A young woman finds the strength and courage to end an emotionally abusive relationship and begins her search for self-love
I wrote this article 4 or 5 times but left them unfinished in my draft emails because I didn’t have the heart to tell the truth. I was scared about how people would interpret me — especially since I had put myself back into this situation not once, but three times.
Smart girls get themselves in terrible situations not because we are stupid, but because we think we can fix anything, including people.
For me, this meant subjecting myself to an emotionally abusive relationship. I stuck around because I thought that if I loved the person enough, they would finally love me how I loved them: unconditionally.
There were some good moments. However, and it sounds cliché, just as fast as he could make me the happiest girl in the world, he could also make me feel as if I earned the full disrespect he gave me. If I was a ‘good girl’ he would treat me the way I so longed to be loved by him, yet if I crossed a supposed line, he withdrew communication. He made it clear that he loved me less and made it seem as if it was my fault.
Everyone asks me, “If it was so bad, why didn’t you walk away?” To be honest with you, I’m not quite sure. Most likely it was because I am my own harshest critic. When I was getting ‘punished’, I understood his motivation behind putting me down, and I believed I deserved it.
Throwing your self-worth in someone else’s hands is dangerous; it’s an especially easy trap to fall into when you love someone. When you believe that you are responsible for your loved one’s happiness, you struggle to redeem yourself when you inevitably fall short. I am the kind of woman that if you don’t like me, I don’t much care. However in these scenarios, I became a girl I didn’t comprehend. After all, who fights for someone who treats her like she’s worthless?
I wasn’t perfect — I did the best I knew how and I loved with so much effort. I was devastated that no matter how much I did, it was never sufficient.
I won’t get into the details of what happened, but I will say that what motivated me to write this full-heartedly and honestly is that when I was in the heat of the situation and I would research “signs of emotional abuse,” the results were mostly about physical abuse. I figured that if that man wasn’t punching me, he wasn’t hurting me. Little did he know that with every insult and put down he delivered to me, he was slowly killing me. Ultimately, it took the little bit of strength that I had left to say “enough” and walk away.
I remember sitting in the car with my father. I explained to him that my ex had called me and attacked my family and told me I was a child of divorce so I would never comprehend how to make a marriage work, unlike his parents who have been married for over 30 years. My dad laughed and said, “They say…you can have thirty years of experience in thirty years or you can have thirty years of experience in three.” He went on to explain that this man has experienced not enough in his years, and I’ve experienced far more than my years imply. “You have been through so much, which may be why you are far too understanding.” He then dropped me off to be with my grandmother who was dying of cancer at the time (I was taking care of her on weekends). She asked me how things were going and I explained a little bit of what was happening. She told me, “Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or you’ll lead a life of misery. If he doesn’t recognize your value, stop paying the price.” She was right.
I believe life has handed me too many obstacles, which I’ve overcome, for me to label myself something so seemingly weak as ‘victim’.
And in a sense I was not a victim at all, because I put myself back into my own prison.
I knew what I was getting into, again and again. It was familiar to me and quite frankly, I thought I would be rejected by anyone else for the same reasons I was now being told I was undesirable. It seemed safer to stick to familiar territory rather than venture out into something new that I believed would lead to another chapter of pain and anguish.
It didn’t matter how many of my friends tried to rescue me, or how many told me how wonderful or beautiful I was. It didn’t help to hear that I could ‘get anyone’ because I didn’t want just anyone; I wanted what I had worked so hard to build with this person.
There is a quote in my favorite book, The Little Prince, which reads, “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” I wouldn’t call the time I put into what we were a waste — the happiest moments we shared will always be some of my fondest. Which is why I tried reaching out to him after a year of not being able to fall in love again. I missed our good moments, but as expected, things once again went south.
When I re-read our former messages from when we ended things the first time, and as he was telling me I never cared, I saw that what he was saying wasn’t true. Every message to him, despite how upset I was, ended with, “Despite it all, I love you.” He refused to tell me he loved me anymore — it was his way of punishing me. He didn’t love me for all that I was; he only loved me for the parts he liked, the parts that were convenient that he could make sense of and control. The rest of me, he rejected.
The day I decided that, if this relationship didn’t make me happy then I was going to drop it, suddenly everything in my life completely changed.
I realized that I could settle for something that was almost love or I could try to find the real thing — someone who loved me for all that I was.
The first person that would have to do that would be me.
Previously, I thought I needed my abuser to feed my inner critic and to ‘keep me in line’. All this time, I thought his approval was the only way I would be set free — but it turns out, I had put myself in a box and I was the only one with the key to get out. When I finally freed myself, I realized that there were only two people that saw me the way he did: my ex and me.
Every day I ask myself how could I have been so stupid to allow this to continue for so long; to this day, I still beat myself up over it. I have never been a serial dater, nor have I needed a boyfriend to help me past every obstacle of my life. I am actually that girl who loves going to the movies by herself, and if I need a pair of shoes, I buy them myself. So my dependent behavior — my tolerance — has been inconsistent with my true self.
There are many other girls like me who have been in situations that have made them feel ‘less than’. Because we don’t require much, maybe the strongest girls are the ones who take on the challenge of loving someone who barely loves himself. Or perhaps we’re the weakest…I’m not quite sure.
In the end, you can find happiness, as I have found mine. I am not entirely at peace with my turbulent past, but strength is the result of surviving — and with that, I am becoming more and more my authentic self. And in future relationships, I’ll be attracting someone who is doing the same, someone who will recognize the value of a girl who wants to reach her full potential. Someone who loves me for all of me — and won’t see me as someone they need to change in order to fit their ideals.
It’s funny — once you become your own superman, you no longer feel the need to be rescued and nothing scares you anymore. You become what you need. Once you realize what you bring to the table, you are no longer afraid to eat alone and you wake up to the fact that anyone that has the honor of sitting across from you should appreciate you fully. All of you.
You may also enjoy reading Finding My Way To We | How to Retain Your Identity in a Relationship, by Nancy Levin