These are some of the secrets abuse victims keep. If you are a parent of a teenager, this is my message to you. It is inspired by a letter I received today. When I started writing this list, I thought maybe I’d write 5-10 things. I ended up with almost 100. I narrowed them down and grouped them together to make 25. They are honest. Some will smack you in the face. Others are the tip of the iceberg.
1. I’m being abused.
Abuse happens in teenage relationships. Like, real abuse. To girls much younger than you could ever image. It comes in many different levels and many different forms: from controlling behaviors, to horrible naming calling (not like ‘bitch’ or ‘loser’…..things like ‘c*nt’, or ‘how could I respect someone who’s as big of a f*cking disgusting slut as you are,’) to rape, to threatening to kill us, or themself, to actually attempting to do so.
I’ll tell you that I am fine. That everything is fine. I’ll tell you to stay out of it. That nothing is wrong. That it’s none of your effing business. Or I’ll pretend to be happy and swear that everything is great.
…it’s not. I’m lying.
I don’t lie because I mean to lie. I lie because I’m ashamed. Embarrassed. Afraid. I think I’ve let you down. I think that everything is my fault. And I think that I can somehow make it better by being better. I think that I can somehow change what is going on or make it go away by fooling the entire world. A lot of times I’m lying so that I can try to fool myself.
3. I’m just as desperate for someone to know about the abuse and to help me as I’m desperate to keep it all hidden.
As good as I am at lying, every once in a while I will slip up and give you a hint: I’ll make a quiet comment putting myself down. I’ll wear baggy clothes. I’ll give you a weird look. I’ll leave a note where you can find it, and swear it was an accident. I’ll start to cry or throw a tantrum because I can’t decide whether I want ice tea or lemonade. I know it might not seem like much, but pay attention to it.
4. I don’t think everything’s my fault, I know that everything is my fault.
I am 100% sure that the abuse is my fault. I feel it in every fiber of my being and it is devastating. Sometimes I can see that my boyfriend’s (or ex’s) behavior is wrong, but I will find some way to blame myself. (This will take me years of therapy to change, so when I say ‘I know, I know, it’s not my fault’ refer to #2.)
5. I need your help. Even though I swear that I don’t.
I need help getting out and staying safe. You don’t need to lock me up and never let me date. This will backfire and make me hate you and not trust you. I need to be rebuilt and protected even though I will fight against this. What I really need though is to feel empowered. If you forbid me from dating you send me a message that I can’t handle it or don’t know how to control my own life.
Please don’t punish me, get mad at me, or make me feel worse about what is going on or stupid for being in the situation I am in. I already feel stupid enough. I just need you on my side.
6. I need information.
I don’t know how to ask for help, and even if I do, I won’t. But, I need my school to keep me safe. I need the police to be involved maybe. I need therapy. And then I need you to tell me that you will protect me and that everything is going to be ok.
7. I’m in love with the boy who hurts me.
The love I feel is very strong. Take me seriously when I say I am in love, because it’s real. Telling me I am too young to have found my soul mate or I don’t really know what I feel…it just makes me pissed. The feelings I experience are very real to me, so take them seriously.
8. I don’t know how young I am.
I feel old. I’m not a kid anymore. No matter how many times you try to tell me, I can’t understand that I am still young. It won’t be until about 10 years from now when my little baby cousin turns my age. Then, it’ll hit me. Hard.
9. I wear a lot of masks.
I smile. People think that I am happy and that nothing bothers me. But underneath them there is emptiness and pain.
10. I need you to talk to me about sex.
I really, really, really, really, really don’t want you to ask me if I am having sex. I’d rather die. But, chances are I have already done it, am thinking about doing it, or am feeling a lot of pressure to do it. I have a lot of questions and I don’t know all the answers even when I think I do…so as much as I don’t want to have an awkward conversation, I need you to talk to me about it anyway. I need you to do it in a non judgmental way. It’s hard for you too but you have to do it.
If I won’t listen to you, don’t make me feel bad. Just find a way to get me the information I need. Write me a letter. Buy me books. Keep trying. Whatever. I need to know about things like birth control. I need to know what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy. I need to know that I don’t have to have sex, or that if someone pressures me to do it that it’s wrong. I need to know about STDS. And I need someone to talk to.
***If I tell you I am having sex, want to have sex, have had sex, or use the word sex in a sentence, and you do any of the following: freak out, cry, act shocked, ask me why the hell I did that, tell me you are disappointed, call me stupid, shake your head and stay quiet, etc. I will never talk to you again. And I will never forget***
Also be careful not to be too excited. If someone is forcing me to have sex, and I say everything’s fine, there’s a chance I’m lying (see #1) If this is the case, and you are excited, I feel like a piece of shit. Actually, even dirtier.
11. My boyfriend is putting an UNBELIEVABLE amount of pressure on me to have sex.
If he hasn’t talked me into it yet, he’s trying to. If he can’t talk me into it, he’ll just try to do it anyway. If I try to stop him, eventually he’ll force his way inside. If I do it willingly, he’ll eventually become aggressive.
