Breaking the cycle of abuse begins with the conscious decision to declare, “The abuse stops NOW.”
As someone who jumped from one abusive environment to another, I can say that, yes, it took me a while to “get it.” Abuse was all I ever knew and, sadly, it was the norm for me. So normal, in fact, that I didn’t recognize the many red flags that are now so glaringly apparent in my hindsight. For me, “abuse” meant physical beatings. Those sorts of stories made the news, while the other, more subtle types of abuse weren’t labeled as such.
It is for this reason that I truly believe we must educate future generations about the dynamics of all types of abuse. There should never be a question of what’s abuse and what isn’t. The information available be clear-cut: “If [this] is repeatedly happening to you, it’s abuse.” It doesn’t matter if it’s all you’re used to experiencing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been made to feel as though it’s your fault. It doesn’t matter if your abuser “sometimes” makes you feel loved, wanted, desired and that everything is okay. If you can predict, without a shadow of a doubt, that the abuse will happen again, be assured: nothing will ever change or get better. Your abuser wants you to think, for a little while, that things aren’t bad enough that you’ll want to leave. S/he has to show you that s/he didn’t really mean it or that you are somehow to blame for the way things go. Not. S/he is buying more time and chances to control you. There are no excuses.
Breaking the cycle isn’t easy. Once you recognize and accept that you’re in an abusive relationship, everything becomes clearer. It’s what you do with that knowledge that’s very important. Consider the fact that your abuser must want to change and take every step possible towards rehabilitation; if s/he does not, s/he will continue to abuse you for as long as you stay and allow it to happen. By staying, you are giving your abuser license to treat you badly and, chances are, s/he has you believing that you’re to blame or that you deserve it because you’re worthless and provoke their anger. “If you would just stop pressing my buttons/making me SO mad, everything would be okay.” There are no excuses and that sort of treatment is not out of love. Think about it. Love is uplifting, joyous, security, intimacy, affection, supportive.
Again, breaking the cycle isn’t easy. Being afraid of living independently is daunting, particularly with your abuser’s script, running through your head, mocking your ability to exist without him. But as someone who escaped that dysfunctional, oppressive environment, I can attest to the wonderful feeling I had, knowing I could lock him OUT of MY house, where he couldn’t abuse me anymore. For over 4 years, I have taken care of myself and my children, cherishing the control I have over my life. I can do what I want, when I want, where I want, however I want, with whomever I want without having to explain why. I am still healing (not an overnight process), but I’m finding it easier to heal old wounds, knowing there won’t be fresh ones to nurse.
Breaking the cycle isn’t just about escaping the abuse itself. The healing process involves a lot of work, on your part, to prevent repeating that cycle in your new life and in future relationships. It’s a constant effort that will span the rest of your life.
~ Repair your spirit. Build up your self-esteem/confidence. When you value your self-worth and celebrate who YOU authentically are, you will hold others to a higher standard of respect and treatment.
~ Educate yourself thoroughly about all aspects of abuse: how to spot red flags, how to recognize abuse, all the types of abuse/symptoms, why abusers seek control/power over their victims, what makes YOU susceptible to abuse (VERY IMPORTANT! If you know your weaknesses beforehand, you will know when someone’s trying to exploit those weaknesses).
~ Make a list of the “tolerable” and “intolerable” behaviors for reference points in future relationships. Make a personal declaration: “I do not NEED a relationship to feel whole and I will walk away from any relationship that shows signs of being dysfunctional.”
~ Establish your independence, in all aspects. If you are self-reliant, you will be in a better position to walk away from any relationship without worry.
~ Build up a solid support network and, if someone you trust raises any concerns about a potential life partner, please take them seriously. Sometimes abuse is more apparent to someone who can see things more objectively than from an emotional standpoint.
~ Share your experiences, but don’t let your experiences define you. For a while, I would actually bring up the abuse right away and wear it like a badge. Now, I only talk about it if it’s relevant to the conversation.
~ Keep a journal to record your progress and for therapy.
~ Learn to appreciate all of your wonderful qualities and celebrate the special person you are. Don’t hang on to the criticism, negativity, insults or feelings of worthlessness. You are a wonderful someone who deserves happiness. Believing otherwise gives away YOUR power.
As always, we’re here to help.