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Originally published March 30, 2016
Content Warning: abuse (verbal, emotional), self-esteem, shame
Once upon a time, I was in an incredibly unhealthy (abusive) relationship. As most of these types of relationships go, mine lasted far too long. Recognizing verbal and emotional abuse isn’t always easy, especially when it comes from someone you love, and leaving once you’ve recognized the abuse, that’s a whole other story.
When simplified, I’ve noticed that there are five stages to abusive relationships: First, the relationship starts. Second, the abuse begins. Third, the abuse is recognized. Fourth, you leave the abuse. And fifth, healing begins.
For me, one of the biggest parts of healing from an abusive relationship was forgiveness.
Healing involves many things and healing from emotional and verbal abuse takes time. There is the aftershock, the doubt, regaining trust, and reestablishing a sense of self-worth, just to name a few.
However, one thing often overlooked is forgiveness.
I’m not going to talk much about forgiving the other person because I did that in my previous video, which you can watch here:
Instead, I’m going to talk about forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving yourself is key to healing from relationship abuse.
It’s important I clarify here that by “self-forgiveness” I don’t in any way mean by being in an abusive relationship you somehow did something “wrong” and require forgiveness for it. Instead, what I mean is if you are like me, you beat yourself up…a lot…and usually for things that aren’t your fault.
After the initial “healing,” after the desire to go back had dissipated, after the fear was gone, and after I’d forgiven him, one thing still remained: I hadn’t forgiven myself for staying.
Mostly it was my own shame speaking.
I was angry at myself for staying. Frustrated that I hadn’t known any better, angry I hadn’t seen it coming. I was turning in against myself because there was no one else around to blame.
I was ashamed for my lack of wisdom and my continuing desire to return. I was ashamed for not knowing any better and then, once I knew, not wanting any better.
I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t move on. I was stuck.
Forgiving yourself for staying in an abusive relationship is about letting go of shame.
This is easier said than done. When someone has hurt us, it is natural to get angry, but when we don’t run away from the hurt, we tend to turn the blame in on ourselves.
The truth is, yes, it was my responsibility to leave; leaving was and is the right thing to do. However, there are a million understandable reasons for why I stayed: I was afraid of being alone, I was afraid of what he’d think, I was afraid everyone else was right, I was afraid of being wrong. But mostly, I was “accepting the love I thought I deserved” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
I shouldn’t have stayed, but I did.
The important thing is never how long you stay in an abusive relationship; it’s that you leave in the end.
The sooner the better, of course, but things aren’t always that easy.
I stayed, but that is forgivable. I am an imperfect being. What matters is that I eventually opened my eyes, I grew stronger, I walked away. And I will never go back.
The truth is, I’m not sure I could say sitting here today that I’ve fully forgiven myself.
There is still anger, there is still shame. All these things will hold me back from letting go. These are chains that will forever bind me until I am able to be at peace–not just with him or fate or god–but with myself.
This is something I am working on.
I think, like all things it takes a little time, but the first step needs to be made.
If you are in a place at all similar to me, I want you to know something:
You have worth. No matter what they said or did, or didn’t say or didn’t do, it does not dictate who you are.
Most importantly, I want you to know it’s okay that you stayed. You are only human.
What matters isn’t where you are or where you were; what matters is where you are going. Are you moving towards freedom?
Lauren is the Founder of Libero Magazine. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now, Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate for mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, playing cozy video games, and taking selfies with her 65lb goldendoodle, Zoey.
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