He uses sex against me in a horrible way. Not every time. Sometimes it will be good, but somehow, at some point, he will make me feel absolutely worthless. Slutty. Empty. Hollow. Ashamed. Dirty. Sick. Dead.
I don’t know what rape is. Not really. I don’t really know what sexual assault is either. I just know they are ugly words. And coercion? Uhhh….no clue. All I know is it is all my fault. In some way or another. No. Matter. What. My fault.
12. Sleepovers are not innocent.
I really, really, really, reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally want to have sleepovers with my boyfriend. Like so much so that it makes my stomach hurt and me get this crazy feeling that I don’t know how to describe. I’ve never felt this before (yeah, those horrible hormones) and I HATE you when you say no….but….sleepovers are an incredible amount of pressure. They aren’t as innocent as we swear they are.
13. I’m trying to find answers.
Not just about sex, but about what is happening to me. I search the internet. I read books. I’ll hide the fact that I’m doing this, but I’m desperate for information and for something to explain what’s going on.
14. Technology is a scary, scary thing.
I don’t have as much control over it as I think I do, and I really don’t understand how scary it can be. Neither do you. Trust me. People have pictures of me that I wish they didn’t have. They have access to more information about me than I’m even aware of. They know where I am all the time and who I am with. Technology has the potential to ruin my life.
15. My boyfriend is pressuring me to send him naked pictures.
Probably A LOT. He tries to send me pictures of his wiener. Seriously. And….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do about it. It seems easy to say “that’s ridiculous, just don’t send anything back and tell him to go screw himself” but it’s not that easy.
He makes it seem cool. He makes it seem sexy and exciting. He makes it seem like I owe it to him. And he makes it seem like I hurt his feelings, let him down, or that I don’t trust him or love him if I don’t.
If I try to talk to you about it with you and you say “Well, you didn’t do that did you???” or if you freak out and get mad at me or threaten to punish me, or anything remotely related, I will not only hate you but I will cut you off. I will be mortified. I will vow never, ever, ever, to try to talk to you again.
16. You don’t understand.
And honestly, I don’t think that there is any way you would ever understand. When you tell me that you understand exactly what I’m going through it just makes me feel further away from you. You might relate to some things, and sometimes your advice is helpful, but you do not understand everything that I am going through, starting because of the fact that you don’t know the majority of my reality.
17. I am scared.
Really scared. I’m trying to be brave. And tough. And strong. But I am scared.
18. I need you on my side.
As hard as it is to hear things that I tell you (if I tell you anything) don’t preach, don’t lecture, don’t even make a face. Just hold me and love me and be on my side, because no one else is.
I am confused. Like really fucking confused. And I might act tough, but on the inside, I’m falling apart.
You have no idea what I have been through or am going through. It’s worse than you can imagine. (I’m sorry. I don’t want you to know this because I don’t want to make you sad. But, it’s the truth.)
I don’t need someone else to make me feel bad about myself or to tell me that I am doing everything wrong. I need you to be on my side. 100% totally and completely and forever on my side.
19. I feel so alone and I wish I could just disappear.
I’ve lost most of my friends. If you knew how alone I felt it would break your heart. Most of the time, I wish that I could just close my eyes and disappear from here. and I doubt that anyone would notice.
20. I’m desperate to escape and to ease the pain.
You can get mad at me for doing drugs, getting drunk, for failing school, for having an eating disorder, for fighting with people, for throwing tantrums…or whatever other way I act out, but I’m just trying to make the pain go away. I need something to take away the pain.
21. I hate you for no reason.
I’ll think of 1,197,864,328,901 reasons why I say I hate you. But really, the only reason I think I hate you is because he’s made me hate you. He badmouths you all the time. You have been made out to be an enemy. If you overreact or get angry or freak out and try to control everything, you play right into what my boyfriend is telling me. You become a monster and he can use that to make me hate you instead of him.
I might tell you that I hate you, that you are ruining my life or that you are too controlling, but I need you. I need you to protect me even when it makes me hate you more. I need you to be the bad person sometimes. I need you to believe me if I tell you I am scared, or if I tell you my boyfriend has hurt me. I need you to listen to me without freaking out.
22. I don’t know I’m being abused.
The abuse started slow. So slow that I never saw it coming.
I don’t know that it’s even abuse because I don’t really know what abuse is. I think abuse happens to old women who are weak and stupid and much older than me. I don’t think that what’s happening to me is actually abuse.
23. The night time is the worst.
24. I get horrible advice.
My friends give me horrible advice. So do magazines. And TV shows. It’s confusing and I don’t know what to think.
