time.

And I’m finally beginning to realize that’s just not cool.


The Way We Were

In the beginning, I liked her because she challenged me. She was always spurring me to be better, smarter, kinder, stronger, to reach for more and accomplish more, to not go easy on myself. I loved that about her. I loved that she called me on my B.S. and wouldn’t let me listen to my own excuses.

I’m also a contrarian person. I like to prove people wrong. When people say I can’t do something, it makes me that much more driven to show them I can. I respond well to the boot camp style of coaching. And that’s what I thought she was offering me, at first: tough love. If it felt a little too tough at times… well, that must have meant I was being particularly soft that day and I needed the spurring more than ever.

Her challenges inspired me to start this blog, quit my day job and do plenty of other things I never would have dreamed of doing without her. She held me to my guns. She wouldn’t let me wuss out. She kept my nose to the grindstone. And it paid off.


Then Things Started Shifting

They were small things, at first.

An “Are you sure you want to do that?” when I stopped attending my masterminds because I found they were only making me unhealthily obsessed with keeping up with the entrepreneurial rat race.

A barely noticeable eyebrow raise when I said my only plans for the evening were to read a book and cuddle with the husband.

A quietly muttered comment about “commitment” when I announced I was no longer forcing myself to put in 60-hour workweeks.

She meant well, I reminded myself. Maybe she was feeling cranky that day, or maybe her tendency to want the best for me came out wrong that time. So I let it slide. I forgave and forgot and kept striving to live up to her expectations

But more and more, I began to realize that her expectations were no longer helping me. In fact, they were kind of tearing me to shreds. Something had changed in our relationship — in her — and her input was getting less and less “You can do better!” and more and more “That’s not good enough.”

I put in a marathon workweek to get a big project done by Friday, and she ruined our Sunday Funday by going on and on about how Richard Branson probably doesn’t take weekends off and Robert Herjavec says anyone who needs more than 4 hours’ sleep won’t make it as an entrepreneur.

I turned down a project request because it paid well but didn’t fit my interests, and she reminded me how there was once a time I would’ve been happy to take on anything and everything, and if I got too picky I could wind up regretting it.

A reader emailed to tell me how much my blog had touched them, and when I told her about it, she sniffed and said, “That’s nice, but you can’t monetize compliments. How much has your blog actually made you this month?”

All that pull-no-punches, let’s-be-real-with-ourselves brazenness I used to admire in her had become twisted, somehow. It had morphed from being motivating and energizing to being downright cynical. Maybe I’d let her push me around too much, and the power got to her head. Maybe she’d always been the negative kind of taskmaster, but I never saw it before because it took a while for her to wear me down. Maybe we’d both lost sight of the difference between tough love and just being an asshole.

Whatever the cause for the shift, I started dreading the times she came around. Her comments lingered with me long after she left, giving me headaches, stomach aches, anxiety attacks whenever I thought of them. I started staying in bed at night binge-watching bad TV rather than risk hanging out with her or doing anything she’d be sure to pounce on and tear apart.

I could anticipate her cutting, snarky remarks before they even came, and what was worse, deep down I’d begun to believe them. I’d come to see myself as the screwup she clearly saw me as. I was was damned if I did, because it was never enough, and damned if I didn’t, because that meant I was slacking.


So, Why in the &%$* Did I Stick With Her?

There are all sorts of excuses I could give for why I’ve kept her in my life long past the time she was a positive addition:

It’s easy to fall into negative patterns.

It’s hard to let go of a long history together.

I still believe that, in her heart of hearts, she really does want the best for me, even if it comes out in a way that sounds harsh.

But the biggest reason I’ve put up with this abuse (because, let’s be honest, that’s what it is)?

It’s because I can’t get away from her.

It’s because she’s in my head.

It’s because she is me.

I’ve always been my own worst critic, but I’ve been kidding myself into thinking I’m only being hard on myself because I’m driven, because I’m disciplined, because I want more for my life than the average bear. I’ve confused pushing myself with beating up on myself. And it’s turned my inner motivator into a monster whose sole purpose in life is to smash down anything I try doing out of a perverted idea that being a heartless drill sergeant is the same thing as being driven and ambitious.

So I think it’s time we break up, for reals.


Inner Critics Make Shitty Coaches

The thing about being driven to improve yourself is, it can get you to lots of great places. Holding yourself to high standards can produce some amazing results, and pushing yourself farther than you think you can go can be empowering and enlightening.

But it can also drive you into the ground, if you’re not careful to make sure there’s plenty of love to go along with all that toughness.

For all the posts I’ve written like this one, this one and this one, hoping to show you that you can do more and be more and still be kind to yourself, I’ve written an equal number of posts like this one, this one and this one, which — if I had been looking close enough — were telltale signs I was in an abusive relationship with my own inner critic-coach

I wasn’t pushing myself past my limits Jillian-Michaels-style, believing in an awesome end result and giving myself the motivation to get there; I was playing a ruthless game of “Bombardment!” on myself every time I tried to do something, whether that “something” was write a post or hang out with my friends or try to take some much-needed time to relax. (Did you realize you can fuck up relaxing? You can, quite spectacularly, according to my inner critic-coach.)

If a real friend had treated me this way, I’d have dropped her without thinking twice. I have no place for toxic people in my life. But toxic people in my head? I somehow trust that they know what they’re saying, because I know me, right? I’m my own worst critic because I’m the only unobstructed witness to all the things that are the matter with me… right?

