“When we reach our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”
The spirit of Aang speaks these words at the end of the first season of Legend of Korra. At the time, I remember thinking it was a nice quote, but perhaps not fully earned. Korra had suffered a defeat – losing her bending and her sense of identity. The loss, however, seemed very minor. I know weeks were supposed to have passed in the show but, from an audience standpoint – it had only been a couple minutes. We didn’t have time to see Korra’s suffering – to understand the pain she was going through. While Aang’s words were poetic, they would have had much more impact had they come at the end of season three or the beginning of season four.
Okay, so much for leaving this a trilogy, but this part will be a little different. I will not be diving anymore into what happened to me specifically. That tale is told and there isn’t much more to say besides abusive relationship was abusive. I have already done a reflection of what happened several months later, as well as writing two just weeks after the occurrence. It is my hope that reading about an emotionally abusive relationship at different stages will help others spot similarities or differences in their own lives, and that my example will be of some benefit. Enough talk has been said about what it feels like to be in an emotionally abusive relationship, however, now let me devote at least one article entirely to talk about the path of healing.
To give some reference: it has only been three months since my last real contact with my abuser. To many, this may not sound like a lot of time – and it’s not. Yet I write this now (as opposed to waiting years) to show what can happen in just three months. To show how quickly healing can take hold of the mind and the body, and to elaborate on what issues continue to be struggles, so that those with frustrations and continued hardship can know: you’re not alone.
Man oh man, this saying, while a fun little nursery rhyme, is completely wrong. It would be if your parents closed with “Never pancakes and seldom a tart but greasy transfat is good for the heart.” No matter how well it rhymes, it isn’t true. This out of date ditty has caused horrors for those who have suffered from emotional abuse. The idea that, if someone does not physically strike you – they don’t hurt you, has made many victims feel ashamed of their pain. Well never do. Emotional abuse can be just as bad, if not worse, than physical (including horrors like sexual) abuse. Forget the notion that you’re weak if you’re harmed by words. It is just foolish.
“Forgive and forget.”
This one is personal for me. I grew up hearing this saying and, as a result, I always associated forgiving with the act of giving a clean slate. Everything was equal again after forgiving, after all – I had forgiven, and by nature that meant that I was okay with what happened, right? Wrong. Forgiveness is not about being all right with what happened and agreeing to forget the incident entirely. If it was, forgiveness would be nowhere near as powerful as it is. I will get more into this later but for now let me say that – whether you forgive or not is entirely up to you. No one can force you to ever forgive someone for something you don’t want (or are not ready) to forgive.
Adopting a Healing Attitude
How we perceive the world affects our world. I believe I have already spoken about the importance of taking both the negative and the positive in life and how it can influence who you are/your behavior – but let’s take a different approach. Imagine your went through life focusing on the pain, on how much the abuse really hurt you. You would likely define yourself as injured, broken, wrong ,whatever way you choose to express it. A healing attitude does the opposite. Yes, the hurt is real and I am not asking you to invalidate it by pretending it doesn’t exist.
Rather take strength in how much it does exist, and how it has not stopped you from being you. By putting emphasis on how injured you are, you give power to your abuser. Given how most abuse occurs from an abuser taking too much power already, this is something no victim likely ever wants again. In my research and reading, I have found that the best way to obtain this attitude is to perform the “best friend exercise.” Here is how it works:
Write down everything bad that happened to you as a result of the abusive relationship. How your abuser treated you, how it made you feel, everything. Next, write down a list of your best positive qualities. Everything you’ve always liked about yourself. Okay, now pretend that you aren’t the one who wrote down part one (the list of negative things that happened) and instead, your best friend just told you all of that. How would you respond? What would you say to them? With luck, the positives listed in step two will come in real handy in writing your response to your “best friend.” I have found this exercise to be extremely helpful when I am feeling down on myself.
By seeing yourself in a positive and progressive light, you will be that much closer to putting the pain behind you. Remember, while we have been injured, we are not broken. We are healing.
Understand How All Relationships are Connected
Have you ever known someone who just goes from relationship to relationship without ever seeming to be in a healthy one? Have you been that person? Have you ever heard someone say “well last time it wasn’t, but this time it’s real!” only to be subsequently let down and heart-broken again. The sad reality is that many people underestimate exactly how much all of our relationships are intertwined. I’m not just talking about the obvious ones like all the romantic relationships – obviously those all fall in the same group. Yet I know I personally underestimated the role of relationships encountered much earlier on, namely family structure, and how they can dramatically influence all relationship expectations.