25. You can make a difference.
I love you. I’m not sure if you can love me still, but I’m hoping that you’ll try. I need you to tell me that I am strong, because I’m being told that I am weak. I need you to tell me that I am beautiful, because I am being told that I am ugly. I need you to tell me that I have a choice, because I feel trapped and helpless. I need you to never, ever, ever give up on me. I need you to tell me that this is temporary and it will get better, because it feel never-ending.
“I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. All these things: sorrow, misfortune, and suffering, are outside my door. I am inside the house, and I have the key.” - Charles Fletcher Lummis
- Speak. Shame feeds on silence. Talking about that abuse might seem like the last thing you want to do, but speaking out about what happened to you and letting other people in takes away the power of the depression and the shame and gives that power back to you. Don’t know who to talk to? Confide in a parent or a friend, a coach, a guidance counselor, a brother or sister, a cousin, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, a minister, priest or rabbi. Or, call a hotline, for example: The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, a national 24-hour resource, can be accessed by phone (1-866-331-9474 & 1-866-331-8453 TTY) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) Or, visit www.loveisrespect.org to access an online help page.
- Find a therapist or a support group. Talking to a professional or joining an organized survivor group can be pivotal for some victims. It can help you to understand that what happened to you is not your fault, and that the things you are struggling with are often normal symptoms of abuse. It is important to find a therapist or group that you feel comfortable with. There are lots of great therapists out there and they can do wonders in your life if you are brave enough to put in the work. Psychology Today has a great source to help find therapists in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/. Other good resource centers can be found at facilities specialized in dealing with relationship violence.
- Write. If you cannot speak out loud, write. Write about all the things that are not fair. About all the things you wish you could change. About all the things no one ever told you. All the things you would say to your abuser right now. All the things you would say to the person you used to be. All the things you are afraid of. Write about your nightmares. Your memories. What still haunts you. Write about how you can make a difference. What you can do to help someone else. Write down what you want in a relationship. What is important to you. What you would like your future partner to be like. Write about nonsense. Write every curse word you can think of. Write about forgiveness. Write about revenge. Write about hate. About all the feelings of hate. And then write about love. About what gives you hope. About what you are thankful for. About the reasons why you are blessed. Write poems. Write songs. Write gibberish. Write a book. A Blog. A sentence. If you want, share the writing with the world. If not, keep it in a private journal, or throw it away, but get the words out from inside of you.
- Find a healthy escape. Play a sport. Take up running. Lifting. Train for a triathlon. Learn to play an instrument. Join a band. Blast music in your car and sing along at the top of your lungs. Take a dance class. Write a book. Act in a play. Find something to take your mind off of what you have been through and allow yourself a break.
- Practice yoga and meditation both of which are proven to lower stress and anxiety. They can also help you to learn how to control your negative thoughts.
- Scream. Cry. Act ridiculous. Go to a private place if you have to and let yourself fall apart for a little while. You work so hard to hold it all together, but sometimes you need to let yourself feel the pain so that you can get it out. Sometimes hearing the sound you make (even screaming) helps you to remember that you have a voice.
- Be your own best friend. Has someone ever left you an encouraging note or called just to tell you that you are amazing and they are proud of you? Little things can brighten your day. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Be good to yourself. Instead of sending negative messages in the way you talk and think about yourself, start being your own biggest cheerleader. Even if it feels manufactured at first, you need to be on your own side in order to get through the worst parts of recovery.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to admit that you are struggling. Sometimes victims think that they have to do everything on their own. They have to keep up the appearance of being perfect in order for people to like them, or to try to prove to themselves that they are “worth it.” You don’t have to do this on your own. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are struggling or having a bad day. There are people who can help you, or at least just sit with you when you are upset. If no one knows what is going on, then you miss out on the support that is around you.
- Join a support group or go to a recovery workshop. It can be intimidating to join a group or attend a workshop, but victims often find these resources incredibly helpful. Being around other victims can be incredibly therapeutic simply because you are in a place where other people understand–to a certain extent–what you have been through and are going through. Search for resource centers in your area, or talk with a therapist to see if he or she has any recommendations.
- Make peace with a higher power. Believing in God can be helpful in many ways during the recovery process. Give up your pain to Him/Her. Sometimes just trusting that God wants you to live an extraordinary life, and that He/She is there with you in your darkest moments and will bring you through, helps take some of the pressure away off of you. If you don’t believe in God, trust in whatever higher power you believe in and know that you are connected to this world and to everyone in it. You may feel alone, but you are not isolated. Feeling connected to the universe can help you recover from what you have been through and let go of some of your pain.
- Take care of yourself. Workout. Follow healthy eating habits. Get a good night’s sleep, take a shower and put on clothes that make you feel good about yourself. Taking time for yourself is incredibly important and it is something that victims often neglect. When you have negative feelings inside, feelings such as shame, self-doubt, anger and sadness, it can be hard to do things for yourself. If you are having a hard time trying to tackle the big problems in your life, start with the little ones. Get a new haircut, allow yourself to look nice and try let go of the things that you can’t change about your appearance. Celebrate what makes you special and allow yourself to be the beautiful person that you are.
