(This is part of why many addicts have to hit bottom before they can get better: They have to go so low that they lose the last vestiges of their sick systems.)
The tenacity of sick systems is part of what makes them so hard to leave. You don't want to leave until you can save the other people who are caught with you. You don't want to leave until you can save the sick person who's running the system. You don't want to leave the system behind; you want to pull it down and leave something healthier in its place. But these things can't happen, so you stay until they can.
Which they can't.
So you stay.
The best and most succinct advice I've heard is, courtesy of igosm, is: "The best way to fight a sick system is to get out."
Following it is some of the hardest advice in the world, but ultimately it's best for everyone in the system. If you get out:
- You're one less person supporting the sick system. That brings the system one person closer to decline; and while sick systems are preternaturally stable, each does have a natural limit of people it can churn through before it goes into a downward spiral.
- You're an example to the people still trapped in the system. Some of them need to see that their lives will go on if they leave the system. Some of them need the reassurance that the system will go on without them. Either way, you're proof that escape is possible.
- You're in a position to help the people who are trapped. You have the sanity and energy they don't; you can offer them safe space or tell them about opportunities that they're too tired to find for themselves. If the system is extreme, you're someone in the outside world who understands what it was like in the system and won't judge them for being trapped.
Oh--and a couple of miscellaneous pieces of advice:
Do some reading on narcissistic abuse. This is abuse that hurts you by striking directly at your sense of self-worth. It leaves you with the feeling that your abuser has denied your personhood, even your existence--which sounds dry and technical, but what it means is that your abuser has told you you're not a person. Horrible, horrible pain, and it fills you with the need to prove to your abuser that they're wrong. Ever been in a fight where you hate the other person and don't give a shit what they think, but you have to hear them say you're right before you can let the matter drop? That's a taste of what it's like. Abusers give their victims a heavy dose of this kind of abuse because it keeps the victims bound to them, unwilling to let go until the abuser gives them validation. That's why abusive parents are so often successful at keeping their adult children glued to them, and why people who have been emotionally abused are so slow to heal.
That's evil enough, but it has a coda. If you get away from one abuser without getting validation, you may be drawn to another abuser to get validation-by-proxy. It's not conscious, but your unconscious is dumb. So read about emotional abuse not only to heal your own pain, but to train yourself to recognize when "This person makes me feel whole" means "This person feels like a source of the validation I need because they're like the last person who hurt me."
Don't recruit. Some people feel that they can't leave until they line up someone else to take their place in the system. It's really, really tempting, especially if you're not fully committed to leaving the sick system, but don't do it. You may feel that the problem lies in you, that someone who's more competent, more organized, more loving would be able to fix the system or wouldn't think the system was sick at all. You may care for the people who are left behind and want to be sure they won't be hurt by your leaving. You may even suspect that you're the sick person in the system. Please be kind to yourself and remember:
Sick systems are designed to make you think you're the sick one.
Sick systems are designed to make you think they're on the verge of collapse.
Sick systems are incredibly resilient under their masks of fragility. They will go on without you.
There are only two cures for a sick system: Remove the sick person from the system, or remove the system from the sick person. You don't have the power to remove the sick person unless you're a hiring manager. All you can do is reduce the number of people who get pulled into the sick system and hope the sick person recognizes their need for help before they spiral too far down.
So don't find a replacement for yourself before you walk away. Sick systems are perfectly able to do it for themselves. Better, even, because they know how to test for the qualities they need to keep someone stuck.
Besides, you were miserable in the system. Why inflict that on someone else?