Broken Record

broken_record-wide

 

Laughter fills the air, people flood the shopping malls, couples frolic about hand in hand, and Salvation Army bells ring on almost every corner. The holidays bring families together and are the time of year that everyone strives to bring some type of meaning to the end of another year. The main focus of those around us has been to ensure that gifts were bought and wrapped and neatly placed under the tree for our loved ones. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences joy during the Christmas season. Domestic violence does not take a break for the holidays. Sometimes, the strain of the festivities can exacerbate an abusive relationship. There are many factors during this time of year that play a part in pushing abusers to their limits: financial stress, higher alcohol consumption, and tension between families. This is no excuse for their behavior, but rather a catalyst or justification for them to take out their frustrations on those closest to them. Many of us find that we question why the victim stays. Why do they subject themselves to the torture? Why don’t they just leave? We should be asking the question, why does the abuser put them through so much pain?

We are all guilty of questioning the victim’s motives in staying in a toxic relationship. I’m guilty of it, and I was a victim to verbal abuse for 12 years. I was one of the statistics that stayed and gave chance after chance, which left my family wondering why I wouldn’t just leave. Why is it that our society is automatically ready to place the blame on the victim?

“Well, she went back to him again, she should know better. I won’t feel sorry for her the next time he hits her.”

While family members can only handle so much pain, watching their sister/brother/cousin go through an abusive relationship, we also need to remember that abusers have an incredible hold on their victims.

He only viewed me as an object and not a person . . . It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time.

Their techniques of manipulation and control, with empty promises of change, allow them the ability to sink their talons into the victim and pull them back into their clutches, time and time again. When an abuser thinks they are going to lose the victim that they have spent so much time molding into their little puppet, they will bombard them with relentless phone calls and text messages of undying love. It’s up to us to help the victim become aware of what is happening to them, to help open their eyes to the reality of their situation and give them the confidence to cut themselves loose. This isn’t done easily, and they must be approached delicately. The main thing they need from their friends and family is support. Any attempt to heavily persuade or shame them into leaving their abuser will only drive them further away from you.

When looking back at my situation, I recalled a time when my sister brought to my attention the cycle of abuse wheel. When I first looked at it, I saw that I could relate to every single aspect on the wheel, but then something inside me flipped a switch. I had been manipulated for so long that I believed all of the issues in my marriage were my fault. I looked at my sister and said, “Maybe I’m the abuser.” She stopped immediately and didn’t mention any more of it. She simply requested that I do a little research for myself. After I left him, she later confessed to me about how terrifying that moment was for her. At first thinking she was finally opening my eyes to the reality of my situation to  then fearing she may have caused more damage, she was scared to press the matter any further.

We should never underestimate the harm that years of manipulation can cause. I have been tossing the memories back and forth, trying to find some way my family could have approached me early on that I would have been willing to listen openly. I have yet to come up with anything. In the mind of the victim they think they deserve the treatment, manipulated to believe that they are abused because of something they did. They will immediately defend their abuser, or become offended if anyone else points out the abuser’s bad behavior. We have often heard the response, “But you don’t know him like I do.” They will make excuses for the behavior of their abuser, they will believe wholeheartedly that he is going to change this time, that he loves them. After it was brought to my attention that I was in an abusive relationship, it took about a year before I realized nothing was ever going to change unless I made the change myself.

I couldn’t escape the hold my abuser had over me until I realized he never actually loved me. He only viewed me as an object and not as a person: something for him to vent his frustrations on, something to exert control over, something to mold and to shape. When I let myself realize this, I was  no longer persuaded by his empty promises and his declarations of unending love. I saw through the lies and was able to claim my life back. The cycle of abuse wheel planted the seed and I began recognizing the patterns of his behavior. I saw our dynamic as though it were a broken record, the constant repetition of abuse and promises, abuse and promises. It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time. But I am happier and healthier now than I ever was during those twelve years.

Now the holidays are a time for being around those I love and who truly love me.