The fact that someone abused me was not my fault. This is a reality that even on a good day I have to talk myself into; a reality that has taken me years to begin to accept. Years of fighting with myself and repeating the words over and over and over again. It was not my fault. It was not my fault. Years of listening to a string of therapists remind me again and again. Years of going over each event in my mind, analyzing it from every angle, replaying the hands gripping my wrists and wondering if maybe I could have twisted my body differently, could have screamed louder or tried a different collection of words that might have prevented it all from happening the way that it did.
Why didn’t you fight back harder? Why didn’t you yell? Why did you let him hurt you? Why did you stay? Why did you date someone like that? Why did you get yourself into that situation? Maybe you have a bad judge of character? Maybe you deserved what happened to you. Maybe he wouldn’t have acted like that if you weren’t for the way that you are. Maybe you made him crazy. Maybe you are over exaggerating. Over reacting. Overly picky. Too weak. Too quiet. Too soft. Too hard to please. Maybe it was your fault.
In the circumstance of domestic violence, self-blame is, in many ways, a natural response for a victim—the product of being hurt by someone you trust and love, and then being told that it is your fault again and again. For me personally, taking responsibility for what happened to me was my way of maintaining a sense of control and balance. It was somehow easier to accept that I was abused because I was a bad person, there was something wrong with me and I somehow deserved it, than it was to accept that sometimes terrible things happen in life that we have no control over.
It is shocking to me now, looking back over the years and watching the messages blur all around me, coming not only internally but externally as well. I remember people asking me these same questions. I can still hear my friends call my ex ‘crazy’ over and over as they saw him hiding behind the bleachers at our hockey practice, but then in a closed conversation late at night under the blanket of a sleepover they would get the courage to question whether maybe I encouraged his behavior, and if maybe I felt lucky sometimes to have someone that loved me so much.
And then recently, someone close to me questioned the “type of person I must be to have had a past like I do.”
Am I too trusting? Do I get myself into bad situations? Do I put myself at risk? I head a voice inside me chime in.
“Maybe,” this person said, “maybe you aren’t the best judge of character….Maybe, you are a liability.”
The result is traumatizing. A few years ago, a comment like this would have devastated me for a long time. My answer would have been yes. Yes, I am a bad person and what happened to me is a reflection of that simple fact. Yes, I should never have trusted or loved…I watch as everything falls in line: my abuser told me that it was my fault, I told myself that it was my fault, and my friends and people outside of the situation questioned whether it was my fault. So, yes, it seems like an easy question to answer: it must have been my fault.
Today, I know so much more than I did when I was fifteen. If I could go back, would I do things differently having this knowledge? Absolutely. Would I have been able to prevent it all from happening? Maybe parts of it, yes. But could I have changed his actions? No.
If I had known what my ex was going to be like, I never would have dated him. If I had known I had help available, I would have tried to use it.
But the reality is, I didn’t know what I now know about abusive relationships. I didn’t know the red flags, the warning signs, the definition of stalking or harassment or assault. I didn’t know that a person I knew for a long time could change into a complete stranger.
As I have gone through the recovery process, I have begun to realize and to accept that what happened to me was not my fault. I did not get myself into a bad situation, I got myself out. I didn’t fall in love with someone risky who I knew would hurt me, I fell in love with my best friend- someone I loved and my family loved and I thought that I could trust. I didn’t cause him to go crazy, I found a way to survive when it turned out that he had deep-rooted psychological problems. I wasn’t hurt because I was a bad person and I deserved it, I was hurt because someone else made poor decisions and intentionally tried to hurt me. I made the best decisions I could with the knowledge I had at the time, and unfortunately I was exposed to someone who’s unhealthy decisions led to devastating consequences in my life.
Think About This:
When I was eight years old, my grandmother was attacked while stopped at a red light as she was driving to the store. A man in black clothing forced her door open and dragged her from her car, leaving her on the side of the road as he stole her vehicle. Did people ask her why she didn’t fight harder against the man that attacked her? Did they question what kind of person she was that allowed her to be taken advantage of? Did they ask her if she had a problem of putting herself in bad situations? No. They told her that they were happy that she was alive and that they were sorry for what someone did to her and he deserved to be punished.
So why is it so different for things like domestic violence and sexual assault?
It’s not. And to anyone who has ever been a victim, keep remembering this. It isn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault. It will never be your fault. I am so sorry for the bad decisions someone else made, and the trauma is has caused you, but the reason for the abuse had nothing to do with you. The reason for the abuse was the abuser.
During a soccer game when I was thirteen years old, I stole the ball from a defender on the other team and found myself on a fast break toward the goal. I can still remember the rush of excitement through my entire body, my legs pounding down the field as I told myself that no one could stop me, I was going to score. Then suddenly, a defender slid into me from behind, completely missing the ball but sweeping my legs out from under me. I fell backwards, landing directly on my back as the wind was knocked out of me.
