You deserve better.
You know this, and your friends constantly remind you, but you don’t really know it.
When you entered into this relationship, you fell in love with a person who was attentive and loving, and seemed to be everything you wanted. You took at face value what was presented to you.
When they changed, you couldn’t believe it. The abuse, whether subtle or apparent, began. Where was that person you fell in love with? Then almost immediately, like magic, they changed back again as if nothing had ever happened, and you were left questioning yourself. Did they really treat you badly? Maybe you imagined it or misunderstood their behavior?
Oh well, you think, at least they’re here now, things are good again, and we can get back to normal.
The Lie You Believed
Long ago, you may have told yourself a story to help understand, survive, or cope with abusive behaviors. You might’ve believed this story in order to fit into your family or social network. For awhile, the story could’ve kept you safe.
But if the story also kept you small, insignificant or voice-less, then that story was a lie. Unfortunately, believing the lie of insignificance creates a host of disempowering thoughts and behaviors that keep you living a short distance from your true worth.
Perhaps you felt like an outsider looking for your place, or someone with whom to belong. Maybe you settled for a less than adequate someone in order to belong.
You kept your head down. You dimmed your light. You settled for what you got, not what you wanted. You pleased others at your own expense. You probably learned this some time ago, until it became a familiar pattern, like an annoying habit, so difficult to break.
Your relationship filter is a little faulty. You overlook the slights, the broken promises, the withholding of affection, the silent treatments and the lies. At first you are enraged, but it passes when your partner returns love bombing you with words and actions that completely dispute the previous unkind behavior.
You like the happy story. The one with the affectionate, doting person who sweeps you away and loves you completely, totally and….. uh oh, then it’s over and you have to make excuses for the hushed phone calls, hidden texts, unkind comments, lack of affection, angry outbursts, and so on. You know the drill.
So you run to the mirror, the therapist, the doctor. You constantly evaluate your worth. You diet and exercise more. You dye your hair. You get better make-up. You’ve got to fix yourself, damn it!
The mind has to find a way to convince the heart that the happy story is real. It feels so much better. And surely, if you were just a little better, then you could keep that sweetheart happy.
Feelings are not facts though. Your feelings have betrayed you here. It’s more comfortable to believe in the illusion than to face the reality of leaving an abusive situation.
It’s this faulty belief in a story that has no basis in fact that keeps you in bondage to a lie.
Obvious Solutions Don’t Work
If you’ve come to realize that your relationship is emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive in any way, it is not your fault. You are not responsible for the behavior of others. You are, however, responsible for your choices regarding what to do about it.
Obvious solutions, like valuing yourself more, increasing your self-esteem, and practicing self-care are all necessary, but they aren’t the answer. Those solutions aren’t something you can pick up one afternoon and be done with it. Don’t get me wrong, those apparent solutions are vital in the long run, but because they take time to cultivate, they don’t provide the deeper insights needed immediately.
Berating yourself with expectations only makes you feel more inadequate. The obvious solutions tell you “what”, but not “how,” and they don’t address the core issues. So put them aside for the moment.
Getting to the heart of the matter requires knowing who you really are—the good, the bad and the ugly, as the saying goes—and seeing the habits you’ve grown accustomed to employing, and the story line you keep living.
Write A New Story
Some years back, I had the opportunity to leave a relationship full of the confusing trappings of narcissistic abuse. I was well aware of the signs, the gaslighting, silent treatments, and outright lies, yet each time I left him, I took him back. He was just that good—at manipulating.
It was only when I stopped trying to understand the incomprehensible, that I was finally able to stay away for good. I had believed in a story that was not reality in order to protect myself from some hypothetical, or perhaps existential pain.
I needed an exit strategy. I needed a game plan. I needed to face the truth.
Start by observing. Write down your observations like a reporter on the beat. Objectively, and with some distance, but also detailed and thorough. Be curious about what you see. Watch the facade you constructed crumble, and remain interested and objective.
You won’t die facing the bullshit. It takes patience, but keep facing the story, and the facts, until a new story emerges.
That new story may be about the person, (you), who is able to gracefully face situations that cause pain without getting caught up in the struggle, or the drama.
Brush Up Your Acting Skills
Once you have learned how to become the observer of your own thoughts and actions, then you can act your way to freedom.
When you’re with that abusive person, plan to continue your observations, but also change the script of the character you have played thus far. You might even want to completely change the role your character plays.
Most importantly, understand your role as an actor, not a reactor. Practice acting until you clearly see the role you have played in this drama. Practice acting until your objective distance becomes your new reality.
The best part of the process is that you allow yourself to be curious, and even a little amused, while observing your relationship to suffering and the story that keeps you stuck. This is the key to creating lasting change. Your new strategy allows you to plot your own growth with some objectivity.
Become The Heroine Of Your Life
(Or the hero, if you so choose.)
When you were a kid, you probably played the game of pretend. You used your imagination to conjure all kinds of stories where you were victorious and strong in numerous ways.
In adulthood, it’s improvisational theater. Like the simple technique of changing your relationship to the characters in the stories you tell yourself, perspective is gained from observation and choice. Using imagination to guide the way, you begin to define your own terms of freedom.
With sympathy and precision, you face whatever arises in your mind. You cultivate a tenderness for your wounds, and your scars. One day, you’ll wake up and realize that it was always you that you were waiting for.
It’s up to you to be the heroine of the story.
As you leave behind those little stories of woe and terror, you will be able to look over your shoulder and pronounce boldly: That was not love. And you will believe it. In time, you will know it to be true.
Habits of mind and behavior aren’t easily changed though, and so you must practice as if your life depends upon it. In some cases, your life does depend upon it. Part of the process of re-writing the script of your story is rehearsal. Rehearsals are how you master performance. You keep practicing over and over again until it becomes easy, and then you forget that it was ever difficult.
This is how you leave what hurts you behind.
You can’t change your past, or people, or circumstances; but you can change your mind. And you can show your heart that you treasure it, by changing your relationship to the stories that you live.
These are not simple things, or everyone would be doing them.
Gentle is the way forward. Kindness is the name of the ice rink you will learn to skate on. Every time you fall down, break your skate laces, or bruise your knees, you will get back up. You will try to skate again. You’ll fall again and again, until one day you are gliding past everyone else with ease and confidence.
You’ll not be thinking of that abusive jerk, or for that matter, allowing any other abusive jerk anywhere near you. You don’t need affirmations. You know your worth.
Your sights are set on learning a triple axel.