The family is the blueprint for emotional reaction. When thought about, it seems obvious. Who do we encounter first in life? Who is literally our whole world for at least the first ten years of our lives? Families, and in particular the relationships within their structure, are everything. A child raised in a family where parents were unfaithful and treated one another with lies and manipulation will think that normal, how could they not? There is no other family blueprint to compare it to. By nature, we all believe we are born into a normal-ish family (unless the behavior is so abusive or jarring as to create the immediate knowledge of bizarreness). To better understand oneself in relationships, I suggest starting with taking an objective and honest look at the family. This can be difficult as it is a challenge to alienate what is so familiar. Yet it is crucial to help stop and prevent abuse. That cycle is brutal. Those who have been abused are far more likely to abuse someone else. Those who grew up with parents who were abusive may well believe (even if only subconsciously) that this is the normal way of life and anything else is foreign or a lie.
If there is a pattern of emotional abuse in romantic relationships, odds are it began in the family. The good news is that it is a pattern that is easily broken. One cannot change their family, but it is possible change your personal level of family interaction. If you have a family that is always sarcastic and very critical, be genuine and positive with them (for as much as you are able). It will lead to interesting results. View your family as people, flawed people (aren’t we all). By fixing the personal relationship with the family, by learning and admitting that their abuse was wrong – one takes a vital step towards leaving the cycle behind forever. Sample questions to ask:
Do you feel like you were important to your parents? Was there anything more important to them? How did that make you feel?
Would you be comfortable going up to your mother/father and hugging them, telling them that you love them and that it’s okay. Why or why not?
Think of your sibling (if you have one). What memories come to mind first? If they were negative, how do you think that made you feel?
Be Thorough in Your Approach to Healing
The brain is like the body in a lot of ways. Think of emotional abuse as having the same effect as eating nothing but junk food and not moving from your couch/bed ever. It’s not the healthiest way to live. To change it, would you simply stop eating a certain type of candy? No, of course not. Especially if you were serious about getting into shape. Getting the mind/soul into shape after abuse requires this same level of commitment.
For starters, while search engines like Google are a helpful tool, do not simply google “how to heal from emotional abuse,” read the first article and feel like you’ve cracked it. This knowledge I’m writing now did not come solely from online articles. Read books (preferably by those with degrees). Read more than one. To date, I have read two entirely and bits of many others and they have helped so much more than any five-minute article from Buzzfeed. Get informed, get as informed as possible on what has happened to you and how best to heal.
And remember (title time), you’re not alone – and you should not do this alone. While a sad taboo is still associated with therapists, they are a wonderful idea. Think about it, someone whose job it is to help you. Someone who has spent years learning how best to help you deal with problems such as the ones you’re experiencing. That sounds pretty awesome. Seeing a therapist is no admission of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. You are admitting you are not perfect and signaling to all that your happiness is important. Everyone could use someone to listen during their lives. Friends are nice, but friends didn’t go to school and study exactly what to say in that kind of situation. These people did.
And it should not end with a therapist. The sad truth is that emotional abuse can have severe physical repercussions. Emotional abuse can cause physical symptoms like muscle pain, panic attacks, fatigue, and many other wonderfully not fun things. No one is weak for feeling any of these. They are the body’s natural response to a horrific incident. The good news is that professionals exist to help with all of them. Nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and even regular doctors can help if they are informed. While your abuser may have wanted to see you in pain: not many other people do. Be thorough and take a balanced approach – it will pay off quickly.
Consistency is Key
Imagine someone walked into a room and declared “I am all about peace and being passive” and then punched you in the face. “Diplomacy is awesome” followed by another blow. “I never want to hurt another living thing as long as I live.” Kick to the gut. Odds are you would be confused to say the least.
Actions matter and words matter. One might matter more than the other… but I feel like that is arguing particulars. Point being, many abusers sadly fit this model. They will often declare one thing and do another. Well this can also work the other way too. If you’re someone who enjoys helping others, yet you call yourself worthless: that is the same disconnect. If you say “I have to heal and I’m willing to do whatever it takes” and proceed to go out, get drunk, hook up with someone and start a relationship – that is the disconnect too. It can mean slowing your actions and thoughts down, but you want to be consistent. It may be hard but it is so important. No one likes a hypocrite and this goes into being a person you can like/love.
