“Maybe I needed to hear it wasn’t my fault as many times as he had told me it was my fault. Maybe I needed to hear it even more times than that, but after hearing it over and over again like a broken record, I started to believe it.”
Throughout my marriage and since my divorce, I have been plagued with at times, unbearable shame. There was the typical shame that surfaces as a result of experiences like this: Why did I stay? I should have known better. How did I let this happen? What did I do to bring this on? When you realize you are in an abusive relationship, the weight of this shame is so heavy it is paralyzing. I couldn’t breathe. I was being suffocated by my own inner turmoil. I asked myself these questions on a daily basis. Imagine feeling so broken inside by these thoughts that the idea of sharing your story with someone else is terrifying. Then, when you finally feel the courage to tell someone, these same questions are asked again – out loud – by someone you felt safe with. The human mind is always trying to make sense of things. These questions are humanity’s attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. I get it. I do. Yet these questions only push us further into our inner darkness.
My identity is in pieces. My perception of the world is grossly distorted. Not only was I already blaming myself for what happened, but now others are (maybe) unintentionally confirming my fear that it was my fault. We retreat. We hide from the world outside our house and from the reflection we see in the mirror. What we need more than anything is for someone to reach out for our hand, pull us to our feet and say, “I’m here. I will hold your hand until we walk out of the darkness together and into the light.” It doesn’t matter if we think the darkness will last for hundreds of miles. What matters is the warmth we feel from their supportive body. What matters is feeling love during a time we feel disgusting, dejected, and unloveable.
It took me a long time to overcome this layer of shame. I was lucky enough to be told over and over again by multiple people that it wasn’t my fault. That he made those decisions. That he was capable of making other decisions but chose not to. Maybe I needed to hear it wasn’t my fault as many times as he had told me it was my fault. Maybe I needed to hear it even more times than that, but after hearing it over and over again like a broken record, I started to believe it. I was able to free myself from my shame and stand firmly in who I was. I was able to realize he was so gifted in his psychological abuse that I didn’t even realize I was being psychologically abused. Nothing I said or did justifies putting bruises all over my body.
Hidden deeper, however, another layer of shame reared its ugly head: the shame that in the marriage, I became someone who was no better than he was. To find out more, please read “Forgive Yourself for What You Needed to do to Survive.”
Photo: Flickr – John Castillo