This month one of my readers asked the question: “How could mental abuse have happened to me?”
She went on to say that she is a successful, professional woman – as if professional achievements should be enough to ward off abusers, in the same way that garlic and crosses apparently stop Dracula in his tracks. (And, yes, as mentioned before in this ezine, there is a strong similarity between abusive men and Dracula in that both will bleed you dry, given half a chance.)
It happened to her, as it happens to so many women, for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined below. It happens chiefly because given the lack of readily available information, you only find out the hard way.
#1 ‘They’ never told you, because they didn’t know. It is the degree of widespread ignorance in our society about mental abuse that allows it to go on happening. Not only do they not know, but they don’t have an inkling that they don’t know.
So they think that their view of the world is true and accurate and they perpetrate this view of the world in which if these things happen at all, they happen to poor sad people who live very different lives to their own – and somehow bring it on themselves by belonging to that group.
Isn’t it wonderful how they only see the things that fit with their beliefs? Sadly, women do that one too, which is why it takes us a while to recognise that our hero is mentally abusive and then get out…
#2 Mental abuse is a great leveller. Whether you live in a palace or a slum you are equally susceptible. I can think of all kinds of high profile, hugely talented, successful women whose personal life has been ravaged by mental abuse, and often physical domestic violence also.
We may use our achievements, or our looks, or anything else we choose to compensate for a sense of worthlessness, but the truth is it is no protection. It certainly isn’t an effective radar system that will give advanced warning of potential aggressors entering our orbit.
#3 You’re not alone. Mental abuse happens to huge numbers of women. About 1 in 4 actually, at some point in their life. But a lot either remain in denial or feel so ashamed they won’t openly admit to it.
#4 Love may well not be enough – especially when it is either one sided (your side) or associated with a patchy, or non-existent regard for your well being (his side).
You are entitled to love someone however vile their behaviour towards you. It doesn’t mean you should tolerate the behaviour. And you would also be advised to write down a list of exactly what it is that you love about them.
#5 Nasty behaviours are not blips or aberrations. They are clear indications of a nasty side to his temperament. Yes, maybe we have all been there trying to work out, approximately, what percentage of a partner is nasty and what percentage is nice. But does this really make sense? When we do this, we are already heavily into denial and likely to be wildly inaccurate.
It puts me in mind of a client of mine who came to me years ago in tears because she had to re-home a much loved Alsatian. The dog had twice moved to attack her young son for no reason. She saw the pattern and wasn’t prepared to take any more chances.
Women, on average, will endure 35 assaults by their partner before they leave. Sure, it is much harder for a woman to leave a violent partner than it is to re-home a dog, but the other side of the coin is the astonishing degree to which women will deny or minimise the threats to their health and safety.
If in the first flush of romance he is ‘different – ie nicer – with you than he is with other people, know that with familiarity you will become ‘other people’ and be treated accordingly.
#6 Relationships don’t have to be like a poorly organised bungee jump. If you commit to a relationship hoping it will turn out alright, but not knowing how or why it should, it most probably won’t. “Forever” is a difficult part of a relationship to get right. It needs serious consideration.
#7 You are not Florence Nightingale. You are looking for a life partner and an equal, not a poor wounded soldier. Your life does not have to be the Crimea. Equally, there is no point in being either Mother Teresa or Wendy. Self-sacrifice and/or Peter Pan can be very draining over the longer term.
#8 The more clearly you visualise the kind of relationship and partner you truly want, the closer you are likely to get to achieving it.
#9 Compromise snowballs. If you are prepared to settle for less, you will surely get it. Increasingly so. Bad relationships have their own momentum. You need to factor that into how you think the relationship will be 1, 5 and 10 years down the line.
#10 Whatever has happened to you and whatever he has said to you, it doesn’t make you a fool, or worthless. You’re just a woman who has stayed too long – whether that is months, years or decades.
What’s happened, has happened. What’s important is that you can move forward into a fulfilling, joyful future. And you can use that learning curve to protect yourself, your family and friends in the future. While I believe that nobody should have to go through it, I believe that all of us who have been there can work to expose the blindness and ignorance that allows mental abuse to thrive.
(C) 2006 Annie Kaszina
Annie Kaszina Ph D, is a coach and writer who has helped hundreds of women to rebuild their confidence and their life after an abusive relationship. Annie is the author of “The Woman You Want To Be”. This ebook will teach you how you can love yourself first, so that you can create strong self-belief and build the fulfilling future you’re looking for on firm foundations.
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