If you’ve recently left an abusive relationship, you’re likely trying to catch your breath and untangle yourself from a lot of complicated emotions and questions. Before I share some of the most important things for you to know, I want to tell you this:
Walking away is not easy, and I am proud that you did. It’s not easy to leave when so few people understand why you did, and it’s even harder to rebuild your life after leaving, so if you don’t have someone else to tell you that what you did is incredibly brave, let me be the one to do so.
You are incredibly brave.
There are two things I hear from survivors of abuse more than anything else:
I feel like it’s my fault (the abuse)
I thought they loved me; why would they do this?
It’s hard not to view the treatment we receive as something we are deserving of, but there’s a good reason for that. Abuse is something that is handed out as a punishment for something we’ve done that our abuser doesn’t like. The first important thing you need to understand is that abuse is not something that is given to you because you are deserving. YOU DID NOT DESERVE IT. Do you hear me? Say it with me:
I did not deserve it.
When someone abuses you in response to something you’ve done, all they are showing you is that they don’t know how to offer you forgiveness, grace, or mercy; not that you deserve it. The problem is the way they frame it is meant to make you feel deserving. Abusers latch onto your insecurities, your faults, and any mistakes you make. By picking things they know make you vulnerable, they put all the focus onto why you deserve what they’re doing to you, instead of on the fact that the things they are doing to you are wrong. They aren’t responsible for being the judge of your life, so don’t let them sentence you to punishments they think fit the crimes they say you’ve committed.
Even if you did make the mistakes they said you did, even if the flaws they’re pointing out are real, they still do not have the right to abuse you. I want you to think of yourself for a second and how you continued to treat them with respect and compassion in the face of the abuse they gave you. I’m going to bet that you stayed much longer than you should have because you wanted to provide them with the benefit of the doubt or because you made a bunch of excuses for their behavior. You gave them so much grace, and you gave them so much compassion; why do you not deserve that too? If you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re supposed to be shown love, which brings me to my second point:
It wasn’t love.
The number of times people go back to their abuser in the name of love saddens me, but I think it’s because our idea of love has become so skewed over the years. We’ve coined phrases like ‘tough love’ and ‘love is blind,’ and in doing so, we’ve created a dangerous ideal that aligns with abuse. We have this idea in our heads that the person we’re with should be holding us accountable and helping us grow, but we’re missing that criticism and abuse are not the way we achieve that.
Most of us grew up in homes where our parents did their best, but the way they disciplined us was what set us up to seek out abuse. The word ‘discipline’ means ‘to teach,’ and the most effective way of teaching someone is by being an example to them. Unfortunately, this means that most of us grew up with abuse as an example. Not because our parents did it on purpose, but because they didn’t have a different example.
Because we learned to feel safe in an environment where abuse was normalized, we’re bound to seek that same environment in our relationships until we begin to heal and decide we won’t put up with it anymore.
On top of that, the vicious cycle of incredible highs and devastating lows that our abusers put us through starts to produce the same chemicals in our brain as drug addiction. Even though it isn’t love, we can’t figure out how to break the cycle because our abusers have literally made our brain depends on the release of chemicals they give us every time they take us through another round of “I love you, I hate you.”
So, what should real love look like?
Real love is patient. It offers space to move at your own pace and grow on your terms. It doesn’t demand that you fix your flaws, but it holds you accountable for what you value, and if you mess up, it doesn’t punish you.
Real love is kind. It doesn’t tell you you’re being crazy, it doesn’t ignore or diminish your feelings, and it doesn’t make fun of you for who you are. Real love doesn’t keep a record of the things you’ve done wrong and use them to manipulate you. Real love tells the truth and protects you; it doesn’t spread lies that make you look bad or advertise your shortcomings.
Despite the lessons you were taught through abuse, real love is all those things: patience, kindness, honesty, respect, etc., being offered to you no matter what.
Moving forward from abuse is a long process. The best way to heal is with powerful truths:
You didn’t deserve it, and it wasn’t love.