I’m free. I wake up in the morning and I don’t have a heavyweight on my chest. I can go to sleep at night with an empty mind. I can calmly go about my life free from the stress responses of my prior years. I can make my own choices. I can look in the mirror and smile. I can go days without numbing and hiding and rationalizing the irrational. I’m alive. I’m loved. I’m beautiful. I’m powerful. I’m strong. And I’m worthy.
I’m also crying while I type this. I haven’t always believed these things. And I love having the chance to experience life this way.
I don’t have to shrink to fit in where I’m told to. I don’t have to change who I am to be loved. I don’t need to seek attention for things that don’t serve me.
My favorite color was black for as long as I could recall. I loved skulls. I read The Exorcist at age eight. I was assigned a report in fifth grade that compared the differences between cinema and books. I chose Rosemary’s Baby. I was eleven. I didn’t blend into the background. I stood out. I was bold. I was talkative. That was my story. It was important for me to live that narrative. It was important to get attention. I wouldn’t get attention by blending in. And I wouldn’t get it for being good. I’d never be as good or as amazing as the others, so I had to stand out in my own way.
A lot has changed since then. My favorite color is now red, with coral as a close second. And while I do appreciate my friends and family members buying me skull trinkets, I’m trying to shed that persona. That was the old me. I don’t need to be bold anymore. I don’t need attention. All I need is my newfound self-love, self-realization, and self-generated smiles. I’m capable. I’m smart. I’m authentic. I’m loving. I’m worthy.
I recently read this meme while scrolling through Facebook …
I was triggered. Have you ever been triggered? My brain started to race. I immediately began to agree with what was written. But I also had to disagree. It’s part of the cognitive dissonance of abuse.
I learned early on during the process of divorce that many people tend to think, “It takes two to Tango”. I’d hear, “You knew who he was, but you chose to stay for as long as you did.” Or “You have to take some of the blame for the way he treated you.” Even “You should probably be quiet already and learn to get over it.” And my favorite, “You weren’t really scared of him, you just filed a restraining order to gain the upper hand.”
Their trauma doesn’t justify their abuse. Their sense of entitlement and obsessions with power and control doesn’t give them the right to abuse.
It happens every day in our society. It’s easy to blame survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). We usually take the blame pretty well. And we’re used to hearing it. We’re used to covering things up. But you know what? Here I am, using my voice loudly and proudly. Standing in a place of self-awareness, educated on the topic of IPV, and proclaiming: “Please stop!” The only way abusers change their behaviors is to be held accountable. So, let’s hold them accountable. Their trauma doesn’t justify their abuse. Their sense of entitlement and obsessions with power and control doesn’t give them the right to abuse. And while it does take two to Tango, try dancing with someone who wants to control your moves, the song, and the tempo. You’ll soon realize that while you very well may be dancing the tango, you’re not doing it for fun. You’re trying to survive to the next song. Or waiting to find your chance to safely break free.
Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control. (Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?)
From the outside looking in, all problems seem easy to solve. If the problem can be identified, the solution should be easily identifiable. But life’s problems aren’t solved as simply as math equations. And have you ever tried to solve a math problem in a state of anxiety? When the test hits your desk and your heart’s beating fast, it’s hard to answer some questions. As your heart rate begins to drop, and you remember how prepared you are, the test gets easier to take.
Sometimes identifying the problem can be difficult. If you can’t pinpoint the problem, how can you come up with a reasonable solution?
Let’s take this example from Lundy Bancroft:
The abuser’s mood changes are especially perplexing. He can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour. At times he is aggressive and intimidating, his tone harsh, insults spewing from his mouth, ridicule dripping from him like oil from a drum. When he’s in this mode, nothing she says seems to have any impact on him, except to make him even angrier. Her side of the argument counts for nothing in his eyes, and everything is her fault. He twists her words around so that she always ends up on the defensive. As so many partners of my clients have said to me, “I just can’t seem to do anything right.”
At other moments, he sounds wounded and lost, hungering for love, and for someone to take care of him. When this side of him emerges, he appears open and ready to heal. He seems to let down his guard, his hard exterior softens, and he may take on the quality of a hurt child, difficult and frustrating but lovable. Looking at him in this deflated state, his partner has trouble imagining that the abuser inside of him will ever be back. The beast that takes him over at other times looks completely unrelated to the tender person she now sees. Sooner or later, though, the shadow comes back over him, as if it had a life of its own. Weeks of peace may go by, but eventually, she finds herself under assault once again. Then her head spins with the arduous effort of untangling the many threads of his character until she begins to wonder whether she is the one whose head isn’t quite right.
What if the gaslighting, the humiliating remarks, the demeaning behaviors, and the self-doubt have driven you to believe there’s no problem other than yourself?
How do you fix yourself? How can you resolve the problem – which isn’t you – when you’re convinced it is? If your stress response is constantly engaged, how do you look outside the situation? When survival is on the table, executive function is not.
And using our executive function is the only way we’ll ever solve these complex problems. Solving a problem as invasive as IPV is only possible when you get the chance to be free – to think for yourself and stop worrying about the inconsistencies or consequences. We must see the forest for the trees. We must identify the abuse. We must place accountability on the individual who should be held accountable. We must free ourselves from blame.