I’m here to say you do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. There is a way out, and I’m here to help you through that process.
If you asked me how I ended up in an abusive relationship over 30 years ago, I honestly would not be able to tell you. In fact, for the 15 years I was in that relationship, I did not recognize it as abusive or harmful until the last couple of years. How is it possible I could end up in such a situation? How could I devalue myself so much that my self-worth was essentially nonexistent? What did I do to deserve this?
Do you find that you’re asking yourself the same questions?
I know this may sound a bit silly, but in my case, being oblivious was almost easier than realizing something wasn’t right. When we recognize that something is off, we begin to feel uncomfortable and we seek ways to bring about change. And change is difficult.
We get used to working with what we know. In my case, I got used to giving in to his sexual demands so I could have money to buy food. I got used to being belittled and degraded so my children and I could have a roof over our heads. In fact, I got so used to it, I didn’t realize it could be different.
The turning point for me was early one morning when my daughter asked my ex-husband why he was so mean to mommy. As soon as I heard those words, I knew I had to do something. Here was a child of less than 5 who was able to see something I thought I was hiding so well. My love for my children gave me the strength and courage to say, “No more.” While the path to divorce was quite long and convoluted, it was worth it.
As if getting physically free isn’t hard enough, there is the task of healing; of learning to love the person you are; and of valuing your worth as an individual. For me, that was so much harder. When we have been told for so long we are worthless, that no one could possibly love us, it becomes ingrained in us and we come to truly believe it. It doesn’t seem to matter how many people tell us we are wonderful or capable; we listen, but don’t hear.
So, how do we find our way to emotional freedom? It’s easy and obvious to say therapy, but let’s face it—often we feel too much shame or embarrassment to talk to anyone about it, let alone a stranger. What will they think of us? Will they blame us for being or staying in that situation? How can we trust anyone when we can’t even trust ourselves?
Great questions, and yes, I asked them all too. It took me quite some time to get to a therapist, and to be honest I took my children. I didn’t have the courage to go on my own.
To this day, I am incredibly grateful for her compassion and guidance. She gave me the tools and strategies I needed to handle even the simplest tasks on a daily basis. For example, at that time I was still afraid to set boundaries even though we were separated. I had a difficult time convincing myself it was okay to say no. So, she would have me write down exactly what I could say on an index card. I had a stack of these cards, and when my ex would say something, I could just pull out a card and read directly off of it. That helped me to find my voice and create healthy boundaries. I’d like to tell you it all happened quickly, but that would be dishonest. It has taken me years, and at times I still struggle to not doubt my self-worth.
The journey is a long and winding road, with so many twists and turns that at times it may feel as if you are going backward instead of forward. We are human; we have to offer ourselves the same level of compassion we would give to a friend.
The journey is a long and winding road, with so many twists and turns that at times it may feel as if you are going backward instead of forward. We are human; we have to offer ourselves the same level of compassion we would give to a friend. We need to be patient and kind to ourselves as we let go of the negative thoughts and emotions that have plagued our conscious and subconscious minds for so many years.
As time went on, I found myself reading many self-help books for ways to build myself back up. I went back to school, began teaching, and raised my children on my own. I continued to struggle with a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, but was able to recognize these feelings and develop strategies to let them go. After many attempts, I eventually found a therapist who would bring me to where I am today: grateful for the journey, and happy to just be me.
That is why I am writing this—to let you know that you, too, can be free from the physical, mental, and emotional binds that have held you back and a mental health professional can help. You are strong, resilient, worthy of love, and totally awesome!
Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so please reach out for guidance or support if you need it. Know there are people who would consider it an honor and privilege to help you examine your options and find your way back to a sense of wholeness. If you don’t feel safe reaching out to a mental health professional, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time of day or night for free, confidential support.
© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Edye Caine, MA, therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts
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