I want to change gears for this post. I posted a lot of heavy stuff this week, and I don’t want this blog to be only about all the negative experiences. My site is called overcoming abuse after all, and today I want to talk about one way we as victims -scratch that- survivors can do this. Even after all I’ve written, I still have a lot of my tragic story left to tell, but let’s get some positive energy flowing today.
Today’s topic goes well with Valentine’s day coming up. I want to focus on love, but not about loving another significant other, or your children. I want you to be a little bit selfish in a way. I want you to focus on yourself. I want you to take the time to get to know yourself. Who are you under all those layers of scars, pain, suffering, trauma, abuse? Who is that person you once were? Who do you want to become? Where are you going? Who are you now?
Those seem like simple questions, right? Uhh… yeah. Not really. It’s extremely hard to figure out after your abuser has spent years making you feel unworthy of self-love, or love of any kind. It is easy to tell yourself that you are incapable of love. It’s easy to feel like no one will ever love you again with all the baggage you carry with you. What do I have to say about that? Leave it at the lost luggage office! You don’t need to pick it up and carry it with you to your next destination, because where you’re going, you’ll be able to get everything you need to start over.
Let’s talk first about what we’ve packed in those suitcases. More accurately, what our abusers packed in our suitcases. One thing I personally keep packing is the feeling that I deserved what happened to me. Truly, there must be something wrong with me. Let’s examine this for a moment. I felt like I deserved every slap, punch, hair pull, choke, pinch, being held down, every object thrown at me, all my personal items destroyed, all the degrading name calling, the crude sexual acts – because he said he loved me. And this is where it gets confusing: I thought I loved him. But, think about it, how could you truly love someone who treated you so awful? Abusers are really good at pretending to love you in the honeymoon cycle of abuse. They are good at pretending to care, to love, to be passionate, thoughtful, romantic, whatever label you want to put on it. Some of you may object-“Wait a minute! If he didn’t love me, why did we get married? Of course he loved/loves me!” In the words of Lundy Bancroft in “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Abusive and Controlling Men”, (a book you need to read!) he explains:
“An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love. The more a man abuses you, the more he is demonstrating that he cares only about himself. He may feel a powerful desire to receive your love and caretaking, but he only wants to give love when it’s convenient.
‘So is he lying when he says he loves you? No, usually not. Most of my clients [abusers] do feel a powerful sensation inside that they call love. For many of them it is the only kind of feeling toward a female partner that they have ever had, so they have no way of knowing that is isn’t love. When an abusive man feels the powerful stirring inside that other people call love, he is probably largely feeling:
- The desire to have you devote your life to keeping him happy with no outside interference
- The desire to have sexual access
- The desire to impress others by having you be his partner
- The desire to posses and control you
‘These desires are important aspects of what romantic love means to him. He may well be capable of feeling genuine love for you, but first he will have to dramatically reorient his outlook in order to separate abusive and possessive desires from true caring.
‘Genuine love means respecting the humanity of the other person, wanting what is best for him or her, and supporting the other’s self-esteem and independence. This kind of love is incompatible with abuse and coercion.”
Recognizing that he truly didn’t love you in a normal, healthy way is hard. But, once you recognize this, you are on your way to loving yourself again. How? First, remind yourself that you are a beautiful person, amazing, loving, caring, educated, accomplished, or determined. Determined that you will not stand for anything less than what you deserve, and that is to be with someone who truly cares about you and your happiness and wellbeing. You deserve to have someone who is basically opposite of your abuser. Your significant other (SO) should help around the house, help with the children, take you out for dinner where you want to go sometimes (there should still always be compromise), maybe rub your feet after a long day, give you his full attention when you sit down to talk, be intimate with you when you feel up to it and respect you when you don’t, have a healthy argument that doesn’t involve abusive tactics AT ALL, try to get along with your family, respect the things that are important to you, etc. I could go on and on, and by no means is this an all inclusive list. The list will be different for everyone.
What’s another item we keep in our luggage? A low-self esteem. Chances are that like me, a low self-esteem is probably why you settled for someone like him in the first place. Abusers are good at telling you that you are stupid, ugly, a whore, cunt, bitch, slut, fat, too skinny, not good enough in bed, hated by your family and friends, alone, messed-up, broken, that he’s the only one who can love you after the things you’ve done in your past, and so much more. If you’ve heard this over and over, day in and day out, it’s easy to start believing it’s the truth. You feel like the only person that you deserve is the man who slaps you across the face. You can put up with that because he is graciously choosing to love you when no one else will. But you are SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS. The more you love yourself, the more you will realize that all of this is absurd.
Write down all of the things you are proud of and like about yourself. This will be hard. I know it. Take that list, no matter how big or small, and hang it on your mirror, or keep it in a safe place if you feel like it will upset your abuser. Look at it daily. Repeat it like a mantra. Add to that list when you think of something else that you love about yourself. There will be days that you feel like ripping that paper up to tiny shreds, and that’s okay. Do it. And then start it over the next day.
Think about who you want to be, not who your abuser wants to be. I want to be a country singer. I want to wear long maxi dresses, not short cocktail dresses all the time. I want to watch Disney movies, not horror or war movies all the time. I want to be a good mother, maybe stay at home with my kids, not be the only source of income while my abuser sits on his butt and does nothing all day. I want to decide where to go to dinner sometimes, not to the same Mexican restaurant. I want to go to my church, not to his every Sunday, and not to stay at home from church just to keep him company when I want to be at worship. I want to visit with my family, and stay as long as I want. What is it that YOU want?
You are not broken. You are not unworthy of love from anyone else. If you desire it, you WILL find someone else. But the first step is to empty that suitcase, leave it at the baggage claim, turn it into the lost baggage office, I don’t care, just don’t take it with you! Get a new bag and fill it with things YOU love. Once you recognize who you are, who you want to be, where you’re going, you will begin to love yourself. You will make it through the hard days, and sometimes you won’t. But, you will love who you are and be less dependent on your abuser. The advice I have been given from others who have been through this is that the best thing they did was to learn to be happy with themselves, independent of having a partner. You don’t need to be with someone to validate your worth. But loving yourself and being happy with who you are can make it possible for you to go forward and find someone you want to love and care for and be able to accept their love and care in return.
I am learning to love myself, and that my friends, is the beginning of a beautiful future.
Until next time,