Me: “I’m starting to sound like a victim of abuse”
My therapist: “You are a victim of abuse”
As anyone who’s ever turned up to work on a Monday morning with wet hair, no makeup and covered in tea from the mug that was lobbed at them over breakfast knows, domestic abuse isn’t something of which the participants are necessarily aware until it’s been pointed out by someone else. Whenever I’d read about abuse in the past, I had imagined that both the perpetrator and the victim would be hyper-aware of their own reality. In practice, I have found that the opposite appears to be true, because of the amazing human skill of being able to normalise and minimise even the unhealthiest behaviour.
As a thirty-something, accomplished, ambitious, fiercely feminist, professionally successful and socially confident woman, I never expected that I would or could ever fall victim to domestic abuse. No, that was a life reserved for other poor souls. It wasn’t arrogance on my part, but rather the product of an otherworldliness that belonged to the stories I had read; they weren’t relatable to me. However, on a cold and wet January evening, on my triumphant return to therapy following a recent break-up, I was confronted with the harsh reality of my situation. I was a victim. A victim of emotional and psychological abuse. Me.
I sat there stunned for a while, and then challenged her: "I’m probably just exaggerating." "What if I got it all wrong? He doesn’t really mean to be so hurtful, he has emotional problems." "But he really loves me, unlike anyone else could." "If only I wasn’t so sensitive, so thin-skinned." "If only I could take criticism and realise he’s doing it out of love." "If only I wasn’t so insecure, I wouldn’t take everything so personally." On it went. "If only" followed by "if only", blame directed squarely and consistently at myself. This continued for days, weeks and months, such was the resilience of my denial.
There’s a strength to be gained from facing your own truth, from processing it, coming to terms with it, and understanding how it came to be. Over the past several months, I have been up and down more times than the temperature this summer but in the process I have learned a lot about myself, about relationships and about abuse, some of which I’d like to share with you.