Respond, Don’t React
This can be one of the most important pieces of advice to remember. Odds are, even if you were the victim in an abusive relationship – you behaved in ways you did not like. You may have snapped, given into an argument, or just not spoken up for yourself when you would have liked to. No one is perfect and it is impossible to be fully healthy in an abusive relationship. Even after the relationship is over, you may find yourself getting angry at anything that reminds you of that dark time – and taking it out on someone in the present. Odds are this makes you feel less than great, and hinders a healthy self-image.
We are creatures of emotion, this is true – but we are also creatures of reason. Take a moment (whenever possible) and simply think. “This is making me sad/happy right now, but is it really this or something else? What is that something else? What can I do about it? How do I ideally want to respond to this situation?” How would the ideal you respond? Think that and try to make it happen. Perfection won’t be achieved, but you’ll likely spend a lot less time committing to actions you will later regret.
The Power of “I love you,” “I forgive you,” and “I’m sorry”
As we have recently discussed: words have power. Some words have more power than others. I personally believe that the three sayings highlighted above may be among the most powerful words out there. The emotional weight attached to each of them is staggering. “I love you” is self-explanatory. When spoken with genuine emotion, there is little these words can’t do. Yet that is the catch with all three – it has to be genuine. This also goes back to consistency. If an abuser says “I love you” followed by a slap, a lie, or a cheat – then the words become a lie. This is horrible, and one of the greatest things to watch out for. Never say “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you” without meaning it. Such an act will undo all the power of the word and turn it into one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse there is.
What Does it Mean to Forgive
Really, you should decide this for yourself. I mentioned above that I don’t believe forgiveness should be associated with forgetfulness and I stand by that. When you forgive someone (or when someone forgives you) that is not an admission that what happened in the past was okay. While I have been recovering, this was something I struggled with. A part of me did not want to forgive my abuser because I was scared that doing so negated the abuse. In the past, I had been abused whenever I tried to bring up past abuse after forgiveness (usually to compare it to current abuse) because I had forgiven her. I forgive – so it doesn’t exist anymore, right? Wrong.
Forgiveness is not wiping the slate clean, it is not an admission that, whatever happened, you have decided to be okay with it. Abuse is never okay and no act of forgiveness and erase wrongs. What I feel forgiveness is, is the ability to look past what happened, acknowledge the pain, but find it within yourself to still say “there is something more to you, something worth my continued investment, openness, and caring.” That is powerful and takes a lot of personal strength. Again: no one can ever force you to forgive.
One thing I realized very quickly after my last run in with emotional abuse was that it wasn’t going to affect just that relationship. I shared several friends with this person. When you’re a friend, it can be very hard to know how to react. I learned this because, a short time before my abuse happened, I watched similar events transpire between two friends: one whom I was very close to, the other whom I was only fairly close with. In this case, the one I was closer to was the abuser.
I wanted to confide in my friend, wanted to talk and understand, but I realized I wasn’t helping them. Frequently, emotional abusers are high-level narcissists and giving them attention does nothing except fuel their need for validation. My old friend talked about change, talked about improving their life and becoming someone who they could love. This friend had been as quick to condemn Sinda as they were to follow in her actions. I don’t hate my friend for this, but I knew that I (wanting to change my life and heal) could no longer be part of their inner circle.
I caution against judging from a perch, as I have written before – the line between abuser and victim is slim, but escaping the cycle means escaping it entirely. I could not champion this cause against my own emotional abuse without condemning every act of it. Were I to say “that’s horrible” to what happened to me but only “I understand” elsewhere, not only would I be a hypocrite but much worse – I would be validating a wrong act. Emotional abuse is incredibly harmful, being friends with an emotional abuser (without confronting them about their problem) is very similar to being friends with a rapist or a molester. Compassion can be a wonderful emotion or a crippling enabler – try to know when is when. It was horrible to confront my friend and tell them I could no longer be there, but it has helped in my healing.
Maintain Balance Between the Emotional and the Logical
As has been strongly hinted at by now, pretty much all of these improvements require the ability to detach and view your personal life through an objective lens, as devoid of emotion as possible. Without the ability to objectively look back at past actions, it is very difficult to make any sort of change. That said, do not abandon emotion. Our emotions are a powerful and natural part of who we are. They define us as surely as our ability to reason and reflect. Abandoning emotion can lead to severe problems with intimacy and will ultimately hurt any attempt at a future relationship (of any kind). Human beings are social creatures, we evolved that way. It wasn’t solitary skill that propelled us to the dominant race on the planet. I’m not saying go be the life of the party every night, but try to keep at least a couple of souls you can be truly honest with. On the same token – do not let your emotions run free… that way is no good either.
