Note: I write this article based on my own experience and perspective as a woman with a man, but men can also be the victims in this dynamic and same sex relationships can have this dynamic.
NEW: Part 2 of this article – How to spot the RED FLAGS of an abuser to get out before you get into it. Click HERE
Why did I stay?
That question replayed and haunted me for years after I found my way out of an abusive relationship. I was congratulated on getting out. I was supported, encouraged and empowered. Yet, that one lingering thought kept gnawing away at me, and still does sometimes.
This post is for those who have gotten out – escaped and freed themselves from Domestic Violence and an abusive relationship. Yet, we don’t quite realize that getting out is just the beginning of the healing. We carry with us the reality of what we willingly put ourselves in the path of. And that realization and acceptance is one of the hardest realities to come to terms with.
This is incredibly difficult to write, as I still grapple with accepting the fact that yes, indeed – that person was ME. I was in an abusive relationship.
Here is my story:
I’m an intelligent woman. I run my own business and have gone through many tough things in life. I’m tenacious, driven, passionate and have done really well considering some obstacles I had faced.
How could I let myself BE in an abusive relationship for so long?
I had recently left the father of my second child, who incidentally was not the father of my first child. I was quite obviously working through some issues, but at that time survival was foremost on the brain. I was a single mom of two baby girls, and neither father was willing to support me financially. Court processes ensued, but those situations take time – a lot of time. I had no choice, I had to go on welfare.
Dealing with being a ‘welfare mom’ was a difficult thing to choke back. I still remember the bile tasting lump at the back of my throat as I faced the indignity of going through the government support process. Nobody should ever have to endure that. I did, and many do because there is no choice sometimes. Taking care of my daughters became my first priority.
It wasn’t too long after this I started a relationship that admittedly, I found online. So what right? I mean, many relationships start online these days and are quite happy. Well – this adventure ended up catapulting me into a life with a narcissistic, abusive controlling man. I say it catapulted me, but in reality it was more like a slow submersion in quicksand that wasn’t so quick. It was slow enough that I didn’t even notice I was sinking about a foot a year. For six years I was in this relationship – so you do the math – I was already one foot under when I finally decided to rescue myself.
I suffered abuse in the form of:
- Emotional Abuse – Humiliated and put down, yelled at, manipulated, abandoned, my accomplishments were ignored, he didn’t attend important functions with me, hostility, anger, mood swings and rage which would switch to ooey gooey apologies and regret and then back again, blamed me for his abusive behavior, gaslighted, was charismatic and friendly in public and then the opposite at home, cheated on me and lied about it, cheated on me and made it my fault – I could go on, but you get the picture.
- Sexual Abuse – No was never an acceptable answer. The important thing to note here is that even though I gave in, I gave in because the alternative: rage, abandonment, guilt, shame and hostility was way more destructive, and I chose the ‘lesser’ – my reasons didn’t matter so I gave in to avoid the predictable reaction. This means I was coerced and controlled into sexual activity – it was never my choice. I didn’t really consent. It’s still scary to come to terms with this one.
- Physical Abuse – I was pushed, knocked over and hit. When I stood my ground I was punched. I suffered multiple arm bruises from when we were driving and my left arm was punched. I suffered a face punch when I got too close one day when we were arguing ( it was my fault because I was too close) the punch landed me on the ground and my jaw locked up for days. I suffered a punch to my leg that created a bruise that ran the length of my thigh, my pinky finger was bitten almost right down to the bone ( I still don’t recall with clarity how that one happened) and many, many more assaults to my body.
These signs and symptoms are only a FEW of the many that exist in abusive relationships and domestic violence. I could go on and on explaining what I endured over six years in this dynamic but that would take pages and pages.
It’s been over four years now since I left that relationship. Even leaving it took over a year to do. After four years, writing that list above and coming to terms with the fact it was ME I was writing about, still makes me shake and feel sick to my stomach.
How could I have done that to myself? How could I have done that to my KIDS!?
The SHAME of domestic violence and abusive relationships follows us around, long after the bruises have healed and you’ve even managed to get out of the relationship. The shame of the denial, the shame of the surrender, the shame of not protecting my children like I should have.
• SHAME •
I want to share with you how I have been working myself out of that shame, and that it is possible. It takes time, lots of time. I would say the time to heal is almost as long as the time you were in the relationship. It looks like I’ve got about two years to go. A large part of me still resists: “I’m FINE! – There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m totally over it”
“Niet – You’re not fine lady”. But you know what? That is ok, in fact it is more than ok – it is perfect. Recently I wrote a post called ‘How to Dance with Failure to Win at Life‘ and much of it was inspired by my ‘healing time’ after this abusive relationship ended.
