“You fucking cunt!” he yelled at me. I could feel my stomach becoming so tense I thought I was going to vomit, but the tears in my throat were blocking that from happening. “Look at yourself, you’re a joke! Do you even bother looking in the mirror before you leave the house?” I looked at myself. I really did feel ugly; I was a joke. What man in his right mind would want me? “Look what you made me do! It’s all your fault!” He was right. It was all my fault.
YES, MY FAULT FOR BEING THERE! MY FAULT FOR BELIEVING THAT!
You know the saying “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you”? That’s nonsense. Words can destroy you. Words can shatter you and make you feel as though you want to die. I’m not talking about the words of a random person you couldn’t care less about or odd criticisms. I’m talking about cruel words from someone you love and admire. Just knowing that someone you care about thinks that badly of you, hurts. So you start convincing yourself that they’re right, that it’s your fault. Ironically, thinking this way makes it hurt less; you feel guilt and shame, and begin to believe you deserve to be treated in this way. If you’re the problem, you can fix it. Easy breezy, so I thought…
I read so many books about what to do. Most of them were bestsellers, but they didn’t really offer any good advice. Some had some tips on “keeping your head above water”. Others offered the dangerous advice to change yourself or to surrender. While I believe in self-improvement, I definitely don’t believe in turning the other cheek to someone who hurts you. Now, don’t get me wrong: keeping your mouth shut, not responding, and walking away from the situation is not surrendering. Surrendering is letting him or she treat you badly and accepting it. This legitimates the abuse, and sometimes even feeds it.
Yet, on the other hand, becoming an abuser yourself is also not the way to deal with it. Two wrongs don’t make a right. To be honest, for a time in my life, that is what I did. It is easy to fall down that slippery slope. You tell yourself you are fighting back, defending yourself, and you start responding badly and behaving – if possible – even worse than the original abuser. The result? The abuser becomes worse, limits are pushed until they no longer exist, and the relationship becomes a mutual battle.
So what can be done? As I want to keep this short, I will just sum up what worked for me. I hope that it will help anyone out there who is experiencing abuse.
The most important tip I can give you is to take a breath and remember who you really are. Leave, if you can. Forgive yourself for making a wrong choice (there is a Hawaiian exercise called Ho’oponopono, which is great for releasing feelings of guilt and shame). And start working intensively on your self-love.
If you can’t leave the relationship, find a way to take some time for yourself every day. Join a class where you feel like yourself again, and use it as a support system. If the situation between you and the abuser can be resolved, you need a third party involved – a psychologist, coach, mediator, or even a friend – to keep things neutral and to control the intensity between you. Sometimes (although rarely, in my opinion) things can change and become better, or at least more balanced.
Everything starts and ends with your self-love. It’s the key to how you treat others, and how you allow others to treat you. And that is something you constantly need to work on. Loving yourself, your body, your life, your children – everything! For me, self-love begins with self-defense. It’s about loving yourself so much that you are willing to train yourself mentally, emotionally and physically, in order to create a shield of knowledge and abilities that can’t easily be taken away from you.
Your self-love journey might be different to mine. But whatever route you choose to take, don’t let yourself be abused, shattered and defeated. You deserve happiness, and happiness deserves you.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you.