Being Drunk and Being Angry
Have you ever had someone say “well I was drunk” as an excuse? Have you ever had someone say “you were angry, you meant that”? Were they the same person? There is a lot of debate as to whether we are more truthful when we are angry. Personally I have always said no (well, more no than yes). Anger lowers inhibition, this is true. You are more likely to just say what you’re thinking when angry… but you’re also angry when you’re angry. Anger is a passionate emotion that has to burn and looks for fuel constantly to stay alive (that is why thinking about something in the past can make you angry in the present). It is also an emotional response to sorrow, as human beings prefer to be angry than sad or emotionally hurt. It is a defense mechanism, meaning your guard is up. How honest are we at that point – I don’t think very, but we will say what is on our mind.
Same with being drunk. Being drunk lowers the inhibitions and allows us to say whatever we’re thinking, but there is no correlation between inebriation and honesty. It is the same distorted state, simply distorted in a different way. Before of any decisions or actions in these states, as most people are not fully themselves. Our inhibitions exist for a reason – we need that logical part of the brain.
See the Good and the Bad in Life – but Focus on the Good
Over the years many people have tried to simplify life. Life is like a box of chocolates, life sucks, life rules – there’s a million “life is…” statements out there. I have found that life is life. An entity completely independent from us in a way. It has existed before we were born and will very likely continue long after we’re gone. Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.
Anyway, there is good and bad in life, but the importance is to focus on the good. This harkens back to the healing attitude. This absolutely does not mean downplay the bad – noooooo. Pretending the negative does not exist can be a very dangerous idea. Imagine breaking your arm and just going about your day. You never get treatment, you never even get any over the counter pills. It’s not a big deal, right? You have two arms.
People behave that way a lot when it comes to emotional damage. Yes they cheated but it’s fine – it happens. No. That is a completely wrong way to look at it. Like an unchecked broken bone, the pain will go away, but the healing will be nowhere near as complete. Allow the pain in, but look for the silver lining. I believe that there is a positive in every situation, even when I look back on what happened with Sinda. This does not validate her hurting me, it just means that I choose to take what strength I can from the pain, rather than simply surrender to it.
It Will Never Be Simple
(Update 9/4/15) In my first write-through of this, I missed an important lesson. It will never be simple, your feelings toward your abuser. Some people will tell you “it’s okay to hate” or “you should forgive” but really, odds are you will be doing both for a long time. This can lead to problems when you tell yourself “how can I miss him/her after all they did?” or “am I stupid for still caring?” The answer to this lies in a wonderful part in our being: the proof that we are governed by both logic and emotion. It is natural to miss someone you love, but it is logical and rational to understand what they did and resent/feel negativity towards it. Too much emotion and everything is forgiven: who cares? Too much logic without compassion is they are horrible – a horrible, inhuman monster: f*ck them! Neither one of these is a truly healthy view, regardless of how good or right they might feel in the moment.
I am a firm believer in that there is no such thing as simple as a “bad person.” The abuser wasn’t all bad, or else you never would have fallen for him/her… but they clearly were far from all good or else the abuse would not have happened. It is okay to remember the different layers and shades of the relationship. Your feelings never have to fit into one clean definition. Just don’t let it consume you, don’t think about it too much.
On Future Relationships
A question has been asked since I left my abusive relationship: when will I start my next one? There is no time table, nor should there be. I will use an analogy to make my point. Going for a relationship can be like going food shopping: never do it when you’re hungry. You inevitably come home with at least one thing you don’t want. Loneliness is like sadness: we hate it. We hate feeling it. Sometimes, we can hate it so much that we will do anything to change it. Yet loneliness should never be the primary reason (or really a reason at all) to start a relationship. Most healthy relationships are born out of a desire to share, and a trust that you can be fully open with another person. The problem with loneliness, in addition to being an emotion we try naturally to get rid of, is that it is selfish. You’re beginning a relationship, involving another human being, just to make yourself feel better.
In my time healing, I have had many nights where the desire is strong to go out and find someone, anyone, just to distract me from what I’m feeling – but feeling is part of healing. It really is. Time, and attention devoted to equalizing the parts of life (job, hobby, passion) will help far more in the long run than hopping from relationship to relationship. That is akin to opening a wound every day. Sometimes things need to heal. There are other ways to relieve the primal needs to loneliness, ones that don’t involve other lives.
The day you should enter the next relationship is the day you have found someone you feel truly open with, and want to share something.