The defender was given a red card, dismissing her from the game. After a moment I caught my breath, stood up, and took the penalty kick, scoring a goal for my team. I played the rest of the game, somehow uninjured by the nasty tackle.
The next morning, however, as I picked up my backpack and took a step up to climb on my school bus, I felt a pop in my back followed by a pain so sharp it was like someone had literally stabbed me with a knife.
The pain was so severe that I couldn’t go to school that day. My mother took me to the doctor, where I found out that two of my vertebrae had been knocked out-of-place, causing my hips to fall out of line and the muscles surrounding the trauma to spasm and tighten, locking my left leg two inches lower than my right and leaving my body in a crooked mess.
I didn’t understand. I had gotten up and played a soccer game after being knocked down, but I crumpled to the ground in agony while trying to take a normal step?
The doctor told me that the injury happened before the pain started, informing me that sometimes after a trauma occurs everything can seem fine, and then, while doing a seemingly normal or routine thing like bending to pick something up or walking up a stair the injury can suddenly be set off.
So, what does this injury story have to do with surviving abuse? Everything.
One moment I was at the top of the world, and the next I was blindsided by a blow that left me flat on my back trying to catch my breath.
Like most victims, I somehow got through the initial trauma. I stood up again and I went on with my life as if I was fine. And then, out of nowhere, everything caught up to me and my world came crashing down. The depression sank in. The anxiety. The hatred. The feelings of being unworthy and unlovable.
I did not understand any of it. I had survived, hadn’t I? I had succeeded despite everything, hadn’t I? I had kept it all together through the worst moments—when there were weapons in my face….when I was scared for my life….when I thought I might die before the sun came up again— and yet, here I was, falling apart because I lost my gym ID; furious that my new boyfriend had decided he loved me; panic-stricken at 4am from a bad dream.
What I have learned about abuse is that at its core, it is like any other serious injury. The sad part is that the internal damage often prevents us from seeing it as such.
1. What happened to you is NOT your fault. You did not cause it. It didn’t happen because you are weak or stupid or because something about you is flawed. When the defender tackled me during my soccer game, I never blamed myself for being injured. I knew that what she had done was wrong. I might have struggled with the unfairness of being hurt, but never once did I think, why did I let this happen to me?
As a victim of abuse, however, I was conditioned to believe that what happened to me was my fault. There was something wrong with me. I somehow deserved what happened, or was responsible for it in some way. I felt as if the abuse was somehow a reflection of me. I was ashamed and I tried to downplay the things that happened or keep them a secret.
Throughout the recovery process, it is important to keep reminding yourself that the abuse was something that happened to you. It was not your fault and it is not a reflection of you as a person.
2. Nothing is permanent. Pain is temporary–you will heal. There were days when I felt like I would never be ok again, and the little things I had taken for granted before the injury seemed so far away. I was mad that I couldn’t run. Frustrated that I was forced to lay still, but day by day I started to feel better.
After the abuse I struggled with the same feelings. If I let my mind wander, I become overwhelmed with fear that I might never be ok again. The pain was so strong that it was hard to see any sign of an end to it all. It was important for me to remember that nothing lasts forever. Everything is temporary. Pain will lessen. Time will heal. You can find happiness again.
3. Like any trauma, recovering from abuse takes time. After my back injury, it took several days before I was able to walk around again, and several weeks before I started feeling normal. I met with a physical therapist almost every day who helped realign my back and begin to strengthen the muscles around the damage. If I tried to rush through the recovery process, I put myself at a high risk of re-injuring myself and ultimately making the process longer. As hard as it was, I continued to do my exercises, ice and stretch and give myself time to heal. Slowly, I got better. Some days the pain was worse, and I adjusted. I listened to my body and I rested. As time went on, the pain got less and less, and I kept moving forward after each setback.
As you are recovering from abuse it is important to understand that the process can take time, and you should allow yourself the time you need to heal. For some people, this might mean waiting to begin another relationship. For others, it is accepting that there will be bad days, even years later. Instead of getting angry with yourself or thinking that you ‘should be over it by now,’ understand that recovery is a process. The best that you can do is to be good to yourself. There will be good days and bad days, ups and downs, but gradually, piece by piece, you will recover and the internal wounds will heal.
4. Setbacks happen. At first, it was difficult for my physical therapist to get my back realigned. Each time he was able to manipulate it into place, it wasn’t long before it slipped back out-of-place again. Gradually, the manipulations became easier. As I strengthened the muscles in my lower back they began to hold the discs in place for longer periods of time, until everything was healed. Since that time, my back has gone out again. Sometimes it happens after I overdo it, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere, but each time, I make adjustments, rest and give myself time to heal, and before I know it I’m better.
