Rebuilding: Future Relationships

Life begins…[?]

At 30? 40? Or is it 50? Maybe it’s something else. Everyone has their own way of filling in that blank.

For me, life began when I returned to America. Moving back was the perfect opportunity to rebuild my life from the ground up because, for the first time in 16+ years, my life was my own. Finally, I’d acquired the freedom to define myself, my path, without it being up to anyone else.

My counselor [who saw me through some of the most difficult years of my life] empowered me by triggering some very important realizations. He challenged me on many levels and called me out on my tendency to believe that things would be perfect when {a}, {b} or {c} happened. For years, my goal was to return to America; everything I did was to facilitate that happening. I must have said, “I just want to go home” a billion times in the two and a half years of weekly sessions. Finally, he said, “I know how much you want to go home and I think that you will be much happier when you get there. BUT! Things are not going to be perfect when you get back to America. You’ll find that everything is not going to fall neatly into place once you’re there.” Suddenly, I felt forced to consider the possibility, after being so hell-bent on getting back home and starting over. I had built it all up so much, in my eager mind, that I didn’t think about the negatives; while that’s not always a bad thing, I had to accept that some disappointment was inevitable so that I didn’t have the wind knocked out of me when it happened. And it did happen…in ways I could never have predicted or imagined.

As much as we would like to believe that the absence of abuse “miraculously” fixes everything, it’s totally not the case. I couldn’t expect to step into a ready-made “new life” without first healing from the old one. Additionally, abuse affected my attitude about all of my relationships ~ romantic, platonic and familial ~ by lowering my tolerance of mistreatment by anyone. I took stock of my relationships and put distance between myself and chronically toxic people. For me, this meant reprogramming myself to stop making excuses for anyone who treats me badly. I learned to exude self-confidence to avoid the “victim” label, in any situation. If I am to put the abuse behind me, I can’t ~ and will not ~ accept it from anyone else.

After some time back home, I noticed a pattern in the way I identified myself to other people. That I had survived abuse was almost always the first thing I said when meeting someone new and, once I noticed that I did that, I decided that I had to stop. Being a survivor doesn’t completely define me, as a person; sure, it’s a factor in how I evolved into the person I am today, but I’m many other things, too. I didn’t want to wear [being an abuse survivor] like a badge for all to see the moment anyone met me. It was almost like I was trying to say, “Okay, THIS is what I’ve been through and I won’t tolerate it from anyone else” up front, so that people would know where I was coming from. I was labeling myself for other people. Potentially abusive people won’t hear anything but “I’ve been a victim before and I could probably be again, if you try hard enough.” I’d also read somewhere that unresolved anger sub-consciously attracts other angry people and situations, whether we know it or not.

This is why I believe it was so important for me to resolve everything that was negative. I had to rid myself of the baggage, while developing inner strength and a healthy view of relationships. After so many years of dysfunction in my life, I had to re-learn how to communicate with others and refrain from viewing criticism as a personal attack. It was hard to stop allowing the destructive dialogue to replay via the mouths of other people but I chose to take back my power, and not hold everyone in my life accountable for what my abuser did to me.

For most of my life, I felt so afraid to lose anyone that I gave them license to treat me however they wanted. I never like having to distance myself from people because that’s not who I am. Having said that, I know that sometimes it’s necessary to do so as a part of my self-care. I believe that we all have the right to be discerning, when it comes to the people we allow into our lives. We get to impose our standards on the way others treat us and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for anything less than respect, kindness, honesty or whatever other qualities we consider important. This doesn’t mean that we have to burn bridges; we can simply make a conscious decision to limit contact with those whose company is less than beneficial.

It’s helped me to consider how I view relationships in general. Why am I so afraid to lose people? What am I really losing by letting a toxic relationship go? Is the resulting stress worth it? Don’t I deserve better? Isn’t it about time to show people that it’s possible to lose me? In asking myself those questions, I began to see my value and inner strength. No longer am I worried about offending those who constantly offended me. They’re not worried about offending me.

What I think of/know about myself, what I’m prepared to do to protect myself, what I know I deserve from every relationship is all I need know to move forward. And that’s what counts.

As always, we’re here to help.

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