Well, that will do it for sagely advice for now. Again, most of this came from much wiser people than I – and I advise you to seek those people out, whether it be through written word, counseling, support group, or whatever method you take. Perhaps I shall write an update in a year and report on how healing has changed. I hope that this series has been helpful to you so far. My goal was to give writings at every stage, from the immediacy of the next day to the reflection of months down the road. Who only knows what new lessons will turn up in the next year.
I hope you continue to heal. It is a hard journey, and sadly not one everyone makes. There are those who never recover from abuse and their lives appear controlled by solely the negative of what life has to offer. You’re worth more than that. Every soul on this planet is. I will leave you with one last exercise idea. Write down what matters to you and who you want to be. Look at what you have written. Say it out loud, say it as confidently as possible. Were there parts where your voice faltered? Right down what can be done to fix those weak spots.
Move forward. Move slowly. The road is long and full, but so is life. Take your time, you are worth it. You’re not alone.
When I wrote You’re Not Alone almost a year ago – I thought I was letting go. I thought by putting what happened out there, it would be out of my mind and into the world, where it could help those who needed it, and bring responsibility to any who identified with it. I thought that by declaring myself the victim, I was taking strength and rising above what happened to me. I was wrong. What I wrote months ago only reflected a first step, and nothing more.
That first step was admittance, and it is a large one. Too often those who suffer from emotional abuse rationalize or justify the abusive behavior. After all, if someone is treating you poorly: have you not done something to deserve it? Most of the time we have, but our action was not large enough to justify our treatment. If for instance I forget to get my work done on time, it is a natural response to be cross and disappointed in myself. But everything in context: if I label myself a failure and say that I am hopeless because I did not do my work one day – I have gone too far. This is a disproportionate reaction that likely comes from another source… and that is in large part what emotional abuse is. People who have not properly dealt with their emotions so that they boil up and spill over at the wrong time. Please know that, when I say people: I include myself.
In my last article, I assigned a lot of blame to the actions of Sinda, a woman I shared an emotionally abusive relationship with. I am not apologizing for calling out her actions. That was the first part in my recovery. That said, it was out of balance. I called Sinda out, true, but I inappropriately judged her as well. I only mentioned briefly that I didn’t think she was a bad person for what she did. I made no effort to fully understand Sinda… and in that regard, I did not move forward, but rather joined the cycle.
Not all emotional abuse is alike. Like anything, there are different shades. When I spoke of Sinda, I made an attempt to understand, but not identify with her. In fact I did the opposite. I was the victim, she the abuser: two roles carved in stone. I was sympathetic, Sinda was antagonistic. While this was not a complete lie, it was not the whole truth. In knowing Sinda the way I do, I forgot one very important thing: she is a victim too.
This does not excuse her actions or give her a free pass to continue destructive trends on herself and other people… and it doesn’t give me one either. Yes, this is the main reason I am writing part two. By not fully identifying with Sinda, by judging and labeling her as something different from myself: I left myself fully open to adopting the characteristics of an emotional abuser, and adopt I did.
Conscious vs. Subconscious
When I wrote part one, I consciously moved past it. As I said, my intention was to get the thoughts out of my head and it worked. I stopped thinking about what had happened so much and was able to move forward… on a conscious level. Conscious is our logical thought, the part of the mind that we are aware of. When we consciously make a decision, it means that we are thinking about it. If I decide to go out for a jog: that is a conscious decision, but one I might make for subconscious reasons.
The subconscious cannot think to communicate, that by nature is what it is. Yet this does not mean the subconscious plays no part in decision-making. I make the decision to go jogging but why am I doing that: a subconscious desire to remain in good shape; a subconscious fear of becoming unattractive; a subconscious fear of becoming unhealthy; or a mix of all three? We rarely think about our reasons for doing things… at least not until after the action has happened.
I mentioned in part one my moving on to other relationships after Sinda… and my performance in those relationships. I was distant, I was uncaring, I kept them controlled. Well holy shit: sounds emotionally abusive to me. But that was fine, right? Because I was just coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship with Sinda. It was not fine. For calling Sinda out on every little thing she did, I completely glossed over everything I did. Was I using justification, I do this because of my past? Sounds a lot like what Sinda said to me.
But I was consciously aware – at least in terms of the article. I knew what emotional abuse was, I had put a name to my pain… but I had not processed it. Indeed, my very action of simply moving into another relationship spoke volumes about how little I had allowed myself to process what had happened. Was that also not a thing I was criticizing Sinda for?
