All abusive relationships start with compromise.
My experience of listening to the story of hundreds and hundreds of abused women suggests three levels of compromise:
- Dislike at first sight. I’ve yet to come across one abused woman whose initial reaction to her future partner was not a resounding: “Yuck!”
- Accepting, and overlooking distasteful and/or troubling behaviours – including leering at other women, emotional bullying, threats, addictions, etc.
- Settling for less.
Now the notion of settling for less needs some expansion. There is a notion around that, especially if you have reached 30, or so, your ‘biological clock is ticking’ and you should be prepared to settle for Mr Good Enough.
I don’t buy that one, at all. As you know to your cost, it is a dangerous notion, indeed. Abused women are pitifully bad at identifying Mr Good Enough, or even Mr Half-way Good, correctly.
Too many women end up in abusive relationships because their internal dialogue goes something like this:
“Well, you might as well face it, you’re not so hot. You can’t expect anyone really fabulous to come along, so you might as well make do with this guy. He’s the best you can hope for. Especially as being with him gives you an opportunity to stand in his shadow and hide your inadequacies behind him.”
The bottom line for women who end up in an abusive relationship is that they don’t know how they want to be loved.
They don’t know how they want to be loved, because they had no experience in their formative years of being truly loved, and accepted unconditionally.
They had no experience of being good enough, just as they were, just because…
You would be more inclined to put up with an abusive, critical partner, would you not, if experience had taught you that you never had been and never were going to be good enough?
Part of the healing process for abused women is learning to love themselves.
When you think about it – which you probably don’t very much – loving yourself costs nothing, and harms nobody.
When you are constantly striving to give love without receiving love, you are running on empty; and that, inevitably, harms you. When you can love yourself, giving and receiving love become much, much easier, because your love tank is always being replenished.
Still, making the shift, from the self-loathing that has been programmed into you by an abusive partner, to self-love, is not easy. This is why it is so important for abused women to start to focus on the good feelings they get from other people, rather than on the bad feelings an abusive man foists on them.
Some women who leave an abusive relationship are in a rush to dive into the next relationship. Others don’t even want to contemplate another relationship ever again.
I’ve no doubt that taking the time to be relationship-free long enough to heal and learn to truly love themselves is the best thing that abused women can possibly do.
But still, it is really useful to ask yourself: “How do I want to be loved?”
Especially if you don’t have any clear answer.
Because, envisioning how you want to be loved, will help you to discover what is valuable and lovable about you. In order to have a vision of how you want to be loved, you have to enter into a more loving dialogue with yourself. You have to move from the self-loathing dialogue to a more constructive way of relating to yourself.
So here’s a clue: how you want to be loved is actually the way that you want to be treated. It’s something you need to be very, very specific about. Settling for less is extremely dangerous; you’ve already tried it, you know how much it has cost you.
The way you want to be treated is not about your financial circumstances; it’s not about being showered with expensive gifts, or any of the public trappings of a relationship. What it is about is the dynamics of your relationship.
If you want to feel loved, what specific behaviours will show you that you are loved?
If you want to feel respected, how will your partner’s behaviour towards you show you that you are respected?
If you want to feel valued, what will your partner have to say, and do, to show you that you are valued?
If you want to feel treated as an equal, how will you know that he treats you as an equal?
If you want to feel cherished, how will your partner’s behaviour show you that you are cherished?
How good will it feel to have someone in your life who really, really cares about your feelings?
So now for the killer question:
Why would you imagine that anybody else is going to do for you what you are not prepared to do for yourself?
Every small step you take towards loving yourself brings that feeling of being loved and lovable that much closer.
Neither you, nor I, can know if, or when you will have another partner in your life. Right now, it doesn’t even matter.
But you can start feeling loved and lovable right now; plenty of people in your life will be willing to reflect that message back to you, just as soon as you start to feel it for yourself.
Even if you can only feel it for yourself for 30 seconds at a time, that is a useful start.
Try it, and you will see.