Same is true as I recover from abuse. I might do well for a while, but then I have a bad dream, or I start to get down on myself, or begin a new relationship, and I slip back into the depression and the fear. Each time, I have to realign my negative thoughts and feelings and give myself time to heal, reminding myself that setbacks are part of the process and I will get past this one just as I have gotten past setbacks in the past. Nothing has ever been as bad as the first time because I know what I need to do to get it back in place. I also know that things are going to get better.
5. Sometimes the pain gets worse before it can get better. When my physical therapist adjusted my back, stretched out my muscles and massaged the places that were especially tight, it was painful. So painful that I often had to bury my face and squeeze the edge of the manipulating table to keep myself from screaming. If someone would have given me a choice, or told me ahead of time the level of pain I was going to have to endure, I would have been tempted to say ‘screw this! This hurts too much, I will just learn to live with my back the way it is.’
In the end though, I knew that I wanted to run again. I wanted to play soccer again. Staying the way that I was and learning to live with the pain instead of being opened up to even more pain so that I could heal, meant that I would have to sacrifice what I wanted most. So, instead of remaining where I was, I told myself that the injury was going to heal and I was going to play again. I told myself that I was strong and that I could handle the therapy because in the end it would be worth it when I was back on the field with a ball at my feet.
As a survivor of abuse, it can be tempting to try to stay where we are. As bad as we sometimes feel, the thought of opening ourselves up again seems overwhelming. Talking about the trauma is like massaging the tight muscles. Sometimes it hurts like hell, but it helps the tension release and it allows us to heal. Pushing ourselves to trust people again, even though we know it puts us at risk, is like stretching out the muscles. It takes time to loosen them up, but in the end, it too releases the tension and the fear and allows us to heal.
I knew that I wanted to fall in love again. To meet a great guy and to have a healthy and loving relationship, just like I wanted to run again and to play soccer. Sometimes we have to keep focusing on the long-term goal, trusting that if we give ourselves time to heal, and to work through the trauma, it will be worth any pain or discomfort it in the end.
6. The muscles you strengthen are the ones that get stronger. As I worked to strengthen the muscles in my lower back and core, it was vital that I strengthened the muscles when my back was in place. If I performed my strengthening exercises while my back was out of line, the muscles that got stronger were the ones that held it out-of-place. I might have been getting stronger, but I was actually doing more damage in the long run. Instead, I had to make sure that my back was properly aligned before doing my strengthening exercises. Sometimes, this felt uncomfortable or unnatural because of the damage that had been done, but it became easier as the muscles strengthened and held the discs in place.
As a survivor, this is important to remember. The muscles that you exercise are the ones that get stronger. If the messages that you send yourself are constantly degrading and negative, ‘I can’t do this. I am stupid. There is something wrong with me. I am unlovable.’ then the fear, and the depression, and the anxiety grow stronger and stronger. However, if the messages you send yourself are positive, ‘I’m going to get through this. I’m more than what has happened to me. Setbacks happen and I’m going to give myself time to heal. I am an amazing, strong, beautiful person and I have so much to offer the world.” then you become stronger and more confident. Even if it feels manufactured at the time, repeating positive affirmations strengthens the positive voice and over time it becomes more natural.
7. Injuries are not fair, but they are part of the game. I was frustrated after my injury. Why did this happen to me? I ended up missing a big game. I had to sit on the sidelines in pain while my teammates ran around and played. As much pain as I was in physically, it made me things even worse to watch everyone else play because it didn’t seem fair. Had I been injured because I was a bad athlete? Was it because I was weaker than my teammates or because I had somehow made myself more vulnerable? Did I get hurt because I was a bad person and there was something seriously wrong with me? No. It was just part of the game. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and another player fouled me.
The same is true with abuse. What happened to me was not fair. As a victim, it is natural to wonder why things happened the way they did. Was I abused because I was a bad person? Was it because I was weak or because I made myself vulnerable? Was there something fundamentally wrong with me that meant that I deserved what happened to me? No. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and someone made decisions that hurt me.
There’s no way to be a competitive athlete and eliminate the risk of getting hurt. It’s part of the game. Injuries come in varying degree, they happen to professionals and amateurs alike, and usually there is nothing we can do to stop them.We can lift weights to strengthen our muscles, stretch out and warm up to prevent pulling a muscle and we can learn to how to protect ourselves from hard tackles, but still, sometimes we get injured. The same thing goes for relationships. We can look for warning signs and red flags when we begin a relationship, we can practice standing up for ourselves and we can speak our mind and be strong-willed and loving and independent, but still, sometimes we get hurt. If we take ourselves out of the game, we might lessen our risk, but we lose the chance to feel the thrill of scoring goals or falling in love. In love and in sport we have to find a balance between doing what we can to prevent injury or abuse without missing out on the what we want and deserve in life. A chance to be and to have something great.
Here are some signs that might indicate that you are dating a psychopath.
