The Cycle of Abuse
At some point in your life, you have probably seen this circle. Maybe it was in a different format, in a flier or magazine, or maybe a commercial, but it’s probably been flashed in front of your eyes once or twice. I don’t know what your reaction was to it. I know when I first saw it as a young teenager I couldn’t imagine things like this existing in people’s lives. In my young mind, this sort of behavior didn’t seem possible.
But this sort of behavior has been my adult life, and I still have no idea why. I did not come from a bad childhood. My parents did not divorce until I was 21. I was not abused, molested or neglected. I was loved, cared about and provided for. I grew up in the suburbs, went to church, participated in plays and sang in choir. We had a dog and two cats. I had a brother, and many relatives. I don’t even remember my self-image being all that bad.
I’ve never really had friends, though. Friends being plural. I have always been a monogamist, even in my friendships. When I was in grade school, I remember having a best friend at church, and a best friend at school. It was hard for me to maintain those friendships for some reason. If I invited my church best friend to my birthday party, she felt bad because she didn’t know anyone. If I went to my church best friend’s house on the weekend instead of playing with my school best friend, she felt neglected.
Every time I tried having more than one friendship with girls at school, it ended badly. Someone always felt left out, and there was jealousy hidden under thin layers of skin. Eventually, I started liking boys more than girls as friends. They didn’t seem to hold the same sort of emotional wars and blackmail. Their minds just made more sense to me.
I made a few girlfriends when I was in my early 20s. Through the last ten years, I have tried to remain in touch with them. Some more than others. I lost one last summer, and another one today, I am assuming for the same reasons. Her email read, “I stopped trusting you and our friendship when you started lying to me every time we spoke ‘I didnt sleep with him’ ‘but nothing happened’ you were always trying to paint a picture to me, of you and J__ that was obvious bullshit, or you and your family, or you and S__. You haven’t been honest with me in years, and I can hear you right now ‘well, because YOU were so critical!’. So you lied.”
She went on to point out that I don’t have that many friends right now, and that maybe that would be a sign, since I refuse to acknowledge that I am wrong, or that I blame other people for everything, play the victim, and need to grow and mature into a more accountable person. I know all of that has some truth to it. Yes, I am guilty sometimes (or often) of being whiny and pointing fingers instead of taking responsibility for my actions. More often than not, though, I am much too hard on myself, but that is the part that people often don’t see.
I carry a hefty load of guilt around for many different things: not going to college, not getting better grades, not using birth control correctly, not having an abortion, and not to mention the years that I drank a lot and all that came with that. This guilt is what made my mind believe that I deserved to be treated badly. Looking at this wheel now, though, I didn’t deserve all of that. For almost two years, I endured almost everything on this chart. Everything except the torturing pets and displaying weapons part, as silly as that sounds. To some extent, I still have to put up with a few, but I’m learning to not let it get to me, but it still does.
My friend was right, though. I did lie to her a lot. Reading her email made me remember all the conversations of hesitancy. She would tell me it would take a while for me to “warm up” on the phone. Whenever we chatted via video, I had a hard time looking her in the eye. I was so ashamed, so embarrassed, and really didn’t want to be talking to her at all. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, since I was either lying, skipping over the bad stuff and glorifying the good, or talking about things that were actually going on. I didn’t like hearing myself talk about this. I talked to counselors instead, since my friends and family, eventually, grew tired of hearing me talk about how much pain I was in and backed off.
Sometimes, I would call friends when things were going good. At times, I would reach out to them when things were bad. This cycle of abuse, from the build up, the blow out, the make-up and build up again are truly never-ending, and they will make a person crazy. Sitting in one of my therapist’s offices once, telling him I was stupid and crazy, he gestured to the window and said, “Say we took one of those people walking outside and sat him down in that chair in the corner. Let’s say for two days or maybe a little longer, we tell that person all the things you have heard over the last two years. I guarantee you, that person could have a doctorate and still feel the same way that you do now.”
The author of the email might say that I’m blaming again, making it someone else’s fault, and playing the victim. Or that I’m not taking responsibility for the FACT that I ALLOWED that sort of behavior and abuse towards me, my unborn child and my infant daughter.
Talking to a friend in my hometown about the times he’s seen me in the last decade, one stuck out in his head. It was around the time that I moved from Fairbanks to Port Townsend. “You were different then,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t you.” I told him my boyfriend had just broken into my house, tore apart my computer and bruised my ribcage while keeping me from running away. “Shit,” he said. Yeah.
