For as long as I could remember, my father had abused me. My mother had abandoned me when I was 3 and this allowed him to take out his misogynistic tendencies on me whenever he chose. The one thing that I knew for certain was that he pretended to like women when in fact he hated them. So I wasn’t a daughter to be nurtured and encouraged; I was an object to be used and abused. Not only did he steal my innocence and leave me with a fear of intimacy, his verbal and mental abuse meant I grew up believing I was damaged and worthless. I coped by self-medicating with alcohol which, together with my lack of self-esteem, was a recipe for disaster when it came to forming relationships as an adult. It wasn’t hard to see why I ended up in an abusive relationship. My lack of self-respect meant I didn’t expect anything better. So when the loving, caring man of my dreams turned into a controlling, threatening abuser, I had no idea how to fight back. All I knew was that I felt like a fearful child all over again. Anyone who has been in an abusive partnership or marriage will know that it can be extremely hard to break free, but it is possible. If you wish to make the transition from victim to survivor, here are some suggestions that may help:
#1 Familiarize yourself with the cycle of abuse.
There is a cycle of abuse which enables the perpetrator to continue with their destructive behavior over a period of time. In my situation, I realized that any attempt to assert my independence resulted in a prolonged verbal assault that could last for several days. Trying to defend myself or retaliate ended in physical threats that terrified me into silence. Then he would become silent himself, refusing to acknowledge my presence until he needed something. At that point, he would animated and cheerful. Showing no remorse for his behaviour, he would instead minimize or deny it, and I would be so grateful that the abuse had stopped I would not dare confront him for fear of reprisal. Things would be quiet for a while and then it would start again. Once I was familiar with the cycle I used the periods when things were more settled to make my plans to leave.
#2 Reach out.
Abusers use isolation as a way to control. Although I didn’t have family, I did have friends that I was prevented from having contact with. He became unnecessarily suspicious of work colleagues and would make me feel guilty about making even a simple shopping trip. It wasn’t until I made the decision to seek support that I realized how isolated I had become. Taking the step to reach out to others who had experienced abuse ended my isolation. Being encouraged by others who had broken free empowered me to do the same.
#3 Work on your self-esteem.
The longer you have been in an abusive situation, the harder it is to change. Toward the end, I felt emotionally battered from the day before, anxious of the day ahead and terrified of what tomorrow could bring. Before I could successfully move away from the abuse, I needed to work on my self-esteem. In particular, I focused on assertiveness skills and confidence-building and looked at how to redefine myself in positive terms.
#4 Recognize that it isn’t your fault.
The depth of my shame at allowing another human being to mistreat me determined the length of time I remained in that abusive situation. When I was in the chaos of it all, it was impossible to reason how everything had gone so wrong, and somehow I always felt I was to blame. Once I recognized it wasn’t my fault and that I didn’t deserve to be abused, I was also able to recognize that I could take responsibility for my life. He was never going to change, but I could. Ultimately, I realized I had the choice to stay or go. If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, you have that choice too. Make the decision to find the support you need and make today your last day as a victim. Your new life as a survivor awaits.