1. You feel like you are going crazy. Psycho’s are masters of manipulation. They turn everything around. They will make you feel like you are the one that is going crazy instead of them. You might become paranoid. You might worry about what you wear and what you say and freak out if someone changes your plans or something unexpected happens that you will have to explain later. If you are a peaceful person, you might find yourself constantly fighting. You might explode when you get too frustrated. You feel like there is something seriously wrong with you.
2. You feel like you are walking on eggshells. You’re not quite sure what will set them off, but you are afraid that something you do is going to make them lose their temper… Bump into an old boyfriend at the mall? Get a job offer in another state? Agree to babysit for your sister? You might be terrified of what your partner will say or do if you tell them.
3. You feel like you are dating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It seems like your partner is two completely different people. Like flipping a switch, he can change drastically from one extreme to the next. One day, he is caring and loving and wonderful, and the next he is hateful and raging and mean. He used to put you up on a pedestal…and now all he does is try to tear you down.
4. You feel like you have no voice. You are afraid to talk, or when you do talk you feel like you are never heard, your words are taken out of context, misunderstood, or blatantly ignored. From little things to big things, you feel like your partner never listens. You might want to go to the movies–your partner will make sure you go out to dinner instead. You might think that the Bears are the best football team–your partner will convince you that you are stupid for thinking so because they suck. You might say that you aren’t comfortable staying overnight together–your partner does so anyway. You might try to talk about how you are feeling–your partner turns everything around and tries to talk about everything you’re doing wrong.
5. Your partner has no remorse. He or she might get upset–especially if you try to break up with them or say that you are leaving–however, there is no underlying remorse for hurting you. Even when they hurt you, they make you feel bad for the pain it has caused them.
6. Your partner has no guilt. He or she might say that they are sorry if they hurt you (hit you, scream at you, cheat on you…etc.) and promise that it will never happen again, but their apology is more manipulative than sincere. They often don’t actually feel guilty about what they have done, only that they were caught.
7. Your partner is a world-class liar. They lie about what they do. Who they talk to. Where they were. They lie about things they don’t need to lie about. They can look you in the eye and lie. They can swear on their life that they are not lying. If they get caught, they change their story.
8. Your partner is a chameleon. He or she acts one way when they are around you, but completely different around your parents, and completely different around their friends. In the beginning of a relationship they might seem like everything you ever wanted….usually this is because they are trying to act like everything you ever wanted. They change to fit whatever group they are in.
9. You feel isolated and alone. Your partner finds faults with your friends or makes you feel bad or uncomfortable about any time you spend with other people. Slowly, you lose your friends until you feel like your partner is the only person you have left. You have no support group and therefore your partner gains more power.
10. You feel like you are on a roller coaster. Your partner cycles from mean and vicious to sweet and loving, then back again. Over and over. Up and down. Back and forth. Each time he hurts you, he apologizes and promises that it will never happen again or that he will change. You want to believe that this is possible, but the cycle keeps repeating and each time your self-esteem is chipped away at, bit by bit.
11. You have no confidence or self-esteem. Your partner knows your weaknesses and he goes after your most vulnerable parts, hurting you where he knows it will do the most damage. You feel bad about yourself. You feel ashamed, lost, alone, confused, numb, afraid, crazy, stupid, ugly, fat, worthless, embarrassed, unloveable, wrong.
12. Your partner tortures animals, is mean to children, or nasty to waitresses. He might hit or kick your dog whenever he comes over. He might set traps for squirrels or rabbits and then torture them. He or she might be mean to people they think are “below them” or people who are defenseless, like babies or children. A healthy person is consistent in the way they treat people, regardless of their status.
13. Your partner has a bad reputation or a tradition of “messy relationships”. He or she might even brag about the fact that they have left a trail of tears behind them. They might talk about cheating on an old partner, or be proud of their reputation. They might speak badly about a previous partner, claiming that their previous partner was crazy, or a bitch, or an asshole. Other people might warn you about dating your partner–if they have a track record of abuse, most likely it is only a matter of time until they abuse you.
14. Your friends and family wish that you would break up. You might get mad at people for trying to convince you to break up with your partner, or make excuses for your partner because you are convinced that you are the only one that understands him or her. Your partner will play into this, claiming that other people are just jealous of what you have or are just trying to bring you two down.
15. Your partner has a sense of entitlement. He or she feels entitled to act the way that they do. For example, if someone hurts them, they feel they have a right to retaliate. If a teacher fails them, or a coworker says something bad about them, they feel entitled to revenge. Or, if they do something nice for you, they feel entitled to a reward, and if you don’t do what they want, they are entitled to punish you.
16. Your partner embarrasses you in front of other people or talks badly behind your back. He or she might spread nasty rumors about you. They might talk to other people about how bad they have it and how hard it is to date someone like you. They might call you fat in front of your friends, or make fun of your clothes. They might lose their temper in the middle of a restaurant because they think you are flirting with the waiter. They might bring up personal issues at inappropriate times.