Here are the top 5 things you need to remember if you are in this place:
1. No, you were NOT weak
I used to think I was so weak for letting it happen to me. The truth is, I was exactly the opposite, and so are you. It takes incredible strength to keep trying, to keep making things work, to keep putting yourself on the line for someone else. Yes, you missed some red flags, but that doesn’t make you weak, that makes you human. The reality of these dynamics is that they happen so slowly, the quicksand engulfs small bits of you at a time so that you don’t notice they are even missing. Your ability to reason and assess in this relationship has been eroded one part at a time. It is a masterful plan and one that even the most intelligent beings fall victim to. You are caught in the trap of the abuser. But you are the strong one. You didn’t give up, you kept working and you found your way out.
You are strong beyond measure.
2. No, You were not stupid
I thought I was intelligent. Obviously not if I allowed that to happen, right? WRONG – Most often, victims of abuse are empathic beings. They are compassionate, understanding and supportive souls. I can bet that you thought many times that you could help this man, you could ‘fix’ him, you could take away his pain. You justified his behavior because if you acted like that, you would have to be in a lot of pain – and because you loved him, you wanted to take that pain away. That is not stupid, that is love in its purest form. The only problem was – the other person was not pure. That other person was spinning an illusion. And perhaps they did need help, perhaps their issues come from their own past. But, many times narcissists and sociopaths are the ones who are abusive and they can never be FIXED – It is the way they are. So, the only way for you to SEE any of this is for you to fall out of love. That is easier said than done.
You Are a Loving Person.
3. Your Fear was real – be ok with that
Human beings are programmed with an emotion we call ‘fear’ – that feeling protects us from imminent danger. It is an instinct from many years ago when we would have had to fend off predators and other dangers. It was life and death. These days, there aren’t many life and death situations we face, but our fear doesn’t realize the difference. If your stress levels rise high enough, your natural response is fear, even if you don’t realize that is what you are feeling. FEAR kept me in that relationship. It was the fear of being alone, the fear of being abandoned, the fear of failing ( again) the fear of his reactions ( Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the woman has broken off the relationship *) and most importantly the fear of the shame if I accepted and acknowledged the situation I had gotten myself into. FEAR doesn’t care if it is logical. Fear just is, and it is there to protect you. Your fear was very real and it takes a lot of support, encouragement and courage to break away from fear. It may take YEARS to get there, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is:
You are a damn warrior because you faced your fear head on and beat it!
4. You are a good person
This is probably the biggest reason you got where you were in the first place. You are a compassionate, kind, loving person who cares deeply. These attributes are incredibly rare, and also incredibly vulnerable. It puts you at risk – and especially if you weren’t taught healthy boundaries as a child, or suffered some sort of abuse already from your parents – you are already set up to walk into this nightmare. Good people are good people. And the more good people fail, falter, struggle, the better they seem to get. This world is not full of good people, this world has many kinds of people and you have just learned what kinds of people to avoid.YOU are not this relationship that you endured, and eventually escaped from, you are YOU. It happened, as many things do in life – but you survived. Not only are you a good person you have
Learned from Life and become stronger because of it.
5. You can let go of the Shame
This is the last pointer, because this is one of the last things to go, and one of the last things to heal in my experience. Shame is another form of guilt, and guilt is really never very productive. Shame is something that strong people tend to feel because they always think they could have done ‘better’ – there is no doing ‘better’ in this situation. There is only the ‘doing’ that you are ‘doing’ right now. The fact that you have released yourself from the burden of an abusive relationship and started to build your life back again is nothing short of a miracle and should be celebrated as such. Keep telling yourself this, write, dance, paint, draw, read and share your experience with the loving relationships now in your life and just keep going. The shame will evaporate – it will evaporate the closer you look at this time in your life, the more you accept it and the more you honour yourself for going through it and going past it.
You are a rockstar baby – just incredible!
I’m incredibly proud of myself, and I’m incredibly proud of you too.
We’ve done what many women in abusive relationships are unable to do. Every six days in Canada a woman is killed by her intimate partner *. This statistic is staggering and extremely sad.
You have fought against the odds, you have fought against yourself and you have fought against your abuser. You are a powerful, intelligent, compassionate and wonderful person. Letting go of the Shame will be easy for you – just give it some time and love yourself in the meantime.
* stats sourced from: http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence