After being in several abusive relationships, the thing that took the hardest hit was my self-esteem. I don't think my shaky sense of self-worth even has much to do with the sexual assaults-- those events affected certain parts of my self-esteem and identity, but really the damage comes from partners who regularly hurt me and said it was all my fault. What that led to was the serious, deep-down conviction that I am broken or tainted, that I can't do anything right, and that I can't have/don't deserve a healthy relationship. Those feelings have resurfaced several times during the last month with D*; I overreact to something, get upset, cause a fight, and then become convinced that this is evidence that I can't do anything right in a relationship. I've set myself up a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it's a cycle I'm finding it really difficult to break out of. I know it's there, I recognize it for what it is, yet I still can't stop myself from following the path I've laid out.
What an insidious aftereffect. *shakes head* Abusive relationships that lack physical violence often get overlooked or brushed off by outsiders. Some people think, how bad could it actually be? The answer is: bad. In an ironic way, it can be worse without physical violence because that's the only thing society seems to accept as clearly wrong. If you weren't hit or kicked, it's difficult to find validation for your experience. How can I explain to people what it was like to be screamed at everyday? to be constantly made to feel stupid and worthless? How can I explain how quietly, insidiously damaging that is? I've had trouble, honestly. I usually don't identify myself as a survivor of domestic violence because of it, not only because I worry it minimizes what others ("real survivors of DV") have gone through, but also because I feel like no one will believe me.
The other day I found myself faced with a huge myth about domestic violence. A friend of mine said something that I thought was just a tasteless joke, and so I reproached him for it. He said, "Who said it was a joke?" He honestly believed that women who stayed with abusive boyfriends did so because they secretly liked it. I was flat-out flabbergasted. There was so much wrong with that statement that I didn't know where to start. It makes me wonder how many myths about domestic violence exist today in society. I often hear about rape myths, but I think the line between right and wrong about rape is much more clearly marked in society's minds than it is with domestic violence. Society seems to heavily favor looking the other way when a problem arises between two people who are involved in a relationship. All kinds of rationalization occurs to explain the existence of clearly abusive relationships-- for example, the belief that she stays with her abusive boyfriend because she secretly likes it. It doesn't occur to people to think about the other reasons she can't leave, like forced financial dependency, threat to herself or her loved ones, or having nowhere to go. That last one is particularly intricately involved with society's views on domestic violence-- you aren't received and accepted in society as a refugee from something terrible if society doesn't believe your situation was that terrible. Refugees of war-torn countries are more easily accepted here because war and violence in another country are easy to condemn, and therefore sympathy can easily be extended to those refugees. A woman fleeing from an abusive partner may not find such sympathy in her peers.
Perhaps accepting that domestic violence exists and is a terrible and painful thing is too much for society to handle because it strikes too close to home. I guess it's the same reason that women are often the harshest critics and least sympathetic peers of rape survivors-- if they accept the reality of rape or domestic violence, then it could happen to them. Better to deny it than accept that frightening reality. Ignorance is bliss? I don't know.
Returning to the original point of this post-- self-esteem. That's been my hardest struggle, believing that my abusive relationships are over and that my new relationship with D* doesn't have to be like them. I have so many insecurities to work through, so much fear to have to wade through, with just blind faith to guide me to the other side. I have to believe that things can work with D*. I have to believe that the abuse and assault has not left me broken or tainted. I have to believe that I have healed a great deal and can and will continue to heal further. I have to believe, and belief is terrifying. However, many brave survivors of sexual and domestic violence have been able to cultivate healthy, loving relationships, and therefore so can I.