Not so much. That inner critic, those demons, those lizard-brain reactions, whatever you want to call the voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, and gosh darn it, people hate you — that voice is a Mean Girl (or Guy) of the highest caliber, and just because she’s a part of you, that doesn’t mean she’s right. There’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to sleep all day and subsist on Little Debbie Zebra Cakes, but I’ve learned to ignore and override that part because it clearly doesn’t have my best interests in mind. The same goes for your inner critic.

There’s a difference between challenging yourself (super-awesome) and being a complete and utter bitch to yourself (super-not-awesome). (Tweet!) When you challenge yourself, you push yourself to go further and be better, but you realize you’re only human and if you fall short of your goal, you pick yourself up, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself it’s OK; you’ll get ‘em next time.  You also realize that challenging yourself 24/7 only leads to burnout, and it’s not only OK but necessary to spend some time just being alive and being happy about that.

When you’re a complete and utter bitch to yourself… well, you end up writing veiled Quit posts that make you sound like you’ve got borderline personality disorder.

Don’t end up writing veiled Quit posts that make you sound like you’ve got borderline personality disorder.

Learn to ask if the gauntlet you’re throwing down for yourself is one that will help you go farther or simply make you feel like shit. Learn to recognize that your inner critic isn’t your coach, but your detractor. Stop piling “tough love” on yourself when it’s really just abuse in disguise.

Be kinder to yourselves, guys. I promise you can still kick ass and do amazing things while being nice to yourself. (It actually helps you do it better.)

Is your inner coach really an inner critic? How can you break free from the abuse?

Image:  Nicki Varkevisser / Flickr

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  • Cordelia’s Mom

    Oh, Sweetie. I started off getting ready to put on my leather gloves and go find this bitch that was making my girl unhappy. But then I realized something wasn’t making sense – I know most of your friends and couldn’t imagine someone doing that to you. Then a light bulb went off. Ah, wait a minute – I have an alter-ego, would it be so strange for Cordelia to have one, too? Yes, I saw your story line before I got to the end, but only because I think like you do. The worst enemy to have is the one within yourself. Make that bitch bend to YOUR will, not the other way around. That’s exactly how Not CM came into being – it gives me someone to spar with other than my own dark thoughts.

    • “Make that bitch bend to YOUR will, not the other way around.” Love it. Going to make that my new motto.

  • Melissa Zehner

    WOW. It broke my heart a little to read this, but it also made me so proud of you for realizing how damaging self-talk can be and deciding to change it. It’s a sad truth that we are often our own worst critics, and it’s so hard to get out of our heads. Kudos to you for choosing to love yourself better. A powerful, insightful piece of writing.

    • Thanks, Melissa! Just getting this out on paper (or, rather, screen) has made a big difference. Acknowledging that it’s happening and refusing to accept it is half the battle.

  • r-evove

    Awesome Tyler Durden suspense!
    Great post and thank you for sharing. I have a thousand inner jackasses telling me my ideas suck, there’s no way I can do what I want on my own, counting the ways I will fail miserably… And, unfortunately we all have these demons and let them win.
    Thank you for writing this peice and helping other warriors not to bend! I optimistically believe I can, you can and we all can.
    Awesome message Kelly!

    • I was actually initially planning a Tyler Durden picture for this post, but decided it would be more fun not to ruin the surprise. 😉

      • r-evove

        Very true!
        Loved the piece and hope yourself is being taken care of.

  • Julio Salas

    I was drawn to this from the headline on twitter and it did not dissapoint. I currently find myself in the transition from worker bee to fully independent and fearless writer. I am neither of the two things I aspire to as of yet. That voice inside me is my daily undoing. “You dont have the right connections.” “You’re not as built for this as you think you are.” “If you were so destined to do this, why arent you doing it yet?” “You cant deal with rejection.” “You need someone to have a foot up your butt” “You have no self-discipline.” It can be disheartening. But I realized recently there is a point in life where you consciously or subconsciously burn the boats and decide you are making a home of your dreams. As weary as I feel, as doubt seems to outweigh confidence, I know there is no turning back, so the fights will be fought. Some will be lost, some won, but I know now I have to fight and conquer myself and then, the world I hope to make for myself.

    Thanks for your voice in this wilderness.

    • Judging by that beautifully written comment, you certainly have the chops to make it, my friend! I felt all of your doubts when I started this blog 4 years ago, with zero experience and plenty of wasted years behind me to make me think I’d missed my expiration date. See:


      But in the end, all that matters is that you want it so badly you won’t give up. It sounds like you do. (Hell, reading your words has gotten me all jazzed up, too!)

      Don’t waste energy fighting that negative voice — it will never fully go away and the more attention you pay to it, the stronger it gets. Instead, ignore it completely and turn your focus towards your dreams. Then push forward, forward, forward.

      You got this. 🙂

      • Julio Salas

        Thanks. I really needed to hear this, right at this moment.

  • Mabel rosas

    After being in relationship with morgan for seven years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email: drbhabumenrespellhome@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anything. CAN NEVER STOP TALKING ABOUT YOU SIR HIS EMAIL

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  • I see by the Likes, that I read this when it was new, Cordellia –
    I’ve got one of those b*****s in my head too (more than one, actually…). I was deep in her clutches then, and have started the long climb back now…
    Thanks for your unfailing inspiration, over the years!

  • Jennifer Hole

    Hi – I don’t know how I found your blog. I was looking at some freelance blogging posts somewhere and one you wrote linked me here and I thought your blog title sounded cool so I checked it out. I read your tiny house post and your about page (and a few other posts in your blog feed). I just wanted to let you know that I love your writing style and I thought this particular post was really excellent and socked me in the gut (I was wondering who this friend of yours was and whether or not she reads your blog and then – bam – you got me). I am going to sign up to be notified when you relaunch and look forward to following your journey. Thanks for your honesty and courage!