Being in an abusive relationship is not something you immediately realize. I always thought if someone treated me badly, I would never stay with them. I would never put up with that. As far as I was aware, I had never been exposed to that kind of relationship. My parents divorced when I was young but there was never any violence. Domestic violence can be so much more than a bruise. So much more than a black eye. It’s an attack on your whole way of being. An attack on emotional intelligence. You being in tune with you.
Cognitive dissonance is a state in which; you are experiencing contradictory beliefs and/or values. Your actions or new beliefs don’t coincide with your own moral compass. This is a large factor in being in an abusive relationship. For example, you know being physically assaulted for not answering your phone (or for anything) is wrong, yet you find yourself feeling guilty and apologizing because the perpetrator has indoctrinated this into your mind. This is confusing, painful and supports the loss of sense of self. However, this form of abuse is far easier to see and discredit, than the ongoing mind trickery of psychological abuse. The emotional torment experienced is relentless.
Sticks and stones can break your bones… words can break your spirit
Physical abuse or domestic violence is embarrassing. You feel ashamed of the marks on you, guilty, angry, sore, frustrated, scared and hurt. Hurt that someone you trusted implicitly would do this. Hurt that you have to lie to people that everything is ok. Staying away from others so they don’t get tangled into the chaos that you, find yourself in. This does not excuse or dismiss being physically hurt in any way. It can make you feel insignificant, worthless and numb. Both types of abuse can also (and often do) happen concurrently.
Emotional or psychological abuse is different but in some ways the same. Being mentally tormented creates the same feelings of guilt, shame, anger. Yet there is a heavier burden. Whereas in physical abuse you try to hide the bruises when being emotionally afflicted it can be hard to convince others you are being abused. The abuser may even seem mild-mannered. An oasis of calm. You might be seen as unhinged, angry, unreasonable. The abuser creates their own calm persona to the outside world and convinces others you are the problem. Sometimes even driving you to insanity. This level of manipulation is even more incongruous with yourself. Like with COVID-19 you can’t see the threat, but you know its there. That is some people do. Others choose to ignore it or disbelieve it.
Having experienced both of the above, I feel as if I am still finding my mind. Still repairing myself. My values, beliefs, boundaries have all been blurred, after adapting to relationship dictatorships. Much like the adapted child, you modify behaviors to suit the abuser’s wishes. As discussed in much of Eric Berne’s work, and adopted child behaves in response to how their caregivers treat them. A series of states we fluctuate being in. The child state being our hard wiring responses, our blueprint for responding to others. Only when in your free child state are you able to be yourself or express yourself. This particular state is our creativity liberty, our carefree, content stance. It can be hard to reignite this after experiencing consistent corruption of your mind.
The weird thing is I still get panicky if I miss a call, my heart races I feel nervous and uncomfortable because it has been ingrained into me that it’s bad. These seemingly small messages, of what’s good or bad, what’s wrong or right are built up over time. They are supported by unhappy reactions from your partner. You become systematically conditioned over a period of time.
In the same way, a child is told to ‘stop it’ in an authoritative voice when climbing a wall by their parent. The parent may be; annoyed in their facial expression, their body language, etc. This response lets the child know this is bad. This will gradually be the response the child will associate with climbing the wall. This works for positive behaviors too, clapping and saying well done every time a child puts their rubbish in the bin will reinforce good for the child and they will continue to expect the positive response for this action. This action-response cycle happens during an abusive relationship but in a much more destructive unhealthy way. This is how, over time, that they can control you, and manipulate you so much so, that even when you begin to realize that what they are doing isn’t right, they make it extremely difficult for you to leave. As I found myself, I felt as if I couldn’t or at times didn’t want to. No matter what happened I felt there was an indescribable connection. An attachment no one else understood. A strange sense of belonging. Yet, it also felt like hell. Like a real-life nightmare that I could never wake up from. The whirlwind of emotions left me breathless. The complete disarray left no time to contemplate the rights and wrongs. And the ‘good times’ supported my insistent need to stay.
Recover me softly
Overcoming this is hard and takes time. Sometimes others expect you to leave the relationship and get on with life, no after-effects. They can’t seem to comprehend the lasting damage to your emotional well-being. Some people do seem to understand, some people may or may not relate, but they are supportive, nevertheless. These are the people that will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the sun between the clouds. These people will help your recovery and keep your sense of self going. It is still something I am battling.
I have been to therapy, to work out my own deeper issues, why I allow myself to go back for more drama. Adding to my low self -esteem. What my boundaries were and are now. Establishing what I want and need. Or at least what I don’t want. Focusing on what interests you and, everything you are not prepared to put up with helps to reaffirm your values, wants and needs. These are all small steps in regaining yourself, and creating a new, more aware perspective and sense of self. Having this awareness and rebuilding your self -esteem promotes more positive vibes. Which in turn, helps to attract what you want from a relationship, and be able to identify sooner what you don’t.
My name is Claire, I have three amazing children and have had a bit of a whirlwind life. My experiences, make me want to read others, and to share my emotion rollercoaster. I studied Counselling at University and currently write freelance and work in mental health support. Drawing and writing are a kind of catharsis for me.