I had a conscious desire to feel better, as I’m sure we all do when we’re hurt. But I wasn’t fully asking myself: why do I need to feel better so quickly? Why, in a lifetime of being relatively happy on my own, was I now feeling enormous pressure to hop from person to person. A small part of it was external: people telling me I had to move on. The larger part was internal: me telling me I had to move on. But does moving on mean?
I don’t know about all people, but I hate to feel pain and misery. After Sinda, I felt those two emotions a lot. At the time, I did not fully understand why. I knew that someone I loved had hurt me badly, and I couldn’t understand why she had done it. I felt anger at her for leaving; anger at myself for pushing her away; anger at everyone else who didn’t seem to see what had happened, or if they did, dismissing it as what was standard in a relationship. In short, I was angry and I was in pain… and jumping into another relationship fixed that, how?
We live in the age of instant gratification, and I bring that up because I feel it has created all sorts of unreasonable expectations. We watch shows where conflict is solved in 20-40 minutes, or at most over multiple seasons (a hundred hours). Many of our questions can be answered in seconds, by just putting the question into Google. There, there’s the answer. Life solved.
Except that’s not how it works, at least in my experience. In fact, it can lead to very poor results. As I said, feeling sad, hurt, hopeless, depressed – these are all horrible ways to feel. It is natural to want to do anything to move past them. Unfortunately, there is only one way that seems to permanently work: facing them head on and looking inward at oneself. Why am I angry? Who am I angry at? Why am I angry at this person? Was it even their fault?
These are hard questions because they relate to our sense of identity. I don’t like looking inward sometimes, especially when I know I’m going to see things I don’t like.
The alternative? Have a drink! Take a joint! Have a smoke! Here, here is this nice person – or someone who seems hot. Imagine all the distraction a relationship provides. Suddenly I had someone else to think about, someone else to focus on. My life was more full. I had someone to share my bed with, someone to make me feel good.
And that pain and anger… stayed. Where was it going to go? How was it being addressed. It wasn’t. I was ignoring it, the way I child may ignore vegetables in hopes they might disappear off her/his plate. Yeah, I was being a child, at least in the emotional sense. My subconscious was trying to tell me something, and my conscious heard it, but not properly. All it heard was: “I don’t want to feel this way.” I never asked: “why am I feeling this way?”
So the cycle continued. I hurt others and I felt my self-esteem grow worse and worse as I did.
I am lucky in a way many who have been abused are not: I got an apology. Sinda read my words and reached out to me. I feel it is a human thing to want catharsis, to want closure. I thought, with an apology, my wounds would go away. They didn’t, and it has taken me a while to realize why.
Part of me forgave Sinda when she apologized – the conscious part. But again, subconsciously I had still not dealt with it. This created a ridiculous disconnect. I told Sinda all was forgiven, that I knew she hadn’t meant to hurt me and that I still cared for her – but yet, as soon as Sinda made a mistake, I was quick to bring up the past. Thankfully, she called me out on this and I was able to realize consciously what I was doing, but subconsciously I felt embarrassed and put down. My emotions were still there, stronger than ever. More pain into the well I still had not looked at.
Sinda and I tried to create a better present together, but our past kept us from making it so. In the end, anger boiled up on both sides and we drove each other apart… again. The cycle repeated itself, and the only difference was that I played a larger role than I had before.
Let this be a cautionary message: even if you have the best intentions, your actions will inevitably reflect what your subconscious is feeling. I was still terrified of Sinda. Terrified she would hurt me again. That fear turned to anger, since of the two emotions: anger is the one I feel more comfortable with. I ended up hurting someone I cared about, and events continued cycling.
Anyone involved in an abusive relationship likely began as the victim. I do not think I have ever met a person who, in knowing how to treat people both positively and negatively, has consciously chosen negatively every time. This is why the nature of emotional abuse is so vicious. It creates a false reality, a world where this is just the way things are. In a way, this is part of the mechanism I told myself to feel better. Sinda didn’t choose to hurt me, it was just the way our relationship worked out. While part of this is true, part of it is not. Sinda DID NOT mean to hurt me, but that still didn’t make it a healthy relationship. Relationships are not like that. The entire idea of relationships in the first place is to find someone who makes us happy, who accepts us as we are while still encouraging all the best qualities we have.