~Christa G.

Learning to Love Ourselves

The main ingredient to any healthy relationship is respect. And how can we respect our partner until we respect ourselves? How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value? This is something I still struggle with, almost on a daily basis. I grew up not really seeing myself as skinny or ugly, but my environment and my surroundings were a constant reminder of how different I was.

We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality.

A classmate in grade school called me “anorexic girl”. A boy at my lunch table told me I looked like a beaver because of my buckteeth. A girl at my bus stop told me I looked like a starving Ethiopian child. A boy I had a crush on told me if I were fatter I would be so sexy. These idiotic comments continued well into my adulthood, growing on my mind like a malignant tumor. It seemed that every day was a struggle to accept myself.

It is actually quite miraculous that any of us make it out of adolescence moderately sane. The media is perpetually throwing images of perfectly proportioned models with perfect skin and perfect figures. We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality. So no wonder we feel it is normal to have a “loved” one point out these flaws. No wonder we are so accustomed to having our self-esteem continually torn down. And no wonder we have so much trouble loving and respecting ourselves.

So how do we learn to love ourselves after all the garbage and nonsense the world has thrown at us? Forget everything you learned as a kid. Forget the disproportionate Barbie dolls, the airbrushed images of pristine models, the Disney princesses with their perfect hair, impossibly tiny waists, and big boobs. Forget the hateful comments your classmates may have tossed at you. Forget your own feelings of inadequacy and doubt as you watched your body morph throughout puberty.

Forget everything.

Now who are you? What are your passions? Your goals? Your life pursuits? What makes life worth living in your own world? No one but you can answer these questions and no one but you have control over everything that defines you. But how do you convince yourself of this after living a life of lies? How do you get past the criticisms of parents, teachers, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends, or you?

Start small and start simple. Find a quiet place, at least for a few minutes everyday. Take those moments to either meditate, pray, self-reflect, or simply sit back and close your eyes. You may find that your mind becomes clear and you immediately relax. There is an actual science to improving yourself through self-reflection. Maintaining a healthy level of self-awareness is vital to setting realistic goals. How can you set goals if you are unsure of what you want out of your life? How can you learn to maintain your individualism in a relationship if you don’t know who you are?

We all need something to work toward, otherwise we decay or remain stagnant. After years of self-medicating with “retail therapy”, I had built up an overwhelming amount of credit card debt. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute helplessness that swept over me as I looked at one of my card statements. It stated that if I continued to pay only the minimum payment due I would have paid off that balance in 105 years. 105 years! I could live for maybe another 60 years and I couldn’t afford to pay more than the minimum at the time, while still using the card to help buy groceries and public transportation passes.

So I set a small goal for myself. I planned to pay off my credit cards one by one, starting with the smallest. That way, I could see the progress. I now have manageable debt that I am still slowly chipping away, piece by piece. My credit score is actually quite good and I now have a desirable credit history. I could have thrown that statement away in disgust and said to myself that I would never be able to pay it off. Instead, I did my research and sought out professional advice and made a plan to better myself. So whatever your goal may be, set a plan, set specific deadlines, and don’t feel bad if you have to extend those deadlines. These goals can be small, like learn how to paint, exercise more, eat healthier, or travel more. Most importantly, make these goals obtainable. You want to build up your esteem, not tear it down by continually setting yourself up for failure.

How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value?

Notice how these two simple things do not include changing who you are. Self-reflection and goal setting is merely a way to get to know yourself better, to know what you are truly capable of and how you interact with the world around you. Never let anyone try to convince you that you need to change. Never let anyone try to shame you into thinking you need to alter your looks, your personality, or your life pursuits. You can, however, allow others to influence you. You can allow others to motivate you. You can allow others to educate and inspire you. Once you discover who you are and what you want out of life, then everything else should fall into place. Do not let others dictate your future. We want to challenge you to take control of your own life today. Start small and start simple. Love all that makes you, you.

~Lindsey V.