All of this does change a person quite a bit. I always feel like I’m a bit “off.” I am incredibly sensitive and defensive about criticism from others, because I am my biggest and worst critic. I suspect that everyone in the room is saying something bad about me. I constantly have to keep myself from apologizing, and thank people profusely. I never tip less than twenty percent, because even as a paying customer, I feel like an inconvenience. I enjoy wearing a hat with a bill so I don’t have to look people in the eye. I feel incredibly guilty around anyone who pays taxes, since I am on government assistance. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I deserve almost anything good, since someone, at some point, has told me I don’t.
People have told me a lot of things. Most of which I believed fully and carry around with me like a heavy suitcase without a zipper–things just keep falling out, and I’m forced to pick them up, look at them, and stuff them back in again. Words like “crazy,” “stupid,” “retard,” and “bitch” are the sneakiest, and are always slipping out. There are a lot of phrases in there that I’m sure weren’t even meant to be bad, but I took it that way. I can even recall just about every time a kid–or grown-up–made fun of me. I really have no idea how to leave this bag behind, and wish I could throw it off a bridge. I have so many bad things filling my head that there often isn’t any room for the good. I hear something good and brush it off like a mosquito before it sinks in.
I am not, NOT saying any of this in the hopes that you’ll feel sorry for me. I am saying it because physical abuse is often treated. There’s evidence to look at. Proof. Mental abuse is far worse, and often glanced over. I have met so many women who have stayed in relationships like the ones I was in because they believed it was more difficult on their own. They couldn’t be more wrong. Nothing is harder than being told things that NO HUMAN BEING SHOULD EVER HEAR on a daily basis. In their defense, they will say, “he’s just…” a lot. “He’s just upset because of work,” or “He’s just drunk,” or even “He’s just mad because I forgot the beer at the store.” I’ve said all of those things. I was my abuser’s biggest defender.
But I got tired of lying, and got tired of talking about the truth, and eventually saw that I had no one to talk to at all.
I feel like I’m on the upswing of my own cycle, though. I am gaining confidence, I am trying to find new friendships while maintaining ones that are supportive and not critical. I am starting to write again (obviously). I battle every day to feel good about myself, and what I’m doing. I try to not let the words from false friends get to me. Sometimes I tell myself, “Yeah, but they don’t know me at all.” But maybe they know me better than anyone else. I’ll never really know.
While talking to a friend I haven’t seen in a while the other day, he laughed at one point and said, “Since when did you become such a planner?” I didn’t miss a beat, and answered, “Since my entire world was completely out of my control and I never knew what was going to happen next.”
Goals. Goals are good. My eyes are focussed on them. I must stay on track, and don’t even think about getting in my way.
Good for you for being willing to go up the battle for healing yourself; for knowing you deserve better than being abused for yourself and your children. It takes courage just as much as it takes courage to try to heal the wounds of your scarred heart.
From a women and mom, who had been in a abusive relationship, I can say it gets easier. Sometimes I go backwards and sometimes I go forward. Its hard because you don’t know what is normal and you read into everything differently. I’ve been with my husband for 4 years now, and I still am struggling not only with the ups and downs of myself internally, but with managing having a healthy relationship. The thing that has helped me the most is just knowing he is there; knowing he loves me unconditionally (something I never used to even think was possible) makes the weight on my ankles less heavy. Its definitely helped reset myself in someways while seeing the reflection of where I need to do more work.
Since you have the courage to get better, it’ll get easier over time.
Love is the worlds best healing force. So love yourself, imperfect and all. Love those sweet little girls. Make a liar of the voice in your head telling you different.
You got this; believe in you.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I struggle with the unconditional love, or trusting it. Most love I’ve had (with the exception of my children) comes with many conditions. There always seems to be a hidden deal-breaker or last straw or impending ghosting, even by my own family. I’m working on loving myself. It’s a daily battle. The most important thing I’ve found is having compassion, empathy, and kindness for myself in my ugly moments when insecurities bubble to the surface.
I totally understand; I still have trouble believe in it sometimes. But it’s gotten easier over time. It’s steps; some steps are tiny and some are leaps. It took being cared about and believing I deserved it, to cut ties with my own family who are toxic and suffocating.
It is a daily battle for sure; necessary but hard especially since knowing in the end you still have to live with yourself.
It helps to allow myself the feelings I’m having because one of my struggles is feeling as I feel too much; I’m very sensitive. Then I stop after I have a minute and ask myself why I feel that way or where I think I started reacting the way I do with that feeling. Then I try to switch my focus by writing a gratitude list.