But to do this, I had to learn to do something harder: I had to learn to properly love myself (and by that I mean accept myself). It appears easier to “love” another, or to find someone who “loves” us. But really, most of the time this “love” simply means “giving/receiving positive attention.” That is what we yearn for. I was giving myself negative attention. Telling myself there was something wrong with me, that there had always been something wrong with me. That life wasn’t fair and I was the one being shit on. Why should I try so hard to make others happy if I was always left miserable? F*ck it.
Sound familiar? It is a pattern of thought that unfortunately comes from being abused. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – this is bullshit. It can true if say you cut someone off in traffic and they flip you off – who really cares? You’ll get mad for a bit but… whatever. You didn’t know them. You’ll probably never see that person again.
If your parent says that, or a sibling, or a significant other: these are people we love. To love someone is to give them power. When I love Sinda, I am saying “you matter to me.” That includes actions and words spoken. When a mother or father says something like “you’re worthless” or doesn’t want to spend time with you, they are sending the message that you aren’t worthy of their love. This is a horrible thing to do to someone who loves you. Especially when it comes to parents, there is no excuse for this behavior. A child relies on his/her parents for love and stability, after all it is our parents who make the largest impression on our early years – and it is our early years that play a large role in shaping who we become.
So when someone you love hurts you, it REALLY hurts. There is deep damage done, on the subconscious level. Our sense of self and our notion of worth are both damaged. This is the subconscious level, and until it is corrected, there is an imbalance between inner and outer self. I know I said many things but communicated with different actions. I have said I cared for someone, and then pushed them away – this action does not make sense. I have felt not worthy of another’s love and attention – this is not healthy, and reflects a distrustful nature of others.
But it can be fixed
Facing the Subconscious
I am still learning this one, so please be advised that nothing I am saying comes from a place of real authority. In fact, that is part of recovery: admitting that I don’t have and will never have all the answers. This admittance got me looking for them. I didn’t fully understand myself, or what was happening to me. I reached out to therapists and to friends to help me gain a fuller understanding of myself, but that was not enough.
Facing my inner self (subconscious) meant asking a lot of personal questions, and I truthfully didn’t even know what most of those were. Here is my first recommendation: if you feel you have been emotionally abused, learn as much as you can about what that means. I recommend going to books written by doctors, or people who have spent years studying the field. Google can help but usually it is just basic info. I also recommend staying away from anything that gives an offensive label to your abuser. This I learned from Sinda: I regret labeling her as an abuser. It distanced my humanity and gave me a wrongful air of superiority. My personal recommendation is Hope and Healing from Emotional Abuse. The book rightfully places the focus on accepting oneself and learning forgiveness. It also draws attention to every part of life, including that of faith – something that today can be too glossed over. The book also includes many helpful activities to teach the proper questions to ask to learn the truth of when the abuse started and how to move past it.
I can also personally recommend meditation or hypnotherapy (guided relaxation that takes the self into the body and makes it more aware). Meditation shuts out of the outside world and allows the mind to focus in. Both also provide crucial moments of healing when the body is able to actively relax and feel okay. Most of the time we’re too busy running around or trying to do five million things: it pays to check in sometimes and put everything in perspective.
Do Not Be Afraid of Your Negative Emotions
The pain I was feeling from what happened with Sinda (and what happened from my earlier life) was not a bad thing. It was natural, my body was taking time to process. Facing negative emotions can be an unpleasant idea. Looking back into painful memories sounds just like that – painful. Yet it is possible to do without judging yourself, as long as you go into it with an open mind. In fact, the process is very healthy.
Looking back at my time with Sinda and my time since then, I had to face a lot of inconvenient truths. While trying to be the hero of my own story was a good thing, it went too far if it meant I overlooked or minimized all the mistakes I had made. It made me seem not human and apart from everyone else. In a way, by not accepting my weaknesses and shortcomings, I was adding to my feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Doing this step is hard since it means turning away from distractions. I say this as someone who fully knows. I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted it so badly, I wanted to bring love and caring and all the best parts of me to the person I care most about. But facing my emotions means being honest, and honestly – that goal was not possible. I have a natural urge to help others, and this is good. Yet if I am out of balance or in a dark place, then I don’t full know how to do that and what should be a good part of me emerges instead as control.
I also wanted to be in a relationship to make myself feel better. To distract me from what I was feeling. To make myself feel “complete.” This is selfish, and relationships, especially with people I love, should never be driven by selfish impulse. I can’t be fully honest with another human being without first being fully honest with myself. That’s a good rule of thumb with relationships.
