The Sixth Sense Effect

sixth sense effect

I call it the “sixth sense effect”. Once you wake up to the realization that a relationship has been abusive, you replay the scenes of your life with that person (or people) through the lens of this newfound information and a growing understanding of what you lived through. It’s a splash of cold water in the face, for better and worse. Again and again, you go back through your memory and you see what now seems obvious–but was once desperately confusing and emotionally torturous for you. 

At the end of the movie The Sixth Sense, you smack your forehead when you discover that Bruce Willis was dead all along (spoiler alert, ha). About your own life and relationship, you finally grasp the reason that so many parts felt wrong. Because they were. And there was no argument you could make or steps you could take to fix the situation. That was abuse. And you are better off walking away. 

Now that it’s behind you (that is if you’re able to get away completely), the process of replaying old interactions is both satisfying and demoralizing. You see it all so much more clearly now. At the same time, you ask yourself, “How did I not know this before? Why did I keep trying to make it right? How did I let it go on for so long!?” 

Because you care about your relationships. Because you have your own moral code. Because you want to be loved for who you are. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know you were dipping your bucket in an empty well. Besides, not all of the relationship was bad. They offered you carrots as well as sticks. Some of that loving, caring behavior may have been genuine and real.

It’s helpful to remember that we see the not world as it is, but as we are. My guess is that you could never treat someone that way. It’s only natural that you failed to see their darker motives, gave them the benefit of the doubt, and assumed if you explained yourself well enough they would finally get it…and things would change. That is how YOU approach relationships. How could you know they would never offer you the same grace? 

I bet you have learned from all of this. You see the signs more quickly now. You’re better at recognizing real, loving interactions. You will use this knowledge going forward and you can educate your loved ones too. 

After The Sixth Sense became a hit film audiences got wise to the director’s trick. They brought that insight to other suspenseful movies and shows. Writers were on notice, they better not fall back on the old ‘They are dead and don’t know it’ trope. The jig was up.

You are wiser too.

Life is not a movie, of course. It’s more messy and real and complicated than a surprising plot twist. Even so, you will need to do some rewinding and rewatching of your own life moments to let the big reveal sink in. It was abuse all along. Give yourself time and space to let that truth sink in. And please, forgive yourself for not knowing sooner. Heck, even Bruce Willis was clueless. 

You are okay now. In fact, you are wiser and better than ever before, knowing the truth. 


  1. REPLY
    Linda s Tripp says

    for many yearsi hated my father for his abuse my sixth sence came from my mother when i realized she didnt protect us all our lives but caved into what ever he said to make it easier on her she was afraid to go against him so chose to believe anything he said or did so it made it impossible to get help from anywhere my siblings have grown up to be just like our father most are abusive to some extent and have married people just like our mother who wouldnt recognize abuse if it bit them in the ass . better to believe the child a liar

  2. REPLY
    Saundra Raynor says

    It happened in 1956 and still haunts me today at 80.

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