17. One and one never add up to two. You’re not always sure what the problem is, but things never add up. Nothing seems right. You never feel like you know the whole story. You don’t understand what went wrong, or why your partner acts the way they do or what you can do to make things better. If you follow what they say, things still don’t get better. If you work hard to fix one thing, they will find something else that is wrong. Even if you were perfect, your partner would make you out to be completely messed up. If he or she does something that is clearly wrong, they will find a way to turn it back around on you. If they hit you, they will make you feel like it was because of something you did wrong. If they cheat on you, they will blame it on something you couldn’t provide them. If you catch them lying, they change their story….You start to feel like you are playing a game to which there are no rules and there is no way out.
18. Your partner has to know where you are and what you are doing at all times. Miss a phone call from your partner? They will accuse you of cheating. Talk to a member of the opposite sex, they interrogate you about it. Come home an hour later than usual? You better be ready to explain where you were and what you were doing and why you were doing it. He or she might spy on you, check the messages on your phone, talk to your friends without you knowing, have people “check up” on you, hack into your email account or Facebook to see who you are talking to. They might tell you you are not allowed to hang out with a certain person anymore, or wear a certain shirt, or go to a certain restaurant. Of course, your partner is allowed to do whatever he or she wants and you are not allowed to question them, but they will control everything you do.
19. You feel sorry for your partner. Because they have a depressing family life, come from a broken home, had parents that didn’t love them right, are in debt, can’t hold a job, have a disease, a psychotic ex, a broken heart, low self-esteem….whatever their story is, they will make you feel sympathy for it. A lot of times, these stories are sad. They are heartbreaking. But they make you feel like you have to stay with them no matter how they treat you, or that they can’t help the way that they act. As real as they might be, and as sad as they might be, they are a trap that keeps you stuck. You can’t control what happened to them, and you can’t solve it for them.
20. Your partner is the life of the party. They are charismatic. Charming. A smooth talker. They always have the a comeback, or a joke. They can be funny, easy-going, exciting, attractive. They can also be magnetic. You feel a pull to them, and they make you feel special. Eventually, this might turn into arrogance. They act as if they are the smartest, hottest, richest or most successful person and everyone knows it. They will even tell you this if they get the chance.
21. Nothing is ever your partner’s fault. He or she can’t take responsibility for anything. They always have an excuse or a story or someone to blame: someone caused them to act the way that they did. You did something wrong first to make them explode. The police have always been out to get them even though they never do anything wrong. Teachers and bosses are trying to make things hard for them on purpose. No matter what they do, or have done, nothing is ever their fault.
•He tends to stay cool and collected during arguments as a weapon to push his partner over the edge.
•Uses tools like sarcasm, mockery, even resorting to laughing at her or what she says or making cruel, cutting remarks
•Relentless in his quiet derision and meanness
This type of abuse can be incredibly damaging and can do serious harm to your personal mentality. You feel like you are going crazy or that you are enraged but have no idea really why. You have a hard time reaching out to other people because you don’t even know how to explain what is going on. He seems to know exactly how to get under your skin, and he can even make other people take his side in believing that you are the crazy one and that he just somehow puts up with you.
It can take years to figure out what is happening, if you are a victim of this type of abuse, and if you finally leave him, you may experience intense periods of delayed rage as you realize just how abusive and destructive he was.
Abusers tend to blame their abusive behavior on “love.” When I was a victim, I remember people telling me that I was “lucky to have someone who loved me so much.” Granted, the people saying this did not know the whole entire story, but as a victim this message is confusing and damaging. Abuse is NOT Romantic. It is NOT love. It is abuse. It hurts. It destroys lives. This is why I am launching the “ABUSE IS NOT ROMANTIC!” campaign. Read what some other victims have to say. Add your own examples in the comment section, or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) send me a message on facebook or twitter to have your examples written out like the ones below.
I Thought You Said The Bad Guys Were Strangers Dressed Up In Dark Clothes?
When I was fourteen, I knew what the bad guys looked like. They were the ones in dark clothing, hanging outside gas stations at night or waiting in the woods behind my house for me to go for a run by myself. They had tattoos. They held a cigarette between yellow, rotting teeth. And every once in a while, they cleaned themselves up, put on nice clothes, and pretended to be an overly friendly stranger that tried to tempt kids like me with candy or ice cream or a ride in their windowless van.
I knew what they looked like because I paid attention during my sixth grade safety assembly. I watched as the characters, similar to the one described above, performed a skit in the middle of a circle of desks in my classroom. I watched as the bad guys tried to capture an adult woman dressed as a little girl and convince her to do drugs. I watched her save herself by running back to her friends.
And I believed what I was told because it was the same version of the world I saw just about everywhere else. The classic villain, drawn with harsh accent and dark colors, and named things like Scar, Professor Snape, Cruela Du Vill; names that literally identified a character as evil. They were obvious, even to a four-year old, no matter how clever their disguise. They were scary, and strong, and sneaky…..but I was prepared for them.