Accept True Forgiveness
This goes hand in hand with being fully honest. When I tried to forgive Sinda, I had yet to forgive myself – so I couldn’t. True forgiveness comes from not just forgiving the person who hurt you (whether they apologize or not), but for forgiving yourself for being involved. For a time, I hated that I loved Sinda. What did it say about me that I brought her into my life? This woman who everyone told me was a mistake to date.
It wasn’t a mistake. I was not stupid or wrong for falling in love with her. Sinda is not some mustache-twirling villain seeking to hurt me. She never was. Forgiveness means letting go of labeling judgment. I wanted to judge Sinda as bad because she hurt me. While her actions were wrong, it didn’t mean she was terrible. It’s life. No one knows how to be perfect.
No one fully knows how love works, but one relationship beyond all choice is parental. No one chose their parents, so you can’t be blamed if your parents were lacking, or not there when you needed them to be, or actively abusive. That action is on them, not you. They are the adult, they chose to have you. If you come from an abused childhood, it is so important to recognize it, and to understand that, while it affected you greatly, what happened was not your fault.
Focus on You
This has already been strongly hinted at. A lot of us go through life doing what is expected or what we are told to do. What do you want to do? It’s a question worth asking. But it is important to keep active.
For myself, this meant making a schedule. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I hate routine. I am a creative person, I love following my passions. But doing it too much meant I had too much unstructured time… or time to sit and dwell on my thoughts. While it is good to think, it is bad to dwell. Dwelling keeps the past alive and prevents one from being fully present. I kept bringing up the pain from Sinda, and in doing so – I made it more and more a part of who I was. I don’t want to be defined by that. I want to learn from it, accept it, and continue to become who I am.
Human beings are bizarre creatures in this way. We cling to the familiar, even when the familiar is horrible. Focusing on you means thinking: who are you, and what do you want? Is this life the life you want, or the life someone else has tried to force onto you? Are you who you are because you want to be, or because you were raised to be? Going forward can be scary, as can letting go. I owned my pain from Sinda – it was mine, by letting it go – who am I now? Such a simple thing with clear positive results, but I was afraid to go there.
Someone who has been abused their whole life owns it as part of their identity, how could they not? Letting go of it means letting go of a large portion of themselves. The good news is that allowing anger and sadness to pass does not leave you feeling empty. I say that from personal experience. It’s scary: you will leave your comfort zone, but you grow as a result.
Mind and Body
My grandfather used to tell me that I needed to preserve mind and body. At the time, I didn’t understand him. Surely the mind was more important, the body was just a vehicle. The mind was where I was me, after all.
But I have learned some things from experience. For example: thinking about painful memories while walking or running feels a lot better than thinking about them while sitting down. I approached this topic with my therapist and he told me it was because the action of moving forward helped to send a subconscious message to the mind and body. I wasn’t sitting with my thoughts, I was actively moving forward with them. And I have found this true, my mind appears to function and process far better when I am exercising than when I sit still.
Sitting still also usually opens the distraction of food or drink or other substance. As someone who used to indulge in food a lot when he was sad or feeling bored, this can have long-term effects on image and energy.
I made mistakes. I went through setbacks. I hurt people when I absolutely did not mean to. I did everything under the sun and I have been working at this for over a year. I know how frustrating it can be. Just know that everyone has setbacks. You are not alone if you are trying to do something and failing. Trying is the important thing. Never stop trying. Go easy on yourself: the reason people can heal super fast in books and movies is that they’re not real.
Don’t make excuses for yourself, don’t lose the drive to change. Just be patient in the meantime. If it were this easy to end the cycle, we would not still be talking about emotional abuse in 2015.
That is the purpose of all of these things. Restore balance to yourself. While it can be argued that no one person can change the world, we definitely all can change ourselves. I feel this is a responsibility, hell it might even be our only one. No matter what relationships I have: the person I was born with was me. I will be with myself until the day I die, I had better learn to accept and love myself as a person. That will affect my whole existence and my whole experience of life.
We are our mind, we are our body. We are conscious and subconscious. When all of these things are aligned, I believe I will be in a healthier spot, and able to put the negative of what happened behind me. I don’t want to live my whole life as a “victim.” The word sounds weak, like someone not in control of their life. I also certainly don’t want to be an abuser, someone who is trying to control too much of their life.
I want to take this moment to apologize to everyone I have hurt along the way. I was no monster (I don’t think) but I didn’t treat you with full respect. Know that it wasn’t anything you did. I take full responsibility for my actions and my pain. I am sorry I brought it to your lives.
We can all be victims, we can all be abusers. We also all have the power to rise above it and end the cycle. I choose this option.