06/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Relationship Advice: 1 (of 7) Reasons Women Remain in Abusive Relationships

Reason #1: The Challenge of Having to Create a New Self-Image

Many women think they're going to have to assume a whole new identity if they force a break-up with their man. In their heart of hearts, they believe that initiating and securing a permanent separation from their former Mr. Right means irrevocably transmogrifying from the Selfless Conciliator they've always been, to a Selfish Terminator they've never imagined themselves being.

Whether via nurture or nature, a lot of women identify themselves as Uplifting, Self-Sacrificing Healer. Their understanding of who they are is deeply vested in their fulfillment of the role of dutiful daughter, supportive mate, loving mother. They're the ones to whom others turn for comfort and counsel. They heal. They support. They sustain. They forgive. They sacrifice. They reconcile. They ... well, take to the role of Emotional Martyr like Flipper takes to water. Which in a great many ways is a beautiful thing, of course. Where would any of us be if none of us knew how to put others first?

But you take a woman whose identity is inextricably bound up with her self-image as a Sacrificing Giver, put her in the position of really having to choose between her own personal well-being and the man to whom she once pledged her love, and what very often happens is that her internal life splits. She'll have no idea what to do. She'll have no internal emotional paradigm for assuming the role of Xena, Relationship Terminator.

Selfless, she knows.

But selfish? Not so much.

If you sense that you may be staying in a bad relationship because you're resistant to changing your self-image from Healing Nurturer to Selfless Terminator, then it is absolutely vital for you to understand that the least healing and nurturing thing you can do for yourself and the people you love is to remain in a bad relationship. There's virtually nothing you can do that's more healing to yourself and those around you than to once and for all kick a bad man out of your life. Here are some reasons that's true:

1. It's extremely encouraging to others. The people who care about you want both you and themselves to be okay. You having the inner strength and wisdom to rid yourself of a bad man not only shows the people around you that you're okay, it also models for them how they can be okay, too. Seeing others take definitive steps toward healing themselves greatly encourages others to do the same thing in their own lives. Healing begets healing.

2. It refutes the Women as Victims model. Children grow up to build relationships just like the ones their parents had. Mothers who remains in bad relationships teach their children, every single day, that the natural role of women is to be hurt and demeaned by men, and that the natural role of men is to treat women like garbage. That's a terrible thing to believe is true about life.

3. Enabling a person to act poorly only hurts them. You do a man no favors by allowing him to continue to treat you shabbily. You don't train a dog to stop biting by letting it chew on your leg. Enabling dysfunctional behavior can't help but make it worse.

4. No one changes anyone. You can think, imagine, and dream that somehow, some day, you will change your abusive man. But he will only change when, how, where, and if he wants to. Period, end of story, close that lame, ancient fairy tale.

5. You are in a life and death situation. Just because it's happening slowly, bit by bit every day, doesn't mean that remaining with a bad man isn't destroying your life. Drowning an inch at a time is still drowning. You don't get another life. This is your life. Get desperate about improving it.

6. You are alone. You have exactly two choices: Take the steps necessary to save yourself, or wait until you die for someone else to save you. No one is going to come riding in on a white horse and make your life all better for you. You do that yourself, or it doesn't get done. (Even if, as many who are profoundly suffering do, for peace and understanding you turn to a Higher Power, that's something you have to do. God -- however you perceive of that phenomenon -- doesn't make a habit of entering rooms into which he/she/it hasn't first been invited.)

John blogs at See the rest of this series at 7 Reasons Women Remain in Abusive Relationships and How To Defeat Each One