Surviving Domestic Violence
I have had low self-esteem all of my life and as a result I ended up in one dysfunctional relationship after another. I never thought I was good enough for someone to really love me so I settled for men who would live with me and let me play house. Most of these men were selfish or alcoholic, but my ex-husband was verbally and physically abusive.
I finally got out of this relationship with the help of my family and therapist. It really is not difficult to break up when you face your fear and get help. I did it for my children long before I realized that I deserved better. Later in therapy I wanted to know why I stayed in an abusive relationship even I was so unhappy. Here is what I came up with. Here is what you have to fight against if you are in an abusive relationship.
Low Self-Esteem: We do not think we deserve any better and that if we leave no one new will come along. We are terrified of being alone, abandoned, or lonely. We think this is better than other.
Dependency on the relationship: Sometimes we are dependent on the relationship, and we would rather suffer physical pain than endure the emotional pain of breaking up. We cannot tolerate separation anxiety.
Abusive parents: Sometimes we had an abusive parent so this abuse is not out of the ordinary for them. It is seen as the norm. It may even be equated with love. An abusive parent can also be loving, so battered children grow up confusing love with abuse. This confusion becomes a distorted value which influences them as adults.
Peers: In some case, abuse may seem ordinary because all of our friends are being abused as well. In some environments domestic violence is the norm. It may seem futile to try and change the status quo.
It's my fault: Sometimes we blame ourselves rather than their partner. We are sure it is our own fault that we did something to provoke our partner. Sometimes we even think we deserve the abuse. We keep trying to change ourselves so it won't happen again.
Gullibility: Sometimes we are gullible and don't learn from the past. We believe our partner when he or she says the abuse will never happen again. Like children, we cling to the fantasy that this person will change.
Sympathy: Sometimes we feel sorry for our partner when he or she asks for forgiveness. We know our partner is sick so we decide to take care of him or her rather than end the relationship. Caretakers are used to putting the needs of others before their own. This is misguided compassion.
Loyalty: Sometime we feel that we made a commitment and we must be loyal no matter what - that it would be wrong to change their mind. We feel guilty if we reject someone, even if that someone is abusing us. This is misguided loyalty.
Fear of abandonment: Sometimes we project our fear of abandonment onto our partners. We don't want to do to them what was done to us. This was my biggest weakness.
Fear of revenge: Sometimes we are terrified of leaving an abusive partner because we fear revenge or because we are financially dependent on this person.
Martyr's complex: This is controversial, but some of us have a martyr's complex. We feel superior when we suffer in the name of love. We wear abuse like a badge of courage. In a twisted sort of way this actually elevates our self-esteem. Christians especially fall into this trap. They think that because Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind that we should die on the cross for the sins of our partner. Some Christians read in the Bible that "love bears all things" and we think that this includes abuse. I don't think it does. Non-Christians fall into this trap also. They listen to the song "Stand by your man," and think it is romantic to stick with a relationship no matter what.
Making up: Sometimes we don't like being abused, but we like making up. For instance, when ourr partner is begging for forgiveness we feel superior and in control. We like the attention. We like the flowers and apologies, so we talk ourselvess into believing that these gestures of remorse actually make up for the abuse.
Negative attention: Sometimes we are so starved for attention that even negative attention will do. We might tell ourselves that if he/she didn't love me so much he/she wouldn't be so angry. This is twisted thinking and can lead to trouble.
Once you get of a relationship it is important to understand why we stayed. This will prevent this problem from becoming a pattern in our life. In the movie "The Burning Bed," the victim of domestic violence killed her husband and then went on to another abusive relationship after being acquitted. This has to stop. We deserve more than this cycle of abuse. We deserve to be happy and safe.
Breaking the Pattern: Call to Action
Of course, knowing why you are in an abusive relationship is not enough. It is important to get out. First of all you have to face your fears.
Before I began my own recovery I had no ability to end a relationship even when it was abusive. I stayed and suffered and I never really understood why. Finally I came to realize the things that held me back and I want to share them.
We have to face our fears . . .
Fear of loneliness:
I'll never find anyone else
I can't make it alone
I'll be alone forever
Being alone is terrifying
I can't take care of the kids alone
I won't find a job
Fear of being a failure:
Leaving is failing
I can't mess up another relationship
Fear of cultural pressures:
I'm a Christian. I can't get divorced.
Fear mixed with guilt:
I am abandoning him
She can't make it without me
I put up with him this long, why stop now
I can't bear to hurt her
I owe her for taking care of me
Fear of reprisal:
She won't let me go without a fight
He will hurt me
He will hurt the kids
She will tell our friends lies
He won't give me financial support
Fear of suffering. I can't stand the pain of separation anxiety [withdrawal]
When we are ready to face our fears we need to take the following steps:
Find emotional support (group/therapist)
Be practical. Make plans regarding jobs and housing.
How we leave depends on our situation and what works. Some people, for the sake of their sanity or because they have children with their partner, have to ease off. Some people can only make the separation if they never see the person again. Some of people can become friends, but only after the grief is over.
Facing withdrawal after we have left:
We can make a list of everything that supports our decision to leave, and re-read it when we are tempted to go running back.
We can write in our journal. Express our feelings.
We can stay close to your friends:
To get advice
To remind us of why we left
To listen to us
For assistance in re-entry
We can separate thoughts from feelings. Change "desperate" thoughts to "manageable" thoughts and let go of thoughts that cause fear.
We can deal with our depression:
Depression will be part of our withdrawal symptoms. Emotional depression is experienced when love addicts are overloaded with anger, frustration, anxiety and fear. It is experienced midway between letting go and real acceptance. That is, when we have let go in our conscious state (mind) but are still holding on in their unconscious state (heart), we are apt to become depressed. This is natural and part of the process of moving on. Usually our inner child is taking over at this point and we are feeling "blue" because our need to attach with someone has been thwarted once again. And we are also afraid. We feel abandoned and/or rejected. We feel alone and cut adrift from everybody and everything, so we shut down. Remember that depression is a secondary emotional state caused by the primary emotions of anger, fear, and hopelessness. We can work on letting go of these feelings and the depression will lift.
What to do about depression:
We should check with our doctor to see if we have a physiological problem. But be careful; many doctors are too eager to mask the symptoms of depression with drugs and sometimes it is better to deal with our feelings outright.
We can read about depression. (Try David Burn's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.)
We can look more closely at the source of our depression. Is it just the ending of the relationship or did that trigger other feelings left over from the past?
We need to face our depression. By this I mean don't worry about it. Just flow with it until it passes.
We should take good care of our health.
We can be especially nice to ourselves
We can stop blaming ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.
We should not look at this as failure.
We should not shut down and isolate
We need to talk about our feelings to someone we can trust.
We can keep busy and keep our spiritual program strong.
We can do something new and look at the bright side.
This is the time to think about what we have learned and what changes we will be making in the future.
Resistance from your partner:
Some partners cry, plead, and promise to change. Some partners threaten to hurt themselves. They make a suicide attempt, or they abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Some partners get violent or at least threaten you with bodily harm. Some partners withhold financial resources such as alimony or child support. All of this is designed to get us to feel sorry for them and change our mind about leaving.
Despite resistance from your partner, we need to hang in there. This may mean changing our phone number or getting a restraining order, but if it is time to move on we have to be willing to go to any length.
Most of all we must remember that if we are in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, and our needs are not being met, it is time to move on and find the happiness we deserve.
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