The Journey of Abuse and Power: Where to Begin
In this 3-part series, Nina Endrst drops into the heart of a dark but all too common matter. Abuse. From subtle to extreme. To begin, to move through and out of these patterns and relationships – because you don’t have to stay. You are worth so much more and you are stronger than you could ever imagine.
I find my work fascinating, heartbreaking and expansive all in the same breath/session – countless breakdowns and breakthroughs. No one is the same, but they do all have something in common.
I have yet to work with a human being who has not been abused.
Abuse is not reserved for the most extreme situations, although it certainly occupies that space. It is present in unlikely circumstances and seemingly “normal” relationships. Clearly, we have a problem and I mean WE. There is no you or me.
Abusive behavior is commonplace for too many. There are cases of varying degrees, from physical violence to emotional cruelty.
What if it’s your boyfriend?
When I was in my early 20’s I dated someone with whom I was deeply in love, or so I thought at the time. He was in a lot of pain, but I thought being with me would help him – we would be there for each other. He was incredibly charming, handsome, said and did all the right things…at the beginning. He was older, and I was not impressed with the boys my age – he was a man with an apartment that he owned in Manhattan. I felt like I fit with him. It started to go downhill soon after we began dating, I was in college, still in Boston, and he was incredibly possessive and controlling – needed to know where I was at all times. There was no trust – zero.
I was constantly explaining myself; fearful of his reactions or apologizing when he would get angry at me for simply living my life. I felt it happening. My gut said this isn’t good, but the self-esteem I needed to move away from this dynamic was just not available. It’s so strange how you watch yourself almost float out of your body at certain points in life and observe. I felt trapped, powerless, constantly anxious but still determined to make it work.
He never hit me, but he did slam me against a concrete beam one night. My head bounced off and I crumpled to the ground. I frantically called my friends to pick me up and ran to the car. He chased us down the highway at 100 miles per hour – I was terrified. Yet still I stayed. The day I graduated college was a blur. We’d been fighting all night, drinking, crying – it was ugly. We were going to start our lives together, though, so I packed up my things and left with him immediately following the ceremony. We drove to NYC where I was planning to move into his midtown apartment. I will never forget the moment I arrived — the pain in my stomach was like nothing I’d ever felt before. Like knives stabbing me relentlessly. I was in bed for 2 weeks until I gathered enough strength to go to my mother’s house in CT to recuperate. Something was seriously wrong with me. Down almost 15 pounds, my health was deteriorating quickly. I never went back. Broke up with him over the phone. He was fuming but I couldn’t do it any longer. Months later I was diagnosed with Crohn’s which, for me, flares during times of stress. The relationship had wreaked havoc on my systems. This happens when we hold it in, our bodies begin to scream out for help.
I still think of him. Sadly, a few years later he committed suicide and it hit me hard. His pain was so deep and so real – but it had nothing to do with me.
If you need help leaving:
Please use the following resources to get help immediately and discreetly so you are not harmed. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233); The National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (4673); and The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, 866-331-9474, are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can offer advice based on experience and locate local support and services.
Let’s talk about the less obvious types of abuse. I find many people I speak to about their trauma are a little confused when it comes to non–violent situations. How do I know if this is abusive? What if the abuser is a teacher? What if they say I love you before, during or after –is that still abusive?
What if it’s your therapist or mentor?
A client of mine told me a story about her therapist — I’ll call her Katherine. Katherine has been seeing the woman for about a year and has gained a lot from their relationship – she had no plans of cutting ties but then something happened. Her therapist started to use the information shared during their sessions to manipulate her. Katherine was explaining the exchange to me in which her therapist was saying things like “you always do this” or “you’re so reactive!” Maybe this isn’t a huge red flag to most, but I was concerned and rightfully so. A few days later the woman called Katherine and yelled at her for almost the entire session, berating her for putting up boundaries. She was clearly uncomfortable with Katherine stepping into her power and was trying, unsuccessfully, to regain it by bullying her. This is abusive. Especially considering the sensitive nature of their dynamic. If someone who is supposed to be helping you, is hurting you – it is not OK. This is not therapeutic, this is emotional manipulation and a prime example of gaslighting.
What if it’s your family member?
Another client, Ashley, has a complicated relationship with her mother. When we first started working together, she often glossed over their interactions or dismissed them as “whatever.” Ashley is incredibly strong willed and self-sufficient. She often internalizes her pain, a pattern that I see in adults who were verbally or physically abused as children. Ashley’s mother has a fiery temper and, in my personal opinion, may have an undiagnosed mental health issue. She constantly calls Ashley names, tells her she is stupid, tells her that she’s an asshole – the list goes on. Ashley has shrugged this off on many occasions saying “it is what it is.” No, this is not OK, and just because someone is family does not give them the right to verbally assault you. Ever.
So, what if one or more
of these stories resonate with you?
Where do we begin?
If you’re in danger, please reach out for help immediately. If you feel physically safe but the relationship leaves you empty, upset, angry or confused – try saying NO. It is not our job to fix the other person. You do not have to say yes to their demons. A simple yet effective way to move away from said person is to tell him/her that their words hurt you and you will not tolerate it. Distance yourself, reach out to a friend or trusted family member and speak your truth.
Please remember, this is not your fault – nothing you could have done warrants any such behavior. So, let’s begin there: without shame, without guilt and absolutely dependent on a foundation built from self–love.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I deserve to be safe,
I deserve to be happy,
I deserve to be free.