I have been the victim of verbal and emotional abuse most of my life.
I went from being a carefree, happy child to one without confidence or self-esteem. It started around middle school.
Since then, she’d tell me how awful, unattractive, terrible, unworthy and stupid I was.
She would tell me that I wasn’t doing enough, that I needed to work harder to take care of others instead of being so selfish.
She laughed at me when I told her I was exhausted or stressed, and that my responsibilities were more important than my rest or exercise. That I shouldn’t do the things I needed to do for myself because others and other things were more important.
When I wanted to buy something, she sneered and said it was a waste of money and the things I liked were unimportant. She said I shouldn’t ask for these things because I wasn’t worth the money.
If I was unhappy or my body was feeling the consequences of neglect, she ignored me and told me how I felt was irrelevant. I learned that sharing my feelings was a waste of time: no one cared.
This treatment had been going on for so long that I never realized it was wrong and that I should stand up for myself. I took the abuse without complaint. Worse, I believed it.
One day, I realized I was worthy and lovable even though I was flawed, and that I didn’t deserve this treatment. That no one deserves this treatment. That my flaws did not make me a bad person, they made me human. I grew a spine, and decided to finally put an end to it.
So I looked in the mirror and said, “I forgive you.”
I never allowed myself to speak that way to myself again.
Now, I am doing the opposite. I’m being the lover and caregiver for me that I need me to be.
I remind myself that I am deserving and lovable, then celebrate my good qualities. I take time to really feel and savor that appreciation, I don’t just say it to myself quickly in my head. The areas that need improvement are growth opportunities that I embrace, not criticize. I believe that growth is part of the human journey and that I will never arrive at my destination. And that is how it is meant to be.
It’s still hard, but I try to spend a little money without guilt on things that give me great pleasure .
I take the time and effort to listen to the soft, wise voice that hides behind my thoughts. Quiet time, journaling, and meditation elicit that voice and I value what it tells me. It reflects the authentic Susanna without the rationalizations of my left brain.
I now have good boundaries – in other words, I have appropriate, healthy expectations of and relationships with others. I work hard to care for others, but not at the expense of myself. I make sure to give myself enough time to rest, reflect, socialize, meditate, exercise, eat right, and have fun. If a medical problem arises, I attend to it right away. I ask for help from others if I need it, and I savor my gratitude for the gift of love they return.
Since I am my own primary lover and caregiver, I also expect less of others. Good boundaries means I don’t need other people to make me feel whole or OK. I don’t have a big void that I expect others to fill or fix for me. My self-esteem does not rise and fall based on my stuff, my appearance, or from the affirmations or criticisms of other people. Instead, others enrich my world, like the chocolate and caramel swirls and cookie dough chunks in my Häagen-Daaz vanilla bean ice cream.
I also don’t try to make others feel whole. I can’t do it for them, but I try to help them on their journey by listening to their soft inner voice and sharing the wisdom from mine.
If someone else tries to emotionally or verbally abuse me, I don’t believe what they say, so their words have no power over me. I share my boundaries by saying that they’re entitled to their opinion but it’s not OK for them to talk to me that way. If they don’t respect my wishes then I engage with them as infrequently as possible since I don’t have to expose myself unnecessarily to their negativity and abuse. I don’t judge them either for I believe they are doing their best, and I wish them peace and wisdom on their journey.
From what I have heard from and observed in others, I am not alone in this journey, though I now may be farther down the road than some. Do you share this journey with me? If so, in what ways are you being the abuser, not the lover/caregiver?