It's Not You, It's Him
I have spent the past year dissecting myself. Trying to figure out what was inherently wrong with me that I could land myself in such a twisted abusive situation. In a situation that I knew wasn’t right, but still couldn’t quite figure out how to leave. In a situation where, despite how horrible this guy treated me, how much he used me and lied, a flicker of love still existed. Cracking the code on this mystery of what was wrong with me seemed to be nothing short of essential. Whatever it was I was doing wrong (or that was wrong with me), I didn’t want my daughter to see it. I didn’t want her to bear witness to this broken part of me and repeat it in her own life. I had to fix it to ensure her well being.
What is wrong with me? Why did I allow this to happen? I have asked my therapist different variations of these questions in countless different forms over the past year. But no matter how I go about it, the answer is always the same: Nothing is wrong with you. This is what abusers do. Rather than being soothed by her words, I have been frustrated, both with myself and with her. There had to be something I was inadvertently holding back from her or some damaged or flawed part of me that she couldn’t see.
So I continued to hunt. I picked apart my history, I researched online, I talked to abuse experts. I even delved into things like epigenetics, with the thought that there could be something in my DNA that had predisposed me to this. I am a believer in taking accountability for my own life. So, especially in a situation this extreme and dire, it just didn’t feel okay to somehow shift the blame entirely to his side of the table.
It is so easy to blame yourself for being in an abusive situation. You continued to stay, you continued to love. And, more than that, what is it about you that made you a target in the first place? What identified you as a mark and magnetized the abuser to you?
But, this, I have come to realize, is the beauty of putting voice to what has happened. Unfortunately, abusive behavior—while not the norm—is also not as unusual as you might think. Also, abusers are repeat offenders. There were many women (or men) who came before you, and there will be many more after you. This is a pattern, and you would likely be shocked at how well-rehearsed and tried and true it is. Your situation may feel unique in its warpedness, but I guarantee you, your abuser has stood in an eerily similar place before. He’s not new to this game. You didn’t make this happen. Were you not there, another unfortunate soul would be standing in your place. For as “special” or “different” as he tells you that you are, you’re really not. Not to him, anyway. You are just there at this moment in time.
Not only that, but it is impossible to identify others who have been victim to this situation. You couldn’t pick them out of a line up because at a glance they are smart, they are attractive, they are hard workers, they are compassionate and kind, they seem to have it all together (and, in most areas of their life, they likely do, no matter how increasingly exhausting that becomes). In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s probably the last people you would expect who find themselves stuck in a cycle of abuse.
Culturally, we have created an image of abusees as weak and stupid. People who are desperate or easily fooled. They are doormats. These are some of the things I started to think about myself. But that’s not what actually happened. I did stand up for myself. Over and over and over again. But when you are living in a chaotic world where reality is always shifting, and when you have the capacity to love and empathize, even standing up for yourself doesn’t work like it does out there in real life. Everything is twisted. The abuser may as well be taking your mind and your heart into his hands and wringing them out.
For a long time, I was afraid to talk. I was afraid to talk because I was worried about my own role in what had happened and what I had done “wrong;” because I was embarrassed; because I was confused. Because, unbelievably, I didn’t want to hurt him. Because I was scared. I had been warped into believing he had all of the power.
What I now know is that it is much safer out here in the light of day. You come to realize that you’re not alone and that there is, in fact, nothing wrong with you. In fact, it’s all the good, light parts of you that drew the abuser to you: your kindness, your empathy, your faith in the truth and good in others. Even your intelligence because, let’s be honest, it’s much more of a victory for the abuser if he believes he can somehow “pull one over on you.”
I’m here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you, just like there is nothing wrong with me. Quite the opposite. I’m willing to bet that what made you so appealing in the first place is the fact that there are a lot of things right about you.
If you find yourself in a position where you ever need to be reminded or convinced of that, I am happy to tell you.