So, something happened last night and when it did, I was quite gobsmacked. A friend and I were chatting about relationships, and she said, “You know the saying… no one wants a woman who has ever been abused.”
What? I guess when she said that, 2 things quickly ran through my mind: first, that a relationship with me is probably not advisable, and second, I am ‘dirty’ or ‘shameful’ for having been in abusive situations.
I guess I can understand the idea of a relationship not being the easiest thing with someone who has been abused…whether man or woman. There is a lot of baggage we carry and although time can soften those memories or even push them down so far you aren’t really conscious of them, I know how easy it is for those to affect others. My friend and I have been discussing trust lately and both of us have struggled with situations that have broken it, and let me tell you peeps, nothing breaks trust more than abuse. Once that happens, and although you tell yourself again and again the next relationship is a new playing field, it’s easy to be wary of how the game is going to be played.
Take cheating. Please. Before J cheated on me the first time, I would ask him if he was talking to his ex. He would look me in the eye, tell me a firm no, and also made me feel that questioning him was wrong because I had nothing to worry about. And? Those words meant nothing, because all along he was planning for the moment. After, when we got back together, he said the same. He had learned his lesson…saw how much it hurt me…and vowed, eye to eye and holding hands, it would never happen again. The next day, it did. Of course, through this all he was emotionally and verbally abusive to me. In retrospect, which truly is so much clearer than when you are in the midst of something, I could see the purpose in that: the worse I felt about myself, the more likely he could proverbially have his cake and eat it too.
How do you get past that? How do you allow yourself, in a new relationship, to believe the person when they say the same? Once you’ve been burned, how do you not assume that all stoves are hot? It’s almost reflexive…an ‘instinctual’ reaction that has been created to protect you from this happening again. It’s not that you are ‘blaming’ the new guy/gal for something they haven’t done. It’s not that you don’t want to believe what they are reassuring you of. It’s not that they have hurt you. But unfortunately, our past experiences dictate so many of our future ones, and when something has made such a lasting impact on you, it’s hard to brush it aside.
Now, the idea you should never be with someone who’s been abused? Hmmmm…gonna narrow your playing field, that’s for sure: 1:3 girls and 1:5 boys will be sexually abused by 18 (scary as fuck, isn’t it?), and about 3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year…and these are only the ones recognized and turned in for help. So there are an awful lot of victims out there walking around as adults.
What upset me the most about the comment of never being an a relationship with someone who was abused made me feel disgraced. Embarrassed. As if I was at fault for what happened. As if I could have stopped it anytime.
With J, it seems I should have been easily able too. But like anyone who has been abused by a partner, once you have been manipulated, broken down emotionally, made to feel less than in every situation, it’s tougher than it sounds. You see, I liken an abusers tactics to fishing (something I actually love to do): the victim needs to be hooked and then played with so they don’t fight what’s happening. That’s what abusers do. They bait their hook based on what they see in you (vulnerability, sadness, loneliness) and use that to catch you and reel you in, all the while making you think you are in a better place. But it’s not, because it’s a net where everything you wanted was just an illusion. Then, abusers break down their victim. It’s not as dramatic as cutting off your head and scaling you, but it’s damaging none the less. Once you’ve been broken down to the very bottom of who you are, it’s very very tough to pull yourself up…or even believe you should try. This is so hard for people who haven’t experienced abusive partner relationships to understand.
And then with the psychologist. I was a teenager when he started sexually abusing me. I had come to depend on him to where I trusted him with my life. The power dynamic between a psychologist and client is very one sided, with the professional having all of the influence and advantage. People seek out help because they are dealing with something that is insurmountable to face alone, and the person they seek help from becomes something of a guru. A savior. And once that’s been established, especially in a 15 year old and for 2 years, being able to see it any other way is almost impossible to do. Then, to be told you owe them…that’s it’s going to be healing for both of you…that it puts you on a higher level than his other patients, is something I needed to hear at that point in my life. It made me feel like I must be special, and that I must have some power over him too. I mistakenly believed I was so much better than I had thought for him to see me in a sexual way. That was a heady thing to someone who desperately needed that validation.
But it leaves a mark. A scar. Like a smudge across your face that everyone can see. You perceive yourself as being different, because you are. You’ve been through something that was dirty. Wrong. Degrading. Humiliating. Hurtful. The feeling of powerlessness that goes along with such abuse stays with you, whether it’s been 5 or 35 years. And since having a mental illness feels the same way in terms of feeling different (for lack of a better word), it’s a double whammy. Having bipolar makes me more sensitive, emotional, more likely to ruminate, etc. so processing the abuse, and then putting it in a compartment to try to ensure it’s effects on new situations are minimal, is tough to do.
When ma was going through her divorce with R who had abused her, she would say how she never addressed it because of the shame it wrought inside of her. I told her, time and time again, that the shame was on R, not her. She was the victim. Not the perpetrator. I wish I could listen to my own words.
Those of us who have been abused already feel guilt, a sense of betrayal by those who have hurt us, feelings of stigmatization, and damage to our perceptions of our self-worth. We don’t want to be seen different or damaged. We want to be seen as survivors who have come through abusive situations with strength. With lessons to share. With an experience that allows for empathy. With more compassion for all who have faced such dark periods in their lives. Maybe others will never ultimately see it the way I do, but I think it’s admirable.
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